“I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.”
This was a meme on Instagram.
And there were 25,670 likes on it. I precisely remember.
Now you may wonder what this meme was about. In simple terms, it was mocking those who choose to, or rather are forced to, self-define their identity.
But it’s not “just a joke”.
Sadly, there is still discrimination and disrespect directed to particular cultures, races and sexualities, especially when they intersect. But as I have found, embracing these identities can also be empowering.
What it means to have intersectional identities
It was here in Victoria when I first encountered the concept of intersectionality during my first year of undergraduate studies at the University of Melbourne.
Intersectionality describes how different aspects of a person’s identity can overlap to create compounding and overwhelming forms of discrimination and marginalisation.
I’m queer, brown, South Asian, Hindu and an international student – phew! So what has my experience been like, here in Melbourne? I want to be honest – it has been challenging.
When you share an intersectional identity, you do not experience life with merely one aspect of your identity at one time. It is the opposite. For example, if you’re a queer woman of colour, your challenges will not just be about gender. They will also be about your race and sexuality. And these challenges do not arise one after the other. Instead, they come together. And dealing with this compounding burden of multiple challenges can be really painful and exhausting.
Some of these challenges include recognition and assimilation. Let me elaborate.
Challenges of recognition
This is when people or institutions fail to understand the disadvantages or challenges you face as an intersectional person.
From my experience in Melbourne, I found that awareness about the concept of intersectionality is still lacking. My university, and the many organisations I am working and volunteering at, do not have strong intersectional policies. Intersectional policies include a framework to increase the representation of diverse identities within organisations and programs, and seek to recognise the challenges intersectional people face.
Due to the lack of awareness, it becomes difficult to translate the challenges you face to other people. For example, I do not like to use public transport here after sunset. As a queer person of colour, I am uncomfortable with the probability of facing any racial or sexuality-related issues. When I share this with people, I sometimes get judged and thought of as making excuses. But I am not; I just want to protect myself.
Additionally, if you do not subscribe to the binary gender and associated norms, it is difficult to find gender-neutral bathrooms.
Challenges of assimilation
These include challenges of ‘fitting-in’ with groups or finding ‘your tribe’. For me, it is very hard to find someone who is also queer, Indian and an international student. Neither do I see people like me on billboards or television. Queer and racial representation is a big issue in Australia. But is it definitely changing.
Although I have to say, people in Victoria are very LGBT+ friendly! I have never faced homophobia anywhere. The Victorian Government is very queer-supportive as well. We recently banned sexual and gender conversion therapy. And my university celebrated the LGBTQ+ Pride Month with huge flags and posters of the rainbow flag (the flag that represents and celebrates LGBTQ+ people) all over the campus!
Intersectionality is empowering!
Despite the countless struggles you have to go through, intersectional identities make you strong. They make you resilient. When you’re constantly fighting the world, you learn to claim a space for yourself. You learn to accept yourself, respect yourself and love yourself. Because if you won’t do it, then the world around you won’t do it for you. And nothing is more empowering than that.
Intersectionality made me achieve my goals. I read as much as I could and learnt to speak up for myself. It gave me confidence and made me bold.
If you are someone like me, I want you to know that you are valid and you deserve everything. Never let yourself feel inferior or underappreciated – you are your strongest supporter. Now go on, wear that crown and rule. The world is yours.
By Shashwat Tripathi, Study Melbourne Ambassador
If this article has raised any concerns for you, or if you would like to connect with LGBT+ community, you can visit the following links:
- The Drum, Queer English Conversation Classes
- The Invisible Project, for Queer and Trans people from diverse cultural backgrounds
- The Victorian Pride Centre, a one-stop shop for our LGBT+ community – events, services, support