FEM ZINE: AN INTERSECTIONAL CREATIVE PLATFORM FOR FEMMES AND ALLIES
The second coming smells like the inside pocket of your fathers raincoat
Lint lined and moth bitten
The second coming has dust in his ears and a wet sneeze stuck in his throat
The second coming holds your hair back
slaps you harder than the first
Hits you with what feels like the rough edge of a badly sanded door
The second coming absolves you
drinks wine from your eyelids
kisses your stinging tears
Calls it forgiveness
The seconded coming has you
on a cold floor
Your cheeks are red with the second coming
Your lips are hot from the second coming
You hold your breath
for a second
(Written from a heteromormative perspective)
When I began to openly discuss my experience with herpes with no shame nor fear, it led to me heavily question why I had been so afraid to be transparent in the first place.
There was only one word that consistently popped up in my head, ‘stigmas’.
Yes, stigmas. As a young woman who has grown up in a highly sex-driven, yet judgemental and often close-minded society, contracting an incurable sexually transmitted infection (STI) was like a death sentence.
But the crazy thing was that this ‘death sentence’ did not include any physical harm or risk to my being. This ‘death sentence’ consisted of the fear of becoming an outcast, shame, being deemed as promiscuous or ‘loose’, judgement from others and oh – most importantly – no man ever wanting me because my body was ‘tainted’ and therefore I was no longer desirable.
The sexual stigmas placed on the bodies of women are damaging and are fuelled by patriarchy. Society still has trouble grasping the fact that women enjoy sex and many even enjoy casual sex. A lot of men still feel uncomfortable with the idea of a woman who has had multiple sexual partners. There is this obsession with a woman’s vagina being untouched, unscathed and undamaged goods. So, when you add an STI to the equation you can imagine the stigmatisation that comes with it.
But on the flip side, cis-gendered – in particularly heterosexual men – get away with promiscuity and casual sex encounters. This has greatly affected how they, and society, view their sexual health. Not to mention, straight men are not encouraged as much as women to get tested for STIs.
This is mainly because women are three times more likely to contract an STI than men , but that to me is still not an excuse. There is a higher risk of women contracting STIs in male-and-female sex than in female-and-female sex, so technically, straight men are putting women at risk and really need to get regularly tested!
When analysing this information, it is easy to see why women face so much stigmatisation when it comes to our sexuality and sexual health. But I have realised that the first step to breaking the stigma is to remove the stigma from yourself. It’s not easy but it can be done.
To remove the stigma is to remove the fear of what others may think of you. To remove the stigma is to no longer view yourself in the eyes of others. To remove the stigma is to live shamelessly in your truth, unapologetic and with no regret. By doing this you strip others of the ability to have power over you and in turn, hand it over to yourself.
Nobody can shame you if you have no shame within your own being. When it comes to your female sexuality and your sexual health, the only approval you need is from yourself. Not from your family, friends and certainly not from men. Your self-worth does not equate to your vagina and what you do with it, so never believe that it does!
Overall, breaking the sexual stigmas placed on women will help women like myself who have an incurable STI, no longer live in shame and guilt. Instead we will be able to openly discuss our experiences and aid towards prevention. Not only that, but female sexuality will no longer be frowned upon and will instead, be celebrated.
(If you are a woman with an incurable STI and need advice or just somebody to relate to, you can always message me!)
I’m in love with a girl with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and I have never been happier. For the people who don’t know what BPD is I will give a small explanation. I'm still learning about it myself but it’s a disorder in which a person struggles with unstable relationships, sense of self and extreme emotions. Often feelings of emptiness and fear of abandonment are common. These intense emotional responses are chronic and disproportionate and can be triggered by everyday occurrences. The inability to regulate these feelings causes dangerous behaviors, self harm and the scariest of them all…suicide.
The main reason I wanted to write this article was tell my experiences and to remove a little bit of the stigma about BPD. To tell people with BPD, YOU ARE LOVABLE, you can have healthy relationships.
Loving a person with BPD can be a challenge I’m not going to lie, but all relationships are. I learned a lot about myself, a lot about patience, about security and the importance of stability.
People with BPD need stability, they need to know that you are going to be there for them no matter what, and although this seems logical, life is unstable. Some days are more difficult than others and they need to know you will be there for them.
The main struggle that I had in my relationship was to understand that the feelings she was having were so painful that death sometimes seems like the only way to stop that pain, which adds to her feelings of guilt in a continuing spiral. Just because she has things to be happy about, she can’t control her feelings of anxiety; she knows they will pass but the pain in the meantime is debilitating.
Here are a few things that helped me out when my love is having an episode.
1) Set ground rules if the pain reaches a point where she cant control it anymore, she needs to tell me so I can intervene and keep her safe. She needs to talk to me, tell me what’s going on and what she needs.I can read and read about the disorder but she’s an individual person besides that illness. Despite the symptoms often being the same she may need or want to try and treat them in different ways.
So communication is the first key that will help you to have a healthy relationship.
2) Patience is another important key. She is not doing it on purpose, I keep reminding myself that, it’s NOT ME and it’s not her, she doesn’t want to feel the way she does, her emotions and fear are taking over. Adrenaline is filling her system and the basic human response is fight or flight even when there is no physical danger…this will pass.
3) Listening is another. Obvious right? I mean really listening to her, what she is saying, how she is saying it, how she is acting and breathing. I can tell she is about to have an episode or if she is anxious by the way she breaths and I can act to distract her or comfort her.
4) I remind myself that she does really loves me. She knows all the things I do for her so she does the same for me. I can really count with her emotionally and physically.
Of course all relationships are different and what works for us is through trial and error. She makes me feel that I am needed and loved. She makes me a better and more understanding person, loving her is a privilege because having BPD makes her stronger. I am so proud of her, sometimes I forget to say that to her and I should all the time. She suffers everyday and that makes her the strongest person I know, stronger than me. She has to face her fears everyday and try to enjoy life even when her body and mind is ravaged by fear, regret, self destructive thoughts and pain is tearing her apart and for that I look up to her more than anymore else in my life.
A few years back I decided to rekindle a deep love affair with myself, in its raw - awaken - unapologetic form; for the simple fact that as black women we frequently neglect our ability to self-love. We are oblivious at times of the burdens we carry (not by choice); we walk through life broken and stressed, often internalising the imbalance by suffering in silence. What started out, as being a personal journey of recovery, soon became a mission to reclaim my softness as an African woman. I realised that in order to save myself I had to understand the political and social catalysts that were depriving me of healing. This illness was bigger than me and although without a label, it became apparent that other Black women around me existed undiagnosed. I want to be actively involved in bringing awareness to the struggles we as Black women face, and I cannot speak in absolutes so therefore I choose to document my personal experiences and be that platform for those women who have found their voice but think nobody is listening. I wouldn't call myself a writer; I am just an African woman who is "sick and tired of being sick and tired!" These words I write are an extension of my mind, body and soul - a celebration (for better and for worse) of my blackness and magic...an ode to my black sisters.
An essay dedicated to all my black sisters,
“Love it, Love it hard!”
“Black and beautiful”: an affirmation I have force-fed myself on many occasions, not because I don’t see it, but more so to deprogram the voodoo used by society to bewitch my perception of myself…as an African woman. Contaminated by my ancestor’s inferiority complex meant that even before I was conceived in my mother’s womb I was destined to inherit their race-based traumatic stress. A neurosis that taught us that black skin was simply a surrogate name for negativity. Growing up in Britain has been an unhealthy and turbulent relationship between the place I call home and my black self-esteem. My home via birthright, has tried forcibly through social learning theory to indoctrinate me into believing I am not worthy as a woman of colour.
This sense of rejection is signature in western society, where anything outside of the ideal beauty is seen as foreign and unorthodox. As a child it was laborious developing under this persistent ideology that my beauty as an African female was debatable. It became almost impossible to self-actualize my ‘Black girl magic’ in all its glory. Flicking through the humongous Argos catalogue at the tender age of seven, to the baby doll page; only to find white dolls with silken hair, big blue eyes and ‘stress’ free smiles, solidified why my beauty needed validating as an adolescent and into my early adulthood. If the media was anything to go by through the eyes of a little African girl – I did not exist. Period. Looking back, I never possessed the conscience to ask my mother why I was not represented and her own internal demons meant she innocently allowed the poisonous propaganda to invade my self-esteem. So lo and behold each birthday or Christmas, I was gifted a white doll and as a result each birthday or Christmas, a piece of my self-esteem died. Julia A Boyd captured this feeling of inadequacy when she wrote:
“As black women, we have been the recipient of many distorted messages about our ethnicity and our femaleness. These distorted messages are repeatedly reinforced through the media, in our personal contacts, sometimes even in our families. When we internalize these messages they cloud and poison our self-esteem”
For me growing up in an African household albeit in Britain, we had a loose connection to our heritage, I ate traditional Ghanaian food and my mother along with my father would converse over me in Twi (a dialect from Ghana). However in terms of my beauty and wearing my blackness with pride I was given inconsistent messages. I wore relaxed hair from about the age of eight or nine onwards, simply because my natural hair “was too HARD and DIFICULT to maintain.” Often being told I looked messy when my regrowth began to sneak back through my edges. As soon as the pink moisturizer gel would no longer tame my regrowth I knew it was time, out came the relaxer kit to alleviate the strain my mother endured while doing my hair. The smell of chemicals cooking away while I waited patiently was weirdly soothing, it was almost a sign that it was working and it wouldn't be too long until I would fit back into society's status quo!Looking back, I know these moments were personal attacks on my blackness and my beauty. Adding fuel to fire I grew up in London in the 90s, a time and a place where I was subconsciously taught to self-loath the raw, unapologetically African reflection in the mirror, I learned to see my melanin and my heritage as a handicap. Being African was a taboo. Being African was not “beautiful” or aesthetically pleasing and everything around me was screaming it from the mountaintops.
Through the power of trans-generational trauma, I know this notion of self-hatred or self-obsession was not a present-day concept, but rather a symptom of epigenetics that my African peers and myself were showing signs of. Due to colonialism African women have been objectified for centuries, we have been forced to believe lie after lie and have been robbed of our femininity and softness one too many times! Our beauty has been a heated topic for some time now and on many occasions we aren’t even invited to the debate, as if we have no voice and need someone else to validate us on our behalf. Although as superficial as beauty is, it is tightly entwined with self-esteem and when you remove it out of the equation you remove our confidence and self-belief. What that in turn means is we no longer possess the clarity to obtain our glory and reach our full potential. This tactic of stripping us of our clarity and self-worth has been a weapon used by the oppressor, in order to cause division within the black community (look at colourism for instance). Now in a time of “racism without racist” (Eduardo Bonilla-Silva) these ideas and ideals are just coded differently, almost giving the illusion that the war is no longer in motion - making it easy for us as a community to dismiss the root of the cause. By doing so we are choosing to ignore the elephant in the room, patching over the wrongdoing we have suffered for so long. I am a strong believer that we need to open an honest dialogue, speaking on what has happened and what action is needed, because the ramifications of being oppressed and staying silent has been detrimental to our emotional flexibility as black females. It is consuming us whole! Opal Palmer Adisa expresses what happens to us as black women, when we choose to pave over the cracks of injustice and accept our situation as normal. Something has to give and unfortunately we are the only ones that suffer.
“Did you ever wonder why so many sisters look so angry? Why we walk like we’ve got bricks in our bags and will slash and curse at the drop of a hat? It’s because stress is hemmed into our dresses, pressed into our hair, mixed into our perfume and painted on our fingers. Stress from the deferred dreams, the dreams not voiced; stress from the broken promises, the blatant lies; stress from always being at the bottom, from never being thought beautiful, from always being taken for granted, taken advantage of.”
My journey of rekindling my love for and embracing my blackness has been a few years in the making and I can honestly say it hasn’t been without its setbacks or mishaps! It has been an emotional process, I have grieved for the pieces of myself I lost along the way, been distressed by my unconsciousness – oblivious of my ancestor’s stories, but most of all I have celebrated with jubilation my decolonized vision of my people. It feels alleviating to view all my sisters and myself in our true essence of beauty, not seeing ourselves as being beautiful for a “black” girl - but simply just appreciating our beauty without any conditions. Undiluted and unprocessed, without validation from others and no room for debate!
We are very excited to introduce a new feature to our site involving the amazing artist Sunnah Khan! A new piece of her poetry will be presented on the site once a month. Read more about Sunnah and read Sunnah Khan Writes 001 below!!
Who is Sunnah Khan?
I’m a Scottish Pakistani poet & spoken word artist, working in TV documentaries, living in East London writing poems about belonging and displacement.
My writing these days mainly consists of making sense of identity, reviving inherited memories & giving voice to private worlds in public spaces.
I am the daughter of a first generation immigrant. I was raised by my mother and her mother and an army of women (my aunts) in a very white suburb in the outskirts of Glasgow. Growing up I didn’t always have the language to make sense of what was happening around me and within me in terms of my cultural identity but I quickly learnt to compartmentalise in order to assimilate. At home I was a Muslim Pakistani girl. Outside I was a Scottish girl who just happened to be brown & pretended to have a boyfriend. Being both was a constant negotiation & explanation. Writing has always been an attempt to resolve these contradictions. When you’re not born into a sense of belonging I think you have to create it and writing has given me the tools to do that. I also never saw strong British Pakistani females in popular culture that reflected back my place in the world or my experience of it and I want to write us into public space, not as a stereotype but as individuals with distinct voices.
In 2017 I found the courage to have a voice. I met Sheena, Sharan & Roshni at a gather of friends on a boat in Bermondsey. I had never met any of them before but Sheena had organised a relaxed gathering of friends to come and share something creative in a safe space and my flatmate was going and I was curious and I asked to tag along. The whole gathering was magical in its celebration of vulnerability and I plucked up the courage to share my work. The four of us seemed to resonate with each other and yet none of us at the time felt there was a mainstream audience that wanted to hear our voices but we were so grateful to have found each other’s! I loved the distinctiveness of our voices and the defiance with which these girls I had just met said what they wanted without apology, negotiation or explanation. Together that night we formed 4BROWNGIRLSWHOWRITE a sort of whatsapp support group born of mutual appreciation for each other’s words and a space to share and encourage each other to write. We now perform together as a collective and the female solidarity & space to be vulnerable together is pure magic!
Our next performance is at Hatch in Hackney on Friday 27th April
Sunnah performing as part of 4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE at our FEM Festival event back in January
You told me to go home
So I left
packed a suitcase
chose a coat
stood at the docks
looked out at the horizon
the sky dirty with someone else’s dreams
You told me to go home
So I built a boat with my hands sank it in the bath tub broke it over his head Watched his curls come undone watched the water run into the folds of his legs and down the drain pipe
You told me to go home
So I made a route with my lips
travelled the mountain of her hips
pressed a sharp line through my tongue
pinned myself to the ground
and lost all sense of direction
You told me to go home.
(Image above is an example page spread from 'Women and hair zine'
I haven’t read a book to the end since I was 13 when I read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ which in itself is about 150 pages long (don’t quote me on that). I got through school and am now doing a degree and no one has ever thought I might have dyslexia- no teachers, family members, doctors etc. Most people knew I didn’t and couldn’t read but they and myself included put that down to my diagnosis of ‘boderline personality disorder’ - we all thought me being 100 miles an hour was the reason I couldn’t read and couldn’t concentrate on text and words.
I started working on ‘Women and Hair’ zine last year during summer with Georgia (our text editor) - I absolutely needed Georgia on my team as I couldn’t read and work on any of the text submissions - so beyond the fact that we’re best friends and I always ask for her input in every aspect of my life anyway (lol) I needed someone on the team who could deal with text. Again I had not idea I had dyslexia. Fast forward to my first ever appearance in a zine fair in October last year when Lucie Russell from ‘drawing people together’ picked up the zine and asked who did the graphics for the zine. I told her I had done it and she asked if I had dyslexia - I said no I don’t think so why? And she said it was dyslexic friendly - that she could read all the text despite having dyslexia. It really got me thinking and I realised how odd the graphics were that I’d done for the zine - I’d done it this way so I could read it as although I love zines, many of them I can’t actually read so I always feel I’m really missing out. After a few months of this brewing I went to get a screening and was diagnosed with dyslexia at 20 years old.
So anyway the point of sharing this is really to share that our zine is dyslexia friendly to our audience as I feel it’s not well known enough. I'd also love for more publications to come out if they’re working like this or to just start producing dyslexic friendly content !
Thanks for reading :)
Love Mia, founder and director x
So to start Faye, could you tell us a little bit about who you are and how you identify.
Well, I enjoy music, theatre and having a laugh, though I’m quite ditzy at times and people usually find that amusing. I was born male and after realising femininity has been a part of me my whole life I came out about two years ago as a female.
When you started your transition did you have short hair?
Yes, before transitioning I never really thought about growing my hair out. When I was younger I was told girls have long hair and boys have short and that idea really stuck with me so I never really questioned it and no one told me otherwise. It’s only since discovering who I am that I realised it doesn’t matter whether girls or boys have long or short hair.
Did your short hair contribute to any gender dysphoria? Was growing your hair long an important part of your transition?
I never thought about having it long before transitioning but after discovering my identity I was very conscious about having long hair so people could identify me as female. I didn’t want to be misgendered and judged by others so I felt as though I needed it long. It was and still is very important to me in my transition.
Did you ever wear wigs?
If so: Did wearing a wig make you feel more confident / more yourself? When you stopped wearing wigs and had your hair naturally long as you do now, did it make you feel any different?
Wigs were such a big help to me feeling and looking feminine. I started in a nasty black wig which I wore to my first Brighton Pride. That kept me going until I found a shoulder length wig made with real hair which I loved. Having my hair natural for the first time felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. It was good to finally feel free to do something with my own hair and still look feminine. The length it is now gives me the confidence to do more with my life. I always catch a glimpse in the mirror and feel satisfied, though I am still trying to grow it longer.
Do you feel your hair is a key feature in your identity as a woman? (Are identity and image the same thing/linked?)
Certainly, it is one of the first things people comment or make judgment on, so I feel it’s important to maintain it and keep it growing. To me, they’re linked, you base your image on how you identify, and personally, the way I identify means keeping it nice and long.
Could you ever have short hair again? Or do you feel your long hair, like most women, is important for your female identity?
For me, not really. I don’t think I could ever have it shorter than shoulder length as short hair doesn’t particularly suit me. There are so many women I admire with short hair, though I feel having longer hair adds to my feelings of femininity. It is one of the things I spend my most time on in the morning, apart from make up of course!
Is there anything else you'd like to add; perhaps why / if you think having long hair is so important for women?
I think it depends on the individual, after all, everyone is different. But i think hair, long or short, is important to most people. People will notice and comment on a new hairstyle or cut, the right hairdo can really finish off an outfit, its really satisfying to sit there and style it. For me, Long hair is important because it adds to my feeling of femininity and has added to mine and other women’s confidence so much.
“You’re so lucky it’s not Afro”
I don’t blame my hairdresser for saying that. I don’t think she’s racist or biased in any way. She, like the rest of us, happens to be a victim of beauty culture. For the majority of the 20th and 21st centuries, manufacturers and large beauty companies have almost exclusively promoted the idea that natural black hair needs to be forced and changed into an entirely different texture. I fell victim to this too; I spent the majority of my life feeling grateful that my hair wasn’t afro, as if I had narrowly escaped a life-long curse. I let society convince me that the natural hair of black women was ‘unruly’, ‘unmanageable’, ‘frizzy’, and needed to be tamed into something far more aesthetically acceptable. As I got older and more socially aware I noticed that for the black woman the way you wear your hair is not just an aesthetic choice, but a political standpoint; your hair is not simply hair, a cluster of protein filaments that keep your head warm; it determines whether you get the job or whether you don’t.
As a black woman, you’re dammed if you do and damned if you don’t. A wig is false, relaxing is trying too hard, natural is lazy. Ironically, more often than not it’s our own people that oust us based on the hair choices we make and this just further emphasises the desire for ‘good hair’ and the fear of ‘bad hair’. This fear runs through black culture and is ignited at a young age; young girls are given barbies with long, soft, blonde brushable hair and this marks the start of a life-long journey of looking for something that cannot be found. This journey is not only costly and time consuming, it can be damaging for your health. Wig glue discolouring skin, relaxers burning hair clean from the scalp. A recent study found that black hair products contained the most carcinogens and formaldehyde releasers, way above those marketed at Caucasian hair. Black hair maintenance isn’t pretty. It isn’t going to the hairdressers with your girlfriends on your lunch break. It’s a dreaded chore requiring ipubrofen and eight hours of your day.
The cultural attitude to black hair comes from the wounds racism has left. People who have never experienced racism first hand are living (and styling their hair) a certain way because of the racial hatred their ancestors experienced hundreds of years ago. These wounds dictate the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us. Black hair is a taboo, black makeup is a taboo, living as an emancipated black woman is a taboo. Why? Because we live in a society that elevates whiteness over blackness, where simply being born white with straight hair is a privilege. Until this privilege ceases the black woman will spend her life burning her skin trying to straighten out something so beautiful in search of acceptance.