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Who am I?

A sketch of a woman’s face, covered in multi-coloured strings. In front of it, there’s a black and white outline of a figure with a mask on and holding up a microphone. In front of both figures, is the figure of a smaller woman, holding up a tray and facing behind.

I am the strands of a fabric woven by my mother’s, grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ bones. On those bones, you will find arabesques created out of hardened blood, patterns of endurance and survival that glint with a fierceness you can only find embedded in the DNA of brown women. In a world that attempts to reduce my identity to fit the contours of its control and domesticity, I choose to rebel through my existence. I choose to live as a complex woman even as I am constantly advised to contract my edges lest I become a caricature, lest I become a stereotype, lest I remind them that they forgot to exile oppression to history and lest I interrupt their dehumanisation of women. When I feel the threads of my existence come loose, during the moments that I feel the suffocating weight of violence, I call upon the strength that my grandmother wore on her sleeve.

I am the words that have been choked down for centuries, the pain that you will find nestled at the pit of every woman’s stomach. I am my father’s dismay when he found out that I looked exactly like him and would not be spared the trauma of having dark skin in a country of dark-skinned people that hate the skin that they wear. I am my privilege, occupying the spaces inhabited by the oppressed and oppressors alike. I am my hypocrisy, my anger, my pain, my trauma, and my ancestors’ dreams. I am my sexuality, the ebbs and flows of it, the sounds of an orgasm that is stifled every day. I am the confused and hurt little girl, who felt deposits of anger settle on her body with every sting of the word ‘slut’, every time she was accused of prudishness when she said no, every time the word no was ignored, dismissed, and re-purposed into a weapon that casts a misshapen shadow over consent. I am the guilt of the times I stayed silent, of the times I conspired to siphon justice away from those that deserved it. I am complicit in what I rail against. I am the unfurling of spools of self-hate, internalized misogyny, and learned transmisogyny. Because along with all the love I have inherited, I have also inherited hate. Some things in our history we have to renounce.

There are days when I feel distilled to just my trauma. Days when I feel as small as I did on the cold floor of a college dorm as the bruises on my skin darkened and the blood on my fingers dried. Days when I am just another statistic in a faulty system that dutifully releases a member from its army to ensure that the rebels are felled. Days when the shame of being a battered woman, the hoarseness that comes with raising my voice, the loneliness of feeling like I am on the losing side, are just overwhelming. There are days when the same anger and pain that fuels me suddenly pins me down and chokes my voice. And suddenly, the worst question of all. Who would I be without my trauma to both propel me forward and hold me back?

Then I remember that even before the physical penalties of my rebellion, I was always angry. Every time someone told me my dresses were too short, every time I felt bleach burning my pores, I was filled with an inexplicable feeling of wrongness. I didn’t have the repertoire of fancy phrases, such as ‘systemic and symbolic violence against women’, or ‘violence doesn’t have to be physical to be real’. I knew in my bones that I inherited from my four grandmothers and my mother that I was not just a rebellious daughter, I was right to be angry. I was right to hear the calls of a silent revolution that swelled with every fresh dose of injustice.

Today, I am the many attempts to erode my identity. Today, I am the collective sigh of all my sisters, the sisters that fight to just be recognized, the sisters who do not and the sisters that fall somewhere in between. Most importantly and in the simplest terms: I am my right to exist and to live life on my own terms.

Cover Image: Flickr/(CC BY 2.0)

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