If I had been born during any other era, my story would be different. The world would not be ready to understand with open hearts or minds. To this day, many still choose not to. But whether they choose ignorance or empathy is up to them. My story will still be here; it will never be erased.
It begins and remains with a revelation: All of who I am lies on a continuum. My identity cannot be encompassed by a single term.
My ethnicity. I am biracial. I am both Jewish and Chinese.
My gender. I am genderqueer, existing outside the binary of “boy” and “girl.”
My disability. I am Deaf with access to some sound through two cochlear implants.
My sexuality. I am pansexual, loving beyond “straight” or “gay.”
I have not always known these identity expressions. To understand them, I first had to unlearn. It required diving deep into the systems that oppressed me, scraping the surface to expose them, and then studying their roots. And while it was terrifying, I understood that the communities standing by me would always offer support. That love and empathy (products of this ever-long process of discovery) can melt the cold, hard surface of the iceberg. Together, we will rebuild these systems around inclusivity and accessibility by embracing individuality and living our truths.CONTINUUM
As soon as I could articulate my choices, I chose to paint my childhood bedroom blue. Looking back, it is clear that this decision was made in favor of the gender I wished to claim. Books and loose papers filled with doodles covered the floor—one thing that has never changed. From bed, I gazed up, scanning the edges of my ceiling, watching the blue meet the bare drywall. My body was engulfed by the tangled mess of superhero blankets as my pupils ran laps around the whites of my eyes, cycling through the routine in hopes it would shift my focus from the constant ringing in my ears. It was an eerie pitch, distant yet close, seeming to emanate from my mind.
At times, I wondered if the incessant noise was my own subconscious, passing on a message. Its voice kept me awake, encouraging my futile attempts of translation.
Enough, I thought, swinging my small legs over the side of the bed. I’ve never had much patience, although I have learned there are pros to this con. Letting my body drop the short distance from the bed to the ground, I walked down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom.
Every year, my parents insisted on hanging my sister’s and my school photos down this path. Passing them that night, I felt my own eyes follow me, bright from the moonlight. My mom always advised us to sport our favorite shirt each year on picture day. “Screw formality,” she said. “When you look back, you’ll connect with the clothing you loved.”
Naturally, I chose to fill my frames with baggy Spider-Man T-shirts. Empowered to be in clothes I connected with, my smile was genuine. I wish this remained for the school pictures to come.
Reaching my parents’ door, I cracked it open.
“Mommy?” I said, rubbing my eyes as they adjusted to the light.
“Rachel! Why are you awake? What’s wrong?”
She rushed over and crouched down so we were eye to eye. My mom always tried to treat us as equals.
“My ears are ringing,” I heard myself say.
A crease formed between her brows, and her shoulders softened.
“I thought the ringing would have stopped after a week, but I’ll take you to the ear doctor tomorrow morning just to be safe, okay?”
I hugged her hard and retreated to my blue room.
Copyright © 2021 by Chella Man; Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.