Dark Phoenix Rises...
You ever know that you are more than you appear?
That inside you lives a will that doesn’t feel like your own. The voice that contradicts everything everyone tells you about yourself. A presence that pushes you to take risks, explore boundaries, to question everything everyone else says is truth.
Do you feel that presence? The one that says the everyone’s a liar? The voice that tells you to sneak away and do the things others said you weren’t capable of doing? The energy that says the restrictions people try to impose upon your mind, your body, your will are their weakness and their fear limiting your potential?
Do you feel it, too?
I’ve had that presence all my life. As a child, my parents did not often censor me in the home. They tested me and pushed me…I believed I could do anything. And I did. I tried everything, failed often, and tried again until I figured it out. I was free to be…until I entered the system. That changed everything. Prior to starting school, my parents often sat in awe at my willingness to talk to anyone, regardless of age, size, race...We were all the same in my mind. They knew it couldn’t last. The world was not a kind place for Black girls and they feared what could happen to me. Of course, I didn’t see it, despite their warnings; I was too young, too inexperienced. But I learned quickly, once I felt the censure I experienced in mixed company. From the mild rebukes to the outright dismissals, my abilities were questioned, belittled, and undermined time and time and time again until it was a fight to believe in myself, to feel capable of anything. I refused to share my writing because every time I did, I was told it was a fluke, an aberration. I’d be questioned on everything from who helped me, how did I get my ideas, where did I copy it from…The slightest hint of any error was met with swift rebuke and condemnation. Red pens, low grades, and obvious mistrust were wielded mercilessly until I learned to stop listening to myself and give them what they demanded, a muted, controllable version of myself; a whitewashed shadow of who I really was - obedient, silent, and invisible.
I don’t look back on school fondly. When I’m feeling particularly brave and masochistic, I try to remember the blank spots. The mundane moments…any moments. What I eventually see is a version of me buried so deep inside myself that I am virtually unrecognizable. It’s the me that has learned time and time again that I am not wanted, and often resented for existing in that space. It’s the me who was so smothered by trying to hide all the ways I had been and could still be punished for daring to think I had a right to be. And the ways I twisted and tied myself to fit and still failed and were always doomed to fail because the problem was never, ever me. The problem was the world…a world where I had no place, except to be used by those around me; even those meant to protect me.
And with that realization came sadness. Pain. Anger. Rage. I burned so hotly, I happily destroyed anyone foolish enough to get too close. My pain was hungry for more pain and it fueled me, helped me break free from many of the ways I’d been taught to comport myself. I fought and fucked and gleefully ripped through relationships. Acquaintances, would-be friends, and sporadic lovers erupted into pillars of flame in my wake.
I still burn. And that burning is why Marvel’s Dark Phoenix continues to strike a chord with me despite my seeming well-adjustedness.
The comics have taken Dark Phoenix and confused the hell out of her story, but, fortunately, that is irrelevant to my connection with her. When I read her story, when I watched the animated version of it, I saw a woman with power. A woman who, when she became aware of her power, was quickly perceived as a tool or a threat. I saw a woman whose agency was actively being stripped by those around her as they sought to understand who and what she’d become, and I saw their fear as they realized it was greater than they could have imagined. I saw a woman who no longer needed to submit or compromise to anyone’s will, and I saw that demonized in every way possible.
I saw a woman fighting to be herself and a world that sought to destroy her for it.
Until she raged. And when Dark Phoenix raged, the universe felt it.
I remember that rage I felt. Everyone around me painted it as unfocused, unbalanced, and indiscriminate. It wasn’t. My rage was very focused. It reflected every slight, every poke, every indignity, and every fucked-up type of boundary placed on me for my own good. I challenged the shitty things people tried to do to me. I spoke to them the way they spoke to me. I gave zero second chances and refused to suffer fools. I fought bullshit with fire and in retrospect, the reason I was so lonely and angry was because I refused to compromise my sense of self enough to make anybody else comfortable. I was the asshole the world created, and I was the asshole I needed to be. I suffered for it. I suffered beautifully. My passions were unrestrained. My vision clear. I reveled in my autonomy, but this society was not built to go it alone. So, I started anti-depressants, quieted my rage, and made my suffering into something tolerable.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
James A. Baldwin
I spent years shrouding the mirror, letting it reflect the world poorly, actively trying not to overwhelm others with their own bullshit. I compromised, made friends, learned how to work better with others; all the while accepting that the price was small portions of my dignity, respect, and emotional well-being. I sacrificed myself to pretend I belonged.
And now, fifteen years later, I still burn, it still hurts, and I still don’t fit. I spent the early part of those fifteen years learning myself. I readjusted my tolerances and recalibrated myself to create the space I thought I wanted to inhabit. I spent the middle portion of those years living in the world I’d built. The new world for the new me. I built new relationships. Got married. Created the life I thought I should want. The last few years, I’ve stopped lying to myself. I tried living the life of getting along and I’m tired of paying for it with pieces of myself. I’m tired of sacrificing my pride, accomplishments, assertiveness, importance, vulnerabilities, and capabilities just to keep the people around me comfortable. I am tired of making myself smaller because the world doesn’t like big, loud, powerful women they struggle to manipulate or control.
I am tired of constantly dimming my fucking shine because brightly glowing Black women make mediocre people feel like less. That is not my fucking problem and I will fight to make sure it stays NOT my problem.
I spent years doing what I thought was wrong only to learn that my rage was righteous and true. I spent years doing what I thought was right only to realize that I’d compromised myself things that I shouldn’t. And now I continue to fight for basic humanity and respect, but instead of looking at younger me like my enemy, I love her honest rage that sought to burn the world and start anew. And I try to keep loving myself as I continue to compromise and pick my battles and take my hits while lying to myself and saying that one day it’ll all be worth it. That one day this shit will be better.
And every day I become more certain that it all needs to burn.