I have a lot of repressed anger; I’ve come to recognise that it is both cause and effect of my depression and it’s not all just going to disappear on it’s own so I need to find a healthy way to get rid of it. It’s bad for my mental health, and it limits my ability to engage constructively in discussions about feminism. Here’s what I’ve come up with: accept, forgive, reclaim, repeat.
I accept that I have depression and anxiety and those are hard things to deal with. I forgive the teachers who saw my symptoms as signs that I didn’t care about school or that I was being ‘led astray’ by bad friends. I forgive my parents for the times they told me to just toughen up. I forgive the friends who misinterpreted or ignored my symptoms. I forgive myself for all the time and opportunities I didn’t take full advantage of because of my depression. I reclaim joy. I claim healthy, supportive relationships as things I’m entitled to just as much as anyone else.
I accept that I am black, and Nigerian, and some people have a problem with that. I forgive the unintentionally offensive questions like ‘do you have a pet elephant’. I forgive the casually racist remarks my white friends don’t even blink at. I forgive the people who continue to ignore the issues my country faces because they’ve been conditioned to do so by a society that paints Africa as an underdeveloped, homogenous monolith. I forgive myself for the ways in which I have contributed to stereotypes. I’m not happy about it, but I forgive it because I can’t hold on to all this anger. I reclaim my history. Well, I try to reclaim my history. It’s been warped by a colonialist, revisionist narrative that’s still holding black people down but I am trying.
I accept that I am female and some people will always look down on my because of my gender. I forgive the girls who insist they’re not like ‘the other girls’ because I know misogyny is difficult to free yourself from. I’m still annoyed by them, but I forgive casually sexist remarks because patriarchy is a pervasive, self-replicating system and when it’s all you’ve ever known you don’t question it. I forgive myself for the rude remarks I almost make about other women but catch while they’re on the tip of my tongue. I reclaim the strength that some men would argue women cannot have. I reclaim space and demand representation in meetings and professions and areas of life that women have just as much right to as men.
And I accept that I am queer. It is so hard in a heteronormative world, in a country where kissing a girl would expose me to criminal charges but I am trying. I accept that I have friends and family members and teachers and strangers who will never be okay with that, and I’m trying to get to a place where I don’t really care. I forgive those people who are too narrow-minded to understand all the kinds of love human beings are capable of. I forgive the people who just can’t let go of the way they were brought up, what they’ve heard in church or the mosque or at school. I forgive my family for the many homophobic remarks I’ve heard from them. I forgive myself for the times when I could have done more to speak up and make environments more inclusive and I didn’t.
I cannot let other people’s negativity continue to weigh me down. I reclaim negative terms as self-identifiers because I will not let my identity continue to be used against me as a source of shame. I reclaim all the LGBT people in history – especially the people of color – who have been erased and straight-washed and white-washed and ignored in order to advance this stupid idea that being queer is something that’s new, or only for white people or a symptom of degenerate societies.
I reject any kind of negativity based solely on these characteristics of myself that I cannot change. I forgive the people perpetuating that negativity not because I don’t hold them responsible, but because I can’t let anger or negativity always be the starting point in my interactions with other people. All my anger isn’t just going to disappear, but I can’t hold on to all this anger while the people I have problems with feel perfectly at peace. Reclaiming for myself the things other people would say I can’t have as positive forces in my life is a step towards writing my life story for myself instead of letting other people’s limitations affect me.
It is so hard to exist in a world that tells you that there are multiple aspects of who you are that make you worth less than anyone else. It is even scarier when you don’t have representation, when you don’t have communities and examples of other people who are living at the same intersections that you are and thriving. That is why I share these feelings and experiences. I need to work through my pain and I’d love to be able to see other people work through their pain with a level of honesty and openness that sends a message of ‘you’re not alone’ to people still struggling with the acceptance part. I think I deserve to feel comfortable in my own skin, and I think you do too, and I really hope we can get there together.