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Who Are You? — Why I Joined Reframe

Kate D’Adamo

One of my favorite books is called Part Asian, 100% Hapa, which is a collection of different portraits of people who are multi-racial Asian. Not only was it a book of people who looked just as alien as I did growing up, it asked them the question that has always been a refrain in my life: what ARE you?

Being asked from a young age to know how to classify yourself for someone who doesn’t know what to make of you is a constant process of self-analysis, of understanding how you can relate to any given audience at any given moment. How you can be related to in any given moment, to any audience. Where do I fit and what are the terms I can use that will make you understand where to put me? How do I relate to your framework and what do I do with the pieces that don’t make it into that shape? What does it mean to find family when you are always leaving pieces of yourself aside?

This constant re-assessment of how well you fit, of what you are in any moment, sets you up to realize how much the world is not made for you. The constant drumbeat of what are you is grounded on the foundational unspoken other half of the sentence; because I do not see you as one of us. As queer folks, as women, as femmes, as multi-racial people we are taught quickly that the world is not made for us. Service providers, schools, churches, every institution we can imagine, were not made to fit the many different types of experiences that people have.

I came to Reframe Health and Justice because I wanted to be a part of changing that story.

When asked what are you? there is only one answer which always feels right — I am a community organizer. The work that I draw the most upon has been as an organizer for sex workers in the New York area. In developing community spaces, building peer-led work and shaping advocacy, we sought to build a world based on the unsaid thing that community members were asked to leave behind and where the most important answer to What Are you? is I am a sex worker.

When invested in community work, it is also a constant re-assessment, and of understanding the limits of your own framework. It is so easy to organize with others who answer that burning question the same way you do, and so organizing means seeing those limits of your understanding as places to meet others, find common ground, and share in communal struggles for change. It is a process of constantly learning how much you have to offer and how much more you have to learn. Every time we organized a protest, created a peer support space, or developed capacity building workshops, I was amazed at the incredible knowledge held within that room. Everyone had a well of stories and questions to share. Every space provided something new, and every space was fraught with things we didn’t account for (when you’re not a smoker, you forget about cigarette breaks!).

And this is what I see in Reframe: a commitment to discovering what is possible in solidarity and collaboration. It was an honor to join a space led by so many things shared, and still so many things that are invitations to learn more. What excites me about this work is Reframe’s deep commitment to transformation, of not just creating unique spaces but expanding spaces that are already doing great work. I see the efforts of Reframe as the other half of the work that I love — we cannot just build our own spaces, but we should also demand that existing spaces serve us better and value the unique experiences that people of color, queer folks, non-normative bodies, sex workers, substance users, parents, migrants and immigrants all bring to the table. We all have complicated and unending answers to the question what are you that change based on where we are and what we want, and today I am honored to answer: I’m excited to see what is possible working with this incredible team.

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