When I did not see myself, I felt alone; but now I see myself, I see myself everywhere.
When they bully you, they cut out a part of you. They so mock and deride it that you think it shameful, and try to hide it. You deny it is you. But everyone sees through your pitiful attempts, and knows how to reduce you to a quivering wreck: they point out that part of you that shames you. We are told by healers to be “vulnerable”, but we are no less vulnerable hiding the part that shames us. Hiding it, we have the work of hiding it, and we carry it for all to see.
I face my terror. I will not hide my shameful part any more. It is frightening not to, but trying to hide myself does not work. When I stop trying, my failure ceases to matter. When I fight myself it is a burden, but when I accept myself I find strength in what I denied, hated, sought to expunge.
When I am seen and accepted, I am enabled to see myself, in my power and beauty. We are told by healers to be “vulnerable”, but they mean, come into our power.
I read Audre Lorde, and feel accepted. When she writes of herself, I see parts of me within her, and am enabled to see their beauty. As a child, she wrote poems which expressed what she felt. Poetry was her language, to communicate to others. She had difficulty comprehending how other people thought- it seemed to be in a logical progression, but for her non-verbal communication was more important. Her feelings were chaos and confusion, anchored in poetry.
The words were deceit, misleading her because they misled the speaker. Still the human communicated, beside or alongside the words. “I used to practise trying to think,” she says. She could not learn without a teacher she liked, to feel the truth of what was taught rather than pick up facts.
The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free.
Without her mother, she felt alone and worthless because only her mother could see her and accept her. I do not generalise from what she says to people of colour here, now, as she was in America, growing up in the ‘forties, writing in the ‘eighties, but it echoes what I feel, now: “White people [others] feel, Black people [her critics and mine] do.” White people have the luxury of feeling, in her world, but Black people had to just get on with the drudgery of mere survival.
I feel stung by the allegation that I do not Do. I ought first to Do, to earn, to produce, to support myself, before I can take time out to feel, but my feelings cry out to be heard and give me no quarter, they will not be silent until I hear them and honour them.
I feel more stung. Black women could not hear or see or love or accept or nurture or honour one another because they saw themselves in the other, she says. I am suspicious of trans women: Audre writes of the struggle, the need for Black women to confront and wade through the racist constructs underlying our deprivation of each other. When I see a trans woman, I see all the things I ought not to be, and I turn away in shame. I see her through a haze of transphobia; I see myself mirrored in her, and all that has been stolen from me, called shameful, all that I attempt futilely to hide, I see in her and therefore in me, and feel that imposed shame.
I am myself. I can be no other.
We are ourselves. We are beautiful, and when we see our beauty, when the mists of transphobia and bullying disperse, we come into our power.
Audre’s mother loved her, and showed her that, accepting her, nurturing her to be herself, then teaching her how to be herself in white america which never wanted her to even be alive. My mother loved me, but seeing herself as worthless could not accept me; she sought to force me into a mould so I might survive (even if only as an automaton) not knowing the mould would kill me. And yet I survived.
I feel seen. I read Audre, and she explains myself to me, and she validates and values and thereby nourishes and enriches me. I feel and therefore I can be free.
It ceases to be vulnerability when I accept those parts of myself that I sought to hide, and becomes dignity.
Now, I see myself everywhere. I see myself in the deep rich authentic feeling of my beautiful friend, in stories and portraits and cultural artifacts valuing cherishing and honouring people just like me, even in God who made me in God’s image, in all people who are part of me as I am part of them.