When the question ‘where are you from?’ has happened to me, I have always felt like it was just that: happening to me. On the surface the question seems innocuous. And for many of those who ask it is often out of genuine curiosity; in an effort to connect and for a chance to converse.
‘No but where are you from originally?’
My body remembers each time it’s happened and that everytime shrinking becomes unavoidable. It is the same - every time. I stand, machine-like still, and touch my face a lot while the words fumble out of my mouth, embarrassed and meek. Words that I say too often. Words that need to stop.
Sometimes, I’m ashamed of the way I have answered this question in the past. And I ask myself why my involuntary reaction is to renounce and relinquish parts of me that I am at peace with in solitude. Above me there are two steel brackets, suspended over my head, ready to envelope my answer in a last-ditch effort to other me further.
I am queer already - I find this part funny because I’ve never had to explain that to anyone, further than simply saying: I am queer. When I explain that I have a partner who is a woman, or that I identify as non-binary, sometimes people ask how I came around to it but I’m never pressed. It’s something I’ve learnt by knowing and having other QTIPOC in my life. White people here, in so-called Australia, will most probably know more queer people than people of colour - that’s just facts. And that is why I hate being asked this question. I perceive it as exclusionary, and in a white-dominated society it is asked because I’m visibly non-white.
Second, the assumption of the question: that one is not ‘from here’ constructs an ‘other’, whose identity is fixed and tied only to a faraway place; thereby erasing the hyphenated identities that define me and my everyday lived reality.
I love my skin and I think black people are the most beautiful, innovative and exciting people in the world. I love that my Fijian mother is so much more than a ‘pacific paradise’, and that my Brooklyn native dad is a building that touches the sky. But being a third-culture kid, that question has always shaken up things inside of me. It’s not painful, but it’s not harmless.