Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What happens when two women go out.

Post written sometime in Summer 2018.

First of all, I’d like to share this piece that I wrote a couple of months ago:
“I ain’t here for you to occupy my time and space”
To the guy from school who constantly posts memes shaming women:
“Girls be like “new bikini for holiday” well you’re not on holiday yet… You’re in bikini… in your bedroom… fishing for compliments”
His caption on this meme: “the worst *fishing emoji x3*” - 31 likes.
So I comment on it: “If a girl feels good about the way she looks and wants to show that off why do you feel entitled to comment on that in such a negative way?”
He deletes my comment.
If you’re gonna put your opinion out there and then not even be big enough to respond to my comment, then what the fuck are you here for?
To the three men who repeatedly shouted ‘latina’ at me the other day as I was walking along the road: I ain’t here to give you attention, I ain’t here for your catcalls, I’m just here minding my own business, trying to get along with my day, and frankly I don’t understand why you cannot be here to do the same.
To the group of 20 men on my flight home the other day: why do you think it’s okay to manspread and occupy so much space? First you let us all know that you are there by jeering and cheering as we wait to board; let us know how loud and obnoxious you can be; make us have to listen to you. Actually, we’re not here for you, we are all just here trying to get from one place to the next.
To the three of you who then sat behind me and proceeded to kick my chair and hit the back of my seat with a magazine: I told you I wasn’t here for that. I asked you politely to stop, because you were disturbing my peace, you were invading my personal space. You didn’t listen and half way through my flight you did it again. You woke up me from my sleep and I was already exhausted. I had to put up with your misogynistic chants: “Kopenhagen, Kopenhagen. Ficken und Blasen”. I definitely ain’t here to be forced to listen to your disgusting sexism. When I got up to leave the plane you all stared at me and you laughed at me. You made me feel really shitty; you made me feel like I was being bullied at school. And I also ain’t here for bullying.
To the guy in the club who complimented my t-shirt and then tried to hug me: I ain’t here to hug you when I don’t feel like it. I told you that and you said “well if someone wants to hug me, I would just hug them back.” I told you that for me who I hug is a choice and you said “well that’s the difference between me and you.” I am not here for non-consensual physical contact, and please don’t even try and explain to me that I should be.
To the guy I slept with once, who I saw in the club, who came over and pointed to my breasts, because I had my top off: I told you, I’m more than just my breasts. I’m here, because I am hot and I took my damn top off, but believe it or not, my body is not here for your damn objectification. I only went to the club, because I felt comfortable enough to be in the club to begin with. I’m here, because I have great friends who make me feel safe enough so that when I am with them, I sometimes can take my top off in the club. I’m here, because dancing and being free on a night out is an outlet for me. And when you choose to make me feel uncomfortable, then I’m not sure if that this is a space I even want to be in any more. You take one of the few spaces that I feel comfortable in away from me. You make me feel like it’s my fault for doing something as outrageous as being topless and that I thus deserve to be objectified, and I’m not here for internalized victim blaming.
To the guy who said “All I see is titties”, after my friend pointed out a stain on her top: she wasn’t there to be put in that position, or have to explain to you that what you said was not okay. And we weren’t there to then try and make you feel better about his comment, because you felt so embarrassed about it afterwards. Our bodies are not here for you to project your problematic masculinity onto.
I know that when we wake up in the morning and decide what clothes to put on that that will determine the kind of day we might have. When I feel bold enough to wear one of my lit t-shirts then I am here, because I have found strength to get out of bed, be bold enough to do so, despite not being here for the bullshit that makes me have to reclaim my identity to begin with #clitoris #catsagainstcatcalls #nothereforyoureurocentricbeautystandards.
What I am talking about is every-day-violence and I am certainly not here for it. To all you people who occupy my time and space without me having consented to your invasion of that: trust me, I ain’t here for you.
As a queer woman of colour there are not many spaces that I truly feel safe in. In most spaces I have to compromise some parts of myself. Every day I am healing, learning and growing and I am figuring a way to be here for myself. I am trying to rediscover the parts that I am forced to suppress and that is what I am here for; I am praying for the day when I can truly just be here, for myself.”
What happens when two women go out
Firstly, before you engage in reading on, please bear a few things in mind. What I am going to be writing about is about own my personal experience, which was traumatic, awful, and has left me feeling humiliated and disturbed in many ways. Before you form any opinion about what I should or shouldn’t have done, before you even draw any conclusions about how this can be avoided, before you start telling me about what you think about it, just have a think about whether or not that is useful for me, or whether you could be having this conversation with someone else. You’re allowed to have questions, of course, but if you are sharing them with me in an unsolicited non-consensual manner, know that I am not here for it.
What I am sharing is about my own personal experience. I am putting out there, because I am willing to have conversations, I am willing to talk openly about these things. But just bear in mind that this blog is about me, it is a safe(r) space for me to express my feelings. I often don’t get a space like that in society. Unless you have something kind or fruitful to say, just hold your opinion back just for a little bit and go talk to those around you about it. Google things that you are unsure of. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to talk about, because I am willing to talk and engage in conversations about these things. I am already talking about it, trust me: I am thinking about every single detail. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night and my head is constantly spinning in thoughts, so much so that I make myself physically sick. And I am talking non-stop to the people around me about these issues, and I appreciate every little bit of support that I have.
Ask me how I am, ask me how I’m feeling, say you’re thinking about me, I appreciate people checking in. Check in with me and let me know you’ve thought of me, this is different. If you have experienced something similar that you think might be useful for me to hear, ask me if I want to hear about that, I’d appreciate that.
When something like this happens, people are also quite quick to suggest what you should ‘do’. I am ‘doing’ in so many ways, thanks, and writing this is already one of those acts of doing. So before you suggest what I could ‘do’, this is my choice: I am vocal and I am telling you about what happened. That is a choice I have made for myself. It’s not one without its risks, because even retelling these stories and sharing these experiences can be traumatic, but if I have decided that this is the least risky method of me channeling a horrible experience into something productive, then let me have it. If you even have an opinion on what I am asking from you here, then please just stop reading. If you don’t like my tone, then I honestly don’t care. If you think I could have phrased something ‘differently’, then you’re just reading the surface of my words but not listening to the heart of what I am saying.
Secondly, I will warn you of some potential triggers: I am talking about being harassed on the street, about interactions with police, about being spiked in a club. If you might be triggered by these things, then please don’t read on, because I definitely do not want trigger or harm anyone with the story I’m telling.
Friday June 22nd 2018
It’s Friday night and friend and I, another WOC, after an emotionally laborious week of navigating bullshit and trying to write our thesis in between, decide to have a drink and go out! Woohoo!
We start off at my place and we have lovely conversations. We reflect back on our time together here in Copenhagen: about what we’ve learnt in the last year and how we’ve changed and grown since we first met. We talk about expectations that we had for ourselves, from ourselves and from our studies; how we’d achieved those things; how we have achieved much more in ways that we never could have imagined. We have absolute jokes and laughs, serious ones and less serious ones. We listen to old skool 00s rnb and we know all the lyrics. We drink rose and we sit in my windowsill and we speak about how lucky and how grateful we are in this moment, how good we feel. We speak about how, even if our surroundings are sometimes not chill at all, that when we look back on a day of constantly having to navigate bullshit, that we can be proud of ourselves, because we, in some, way have ‘owned it’.
It’s getting late and we decided that if we want to actually dance then we should leave now. It’s 3am and it’s Copenhagen in Summer so it’s already getting pretty light outside. We cycle to the city center, because we are going to a place near there. I put the address into maps, because I’d never been and the city center confuses me quite a bit. We lock our bikes up when we arrive in the city center and walk the last bit.
Now, this part of the story I want to be careful and be as respectful as possible when writing about, because what happened, although I was there, did not physically happen to me. What I am sharing is just from my perspective, and no one else’s. This part of the story for me is also very blurry, as it all happened so fast…
We, my friend and I, were walking along and I suddenly felt the presence of about 5 guys, probably around the age of 19-20. All I can see to the right of me is that one has poured some kind of liquid all over my friend and into her face. I hear male laughter and cackling and I feel my defense mechanisms go up. I start yelling, I believe my friend starts yelling too, I start shouting at one of the guys asking him how the fuck he thinks this is okay to do, and he just laughs back. The group surround us, so we physically push back and I start pushing at one guy specially, still shouting. I am feeling scared and angry, so I kick at one guy, because they are still just surrounding us like a pack of dogs, or hyenas, with their incessant laughter and I feel intimidated and threatened. But I also feel like running away in this moment would not have helped, that there were so many more of them than us, and that out of fight/flight, my instincts chose fight, for a reason. My usual reaction would probably have just been to run, but what happened was violent, threatening and absolutely intimidating, and to retaliate, to use my voice and my body in a defensive way was the only legitimate thing to do.
Anyways, in all of this chaos, I notice a third girl, another WOC, to the right of us. Suddenly there are police there and they put their hands on us, and they are ‘calming us down’, telling us we need to chill out. The 5 guys run away and I shout at the police asking them why the hell they are telling us to calm down, when they should be chasing these guys. I notice my friend with tissues in her hand wiping spit off this girl’ face, because these guys also just humiliated this girl by spitting and her face. I am trying to reason with these policemen about what happened. My heart is beating so fast and I am trying to tell my story, because I want to be listened to. These two white, Danish policeman just stand and nod, they get out their notepad. I immediately get the feeling that actually, they don’t give a shit about what we have to say. They were just interested in ‘keeping the peace’: shutting the mouths of these loud WOC. I mean, all three of us probably were asking for it to begin with. The men who did this to us were also not ‘ethnically’ Danish either, so maybe if we all had been white, or if we had been three innocent white girls coming to the police, they might have cared a little bit more about what we had to say, right? But these policemen did not give a single fuck about us. Not one. And would this all have happened if we hadn’t been two women, if a guy had been with us? Probably not. These guys probably wouldn’t have had the audacity or seen the need to attack us. Because God forbid that two women should go out by themselves and enjoy themselves, right?
When I realised that talking to these asshole policemen was hopeless, I asked my friend if we should just leave. There had been a random guy lingering next to us the whole time, saying that he saw what happened, that we should be listened to, that it was totally out of order what happened. When my friend and I distanced ourselves from the police and walked away a bit, this random guy started walking with us, saying to us how shitty the situation was. Then he asked for our number. We had just been attacked, and he had the audacity to ask. Us. For. Our. Numbers. He wasn’t there, because he was interested in actually helping us, he just saw his opportunity to look like a good boy in this situation and exploited our a vulnerable situation, by making his move. To try and want to chirpse us in this situation, when we are feeling so humiliated and shaken up, I mean, you have to be a real low bastard to see this as some kind of ‘opportunity’. My question again is: if we hadn’t been two women on our own, if one of our male friends had been there, would the guy have had the audacity to come up to us and ask us for our number? Probably not.
At this point, I knew there was g a y round the corner, so I asked my friend if we should go there, get a drink, and then just sit down and talk about what happened. We needed to have a drink after this, to talk about and process what the fuck had literally just happened to us.
We are in g a y and I buy two gin and tonics for us. I put my drink down on the table for maybe 20 seconds while I take my coat off. I vaguely remember that there were two guys sitting on the other side of this table, but did not pay much attention to them. They had also caught the attention of my friend and she recalls that one of them looked at her in a slightly guilty manner, and then got up to dance, but seemed to want avoid her.  Anyways, I take my drink from the table, and we go outside to have a smoke. We sit down on the curb; I had drunk around 1/3 of the drink, when my friend then accidentally knocks it over. We laugh at her spilling my drink, we talk about how outrageous and gross the police had been, how we hadn’t been listened to, about the police as a fucked up institution generally, a guy comes up to us to talk to us…
And that’s when my memory goes blank.
Suddenly it’s daylight, I’m sitting outside talking to my friend, we go and get some food, we cycle home together, we say goodbye.
I wake up and I’m in my bed, I’m really confused. I see I’ve sent some voice notes to a friend. I don’t remember sending them. It’s 12am and my head is absolutely throbbing, everything around me is like a cloud. I think I’m just hungover. I ring some of my friends, tell them about the night, I tell them that I don’t remember a massive chunk of it, that I think I’ve been spiked. On one phone call, I tell my friend this and I am just laughing off what’s happened. I am definitely not sober. He sounds grave and serious and tells me that I should not downplay how I am feeling, that he’s gonna put his phone next to him and that I can ring him whenever I want to. He tells me I should ring my friend and see if she’s okay, so I do. I tell her I don’t remember a massive part of the night and that I think I was spiked. I ask her how I was acting, because I don’t remember it. She says I was acting more assertive than normal, but she just thought I was super drunk. I tell her I’m confused, because I don’t know whether my lack of memory is just a repercussion to the attack we’d experienced just before, or if it’s because I’ve been spiked. I am asking 100 questions, doubting myself, blaming myself, wondering how I could get spiked. I’m so careful and vigilant when I’m out, right? And in a gay bar, it’s a safe(r) space right? I suddenly feel really uncomfortable about the fact that I have this black out, I feel like I’ve lost control over myself and I freak out.
I ain’t here for you to occupy my time and space. Nope, I ain’t here for it.
But what happens when you take away my time, my space, and my agency? What’s goddamn left of me then? Because that is what spiking someone’s drink is: taking away someone’s goddamn agency. Now I’ve been spiked before, this is not even my first rodeo, and the sense of complete violation that you feel over yourself is inexpressible. It even makes you feel embarrassed about yourself. Grossed out. Yet how can I possibly be made to feel embarrassed about myself in this moment, when someone has chosen to do this to me?
And I’m also wondering: would this have happened if we had been with one of our male friends? Would these two guys have targeted us if we had not been ‘easy targets’. What were their motives? Two women alone in the gay club are the perfect targets of spiking, no male friends around, no one to ‘look after them’. Juicy, perfect targets. Delicious. Consumable. Objects. What I’m also wondering is: what the fuck would have happened if my friend hadn’t knocked over the drink? Luckily, I actually do start remembering the night again at a very specific point, which also did not happen the first time I was spiked. What state would I have been in? Would I have been okay?
When I had these thoughts the next day, I felt absolutely fearful: terrified and fearful: scared. I knew that leaving the house is a fucking battlefield and now I’m thinking in terms of life and death. What. The. Actual. Fuck.
It’s the next day and I’m with a friend and I tell him these thoughts. He tells me not to think along those lines and that the most important thing is that we are safe. Yeah we are safe, this time, because my friend and I are two bright, vigilant women, who dealt with all of these situations in the best way we could have. And we will not be stopped from leaving our homes and taking up space. And if we chose to stay indoors, when would we ever leave the house? Because these things do not just happen at 3am. These acts of violence are happening every single minute of the day.
8 days later and I’m still processing what happened. I am not just processing what happened, but I am trying to figure out ways to move forward.
The day after this night, when I stepped outside, I wanted to cross the road and I felt the presence of a group of men behind me and I felt my heartbeat increase. I was meant to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in years, something I then couldn’t do, because I was so upset. I felt my heartbeat increase and I realised that I was physically reacting, that I was feeling triggered by my surroundings and it freaked me out.
I spent the day in good company watching rupaul’s drag race, absolutely exhausted, but still feeling okay in his company, inside, in this safe space. I spent the night there and when I had to leave the next day, again, I realised, again, that I was being triggered. I was walking through the graveyard and just the loud sound of bikes approaching me from behind made me lose my shit. I had to ring a friend and I cried on the phone telling her how I was feeling, how all these sounds around me were just making me feel completely anxious. Her voice, and the conversation comforted me and I made the walk home.
I stayed mostly inside for about a month after this. I got tonsillitis for about 3 weeks and had to take antibiotics for 20 days. I was really fucking sick. I was anxious. I was wondering how the fuck am I gonna leave the house again.
Here is another piece I wrote a couple of months ago:
“I get anxiety”
When I watch videos online of black people, black people who are mistreated or stand up for themselves in the face of injustice,
I get anxiety.
I get anxiety that is both my own, and the anxiety of others.
Because while I watch that video I become fearful that another black person is going to have a bullet go through them.
Another life lost.
When I watch those videos, my heart starts to race, because even though that fear is not my own, I can also relate.
And boy do we relate.
Because as bearers of dark skin, we are so aware of the consequences that our skin tone has on our lives.
It’s the internalized fear of dark skin, on both these people in the videos I watch, and on myself, that fills us with dread.
It is an internalization of myself, a constant reminder:
I should smile harder at shop assistants, at shop owners, so they don’t follow me around the shop.
Incase they think I am stealing something.
It’s the internalization of myself, that means that when I look a stranger in the eye on the street and smile, them looking away quickly, not smiling back, crossing the street, choosing not to sit next to me on the train, makes me wonder:
Does their reaction have anything to with the colour of my skin?
And I can only speak of my experience as a brown-skinned woman, nevermind, the labeling and criminality that comes with being a dark-skinned man.
And I watch all of this, on my smartphone, wondering when and if it will be my turn, to have to record something on my phone, as evidence and proof to show everyone else that this is really happening. That this is really happening to us.
Because we need to prove that this happens to us, because otherwise no one listens.
For us, with our without the lens of the smartphone, this is our everyday reality.
Because the decisions we make, the way we choose to dress and present ourselves, those choices are going to impact us, and decide what kind of day we are going to have.
Turning on my smartphone, seeing a video of Mo Farah being pushed through security, reading the comments section: people asking why he’s dressed ‘like that’, when he ‘represents his country’.
When I go through security, I put on some make up and some nice clothes, not because I want to, but because it makes my life easier.
Because at least then I am presentable, and less likely to look like someone who might be criminal, right?
Because when you smile at the border police, it’s because you’re excited to go on holiday.
But for me, it’s to avoid any conflict, embarrassment or interrogation.
I’m nervous even before the white woman behind me has already asked me if I’m even standing in the right queue, when I’m at passport control.
Now I’m fucking livid.
Opening my smartphone, watching a video of a black guy asking to use the toilet in Starbucks and being denied, even though a white guy in front of him did the same, no problem for this white dude.
Cos apparently we pose the problem.
Yet statistically, we are the ones who are more likely to be anxious, to suffer from mental health ilnesses.
And you say it’s you, that’s scared, scared of us?”
 I have been thinking a lot about the every day violence and trauma I’ve been experiencing. I’ve found some really interesting articles about the link between PTSD and racism, and it’s something that I want to learn more about, in order to move forward.
This one article, which situates this in the American context, states: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201509/the-link-between-racism-and-ptsd
“Racism-related experiences can range from frequent ambiguous “microaggressions” to blatant hate crimes and physical assault. Racial microaggressions are subtle, yet pervasive acts of racism; these can be brief remarks, vague insults, or even non-verbal exchanges, such as a scowl or refusal to sit next to a Black person on the subway. When experiencing microaggressions, the target loses vital mental resources trying figure out the intention of one committing the act. These events may happen frequently, making it difficult to mentally manage the sheer volume of racial stressors. The unpredictable and anxiety-provoking nature of the events, which may be dismissed by others, can lead to victims feeling as if they are “going crazy.” Chronic fear of these experiences may lead to constant vigilance or even paranoia, which over time may result in traumatization or contribute to PTSD when a more stressful event occurs later (Carter, 2007). In fact, one study of female veterans found that African Americans scored higher on measures of ideas of persecution and paranoia, which the authors attributed to an adaptive response to racism (C’de Baca, Castillo, & Qualls, 2012).
While most of us can understand why a violent hate crime could be traumatizing, the traumatizing role of microaggressions can be difficult to comprehend, especially among those who do not experience them…
It’s important to understand that race-based stress and trauma extends beyond the direct behaviors of prejudiced individuals. We are surrounded by constant reminders that race-related danger can occur at any time, anywhere, to anyone. We might see clips on the nightly news featuring unarmed African Americans being killed on the street, in a holding cell, or even in a church. Learning of these events brings up an array of painful racially-charged memories, and what has been termed “vicarious traumatization.” Even if the specific tragic news item has never happened to us directly, we may have had parents or aunts who have had similar experiences, or we know people in our community who have, and their stories have been passed down.  Over the centuries the Black community has developed a cultural knowledge of these sorts of horrific events, which then primes us for traumatization when we hear about yet another act of violence. Another unarmed Black man has been shot by police in our communities and nowhere feels safe.
Research shows that trauma can alter one’s perceptions of overall safety in society. Black people with PTSD have been found to have lower expectations about the benevolence of the world than Whites.”
I would really recommend reading the full article, but I just thought I’d share these snippets as they really verbalise a lot of what I have been feeling.
When my time, my space, and also my agency was taken away from me, one thing that I said, even on the next day is: You cannot take away my faith.
The intersecting experience of being sexualized and racialised is truly exhausting. I literally don’t know why I have so much faith. I’m not sure why God made me this way, but I guess She did for a reason, because if I did not have any faith, then I wouldn’ be writing this goddamn post to begin with, and I wouldn’t even want to share my story with you. I’d probably have taken a nice cocktail of whatever I could have found and thrown myself out of my nice, high up apartment block, something that I have definitely also considered in all of this. But for some reason, even though navigating daily bullshit sometimes feels more like banging my head against a brick wall until I slowly bleed to death, I still somehow have my faith. I believe in justice, I believe in a better place. The world is fucked up, but if I chose to hide away in my 4 walls forever, then the world out there is still going to the horrible place that I left it.
So here I am; shouting loud and being unapologetic in doing so. Because I will not be silenced. This is my doing. If you felt uncomfortable reading this, have a think about why. If you don’t like my tone, then I honestly don’t care. If you think I could have phrased something ‘differently’, then you’re just reading the surface of my words but not listening to the heart of what I am saying.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Story of Princess Big

Once upon a time I was invited to go a netball Christmas party. The Facebook event stated that boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands and partners were all welcome to come. Naturally, I wrote on the event wall asking if I could bring my ‘three boyfriends, as well as a girlfriend’. It really can be a burden navigating so many boyfriends, when the convention suggests just bringing +1 to parties. But then I guess I am a rather unconventional Princess.
Luckily, it was fine to bring my whole squad to the party, just with one condition: that we don’t eat too much of the tapas. If that’s the only condition for having 3 boyfriends and a girlfriend, then I really don’t understand why most people choose to just have one?
For the last couple of months I’ve been painting my nails gold every time we party (mostly because it’s the only nail varnish colour I own). Gold is actually one of my favourite colours and when I grow up I want to live in a gold castle; I want to shit from a golden toilet seat and I want a tree in my garden that sheds only 24 karat golden leaves in the autumn. I had had a really busy day, so I didn’t have time for my normal nail painting ritual. I asked the host of the netball party if she had any nail varnish. Because she’s pretty fab herself, she showed me her massive collection of colours and for some reason I was really attracted to a stony grey colour: very different to the gold; nice switch-up I thought though.
I gave two of my boyfriends a cotton pad each to take the remnants of my old nail varnish and the netball team instructed them on how to go about painting nails, as it was their first time in doing so. I felt like I was making a bit of scene, having not just one, but two people give me my own personal manicure. Anyways, my nails looked fab and at some point squad were ready to roll deep to the techno party.
I had decided to wear my netball jumper to the netball party and had intended to hand it in at the cloakroom. It was a new venue that we’d never been to before and it was actually pretty cold, so I decided to keep my jumper on me. At first I felt a bit weird partying in my netball jumper (so uni), but I decided I’d own it. The best part about the netball jumper is that it says my name on the back: Sheiks.
We sorted our bags out, ready for the dance. One of my boyfriends really loves wearing the bum bag I party in, so on a night out he carries my essentials: my phone, my cards and what I hadn’t told him before: my bronzer. I’ve been wearing bronzer since the day I started to wear make-up. I wear it 99% of the time, and if I don’t, I will have it in my bag ready to whip out and put on. I’ve been using the same brand since I can remember. I was really insulted the last time the woman in the store suggested it wasn’t the right shade for me, because of course it is. I’m not sure why I love it, but it’s sparkly and glittery and I feel like it makes me glow just a lil bit more than I normally do: and to glow is something a Princess should do.
Recently, my feet have been getting cold when I’ve been partying. I decided to put a pair of socks on over my tights, but somehow my toes were still so cold. I knew what I needed: a foot massage. At this point I started reflecting on my own behaviour: the +4 request to the party, the nail varnish, the bum bag, the bronzer, the foot massage: “I am SO extra,” I told myself and my friends. So, so, so extra.
I got squad to huddle and I asked them if they knew what my name meant? Princess. And my German surname, Gross? Big. Princess Big. My name is Princess Big, because I am so fucking extra. Princess Big, what a name. And if all fails in life at least I have a great name for a future rap career (dad joke). I giggled and took one of my boyfriends to the side of the club where we sat down. I took my shoes off, he took my feet in his hands and started rubbing and warming them “don’t forget the little ones” I reminded him. Sitting with my shoes off, having my feet rubbed in the club, I felt like Cinderella. I embraced the deep techno bass, watched the dark figures moving their bodies to the beat and inhaled that beautiful 4am club smell: “Oopsieeee. This Princess didn’t make it home for midnight!”
I had been feeling a bit imbalanced, especially physically. My movements had been a bit off. The club was super loud and I wanted to put some ear plugs in, but having one in both ears just felt wrong; having none in felt weird too. For some reason having one ear plug in just my right ear felt just right, which was weird. I decided that it must have something to do with this feeling of imbalance.
I had tied my jumper around my waist and at some point I decided to switch-up how I wore it and have my name on the front. I have only ever worn that jumper one way around: it says University of Birmingham Netball 2011-12 on the breast on the right hand-side on the front. Turning it around and wearing it with my name facing forwards felt ridiculously obnoxious, but the thought of me partying with my name written across my chest “Sheiks” also made me lol.
My name goes through a lot of shit: I’m less likely to get a job because of it, people make certain assumptions about me because of it, some people seem to make a little effort to say get it right, instead of just asking me how it’s pronounced. Like I really don’t mind you asking. Yet when it’s been like 15 times and you’re still saying or spelling it Sheekha, even though I make an effort to check whether yours is spelt Vicky, Vickie, Vikkie, or Vikky, I start to get slightly bored of your attitude. I was reminiscing and laughing with a friend about this time when this guy was mansplaining the meaning of my name to me, even though I had said I knew what it meant.
I also used to dislike my name, I actually couldn’t spell it properly as a kid: Sheika, cos that’s how everyone else spelt it. Until my mum pointed out that that was wrong. I was always really embarrassed in assembly when I had to get a certificate or something, because it would always be read out wrong and sounds stupid. Even for my Graduation, where we had the opportunity to write down how our names were pronounced, it was still said wrong. And I didn’t really like my surname either: Gross, because of its English meaning.
Wearing the jumper the wrong way around kind of felt like I could have toppled over backwards at any point, but in that moment I also decided something important: tonight I was going to reclaim my name.
The next morning I woke up under my favourite duvet in between my boyfriends: my safe, happy place. They were still asleep, but my mind was whirring. I was thinking about the night.
In the club, I’d been asked if my name was common one and I said not really.
Wikipedia defines ‘Sheikh’ like this: “It commonly designates the ruler of a tribe, who inherited the title from his father. "Sheikh" is given to a royal male at birth, whereas the related title "Sheikha" is given to a royal female at birth.”
So Sheikha is not a name, it’s a m’fucking title, m’fuckers.
In the club, I had decided to give a shout out to Eva, my mum, for giving me my name. However, as I was lying in bed, under the duvet, in my safe-space, I realised that it wasn’t my mum who had chosen this title for me, it was my Dad.
I don’t know my biological Father.
People usually react in a similar way when I tell them this: surprise, sympathy, questions about whether or not I would like to, about how that could possibly be. It’s always the kind of reaction that makes me feel like I somehow shouldn’t be okay about it, that there’s something missing in my life and that that situation must be kind of fucked up for me. I don’t think anyone has ever told me, yeah right on, that’s cool if you’re cool with that. And to be honest, I’m not sure if I ever have really been cool with it.
My whole life, I seriously always have felt like some part of me has been missing, that there is some part of me that I don’t ‘know’ about. That’s why people spend their whole lives looking for their missing parents, isn’t it? It’s also to connect with ‘lost’ ones, but it’s also because they are searching for some part of themselves, right?
And I can totally empathise, because under the duvet I started to think about who my Dad must be. What kind of man doesn’t give their daughter a name, but gives her a m’fucking title? Who is this guy? So I had this sinking feeling in my stomach: I have to find out.
My whole life I’ve felt like I’ve been on the fence about whether or not I should meet him. Not growing up with a biological Dad has been really painful in so many ways. I am constantly asked: where are you from, why is your name Arabic, why don’t you speak Arabic? I usually reply with ‘I don’t speak Arabic, because I don’t know my Dad’ and that shuts them up.
I remember when I was in year 7 I think I called a girl in my class a lesbian as a joke (terrible Dad joke). She got so mad that she decided to tell everyone that I had been making fun of her, because her Dad had died. I was so mortified, because I would never, ever have done such a thing. It was so bad that the Head of Year took me out of English class to talk to me about it. I started crying and explaining to him that I wouldn’t do such a thing, because I don’t know my Dad myself, so why would I have made fun of her for losing hers?
There are several other examples of where I have full on had to confront not just the fact that my Dad is ‘missing’ in my life, but also confront the demons that he carried. His demons have shaped my opinions and my beliefs and often made me an angry and bitter person in many ways. It would be unfair to try and tell his story, because it’s not my story, but for the context of my story to make sense there are a few details I have bring into this.
My Dad is from Abu Dhabi and he is Muslim. He was put in an arranged marriage as a teenager, which he, understandably, was pretty pissed off about. When my Great Grandma met him, a fabulous woman herself, her gay-dar apparently started whirring. My mum has also told me stories about my Dad’s ‘best friend’ and this guy’s love for fuchsia pink, as well as how my Dad was absolutely obsessed with Queen, with an even stranger obsession with Freddie Mercury. If all this is true, I can totally understand why he did the volatile things he did: turning to alcohol and drugs as solace for a really horrible situation.
As I lay in bed, thinking about what kind of person he must be, it all also made sense: he must be the most m’fucking extra person on the planet. He must be SO extra: the name he chose for me, the Freddie Mercury. It just all made sense. In that moment I felt like I knew him, that I understood him, but I also wanted to meet him, I just had this feeling. I decided to tell a couple of people that I had made a ‘decision’, something that I had felt like I needed to do for the last 24 years. Get off that fucking fence and actually make a decision about meeting him. Finally.
I had no idea how I was going to go about this, but I knew one thing: that my family would always support me in my decisions. Because I am so lucky and blessed, I have always been able to be completely honest and open about exactly how it is I feel. Sometime in Spring, I had already talked to them about what they would think if I were to meet him, a conversation I’d also had before that. It’s something that has happened every couple of years, when I let the situation get really close to me. I have to start thinking about it and try to process it and I always feel like I just hit a brick wall. We had this long conversation and the conclusion was that they thought it was a bad idea, but that if I really wanted to, that I could.
They gave me a choice, something I realise now that I had not really been giving myself.
Every time someone says my name, every moment I exist, I am somehow reminded that I don’t know my Dad. And living with this heavy feeling has been one of the most painful things I’ve had to deal with in my life. I have always accepted that I don’t know him, but only because of the circumstances that I am in. I have always respected my mum and her decision for why I don’t know him. But I have never thought about what it would be like to make the choice, to make the decision to not know him.
When I was laying in bed in my safe-space and I was thinking about who he must be, I think something happened. I think I did meet him in that moment and it was beautiful. It was so nice, because I saw all the beauty in him: the most fabulously extra man on the planet. Of course it wasn’t real, but that’s the thing about reality. If I did meet him in real life, of course I would meet him, but I would also have to meet all his demons. I don’t know what ratio of fabulous man to demons he is right now. It’s not the demons that I fear, but to be honest I’m not sure I need to full on frontal face them, as would be the case if I met him.
He lives in Abu Dhabi and just going there to ‘meet’ him wouldn’t be right. If I were to meet him, I would have to get to know him; get to know all of his brothers and sisters, my half-brother, my grandparents. I would have to forge a relationship with them, because it wouldn’t be right in any other way. And honestly I don’t know if I want that, because I only have one shot at this life and I’m pretty happy about path that I’m going down so far. Meeting him would complicate that and unless I was cloned and could send the other Sheikha to Abu Dhabi to make a life for herself there, I am not prepared to give up everything that I have created here for that.
Something that we talk a lot about in my safe-space is showing gratitude. I always feel like I’ve had this slight resentment against all the pain that not knowing my Dad has bought me. What I haven’t thought about so much is how the pain has led me to be the person who I am today. I am so much wiser, stronger, more resilient and more in touch with my emotions and feelings than I ever would have been if it wasn’t because of my Dad. Even though you had your demons and problems you have definitely also managed to influence me in your absence. And what an absolute honour to be given such a title at birth. I mean, it’s a bit intimidating to have to carry it, but I’m trying my best, so shout-out to you.
It’s funny, because I never realised how ambiguous Sheikha is. At the House I work in, there is a women’s club on Saturdays. Every time we do a name round and it gets to mine, the women who speak Arabic always have a bit of a discussion about what my name means: Princess, Lady, Her Majesty, whatever.
My middle name is Eva, my Mum’s name, which she chose for me. It means that my whole name is actually Her Majesty Eva Gross. Of course it makes total sense, because there is only one m’fucking Queen in my life and that’s her. She is the strongest person I know. She has the most amazing story of her own, so it wouldn’t be fair to try and summarise it here, but she had me at 19 and did her Bachelors and Masters while single-handedly raising me. What a hero. She loves Wonder Woman and I don’t know if she knows it, but it’s because she is Wonder Woman. On Christmas Day (her birthday), she sits around in her Wonder Woman onesie and I think it’s one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. It’s just perfect.
I always make sure my Mum is the first person to read my blog posts, because it would just not be right if someone read something about me, before she had. I need her wisdom, and knowing that she supports what I do is enough strength for me to have the courage to post the next one, to do the next thing. She is my inspiration.
When I published my last blog post, she was surprised about how similar we actually are: both with this fear of speaking and doubt in ourselves. Unlike me, my Mum is actually one of the least extra people I know: she is humble, she is kind and she has an unwavering love for the people and even things around her. But we are similar in so many ways. Being in front of loads of people and putting on a show really isn’t part of our character at all.
Eva means ‘life’, it means ‘living one’. Read differently my name could also be interpretted as Lady Living it Large. So shout-out to my Mum for sharing some of your life with me and encouraging me to live my best life. It’s an absolute honour.
When I spoke to my parents (my mum and my Step-Dad, I just realised that this might come across as confusing, as to who I am referring to), they reminded me that I have absolutely everything in my life that I could want, and they are so right. I do. I tried to explain to them that I just had this thing in me that made me want to know my Dad.
This thing I am talking about is society and its pressures. From day one we are taught about the importance and significance of the nuclear family: about knowing our biological Mothers and Fathers. We are shown idealised images on TV of what families should be. We are encouraged to marry, to be heteronormative, to fit in. Finding your ‘real’ parents has even been commoditised, there are programmes on the TV, talk-shows about daughters and sons and Mothers and Fathers re-connecting. And it can be beautiful, and it can be the right thing to do and I am so happy for all those people who have found happiness in reconnecting with their family members. But I also want to point out, and remind myself, that that is just a choice. It is a choice to reconnect. There are plenty of people in the world who don’t know their parents and who never will because they are dead; who never will because of their circumstances, who are adopted, whatever. Then there are also people who choose to not know their parents, and that should totally also be okay too. Our parents might give us our looks, traits, their essence, but we are also still our own selves: unique individuals with agency and the right to choose.
Right now, I feel like for the first time in 24 years I have made the choice to be okay with not knowing my biological dad. This could of course also change, maybe in a couple of years time I might decide that, for whatever reason, I want to go on that crazy journey. But then it will be a choice that I have agency about: something that I definitely forgot I had in all of this. I feel like in that moment in between my boyfriends, I had to let it so close to me that it was only then I could finally see clearly. I had to make a choice, to make a decision in order realise that I had a choice. I also connected with my Dad in that moment, in my own absolutely out there, really extra way. And it was nice.
My mum always tells me I have everything, but I actually think I have more. As well as having three boyfriends, I also realise that I have three Dads. My biological one, my mum’s ex boyfriend Richard and my Step-Dad Simon. Richard and Simon have both been so important in shaping who I am today and they are both my Dads, regardless of biology. I mean, I'm an unconventional Princess, so of course I have to have 3 Dads. And if having 3 Dads is not an honour, then I don’t know what is. So shout-out to 3 of you.
There are also certain things that I would really like to reconnect with. One is the Arabic language, because it sounds so passionate and the expressions are amazing. When I accidentally surprised a good friend of mine in the House, she exclaimed يخرب  بيتك  ‘yekhreb beetk’ - “may God destroy your House down!” in Arabic at me. I thought it was one of the most outrageous things she could have said in that moment and I loved it. I’ve always been really scared to learn Arabic, because it feels so wrong to have an Arabic name, to have dark skin, to be part-Arabic, but not to know a word of Arabic (apart from my own name, oopsie). When people ask me why I don’t speak Arabic now, I am going to say ‘because it’s just a small part of who I am’.
One of the reason that I wanted to reconnect with my Dad, was also because I wanted to know more about our culture and heritage. I don’t need to meet him to do that. So my parents came up with a suggestion that at some point I should just go to Abu Dhabi and see the place. Luckily, I have a great pal who speaks Arabic and he’s gladly coming with me. I am really terrified and nervous to go. I have no idea what it’s going to be like when I go there, but he’s my rock and he studied Middle Eastern Studies, so if his studies haven’t prepared him for this experience, then I don’t know what they were for (Dad joke).
My Mum sometimes tells me the story about when I was about 3 and we were standing looking at each other in the mirror. I had known my biological Dad until I was about 2 years old. She asked me: who do you think you look more like, me or your Dad? And I replied “I think I look like me!”. I also once saw this video of when the sperm and egg meet each other and it kind of looks like there’s an electric spark that happens. I always like to think that my electric spark was a little bit sparklier than the norm. My mum also tells me that I was hiccupping in her stomach before I was born today, something that I still do daily 24 years later. If I was so wise at 3 and I knew exactly who I was then, why did I spend so long letting other people convince me that somehow, some part of me was missing?  
I’ve actually always been really scared that it was going to be too ‘late’ to make the decision about my Dad: that somehow there was a clock ticking and that I would have to make this decision sooner, rather than later. At some point he will die, at some point I will die and I have always been so scared that I would live my life full of regret from the not knowing. Right now I’m feeling powerful, because I feel like I have made a choice in this, I have agency. I can also change my mind, and even if I don’t ever meet him, then for the first time I actually think that that’s okay. Who would have thought trying to physically find the balance in my ears that night in the club and the switch-up of turning my jumper around in the club would have been the catalyst I needed to get me here.
My Mum always told me that I should wait until I was an adult to make this decision and it’s nice that my next birthday is my 25th one, because it’s going to be the first one where I am not going to think, oh shit, another year where I haven’t made a decision, another year closer to some kind of impeding fate. So I hope y’all are ready for my 25th b’day cos I’m gonna make sure it’s gonna be m’fucking extra.
Thanks for the read, and to be continued...
Peace out, Princess Big.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why safe-spaces are essential to navigating bullsh*t

Everyone has their bad days and a couple of months ago I was having exactly one of those. I was procrastinating way more than I should have, my thoughts were flying around endlessly and I just couldn’t seem to concentrate. I was meant to go into work and at some point in the afternoon I decided that getting outside and getting some fresh air would be the best thing for me.
I unlocked my bike and got onto it. Literally about two seconds later this guy had appeared out of nowhere and was cycling next to me. He was speaking to me in Spanish, asking me if I spoke Spanish, asking me where I was from. I was sort of paralyzed by his creepy smile and his persistence. Had he approached me on a day where I had been feeling my usual self, I would have told him to fuck off and swerved the hell out of the way. Instead, I carried on cycling, not really sure what to do. I felt like I didn’t have the energy to speed up, and I was scared aggression might aggravate him and that he might get off his bike, had I got off mine. At some point, after his constant questioning I said ‘I’m from here’. He then continued to ask me why I was being so moody and why I wouldn’t talk to him. At this point we were at a supermarket and there were lots of people around, so I slowed down and told him bye. He cycled off.
I had trouble composing myself and had a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. This had been a recurring feeling I’d been having recently. When I got to work I burst out into tears to my boss. She was super understanding and told me I should just go home and take a couple of days out.
So the question I’ve been pondering since this incident is: how do you navigate bullshit?
The incident that happened obviously was not the first time I’ve been harassed by a randomer on the street. As I sat on a curb trying to gather my thoughts, I had flashbacks to being 17 and being followed into the toilet by a bouncer. Nothing ‘happened’, but I remember crying my eyes out, because I was absolutely terrified. And I had flashbacks to a whole train ride in France I had being harassed by one guy, and when I eventually had the courage to get up and leave this other man approached me, totally invaded my privacy by kissing me on the cheek and when I told him I had a boyfriend (which I didn’t even have) he told me that that’s exactly why I should fuck him.
It’s all very tedious and tiring and most of the time I tell a friend about it, shrug it off and get on with my life. Apart from that I started realizing that I am not just shrugging it off. These incidents sit with me and eat at me until it just takes one creep on a bike to set me over the edge and really shake me up. It kind of feels like each incident piles up on top of each other until it just takes one more creep to leave you feeling paralyzed.
I actually wrote the above on the day it happened, cried my eyes out and left it at that. I was really lost for any answers and didn’t know what to write next.
Through all of this bullshit happening to me, I got to a really horrible place. I did not feel myself at all and because I am so extra I branded it my ‘existential crisis’. I knew it wasn’t me so I had to give it a big, dramatic name, so it would know that it eventually had to get the hell away from me. It was the first time in my life I’d really felt like this: I was so stuck. How am I going to live my life when my day-to-day life puts me in such unsafe situations that I can’t deal with?
I know that these feelings and frustrations and this existential feeling of hopelessness are not unique to me. We all have to navigate bullshit and we are all trying to find our own ways to cope with whatever is thrown at us. A new friend of mine started talking about the concept of safe spaces. I’d always just shrugged it off as not being particularly relevant for me, because a lot of these typical ‘safe spaces’ have felt very uncomfortable for me: for example the unease that often comes with being part of LGBTQ spaces as a bisexual person. That doesn’t mean that LGBTQ groups are not a safe-space for many people, which is so important to have, it just didn’t resonate with me personally.
For me, relationships to my family, friends and partners have always been my source of comfort: in the bonds that I forge with other people comes the ultimate space where I find safety. I have always found a lot of safety in my friendships and shout-out to all my friends and family who listened to me during this time and all the times I’ve been a wreck, because your kindness, your words, support and strength have always been the thing to encourage me to keep going.
Recently, an old friend told me that I was living my best life and she said that she would not say that to many people. I was thinking about what this means: living your best life is just you doing you. When one of my best friends at school said this phrase to me it really was a life changing moment. I’ve always loved it and I always hope to try and do myself, as well doing my best to pass on this wisdom to others. But you doing you also requires having to deal with the parts that aren’t you, to deal with those crises that come about in your life. If you’re acting false or pretending to be something you’re not then you’re not being true to yourself. The reason that you are wanting to avoid being yourself is because you’re probably ashamed of some part of yourself in a way. To be yourself therefore requires you to have to deal with those parts of you that aren’t really you, to face those things that have forced you to somehow feel the need too act differently. You doing you requires you to confront those things that have manifested themselves from your surroundings: i.e. your insecurities.
I really do think that people’s insecurities can’t be blamed on themselves. Let’s take for example my insecurity about my body image and weight. Most of the time I actually don’t care, cos dis who I am, but sometimes people’s comments or societal pressures make me feel uneasy. If I was living in a utopian world, where I had no idea about body ideals, Western beauty standards, pressure from advertising to spend money and change the way that I look in some kind of way, I would not be insecure about my body. It’d just be a body that is mine and part of me.
In this new group of friends that I have found/found me, we decided to call our group a safe-space and really acknowledge what the means. We encourage each other to be ourselves, that there’s no such thing as too much information, because we should just be honest and open, that there is absolutely zero judgment. At the point that they met me, I had been feeling peak existential crisis: I really felt like I was not doing a good job of doing myself. I was feeling really anti-social, I was feeling scared, I was feeling anxious and fearful about a lot of stuff. I was thinking about going to see a councilor, because I felt like I had so much on my chest. I felt like there was no space for me to explain myself and let it all my frustrations out. It’s especially hard to deal with these things when the people close to you are not physically present, and at that time a lot of my friends had moved away and I therefore felt a bit blank and lost. I was lucky enough to be intern partners with a massive babe, but I also did not want to burden the people around me too much with all my problems, hence why I thought seeing a councilor might be a good idea.
One of my biggest insecurities (and definitely an insecurity of many people) has been talking in public or in front of large groups of people. It got a lot better during my Undergrad, because I felt safe in my classes, around my teachers and my fellow students. But it has definitely always manifested itself in many ways through me not feeling adequate: I felt like I was bad at it, that I was inadequate, that through trying to articulate, explain and express myself on the spot that it would somehow come out wrong. I was scared that I would say the wrong thing and come across as stupid, ignorant or just weird. Anyways, I think most of us can relate to this feeling, because talking in front of a group of people is such an ‘unnatural’ thing to do: you literally have to do you in front of an audience and the prospect of that can be absolutely terrifying.
The speaking in front of people problem got really bad during my Masters: I wouldn’t have survived the year if it hadn’t been for some great people on my course, but because of the nature of the teaching and the dynamics of the class I felt like class was a complete unsafe space for me. I really felt like I lost my voice during this time. This was especially horrible, because I had picked a subject area that I was passionate about. I had hoped that further study would allow for me to grow and gain a voice in something I really believed in. I also felt very personally affected by a lot of the topics that we had to deal with on the course, and the feeling that I wasn’t able to share my stories and my experiences, because the space was not safe enough for me to have the confidence to do so, was really awful.
I got into a spiral where I compared myself to other people and their ability to articulate their opinions freely and when this was added with the fact that I also disagreed with what was said sometimes, I got into this horrible spiral of feeling really awful about myself, but not being able to do anything about it. I felt like I had a lot that I wanted to voice and that I could contribute, but I did not have the confidence in myself to be able to face my own fears. I therefore also felt like I was letting myself down, because I was letting these things be said, and instead of fighting against them I was just passive. I always feel like I actually regret the things more that I didn’t say than that I said, so I got into a horrible cycle of just being angry with myself.
That’s actually when I decided to write this blog and shed some skin through writing. At the point where I decided to start writing I just thought “screw this! I want to talk about how society has made me feel like shit and I honestly don’t really care who reads it.” The name take-your-skin-off is all about taking off a layer off of my own insecurity and dealing with it through writing: it’s why it deals with topics that are so personal to me, because I am trying to find ways to overcome my fears and my insecurities. It’s a safe-space for me to have a voice and express what I believe in. Of course it doesn’t mean that I think people should agree with what I say or the opinions I express, I’m just sharing my own personal story.
It’s been a really refreshing tool, and sometimes even having the courage to post something can take time, because I get scared and fearful about what people might think about me when they read it. But then at some point I just do it, because I always feel good about it: I always feel like I’ve shed a layer of unnecessary skin: a layer of insecure skin that isn’t mine, that’s grown on me thanks to the manifestations of my surroundings. I also feel like even if what I am saying is nonsense, at least I’m being heard and not just being passive, which is something I became fearful of. One interesting thing about the blog is that people have thanked me for being honest and having the courage to share my experience. It’s weird that people have to thank each other for being honest, because it implies that we aren’t being honest most of the time: that we are suppressing something.
For the first time last week, I actually decided to read over my blog posts. Up until this point I had been worried that I would be embarrassed about what I had said. When I read over them, I realised that whatever I had written at that point of time in my life still resonated with me, because I had tried to be as honest to how I was feeling at the time. And I’m so glad I overcome that fear, not just of writing them, but revisiting them also helped me re-celebrate parts of myself that I had definitely felt ashamed of: being bisexual, being a person of colour, being a woman: things that society has taught me somehow make me inadequate in many ways.
I really feel like writing and the blog allowed me to deal with so much. I don’t think everyone has to be so public about their issues, but I would definitely encourage writing as a way to process your thoughts. Or generally just finding other creative ways to express how it is you really feel about things, finding an outlet that makes you feel good about yourself and that allows for you to shed some skin, finding your own safe-space, whatever that may be.
During my studies I also had to deal with the issue of ‘objectivity’. We are always told to be ‘objective’ about how we deal with things, because with objectivity comes rationality and a distancing where you can think about things ‘properly’. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about the power of emotions and the importance of personal experience. If the stories we are sharing of our experiences from aren’t from our own personal perspectives, if they aren’t our own, if we are telling someone else’s story, then how will they ever really be real? It’s like the problem with a lot of history: a lot is only told from one perspective and through this so many voices and stories are lost.
Anyways, at my lowest point of my existential crisis, I was fortunate to meet someone who was definitely doing himself. We met at work and spent the evening together. We call it our 3 year catch up, because even though we’d just met everything felt so natural: it just felt like we hadn’t seen each other in a while and we just needed to update each other about what had happened in our lives. In hindsight, I realise now that the reason that I did feel this safety with him was because of the aura of security in himself that he just omitted. There was no pretence, no suppression of emotions, I felt like I could just be myself around him and that that was okay: no judgment, no such thing as too-much-information, someone who was just listening and understanding.
We spent the whole weekend together and suddenly I had this new friend.  Friends are there for many reasons, but for me, all the friendships that I have had are these beautiful spaces where we encourage each other to just be ourselves, if not in society, then at least with each other.
So the third time I met him we had this really intense chat about safe spaces. We talked about how we felt far away from safety in our own personal lives, but that the venue we were at (shout-out to Valby!) was a space that allows for people to be themselves. You have to sign-up on a guest list to get in, you’re not allowed to take pictures (no invasion of people’s privacy), racism, homophobia and sexism are not tolerated. The people that work there are super friendly, and the diverse range of people that come to this place is just wonderful. I feel like this space is formed of the outcasts and a weirdos in society, something I have always felt. And this space allows for all those outcasts to come together, celebrate their weirdness, shed some skin and to connect with each other. Of course it’s not perfect, because all those elements of insecurity manifested in the people who enter therefore also enter this space. But I really do feel like everyone is doing their best to just let everyone else live their best life.
The day after the safe-space chat I felt really awful. I realised that there was so much insecurity in my life and I was wondering how on earth I was going to continue like this. I felt really deep into my existential crisis and I felt broken and low. I was also feeling insecure about these new friendships, because of how I’d been treated in past friendships and relationship: what if they treat me badly and I end up getting hurt? Am I ready to open up to people at this point when I’m already feeling so terrible about myself?
What was also terrifying was that my new pal just understood me: he saw straight through what I was feeling and having someone do that to me was actually kind of horrifying. I felt like I had nothing to hide and that made me feel quite vulnerable. Yet I was both absolutely terrified and also really excited and about how it’d felt so real.
Shout-out to the amazing safe-space created by this circle of friends. I feel like within the last couple of months I have been through a bit of a spiritual journey in trying to understand what this safe-space means for me. Of course, I still have my inhibitions and my anxieties, but having these mantras and being able to remind yourself of them when we are together is really important: you do you, live your best life, there’s no such thing as too-much-information, this is a safe-space. This space has given me so much confidence in a time where I desperately needed it, in just embracing myself, having a voice and being me.
When there is a hurdle we have to overcome, we talk about it, we listen to each other, we hear each other out and we try our best to deal with it: everyone has legitimacy, agency and a purpose. Having a feeling of such security as well as love allowed me to start fighting off all that horrible sticky manifestations of insecurity that I call my existential crisis. What I needed during this time in my life was this group of people, this space that I could be in and revel in. They really saved me when I needed saving the most, and if that’s not what the safe-space is for then I don’t know what it is.
Last week I was put on the spot to talk about my work in front of 80 people. Had it been a couple of months ago I would have freaked out and probably gotten really nervous and then felt horrible about the whole thing. I was still nervous and I know that the journey that I have to go with this is one I will have to deal with my whole life. But I felt different about it, I felt like I gave less of a shit about what people might think of me, because I felt more confident about being myself. I also had a few other situations where I just spoke up in front of a group and had #noregrets about it, which is such a crazy point to come to. If someone had told me this a couple of months ago, I probably would have been like lol bullshit, and then hidden myself away into the depths of my existential crisis.
What is also interesting is that in dealing with navigating bullshit and my existential crisis is that I spent so much time thinking about has opened up the freedom for me to feel a lot more creative and less embarrassed generally about what is I say. That’s also such a nice feeling, because instead of spending so much time worrying about one specific thing, I felt like I was able to start dealing with other things that had been either bothering me, that I had put in a box to deal with at a later point, or just generally to get out and have fun and try and live my best life as best as I can.
I also know that maybe at some point my insecurities might get to me again real badly and I might find myself in the same ‘place’ that I was a couple of months ago, because dealing with life is fucking difficult and dealing with those exterior elements that bring us down is the biggest challenge of all. We have no control over what bullshit might be thrown at us next. But that’s also okay, there should be no pressure to feel, or think, or do anything that we don’t to, because if we did not embrace all our feels, then we would not be doing ourselves; we would not be living our best life. So the next time I tread in a massive pile of bullshit, I’ll just embrace it, but hopefully I might have a few more tools in my tool box to scrape that shit off my shoe.
I really do think that our insecurities are just a product of us being abused by our surroundings in some way. Even the word in[security] is just an antonym to safety and feeling safe. Mental health is such a prominent example of this, because I do think that the sickness that we often get in our brains can definitely be a symptom of a horrible insecurity that grows inside of us. Because of societal pressures we tell ourselves these things: we are not good enough, we are not beautiful enough, we are not slim enough, we won’t be able to live up to expectations, we are outcasts, we won’t be accepted.
If everyone just had a safe-space to allow themselves to try and be honest about what it is they are feeling: why it is that they feel like shit sometimes, and have the space to work through that, to shed some skin and to hopefully gain some understanding and confidence at some point, then the world would just be a happier, better place.
If I hadn’t been in such a hole when that creep on the bike approached me, I would have had much more confidence to react. If he came up to me on my bike today, I would probably question his behaviour and react in a way that I hope could somehow make him double-think about why he felt the need to act this way. Or even if I just responded by telling him to fuck off, at least I would feel like I used my tools from my box to scrape off and navigate away from his bullshit.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What allyship means to me

Studying for my last exam I came across this quote: “black feminism is about being an ally, because remaining silent makes you an accomplice to inequality and injustice”. This notion of complicity can, however, be daunting. Sometimes I wonder if I spend too much time being silent in places where I should have used my voice; I put a certain pressure on myself and I wonder if this silence makes me complicit in injustice. I’ve also realised that putting this pressure on myself can be harmful to my well-being and that I can’t speak out every single time I am confronted with injustice or discrimination, be it personal or otherwise. I’ve come to understand that it shouldn’t be my responsibility to always speak out. More and more, I realise that in those situations, allyship can be extremely important.

Sometimes when you feel like you’ve been discriminated against you can suddenly feel quite isolated, because you feel like that thing, whatever it is in that moment, is happening just to you. You can feel personally victimized and that can hurt. It can also make you realise that this discriminatory thing that is happening to you is also something a shit ton of other people will also will be affected by, which can lead to a great existential frustration and anger.

Actively fighting against discrimination can be tiresome, especially for those directly affected by inequality. That’s where being an ally becomes paramount to the fight for equality. Men starting a conversation with men about sexism, white people starting a conversation with white people about racism, (or how those things are intertwined) is necessary and important. When we talk about gender we are not just talking about women’s issues, but about constructed masculinity and its effects. Or when we talk about race we also need to talk about constructed whiteness and privilege.

Personally, when I’ve experienced shit, I’ve often learnt and been told that I should just stand up for myself. I realise now that it is not my fault that I am discriminated against, in the same way that it is equally not your fault either. In the same way I haven’t chosen to be me, neither have you chosen to be you. So if we want to make a change we all have to make it our own personal responsibility to stand up for any inequalities and injustices we see and experience, whether they personally affect us or whether they don’t.

The moments where I’ve had something happen to me, because of who I am and someone else, an ally, has said “hey! That’s not okay!” are moments I will never forget and will appreciate forever. I understand that you can feel, as a privileged person in that moment, that it’s not ‘your place’ to get involved, but what I’m trying to say is that it is. Acknowledging that oppression as a real problematic thing is the first step and doing your bit to fight against it is the second. Especially in a moment of vulnerability, it can be extremely hard to clap back or stand up for yourself. As a person who is slightly detached from this situation, you can use your voice and the power of your privilege to stand up for whatever injustice you see taking place: be that indirect or direct prejudice, or whether it’s just starting a conversation to begin with in a hope to try and limit these confrontational situations.

Everyone has felt unfairly treated at some point and it’s important to recognize the unfair treatment of others. Sometimes the ‘smaller’ gestures, such as just the acknowledgement of a difficult situation can mean a lot. When someone says to me “hey I can imagine you must feel frustrated, because of x, y, and z” and shows me empathy and an understanding for my situation I feel safer and you are actively helping me to deal with whatever nonsense I am experiencing. I am not saying that allies have to 100% understand oppression, but trying to is definitely a start. Whether your mate has had her arse grabbed in a club, someone is being cat-called or someone on a train is being racially abused, have a think: how would you feel in that situation? I truly believe that practising empathy is one of the most important things we can do as humans beings: to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and imagine how they must be feeling in that moment.

The quote is from: Heidi Safia Mirza: Harvesting Our Collective Intelligence: Black British Feminism in Post-Race times

And here’s some more stuff: