If Boulder, CO is as progressive a city as it seems, why is it so hard for me to survive as a queer, trans person of color? Building community with other QTPOC (queer, trans, people of color) and refusing to hide myself has helped me find my way, but resisting the pressure of conformity and assimilation takes a toll.
People in liberal circles love to throw around “intersectionality” as a buzzword, but forget the realities of occupying intersections and what it actually looks like when people are vulnerable to both racism and queerphobia. But for QTPOC people like me and my friends, there’s something about living in Boulder especially, an alienation that comes from being unseen in so many different ways. It’s hard being the only voice telling yourself that you’re worthwhile.
Boulder touts itself as a queer, liberal haven, but it only protects those who live within the privilege of whiteness. The pressure to conform to white, queer culture in Boulder feels remarkably similar to being pushed to assimilate as a first-generation immigrant. There’s a persistent and false incentive to hide myself and to make concession after concession. Some adjustments are necessary, especially in academic settings, but others erase essential parts of me.
Jas, a graduate student at Boulder, is optimistic about how she navigates the siren call of assimilation. “I do believe that my defiance and refusal to fully assimilate is about the hope of eventually getting out of here with the self I want to cultivate intact.”
Bri Hill, a Blaqueer (black and queer) graduate from CU Boulder, sees through the colorblind acceptance advertised in the city. “Boulder has become a safe haven for white people and queer and trans people who are white.”
The culture of Boulder has embraced white queerness, but other embodiments of queerness are not accepted.
I’m not skinny; I’m not vegan; and I hate bouldering. My queerness is brown, tangled up in my coarse body hair and inability to whisper. One is celebrated, the other penalized.
For me, the hypocrisy packs an extra punch as well. Organizations and individuals here are more defensive and resistant to change because of the impression that their participation in queerness exempts them from anti-racism work. Or, that unlearning racism only requires an awareness of racism, and no abdication of power. Surprisingly, you can own a button of Marsha P. Johnson and still be racist.
Bri mentioned finding QTPOC at CU Boulder and also spending less time within white circles. They asked themselves, “If I got arrested, who would be there for me? Who will throw hands for you, physically and intellectually?”
I’m not sure how many white queers would put themselves in harm’s way for me. What are you protecting when you don’t protect us?
Complicit whiteness is so often justified with language of propriety and comfort that prevents individuals from taking action and disrupting racism. White, queer people in Boulder aren’t ready for true accomplice work; they’re still stuck on shows of allyship that revolve around merch and going to drag brunch.
When my race is visible, it becomes tokenized. Attempts to not feel erased as a person of color end up turning against me through misguided questions and the white gaze of fascination. Stop asking me about where to find the best Indian food in Boulder.
Deb Tsige, an Ethiopian queer film student in Boulder, doesn’t want to explain the movie Us to you. Deb confessed, “I wonder if I’m something to gawk at. I don’t want to be a jester.” Deb feels tired of performing for white people and having white queers inquire about her blackness. She has only been in Boulder for a year. She has a simple request, to have her humanity be seen. “I’m also a human being. Invite me to parties. Talk to me about the weather.”
Every QTPOC person I know attributes their survival to the other QTPOC people in Boulder. The process is painful, but I owe my resilience to other QTPOC who see and love me.
Bri taught me how to appreciate the color of my eyes and how to unabashedly love my people. Deb celebrates the strangest parts of me, and Jas’ laugh reminds me of my father.
We survive because we choose ourselves, and we choose each other over anything that wouldn’t love us back. Every day, I do my best to enjoy my time in Boulder. It’s a shame that I’m most successful when I’m around people who are unprotected by the city’s luxuries.