FEM ZINE ISSUE II 'NIGHT LIFE' OUT NOW CLICK 'SHOP' TO GET YOUR COPY
artwork by Josie Carr
Questioning my own desires, and desire as a whole has led me to the realisation that not only are my relationships with white men problematic but so are my relationships with black men.
Has my desire for white men led me to reject men of colour (MOC), especially black men? Again I can always chalk it up to environment. A lack of difference and diversity in your day to day will shape you that’s just facts. Or, is it really because I can not see myself fostering a healthy and worthwhile relationship with a black man? Am I so caught up and invested in the idea that I belong with a white guy? I think environment is a legitimate factor in shaping my desires, but my environment is also shaped by white supremacist ideas around beauty and desire. So where does the buck stop? Do I reject black men in hopes that I will be able to reproduce some semblance of assimilation with a white partner? Or is my rejection of black men linked to so much more.
Racism is real. I don’t mean that in a simplistic way that it's there and sometimes upsetting. I mean that racism is physically and emotionally draining. To experience it; to withstand it, and to unlearn it is taxing. So logically speaking why don’t I want someone who understands that the way I do, because they’ve lived it. My life experiences as a black person are something a black man could solidly relate to. My experiences are something that I'd never be able to fully share with a white man. Even a white man who was ‘woke’ and had every good intention would always be more privileged than me. This would mean dealing with not only the man/woman power balance but the white/black power balance. Not that interracial relationships don’t work but these are the binaries which dictate our society. Also, am I traitor? Sometimes I feel like one. But is love for the sake of solidarity really love? Solidarity does matter to me though, a feeling of acceptance of not having to explain my identity, that matters. I desire that. I do feel though that to desire as a black woman has all these consequences and connotations not set by me. I remember reading about the black panthers, and how black men in the organisation openly dated white women. They claimed it was a response to the degradation and rape of black women by white men during slavery. So what does me dating white men mean then? Racial regression? As a black woman I feel as though I’m expected to justify my interest in dating outside of my race. But black men can date freely. Even if I did go cold turkey (so to speak), even If I never dated white again I know that part of my desire or lack of desire for black men stems from my experiences with them.
I may look for black men, but black men aren’t looking for me or at me. This, of course, informs my desires. Although white men may fetishise me and look for something new and exciting, they want me in some capacity. I won’t lie and act like that’s not problematic but it's real, it's my experience. I’ve had conversations with black men telling me they don’t date black women because of X, Y and Z. From the fact that we aren’t natural enough; or we are too loud; to the fact that we have an attitude and are hard to get along with. Every other race of woman seems to be more compatible, specifically white women. White women are the bastions of beauty, grace and gentleness. What this tells me is that as much as the white male gaze informs and shapes ideas around desire, so do MOC. Black men uphold these ideas and they inform them. In this space, you need to be white, light or you’re just not right. Don’t get me wrong black men’s desirability does not belong to them completely. There is always going to be the idea of the big dicked black man. The notion of once you go black you don’t go backis a hypersexualised attitude that follows black people in this society. That there’s something exciting and unusual about being intimate with us. But black men are men, and within the network of power that exists that privilege means something. Even if you’re not at the white tippy top. Desire is a sexual, romantic replica of that power hierarchy. It may not be constructed in discourses that are directly synonymous with our understanding of power but it mirrors them in different ways. It's the reason Serena Williams, a black woman, is asked if she’s intimidated not by her white counterparts skill but their beauty. It's saying “I don’t date (insert race here)”. It's the caption in your tinder profile, asking persons over a certain weight not to message you. Desire allows a transference of power that is deeply rooted in what we think is biology. Just because looking at someone may or may not trigger a biological response, doesn’t mean that the framework around your attraction isn’t something completely constructed.
In many ways, my own colonised desires replicate white supremacist ideas around superiority and inferiority. Especially when it comes to imaging the best type of man for me. But my desires are also shaped by the preferences imposed on me. So if there’s a matrix of power that exists around desire, then somewhere around the bottom lies black women. I’ve come to realise that because of this a lot of my ideas around desire are really linked to ideas around acceptance and rejection. Acceptance and rejection from white and black men alike. I’m looking to be accepted thus my desires lead me to a place that’s an emotional spiral, to say the least. Will I ever form a real connection? Will I forever be looking at others to fulfil what I want to feel about myself? What I am slowly (and painfully, because self-love isn’t a few Instagram snaps of fruit and inspirational quotes) realising is that white or black men aside, I need to stop placing my worth in others. I don’t mean that in a wishy-washy put it on a graphic tee way. No, I mean completely. Learning to desire one's self is not only a mantra, it's an educational process in every sense of the word. And it's traumatic. But part of being a black woman is being the first and last person to love yourself.
I like being near the brown of your skin
I like the way the hair curls around your crotch
fingers pointing this way and that
Don’t know which way to go
Down the length of your leg to the bone where the skin cracks
like a dry well
and reminds me of the village my mother was born in
Or up through the under growth of under things
Sweating before the sun touches it
Stronger than the hair on your chin you tell me
And I want to tell you
I don’t carry my shame on my face
It’s buried in the follicles between my legs
It takes industrial strength wax and the pain of all the ways I wish I was different
And even that feels like a punshiment
Even that feels like a god damn sin
You smooth out my coarse hair
I brush the fur up on your neck
willing it to rise
willing it to catch the wind
Catch the dust and the pollen and the wetness of living things
Catch the things that smooth skin can’t
Your hair is sticky even when you pull it out you tell me
It ooze a truth
I don’t want to hear
It oozes Persian poems written in the backroom with the door shut
It is a mouth without a tongue
Desire, love, sex and romance: these things are natural parts of human life and human interaction. Your desires are seemingly your own and we all have a type or a preference. I’ve always been (I think at times subconsciously) interested in desire. I’ve always wondered what makes us desirable; what deems us lovable and attractive? We are socialized to think that if you are beautiful, then you areloveable, attractive and desirable. As a black woman, my attractiveness or even unattractiveness is shaped by specific stereotypes. These stereotypes are constructed through misogynoir and colonial discourses. Therefore, my sexuality and my emotions are racialised and gendered without me even opening my mouth. Additionally, as a fat black woman another intersection is created and my desirability, if you will, is then held in another regard (a lesser regard) compared to thinner black women. What I’ve experienced in terms of love and sex is that black women are either too much, which pretty much means we’re loud and emasculating. Or, we are sexual and primal and a bit of strange. This is why when people say "it's just my preference, I don't date (insert race here)" a part of me dies because attraction is not formed inside of a vacuum. Your preference is not formed outside of our racist history or culture. Even the reasoning for your desires leads us right back to Livingstone and them arriving in foreign lands and being shocked by the primal, savage and exoticnature of the soon to be colonised.
So here I am, thinking about why I'm desired (or not), and not really questioning what I desire. Gaining the affections of someone you’re attracted to is great, and can completely make you feel a certain way about yourself. But what do you do when desire leaks out into everything else and gets caught up in all the other intersections? I've put a lot of it down to environment, that's how I've always understood my own desires. I grew up in a predominantly white city, I went through puberty in this city so naturally, I’m more attracted to white men. But is it that simple? Or is there a deep down internalised bit of me that thinks white men are better? That they are the pinnacle of desire.
I recently read an article called 'Am I Finally Done With White Guys?' by Collier Meyerson.Meyerson’s story is similar to mine, she grew up in a predominately white space and linked this to her desire for white men. One thing that stuck out to me in Meyerson's article was the mention of being chosenby white men and how addictivethat was. It struck a chord with me because I know that feeling, I know that feeling well.
White acceptance is a hell of a drug, mix that with being desired by the apex of western society: the cis straight white man then you have quite a potent mix. But am I fetishising white men the way they do me? No, because my desire to be with white men doesn’t really change my social standing they still remain the normand I still remain the other. You can’t festishise something that is thought of as normal or the standard. I don't want to consume or to conquer them either but I want to be accepted and be validated by them. It’s similar to the way I viewed Britishness when I was younger. As a young immigrant the idea of ‘Britishness’ was a way to assimilate into British society. If I was well spoken, and tapped into what I thought was British culture some of my otherness washed away. I was a good immigrant because I blended in. Part of my desire for white men is linked to this, to use them as a sort of tool. Not only does my otherness not stick out against a white background, but in the arms of a white man I am able to consolidate my own self-worth and even my beauty. White men are gatekeepers of desire, they aren’t the only ones, but the white-male gaze is intrinsically woven into the idea of desire. Therefore, dating white men becomes almost more about the desire to be accepted by wider society (white society) than anything else. Which makes sense because I was a fat black teen in a very white school, then a fat black twenty-something at a very white university.
What does this mean in light of all my 'wokeness'? Well I think it means that I recognise the problematic internalisations I hold so near and dear, but I'm still holding on to this fantasy of being the one black girl makes all the white boys come to the yard. So does this mean that I should give up on white men altogether? Go cold turkey? (Or should I just make a conscious effort to digest why I'm attracted to certain people?) Desire is a strange concept, it's one of those things that you think of as an intimate part of yourself, but clearly desire like everything else doesn't occur in a bubble. Clearly, my desires are colonised, but how does one go about decolonising their own desires after 23 years. This for me is as much about self-hatred and internalisation as it is about recompense and healing. It's about breaking down the ideas of desire. Who is given the power to deem others loveable or desirable is a transfer of power, it is a construction of hierarchy. The way we think about desire upholds and propels notions of racism, sexism, classism, transphobia etc. As a fat, dark-skinned,black woman who doesn’t fit into society's coded language of beauty and desire, I have had to learn (and am still learning) to construct my own language and part of that is decolonising my desire.
Georgia Mitchell on the rare neuropsychological condition, and on ways to face stress in whatever form it may arise. Image by Karina Geddes
Stress is different to grief or trauma. It is strictly time-bound, caused by specific events in our lives that are usually ongoing or in our future. It allows you to function more or less normally, and manifests in ways we often find easy to ignore. When stress intersects with mental illness, it can appear in more vigorous forms. In my case, stress has always inexplicably been many-coloured and frightening.
My first experience with headache-inducing, adult stress was during one of the many exam periods of my school career. At 15 (during my first lot of GCSE mocks; a hardly important period in hindsight, though our school led us to believe otherwise) I began to slip into dissociative episodes of about five minutes long, during which objects in the room, and often parts of my own body, would look huge or tiny. I would be hypersensitive to sound (I once had an episode in the shower, abruptly turned off the water, and the slow drips from the showerhead were deafening). Scariest at the time were voices I would hear in my head. They wouldn’t tell me to do anything; they would largely shout platitudes at me in American accents, and sounded like shadows of TV and films I watched growing up. The episodes only happened when I was alone, and the strange illusion broke as soon as I joined the company of another person.
A pattern began: the frequency of episodes would wane as deadlines passed, then begin again at the advent of more exams. This continued for about two and a half years during school. I spent a lot of time worrying about the state of my head, and realised that I had been having these episodes since I was a child, having first gotten them during illness like flu and fever. Finally, I looked up the symptoms. I was amazed to read people online using exactly the same language I did to describe them; as ‘episodes’, sound ‘hypersensitivity’ and so on. To my relief, the monster had a name: Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. It is named after Alice’s sense of her own body growing and shrinking (also with real, medical names: macropsia and micropsia.) On a few forums, people described experiencing the symptoms for the first time during illness when young, and I felt vindicated.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a neuropsychological condition, rather than a mental illness; I think of it as one of my mind’s ‘ticks’, its odd peculiarities. It is also closely linked to migraine, with which I was diagnosed a couple of years later.
Learning about the syndrome, and its relative insignificance, was a relief at first; but it meant I had to accept that these episodes which I had been having for years were just a by-product of stress, in all its monstrous banality (something which I, naively and egotistically, believed didn’t affect me).
In my opinion, stress is a peculiarly adult phenomenon. When I was younger, my brain transformed stressful feelings into beautiful, scary shapes; it co-operated with my imagination. As a teenager, these episodes lost their colour; they became monotonous as well as panic-inducing. My adult mind feels stress as a dull weight which represses rather than encourages creativity. By the time I was 18, I had learned to manage my episodes, and I haven’t had one in the years since. Naming the unknown played a large part in nullifying its effects. What I am left with, then, is the headaches and anxiety of a (young) adult, no longer dressed in psychedelic colours and amorphous shapes. The blessing, however, is that I am calmer, and infinitely more aware of my anxieties. I understand now that I was dissociating to avoid the feelings of stress, not to mention the cause of the stress. Now, I can deal with the stress symptoms more closely, and work on getting to their root cause. I would never tell anyone how they should handle their own stress, as it is so intricately webbed to our individual traumas, insecurities and life experiences. What I can say, is to name the monster and your outlook will move towards clarity.
More on the syndrome:
Karina's social: www.instagram.com/karinaismsillustration
Summer 2018 is all about acceptance. Every year summer rolls around, the weather gets hotter, the clothes get smaller, and I, along with probably every other person, get insecure about my body for a plethora of reasons. The fact that I’m not a size zero, and the way my thighs rub together in the heat, to name only two. My biggest insecurity is my old self-harm scars. I hate to see other people looking at them. This is because there are two distinct reactions my scars receive; first I'm seen as a damaged baby bird, instead of the strong woman I am who has overcome the obstacles that sent me down the path of self-harm. The other one is that I’m an ‘emo freak'. I have already gotten over so much shame caused by my past actions, and these reactions can only engender more. Depression and anxiety have ruled all of my teenage and adult life thus far, so I did used to cope in very toxic ways. Through it all I believe the most important thing is that I’m seeking help every day and I’m accepting myself the way I am. It’s SO important to remember there are so many people out there struggling with the same kind of thing, and wearing summer attire is difficult for so many, for a myriad of reasons. I’ve spent countless thirty degree days in long sleeves before I was able to accept the way my body looks. So this summer when you’re out and about, or scrolling on social media and you happen to come across a person who has scarring; remember it’s their business, and not your spectacle to observe. Don’t point them out, unless you have similar issues and need to talk to someone. And most of all don’t treat someone different than you would treat any other person because you see they have scars.
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 Awan! A new piece of her poetry will be presented on the site once a month. Read more about Sunnah and read Sunnah Awan Writes 001 below!!
Who is Sunnah Awan?
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!
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.