This post will explore how many of the parts of my life are dualities, or special combinations of two different things. I’m a medical illustrator. I’m biracial. And I’m bisexual. How have two seemingly separate elements combined to make you unique?
I will start with medical illustration, because this is the combo that makes the most sense to me, and it’s the one I intentionally chose!
Medical illustration was a way for me to take two things I loved, art and science, and mash them together into a career so that I could do things I love all day, and make a living involving them. It was also a way for me to be unique and oddball in a very intentional way. I have always felt like an outsider to some degree, and throughout my life I’ve been striving to embrace the positive about that – to make it interesting and to own it and shape it, rather than feeling left out.
Becoming a medical illustrator in real life was made possible by the efforts of many people that came before me who created the field, especially in the last 80 years or so. (Thank you, so much!)
In my work, I am able to learn about science and medicine and also study fine art techniques and illustration. I can blend together these skills on a project and problem solve to get the job done. As an artist, I am very interested in turquoise paint, abstract drips, accurate pencil drawing, form and light, shading and animation. As a science lover, I’m very interested in human anatomy, how bones and vessels and nerves are shaped, how new molecules are designed to fit together, and kidneys! At work, I don’t necessarily get to drip paint all over luscious kidney drawings as much as I would like, but all these passions are with me, pulling me towards excellence – but my own style of excellence.
I think of artists and scientists very differently, and I can understand them as separate groups, but I think of myself as both, and as a third thing too, this blend, this being a medical illustrator. If you are one of my colleagues reading this you already know that there is more to the sum of the parts than expected! It is always very rich and rewarding talking to other medical illustrators, because they are all mixtures as well! You could find somebody who’s into surgery+filmmaking, molecular biology+3D modeling, or neurology+portrait painting. A very varied group, and everyone is at least “two things” which I just love.
Being biracial has been confusing and wonderful and oppressive and liberating.
I’m White and Indian (the kind from India, I always had to specify as a kid) and every single ethnicity/race question on every survey I’ve ever seen is a head-scratcher. One reason is it’s hard to categorize people when they are “two things” – and another complication is that nobody is sure where to include Indians. It’s usually “Asian and Pacific Islander” but… I just am not called that in real life and it seems like it might not be the best fit. But it’s the best fit. haha.
As a child I was exposed to my father’s Indian culture through trips to the Hindu temple, holidays and a few close family friends. But we lived in a district without many Indian families, right next to districts where the Indian friends went to school. So I wasn’t pulled in to the social circle to the same degree as everyone else. I didn’t have the language to connect over, since we only spoke English at home. And I sometimes felt left out by not being more Indian. I was exposed to things I considered “White” through Catholic church with my mom, school, and my neighborhood. In my daily life with mostly White friends, I felt different as well. (Not right away – when young I was happily oblivious and pretty color blind. Racism always bothered me SO MUCH, but I didn’t understand how it would come to affect me personally. I also truly thought it was mostly in the past.)
But as I “blossomed” into middle school and high school (that’s a joke because I actually blossomed more in the 30-40 year old range), I noticed my differences more. I didn’t fully fit in group A, and I also didn’t fully fit in group B. I am not sure how much of this… I felt was related to my racial mix, because I was also a shy “nerd” and “band geek” etc etc! I found a trusted friend who was also biracial and we sort of made our way through high school mocking those who could not comprehend somebody being “two things” – though now I don’t think we completely got it either. It’s hard to understand yourself at that age.
Being a biracial person has exposed me to way more points of view, ways of living, food, culture, and places. I think it’s much easier for me to see that different cultures should be accepted simply because they are. That different types of people are valid just by existing. I would not trade my experience because it gives me depth! I’m now more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and will put myself in Indian situations, for example, without needing to be exactly like other people. We are all different! Some of the more recent portrayals of mixed race teens and immigrant teens on shows have helped me see that I am not alone at all. So many Americans and people across the globe have dealt with this duality. And it’s ok to feel conflicted, though it’s overwhelmingly a great thing to be biracial!
I’m not fully comfortable with labeling myself or others based on race unless there is some legitimate reason to be discussing it. If you ask me “where I’m from” (ugh) I will say “Lansing, Michigan” every time and then obstinately give you directions to something local while ignoring other attempts to indirectly ask me why I’m brown skinned. I will mention the hospital! I will tell you about my many moves to various American cities!! But as I’m learning more and more about this world we live in, and the hate that must be countered with love, I do see many legit reasons to talk about it as well. I will let you know how it goes in the next 20 years or so!
I’m proud to be an Indian daughter of a first-gen immigrant, and a White daughter also descended from immigrants. That makes me feel good.
I am also bisexual, which to me, means I’m attracted to both men and women.
This is something I learned when I was 40 (about a year ago) and I am quite glad to finally know. I like men. I like women. It’s definitely a combination of two separate things but they are very related as well, and combine to form me.
Now that I’m more comfortable with other aspects of my personality being unique (artist! medical artist! brown! woman! likes to watch surgery!!!) I guess I allowed myself to question things a bit more than in the past, and I realized, as an adult, that what I feel towards women is more than just the usual “I admire your style” feeling. Being attracted to women (whether gay or bisexual) wasn’t an option when I was growing up, so it was something I repressed without even really knowing.
Figuring out that I like both women AND men was revealing; it also combines an A category with a B category. Seems to be a pattern for me! It explains so much about my past and present self. It’s ok to enjoy this and/or that, and in fact it makes me more open-minded with things that have nothing to do with sexuality. I’m more willing to have friends of different genders. I’m more able to think of others as multi-faceted beings too. It’s not just what they can provide in a work environment, for example, but it’s always good to remember they are also full human beings, dealing with confusing issues as we all are.
I suspect that being bi is more common than I know, but it is not easy to see and can be viewed as something too “out there” to discuss. I think this is the very reason I want to discuss it! No, I don’t want to share the details of my sex life, but I want other people who feel alone to know my point of view: “I am both of these things, and I’m ok!”
Coming out was an important process for me, and it went fairly well. (I will have to share more about that story elsewhere.) The main struggles for me came before that, internally questioning if I was “really bisexual” and later deciding that I needed to be honest about it with the people in my life, for my own sake, and to help make things safe for others.
I’m new to this identity, but I can already see there will be some struggles in finding other bisexual people to befriend. I accept the challenge of finding people to fit in with. I was never easily defined and I shouldn’t start trying to be now!
Now I just feel lucky that not only am I safe and happy with this news, I’m BOTH! It’s another example of how combining two things is acceptable, it can even be something that makes you unique and rich and not like everybody else. Getting to this place reminded me of the merger of art+science and prompted me to write this meandering blog post. Also, being part of both “sides” has allowed me to develop empathy and see multiple points-of-view – an important part of communication, and surely an asset to my professional career as a medical illustrator!
I hope you have thought of some interesting combinations in yourself, or in the people in your life. Thanks for reading!
*A note on binary thinking.
I don’t believe there are only two opposite choices for most things in life. I’m probably actually pansexual but “bi” is something I, and my family can wrap our heads around and most people have heard of it. I’m probably more than biracial because my White mother includes Belgian, Polish, French Canadian, Welsh… and on my dad’s side the word “Indian” has a depth to it – there is a lot of varied culture on both sides that I should dig into further. You know, all the stuff my parents were trying to interest me in when I was young and refusing to listen. I’m definitely more than a medical illustrator, more than art+science combining to form this very specific thing. I’m also a fine artist, a writer, a business person, and many more things which are less a list and more an interconnected tangle. I think combining A + B is a great start, however, in getting closer to the unique self we are trying to discover.