I used to be fearless

I am trying out this new thing. It is called “being grown.” I didn’t necessarily choose to be grown at any particular point, rather – it chose me, because being “not grown” was not working out too well for me. I tried to be not grown for a minute; it was a good minute too, but most pronounced for about a few months in between “fearless” and whatever-the-hell-it-is-I’m-supposed-to-be-now. Oh yeah: Grown. Grown means for me something that I didn’t expect. I didn’t know until I reached it that I was spending a lot of time and energy trying to stay behind in “fearless,” in a place that I didn’t realize at the time I could no longer inhabit because of my very own efforts.

Fearless is a space that I have occupied for about five years, roughly from the time I was 20 to well, now. (I’m 25 now). Fearless was a space characterized by youth, naivety, optimism, carefree thinking, careless acting, confusion, pain. Many of these characteristics still exist for me, but differently. Fearless was a space where I was too inexperienced to know what I needed to do to take care of myself. A space where, I assumed that the worth others gave me was my true worth, not the worth that I gave myself. I wasn’t aware that they were separate at the time, so I didn’t know how to cultivate either.

Fearless brought me to many experiences in my life. Fearless brought me to a strip club at a fresh-faced twenty years old, ready to take my financial destiny into my own hands. Fearless kept me in a five-year long terribly abusive relationship that I couldn’t recognize at the outset. Fearless gave me the power to give less and less of a fuck each day about things that don’t really matter to me (which is part of the reason why I can’t live there anymore). Fearless gave me the confidence to believe that I could do anything I fucking wanted – literally ANYTHING. Fearless made me take my blessings for granted. Fearless made me unafraid.

I left the United States earlier this year, in January 2015, because I knew that there was something more. At the risk of reiterating an imperialistic narrative of “finding oneself outside of one’s borders,” I knew that staying in the United States would not only draw me out of my fearlessness, but also straight into anger, and resentment, and hate. That is a story for another day, but I was very very privileged to have the ability to leave the United States at this junction, following whatever energy that was pulling me out, or maybe just running as fast as I could from whatever energy that was pulling me in. I didn’t know what it would be that I would find, I just jumped – headfirst into the world with no fucking clue what awaited me.

Halfway through my year now, and after celebrating a trepid 25th birthday, I have found, at least, one thing out here in the world that I didn’t anticipate. I found that: I am no longer fearless. Fearlessness is part of what brought me to this point at all – I never would have sold all of my belongings, packed up what I owned into two boxes and said “fuck it” and left had I not been fearless. I have that to thank for it. And then I came out into the world and felt as if I was falling: in love, in despair, in happiness and in sorrow, and in my desperate attempts to scramble to find something to grab onto, I tried to go back to fearless. I thought that going back would save me from the exposure that I was experiencing, that I only had to understand in my mind again that I didn’t have to be afraid of anything and I would find my salvation from the ways in which the universe has gutted me and nourished me all at once. But I can’t take back the things that have happened in my life, as none of us can. I have stood in front of a Jewish settlement watching a child play on his toy bike as the children behind me didn’t even have clean water to drink. I have left emotional stab wounds in the person who bewitches me the most because of the anger and frustration I felt due to our differences. I have felt terrified high on psychedelic drugs fearing my safety after a man followed me across a city I had only been to one other time. I have pondered feelings of guilt for leaving behind my people at home whom I should be fighting in this war with. I have (still) had complicated feelings about my body for crying out loud, and that’s like, some really basic shit right there hahahaha! I have made the most amazing friends, missed my loves, been taken on food journeys of pure bliss, acquired new lovers. And while it has all been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time; finally, I am able to be in a place where I realize that I am never going back.

So this is for all of us twenty-somethings (and anyone really) who are falling in space, trying to figure out where the fuck we belong in this world. It doesn’t matter the time, the place, the people: the conditions of life and all of its pleasures and pains are with us wherever we go. The more we live, the more challenging it becomes to live exposed and open to the things around us, and to keep our hearts unblocked from the ability to give and receive love. For each step of progress that we make, there are two challenges ahead that will question that progress, things that make you think “I thought it was supposed to get easier, but I guess I was wrong.” So while I realize that there is a whole shitload of stuff that I do not know, what I do know is, that fearless was a time and place for me that I can no longer revel in; I have seen too much life, felt too much pain, and experienced too much joy to go back.

This is what I know now: I used to be fearless, and now I am brave. One day, I will be free.

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how to travel and not be a motherfucker

(answer: you can’t)

I just recently booked a round-trip ticket to Thailand with my boyfriend and I have started to have some serious feelings of discomfort surrounding the fact. It started when I began to look at different options for accommodations, of course, intending to utilize my “rewards points” on my Chase Sapphire credit card (motherfucker indicator #1) so that I would not have to pay for lodging. We started discussing general ideas about what we want to do and where we want to go. We don’t want to go to “touristy areas” we said. We want to avoid areas that are backpacker-centrals, want to “rent a bungalow for like $30 a night.” Cool, right? Sounds affordable, fun, delicious, and “exotic.” I should be nothing less than thrilled for this trip, and while I am thrilled to be able to spend some QT time with my boo, I am becoming less and less thrilled about being in Thailand as the hours and google search results go by.

The thing that makes me uncomfortable is the looming feeling of exploitation – in this case, me, the “traveler,” exploiting the culture and riches of Thailand for my own leisurely pleasure. I start to look into less “crowded” areas of Thailand we can visit, and thought to myself, why? Is it really my right to do so? After all, my boyfriend and I are tourists no matter how colorfully we like to try to disassociate ourselves from that “drunk white guy over there;” we are using our powerful European and American currencies to get our “vacay on a budget,” we are looking to live in unbridled relaxation and luxury in a land that is not ours to claim. How is it fair for me to think about sunny, peaceful beaches lined with coconut trees as my respite from my own daily struggles and worries when they are actually places that someone calls home, places where the daily struggles and worries of human life are still felt to the people that inhabit them?

I’ve lived in a tourist destination before – many of them in fact. People have asked me if I live in a hotel because I come from Las Vegas. But this is not why I am uncomfortable with my approaching unannounced arrival in a country that is full of humans just like myself. People come to Vegas from all over the world, but we as Las Vegans for the most part have the ability to leave Vegas and experience our own holidays (at least in the sense that we are located in a first-world country). The power dynamics at play when I can choose to go to a less “developed” country (whatever the fuck that means) because it is cheap for me – the fact that I can just google some starlit articles telling me the Top 10 Best “Unspoiled Islands” of the Thai Gulf – make me a fucking imperialist-ass, colonialist-ass motherfucker.

At the end of all the partying masked as youthful freedom and exotification masked as new experiences, there are people there – people who are picking up after all of our entitled hopes for ourselves, using their energy to feed our misguided fantasies. What about the people of Thailand? There is a reason why it is so cheap for me to visit this country, why my one USD equals 35 of their Bhat (33.76 at the moment to be exact); why simply by virtue of having come from a country with economic and political superpower I am granted the ability to live as royalty in a way that I have not worked for. The reasons behind that are the same reasons behind any of this sort of disparity, and believe me when I say that as a person of color my solidarity with my sisters and brothers around the world becomes a whole lot more problematic when I have the economic and citizenship privilege (amongst others) to back me up. Travel culture is colonialism. It doesn’t matter that Thailand as a country has “never been colonized.” The existing unequal relationship of power is more exploitative than any history book will ever be able to tell me otherwise.

So how do I travel and not be a motherfucker? Well, I can’t. It is fucked up that the “system” places me, places all of us, in a complex matrix of crisscrossing discourses and circumstances so that some of us are above others and others are below – and that we always embody both of these things at the same time in every moment. I must use the next few months of preparation I have to do my best to decolonize my being, to learn ways of making this trip as non-oppressive as possible, even in the wake of the fact that my very ability to do so is a privilege in itself. I will learn about the culture and politics in a way that is not overbearing. I will learn some of the language so that I may communicate with the local community in a way that hopefully my gestures and energy can show comes from only the most respectful of sentiments. I will try to understand what it means to show gratitude to a person who I am just alike and do my best to put that into practice, regardless of what my dollar or my passport tells. My feelings of discomfort will probably not go away, nor do I think they should. I am exercising extreme privilege in my decision to “escape” from my world by using another, and I must always be conscious of it if I intend to get the most out of this trip.

black girl in the world

From a flurry of last minute decisions I now find myself carrying all of my personal belongings on my back and without a home. A backpacker, I guess, is what others may identify me as, although I have never seen a backpacker that looks like me anywhere. Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, but I also don’t think I am the usual traveler. We hear of young European backpackers and slighted middle-aged white women who go to Bali on retreats to “find themselves.” But black girls out in the world? Where is that narrative? I’m an Asian girl as well, and I don’t know the representation for that. Do Asians backpack in the dominant cultural psyche? That doesn’t particularly matter as much to me, because the dominant cultural psyche I am used to is the American psyche, and Asians can get away with doing more things than black people can within this framework.

So I am a black girl in the world. And I don’t really know what to do with this. The world does not belong to me the way it does for others. I read an article recently titled: “Black Backpackers? Where are they in the World?” by a black traveler who cites a statistic that only 4% of frequent backpackers are African American (with of course the majority – 70%+ – being white). The statistic is becoming irrelevant in terms of time (it was published close to a decade ago), but how much has really changed? And how much does that matter if we don’t see or hear about black travelers anyway? Part of feeling a sense of belonging in the world is having your experiences and your stories be heard and validated, and most of us know that the voices of black people in general, and of black women especially have long been suppressed and skewed in favor of a cultural psyche that upholds and perpetuates white privilege.

For me, my decision to leave the United States and be in the world is less of a story of trying to “find myself” the way that it can be for others, because when the society you come from already doesn’t validate your existence or see you as valuable, then “finding oneself” becomes quotidian behavior. I don’t fit into that framework nicely, nor do I particularly want to. Maybe I am just a bitter black bitch but “finding oneself” seems to be a white people pastime, a luxury for people for whom oppression has not forced them to search for their identity from the get-go, a choice for those privileged enough to have it. How ironic it seems to try and find yourself in a world that has already found you, but of course I understand the individual aspects of it. Those things just do not apply to me.

I didn’t leave the United States to find myself, I left because I am sick and tired of the shit the US keeps giving us daily – I left for self-preservation. How do we handle the constant trauma of oppression that we experience and remain functional and sane? I’ve forgotten details of race-related tragedies as a form of self-preservation; I’ve started to repress information that drives me deeper into anger and grief and helplessness. I had to leave the US because I didn’t know how to stop myself from being completely engulfed within the pit of rage that oppression fosters and from which love cannot grow. I didn’t leave to find myself, I left because of the repeated attacks on our lives as black people in the US, and the continuous devaluation of women, which is definitely also a global issue. One of the best things I can do to resist oppression is to affirm myself in the face of all that is dis-affirming, so I had to leave.

One thing that has not escaped me, is what I do have in common with fellow white travelers, and that is the privilege to be able to do so. I am not even an individual for whom life is especially shaped by racism, in the sense of proximity – I have light-skinned, mixed, “good-hair” privilege, I have educational privilege, I have grown up in areas with mostly white people, I have beauty privilege (which is a co-partner to sexism and sexual racism) since I look “exotic” and men want to fuck me and give me things and opportunities that otherwise would not come my way. I have all of these things, and I still felt the need to leave the war-zone that is the United States, and so I did. How many people who are much more severely touched by these different oppressions and have a much closer proximity to death than me want to leave their situation? How many black girls wish they could just leave? How did I get to be so privileged? There is no reason why I am here, sitting in a beautiful flat in Paris minutes from the Eiffel Tower, with nothing but time and desire to guide me, and someone else is not. Yes, I have worked very hard in my life to have the things that I have and to create the life that I want and essentially to affirm myself, but I have also had the context within which to do so. It isn’t fair. The people who are most important to me in my life are also suffering from the same fatigue as me, yet I am the one who gets to sit here and write about leaving it. Fuck me, basically. Fuck privilege, and fuck oppression.

There is one thing that perhaps I can do then to really exemplify the fact that I am not abroad and traveling under the same framework that I may be categorized within. I can continue to tell my stories and my truth, just like travelers do everywhere, but with a keen sense of those I have left behind and a strong rooting in “remembering where I came from.” I can be humble. I can maximize my privilege by keeping my sisters and brothers in mind, and telling our stories where perhaps none would be told. I am not sure how many white backpackers are talking about the Prison Industrial Complex in the United States to those they meet, or how many travelers are actively and consciously speaking about the sexism they encounter in different countries, or speaking about their own privilege and the ability to sit and tell you this story anyway. I cannot speak for others of course, and I know that I am not nearly the only one with these thoughts in mind. But I have to do something. Sharing my stories, spreading our realities may be one way to correct the gap that exists in which affirmation of the lives of the oppressed fall through. What else can I do? We must be affirmed. This is the reason I left. Right?

I write this on the first day that I am alone in the world. I have no home, and those in my circle of love are all far from me. All I have is myself; my wits, my resources, my cleverness, my fears, my insecurities, my belongings on my back. I suppose I am here to create my own narrative, but I will be sure to leave traces of us behind wherever I go.