I used to make scads of these things when I was in art school. I chopped body parts off of tiny toy animals and recombined them. I had a tiny hack saw. I put them back together with tweezers. I set them in their own exotic wee dioramas.
I was interested in the figure of the hybrid. What can I say? It was the early 2000’s. Hybrids were hot in art and cultural criticism. I felt the hybrids mimicked the violence of animal taxonomies and museum taxidermy, and the neat, clean boxes of categorization I had so many problems with. I thought these half-breed, mythical animals had something quirky to say about being queer, being mixed race, having one food in rural culture and another in urban culture in a globalizing world, about adoption, muddy kinship, and blood quantum politics, and the power struggles over self-representation when you fit in more than one box, and none of those boxes fit quite right.
Then one day I met a boy. I thought he was a boy like me, a half-breed who passed as white, off the rez but doing fine in the majestic halls of academia. I showed him my hybrids. He laughed. “WFT,” he said. “Why are they so tidy?”
Shit. I was devastated. He was right. Passing and not fitting and living in multiple worlds that didn’t understand one another was not a tidy affair. My hybrid animals were bad representations of hybridity. They had the heads of one recognizable animal and the bodies of another recognizable animal. They might be in two parts, but they were made of two wholes. You could give them tidy, half-and-half names like rhino-whale and hippo-whale.
I stopped making the tidy hybrids, and eventually, I stopped dating the boy. He might have been right about the art, but he was crazy. I should have known. It takes a hot mess to spot a hot mess being misrepresented as a too-tidy hybrid.
— hand delivered in New York City
Hybrids are (these hybrids especially) are a funny thing.
There is both mobilization and death in categories. The Binding, compartmentalizing, perfect slicing up of life, all impossible and serene. Those funny little guys resonate with me- I too am a hybrid.
I was born in the Caribbean (half Indian, half Black), a dugla, a mut. I stepped into this world a confusion of categories with wildly enormous hair– that “good” kind, soft hair.
We moved (my mother and I) to the Bronx, Harlem, and finally Hartford. Growing up in the suburbs, first, resituated by logic of categories, second, me, learning me a blur of color, hair, accent, a miss belonging to nowhere. Eventually, I learned the way to be legible is to be a neat hybrid: part West Indian, part White. While tidy hybrids my be “passing” and not “fitting,” that is exactly what it means to existing in the confusion of boundaries– sometimes you don’t know where the boundaries are, but you know the criteria for passing: being a hybrid is also learning how to be tidy, to fit properly.