A PanAfricanist Queer Womanist Collective
I keep thinking of ways to give back. To pause, look around me and find moments to say “thank you”. However I keep finding that (because the struggle is so real and so constant and so isolating and so communal) I always have an excuse not to pause and I never have the time to show simple gratitude.
So I’ll make the time now, because after this, I need to get right back into the thick of things. Thinking of ways to resist, revolutionize and de-colonize myself, simultaneously, from the inside out and the outside in.
I’d like to start off by thanking the many beautiful womyn within church (my Sunday school teachers) and outside of it (the Hilbrow and Berea sex workers of the 90’s) and in school (various, wonderful female teachers) who first showed me the tenderness that came along with femininity and the power of feminine energy. Every one of you who held my cheeks, pushed me onto a stage and taught me a poem, sang me a song or applauded me for singing or acting before a crowd. Thank you. You may not have realized or known then how valuable your gentleness and encouragement was; it did me the world of good and I hope good things have fallen your way. For I now know just how hard your struggles are. Single black brown yellow pale pink womyn in heels, in skirts, in blouses and shirts that hung low down your chests…I know how the daily adornment of your tired weary worn out bodies was an act of resistance. Your encouraging smiles and pecks on the cheeks of a young brown growing queer were forms of sociological warfare.
You womyn are warriors- every one of you. To call myself an activist and a feminist is to acknowledge your struggles along with mine. The struggle of single mothers with low income jobs living in the bustling urbanhood. The pain of the stigma attached to you for adorning your faces with make-up and your bodies with “revealing” clothing. You did so as a means of survival, as a means of expression, as a means of resistance in a world that aims to keep womyn unseen. I see you. I see you in my mind’s eye daily. I see present-day reflections of you. Plaiting hair in the CBD, selling clothing or cheap snacks, holding babies in your laps and staring hard through broken smiles at streets that have never smiled back.
Every time any one of you -or all of you- smile or dare to love yourselves and your children. Every time you step out onto the street; beaten, tired and weary though you may be (but ALIVE) you perform an act of resistance. I never saw it then- when I was younger.-how much it must have taken for you to step out, do you and still have a little something left over to offer to me. A smile. A peck on the cheek. A poem. A script. A hug. In the face of everything all of you must have had going on in your own lives; for you to ,somehow, find it in yourselves to be gentle towards me? That is nothing short of miraculous.
You are miracles. All of you.
Along with those womyn, I want to thank the many men who came into my life and didn’t rape, desert or disappoint me; those that didn’t try to touch me inappropriately or take advantage of my youth or femaleness. I want to thank those men who shared jokes with me and commended my sense of humor and intelligence without asking for anything in return. I want to thank the schoolteacher who encouraged me to write and told me I was talented and powerful enough to become “head girl” if I really wanted to be.
I want to thank these men because in my life they have been so few and far between. They were men who embodied the good and noble qualities of masculinity; men whose very existence is an act of resistance. A resistance I celebrate for there are few things sweeter to behold than men who relinquish the privilege of this patriarchal world in favor of being fair and just and honest and inspirational.
All the young and old survivors of abuse… sexual and physical…emotional and psychological. Those who opened up to me and stood by me on my bright days and my dark suicidal days of remembering. We resist daily. By learning to shed the shame. By welcoming violence with consent in the bedroom. By enjoying sex. By enjoying and celebrating our bodies. Thank you for your shared narratives. Thank you for your hugs and tears and stories and gentleness and bravery and late night chats about the effects of abuse.
You are soldiers of light.
I want to take the time to thank, too, the first butch girl I ever knew. A singer in my school who was seven grades ahead of me in the all girls’ school I went to.
I’ll call you A*. You sang in a rich carrying baritone bringing tears to everyone’s eyes. When I finally heard R. Kelly’s version of “I Believe I Can Fly” I was convinced he’d stolen your song. You’d captured the words to that song in a way no one else ever had for me (before or since). You came out in your white suit defying the rules stipulating what girls should look like. Intriguing and awe inspiring in your “full on” masculinity while still being an embodiment of all things calm and compassionate. Through you I learned that there were many ways in which once could adorn the female anatomy while still being all womyn, all power and all grace. You planted the seeds of butch charm in me the first time you held my hand after a Christmas Carol performance and those nuances are still embedded in my DNA.
You showed me all that is strong, graceful and charismatic in a butch-womyn-drag-king. All that is vulnerable and powerful in artistry and for that I am immensely thankful. I now know about the courage it must have taken for you to step out of your nook into an unforgiving world that refuses to understand how anyone could dare to be themselves the way you did ( and hopefully still do). Your resistance was plain in the timbre of your voice, the tailored seams of your dazzling white suit and the hardened curls in your gelled short hair. You fought in song and in clothing in style. You were bold and fierce and vivid. Still vivid today as I navigate my way through life, running into re-incarnations of you and re-learning the magic of masculinity embodied in the female form.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am for your unique form of resistance and how poignant it has been in informing my own revolution into masculinity.
I cannot thank my former lovers enough. All of you. Although I don’t speak to many of you I am grateful for the lessons you taught me about who I am and about how the struggle continues in every avenue of my life. When we argued and laughed, started chatting each other up and exchanged numbers, when we fought, fucked and held hands in public. That was all a part of the resistance. That was all a part of the revolution and the de-colonization so many of us spend so much of our time trying to achieve. I learned that activism doesn’t only take place in a protest march or on placards or even in university campus campaigns. It took place when I was on my back, legs spread wide open and my fingers pressed into the warm moist dark places you held open to me.
Even when I held my hands up against an abusive boyfriend during my “Definitely not a lesbian..” phase-that too was an act of resistance.
Walking away from that relationship dusting myself off vowing never to be abused at the hands of another human being again was all resistance. For the things we go through in this struggle and the lessons we learn are a part of our warfare. When we go through shit that hurts us, tears us down and challenges the notions we had about our own invincibility; we learn vital survival skills for a world that wishes so many of us didn’t exist.
Through our very existence. And we win a little every time we take a moment to look around us and take note of our collective power and the wonderful effects we have on one another- just by being present.
So here’s a raised glass for resistance. Resistance that is daily and constant and silent and past and present.
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