the philosophactivist

Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Belonging and Being

Recently I had the pleasure of not making it into a cohort for a retreat that I had a lot riding on (emotionally)...because they were folks like me. Brown, gender non-conforming, and leaders. My "dreams" of camraderie were dashed- so very dashed because I felt like out of all the places...out of all the people ...finally I'd belong here- and that they'd see that. Nope. Didn't happen. Sure there are other factors...but I'm talking about my personal experience and interpretation right now.

You see, all my life I have been on the outside looking in. I've had people tell me what I'm capable of...tell me I'm too much of a dreamer...too much of an optimist...that I don't fit in. That I need to do x,y.z to fit belong. For some reason I've never been able to be down with the status quo. Seriously. There is something physiological that keeps me from being able to even bullsh* that I'm conforming. And it's not even about "trying" to be radical. This is just me.

I've put myself through a lot of trials and tribulations. I've even made myself physically ill trying to conform. Trying to belong. Trying to fit into boxes and wear labels. Well I'm done with that.

Here's my New Life Resolution:

"I will stop trying to convince people that I fit in or am a good "cultural fit". (Because they're on to something. I really DON'T fit narrow labels or boxes.)

A stranger once told me that I'm a hundred years ahead of my time in my thinking. I'm thinking, I can either wait for groups and organizations to catch up with me...or not. Trying to fit in with organizations and prove myself based on their standards is now against my New Life Resolution. I'll still work with mostly anyone to create change, but I'm not going to try to compare myself to their standards and mold myself to look like someone they'd "want" on their team. 

Do you know what it's like to be outside of the Architect's equation and can't be balanced out? I can't do anything..but ME. In a world of assimilation and acculturation, and basically-white-washing...I am brown...and queer...and gender non-conforming. Everything "they" (the powers that be and people who buy into and perpetuate this system)wish doesn't exist. I inhabit a space that many other people at similar intersections create on their own, sometimes accidentally and sometimes purposefully.

What people? 

People like Gloria Anzaldua. People like Audre Lorde. Malcolm X. And don't get me on the plethora of artists living on the outside, driving themselves crazy because they feel so very alone in their forward thinking. So many folks on the margins- Basquiat. Baldwin. Hurston. Hooks.(I'm trying to name only people of color here...we know enough about Foucault and Van Gogh and blah blah blah). Sorry for not stating other brown artists. I'm still learning so much and can admit to my many blindspots and places for improvement.

The point is- the path is lonely.

I wonder- do you know that you're a great mind/exceptional artist/bad @ss organizer when you're the only one who understands you and you've left no box (or label) unturned, only to sit empty handed and outside looking in? 

No. you probably have no idea. You just feel weird, awkward, and sometimes even ugly inside. Not everyone. I'm convinced that you've got to grow the confidence that will turn into self-assurance and self-love. Some of us simply can't- there are mental, emotional and even physical, external blocks. 

Living in this world of conformists and assimilation can be too damn much. Being born brown...female-bodied...or queer and disabled...or any of these marginalized identities- stacking label on top of label...intersection after intersection can be too damn much. And for a person to invalidate us and tell us our experience is uniform or common- or worst, non-existent...and even worst than that, our problem or our fault - can push a person over the edge.

In my short(but not so short) amount of existence I have come to realize that it really isn't acceptance I'm seeking. I gave up on "acceptance" a long time ago. People always feign tolerance anyway...the "educated" ones...the "religious" ones. I know that "all I need to do is"... accept myself, be myself - but, it's not that simple. We live in a world where we are constantly interacting with other people. People always have their own perceptions and expectations. To tell a person that it is their own fault that they are having problems dealing with others putting them in boxes and perceiving them in a certain manner- that "all they need to do is" change their frankly, insulting. That's like telling a slave or a person from the hood to look on the bright side, that oppression is all in their head. I know that our own perceptions are important, but C'MON! That's one of the reasons we are in this mess (acculturation and assimilation in so many institutions and situations) in the first place- people invalidating our experiences and us letting people tell us what we are experiencing and telling us how to experience it.

People are always quick to tell you who you are and what you're capable of (especially if you have multiple marginalized identities). From a young age I figured this out. From not being allowed to skip grades because I was brown in a white prep school (I didn't last long there) not being able to have access to GT (gifted and talented) classes because I was brown in a public school in a white suburb... to not being heard or my experiences not being validated in a classroom of white peers in liberal arts could go on and on about the corporate world and the glass's an uphill battle. A struggle that I can't and refuse to smile through...let me frown for a second! Let me acknowledge exactly why this is happening to me...and then after processing and reflecting I will on my own terms choose to look on the brightside...or see the reality for what it is and choose to change it for myself. 

For myself.

So now you see why my world kind of went topsy turvy when the ONE place I thought I'd fit...told me I didn't. I know it happened for a reason. I'm pretty good at justifying and analyzing things so yeah, it really burns my biscuits when folks tell me to "be positive" or other renditions of this. I will. If you know know that I will. But just let me feel this for a minute. Don't invalidate me...let me grieve...let me process this fully before I jump to the glass being half full or that I need to go on to my own projects/path anyway. Sigh.

That said...I always appreciate my friend's feedback. It's just a very complicated situation to talk about- belonging...Being...identity. People trying to tell you that you don't know who you are when you've spent your 20s figuring that out. 

Here is a recent reply to a friend on acceptance:

"I don't want acceptance. Not anymore. All I have ever wanted was to BE and for people to stop trying to tell me who I am and what I am capable of. [And stop telling me that I need to be/feel accepted and that something's wrong with me when I don't.] As brown and female-bodied it gets so frustrating. I have always known who I am but didn't have the language or confidence to tell people that they are wrong in their assessments of me. I used to always take the path of least resistance. And those are the times when I would lose myself. Not being able to "assimilate" and "play the game" is both a gift and a curse to us all at the intersections."

I know that I'm not the only one feeling this way.

Here's a pertinent and very applicable quote from Audre Lorde:  

“As a Black lesbian feminist comfortable with the many different ingredients of my identity, and a woman commited to racial and sexual freedom from oppression, I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of mysef and present this as a meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live. My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living.”
— from her essay Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference 
**Thanks to B for posting this right when I needed it

I wish there was some kind of support group for forward thinkers...for people at the intersections...for mystics and spiritual seekers...for everyone outside of the box or who wants to be outside of the box and is kept from climbing out. I've given up on belonging to the status quo...the system...the game...I know that there is no real place for me there. Sure, I can visit the matrix in my snazzy black long coat and shades...but there are always little reminders that I don't belong there. Whether it's not being a good "cultural fit" at organizations, or being too brown in "radical" groups, or being the wrong acronym in LGBT...too masculine for butches/studs...too feminine for FTMs...

dagnabbit just let me BE.

Acccckkk...leave me alone with all this! I've shed enough tears. Stop the policing of if a person is x,y,z enough. Stop the gatekeeping of who does and does not belong. It is 2012!!! Stop policing the damn cafeteria table. We don't HAVE to be alike to get along. I know this for a fact. Yes, A FACT. It's the differences that enrich us. This is AMERICA...and there are still people who don't get it...sigh.

That's not all...but...I'm done reflecting for now.

For now.

1 comment:

  1. I feel as if I could have wrote this. Even as a small child I felt like I was on the outside looking in. But I'm learning to chill and just Be