Here I am in my twenties and I still find myself confronted by the language of the bullies that used to torment me in my younger years. A decade later and these words continue to be my oppressor. It is that message of unworthiness that chains me up and stifles me. Reaffirming my worst fears, and telling me to step back, sit down, close my mouth and bow my head; these reminders press me to disengage. They tell me that my presence is unwanted, my voice, unheard and my life, unworthy.
I wish I could say these experiences made me stronger, I wish I could say they made my presence forceful and compelling. But I can’t; I was weakened by this abuse and I’m not sure if I will ever be able to take up all of the space in a room because of it. Those experiences made me fragile and self-doubting in a way that now seems dangerously ingrained.
I usually meet someone three of four times before they recognize me; my steps are quiet; my voice becomes squeaky and uneven when I raise it; and I walk along the street with my head down. As if I am still living in fear and embarrassment of these past experiences I evade judgment by avoiding sharing myself with others. If my presence is meek enough, there will be nothing worth saying about me and nothing to judge. The message I have for myself and others is this:
Always remember that your presence is a powerful force that should be reveled in, not hidden.
The space you take up in a room is, and always will be palpable. Those who feel your presence are the thinking, feeling ones who notice you, care for you, and love you. Hold these people close to you; when you surround yourself enough with them you will become louder, stronger; you will start looking up, and the rest will notice.
In a way I am thankful though, for the torture. For the experience of being chased around the playground with a group of boys pointing and screaming “LESBIAN!!” on my heels. For the experience of being invited to a party ironically, and watching the cool kids snicker at the prank they just played. For the experience of being the last person picked for everything, every time. I am grateful for the emotional pain these experiences caused me, because they taught me empathy.
These experiences may seem trivial to you, but in my world they were defining features. They taught me that experiences of suffering cannot be compared, judged or erased. Instead, they are a part of an individual’s narrative. These experiences mean at a young age I felt physical pain in my stomach when I saw another person suffering. Instead of hardening me, these experiences made me conscious of my impact, and mindful of the emotions and feelings of others. In short, these experiences made me who I am today, and for that I am grateful. But they also made me softer, paler, and more fragile than I’d like to be.
So I will continue to feed my presence, struggling with the tenuous balance between maintaining empathy, and developing my authority and influence. I wish to emulate a heavy gentleness, a fierce compassion, a confident vulnerability. I wish to grow more fully into myself, but I guess that is what we are all wishing for.