For the ones who don’t fit in just one box.
You are a ninth grader at a highly competitive 6-12th college preparatory school. Your school decides that even though you’re only a ninth grader, you should get some practice in for your SATs taken as a junior in high school. The whole day is set aside to take the PSSS (the Preliminary SAT) for freshmen and sophomores. Whatever, you think to yourself, if the grade doesn’t matter and it gets me out of school for half the day I’m in.
The gym is tarped to protect its fragile sealing that the athletes praise. There are countless plastic desks covering the floor partnered with cheap, folding chairs and wooden dividers obviously used throughout the years. You read, “You got this!” and smile at the many faint pencil drawings seen on the surface as you choose your four-hour placement (hopefully with a friend next door for moral support). You pick your seat and automatically feel the cheap black coating chip off of the chair, as your legs are sweating for no apparent reason. I really shouldn’t have worn a dress today, you think to yourself. Now I’m going to have to keep my legs together for this entire test…
You are handed your exam accompanied by the inevitable chattering in the background, probably about someone else’s friend drama. You look at the front bubbling sheet with “name,” “school number,” and a bunch of other things you don’t really care about. You’re honestly just excited to bubble in all the letters because it’s very satisfying and you’ve always liked filling them in.
You hear the head proctor lady take the microphone and state, “Go ahead and fill in your corresponding bubbles with the letters of your first and last name”; we all do so obediently, waiting for the next section to be called. Next we hear, “Now please bubble your appropriate race/ethnicity as according to the options below,” as she places the microphone down.
You see, as a mixed person, in my mind I had always thought that the testing center would know that I’m also half white, so I always marked the “Asian” bubble. Never did it cross my mind to mark anything else since my first experience completing this section in elementary school. So, that’s what I did. I marked my bubble as “Asian”. But then it all changed.
The proctor picks up her microphone again and states, “And if you identify with more than one bubble, please be sure to fill in both or all that you identify with.”
WHAT, I thought to myself, THIS WAS AN OPTION THE ENTIRE TIME?! I happily filled in the “Caucasian” bubble along with my “Asian” bubble, and for the first time felt like I was being seen in this mixed sense— even if it was just on a standardized test.
This instance may seem small, but recognition is huge. I share this story for anyone out there who might feel unseen. Lost. Covered. Shamed into one identity or another. My whole life has been one big balancing act of “where do I fit in?” and I know that anyone else who identifies with more than one category can relate to this feeling. Perhaps you’re not enough, you don’t fit in, you pass for an identity that you don’t identify with, or you truly don’t fit into one box.
In one of my classes last quarter, I was asked to share a “moment of meaning” in my life, whether that be big or small, and I chose to share the story above. Coming from a fairly white-washed environment with not a lot of diversity around me, it was extremely hard coming into my whole identity and who I am. I sit here today, fully identifying as a mixed-raced, white-passing, cis-gendered woman. Up until recently, I was scared to embrace all of my identities. I was scared to be who I am. I was scared and ashamed to raise my hand and ask the question, “Can I fill out two?” or “What if I’m both of these?” to any of my teachers. For the longest time I thought that since no one else had this problem, why should I speak up? Why should I ask the question?
But I’m here today to tell you: Speak up. Ask the question. I know it might be terrifying to raise your hand and stand up for yourself, but try your best to do so. I know that it’s definitely easier said than done, but there is nothing better than speaking your truth. Since hearing that announcement over the microphone in ninth grade, I have tried my best to ask the uncomfortable questions and have those conversations. At times it can seem like people only want to hear about your identity when it’s convenient for them, but don’t let that stop you. Speak your mind, your truth, and do it all for yourself.
Now when I come into spaces, I try to acknowledge how I take up this space in terms of my identity. Although I have never had the privilege of stepping into a space and finding someone who’s in the same position as me, I try to treat myself with the most kindness and patience that I can. Even through that patience and kindness, I find myself still struggling to completely share my identity with others— and that’s completely okay. Keep in mind that it’s also important to acknowledge that it takes everyone a different amount of time to get to a good place with their identity. Please don’t rush this process, and take all the time that you need. Understand that we are constantly learning about ourselves, so there’s no need to adhere to any kind of label; we all have so much growing to do.
I’m sharing this story for anyone out there that struggles with their identity and what that means to them. Over the years I’ve learned that people like to know. They want to know exactly who you are the moment they look at you, the moment they meet you, the moment they see your bio picture on instagram when showing you to a friend of a friend of a friend. But here’s the thing. What if you don’t know yet? What if you can’t even answer those own questions to yourself? Well, just know that it’s okay. It’s more than okay not to know! Not knowing is the first step in the process, so know you’re on the right track. Remember at the end of the day, only YOU decide who knows you. You don’t owe anybody anything more or less. So, fill in all the damn boxes you need because you’re allowed to take up this space that you deserve.