You May Never Understand the Truth of Me
I love writing. It helps me sort through ideas, organize my thoughts, and gives voice to emotions in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily take the time to voice without an audience. While one does not require an audience to write, having an audience brings a greater significance to the act.
I love writing. For reasons tangible and not, it’s something I have always felt compelled to do. But there comes a point when you have to ask yourself why you’re writing. Is it for attention? To educate? Because you have a story to tell? Because you have something you need to share? Is it a job? Is it more about your audience or about you?
Sometimes I don’t like to answer those questions because it makes me feel as though I’m compromising myself for money. And let’s be real, we live in a capitalist society that requires money to survive. I’m not rich so sometimes it’s about the money.
Lately, I’ve been trying different ways of expressing myself, sometimes with my writing, sometimes with video, and as always with cosplay. My writing is the closest to my core. It is the least externally manipulated aspect of me. It is my internal self, using only my filter…at least my personal posts are. The essays that have been published on other sites, while they are my voice, are edited. Sometimes the essays are changed to educate readers, specifically white readers. Sometimes this is problematic as fuck; other times, not so much because I intended to educate white readers. But those problematic times stick in my throat.
I’m having that moment now. I was asked to revise an essay, which is the right of any publication. I’ve started and stopped several times. The original essay needs some cleaning up, but I like it. I like the rhythm and cadence of it. I’m still smoothing it out, but it speaks in a way I appreciate. Being asked to revise it so that it could become more universal and include some statistics disturbed me for a couple of reasons…
It made me feel as though my writing only has value if it’s teaching something. I mean, I get it. Publication have an audience that has specific expectations. When I want to read something lyrical and creative, I read literature magazines. When I want something technical, I read subject matter specific magazines. Sometimes my writing sits on a line between audiences and the editor needs to nudge me towards the genre that centers their primary audience. And while it makes sense for them to do that, this time it bothered me.
Sometimes I struggle with how people, community, and society try to make me fit into various categories that makes me comfortable for them. It happens with the -isms in my life, as well as the activities I engage in. My writing, cosplay, and public health activities don’t always fit into social justice, geek fun, or my professional life. Sometimes I’m too abstract. Sometimes I’m too carefree. Sometimes I’m too irreverent, whimsical, confrontational, analytical, or grounded. And sometimes all these things manifest in an essay or a cosplay, because I am all these things all the time. They are never separate and they are always me. Being asked to revise me to suit you is challenging and limiting. I don’t like it and I don’t like that I understand why people encourage it.
I also struggle with being asked to prove my experiences. Whether it’s through being asked to include statistics and data to substantiate my experiences or asked to share more examples of my abuses and trauma, it is troubling. It speaks directly to the marginalization of Black women’s voices, my voice because if I cannot provide enough evidence of something that is deeply coded and openly denied, then my experience is deemed invalid. As it is, we are often told our experiences are false; that we are misinterpreting some well-intended act. It places the burden of proof of someone else’s fuckery on me, and silences me if I cannot find some additional, external validation. Often, I’m counseled against being vague or too general in my essays, when sometimes that’s the experience. Instead, I am encouraged to provide examples and evidence that I am not alone. It contributes to a feeling of not being believed, a common and intentionally manufactured feeling when talking about oppression with your oppressors.
I’m still questioning myself about this. The request was made so kind and timidly, that I am still asking myself if I’m overreacting. The answer to that question is no; I’m just reacting. I learned long ago that when something makes me feel weird, look at it and try to figure out what’s really happening. Our emotions are a tool that helps us identify danger or pain, long before we are able to consciously identify it. I gently interrogate myself; ask if this is ego or something more. Because I rarely receive feedback asking me to clean up my writing, I am not used to certain types of criticism. But when a response to my work causes a strong emotional reaction, I pause to assess why and in this case, it’s because I’m seeing a pattern in how my work is rejected, causing me to question the value of my writing.
I know my writing has been weaponized by white people against other white people. I’ve seen it used as evidence of a Black experience to which white people cannot relate. I’ve seen it misinterpreted, misconstrued, and misread, particularly by those who wish to discredit me. I also know that my writing has helped people, and that it helps articulate a complicated situation that Black women in my situation are blamed for…because we chose to marry a white man. But that experience, and how I shared that experience, is not all that I am. Nor is my rage. Or my disappointment. Or my joy.
I am many, many things and I communicate that in numerous ways: spoken, written, even visually, as seen with my cosplay. And while I do engage in activism, that isn’t always by choice. Often, my refusal to hide, my desire to be seen and heard, and my insistence on participating in a space that has told me I’m not welcome is perceived as activism. My willingness to speak about tough topics, my comfort in being me is interpreted as resistance. I call it living my life, but you know how identity politics work – if your politicized identity is visible, you don’t get to choose what it is. Just like you don’t always choose what resistance looks like. For me, resistance looks like daring to exist and live my fat, Black, geek life unapologetically, i.e. everyday existence.
What I will say is that if you find yourself in the role of gatekeeper and are working with marginalized populations, think about how that informs your expectations. Think about how your perceptions and expectations shape your criticism, editing, and feedback. Ask yourself if you are projecting what you want to see onto their work and whether that is appropriate. In return, I’ll seek out venues more in-line with my voice and my intent. Or I’ll self-publish, where I have the 100% control over my content. That way, when my whimsy is rooted in uncomfortable truths, instead of having to explain and clarify my experience for an unfamiliar audience or be asked to conform, I can publish and let my writing reflect the truth of me; a truth that you may never understand.