Cosmic Revolution

The Manufacture of Different

From the moment I was able to consciously form thoughts and ideas, I knew I was different. It wasn’t inherent knowledge or what my parents stressed on me; it was simply daily interactions with my environment and others that helped shape my understanding of these differences and what they meant. It helped me understand where my place was, what I could and could not do, where I could and could not go, and just about every facet of my life defined by a vastly complex system of classifications.

One of the earliest experiences I recall is the idea of being like everyone else in order to deflect attention from yourself because any deviation from the “norm” draws negative reactions. As a child your ability to comprehend this need to fit in was limited because “fitting in” meant conforming to what was “popular” at the time. Childhoods can be very traumatic, as children and adolescents often make uninformed opinions and decisions. Their source of information is mainly comprised of the playground and what they hear from other classmates, or perhaps the cultural impacts of their families. Being from an Indian family, I was not out of touch with the concept of race and racism. Though I did not experience much racism as a child, I saw it happen to others. I experienced racism more in my teenage to adulthood years. As I child, I faced confrontations regarding my gender more than my race. I enjoyed playing sports from a fairly early age, which became a central part of my life throughout grade school until university. I had never thought that was what defined me as a person. It is interesting to note how these definitions changed over time as my environment changed and the ways in which others defined me. Teasing and name-calling seemed to be a regular occurrence when I went to school or the friends I hung out with at home. I was typically described as a “tom-boy” or “he-she” because I didn’t look like all the other girls at school. My composition did not meet the exterior ideals of what “defined” a girl. Girls were supposed to be dainty, passive, quiet, and had to play with Barbie. I was none of those things and I didn’t own a Barbie, but it was these qualities, these mannerisms that made me different than the other girls. Thus, making friends did not come easy. The girls thought I was too much like a boy and the boys thought the same. At that time, being different didn’t serve me too well, which I find ironic now because it seems as though being “different” is what has become “popular” today. Yet being “different” means everyone is the same “different”.

As I entered high school I began to understand why so many kids dreaded being there. I hated going most of the time and the only people I seemed to relate to were my friends. It wasn’t the easiest time and I certainly let my feelings show, which I always thought contributed to others’ perception of my personality, as an angsty kid with a pessimistic attitude. Nevertheless, I always felt I had more of an open mind than most of the kids I went to school with. Some of my teachers asserted that opinion; they had always told me I was mature for my age and I never decided whether that was a good or bad thing. In high school your identity is so essential to people characterizing who you are and it didn’t bother me until I came out as a lesbian. Through the years, my description changed from emo-depressive kid, to jock kid, and finally – the gay kid. There were other “out” kids at my school and I never understood why it was a big deal when I came out. A part of me thought it was because it confirmed everyone’s opinions. Amrit is a tomboy; therefore she must be a lesbian, but not all tomboys are lesbians. Another part of me thought it was because I wasn’t like other Indian girls at my school: long black hair, slender bodies, and feminine traits. I couldn’t understand why the students and teachers thought that way, and more importantly I couldn’t understand why it bothered me so much. Regardless, it was another facet of my identity that made me “different” and for the people at my school it was confusing. It was then I started to believe the impact of my “identity” on society and how it would influence my life.

University brought a new kind of understanding in the perceptions of my identity. As a criminology student I was enlightened to so many more systems of personal classifications. This class is certainly not my first encounter with the theory of white privilege and some of the articles such as The Invisible Knapsack. Furthermore, Peggy McIntosh and Richard Dyer’s articles on white privilege emphasized the ideas that I have for so long thought about but could never say without any legitimacy. The concept of white privilege, albeit having some idea of what it meant, helped me understand and articulate why I only saw white people on tv and in movies for so long. As a child, my parents never talked to me about race or gender equality. Having heard many racist and stereotypical comments didn’t leave me with a racist, sexist, or other discriminatory worldview. I knew from an early age that if I wanted to live my life I had to keep an open mind and a large part of me wanted to defy stereotypes. My parents came from traditional Indian backgrounds but never impressed their culture upon me. Their parents did stress the hegemonic ideals of their cultural values. Clear definitions of what a girl and boy should and should not be. As I progressed through university, I began to see all the pieces that made up my identity fall into these classifications I was learning about and had experienced through society and my family’s cultural values. Being a female meant I was inferior to males, a homosexual inferior to the heterosexual norm, and as a minority inferior to the white race. Having learned these systems of classification, I concluded that it was in fact these “characteristics” that made me “different” and how they would impact my career, my opinions, my worldview, and basically every facet of my life.

In having realized how my race, sexuality, gender, and arguably my individuality affected my life, I also realized what privileges I garnered and which I did not. Comparatively, I am ranked well below the privileged middle-class white male. However, it wasn’t until I began taking aboriginal-focused classes that I began to understand what my advantages were. The indigenous populations of Canada are the most under-privileged people in this country. Arguably, their culture and people have been eradicated. Descendants of aboriginal origin face immense hardships and extremely overbearing obstacles in defying stereotypes and racism. Being a gay Indian woman didn’t have the same affect on me having known and met several aboriginal women working the sex trade. I realized how much of a barrier my existence played in the lives of these women and the first nations peoples. My day-to-day activities uphold the systemic suppression of the aboriginals much like the white male maintains control over the societal normative. Even further, I realized what my professors meant by categorizations of race, age, sexuality, gender, sex, disability, etc. I focused so much of my attention on what made me different than the white male. I realized I only evaluated myself to that discourse when there were a vast number of comparatives I did not even consider.

Nevertheless, my worldview remained consistent in that societal norms are a discourse people have been subjected to for centuries. The experiences I dealt with in my life such as racism and enduring harassment for being a homosexual didn’t change my opinions on what I believed the social and political values of this country represent. As societies progress, so too will the understandings of the classifications we discuss, or at least that is the hope. Though I want to believe in the possibilities of changing hegemonic, heterosexual norms, I am not that optimistic. Ending systemic racism did not end racism entirely. It found news way in which to affect the unprivileged, even if it were under the surface. I continue to challenge those who discriminate, whether intentional or not, because the first step is knowledge. Having acknowledged who I am has enabled my understanding to reflect universality and the need to change this way of thinking, but that also means acknowledging how my being affects another.

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Courage: The Power Within

It’s strange to me that the very things that I was taught to embody to be a “good” human being, are the very things that have often led me down some fucked up paths. Or at least that’s what I thought.

I had been wanting to post something about an event, an occurrence in my life that really changed a lot for me. I’ve been wanting to share this for quite some time, but I think the reason why I hadn’t already, was because of feeling vulnerable.

Vulnerability is really strange too. I find a lot of things strange. There’s this thing that we all do to protect ourselves. We try not to question or say things that we feel will have a particular reaction, usually a negative reaction. We hesitate to tell our crush we like them in fear that they won’t like us back. We appear a certain way so we don’t receive the negative reactions attached to appearing any different. And we say and do things… with hesitation, always over-analyzing, always over-thinking our behaviours. It’s this feeling of vulnerability that we don’t want to experience. We feel the need to protect our hearts from getting broken, our self-esteems from being bruised, and ultimately… this fragility we all walk around with, is self-inflicted.

I knew from very early on, and I’ve mentioned this before, that I’ve always felt like the other. Not just in my appearance, or what I thought or talked about… but the way I carried myself. I think at a point though, I acted very selfishly… I had carried around the weight of my issues and what I’ve experienced in life, dragged it around everywhere. Everywhere! I was on the path to complete self-destruction before I had ever stepped in that direction. I expected my friends and my family to understand what I was going through and help me fix it. And that was the problem. The expectation.

November 5, 2011: I was having drinks with some friends. The night was fine; just like any other I thought. I was going to get wasted, get high off of whatever I could get my hands on, and I was going to force myself to forget the things that made me feel like not wanting to get out of bed every morning for the past however many years of my life…

November 6, 2011: I woke up in a hospital bed with my best friend sitting on a chair next to the bed… I had never felt more guilty and selfish in my entire life.

The vast majority of the night is not in my memory. It’s like a movie trailer… I recall snippets of things. I remember calling a close friend of mine and balling… I remember saying I can’t do this anymore; I can’t fight the thing inside of me that wants me to die. I remember being driven in an ambulance, sort of, it felt like a coffin on wheels. I felt constrained. There was a woman’s voice asking me questions like what I had taken, what I had been doing all night. I can recall someone kneeling down in front of me once I arrived at the hospital… and I didn’t look up because I was too afraid or too fucked up, or both, to care. I felt someone’s scruffy face rub against mine and their arms reaching around me, and I knew it was my brother. From that point on… I remember just having the toughest night of my life…alone…

I had to confront everything.

I had to acknowledge my fears.

I had to acknowledge I got my heart broke.

I had to acknowledge abuse, emotionally and physically.

I had to acknowledge the idea of someone close to me dying.

I had to face everything that I had carried around for so long… and deal with it, alone.

Up until the age of 21, I had never taken drugs or drank alcohol, with the fear of turning into somebody I really did not want to. And within the short span of 2 years, I had become the very person I had feared.

Someone, and to this day I don’t know who, wrote a note in my phone that night…

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And there it was… I couldn’t run from it anymore. Either get living, or get dying. You know which path you’ve been on. What are you so afraid of? I made a decision that day, that every day I was going to do the very things that I had been doing since I was a kid… believe in myself, believe in the power of change, and fucking love myself.

This was really nerve wracking to write… but I want to thank an individual I went to high school with for reminding me of the courage within me, and for reminding me of this journey I’ve been on. He had messaged me a few nights ago, when I had come home very discouraged. I had felt like maybe I was wrong about the universe, and my teeny existence in space and time. He messaged me on Facebook… telling me a very personal account of his life after high school, and that he’s sorry he never worked up the courage to talk to me in high school. He told me I was one of the most courageous people he had ever seen because I just didn’t give a fuck, and not just for the sake of nonconformity. I truly just didnt give a fuck and he was inspired by that. You walked around with a shaved head! I did, haha.

It was a mind trip. To think your own tiny little existence impacted somebody without you not even having realized it! The fucking universe intervenes and drops a bomb. She’s like “hey, check this out”… and some guy, I barely remember from high school… (we’re talking, totally opposite crowds in high school terms)… messages me to tell ME, I’m courageous and inspirational. MIND BLOWN.

But… then I really thought about it. I started to have one of the coolest revelations ever. It’s true. I’m not afraid to tell anybody how I feel. I’m not afraid to walk up to a complete stranger and ask them to go out with me. I wasn’t afraid to shave my head, dress like boy, and kiss my girlfriend in the hallways of my high school. I’m not afraid, I’ve never been afraid… so why was I so afraid of living when I had had the courage all along? I wear my heart on my sleeve always and I’m spontaneous; I do what I want, and I don’t care that that’s a vulnerability, because when I think about it… it’s not. It makes me courageous as all hell.

But that courage is inside all of us. For every day you get up out of bed and you face the world, you’re vulnerable… and that’s courageous. Don’t be afraid of vulnerability, embrace it. Just be you. Imagine the best you that you can be, because that’s who you truly are. Be vulnerable, it’s what makes us who we are and it makes this place one insane, wonderful mind trip.

I love you friends.

– Am 🙂