that doesn’t make me a stupid girl: that makes me human

multicolored graffiti that reads, "Developing a voice"

Developing a voice... (click on the image to see more of Cassidy Curtis's pictures)

Thursday is a VozSutra day, talking about the practice of voice.

This morning I woke up when the alarm went off at 5.24, but then hung around in bed for another half hour, sleeping and wrangling with getting up — thinking of lines of poetry.  The only one I can remember now is something about the bright eyes in our vaginas, or the bright vaginas in our eyes. I think it was the latter.

I dreamt of writing a thoughtful-yet-blistering post to facebook (dear god, it’s time for a break when I start dreaming about facebook! that’s terrible!) about transguys taking their shirts off in public. There’d been a whole bunch of photos in a row, guys posting about what they’d done that weekend, and look, I got to take off my shirt, now that I got my surgery and look, you can’t even see the scars, and it was so nice to feel the sun on my chest, finally — and I was just livid, because of the willingness to do this, to share this celebration with all of their female-bodied compatriots who would have been cited or arrested at the same events if they’d taken their own damn shirts off without putting fucking stickers or tape (or something else painful to remove) over their nipples. (It may have been that I had exactly this feeling at Oakland Pride this weekend — just maybe.) Livid because of the willingness, too, on the part of some transguys, to say that transitioning has nothing to do with male privilege. And yet those photographs, that experience, in this country: male privilege. In the dream, F! was worried, didn’t want me to be too something — and so I was thoughtfully crafting this message that wasn’t too angry, but was still clear and a bit angry, but didn’t make anyone uncomfortable, and…as you can imagine, I didn’t get the damn thing posted before I woke up.

What’s this about — this fear of just saying what we think, when we, at the same time, think someone else will be offended.  As female folk (and even here I freeze — is it just female folk? am I being too gender-essentialist?) we’re socialized to be polite and cautious about what we say: don’t lead anyone on, don’t upset anyone. And so we grow up learning to swallow so many things, in so many different ways — we learn how not to speak the things that will upset someone. You know all this already.  The question is, how to unlearn that swallowing.  How to spit it back up and out?

Writing is a help, for me — putting it down on the page, in a notebook, in a thick messy scrawl, with as much intention and emotion as necessary. I remind myself that I don’t have to share it with anyone, and for a very long time, I didn’t. I just kept on going to the cafe, ordering my large bowl of french roast coffee and sitting in the back corner or up front, by the window, just writing in the notebook — trying to figure out how to get it all down, how to say it all the way it felt in my body.

And then, little by little, I started sharing this writing voice with others — at work, at organizing meetings, at open mics, through characters in stories that found their way into anthologies, and then, lo and behold, just in conversation with my lovers and friends. And it’s still a struggle.  It’s a struggle to say something that I know will upset or offend somebody, it’s a struggle not to waver with kind of, I think, don’t you? or try to give voice to every side of an issue at the same time — everyone likes you if you don’t take a clear side, is what I’ve learned, if you just kind of look like you’re leaning toward their side when you’re talking to them. That’s a skill girls learn, I think, and maybe some boys too, something trauma survivors learn, over and over: the ways not to appear a threat, not to appear to have a mind of our own, not to say something that will set someone else off.

I understand the ways that using caution around voice is a self-protective mechanism. And I hold within me the aftermath: that choking, that wishy-washiness, that unreasonable (for me) terror that upsetting someone else means my physical safety is threatened.

For many years, I literally could not have an debate or argument about something I felt strongly about — I’d get so angry, and afraid, too, that I just couldn’t speak, couldn’t find the words I wanted; my mind just went blank. I despaired of ever being able to articulate, extemporaneously, my feelings about, say, violence against women, or rape in movies, or incest anywhere, or queer assimilation or… and, of course, I’d be talking to people who could remain dispassionate about their opinion, which we at my undergraduate institution were supposed to be learning how to do. But how do I stay unemotional about battery and intimate partner violence? Who would want to? Why keep the facade of objectivity, when there just isn’t any such thing as a non-subjective perspective or viewpoint?

I could, of course, easily preach to the converted, and maybe that helped.  The writing, and the talking with folks who shared, and added to/expanded, my feelings and politics and analysis on a particular subject. Listening to other folks talk, folks who could both embody emotion and clearly navigate complex terrain, also inspired me to believe that it was possible to do.

And these morning blogs are another part of that practice –to write what I’m thinking into the computer without too much forethought or editing, sometimes even just stating an opinion without apology: the gall. I learn to be willing to be wrong, learn that it’s not the end of the world if I change or grow, complicate, my opinion. That doesn’t make me a stupid girl: that makes me human.

So, here’s a prompt: Is there something you’re really upset about or affected by right now, something you’d like to find the words to articulate? Can you give yourself 20 minutes in the notebook with that today, letting yourself not make sense, not complete your sentences, get really angry or sad, if you want, or even contradict yourself… this isn’t for anyone else. This is writing work, and it’s your own powerful practice.

Thank you so much for being there, for reading — and for your writing!

One response to “that doesn’t make me a stupid girl: that makes me human

  1. i have some angry words today to write down today…. thank you for your propmt