My only preface is to say this: One of my courses this fall (Multicultural Issues) requires weekly reaction papers. The essay below is the first one I wrote.
I am on the outside. It’s not a matter of in-group or out-group; for me, there is no group. I struggle against this, I embrace it, I hate it and I love it. It is alienating and empowering all at once. Existence at the edge of the galaxy is a mighty lovely view, but it is also lonely.
It is the loneliness that drives me to love others—to somehow offer them a space, if they happen into my company—where they can explore their different selves. I am a firm believer in the intricacies, the nuances, the complexities of individuals. It’s beautiful. The work of exploring, unraveling, integrating and reintegrating those parts of the self is beautiful too, but it’s also painful. I’m no stranger to the painful part of this—I’ve done this my entire life. Life always hurts; it’s just a matter of how it hurts, and where, and how badly.
Most of my life feels like being a bug: some unsightly, disease-carrying brown-black thing that terrifies and disgusts others. Imagine this bug on hot asphalt on a summer day. It’s uncomfortable. At the lowest level of alertness, I am wary of the potential child who will come along with a magnifying glass in their back pocket. I move in spurts and starts, scuttling away or freezing in place to avoid attention. But if I do catch that child’s attention, then I prepare myself for the inevitable.
Maybe the child is genuinely curious and wants to learn more. Maybe they are just old enough in their seven or nine years to have recognized that shred of cruelty in their hearts, and even embrace it. So they take the magnifying glass out of their back pocket and press it to their eye, observing my progress. The heat of the asphalt and sun are multiplied to the level of an inferno. I have a widely varied, deeply rich store of perspectives to offer those around me. I can and do offer these in daily interactions at work, in class, over meals, with family and friends and strangers. Subtly subverting assumptions and stereotypes is something I pride myself in; showing and drawing power from all the parts that make up my whole.
At one point or another, I’m not just a bug under a magnifying class, some child’s cause for curiosity or cruelty. The pain goes deeper because the magnification is stronger. I am not a bug under a magnifying glass, but a specimen pried into, pressed between two slides of glass, and put under a microscope. My value is invisible to the naked eye—to any eye that doesn’t care to press itself to the glass and have a look, to satisfy itself with a syllabus topic covered or course objective fulfilled. This is what it feels like to sit in class every Tuesday night. As I’ve said: I’m no stranger to this. I just have to remember how to hurt like this without letting it destroy me.
Forcing myself on the outside—mentally, physically, emotionally—is how I keep my head. I operate at varying levels of distance, and although I’m not always in control of my orbit, I know how to recover. I keep my silence. I take my space. I protect my faith. I am prone to gravity, a black whole that can destroy everything in its wake and expand space at the same time, leaving beauty in my wake.
This reaction paper has largely been written in abstract, in analogy and metaphor, because I wanted you to give you a sort of context for the rest of my participation in this course. I’ve been told I should speak up more, but I’ve also been told I should take care of myself. This is me doing both. Audre Lorde’s words accurately summarize my perspective, not just in this class but in life as a whole:
My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living.
May I continue to embrace the struggle of living.