I Don’t Fit
Image by: Image by Yoel Ben-Avraham
I’ve never quite fit in with the rest of my peers.
It wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t deliberately ornery or stubborn. My small attempts at rebellion usually only bothered me and felt like self-flagellation so I’d stop. For example, in college I got a tongue piercing just to annoy my parents. All I needed to do was keep it for thirty days, until my Thanksgiving break and then I’d shock them. Turns out, I’m one of the small percentage that doesn’t heal well from piercings. My tongue remained swollen for a good 2 weeks, I could barely eat, and developed a really pronounced lisp. I took it out a week before going home, and I have never regretted it. You have enough experiences like that, and you look at pseudo-rebellion differently i.e. it’s not worth it. When I don’t fit, it’s not a choice. It’s just who I am.
I tried to fit in. I tried to buy the “right” clothes (they never were). I tried to listen to the “right” music (I couldn’t figure out what that was until it wasn’t “right” anymore). I tried to use the “right” slang (I failed). I was just never quite able to walk in the footsteps of those around me, and every attempt made it apparent how differently I thought, perceived, and interacted with the world.
When you’re a kid, different is a bad thing. It makes you stand out. You become the target of bullies and the outcast in group projects and games. I’ve always been the outcast and while it wasn’t necessarily by choice, I learned to love it.
I love the people I meet, the other folks who don’t fit and can’t conform. Especially the ones who stop trying. Their perception of things tends to surprise me, and I like that.
But it also means that I don’t have a lot of people around me. I don’t have a cheering section because too often, people struggle to respect me as a human being. I am not expected to ever acknowledge the ways my race, gender, and size limit my opportunities, impede my progress, and negatively impact my life.
I wasn’t actually a weird kid. I just never adopted the identities those around me sought to impose on me. I was a little Black girl, so I shouldn’t have been an advanced reader or good at math. I wasn’t supposed to be a problem solver. That I could absently solve puzzles that stumped my teachers wasn’t “normal.” When I got older, I didn’t try to attract boys. I wasn’t interested in the games it took to be popular. I just wanted to do things that interested me, which usually were books, conversation, sports, and video games. When I began developing physically, I wasn’t allowed to play sports with the boys in my neighborhood anymore – they began acting differently towards me. But I didn’t dress “like a girl” and I didn’t behave the way girls were being conditioned to behave. It didn’t feel real to me, so I didn’t. None of this made me better than anyone else. It just made me weird.
I was one of many kids who looked forward to graduation. I believed the lie that I’d find people like me in college. I was fucking weird there, too. I was the poor kid who didn’t know they were poor until she left her small pond. I wasn’t the typical overachiever. I didn’t understand that I was in an ivy league school, surrounded by nothing but the children of upper middle class, six and seven figure families. I didn’t know that many of the Black people around me came from six and seven figure families. I didn’t try to be glamorous. I didn’t try to be smart. I was just trying to exist in an environment where not only didn’t I fit, but I lacked the understanding of the impact of the financial disparities between me and my peers. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have fit. I didn’t have the means or the desire to pretend that I could.
Plus, I was/am fat. People don’t realize how much fatness is marginalized in american society. Many women’s friendships contain rituals like sharing clothing, and shopping together – two things that weren’t really possible as I was fatter than my peers and plus size clothing was scarce. I usually tried to create a look from different types of clothing, but mostly, I wore jeans and over-sized t-shirts and sweatshirts cuz that was easiest. It didn’t help me fit in, though.
It is safe to say that my social life consisted of ways I worked to downplay the aspects of myself that were socially undesirable. It was pretending that few clothing options didn’t matter, and I liked wearing over-sized clothing. It was keeping white people comfortable by pretending that being Black didn’t matter while ignoring their racist comments reminding me of my Blackness in case I forgot. It was keeping men comfortable by pretending that I wasn’t like other girls. It was suppressing or exaggerating my Blackness, femininity, size, and humanity to overcome all the other obstacles in my way.
And I didn’t fit.
At work, I was never deferential enough. Subservient enough. Scared enough. Bosses couldn’t intimidate me, something they actively tried to do. My first job after college, I was transferred from manager to manager as they tried to figure out what would make me more “respectful” in the office. They would individually pull me into meetings to reprimand me and when I said “ok,” they weren’t satisfied with my response. It was the strangest work experience ever – and I think it’s because all the managers were young, white people and while they expected me to cower, they didn’t know how to make it happen. What they learned was I’m not the cowering type.
And I still don’t fit.
I’m not the funny, fat, Black woman with the no nonsense attitude that coddles people’s whiteness, masculinity, or white femininity. Don’t touch me. Don’t pretend we’re friends. Don’t think you’re gonna crack a joke at my expense or that I’m gonna start a dance-off. Don’t assume I can’t get laid, and don’t fucking swish your neck at me. I’m not your girlfriend or your sister. I don’t cook for strangers. I’ll kick your ass at anything I’m good at and if I get to the door first, I’ll open it for you. Maybe. I drink whiskey or lemon drop martinis, depending on my mood and I love wearing pink, black, red, orange, blue, yellow, white, and whatever other color I want cuz I have yet to find the color that doesn’t look good on me.
My inability to fit isn’t actually about me. It never was. It’s about what you have been programmed to think I am. It’s your box, not mine. And if my not fitting in your box is an issue, you need to take that up with yourself. Stop making your shitty expectations my problem, cuz they aren’t. Stop trying to break me because even if you do, I’ll put myself back together and keep going. Stop trying to emotionally beat me into submission; you can’t. Stop trying to make me into what supremacist fantasy you’ve built your identity around cuz my life, my goals, my being, are not about you. They never were.
You can’t make me into who you think I should be. You don’t fucking have the range.