Tiff Gonzales is a fourth-generation Mexican American, native to Texas, who identifies as queer both in gender identity and sexual orientation.
Tiff moved to Louisville five and a half years ago. She says when we talk about race in Louisville, we’re generally only talking about black and white. Latino issues are rarely part of the conversation, and when they are, it often only includes immigrants. “There’s so much that draws me to this city,” she says, “but that invisibility is something that I, on a regular basis, would struggle with to determine whether or not I can continue to live here.”
Tiff says there’s a certain loneliness in the lack of a community of folks who share similar identities. “I could name maybe just a couple of other people who I feel like would hold the identities of being a queer Latino here in this city.” But, she says, “I’m hopeful that there will be some change in that in the city that I really do love.”
When Tiff Gonzales spoke with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis, the conversation at one point turned to tokenism and whether the trouble with seeking diversity on panels and projects like this is that one person is asked to represent the experiences of an entire group—whether it’s race, class, LGBTQ status, etc. “I really struggled with accepting this invitation. I thought, I’m going to be put into this position where I need to answer a question as one person, for—truly, when we’re talking about Latinos in the United States—millions upon millions of people.”
“I am one person, who has been shaped by many other people, and many other experiences. I can only tell you what it’s like to be me.”
On Being Genderqueer
“This has been an interesting development over the course of my life. I think about myself as a very young child to today, and how my understanding about gender identity has really evolved. For a long time, I thought, well, I’m just going to really fail at being the girl or the woman people want me to be. In all the other ways that I can make my parents an my family proud of me, this will just be one of the ways that they will be disappointed, because I will fall short of the mark of being who they want me to be in this regard.
Today I understand that there are not just women and men. You do not have to fall into either one of those categories. And I don’t know that the story of my gender identity is complete. I identify today with you all as genderqueer; I don’t know what that will be one day. For me what it means today is that the lines between what it is to be a man or a woman, or however you want to identify yourself, however you want to express your gender, is fluid. For me to say I am genderqueer today means that I don’t feel confined to what society says that you have to be from your birth. That who we are is actually more complex than the limitations that are put on us for who we can be. And I feel free to live in that complexity and not have any anxiety in living in a space that is not as defined as, ‘you will be one, a man,’ or, ‘you will be two, a woman,’ and I feel perfectly fine with that, and I feel happy that I have been able to let go of those limitations that are really, truly unfair to put on people.”
“For a long time as a teenager, I worried about a couple of things. While I was perfectly and fine with who I understood myself to be at that time, I worried that folks would tell me two things: That God will not be happy with who you are, and that my family, who… in terms of my identity, when I think about myself as that cultural identity that I have, the family for me is at least equal, if not more important to me, than my personal identity. I hold to that family identity very closely. So the fear of whether or not my family will continue to hold me in that identity, in that grouping, was very much a fear of mine.
I am very fortunate that my family has been loving to me from my birth until this moment. I recognize it as a great blessing and know that that is not the experience of every person who lives the life that I live. I’m blessed. That doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t talk about things. We don’t talk about everything. My relationship with my father truly is a beautiful thing for me, because while the identities that I hold may be difficult for him in some regards, his commitment to unconditional love has transcended everything, and my unconditional love for him is transcending that at every turn. And that means we can talk about sexual orientation, and even in these past few years talking about gender identity, which is some ways may be even more of a struggle in our conversations. But there really has been an overwhelming amount of love there that is helping us to negotiate the complexities of what it is to encounter something that you may not know.”
On the Trouble with Diversity Efforts
“You won’t get at what is the reality of these various groups of people to really talk about what we look like as country, or what we look like as a city, if the spaces are held are by those that have, again, that class, race, gender privilege, I don’t think that we can get to the real story of that. I think for me the answer is that folks create spaces that make sense for them, where people are sharing power together, in order to have stories and experiences, concerns, be lifted up, and then also to say, now we all share these concerns together, we share these stories together, we’re sharing this experience together, and we can work from this place. As long as those spaces are created by other folks, I think it absolutely encourages that tokenism.
I don’t want to participate in those kind of things. It’s unfair to me as an individual, but it also shows a lack of the amount of work that people really need to do. If these things are of concern to you, then creating real spaces, and participating and partnering to create spaces where the concerns of people who are brown and queer, those who may also be poor, where those voices actually can be lifted up. And not just to be heard—that’s one aspect—but are we actually going to move forward in our work together in this community to do something about what we’ve heard? It’s one thing to be listened to, but it’s another thing to say okay, I value what it is that you’ve said. I may not understand every bit of that experience, but I choose to be with you in the struggle to create a happier, healthier, safer life for you, and for the communities that are important to you. And I want to be part of the latter.”