I am trying to articulate and wrap my understanding around the words I want to ask others not to use on me. What if we could carry a tiny index card in our pockets and on this card were the words that make us feel invisible, incorrectly seen, or just simply cause us to cringe. And by just carrying these words in our pocket, that ink becomes so powerful that it creates a…force field…an electromagnetic barrier making it impossible for these words to be spoken in our presence.
What words would be written on your card?
I thought about this yesterday while traveling home from a friend’s memorial. I was on the C local train, without a book to read and only my tiny notebook to keep me occupied. I began a list:
List of Words I Hate Being Called
miss, ma’am, girl, cute*, woman, lady, wife,
And then I stopped because one of those words was used towards me three times earlier in the day. As a writer, I know that I can have all the control over the words I want to use. I decide what I want to write and how I want to write it. Of course, I may use a thesaurus (or the computer) to help fill in when I want a different word.
Walking around, I have no control over how people see me or use their words toward me. This is a strange juxtaposition because it can startle and create an invisible seizure in my body because how I see myself is so often not how others see me.
Recently, I paid a professional to chop off all my hair (or much of, at least). I thought this removal might help balance my reflection. I thought this removal might help me feel like how I felt.
Spoiler alert: it did and it did not.
I have learned many things about myself over the years such as: I really am lactose intolerant no matter how much I try to ignore this; I continue to feel the need to challenge authority figures; I much prefer to be by myself; I can live without alcohol though not marijuana; sometimes I enjoy wearing women’s underwear; and no matter how far I try to run away from myself, the turmoil and fragmentation of myself lives within. Therefore, haircut or wardrobe is just a minuscule portion of who and how I am and feel.
I do not want to police others about vocabulary. Well, actually, sometimes I do. But most times I just want to be off-duty from all of that. I want to be seen, but it’s impossible for others to see me how I desperately want to be seen unless I say something.
I really, really, really, really, really (you get it?) do not want to be called cute. I am forty. I am jagged and messy and queer and wild and that is just not an adjective that settles well beside the wax in my eardrum. This word makes me feel like I am being mispronoun’d.
So, here is a replacement: bold. Or how about: like a savage poppy growing in a field of dandelions. Or even: You look like YOU.
I am quite sure I have used words toward others that weren’t quite right. Adjectives and nouns and other parts of speech that were severely incorrect. And for that, I am sorry because I know what it feels like to be mispronounced and I never want to do that to another.
I am still adding to my list. It is one of those lists that is forever to be continued….
And I am working on a different list. A list of what I would like to be called. How I want to be seen. Because I am still figuring this out after decades of not even considering it.