The last time someone touched me without my consent, I was at a sweat lodge. We were supposed to part ways by shaking hands with every person and thanking them for their presence. One man my age had been overestimating his rights with me— moving in too close, interrupting me, at one point reaching from behind to cup my bare shoulder, saying, “Oh… is that a mosquito bite?”
When time came for me to shake his hand, he grinned and said, “Actually, I’m going to give you a hug.” And he did.
I have an anger problem. My mind won’t recognize my body is upset until after the fact. It’s my Delayed On-Set Anger Disorder. So, while in the moment I just stood there, like an indulgent cocker spaniel, and let him hug me, the next day I was pissed.
Is it because I am female-bodied? Small? Eastern Asian/Filipina? People feel entitled to say and do the strangest things to me.
I sit behind the front desk at a gym. I get commentary on my weight like the pounds are scoreboard stats, anything from “I would never work out if I were as skinny as you” to “Maybe you should work out harder— I see a little double chin.”
“She’s my new little flower. My new flower in the garden,” a seriously mistaken man told my male co-worker, gesturing towards me. He didn’t address me. He just laid claim.
Whom do I belong to in this body? I am lunged for on the streets. Sometimes curbside Casanovas think they’ll score if they offer a little linguistic elegance: “Kunichiwa, baby! Ni hao ma!” (The language you’re looking for is Tagalog, pal.) When I wear baggy sweats and no feminine markers, it is made clear I am transgressing when some former Romeo shoves past me and says, “Watch it, dude.”
At the sweat lodge, my friend commented she was really happy with the gender ratio, and I blurted out, “Really? I feel outnumbered!”
She laughed. “It’s because you spend every day with the Bentsters [queers who are part of Seattle’s Bent writing community]. Every [straight-identified cis] man’s energy is multiplied by three!”
It’s true. I don’t take it for granted that I run in these compassionate and evolved queer circles.
In the heteronormative world, when a gym member or co-worker places his hand on the small of my back, with the intent of making his interest known, it is an assertion that I am property. A waxed, plucked, and oiled hull. A silly girl (She’ll smile for you). A hairless, meatless husk.
With the bulk of my post-pubescence spent pushing advances away, I never learned how to ask for touch I do want. When, on the bus, a great, white-haired woman flops down, like a pile of dryer-fresh laundry, on the seat next to me, I feel the sudden, bizarre need to bury my face in her ample neck, her armpit, the layers of flesh draped softly over her waist. I file this impulse as a symptom of my touch-starvation. And I do want to be touched. I want someone young and warm and honest to share a bed with, to feel the meat of their thighs cinched around my hipbones.
It is only now that I have begun to see this as normal: I am queer; I am of color; I am spinning, like a loose wheel, with this need to simultaneously lash out at the world and bring it in closer.
Nowadays, for my own psychological protection, I only work out at a boxing gym four blocks away from where I work— one that allows me my boundaries and my aggression. I first went on a whim, on a night I felt hideously lonely, bad-at-dating, and boring. As my friend was dropping me off, she looked at me skeptically and said, “Text me to come back for you if you change your mind. Will you be the only woman in there?” I made a face at the thought but told her I was committed to walking in and staying.
The first two women I saw were the coaches, both wearing deep violet T-shirts with the word DYKE in white print clear across the chest. I thought, Yes. There are my kind of women in here. Women who seem capable of both pounding me flat and pulling me close. Women who don’t feel entitled to any measure of physical intimacy with me nor assume that I exist in a constant mental state of trust and personal safety.
If there is a definition of freedom, boxing holds it closer to light for me. The overwhelming burn, the immediacy of every muscle, the smack of contact when you swing a tight hook, the drenched fabric on your chest and back. The experience of yourself thirsty, breathless, and uncertain. The experience of not feeling that dehumanizing gaze, the gaze that considers how your legs would look spread wide on a dirty mattress, that envies your flat stomach (which you— in the past— have had to starve yourself down to), or that wonders what ethnicity you are and if every person with any thread to that continent is as skinny as you.
I don’t know how to ask for or explain what I want, and as I’m learning, I want to intentionally choose spaces where I don’t have to. One class, I was trying (unsuccessfully) to give grief to a heavy bag when one of the coaches, the older, broad-shouldered woman, said quietly, “Anis, is it okay if I touch you?” In a boxing gym. Someone asks if they can touch me, in a boxing gym. I wheezed out a yes, and she very gently placed one hand on my shoulder and one hand on my glove to show me how to extend my arm.
This piece was submitted to BGD during our Open Call For Submissions. Want to submit to BGD? Go here!
Anis Gisele is a puddle-jumper boot-swinging candy-swapper— and the Gentlest Hammer you will ever meet. When people told her she needed to shut up, she started writing. A lot. She owes an impossible debt of gratitude to strong queers, radical artists, and chosen family.
Apply for the Black Girl Dangerous Two-Day Writing Workshop for queer and trans* people of color in Philadelphia! Here!
A week before I go to basic and I’m not nervous at all. I’m more nervous about what comes after bootcamp. New home, new city, all by myself. I am wondering how a weird and queer brown girl like me is going to survive in the army, but I’ll find a way. I always do.
Besides I like a woman in uniform and there is going to be plenty of that for the next 2 months. (And then four more months- and then 5 more years after that.)
"i found some windchimes. so i recorded them. then i started singing. i never thought that windchimes would inspire a slow jam. but they did. this song speaks to the moment when your partner catches the spirit. some people catch the spirit in church. some people catch it in bed. either way, it’s beautiful."
The Apocalypse will be here in a few short months, and I’ve started to realize that some of the queers I know will never survive it. It makes me sad, but…hey, more brains for zombie me! To give y’all a heads up, so you’re not surprised when your friends start disappearing, I’ve compiled this handy list:
1. That white girl with the blunt asymmetric haircut and the supervisory NPIC job who always cries and tells you how poor she grew up when you call her out on her racism. She will likely be killed by zombies eating off her face to get to her tear ducts because, to zombies, white girl tears taste like honey dew melon and sex.
2. That performance artist with the crushing need to be the center of attention at all times. If you can’t blend in during the Apocalypse, you’re fucked. The rabid wild dogs will get you first.
3. That perpetually-frowning queer who, every time you ask him in passing how he’s doing, launches into a long, drawn out, half hour long story about how nobody believes him when he says he has fibromyalgia, or how his ex is committing a heinous dating etiquette foul by going out with someone who he himself used to crush on (which is not a foul at all), or how his mom keeps looking at him as though she suspects he is a gay and how it’s giving him insomnia and irregular periods. He will probably be killed by organ thieves who, while he is distracted by the sounds of his own voice, take his liver.
4. That way too happy motherfucker whose compulsive positivity silences your truth. Like, when you say, “I’m so busy with all these jobs and I don’t get to sleep and I’m so tired and it’s terrible,” they say, “You mean, you’re happy to have a job because a lot of people don’t, right?” No, bitch, that’s not what I meant! They will probably be burned up in the too-hot post-apocalypse sunshine. And they’ll probably like it.
5. That white hipster who is always rocking that Che shirt. He will probably be punched through the guts by the ghost of Che Guevarra. (I’m assuming there will be ghosts in the apocalypse. Right?)
6. That moody, annoying ass emo cancer who makes everything an emotional mini-drama. Um, I just asked you to pass me the mustard. It doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re pretty. Also, it’s the apocalypse, and nobody is all that pretty right now. No, that doesn’t mean I’m checking out other girls! She will probably also be killed by zombies, who will get her while she is sobbing and listening to Fall Out Boy way too loudly to be able to hear them coming.
7. That 100-pound genderqueer who always gets mistaken for a seven-year old from behind because of all those neon-pink leg warmers, bedazzled headbands, and shiny plastic shoes. Way too easy to spot. He will probably be killed by a gang of seven year-olds who didn’t mean to kill him but who, in the dreary grayness of the Apocalypse, got so excited to see colors again that they accidentally loved/ate him to death.
8. That white lesbian who owns the yoga studio. She will most certainly be killed by a roving band of Indian undead who resent her appropriating their culture and then making the classes too expensive for them and all their poor brown queer friends to attend. They will prob suffocate her with her own yoga mat.
9. That super-cute boi whose wide eyes, pretty brown skin, love of high-water pants, and shy demeanor remind you of a young Michael Jackson. They will be killed by zombie Michael Jackson (who looks exactly like regular Michael Jackson circa 2006), who, in death, finally realized the terrible effect that racism had on his pysche, and is mad now, and wants his original face back.
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Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She has a novel debuting in the fall and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. Her work has been published at Jezebel.com, and recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.
“All women dream of meeting a partner who will like our bodies as they are. We long for partners who will offer affirmation and unconditional acceptance, particularly if we have never been affirmed or were affirmed only as children in our families of origin. We long for acceptance of our physical beings, to be admired as we are, even as we withhold affirmation from ourselves. This is the worst form of self-sabotage. We can “start where we are” by offering ourselves that gaze of approval we long to see in the eyes of someone else. The more we love our flesh, the more others will delight in its bounty. As we love the female body, we are able to let it be the ground on which we build a deeper relationship to ourselves—a loving relationship uniting mind, body, and spirit.”—bell hooks, communion, “Ch. 8 “Growing into a Woman’s Body” (this chapter includes rethinking negative attitudes about weight and menstruation, striving for better health, allowing beauty to follow—“We cannot negate our bodies and love them [simultaneously].”)
Let’s forget about the grown up aloha meaning. These are what the word aloha means to kindergarten kids:
One day if you swallow a rainbow then you let some drip out of your mouth when you smile, that’s what aloha is. -Hana, age 6
Aloha is like when a puppy licks your face, only not so sticky. -Olan, age 5
Aloha is when you have to say good-bye, but you want to leave a piece of you behind because now you have to go home. -Sera, age 7
Even though some people live in a big fancy houses with a lot of toys, aloha makes us all the same. -Rafelyn, age 6
Aloha is my favorite word because when you say it, it makes everyone smile. -Makoa, age 5
Aloha means were friends forever - especially if you’re invisible. -Shai, age 6
Aloha is what dolphins whisper to each other and to you when they pass you under the ocean. -Nikko, age 6
It should be a flavor of ice cream because it’s that good. -Ivoreen, age 5
Aloha is all the good feelings like love and missing someone, but it isn’t so mushy. -Nick, age 6
Aloha is when there is a room with a million strangers and then they say “aloha,” and then they are not strangers anymore. -Makana, age 7
Aloha was my goldfish’s name but then he died, but it is like he is still aloha because whenever anybody say’s “aloha,” I remember him and other kids probably have things like that too. -Kailey, age 6
Aloha mean I remember you even though I haven’t met you before. -Tautalaasa, age 7
Aloha is one of the words that mean everything good, which is good because everything would need a lot of words otherwise. -Devin, age 7
Aloha mean you treat everybody nice even if you don’t like the way they smell. -Tufaga, age 5
My tutu say’s aloha is the old way, the way people used to be. And also aloha is the way it is today, because it’s how the old ways are still alive if the very, very, very, old people are gone. -Ikaika, age 7