By Zoe Camille Huey

Portrait of person in a blue shirt in their room, positioned in front of a bed that is full of blankets.

Photo courtesy of Zoe Huey. [ID: A self portrait of a light-skinned, mixed-race Asian person with short hair in a blue long-sleeve button up shirt. The person is looking at the camera, with a contemplative expression. They are in their bedroom, in front of their bed, which is covered in blankets and laundry.]

I was once a doctor, a receptionist, a dog-walker, a teenager with a boyfriend and cellphone, a model, a dancer on So You Think You Can Dance, a waitress, and a spy – following in the legacy of Harriet the Spy. I was once a famous artist who sold colored pencil drawings for five and ten cents to save the arctic penguins. I was once the founder and sole operator of a lemonade stand. I was a liaison with the fairies, a builder of fairy houses, and a culinary mastermind who created nasturtium wraps in my very own backyard restaurant. I was once best friends with a hermit crab named Bob and heartbroken when I had to say goodbye to the little creature. I was once an archaeologist who dug ginormous holes in the backyard. I was a sculptor, who shaped the clay I found in the earth into animals that were part dog, part bird, part fish.  

I was once a kid who felt time slipping by, who, in fifth grade, was already worried about regrets that I felt bubbling up. I was once a kid who began to lose myself and also the way home to myself. I was once a kid who believed, less and less, that I was all these things, because reality and imagination became more and more separated from one another. I was once a kid who played dress up. I am a kid, dressed up in a grown-up suit.  

What makes my grown-up suit a grown-up suit, isn’t the color or fabric or cost or brand. It isn’t the size or washing instructions. My grown-up suit has been slowly growing with me for years now, like a second skin. In my grown-up suit I feel disconnected from my sense of bodily time, my needs, and my wants. I am more rigid. I find less fascination with the small things around me. I discover less. I am in awe, less. There are times when I manage to sort of step out of my grown-up suit – when holes emerge in the fabric like portals, reminding me of who I am. In these moments I don’t feel like a kid again but instead I feel the kid inside of me. These moments happen when I am playing with my dog and together we howl. Or when the toddler I care for and I attentively watch and roll-y poll-y bug crawl through the playground sand. Or when I am in the garden with dirt under my nails, pulling weeds, and I come across a salamander who has made a home in the earth under the bag of mulch. I return to myself when there is nowhere else I have to be.  

In thinking about how queerness, home, and creative practice all intersect, I return again and again to ideas of childhood. “Home” can feel like a stillness, but it is not stagnant. Instead, home changes and grows with me, as I search for my way home within my own body. Home is a grounding root and the branches who spiral upwards and out. The word home and the word return feel deeply related, with return referencing a movement both backwards and forwards in time. As I grow older I grow closer to the child within me, so that I can hold my small self again, nurture her, and learn from her. My childhood was not black or white but rather gray- I was safe and loved, and also very anxious. Sometimes, on a whim, I wish I could go back in time, with what I know now, and encourage little me to be more silly and care less about grades and fitting in. But the real desire lies in learning to offer myself now the breath and space and time to play. 


My mom was white. She grew up in Southern California, with a mom whose lineage traces back to Britain. Her dad was Jewish, probably from Poland, but was never a practicing Jew. My dad is Chinese, born to immigrant parents from a farming region in Southern China in 1952 San Francisco. With two older sisters, he was the first born son of the family (a position of high responsibility).  

I am someone who experiences whiteness as both a twisted blessing and a curse. In classic racist fashion, I get the “what are you” question alongside the myriad of guesses about just who exactly I might be. I get the backwards compliment that praises mixed-people being so beautifully unique. I have been called white. I have been told I am lucky to look so white. I have the privilege, safety, and access of being half-white. At the same time, whiteness has been a force of erasure in my life. 

There was a brief period of my childhood where my dad taught me the numbers in Cantonese. On our visits to Chinatown, he’d encourage me to speak and count in Chinese when it was time to pay for the don tots, cha siu bow, and gin doy. I’d practice my Cantonese numbers in a blue-lined hardcover notebook, taller than it was wide, with slightly faded yellow pages. I liked how all the numbers in the world were based on ten different characters – ten building blocks to count with infinitely.  

Other than the numbers, I didn’t learn much Cantonese from my dad. He never felt confident in his understanding of the language, having grown up in a society consumed with pressures to assimilate. English was the language he learned and American comic book superheroes were the men he idolized. But on Lunar New Year, he says, his mom would cook a feast. When I hear him share his stories of food from his culture, I feel something in him soften and light up.  

When my dad and I share treats from Chinatown or bake Ling Go for New Years together, I feel close to him. And I feel close to a part of myself that hasn’t always felt like it belongs to me. A part I feel like I don’t know much about. I am both Chinese and not Chinese. Both white and not white. Both and neither. Like so many people, I straddle multiple categories, looking for a balancing point in the middle of them. Finding home feels like a practice of trying to describe this space of specific ambiguity, of in-betweenness, of undefined-ness – and honoring, maybe even celebrating, the void from which we feel.  


I feel at home in my body only to the extent that I feel myself searching for home. I am learning my self worth, locating myself within my lineage and wondering if in my body, my ancestors can meet. I am learning to welcome the wisdom of my body’s temporal pacing. 

Recently, I’ve been feeling ghostlike in my body. I have a wispy, foggy sense of myself. I do the tasks I need to do but I am rigid and held and clunky when I move. In a dance class taught by Ainsley Tharp I was offered the practice of speaking the words aloud “I am powerful,” while a partner whispered from the sidelines, “You are powerful.” In the one tiny and fleeting moment of speaking the words aloud, I did indeed feel a surge of power. But I let it go right after. I let myself go from it. My physical body stayed put in the room, but my mind and heart flew away. I fled fast from myself, and from this source of power inside of myself.  

A few months ago I lost my mom to a cancerous brain tumor that bloomed like a butterfly in her brain. I am only at the very beginning of reckoning with the hole in me where my attachment to her lay, like a deeply buried root in the earth, from which I, the tree, grow. I could very much have written a whole essay about home in relation to my mom, but I am not ready for that, yet. It feels important to name the way in which grief has returned me to childhood and to home.  


I repeat to myself, My feet are standing on the floor My feet are standing on the floor My feet are standing on the floor. Which is to say, I am a part of this earth and the earth a part of me. I am real. I am taking up space in this room. I am in relationship with the world around me.  


Mostly sky, with a person tilted, mid-jump, in the bottom right corner of the frame.
Photo courtesy of Zoe Huey. [ID: A person is caught mid jump, visible from the waist up. They are in black adidas pants and a yellow ochre shirt. Most of the image is blue sky with white feathery clouds. The person’s arms are stretched above them, as if they have jumped back, and are now tilting/falling forward.]

These days I share time with a one-and-a-half-year-old girl (N) who is fascinated with the world around her. She is learning how things fit together, taking the caps on and off of markers, and on again, touching the soft and rough sides of velcro, becoming elated with excitement when a big bumble bee flies in through the kitchen window. She lives on her own timeline, clear with what she does and does not want. Together we roll around on the bed, hide in boxes, feed the stuffed animals bites of her oatmeal, and become entranced with the construction work happening next door. She hides in plain sight, covering her face with her eyes. She hides in the closet, and squeals with excitement when she slides the door back to reveal herself standing right in front of me.  

N helps me in tracking this deep commitment I have towards rules, obedience, predictability, and order. When N throws her entire bowl of oatmeal onto the floor to see what will happen or when it takes us twenty minutes to get out the door because she insists, at only 18 months, that she must be the one to put on her own lace-up sneakers, I can easily have my patience tested. My reaction of momentary frustration is telling me something very important about my attachment to things going a certain way. N is just a kid, and what joyousness to live a life where you can spontaneously throw oatmeal into the air to see how it will splat on the floor (not to neglect the importance of teaching N about responsibility and gratitude). What strong will and a heart N has- what fierce independence she displays as she tries to put her tiny right foot into the left shoe. And when, after some period of time that makes sense to her body, she is done trying, N has no trouble asking for help. She is unafraid of needing. When I help her put on her shoes, I feel a sense of purpose. Yes, my body is in relation to hers, and yes, we are both offering one another a gift of and in our own making.  

N guides me into relationship with my own queerness – an embodiment of time that is not rigid, a deep connection with the needs of the body, and sweet laughter that erupts simply from looking at one another (for longer than most adults do). With her, I slow down. I am brought into the present moment as she shows me how much there is to be discovered. This is the dance between her and I, finding a language of love and trust through a language of play.  


Dance has felt like both something I am putting onto my body, and something I am birthing from my body. My dance education includes the white dance lineage of modern and post-modern dance. In college I was, for the most part, taught by white professors. I lived in a world of whiteness. I lived, as whiteness, a feeling I can only describe as a wash of white paint over an already painted image – a sort of masking of the self. It’s as if I gave all my energy toward holding up and sustaining the white half of myself in order to be successful, as if I could be separated from myself. And in this loss, so too, was the loss of play. My perfectionism, the wanting to please, the feeling that my art could be good or bad all took me away from myself. I looked so intensely outward and worried so much about what I should be making. So of course, making from my heart was confusing. I craved a relationship of trust with dance and with my dancing body so we could all play together. Yet when the making becomes tense with linearity and endpoints, and tied up with self-worth and image, the messy scribble of a process has a hard time being free to wander.  

I hold the question of what happened in the transmission of movement from the white bodies who taught me to my body. For a long time this question has felt very serious to me. I am waiting for the world of white dance lineage and the world of my body to arrive at a settled and peaceful coexistence. I’m realizing that this both isn’t the point, and isn’t going to happen, especially if I’m trying to make it happen. The two worlds must instead live in play with one another. The tension itself can be playful (which doesn’t make it less serious or rigorous or focused). I can welcome the embodiment of the question, allow it to move and morph with me and within me, and let go of trying to solve anything. The answer is in the day to day. The answer is in the queerness of living as a million possibilities, of finding wholeness in all the moving parts.  


I am writing from within my very own fort. This fort is made of draped and hung pieces of tracing paper, which have been cut through with an x-acto knife, dunked into a pot of leftover beet juice, sprayed with water, crumpled up again and again, colored upon with oil pastel, sewn together, glued together, and splattered with black ink.  

This visual art/performance piece I am currently in conversation with- this fort (which has yet to have the right title) has been slowly finding form in my imagination for a long while now. On nights when I can’t fall asleep I lay in bed, close my eyes, and bit by bit compose ideas in my mind. I see a dark theater space, with tracing paper drawings hanging in different formations. I see lights creating shadows on the walls. I see lights layered upon other lights to create double images with differing foci. I sometimes see myself in a red suit in a corner, either installing the work or laying down within its nest. There is never an image of me performing.  

I started to hang up these drawings in my apartment (in a room partially designated as empty “making” space). I hung the drawings from the ceiling with tiny nails and thread, used sewing pins to attach them side to side, and push pins to secure them to the walls. Every now and again I rearranged the pieces in the space. I started to make more drawings. I grew curious about the texture of tracing paper and all the ways I could manipulate the material. For a medium that’s commonly used to transfer an image from one surface to another, or to act as one layer of a larger whole, tracing paper is quite durable. I grew excited about the paper as something born from a liminal space. In cutting out shapes from the thin paper I designed a map of where the light can and cannot go.  

As the papers began to take shape as a fort, I realized that I needed to make the piece in my homespace (rather than a separate studio). With the COVID-19 pandemic and losing my mom, going “out and about” and “hitting the town” have felt challenging. If my life was once a large circle, it has now shrunk and condensed to a smaller, but no less bright circle. I am fortunate to have a safe and cozy apartment, which my partner and I moved into only three months ago. I am still nesting and building trust with the space. And seeing as I am still getting to know the space (and the space is still getting to know me), why not make a space within a space – a time travel device heading straight to the heart of my childhood, in which I might eat an afterschool snack of apples and peanut butter, draw fantastical made-up creatures, listen to Ramona Quimby Age 8 and the Harry Potter series, both on repeat, from a cassette tape player. The fort welcomes my childhood home into my new home, and it whispers as it crinkles in the wind, of the magic that is everywhere.  

While cooking dinner one night, I asked my partner if they ever built forts when they were a kid. He told me that his forts always took place in a blizzard. His stuffed animal friends would get lost in the storm and he’d bravely rescue them. Once back inside the fort, safe from the snow and wind, he’d nurse the animals back to health. When Luca told the story, he emphasized the heroism he felt when facing the blizzard. Afterwards I think, what tremendous heroism lies in acts of nurture, too.  


I repeat to myself, My feet are standing on the floor My feet are standing on the floor My feet are standing on the floor. Which is to say, I am a part of this earth and the earth a part of me. I am real. I am taking up space in this room. I am in relationship with the world around me.  


 It is morning and I go into the kitchen. Mom is pouring hot water into a tall, silver teapot with a long spout. She’s bustling about in slippers and sweatpants. She’s putting dishes away. She’s washing dishes. She’s roasting nuts in our toaster oven. She’s warming up two mugs with a pour of hot water, in preparation for the tea. She’s warming up milk and adding the milk to the strongly brewed Earl Gray or Irish Breakfast.  

She pours two cups of tea and sits down with me at the kitchen table. Together, we do a word puzzle in the daily newspaper.  


It is morning and I sit on the deck outside of my mom’s studio in the backyard. The dogs lay on blankets soaking up the bright, hot heat – heat that seems to melt and pour like a thick slow river from the mouth of the sun. Mom is meditating inside her studio. Around her shoulders is a worn red and orange cloth that my sister and I bought years ago from a vendor at the Telegraph Avenue Winter Street Fair.  

She is done meditating and she comes outside to sit with the dogs and me. We chat about this or that. A part of me wishes that this moment of morning – of skin soaking up sun, of beginning, of saying hello – could last all day.  

This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of In Dance.

Zoe Huey is a queer interdisciplinary artist born, raised and currently residing on unneeded Chochenyo Ohlone territory, also known as Oakland, CA. Through painting, drawing, movement, and multi-media experimentation, they weave together curiosities around mixed race and non-binary embodiment. Their making is propelled through work with children, a deep love of dogs, and abundant gratitude for the ocean, redwood forests, collaboration, and friendship.