Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health: guest post

Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health: guest post

Image description: A close up of bright greenery with an out of focus cityscape in the background. Photo credit: Mel Vee. Mel Vee is an aspiring photographer and her guest post series will feature her photography.

This is a guest post by Mel Vee.

Mel Vee mesmerizes, captivates and incites with her spoken word. She is a passionate advocate for the power of narrative to heal and liberate. A general disturber of shit, Mel Vee seeks to blur and disrupt all kinds of distinctions. She is a core member of the Uproot YYC, a grassroots collective for artists of colour dedicated to uprooting systemic barriers in the arts community. She was a member of Calgary’s 2017 slam team, who were semi-finalists at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and co-creator of The Unlearning Channel podcast.

This post is the second is a four-part series, one per week for the month of May. Together, this series will comprise the third entry in the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for racial violence, intimate partner violence, suicidality, graphic description of self-harm.


I learned from a young age that I was valued less than others. My brown skin, femaleness, queerness, working class family, speech impediment and quiet, thoughtful nature, mistaken for mental slowness, marked me for hardship and struggle. No one told me in those exact words, but no one needed to – that much was obvious.

My mother was the first person to impart this lesson and spell it out for me but she did so from a place of love. “NEVER EVER follow those white kids around; think they’re better than you! Don’t believe them, they are not better or worse than you. They are human, same as us. But they will think they are high and mighty because they’re white,” she warned us.

She was specifically referring to my cousin, who hung around the playground and in class desperately following white kids around for their coveted friendship. It is a painful memory to reflect on now. My cousin with her dark brown skin, boxer braids and almond eyes following around blonde and brown haired, blue and green-eyed girls with impossibly straight hair and pale white skin.

They were the epitome of beauty, goodness and wholesomeness and my cousin desperately wanted to be beautiful and good and whole like them. She followed them around like a shadow. They often shooed her away, cussed her, threw things at her and even made fun of her. One time she came home to her mother in tears after one of the white girls spat on her and called her darkie; tar baby. My mom was quiet, but her knowing eyes said, ‘See, this is what I warned you about.’

Looking back, I cannot blame my cousin for wanting to distance herself from her blackness. All I learned about Black people in school was that we were slaves. Our history began with slavery and ended with Martin Luther King Jr (bear in mind this was taught in a Canadian school – hello Black Loyalists!). The only Black person I remember seeing in an elementary school textbook was a hunched over Black woman, obviously enslaved or a sharecropper, with a filthy black and white handkerchief on her head, glaring into the camera from a cotton field. That was it. We had no history prior to enslavement; there was no mention of Africa prior to European colonialism, the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade, current and global Black independence struggles and the connection to diasporic Blacks or even Black people during enslavement who resisted, taught, created art or invented.

Our history was reduced to this picture of a tough-looking, stooped over woman with a mean glare.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my mom was doing her best to shield us from a tide of white supremacy which would seek or simply by design devalue the lives of her children – which taught and continues to teach that we were nothing more than the descendants of enslaved people who contributed little to history; that we were less than Europeans and non-Black People of Colour. Our skins marked us as inferiors. Her efforts in hindsight were commendable, given the impossible nature of the task. I remember she blasted Peter Tosh’s African as her primary act of Black affirmation and pride regularly. Her favorite lyrics were:

Don’t care where you come from
As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African
No mind your nationality
You have got the identity of an African

She would belt out, “As long as you’re a Black man, you’re an African,” much to my chagrin. In spite of her efforts to instill in us a sense of pride in our Black heritage, her African diasporic consciousness was no match for the cruel reality of the white people around us, who viewed us as novelties at best or troublesome inferiors at worst; nor the pervasiveness of white supremacy in public and private institutions and in social life.

As a result, I had few friends during my formative years. I followed my mother’s stern warning but I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret when I saw my cousins, who she chided years ago for following white kids around, now had the cool (read white) kids as friends. I realized though that my mother’s words rang true; nearly any Black kid I noticed hanging around with white kids in my junior high and high school would be following along behind them, like a shadow.

The Black kid in the social group always hung out precariously around the edges, as though they never truly belonged. Thankfully once I entered junior high school, we were no longer the only Black family in the neighborhood, but the dynamics remained unchanged. There was an implied subtext of the Black kids being other than or merely tolerated.

The Black kid in the group also always served a chillingly particular purpose – the comedian. If the Black kid was not providing amusement, they were swiftly ostracized as I was. As a nerdy, smart, quiet and thoughtful sort not accustomed to serving up guffaws, I had no purpose to the majority of the white kids around me (with the exception of my small, racially diverse band of merry misfits). Not only did I not entertain the white kids around me, I was also a threat to them academically and intellectually, as I was always at or near the top of my classes in those years.

A Black kid with a brain who refused to debase herself for the entertainment of whites? That was completely intolerable and I suffered the social price. Black kids were allowed to hang out with the white kids, so long as they knew their place.

In spite of myself, loneliness crept in when my merry band of misfits and I parted ways for high school. For the first time in my life, I felt utterly alone. Since I stubbornly refused to sacrifice my stellar grades for the cheap compensation of male attention (which I cared for little as a budding queer), I watched from the sidelines as the white girls who were former friends and acquaintances begin to reach those adolescent milestones and I remained stubbornly inexperienced. Although I sensed a budding attraction to women, I couldn’t shake the sting of being spurned by the mostly white boys around me. My brown skin, chemically relaxed hair (which was never silky straight like the other girls), thin frame and nearly non-existent breasts marked me painfully as the other. The few black boys and boys of other races worshiped the white girls – I was non-existent to them. I had not yet met any queer people or girls who liked girls. I was awkward, out of place and alone.

Unsurprisingly, my mental health deteriorated.

Accustomed as I had become to spending the afternoons alone in my bedroom after finishing my homework, on one particular day I sat down on the floor in silence and stared at my arms. I had already begun self-harming by then as a way to express the rage I felt towards myself and my circumstances but something inside of me snapped.

The last thing I recall thinking that day was how much I hated my brown skin.

It always got in the way; it made me different.

I did not remember how I got the razor but before I knew it, I had a huge slash on my left inner forearm. It was the deepest cut I had ever inflicted on myself. I did not recall wanting to cut that deeply, but in the fury of my self-loathing I simply had no control. I panicked. I had always heard we were the same colour underneath but now seeing the white flesh beneath the brown skin was too much. I became nauseous, and in my panic I did something uncharacteristic of myself – I got help. My mom freaked out when she saw; she didn’t know whether to cry or scold or pray. Instead, she called my aunt who was a nurse’s aide at the time. They both kept talking to each other while my aunt did her best to stitch me up. They both spoke as if I was not there:

“Why would she do something like this?”
“The poor dear…”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!”

My aunt, finally coming to her senses, said there was no way they were taking me to the hospital.

“They’ll take her away. There’s no way we are going to the hospital.” And that was that. My mother and aunt knew instinctively getting social services involved would be ruinous to the family. My mom and aunt didn’t bet their and my collective well-being on the charity of social services, a fate we had so far escaped.

Unfortunately for me, the lack of intervention (partly due to that understandable resistance) contributed to further decline. The situation grew more dire as I became involved in an abusive, tumultuous relationship with a white girl who exploited my mental health struggles for her personal gain. She was the first person to ever express any interest in me sexually and I was hooked.

Due to her erratic and abusive behaviour, I became estranged from my family for a few months and opted to live with her and a friend of mine where I deteriorated even further. I learned intimately the extent to which a white person would weaponize their race against mine to exploit and cause destruction. My partner continually called services on me, which led to a trip in the back of a police cruiser. Calling the police on a mentally ill Black person can lead to violence and death – I cannot stress this enough. It is an extremely hateful and vile thing to do. Yet when she was confronted about her despicable and nakedly abusive behaviour by various people, the white girl waterworks began and that was the end of the conversation.

Of course, she was well aware of my struggles with race and with mental health – it was why she singled me out of the crowd for her predatory behaviour. Yet it never ceased to astound me how a person who claimed to love me could also attack with such racist vitriol or stay silent when others did. But instead of being furious at her blatant racism, I began to loathe myself and my race more intensely. Not wanting to be victimized further, my desire to identify with the oppressor grew stronger in a mistaken bid to become the abuser instead of the abused.

When that relationship reached its terrifying conclusion, I was thrust into the world of mental health professionals. The mental health professionals I encountered were exclusively white. I never encountered a single mental health care professional of Colour. The mental health professionals I met with expressed puzzlement at my suffering. By appearances, I was raised in an intact family (I did not disclose the volatility of my home life and my father’s explosive rages and violent outbursts), had stellar grades, played sports, worked part time and volunteered regularly.

I never told a single health care professional the real reason I began self-harming – I hated myself. I hated my brown skin, African features and curly hair. I now cursed my dear mother, who so tenderly attempted to prepare me to live in this racist society, for not being white. I was so close to being white and she was the reason I wasn’t. She received specific vitriol for the then-perceived mortal sin of being Black. I internalized the rampant and unabashed racism of the people around me and it was quite literally killing me.

I planned to end this post on some highfalutin note about how considering the impact of race and systemic inequity on mental health is a moral imperative blah blah.

But I believe that would be too simple of an end. That much is obvious.

Instead, I want to stress the importance and deep implications of the fact that the mental health of racialized people in a white supremacist society is not only simply complicated and impacted by race, but rather that being racialized itself can be a cause of mental health trauma.

This is the controversial part.

I am not a psychologist nor do I claim any expertise in the area. However, my lived experience speaks for itself. How does a queer, young, working class Black woman talk to an aging heterosexual middle or upper class white man about her most vulnerable life struggles? How can you possibly be vulnerable with someone who may have no frame of reference for your life experiences or worse may become hostile at the suggestion that race could be a factor in mental illness?

Though I did find understanding mental health practitioners in time, I never discussed race with them. Yet it was and still is vital for my mental health to be able to talk about what was actually near and dear to my heart – the complex stresses of my life being devalued based on who I am and navigating through the compounded effect of trauma on marginalization.

This is the key message that is missing desperately from the mental health conversation. Most people do not know that I have struggled with my mental health for a reason. The mental health profession as a whole is not equipped to deal with race in a way that is clinically significant to racialized people. I believe this is why I am becoming more candid about my mental health struggles – I want people to understand how psychologically scarring racism can be and how redressing justice can be powerful for improving one’s mental health.

I want to end with a thank you to my mother for her ceaseless efforts to affirm our Black heritage and instill racial pride.


This post is part of the third in the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Further reading on racial trauma, and mental health among Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour

Prioritizing: guest post

Prioritizing: guest post

Image description: A black and white close-up of wood, twigs, and metal twine, with dry grass in the background. Photo credit: Mel Vee. Mel Vee is an aspiring photographer and her guest post series will feature her photography.

This is a guest post by Mel Vee.

Mel Vee mesmerizes, captivates and incites with her spoken word. She is a passionate advocate for the power of narrative to heal and liberate. A general disturber of shit, Mel Vee seeks to blur and disrupt all kinds of distinctions. She is a core member of the Uproot YYC, a grassroots collective for artists of colour dedicated to uprooting systemic barriers in the arts community. She was a member of Calgary’s 2017 slam team, who were semi-finalists at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and co-creator of The Unlearning Channel podcast.

This post is the first is a four-part series, one per week for the month of May. Together, this series will comprise the third entry in the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for suicidality, illness, and threatened violence.


Wake up early for a change. Stop being such a lazy fuck.
Go to morning meditation – it is important for you to be there.
Make your partner breakfast and lunch.
Try to make breakfast for yourself but you’re distracted. Will get back to it later.

Your friend is suicidal and she needs help – she doesn’t have much support.

Brush teeth.
Put on clothes.

Another friend lost her job – she might be homeless soon. You have to help somehow.

Put on shoes. Walk out door.

Another ambulance is at the house across the way. Last week there was a man covered in blood wielding a knife. Need to look for a new apartment. Another item on the to do list.

Your friend could stay with you if she needs to. You don’t just leave friends like that.

Walk back from meditation. The community is struggling and needs money. You decide you should probably volunteer more.
Do dishes.
Plan for the next meal. You have no energy to cook but cannot afford to eat out.

You remember the days where there wasn’t enough food in the house and you ate peanut butter for dinner; sardines if you were lucky. Curse yourself for being so damn ungrateful – at least you have food to cook! Hear your father’s voice remind you of how ungrateful you are.
Feel shame.

Think of resources for your suicidal friend.
Know mental health resources for LGBTQ folks are often a joke – but you try anyway.

Realize you should exercise – it’s important for your health. Promptly delay exercising by answering emails. They never stop coming; someone is always itching to hit send.
It’s the same old – “We need you to volunteer. This is an important cause. We can’t afford to pay you but we appreciate your time. You can build up your profile. It’s only temporary.

Your aunt is sick again. Her no-good kids keep hitting her up for money. She needs someone to talk to even though you could use a quiet moment but you love her and it’s the least you can do.

The timer you set to write for 10 minutes has 8 seconds left. Guess you won’t be writing today.

Deadlines are piling up. All the shit you said yes to is finally catching up. You vow not to say yes to anything else EVER AGAIN and yet you say yes to even more.
You still need to exercise.

Go to work. Radiate warmth and kindness to people with a pathological sense of entitlement.
Be expected to have read every book written in the span of human civilization. Get cussed out for daring to manage others expectations and refusing to tolerate abuse. The customer is always right. Fight back tears in the washroom. Remember this job is all you have and your mother told you never to rely on anyone for money, especially a man. Smile even bigger at the next customer.

Yet another friend is about to be out on the street. You want to help but you just cannot. Feel helpless. Useless.

Go to your second job.
Meet one friend for coffee after.
Go to that show tonight. You need to show your face or else people will think you don’t take this seriously and that you’re not paying your dues.

Your partner is tired from their job so they cannot really help with chores. You try not to get upset because they are not trying to make your life difficult on purpose. But still…
More emails and texts.
A friend you rarely see becomes upset and demands to know why you don’t have time for them.
You cannot think of a good reason to say no and they are not that bad. It will only be an hour.
Schedule her on the only day you had free.

Another friend is having a breakdown. They simply want to talk.
Your partner is in the mood even though you barely have the energy to keep your eyes open but you can’t remember the last time you two had sex. Feel ashamed.

The laundry is piling up. The floor needs to be vacuumed. That’s for another day.
Try to go to sleep. Spend at least an hour wondering how your life got like this. Wondering where you went wrong, if you went wrong, if you should be more selfish. What should you cut?
Realize you’ve already cut everything extraneous from your life.

*Sigh*

Realize you don’t even have time to appreciate the irony in this.
Know you will do it all over again the next day. And the day after next. And the day after that.
Know you will keep doing this and know you can’t stop. Know that you want to stop but also know you never will.


This post is the third in the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!

Also check out the other posts in the series:

An Open Love Letter to My Friends – guest post

An Open Love Letter to My Friends – guest post

Image description: A person stands in a forest, looking up. Photo provided by Michelle Dang.

This is a guest post by Michelle Dang. Michelle is a cis woman of Vietnamese heritage living on the stolen Aboriginal land of the Jagera and Turrbal peoples (Brisbane, Australia). Michelle is a community worker, narrative therapist and writer. Most of her writing and practice is on feminism, transformative justice and anti-violence work. She will accept any ice cream or basketball challenge. The author can be contacted at michelledang5@gmail.com or follow Michelle on Twitter @dang_power


My beloved friends,

I am writing this because you have shouldered me up. This letter is to all my friends and especially to queer folk, people of colour and those who live on dangerous intersections. If you didn’t already know, I want to tell you now, I love you.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I am alive because of you, that energy and blood runs through my body because of you, that my existence and presence is because of you.

I was deep in the land of hopelessness, succumbed to the hate directed towards my body.  We were never meant to survive[i]. You pulled me in, whispered to me that I had more soul in my little toe than the entirety of the white supremacist shit hole I was in. It was your relentless insistence that I matter, that we matter, that we are magical that pulled me out of the pit of despair.

Of course, the pain I am speaking of is one you know intimately. That pain stems from our relationship with whoever our personal Rose is.  Rose, aka White Feminism, aka Colonial Patriarchal Feminism[ii], aka Trans Radical Exclusive Feminism, aka Sex Worker Exclusive Radical Feminism.

Looking back, I can see why I fell for Rose. War and western imperialism had displaced my family from Vietnam. When we arrived in Australia, little did we know that we were moving from one occupied country to another. I was yearning for a place to call home. A place that would not replicate the violence I witnessed and experienced in my family, in my homeland or on the stolen land I found myself on.

At the time I had met Rose, I had just left a toxic relationship with Lena, aka Social Work, aka International Development. I was very vulnerable.

I was charmed by Rose’s sweet talk about unity, agency and empowerment. I believed that she would offer refuge to a brown broken-hearted girl like me. I believed that we were bound together through a shared rage at the patriarchy.

And yes, in the beginning, she embraced me, like her own. She showered me with compliments, telling me how valuable I was. She reassured me that she understood my pain, that she would fight for me, for us.

But when the honeymoon was over, I realised that I was escaping patriarchal violence within the home, and within sandstone buildings, only to meet it once again within colonial patriarchal feminist organisations. I could see the tricks and tactics of perpetrators played out on coloured and non-conforming bodies within these structures. Sweet feminist words were used as a smokescreen to cover daily acts of minimisation, silencing, gaslighting, invalidation, intimidation, isolation and bullying.

We were never meant to survive.

But we can leave evidence. Evidence that we did survive. Evidence that we matter. That we resisted and persisted. That we gave up, not on liberation, but on empty promises. So, I give testimony to the ways I have survived, the ways we have survived:

I survived because I stopped giving any more time and energy to a relationship that did not value our hopes, dreams and dignity.

I survived the contradictions and cognitive dissonance, like the time Rose spoke over me to tell me the importance of maintaining a safe space for women.

I survived all the white tears, like every time Rose cried about how horrible racism is, but threw me under the bus when I asked for accountability.

I survived numerous lectures about ‘unity’ and how my feminism is divisive.

I survived, by rolling my eyes every time Rose insisted she was neutral.

I survived by not expressing myself. Because there is a cost to naming racism.

I survived by expressing myself. Because there is a cost to not naming racism.

I survived the nausea that would wake me up every morning, because my gut knew before my head did, that I was entering a war zone. Racism is an attack on the body.

I survived because of Sara Ahmed, Audre Lorde, Mia McKenzie, bell hooks, Vikki Reynolds.

I survived (and my cis privilege allows me to survive) after daring to dream that we could dismantle the gender binary system, as though the act of pointing out cis violence causes the loss of something: harmony, peace, white cis power.

I survived when Rose racially attacked me because it so similar to how POC survive racial attacks on the daily when we snap back at men who sexually harass us.

I survived because you believed me and understood that I was not being over-sensitive or dramatic. Because white feminism has become a master at victim-blaming.

I survived by printing and reading revolutionary black feminist material courtesy of Rose’s printer, and it felt good.

I survived that time Rose and her cronies ambushed and cornered me and aggressively interrogated my feminism because I troubled their feminism.

I survived because of your unapologetic declarations that we are magnificent, legitimate, sufficient and beautiful.

I survived that time we publicly denounced Rose’s hate signs against sex workers at Reclaim the Night, and I was told I was rude and to stay in my lane.

I survived by refusing to enter mediation with Rose so ‘we could resolve our differences’. When harm occurs, what is required is accountability not mediation.

I survived that time Rose misquoted Kimberlè Crenshaw to say that intersectionality was just about racial liberation and not trans liberation.

I survived because as Sara Ahmed would say, I snapped[iii], I left.

I survived because I have my ancestors’ fighting spirit running through me. We were not erased by colonisation, dispossession and genocide and we will not be erased by colonial patriarchal feminism.

Thank you for being fierce, determined and unruly. You created what was not there. You wrote me in to history, you wrote me into existence. Because you dared to deviate, you carved a space for me to deviate. Space for me to breathe. Space for me to survive. Space for me to rest.

To my dear friends, fuck I love you.  I love us.

Yours,
Michelle

This piece is inspired by Mia McKenzie’s ‘An Open Love Letter to Folks of Color’ in Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender and all the love letters I have written and read.


[i] ‘We were never meant to survive’ is the beautiful line that is repeated in Audre Lorde’s poem, ‘A Litany for Survival’.

[ii] Cheree Moreton coined the term Colonial Patriarchal Feminism or Colonial Patri-Fem for short, to describe how white feminists stigmatise and silence the one black voice in the organisation/environment.

[iii] Sara Ahmed uses the term ‘feminist snap’ in Living a Feminist Life as an act of resistance. This is when we have reached a breaking point, “when what you come up against threatens to be too much, threatens a life, or a dream, or a hope” (187).


This post is the second in the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch!

Also check out the first post in the series, All The Places You’ll Never Go, by Dulcinea Lapis.

All the places you’ll never go – guest post

All the places you’ll never go – guest post

Image description: Cherry blossoms against a blue sky. The frame is vignetted and dark at the edges. Photo credit: cocoparisienne, Pixabay.

This is a guest post by Dulcinea Lapis, a pan, polyam, woman of trans experience, writing from a position of colonizer privilege. This is the first in a year-long series of posts that Dulcinea and I will be curating, in challenge and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on the 7th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, get in touch! Dulcinea named our project: Feminism from the Margins.


The Places You’ll Never Go

When I was young, I heard about the places I’d go. About the person I’d get to be. The great things I’d do. What I never heard about were the places I can never go, because of what people would do to the person I choose to be.

Moving through the world with an Othered identity is a violent experience. Picking and choosing what parts of us to honor and what needs to be cut away. I can only speak to the parts of me that aren’t welcome in the mainstream, as a Trans woman without passing privilege, and a queer person who is out and public. I am shielded from much by being white, not being of a marginalized faith and by not having a visible disability. It’s important to note being othered further would mean there was even less of a much too small world to see.

I would love to go to the Women’s March. To stand in solidarity with others and refuse to be silenced and boxed in. Wear a tank top with an inflammatory slogan and take part in the cathartic rejection of patriarchy. I would love to, but I never will. A quick perusing of the Facebook event disabuses me of that notion. Every post on their Facebook page about how including Trans-voices is silencing women for men, the failure of their moderation showing how comfortable they are with every barbed-wire post, every poison-pill comment made in false good-faith. The moderation comes too late, they belatedly reach out to Trans-women for organization…but at this point how can I trust I’ll be welcome? Why take the risk? It’s fine. I’ll make a slit and out comes the part of me that wants to go to these public events, cut out of myself like my wish to travel. I won’t even notice.

The World Shrinks.

I would love to go to a ladies night at a games cafe. To share my love of games and my favourite hobby with others in a space free of toxic competitiveness and masculine posturing. An evening spent with the simple affirming company of women with the same interest. I never will again. Once was enough and it sticks with me.

I drop by the store to scope it out, it’s entirely white women. I get glares, as I pretend to peruse the products on offer, a hostility that I can feel in my bones, like a storm on the horizon. To them I’m not woman enough to be here, and a cute dress and makeup won’t change anything. As I leave I can hear a mutter: “I was worried he’d stay and we’d have to put up with another one.” I get rid of this need as well. It stings as I slice this out and I can feel something missing, but at least I can move on before something happens.

The World Shrinks.

It’s affirming and pleasurable to wear skirts and dresses, tanks and leggings, clothing and makeup and those things I missed out on for so long. Early forays made with friends, their guidance and presence a reassuring balm against the gnawing anxiety under my skin. Of course going back alone is like wandering through brambles, tearing and cutting away at me. Leaving me bloody. Places that tout body positivity and inclusion still have flamboyant men who glare at me when I ask questions about eye shadow and women who  are so stunned at my knowledge of makeup foundation that they won’t make conversation. Glares as I ask for sizes range from skeptical to hostile. I’ll make sure to shop online, or where my friends work, from now on.

The World Shrinks.

There are already so many places that come with such added risks that they’re almost a punchline. What washroom do I use? Use the women’s and risk a confrontation? Use the men’s and risk a beating? How do I go to a Gym where there’s even more exposure? It doesn’t matter that these spaces have been made safer for women; being the wrong sort of woman is just as likely to end in violence as it ever has. I’ll just ignore it, what’s a little bladder infection against a loud, public confrontation, where – at best – so many feminists will just look away, and even (privately) be glad to see me gone. Once more I take parts of myself away. I’m carving deep now and getting rid of things recently hard won, experiences lustrous and new. A loss that’s worth it though. It’s not like I have any option or way to make these spaces mine.
The World Shrinks
I’ve got my home. A place of refuge. I can post on the internet about my politics, even if I’m not welcome to display them alongside allies. Surely that’s good enough right? I can play games online, invite trusted friends with years of history over and get my craving for companionship that way. I’ll order clothes from websites, hope that they fit, and make do when there’s places too tight or too loose. Make do with the makeup I have, wait until it runs out and then book time off for when I know a friendly face is on-shift at my ever-dwindling list of shops. I’ll just use the washroom at home, train my body to need it less. Avoid food and water when possible. I’ll find a space at home and work out there, if someone else from my building comes in I’ll wrap up and leave. Why take the chance? I’m safe here. I’ve cut and snipped and taken out so much of myself, it feels like almost nothing is left. Everything reminds me of what I’ve had to gouge out so as not to transgress spaces not meant for me. Maybe I can ignore the number of Trans-Women that are killed in their homes, doxxed and stripped naked to a hostile world already too small.
Could the world shrink any further? Could I?

Tiffany Sostar is a self-care and narrative coach, offering one-on-one and group coaching, both in person on Treaty 7 land/Calgary and online. Coaching is available in single-session, package, or yearlong formats. Get in touch to book some time! They also offer regular online courses, workshops, and other events. You can find them on Facebook, and you can support their work on Patreon. They have a double BA (hons) in English and Women’s Studies, with a focus on how marginalized communities write new narratives for themselves, and they are currently enrolled in the Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program at the Dulwich Centre and the University of Melbourne.