Dawn had come and gone, so it was almost a midday sun that dragged me from a still-drunk slumber. The light, the way it shone through the shutters, made me think we could be anywhere. So when the windows were cracked open and street sounds reached us, I thought of Dar Es Salaam, Rome, busy roads and car horns. On a similar morning, children’s voices rose up, hearkening back to distant summer pleasures.
“se réveiller ailleurs…”
While the outside shape-shifts, inside, a cascade of words and impressions tumble through my mind, whether flashbacks or intense awareness for the present, I can’t be sure. Lithe, luxurious, tangle of limbs, echoes of Countee Cullen’s “Tableau”, all the books and films, ever. Forms of synchronicity and promises of empires to come.
*When I see Solange, I see a woman, a sister. I know how she feels in her skin, I know how she gathers her hair on the top of her head as she slips into bed at the end of a long day. When I see her backing singers, I know the laughs that rose from their throats as they dressed and got ready; I know their measured breathing as the walked out onto the stage as the lights flashed on. When she says “I have a right to be mad”, I yell “Preach”, whisper my thanks, though no one can hear. When she tells us her body is tired and she doubted herself, I hear my own voice, and know what she means.*
This strikes me because I’ve been to gigs, listened to interviews, taken interest in artists. But I feel none of this when I see male idols on stage. I feel no such connection to the rich and famous white men who grace my screens, the pages of these papers, their faces on billboards.
Now (almost) a grown woman on the verge of real life, I realise the importance of seeing my peers in positions of power – artistic, political, academic. I live in a society dominated by people who don’t look like me. My peers never wrote the laws, their voices weren’t the ones echoing through the marble halls of power. For too long, their very being was put into question, their voices never heard.
So today, Solange and all our sisters out there stand out as true inspirations and precious examples for me. Women to look up to, to show me how far I, too, can reach. When I see them, I know I can achieve. I, too, with the power of my voice, of my words, of my love, can make waves and succeed. There is nothing keeping me from strength, pride and a firm, steady stride.
If Bey, Michelle, Serena, Gaga – women who hurt like me, cry, feel, hesitate and hope like all of us – have that power on a 25 year old, imagine how powerful their silhouettes are on the minds of our little sisters and daughters. Imagine the effect these solid and flawed women can have on the self-esteem and confidence of girls growing up. Imagine all of us realising our potential, finding our voices and pulling each-other up to the light. It’s December 2017 and the power of sisterhood is finally proving itself undeniably to the masses.
And away from global stage, in my own times of hesitation and doubt, I have found reassurance and true power closer to home. Hungover mornings, sunny lunches, cosy rainy afternoons and endless nights spent with Lindas, Lolas, Claudias, Danielas and Patricias are priceless. Watching these women excel in their fields and be their own bosses while staying honest about womanhood and all its challenges gives me strength and the belief that our time is now. And girl, are we gonna slay – all the way.
Nothing can describe the recurring sinking in my stomach, or the invasion of shivers. My complete inability to understand whether I should like, send love, be sad or show anger; wow could never be a solution. Also difficult to express is the deep gratitude in feeling that this time, we’re on a roll. Not all of us are marchers, or politicians, journalists, rappers, or have access to a platform from which to express ourselves. But what a lot of us do have in common is social media. And through this system we insist on calling perverse (which it is, but that can’t overshadow the ways in which it is effective..!), we have managed to create a true wave. And what with? Two words. Two words to lend our voices to a cry which should never be quietened, let alone silenced.
In only a few days, we have shone a light on a monster we love to ignore. And you know what, I’d love to see how you go around ignoring us this time. The numbers are undeniable; you cannot argue provocation, drunkenness, naïveté, or any of the other “excuses” you cower behind. May you be damned if you don’t prick up your ears, ready to finally listen, or if you choose to deny the truth, again.
More than the sinking feeling and the skin crawling, I’ve been crying. Crying at a pain that’s so normal, we never even bother mentioning it anymore. An injustice we should fight against together, but that we are all too tired to address, faced as we are with other unrelenting assaults to our integrity. When I see how many of us are involved, somehow, I feel even more helpless. If so many of us have been through this, how come it’s still going on? But this, this feels like a new opening for this conversation.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is a feminist wave, a current event, that makes the involvement of men obvious. Without the oppressing group gaining consciousness, it all stays the same. So when each of us says “Me too“, we are lending you our voices – so that you can join our ranks, stronger from our avowals – and be a part of this fight against a patriarchy that makes sexual harassment and assault part of the normal fabric of society. This is not normal. It’s time we overthrew this system, all of us together.
There are words that hurt. Selfish is a destroyer for me. And it’s taken me a long time to understand why. While I am a generous, sometimes (borderline) sacrificial person, I think this makes me strong, and so it’s not what shapes my pain at the root. It actually runs deeper and earlier.
As a child, I was denied individuality. Motions to do things for myself were swept aside, seen as signs of weakness. If I expressed a desire to sit out of a group activity, it was made clear to me that then leaving me alone was punishment, exclusion. It was proof of my selfishness that I would rather have time alone than join in. Lila, the selfish one. That is how, through instances of punishment for individual thinking, the mechanism was installed.
Since then, I have been acutely aware that my duty is to others, to the family unit. Wanting something, anything, for myself is only a weakness, punishable, to be silenced and hidden at all costs. I have therefore developed a disregard for myself, my needs and desires; as a result turning me into an efficient family/team/couple member, always putting others first. But that game ends up with me in pain, feeling repressed and unworthy.
So now that I understand, why don’t I just move on and be an individual ? Guilt. Guilt is the answer. Guilt and fear that I’m letting others down, that I’m being selfish. For standing up for myself, for being honest, for having emotions, for expressing them. Because now, in my head, there’s always a voice, a cycle of thoughts that’s ashamed of my individuality, at the imagined cost of others’ comfort and joy.
I’ve started a process of recovery. I’m in the early steps. Of removing that voice, acknowledging it’s not mine but a childhood fear, that I can leave it behind. I’ve started to feel how rich a person I am. How the woman I am becoming deserves her own space, her free time, to have her voice heard, to not be scared.
So when you call me selfish, or self-involved, I cringe, I hurt, and scramble to self-efface, to have my presence forgotten because the voice inside says I’ve failed at my duties again.
That’s why I sing. That’s why I ask – where’s the room for my self love? Wouldn’t I do well to put myself first? Shouldn’t you, who are by my side, celebrate that?
Selfish is a word that hurts, and I hope now you understand. You wouldn’t tell me I have too much self love, would you?
You leave me with bite marks,
Fantasy plans of tying me up tight.
But when it comes to real tears
Or hearing my calls as I drown,
You turn your music louder
Cover my voice with drunk stutters.
Now, just the other day:
“Give it all up” you say, “come, let me show you the way”
Promised me an ear, “Come on, give up on the pain”
If I’d just let go of the meds, stop reaching out for professional help…
But now, where are you now, dicky dick dick
Enjoying my tears from afar, finding joy in my fear ?
Stroking your c*ck at the thought of me lost?
I promised I’d crown you and you laughed – not your play
Maybe the wisdom of your years (that you do have!)
Tells you you’re right, you’re too old to care,
And this girl? She’s too young to know.
Trouble, trouble. Just raw, needy trouble.
But what happened to love, to trusting, believing?
When did you become too lazy to care
And I, your light, become a burden,
A truth, too heavy to bear?
Yes, my pride’s hurt, and yes I’m messed up
No, I don’t hide it, fuck no, I don’t blame you.
Yes, I get scared and hey, yes, I’m scary
I scare you, I know, but aren’t you scared too?
YET behind these addictions, I know you hear it boo
The same fear rips through you, I’m sorry to say.
Shake your head all you like, give up on the world
Out-talk it, you’ll try: “No Silence, not you!
No! Peace, not your touch
Stop the voices, shut up, leave me be, stay away!”
Whisperings, baby, turn your ear, just listen.
In truth, they say “Honey, don’t let go
I know you’re scared we’re leaving but –
No, angel, no,
We want to stay.
This burden you bear, shift it over here.”
Your addictions and mine, just chemical aids.
What if if we both found a wide open space,
Thick forest of fears, the depths of depression,
A sheer, blinding darkness…
And sat there a while.
The different parts of me, collection of us,
(Most of our friends are here too, if you let yourself see.)
All of us, messed up, pissed off, in pain, too proud,
Hiding and hidden. What for?
Open up, damn it. Don’t be ashamed,
I’m not – will not, accept to be told.
But I will hold your hand,
Yes, and sob in my sleep
Now here’s the cliché: I want to believe
But I am a whole, made of good and bad, confident and anxious, calm and angered, sober and excited. I deserve to be loved as a whole, to have all aspects of me honoured, kept safe and taken care of. Dealing with me requires patience, which I will not apologise
for. I will not put myself in boxes to please others, especially those I choose to let into my intimate circle. This is necessary for my mental health, and more and more for my physical integrity too. I am not an embarrassement to be hidden, I am not my illness.
I am a whole. More than the sum of my (partially defective) parts. And isn’t that who you love? I expect to be loved, not changed. This is not to say I will not change and improve, but that it is a process, aided by love and not a question of clicking fingers
and becoming the perfect woman. Every day I am the best version of me in the context I am given. If you love me, you can believe that.
Today I write. Pick up my pen, later I’ll type, and get to show you a piece of my mind. I write; this is my power, my craft. I am empowered – by words, but also by my mind, my body – as by my choices, my struggles and my skills. All this I have had to learn – tread my own path, pause, return to understand, and inch forward, on and on, slowly, yet, now I know, surely.
I am a woman, and yes, it matters. While I used to think it was more important to find/be my unembodied self, my essence, my soul…now I see how valid, and valuable, my body is. Not something to be brushed aside while I try to make my mind shine. No, I have a body, a physicality, which I choose to use to enhance my performance of myself as Lila.
With this realisation, another is truly vital: my body ismine.And oh how I regret not owning it sooner. It started with pulling my hair into clean, tidy rows, to hide its “kinks”, “unruly” curls, and “unkemptness”. No. My hair will not answer your expectations and beauty “standards” anymore. Let these curls bounce around my face and reflect the complexity of my soul. I am unashamed.
Next comes the pain my body goes through and the blind eye I turned on its needs. No longer will I force my cramp-wracked self to get on trains, to write out tests, to function as if I were a result-oriented machine. When I bleed, I will take my time, and let the world go on while I observe my own essential cycles. We are allowed times of rest, times of reflection and of self-developement.
In my relationships with others, I will no longer hide or aim to melt into the background. I will use my voice, whether on stage, at your dinner table, in class or in the doctor’s office. You will no longer forget me; my presence will be heard. My thoughts are to be shared or kept to myself ifIso choose. My opinions are worthy of acknowledgement. Whether silent or loud, noisy, even “too out there”, I have arrived.
Finally, there are questions of the flesh. I aimed to please, realise others’ desires. I let myself be taken and I gave up ownership of myself. I even ignored rape, telling myself it was my duty, a normal, common compromise to make. The tides have turned. I nearly drowned, but held on, to tell the tale. The hurt is real, the scars visible – these I will not hide either. Used to catering to a partner’s needs, my own are now screaming back. In no hoarse voice, my desires speak their hunger, unafraid to lie back, spread out, grab by the horns or refuse to let in. They are recognised and legitimised. I will continue to explore, choose my bedfellows and revel in the freedom of consent.
I said “finally”, but I’m not done. The state of affairs in my mind is far from settled. You have seen me burst into tears – that was loss, death. You heard about the hospital – that was wanting to die,envisioning suicide. Perhaps you’ve seen me swallow pills – that’s for anxiety, keeping vertigo at bay, to stop being scared. You know my sisters, see my parents – maybe guess at the weight of responsibility I feel, the pain I felt at keeping silent. My mental health is far from trivial, it calls to be shared.
I am a woman, and I’m still learning. This here is in no way anexplanationof my flaws, difficulties and bumpy journey. It is aproclamation. To you, reader, I declare my existence, take pride in its complexity and in my resulting self. I ask for help in keeping up, for challenges to my reasoning, I ask to hear your stories, to share your plight. As I look up to Yoncé, take interest in Gaga, read Adichie, write about Butler, follow Laverne Cox and dream of still-silent sheroes, I know I exist at a magical, rich, awesome time. I need not keep back or be afraid. I am a woman, and it matters.
What a strange, warped world, where knowing better is just not the way. Being stupid and slow will save you, being sharp and aware just damn you. Whatever protocols keep these walls standing are built from absurdities and flimsy “certitudes”. Where is the wholsesome place we need? We bruised souls unfit for combat. They herd us in, lock the gate and think we’ll heal. Now why do they believe that cut off from life is how to deal? These brutish beds, yellow walls, airless windows…is that the answer? Rather than my cocoon, painstakingly built, feather by feather, plush by plush. That’s where I need to be.