by Danielle Tanimura
“What are you?”, not “How are you?”. As early as preschool, I thought that this was just how conversations were supposed to start. This is normal. This is fine.
In the world of possible questions, this is a heavy exchange to navigate at any age. I eventually learned that this sentiment was never going to go away. No matter how politely packaged or delicately nuanced, people continue to ask to this day. This sense of curiosity is healthy I suppose.
I am so fascinated by the simplicity and relative complexity of the world for those who have assigned boxes in which to pour their identity like a goldfish in a bowl floating atop the sea. I am one of those primordial anomalies of the lower depths. An experiment in hybrid evolution only recently observed and yet unable to categorize; ephemeral as a shadow in the abyss. I was created for those deeper seas, under the weight of gender, sexuality, race, belief, and a history of violence. Of these distinctions, I am expected to carry them all, but that pressure is where I thrive.
There are moments when I feel eyes on me. I look up from my newsfeed, ears full of queer-punk or hapa femme indie rock, only to catch the trace of a micro-aggressive lingering gaze from the periphery of a crowded train-car. I cheshire-smile to myself and return to my media because I know the questions they yearn to ask. I am a breathing zen koan. I’ve spent enough time struggling with them. Pay it no mind.
What am I? My newly minted IDs are blushing. My doctors’ letters, prescriptions, and judge-signed court documents can legitimize to others what I’ve always known about myself. There and back again: I am a journey. I am a genetic and hormonal montage. But that’s all just poetry, and you came here looking for labels. In that case: I am a Japanese-Hyphen-American Bohemian Jewish Hapa Yonsei Queer Married Trans Woman and Soon-to-be Mother, Daughter of the New Millennium.
What am I? Recently reflecting on something a distant auntie once awkwardly told me, now I am a JAP both ways.
Where am I from? That’s the usual follow-up question. That depends. How long have you got? I trace my roots back to a place somewhere between The Land of Milk and Honey and that of the Rising Sun. From my father: Chicago via the Internment, the forgotten deserts of stolen Native Lands, California and Puget Sound, Hiroshima and Kumamoto. Nisei soldiers fighting their own cousins in the Pacific and occupying a broken Germany. From my mother: Jewish immigrant Civil War soldiers dressed in both blue and grey raised in Cleveland. Golden-age Hollywood gangster lawyers on the run. Nazi-hunting sons of Abraham returning to Europe generations after their ancestors fled from the Cossacks invading Hungary and Czechoslovakia. History has taught me that sometimes you do have to go home, if you want stay here.
Where am I from? I’m just a Second City kid in a world on fire.
Identity: Heavy as a drop of blood, subtle as a barbed-wire fence.
About the Author
Born in Chicago in 1983, Danielle Musashi Tanimura is a hapa yonsei queer trans Photomancer of Japanese and Bohemian Jewish ancestry. Her passion for history, photography and graphic design combine to create a reflection of a spiritual world at war for identity and deliverance.