Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Let me learn that I am beautiful for me. (Robin Morgan)

This summer, I feel that I've crossed a threshold: I felt that I was finally able to reconnect meaningfully with my high school bestfriends. There has always been a vulnerability that I've held at bay for two years -- when I first told them that I now have two published books. Now that I've given copies of my books to them, the vulnerability has shifted into a different kind of meditation (about feminism, about body-soul integration, about finding a way out of modernity's straight-jacket, about babaylan work - but these will be for another book, not here).

It's been 40 years, after all, and although we've had occasional contacts over the years, these connections, for me, have been fragile and cautious. On these past occasions, I would find myself watching for snippets of comments about what they remember of me as a 16 year old. What I repeatedly heard was unsettling to me: You were sexy. You were our beauty queen. You had nice legs. You were a snob. You were different from us. I've always struggled with the incongruency between my self-perception and theirs. I am not beautiful. I am not sexy.

I graduated from high school with twenty honor students chosen from our class section. I am number 21. Perhaps this is the beginning of my unconscious desire to be known as smart, as smart as they all are. If I were beautiful and sexy, I must not be that smart -- this is the equation that, even today, still circulates and distorts women's self-perception. Forty years is a long time to carry this burden of misperception, a burden imposed by an ideology that entraps women into submission to prescribed gender roles. I wonder now if my smart girlfriends somehow didn't think of themselves as beautiful. A reversal.

Been wondering if all the education under my belt today is simply a consequence of wanting to prove that I am smart. I shouldn't have needed a doctorate to realize this but there it is! Furthermore, in high school, I've always felt off-center of whatever and whoever was the center of attention and attraction in this tight group of friends. I've felt this lack of belonging to the center but somehow had enough chutzpah to compensate for it by finding my own extracurricular interests - the Glee Club, the church, the barkada. I always belonged...elsewhere.

It's no surprise then that, in later years, they told me that I've always been perceived as the non-conformist, the renegade, the one who eschewed the path one is supposed to follow as part of being "normal and well adjusted." I eloped at 17; a single mother at 24; remarried to a white man; became American...and now a Lola - while all of them are still raising teenagers. Renegade, indeed.

I do not know what "normal" means anymore as I delve deeper and beyond all the nooks and crannies of this process that I call "decolonization." What a strange word this must be to my classmates, I tell myself. Never mind. It doesn't matter much anyway since this is just a story about myself and no one else.

Returning to the persistent question I've been asked: why haven't you dealt with the question of sexuality in your work on decolonization? There are clues in these reflections about the events of this summer - my father's death, my reunion with old friends, the book projects, the books about Eros.

In learning about Eros and Power, I resent being called nostalgic, a hopeless romantic, and sentimental when I've talked about my dreams, desires, and visions of what a decolonized Filipina and a decolonized people might be like. These are the very words used to tell women that there is something wrong about them and their bodies, their minds, and ultimately, their souls. That this is why women need to be tamed and silenced. This "wildness" needs to be imprisoned within the walls of heterosexual and class privilege under patriarchy and capitalist society. (Yes, I see your raised eyebrow).

Perhaps herein lies the key as to why I have never felt affirmed when my friends said that I was the sexy, beautiful snob in our group. Perhaps in my bones and in my soul, I already knew then that there is something deeply wounding about this. It has taken me 40 years to finally find clarity and the language for telling this part of my story. You've read it now... there are still many silences that await their voice and space. For now, this much:

Let me learn that I am beautiful for me.

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