The Politics of Finding Yourself on the Page
Posted by Katherine
October 21, 2013
The Toast did a lovely piece this week that filled my stomach with butterflies upon dizzying butterflies called “Annie on My Mind and the Books that Made us Gasp.” It’s one of those small gathering of words that quickens your breath a bit because you know these words somehow, even though this is the first time you’ve seen them in this particular order, by this particular author, on this particular day. It’s about finding your you-ness, in part or in whole, in the media, and the validation that comes with knowing you’re not alone. Or to quote the author and lovely editor —“where something said helplessly inside your chest ‘Oh, that’s me. That’s us, that’s us, that’s me, thank God, that’s us.’
Only, it was a little bittersweet for me, knowing that I stalked my local library’s copy of “Annie on My Mind” for years, and never dared to check it out. Why? Because “Annie” was a teenage girl who Liza, another teenage girl, fell in love with.
Being a little queer kid who didn’t even know how to piece together her queerness, seeing the cover of “Annie on My Mind” made something jar inside that was frightening to acknowledge, if only because I would have really, really rather not have acknowledged it.
“I like boys! Oh but that girl who has the perfect pink hair ribbons is so nice—wait, but I like boys! And of course, I can’t like boys and girls both, in that same way…right?”
I really wished I could have pulled that book off that shelf. I really wished I hadn’t been afraid the librarian would say something, or my mom would look too closely at the cover. I wish I had tried to read the book in stints hidden in-between the ranges of volumes. I wish I could have slowly worked my way through it and been able to rejoice in it finding a part of myself on the page. But I didn’t do any of these things.
The thing that’s sad, is even when we have these representations of what we are, if these representations reflect something we’ve been told is wrong—or that we’re not even given enough context to know if we should question that “wrongness”— it can be so hard to reach out and take them for ourselves.
But what do reproductive justice and the finding meaningful reflections of yourself in the media have to do with each other?
Because I was 11, and I saw the cover of “Annie on My Mind” and the fact of me never having seen this reflection of myself—this growing notion of this queerness I wouldn’t come to actually admit until years later—made me too scared to reach out to take it, for fear of what others would think. Because being denied the image of yourself so consistently that when it finally appears, you barely know what to do with yourself, is stifling. Because “National Coming Out Day” was a few weeks ago, and it’s LGBT History month, but how can you “come out” (whatever that means) or find your history, when you feel so afraid and unsafe that you don’t want to even risk checking out a book from the library? Because even though I didn’t feel like I could take that book off the shelf, that book still existed as a rather inclusive reflection of me—white, queer, female who embraced my girl-ness—and for so many they can’t even imagine finding a multiplicity of what makes them them lying casually bound in their library.
Because reproductive justice is being able to own your body, and feeling that all that composes it is valid and worthwhile.
We have work to do that we’re familiar with in reproductive justice—working to combat oppressive state legislatures, fighting to elect officials who care about a person’s right to choose, getting sex education to be more than “don’t have sex until marriage”—but we also need to work to help each other find ourselves reflected out. To make it not a lonely book waiting on the shelf, its absence once you take it stark and blatant, but shelves upon shelves (and reels, and episodes, and webisodes, and all the options we can gather) waiting.
To help us say not “oh, that’s me” but “ah—here we are.”