Recently I ran into an old acquaintance I had not seen in two years. In chatting he asked me a surprising question. ‘Carlana, are you a lesbian?” The question threw me for a loop because I couldn’t figure out where it came from. Sexually, I’m as straight as an arrow. I don’t even hang out much with women as most of my women friends live in Trinidad and the US. Where on earth did that question come from?
‘What?!?’ I asked. ‘Where is this coming from?’ Come to find out that according to him, having a pierced tongue is the standard sign of a lesbian. He said that lesbians wear tongue rings to show that they are part of the lesbian community. It appeared that I missed this important memo. I did not know this communication code amongst lesbians existed. I made a mental note to tell my sister. She’s been married to a guy for almost ten years but she also wears a tongue ring. I guess she too must be a closeted lesbian! I’d have to have a chat with my piercer, too. He failed to inform me of this crucial bit of info!
From there the conversation went pretty much downhill. He expressed his disappointment at me having a pierced nose as well. And then he was horrified at the sight of my small ‘be kind’ tattoo I sport between my thumb and index. I figured why not rattle his chain further. So I let him vent his disappointment and disgust at me since he felt he needed to. I let him let it rip. It was making him feel sanctimonious and special about himself so I didn’t interrupt. It was all rather unkind, unlike what the tattoo advocated. Feeling particularly naughty now, I proceeded to show him the other two tattoos. The lotus flower and the words ‘Unbowed Unbent, Unbroken, also on my hand but hidden by long sleeves I was wearing at the time. Shock delivered by me, his judgment delivered to me, I wished him well and continued on my business.
In this life, you really need to know who you are. YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE. YOU. Because if you don’t you’ll take upon yourself the opinions, labels definitions and concepts of others about you. And once you’re settled in who you are, you need to be unapologetic about it. A few years ago I recognized that I had to learn to live in my world, in myself, or else I’d die in those others make for me with their opinions and judgments. To me, it’s the only way to be authentic and unapologetic about who you are.
Barriers. That’s what it really is. Barriers that reinforce stereotypes and solidifies our feeling that we have a right to judge others. Barriers that keep us away from meaningful connection.
So often we go for what we see, hear and think without having first hand experience ourselves. I’ve found that the nicest people, the sincere, genuine and caring people that have come into my life didn’t look the way most people, even I expected them to look and be. My best male pal who I consider a brother is a classic example. A farmer by trade, most times his face is dusty and nails caked in dirt. But he works hard, is kind, and the most unselfish person I know, with a big heart and genuine spirit. Most would pass him without a second glance. But when he speaks – wisdom and the stuff to build you up on the insides flows from him. He’s wise and deep in an old fashioned sense. He’s the first to admit that he did not get much schooling. Buy he has taught me. Much more than any life coach or classroom ever could and my life has been enriched because I am blessed to know him.
I use my friend as an example to show you that what meets the eye is not even the surface of it. You’ve got to go beyond that and ‘meet’ people. Meet the heart of a person, sense their spirit. You can’t judge based on a look. We humans star at this. And we women pay a hefty price for it. We choose the guy who looks well put together, educated, clean-cut and traditional. And then we get to know him or live with him and find out it’s all smoke and mirrors. Just a facade. No character, integrity, substance. Or we choose the pretty boy or the popular guy who has nothing between both ears and breaks down others so he can feel good about himself. I speak from experience. Been there, done that, got the scars to show for it.
So here’s to seeing beyond tattoos, piercings, deformities, dirty clothes, scars and dirt-caked nails. Here’s to looking beyond gender, race, sexuality and all the barriers we put up that allow us to label, judge and at the heart of it, keep us from meaningfully connecting with and knowing others.
Carlana Charles is the visionary and editor-in-chief of FemmePowered. She is a womanist, writer, speaker, story midwife and facilitator of meaningful and engaging conversations. When she is not working in or on FemmePowered, she can be found resting, baking, reading or scribbling furiously in her journal whilst sipping wine or coffee, sometimes both at the same time. She is currently working on her first book and hopes to release it in September 2017.