At the intersections: malas energías, queerness, and shaky hands

Exploring how intersectionality shapes us

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People of different identities standing at intersections, each marked with street signs that read things like international student, ADHD, etc.
Many people occupy a crossroads of multiple identities. ILLUSTRATION: Stella Nguyen / The Peak

By: Cynthia Piña, SFU Student

Everyone is made up of multiple components and experiences that culminate in a sense of identity. These components can include what we like, the school we go to, and the culture we grew up in. Intersectionality, first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, can be thought of as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender.” However, this can also expand to the overlap of things such as culture and religion.  

I’m Latina, queer, and disabled. I don’t think I’ve acknowledged these aspects of myself together — only in individual pieces. I have friends from the Latinx community, queer community, and disability community. However, none of them have really crossed paths. This disjointedness has made me feel like I’m moving from one space to another, spreading parts of myself into different spaces, but never being whole

It’s only in recent years that I’ve even been able to see parts of myself overlap in other people. In 2014, journalist Daisy Hernández published her memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, where she explores ideas of race, class, and queerness. Never before had I resonated with the vivid descriptions of growing up in a Latin American household: the mixture of English and Spanish, “las malas energías” (bad energies), and what it means to be a woman in an immigrant household. 

Not only was it an intimate examination of what it means to be Latina, but it also explored being a bisexual Latina. Because much of my experience at home has echoed the ideas of shame in sexuality and queerness often found in larger Latin American society, I was grateful to find a memoir I could relate to on more than one front. 

Being a part of the diaspora comes with its own issues: clumsy accents, fitting into two different cultures and never really belonging in either, and a disconnection from my history. Even when I tried to look deeper into the roots on my mother’s side, there wasn’t really a trail to follow, since documentation in rural Venezuela was minimal. Birth certificates alone were hard to find beyond my grandmother — her name was changed to a European one in an attempt to find more opportunity. 

While I have found solace in my wonderful Latinx friends who share cultural similarities, I felt left out when considering my queerness and disabilities. Those like Hernández have made me feel all the more comfortable exploring my intersectionalities. However, it can be hard to live in a society that continues to create barriers on various fronts, especially when conversations around identity rarely explore how different identities connect. 

While I haven’t been disabled my whole life, my fine motor skills have generally gotten worse over the past few years. Washing my hair, plucking my eyebrows, and applying cosmetics have left me feeling frustrated. However, the moment I set my eyes on the Rare Beauty line by Selena Gomez, I was overwhelmed with joy. Easy-to-open packaging by someone who has both spoken about her chronic illness and Latin American roots is something I didn’t know I needed. While I’m generally reluctant to promote specific brands, Rare Beauty’s packaging feels like something actionable to help disabled folks and is something that goes beyond sharing experiences. Again, I felt less alone knowing there was someone who shared intersecting identities and has made my makeup routine largely less irritating to my hands. 

Only in recent years have I started to feel the inequities that come from disability, how it’s defined, and how people understand it. What I learned was that people may have a full understanding and acceptance towards one part of you, but they may be very misunderstood about another part. They are for LGBTQIA2S+ rights, but hold internalized racism. They have an understanding of racial issues, but can’t understand the access needs of disabled folks. The list goes on, and while I may feel safe in certain spaces with parts of my identity, I’ve had to advocate for myself on other fronts. 

However, altogether, these experiences have left me wondering, where do I fit in? Do I want to focus on one aspect of myself over others? I had always pushed down these identities and ignored them until I no longer could — so now what? How much space can I claim when others have been advocating for these communities long before me? I don’t particularly have the answers, but I do know it’s important to talk about visibility and the need to create these spaces on all fronts. This way, others can also see parts of themselves in various communities and feel included in their entirety.   

Identities aren’t the only thing that define me, but I am grateful to see how they intersect and how they inform the way I move through the world.