My Cloak of Invisibility
When I was in second grade, I had a teacher who took pleasure in humiliating me. I’m fairly positive I wasn’t alone, but I remember her questioning me about my family and our financial situation, about my siblings…whatever topic entered her head. Sometimes she would do this in front of the class, other times she’d pull me aside to pry into my life.
At the time, I knew it made me feel bad about myself, but I didn’t have enough experience to understand why. She was my first serious lesson about not trusting authority figures. To this day I struggle to understand why a grown woman would take obvious pleasure in subjugating children.
My dad tried to help me understand. He told me that she was jealous. Again, she was a grown ass woman and I was a 7-year-old. But now, I kinda get it. And it has a lot to do with someone trying to diminish your personal shine.
Learning to be less is something that has to be taught. In the beginning, I was told to do it: “Don’t seem too smart. Guys don’t like smart girls” “Don’t make your teachers look stupid by asking too many questions.” “Be careful not to show your classmates up. It’ll make you a target.” “Don’t let them see how much you know; they’ll assume you’re cheating.”
That’s some fucked up shit to tell a child. Hide yourself, because if you don’t, the world will do it for you.
And that’s what you do. You hide. You hide behind silence. You hide behind books. You hide behind video games. When sexuality entered the equation, you hide behind baggy clothes and feigned misunderstanding. And eventually you isolate yourself as you try to figure out all the fuckery around you.
I say “you” but that’s actually what I did.
And I was a smart kid. I was a smart teenager. I couldn’t mask that shit if I tried. I used to get chased and attacked by older children because they couldn’t outwit me. I was kicked out of class for questioning my teachers as I tried to understand the lesson.
Administrators would make recommendations and choices for you, call you the exception for reasons they couldn’t understand. Nobody knew why YOU could do these things that the other students couldn’t…that you must know some trick that nobody else knew. And you learned that your shine, your abilities, your accomplishments would always be diminished in some way, so you may as well do it yourself.
That was when I made my cloak of invisibility. I spent most of my 20s embracing mediocrity. I actively hid in plain sight. With the chaos of everything around me, I kept my head low and did what I needed to do. Despite my self-made invisibility cloak, I struggled with people. I struggled to hide that I learned things quickly, adapted to change faster, and could understand what was needed faster and more efficiently than my bosses. And when the “real” me peeked though, I learned that it made them insecure to the point that I would be openly marginalized. They shot down my ideas, they perceived my comments as negative, and if I showed any emotion, they told me I was angry and needed to calm down. There was genuine fear of my physicality in addition to the open disapproval of my larger, brown, body.
According to them, I had an attitude problem. I was insubordinate. Despite demonstrating an ability to complete projects within an allocated time frame, I needed to be managed in some way every hour of the workday. And eventually, I became a problem because if I’m going to be punished for the crime, I may as well be guilty of it.
My last gig, my boss tried on several occasions to make me seem like less than I was. She tried to talk to me like I was a child, and once asked me point blank if I could accomplish the same things she’d accomplished. When I looked her in the eye and said, “yes, I could,” she was so stunned it made me smile.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to remove my cloak of invisibility. It wasn’t an easy process. First I had to accept who I was and that on a shit day, I was more capable than many of my co-workers. I’d learned that I could accomplish almost anything I set my mind to do. I know how to set goals. I know how to make plans. I know how to organize. I know how to make connections. I am friendly and personable enough to collaborate with others, provided they actually want to collaborate. I know my shit and if I can’t make it happen, I’m comfortable enough to admit it.
I’ve built a pyre for that cloak. It’s not lit yet. I’m still learning to love and accept myself for who I am. I’m not sure if it’s a process that I will ever complete, but it is a goal…and I almost always achieve my goals.
Because I am amazing and I do amazing shit.
Because I refuse to pretend to be less than I am.
Because I refuse to BE less than I am.
And because I sure as fuck won’t let you diminish me. You can’t anymore. I know too much.