By Shanna Katz
This month’s Out of the Box brings you Tiara the Merch Girl (also appearing as Mendhi Henna at a erotic site near you), from http://themerchgirl.net. She has many many many idenities, but I chose to speak with her regarding her queer identity, as it has seem to be conflicted, had a long journey to get there, and if often some what of an invisible identity as the community can sometimes discriminate against queer people that are in what may appear to be heterosexual relationships. As I wrote about this policing over at my other column, Unapologetic, I really wanted to make sure that her voice was heard and her queer identity recognized.
What are some other identities of yours:
Asian (Bangladeshi, Malaysian), Australian resident (though the bridging visa makes that hard), female, poly, pansexual, performance artist, creatrix of awesome, Muslim when back in Malaysia as it’s on my ID card, Perpetual Other
Define your queer identity – what does it mean to you, how long have you had this identity, how was the process of getting there?
I’ve had crushes on girls and guys since I was 12 but it took me a while – specifically, falling head over heels with my still-best-friend in a way unlike anything else when I was 16 – to really realise that I was not as straight as I thought I was. First I figured I was bisexual, then I heard about ”pansexual” and thought that fitted better because I liked people, not body parts. Within the last couple of years I adopted ”queer” because it’s better understood in Australia and has a political cachet to it. Now I’m mostly queer, but probably leaning towards lesbian with an exception (my long-term boyfriend).
It’s only really been within the last few years that I’ve done anything about my sexuality.
Growing up I was rather asexual, mostly because the concept of sex just seemed so messy and pointless and STD-inducing (or PREGNANCY ZOMGS). I figured I’d wait till I found someone worth the wait. Then my boyfriend showed up about a month after I arrived in Australia and I discovered making out what a hell of a lot of fun! After a couple of years I was feeling frustrated that
I hadn’t had any experiences with women, but didn’t want to leave my boyfriend (who is awesome in a zillion ways) just because I needed more experience. Turns out he thought I should explore too! So hence came the polyamoury, then a LONG time of feeling like a useless queer because I couldn’t get a girl interested in me (bah), then a short fling online that turned awry before we even had a chance to meet in person, which led to months of heartbreak, then surprise! An older woman takes a shine to me and takes me on as a lover. And it was AWESOME. So yay, now I feel like a properly qualified queer instead of a poser!
Talk about some of the language surrounding this identity – what terms do you like/dislike?
Hm. Well there’s a thousand words for ”queer”, or lesbian or bisexual or pansexual etc, but no matter what I used I’ll get asked about it – especially since I’m in a committed (if open) heterosexual relationship with a typically straight cis guy. I don’t really know if there are any words that strike me in particular. What does frustrate me is the idea of the ”qualified lesbian”, or that you can only really be queer if you’ve actually slept with particular genders or act a certain way or something. But language-wise? Hm. I wish there was something for ”I like people :D”.
What are some common questions you get about this identity? How do you answer them and how do they make you feel?
I often get asked if I am really queer because of my boyfriend. Which is annoying. My family doesn’t really talk about sexuality and even though they know of my inclinations they don’t really ask anything. When I more strongly identified as ”pansexual” people often asked how I can just like people regardless of body parts, surely I preferred one to the other, or I get asked which is better – sex with a man or with a woman. I haven’t had enough of a sample size to really answer that, and besides it’s not the gender it’s the person! Bad lovers and good lovers exist regardless of plumbing!
What are some of the positives of having this identity?
The queer community in Brisbane has mostly been pretty good. They’re much more receptive to my performance art, which is great, and I’ve met so many wonderful people through being involved with the queer community online and offline. Most queer people I hang out with also have great passion and intelligence in other fields – arts, sexuality, social justice, whatever their fancy – which leads to a lot of great adventures and learnings. They get what it’s like to be different, and welcome me as I am (mostly).
What are some of the struggles that have come along with this identity?
I felt like such a fraud until my current lady lover showed up (which was in December!!) because I was in a committed (yet open) heterosexual relationship. People were assuming that I was just like those ”barsexuals”, girls who make out with girls for attention, and I was frustrated because it’s not like it’s my fault I couldn’t get a girl or grew up in a conservative country! Geez! Also because I don’t code as queer (I don’t look like the stereotypes) I tend to be seen as ”brown” and not much else, which makes visibility REALLY difficult. And there are arseholes, but they’d be annoying no matter what, so eh.
How does this identity fit or not fit with your other identities?
Often people see the ”foreign” and forget everything else, including ”queer” – it’s like if you have one striking identity that’s it for you. There’s really no space within my culture to talk about any sort of sexuality, let alone being queer, so when I’m back with my family or back in Malaysia it ends up being non-existent. I sometimes wonder at people like my friends who are very insistent about not being misidentified or misgendered – I can see why, but I just think ”good luck doing that with family like mine!” because you’d just be seen as a troublemaking rabble-rouser. Perhaps it’s a reflection on individualist vs collectivist societies, where in Australia you have a right to have your personal identity be recognised while in Malaysia you’re meant to fit in to a collective identity and not draw so much attention on yourself. Being queer works well with being poly, and even as a queer person I feel like an outsider due to race and cultural clashes, so hey – Perpetual Other time!
How do you feel this identity is received in the sexuality and/or sex positive communities?
Isn’t it pretty much the default identity for those in the sex-positive world anyway? I just wish more people took me seriously as a queer person, rather than get flummoxed by my Other-ness to even consider the fact that I have a sexuality. And that just because I identify as queer doesn’t mean I share the same politics or concepts of queer as they do.
What else do you want people to know about this identity?
Brown is a queer colour too, even if it’s not in the rainbow.