Coming from a spoken word community, my writing has always been in the bones of my activism. I don’t know for sure how I feel about something until it’s been translated by my keyboard. So, for years I wrote the poems I felt an activist was obligated to write. My professional life was one of anger and revolution even when my personal life was something else entirely. This isn’t to say that either version was inauthentic to who I really am. I am turned inside out by the injustices of the world and it will always be part of my craft to address them.
But for a long time the version of me you’d find in my kitchen was something much softer than the person who wrote the words.
I hadn’t realized I’d compartmentalized my life this way until recently. For the first time the poems I’ve always written just stopped coming. It was like the gears in my head were frozen in place. Everyone experiences this from time to time but this was like nothing I’d ever felt before. The filter through which I saw the world had broken. Without it I was unsure how to orient myself. Unsure of how to regain my balance I went to a mentor and friend with the only thing I had written. After a long pause that felt like a test he said “Its so tender, I’ve never seen tender from you before.” I flared with the inclination to defend myself. This is most people’s response when feeling seen and exposed. Didn’t he know me at all? I thought. I’m a mom to everyone I know. I’m the one friends have always come to for advice or a hot meal. I write letters on their birthdays to tell them how special they are. Then it struck me, of course he didn’t know who that person was. Ours was a relationship of text. Most, if not all, of what he knew of me was in the poems he’d read. I had been so intentional about my working persona that only in hitting a wall did the other side seep through.
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We are in a world that assumes the disabled are meek symbols of noble victimhood and assumes women are gentle not by choice but by default. This devalues gentleness by suggesting it is not a worth-while intention. Having internalized this in my working life I was determined to be something else. I wrote poems as the ring master of my own freak show claiming my disabled body as a pinnacle of sexuality and intrigue. The women in my work would be warriors and not much else. Though this kind of radical passion is a huge piece of me and these are poems I’m proud of I couldn’t stand the idea of not showing the softer side of my nature. In an attempt to break out of a pigeon hole I had fallen into another. For fear of being watered down to a hollow inspiration stereotype I tried to prove I was capable of a powerful and change-making presence. To do this, I surrendered my ability as a care-giver and healer in my work.
In a political climate where fear hardens hearts for their own protection, softness has its place in activism. I will not fall into the patriarchal trap of thinking tenderness is some sort of lesser default.
It is too easy to believe that a woman is either a push-over or a bitch. Defending all identities as valuable means making space for complexity. I will be the first to bare I poison pen in the service of bettering the world. I will also be clear, however, that my home and my circle is a safe place for the wounded and the weary. It serves an ableist and sexist agenda to over simplify ourselves. Claiming our full humanity is not only an act of self-love but a powerful act of defiance against an administration that works through fear. My job is to show disabled folks and women that they deserve their fullest and most joyful life. This means reflecting my entire self in the work I do and not apologizing for either side. Healing is an essential part of any revolution and only those who seek to prevent it would tell you otherwise.[Feature Image: An individual with long brown hair is captured outdoors while smiling and holding a peace sign with their hand out front. Pexels.com]