Writing
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Use the tools you were born with before the ones you buy.

I was born short, gay, near-sighted, chubby, and slightly odd all around. Oh, and female. What the hell was I going to do with that in a sexist, homophobic, pro-skinny world? As it turns out, just about anything I damn well please.

The biggest hurdle I always have had to conquer is my underestimation of self. Society can be prickly at times, but in reality no one person usually gives enough of a damn to hurt someone else. We are all way too concerned about ourselves to mess up another person’s day–unless we are obsessed or imbalanced in some way. I have been the target of haters, so yes, it is possible to evoke active resistance from other people. It just isn’t all that likely. Society may like to whisper some poison nothings in our ears, but it’s up to each of us to give them life by believing them. I chose to believe the crappiest stuff for a long time and ended up feeling alientaed, frustrated and generally miserable. I’d like to share my experiences in hopes of helping someone out there shed a little unneeded baggage.

I was closeted about being a lesbian to my family until I was in my mid 20s. When I finally told them, my parents were a little sad that I might have a tougher row to hoe but they loved me just as much as before. I’d tip-toed, lied, and played the pronoun game* for decades and it was all for naught: they’d known for years. I’d solemnly pledged to myself that I would not come out until the eldest members of my family–my grandma and great aunt–were dead. Ridiculous, and more than a little selfish. They were both amazing, intelligent women, and even if they might not have accepted my being gay, they would still have loved me. I withheld entire sections of my life from my dearest loved ones and developed the habit of heavily editing the self I presented to people. Basically being closeted just made me a better liar… all because I thought I could not handle other peoples’ reactions.

Yes, there are times when it’s best not to let your freak flag fly–like when it might get you hurt or worse. But 99%of the time, it has been so much better in the long run to be perfectly honest. I used to insist on not revealing my orientation to new acquaintances until the other person considered me a friend in an attempt to ensure she or he would not reject me. It was silly, evasive, and it lent a power and significance to  a single attribute that did not merit such sway.

I did all sorts of stuff to compensate for what I thought were my deficits: I went to the fanciest school I could to get my Master’s degree to prove I was smart. I moved to New York City to prove I could make it anywhere. I became loud and outspoken so people would pay attention. I tried to be one of the boys until I wrecked my shoulder and couldn’t work in a warehouse any longer. I drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney to fit in until my body flatly refused to deal with that behavior anymore. See the pattern? It’s blaringly obvious now, but at the time, I couldn’t figure out why the hell I was so tortured all the time. It all boiled down to the fact that I was terrified that other people would not like me. And no matter what I did to puff myself up, I ended up still being me.

Slowly, I have learned to let go of my fear of rejection and just get on with my life. It’s not really my business what others think of me anyway–all I can do is be a good person according to my most deeply held beliefs and hope for the best. And if someone doesn’t like me, it isn’t simply a case of that person being an asshole. He or she has a point of view, and I can glean some meaning and value from that–although my conclusions may run counter to that person’s intent. Turns out the world is not sexist, homophobic, or pro-skinny unless I believe it is. And I am not the freak I always thought I was. Once the spell is broken, I can easily find some hope and move the hell on.

I was so fortunate to be born part of so many “Others:” it has taught me to always work to be circumspect and compassionate. I may not directly know what it is like to be the object of racism, but I sure as hell can identify with the shock, the hurt, and the anger it engenders. I may have the use of all my limbs, but all I have to do is struggle with an object designed for someone 6 inches taller to gain an inkling of what it’s like to be excluded. I have very little experience being an ultra-conservative Christian in the middle of liberal territory, but I can certainly see the isolation that could evoke. It sounds strange to say it, but my believing I was an Other has helped me in my design, art , and teaching. Immensely.

The biggest irony is that every single person out there can feel like the Other in one way or another. We have a choice to make: either we can hide behind trappings we acquire or we can work with what we’ve got at hand. It’s not that huge a leap once the fever of fear passes and we are left dazzled by the morning sun. 

*The pronoun game: never specifying the gender of the people with whom you’re hanging out.
Filed under: Writing

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I am Libby Clarke, an artist, designer and educator living in Brooklyn, New York. I operate under the name Monstress, which actually started out as my zine label in 1997. Since then, it has grown to encompass all my efforts.

2 Comments

  1. Peg says

    It’s funny how those 5 words are not the first 5 I would choose to describe you. We limit ourselves by taking on labels that seem neutral or factual but are ultimately isolating. Takes a long time to break those chains and replace those labels with healing words.

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