You would think “can” and “should” and “please” were indentations to every paragraph I ever speak. I know paragraphs are intended for the written form, but they’re audible. People punctuate in pauses, italicize with emphasis. Even our words have a font to them. If you are close to me, you may think I only know how to end my sentences in question marks. Why? Because I am an adult woman. I am financially, professionally, socially, romantically, and stylistically independent. I don’t act like it. I ask for permission on everything.
I seek permission in all my life choices: am I allowed to eat this? May I wear this? Is this text too much? Should I post this? Am I allowed to have feelings for this person? Can I go out on a weeknight? Can I buy this? I routinely disempower myself by asking for permission on decisions where I singlehandedly yield the power. Reader, it is absurd that I have hulled myself through this barbed and ruthless life only to trust myself less as an adult than I did as a child. I taught myself to undermine my own intuition, and internally, I suffer from that habit. I question my appetites and taste and desires. Every impulse meets a fierce interrogation. Some of that is good. Self-review and criticism can be healthy. However, this reflex to question everything about myself is social programming. A system is successful when the people within it self-regulate to the societal ideas rather than to what they hold dear. There’s this myth that if you perform societal ideals well enough, you’ll ascend to a more comfortable existence. Yet, the only comfort exists when you become complicit in the socially-endorsed behaviors. Some of that is positive. People may refrain from committing crimes because the social stigma of a felony is too massive. But when those systemic messages police what we order when we eat, how we spend our money, how we dress, how we move through this world and communicate with one another– I can’t help but to calculate how much of our selfhood as become the casualty of a cookie-cutter idea we never wanted to begin with.
I perpetually feel compelled to prove myself as a strong, independent woman. I tripped into the trap that is “having it all”. What does “all” of it mean if so much of it is socially prescribed? I’m starting to think “happy” has become a capitalized concept signified by how thin, white, wealthy, and unthreatening I am. Happy is less about my internal wholeness and more about the comfort of those around me. My loud existence is uncomfortable. Loving my imperfect body is uncomfortable. My queerness is uncomfortable. My ability to function at a high level with mental illness is uncomfortable. People are meant to be legible and docile, especially women. I’ve learned that I am as dangerous as I am vocal. They are directly related. The more I advocate for myself, the more lethal I become in a system hinging on my obedience. Complexity blurs the categorization of people. I am complexity rather than category.
So many women are crucified for pursuing their own interests. “How selfish can she be?” “Who does she think she is?” Women are incentivized for silence and martyrdom. How holy and grand of her to give so much of herself she ceased to exist at all! Isn’t she great! Doesn’t her volunteer self-sacrifice make her a saint! But there are no saints among us. The truth is, no one can command their strengths if they’re perpetually weakened by self-sacrifice. I still believe in being a giver. There’s something sacred in how we bend toward other beings, a motion to know we are connected. Yet, we can bend and not break. We can serve without starvation.
Reader, I am not a strong, independent woman. I’m not even sure I’m a good woman because what does that mean anyway? I am a person, trying to do her best with the tools she has at her disposal. And, honestly, who cares how it all looks? Look dumb. Look foolish and weak. My peace doesn’t exist where my appearance is relevant. What matters is the potential boiling inside us, how we’d sooner put a lid on it with a “please” than allow life to bubble over. Inside this pale skin beats a big life begging to burst through my pores. It’s so big and vast that it scares me because what if I can’t control life? What if I was never in control? And no one is going to tell me what I deserve–much less that I deserve anything at all. Speech informs so much social programming. The frequency of my “please” and “thank you”s quantifies how little I believe I deserve. While I pride myself on politeness, how much of it is the white picket fence keeping my wild words and wants at bay?
I speak in Times New Roman. I think in some font my sixth-grade teacher forbid me from using. My whole interiority swirls as unencumbered galaxies beneath my skin. The comets, planets, moons and meteorites, they are all filtered before they reach my tongue. A pebble of a “please” emerges instead– this heavily edited rock so unlike the celestial scenes that were its ancestor. Word by word, I become a geologist in my own speech. I excavate my behavior. There is a gory unkemptness to my findings, but there is also peace. Peace, a feeling I do not get when asking for permission. The ask hinges on the approval of the answerer. Peace, where there is no ask or answer, just the universes inside of me who have always been awaiting my return home. A supernova of all my “shoulds” lights my homecoming.