17 billion universes, in each of which I am a thousand possibilities. I carry in me the seeds for a hundred women to flower.
Yet I am afraid. As if a single uncontrolled step might condemn me to a vertiginous kaleidoscope of errors. I reside in a fear that traps me. It is unforgiving. Unrelenting. And so I chase respite, anything to keep the numbing terror at bay. I sing, I sweat, dance to the beat of the drums, drink, weep, stare danger in the eye. I also surround myself with strangers and delve into the depths of friendships. Too much. Too soon. I crave discovery, new, safe touch. I want to be discovered, understood.
I should know better.
Still, the one consistency – I need to be needed. Without a target to aim for, in the service of others, I doubt myself. Isn’t that the only way I know I’m alive?
Meanwhile, in another universe –
Pretty, curly, shy girl in the sun. Always a glass in hand, too ready to drink, forget. Pretty girl who’s too kind, too soft, yet oh so strong. Pretty girl in the eye of the storm. Chaos all around, she drags her pain, chained to her feet. Yet she’s a fighter. Pretty girl packs a punch, isn’t afraid to bite. She just wishes she didn’t self-harm, and destroyed the bad guys instead. Pretty girl wishes she were rocked to sleep, held tight and kept warm at all times. Could you read her mind? If so, she wants you on her team. Exchanging of looks, silent vibrations, communication is key. Curly girl wants to be understood. Never to disappear is all she asks.
Pretty, curly girl needs to rest. But will she wake? Or let another take her place, another universe, another pretty girl?
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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.
Just because I’m black you expect me to be exotic. You think my curves and curls make me wild in bed. You like the sound of the languages I speak and want to hear more.
Then, because I’m swiss you accuse me of being a bourgeois goody two-shoes. I am not (and neither are you) my origins (your heritage). More than the sum of my parts, let me exist outside of the boxes you label for me, for all of us. Do I have to remind you never to judge a book by its cover?
So, just because I am a half-black (and yes, half white) educated woman who enjoys singing love songs as well as twerking does not mean you have a right to change me or “put me back on track”. No, my sister won’t play basketball for you, yes, her boyfriend is still with his “negro girl” (true words, heard for real, no joke), and no, I will neither calm down, nor speak in a voice that is not mine.
Why don’t you just stand on your side of the court and take all the balls I ace your way?
I stand tall as your opponent, worthy and unafraid.
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.
Like burning Charcoal
Being drowned to black again
Like seeing darkness
Swallow all life around
It’s like being awake
When sleep takes over
But most of all (and over all)
It’s like the music playing
Over mourning heads further down the road
It’s about playing football in the sand
And sitting squashed in bumper cars
Or just about playing a thousand new roles
In a plastic-strewn landscape.
It’s mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters
And having children on our knees.