Best Friends For (N)ever

The concept of everlasting friendship is one that is ingrained in many of us from a young age. We are taught how to make friendship bracelets, and encouraged to purchase halves of lockets to couple with our best friends’ other halves. We casually throw around the acronyms BFF and BFFL on a daily basis. But what happens when a friendship doesn’t stand the test of time? What happens when the friend you grew up with transforms into some you don’t like or even recognize?

At the age of twenty-five I already have many friendships that have lasted over a decade or two. My friendships have survived butterfly clips and tie-dye shirts, side bangs and Lisa Frank, different schools and even different states. I have watched friends graduate, fall in love, land first jobs and move into first apartments. Unfortunately I have also watched some friends seriously disappoint me.

 

I once had a friend that I described as a “soul sister.” She and I went everywhere and did everything together, we laughed at the same jokes, thought the same things, even liked all of the same foods – I truly believed that I had found someone to share my locket half with. Then, three years into our friendship, my friend came to me and bragged about betraying another friend – she had hooked up with a guy her friend had dated and still had feelings for behind the friend’s back.  What upset me the most was not what my friend had done, but her lack of remorse for her actions. Instead of feeling guilt, she felt proud and gloated for twenty minutes as she sat on the foot of my bed telling me what had happened. She looked like a stranger to me. After that night our jokes didn’t seem as funny, our thoughts not as aligned, and our favorite vanilla milkshake didn’t taste as sweet.

In another instance it was a friend of eleven years – she was the first friend I made in high school. We talked until 4am nightly, wrote each other emails and letters when on vacations, visited one another at college and had regular sleepovers in the summertime. However, as the years went by and my friend entered into a serious relationship, our friendship stagnated. The talks became weekly, the sleepovers obsolete. I didn’t complain when she cancelled plans or even when she missed my birthday, but when for the first time in eleven years I asked her for a favor, to be there for me for something that was serious and important, she bailed because she was “too tired.” I knew then that I would never again eat breakfast on the kitchen counter of her Brooklyn apartment.

We often want to believe that the same people our friends are when they have braces, are the same people they will be when they have grey hair. That we know them better than anyone so they can’t surprise us, change on us or hurt us. But sometimes in life people change and grow apart, sometimes we see people in new circumstances and situations that display their shadows in an entirely different light.

This isn’t to say that a friendship should be abandoned the second one friend makes a mistake or has a slip-up. No one is perfect and part of caring about someone is accepting her flaws and enduring the tough times together. Although sometimes it’s worth weathering a storm for the sake of a friendship, you maintain the right to evacuate yourself from a hurricane. It’s about weighing what is acceptable for you and what isn’t. I was okay with my friend missing out on phone calls and my birthday, but I wasn’t okay with her bailing on me the one time that I really needed her.

We can feel beholden to a friendship because of its longevity, but there is no point in staying loyal to something or someone that will bring us more sadness and hurt than joy. I was hesitant to end my friendships – how do you throw away 3 and 11 years of memories and laughs? But I wasn’t willing to invest even more time in people I knew would disappoint me, in people I could no longer look at the same way. My mom always told me “if you have one good friend in your life, that’s more than enough,” and so I’d rather spend my time and energy on the good friendships that I have, on the people that are there for me and support me, than on people who will let me down.

 

Finding Empowerment In Oppression

Lately, it feels like a silent revolution is stirring inside of me. I’m continually becoming more and more comfortable with my experience as a queer, black girl. I couldn’t imagine myself here a couple years ago but feeling safe and free in my black body in the midst of homophobia + misogynoir feels revolutionary.
When you’re a person of color and the “wrong” sexuality for heteronormative standards, you learn very early on that this system was not made for you. And if you don’t have someone who has felt that same pain, who’s felt unloved and unwanted, telling you otherwise, you start to believe that this world wasn’t made for you, either.
That is the farthest thing from the truth.
It doesn’t feel like it all the time but this world was made for all of us. We were placed on this earth to feel safe-uninhibited-loved-connected (the list goes on and on) but there are systems in place that are directly correlated to our internalized feelings of unworthiness. I like to objectify those feelings. By placing them outside of myself and looking at them for what they are, it always dawns on me that the hatred I, and my community face has nothing to do with us. Hatred is not a passive act. It might be insidious and tricky to pinpoint but a person makes a conscious choice to hate rather than to understand. That person’s bigotry is not on the victim.
A person of color is born and there are already systems preying on our self-esteem. With that in mind, the only thing poc can do to overcome these obstacles is to love ourselves deeply- and unapologetically, in a world that deems us unloveable. The same goes for people who identify with anything other than being straight.
Our oppression takes on different forms but the feelings of inferiority they plant in us are universal. For me, being black and queer is power. I won’t speak for others but I’m sure they feel the same sort of inexplicable pride in their community’s resilience to withstand all the obstacles we face. We saw that unbreakable power of activism recently with #NoDAPL. With any sort of collective pain, community and solidarity will bloom from it and their victory shows how much can be done when we protect one another from injustice. As Trump makes his way into the White House, we need to actively remind ourselves that we are not the narratives that bigots try to force on us. We are more than the hatred this country has normalized.
Being black with a soft heart is activism.
Not allowing society’s skewed view of my blackness and sexuality to determine my own perception of myself, is a form of activism.
Creating space for the generation after me so they won’t have to feel the same insecurities as much as I have is also a soft, yet effective, sort of activism.

“You’re So White”

I don’t remember a time when people didn’t attempt to strip my ethnicity from who I was. I heard it from friends, classmates, and even their parents. In their minds, it isn’t possible to be so intellectual, so “articulate,” so aspirational, while also being Black. As though the only way to accept me was to carefully measure me by how much I complied with a stereotype. In retrospect, I’ve noticed that as I grew older, the type of racism I experienced became more and more implicit, occurring on a micro level.* In middle school, I remember telling my mother about how my classmates called me an “Oreo” during recess. They told me that I was “white” on the inside because I didn’t talk like a “regular” Black person. My mother turned to me and told me not to accept the pseudo-complement. She said that being African American and speaking “proper” English were not mutually exclusive, and that the way I spoke was not a result of me being internally “White”- it was a result of my first-rate education and intellectual capability.

As I grew older, the way people enacted racism was more complex than comparing my personality to a popular snack. The message, however, was always the same: “You’re so white.”  Why anyone, with positive or negative intentions, would say that to a person of color is something I never really understood the root of until attending a predominantly white University. In conversations about racism with other Black woman undergraduates about their experiences with racism, the phrase “you’re so white,” and how much we’ve heard it throughout our lives, always comes up. The women I spoke to all had something distinct in common: they were high achieving, intellectual individuals. To me, this isn’t unusual, so I was perplexed by all these people who found it to be so.

I have been surrounded by a support system of high achieving Black men and women all my life. However, given that many of my peers and their parents were only exposed to stereotype, they saw me as an anomaly, but I never saw the contradiction. I still don’t see a contradiction. It took me a long time to understand that people saw a discrepancy between how I spoke and how I looked. Strangely, they felt a need to tell me so. My embodied Blackness didn’t fit their perceptions of what Blackness should be.  When confronted by the existence of someone who does not fit into that understanding, instead of expanding their conception and understanding of Blackness, they labeled me as “white.”  

I grew up believing in myself and my abilities, not because I wanted to be the exception to the stereotype, but because I never registered one in the first place. My peers called me an Oreo because the person they saw in front of them clashed with their preconceived ideas of who they should have been seeing at their magnet schools, their NHS meetings or their research labs. But what they didn’t realize is that those things were never “theirs” in the first place. No one group can claim ownership of intellect, achievements, taste in music, or personality type. There is not one “type” of Black person, and there is no one “type” of any person of any ethnicity. We are all individuals with diverse backgrounds, interests and aspirations- not cookies to be boxed into a misrepresentation of our respective cultures.

*What are Microaggressions?

Microaggression theory was originally developed by a psychiatrist named Chester M. Pierce in 1970, and has been elaborated on by several psychologists and psychiatrists since then. Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University has categorized different types of “microaggressions” into 3 groups: Microassaults, Microinsults and Microinvalidations. According to Sue, microaggressions are “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”

DeAngelis, Tori DeAngelis. “Unmasking ‘racial Micro Aggressions'” American Psychological Association. 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/02/microaggression.aspx>.

Emotional Fat Suit

When I mount a dude it’s less of a mount and more of a squat-and-hover situation. They’ll grope my ass and grind into me as I engage my core and try to ignore the increasing burn coming from my glutes as I hover a few millimeters over their thighs.

I lost 50 pounds in under a year.

At first it was all good vibes. I felt leaner, healthier, and eager to share my new figure with all of New York City. My exhibitionism wasn’t restricted to the bedroom; I found myself disrobing at parties, among friends at private gatherings, really seizing any opportunity to show off the progress I had made. But it was a conditional pride.

I’d be giving head and press my shoulders onto my partner’s torso so he wouldn’t see my excess weight dangle. I’d suck in and flex, steering clear of certain positions altogether in fear of how they’d make my stomach swell. I was convinced that my weight loss was an optical illusion, a practical joke my mirror was playing on me. At any moment, my 50 pounds would re-materialize and the cute boy would fling me from his bed.

I became obsessed with putting my best bod forward. I wouldn’t eat in the hours before meeting up with someone to avoid bloating, feeling pressure to live up to my newfound thinness. Hyper aware of where a boy was touching me, I’d question his intentions. If he bit my nipples, I told myself they reminded him of breasts. If he ran his fingers up my middle, I was convinced he was searching for washboard abs.

Blinded by the momentary satisfaction that comes with being desired, I ignored my tendencies for self-hate. That was until I was with someone else who displayed the same symptoms.

I hiked up the ends of his tee only to have him grab my wrists and ask, “Do I have to take off my shirt?” I was floored. This was, for all intents and purposes, a thin and attractive guy. His eyes were glossy with insecurity. In them, I saw my own shame for the first time.

I later found out that he had also lost a large amount of weight in a short timespan. I started to notice other quirks of our sex life together — how I had to take the mirror out of my room so he wouldn’t inspect himself before coming to bed, or how he would play with my love handles as we were laying down, as if fascinated by another’s imperfections.

It occurred to me that out of all the boys I’d been with, the only one to touch or notice any of my fleshier parts was someone who was looking for it. Someone who was equally as sensitive about bodies as I was.

And there it was, the problem, more insidious than any carb — the mind’s eye: twisting and morphing our reflection until what we see is no longer reality, but an Etch A Sketch of our insecurities. It took witnessing another healthy and sexy guy, so haunted by his past form that he couldn’t even focus on the naked boy on top of him, for me realize just how damaging my own body image issues were.

Insecurity is the ultimate cockblock, and at some point my negativity had become heavier than my cellulite. All these months I’d been having threesomes with my phantom weight. This was no way to live, and certainly no way to fuck, so I decided it was time for an exorcism.

It began with accepting the logic of the situation: if someone was climbing into bed with me, odds were that they found me attractive, and no amount of “extra” weight would deter them at that point.

So I let go. I put my full weight on boys’ thighs, and as it turns out I didn’t crush them. Instead, I felt lighter.

Art by Zoe Milah.