By Deyone Milana Guiseppi
With Migration on the rise, the world is changing. People migrate for many different reasons, one of which is seeking asylum. The need for asylum has been an increasingly common cause for migration in recent times. I happen to be one of those people who did seek asylum in Europe.
I sought asylum because I am transgender and in my country (Trinidad and Tobago), like many other Caribbean countries, the laws are still colonial. These ideologies were forced onto us in slavery and therefore continue to subconsciously influence the ideologies of our society today. This creates a toxic environment for someone such as myself. Therefore, I made the hard decision of leaving everything behind and fleeing to Europe where I was granted asylum.
In my country I felt like I didn’t belong because of the negative attention placed on such a small characteristic – my gender identity. My citizenship was essentially denied by other members of society and the government based on my transgenderism. This put me in a position of vulnerability that was extremely physically and mentally harmful but when I came to Europe the dynamic changed.
Instead I felt excluded mostly based on race but also in an intersectional way – because I am transgender, from the third world, an immigrant, a refugee, I didn’t speak the language and I wasn’t one of ‘them’ (European). While there is a lot of progress made in terms of sexual and gender citizenship laws in Western Europe, in comparison to ‘third world’ countries, there is room for a lot of improvement. Laws don’t automatically change things – it is the mindsets of people that makes change and this takes time. So, while the extent to which my belonging depended more on my gender identity in Trinidad and Tobago, this shifted, and the bigger issue became my race and outward appearance.
“For the first time in my life I overtly experienced what it was like to not belong because of my race or looking physically different, in addition to culture”.
When I say overtly, I mean in comparison to my country where it is covert and because multiculturalism existed there for a long time in comparison to the European situation. Residual European ideologies imposed during slavery haunt us as a people, like many colonised ‘third world’ nations. Everything European is seen as superior. It is so engrained in society and many of us haven’t healed. But healing takes time and a consciousness. A consciousness that came to me in Europe. We become conscious when we have to face things that make us uncomfortable.
In my country, issues such as colourism still affect many of us today, including myself. Because colourism is of such a physical nature, when I came to the Netherlands the racial and cultural difference between the dominant white population and that of myself were juxtaposed. This made a dormant consciousness of this internal racism, and colourism I had towards myself erupt.
“At first, I felt the same feelings of inferiority and oppression, which I grew up with in my motherland. Being in Europe intensified this but it also gradually made me realize that these ideologies were not true.”
This made me challenge them – change gradually began to occur within me. Never having interacted with white people on a daily basis, coming to Europe pushed me out of the comfort zone of ignoring this problem and forced me to confront it.
I felt this way especially during my first first three years living in the Netherlands, which were extremely difficult, making me fall into an extreme depression. Having to adapt to a new culture and a new climate while dealing with the intersections of racism and discrimination based on my gender is no easy task. It was difficult to feel at ease at that time in the Netherlands.
This, as hard as it seemed, was a necessary path towards my self-growth and moving closer to figuring out who I am. The more I made strides in overcoming these problems, the more I discovered about myself, the more I became unapologetically secure in who I was and standing firmly in that truth, the more I felt at home.
I believe home is really the soundness we have in who we are and not a physical place. I do feel that the places we live do influence our identities to some extent but it’s the feelings attached to those places that determine our sense of belonging not the places themselves.
I feel some sort of connection to my homeland and the Netherlands because they both had an influence on me discovering who I am and finding soundness in that, but I don’t feel like I am a specific nationality – rather a citizen of the world and I believe that we all are. Identity is ever evolving, change is constant, diversity is inevitable. I believe what is important to belonging is a safe space that fosters discovery of one’s self and is open for diversity, but ultimately ‘home’ is tantamount to soundness in self no matter where we are.
This article was written by one of our volunteers, Deyone Guiseppi.
Deyone Milana Guiseppi is a black rights activist, a transgender activist and an aspiring singer, dancer, designer and author. She is currently an Arts student at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.