I am a Kalkadoon woman. I grew up on Gubbi Gubbi Country. I also have Syrian and North African heritage that I am extremely proud of. I am also queer. And a lot of people just don’t seem to know what to do with all this information.
I spent a lot of my childhood and early adulthood completely unsure of where I fit and completely unsure of who I was, who I am. I’ve come a long way since then, but identifying proudly as the person I am, and not looking anything like what people imagine the person I am looks like, can be difficult, I won’t lie.
I am pale skinned and blonde- haired. Not many people realise you can be pale skinned and Aboriginal. Not many people realise you can be blonde-haired and Syrian. And not many people realise you can be femme and a staunch lesbian woman.
“You sure picked them all didn’t ya?” is a question I’m often jokingly asked when I talk about my background of being a queer, Aboriginal woman who also has Syrian heritage. It’s not an ill-intended joke at all, I know, but it’s a joke that brings up a lot of trauma for me. I used to laugh along with this joke just to keep the conversation from becoming awkward. This has happened for as long as I can remember, but I approach this joke or question differently now that I have grown to love and embrace every part of my identity.
“You sure picked them all didn’t ya?”
I didn’t “pick” anything. I explain this to people as politely as possible, even now, because it is easy to inflame people who never intended to cause you harm with their words. I was born to an Aboriginal father, and a mother whose family members came to Australia as refugees from Syria and Lebanon. And yes, you goddam bet I was born queer. I never picked any of these, but they are all incredibly important aspects that make up my whole identity. And I wouldn’t change that for the world. I am a strong Aboriginal woman, with Syrian roots and powerful queer energy. I may have pale skin and blonde hair. I may spend more time before a night out on my makeup than my heterosexual female friends. And I won’t change those things either.
Another Blackfella friend of mine, who, like me, has pale skin, asked me the other day if sometimes I just wished we had black skin so people would take us more seriously or believe us when we say we’re Murri. A year ago, I would have answered in the affirmative. But not anymore. I wouldn’t change anything about me. I am no longer going to take the time and energy out of my day to provide explanations for my Aboriginal identity. You wanna know why I got pale skin? Read a history book. Wanna know why I only started learning my language in my adulthood? Read a history book. Wanna know why I will no longer tolerate non-Indigenous people hijacking Indigenous conversation? Read a history book.
I wasted too much of my past apologising for my identity, trying to justify my identity, allowing white people to laugh at my identity, just for them to hold their arm up to mine and compare our identical skin colours as though that proves that I will never be black enough to be taken seriously as a Murri woman. I’ve spent too many years tolerating non-Indigenous people using the stories, backgrounds and skin colour of more “stereotypical” Murri people to prove to me that I can, and never will, be truly Aboriginal. I’ve spent too many years jumping between my Aboriginal identity, my queer identity and my Syrian identity, because being all three is too much for way too many people.
Wanna know why I will no longer tolerate non-Indigenous people hijacking Indigenous conversation? Read a history book.
I’ve spent too many years feeling like I’m in between worlds, and that the in-between is where I belong. I spent too many years with bad mental health because all I wanted to do was come home, but I was stuck pretending I know how to act around my white friends, pretending to know how to act in the queer community, worrying I wouldn’t be accepted by other Murri mob, worrying that I have “too many identities”, and that I strictly belong in a floating land between them.
But no, I do not belong in the in-between. I belong with my mob. I belong with my queer community. I belong with my community of staunch people from migrant backgrounds. And none of this makes me any less Aboriginal.
I am ready to bring back the culture that was stolen from my family and stolen from me. Dr Devil said that it would take three generations to stamp out our Aboriginality. Well guess what? He was wrong, and if he couldn’t stamp us out, I promise you, nothing will.