I said no more after that. On the way home from hanging out at the bar with my friends, a group of black students were leaving the Fifth Quarter, a pretty mainstream club that is no more than two blocks from my apartment. One of the women in the group looked me in the eye and told me, “you have to go, you’re gonna get your ass beat.” I said no more after that.

To me, what happened before that spoke so loudly to the problems I have with the liminality of my own identity. I am not white. In communities of color, I pass as white. The reason I opened my damn mouth in the first place is because the person in question said aloud (and loudly), “look at that girl! She is trying to look like a guy, but she is a girl.” Which was preceded and followed by declarations of hate for white people (oddly enough, I had been talking about how annoyed I’ve been with white people on campus not an hour earlier over beers with my friends — who are white…).

I couldn’t really help myself — maybe a function of my drunkenness, also certainly a function of my self-righteousness, and undoubtedly a function of the spirit of my evening. “You don’t know shit about me,” I said. “I’m not white. And you don’t know shit about my gender.”

One of the women in the group stopped me and pushed me, saying, “you don’t talk to my brother like that.”

You don’t talk to — and about — me like that, I wanted to say. Which was when the other woman intervened. I wasn’t looking for a fight. I am just so sick and tired of being sick and tired; so annoyed with the community of white cisgender academics I am surrounded with; so desperate for a community of allies I search for in the faces of virtually everyone I pass. Maybe I was looking for a fight — I wanted to fight the guy. I won’t lie.

But I kept walking. I kept walking as he laughed about my gender identity.

A few days ago I was part of a community panel of queer people of color. It was odd, being the only transgender and one of only a handful of multiracial people at the table. I had all kinds of things to say about passing, belonging and safety, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to talk about them there. Even with people who supposedly understand me. Who supposedly share my struggle. I said something about access to trans-friendly healthcare. That was it.

Passing is the most important — and least important — thing. Passing is not just about gender. It’s also about race. It’s about the privilege I get because I pass as white. The oppression I experience because white people know I’m not one of them. The oppression I experience because I’m “not” a person of color. Because even in communities which experience oppression I’m still not allowed to claim the identities that I know are mine.

Such are the difficulties of liminal identities: I’m not one or the other, but I’m certainly both. I’m neither white nor a person of color, but I slip from one identity to another depending on who I’m with. I’m neither a man or a woman, but I slip from one identity to another depending on who I’m with. I am still denied, regardless of community, the right to claim my own identities. And that is frightening. The fact I was about to get in a four-on-one fight over it is even more frightening. And more frightening than that? I wouldn’t have backed down.

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