Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Let's talk about blood - menstruation in a male dominated world

Today is supposed to be the first day of my period. I am sore. So sore.

It feels like there is a vice crushing my uterus so that it is forced to close in on itself. I wake up early only to make it to work late because I find it hard to concentrate on getting ready. I go to pee when I get to the bathroom at the office only to see my brand new briefs stained with blood. It soaked through the measly fucking pantyliner.


I hope I have a tampon. I find one somewhere in my stationery draw and am grateful.

I pop two paracetamols and one ibuprofen. I wait for the pain to subside. It doesn't. An hour has passed and I am supposed to be working on an urgent document, but can't bring myself to focus. The contractions get worse. I am seeing a bit blurry. I bend over my tummy so that my head is under my desk. My eyes well up with tears. No-one notices. 

Fuck this.

I make the executive decision to fuck off home. Fuck. Fuck this shit. How the FUCK am I supposed to be productive when I feel this way? I start having doubts about calling in sick, and decide to work from home. I convince myself that it will be easier to work if I'm lying down. Drugged up. In clean panties and oversized track pants made for a chubby man. 

Why the fuck could I not just be a chubby man? Or a man?

I am 27. I have been having my period for fifteen years now. FIFTEEN YEARS. Yet every time it happens I feel like it is the first time. I take pills to control the hormones, and pills to control the pain but it never gets any easier. 

It never feels like the symptoms associated with menstruation are a legitimate excuse to stop what I am doing, and have a legitimate rest. Every time I menstruate I get angry, MAD, APOPLECTIC. I feel like a kid. I feel intolerant of my body. I feel incapacitated by the physical pain, and overcome by the emotional turmoil. I feel relief that the cycle will be over soon, but I can't cut myself the slack that I need. 

For some reason I feel like I need to be doing more. Working just as hard as any other day. Eating less sweets, gymming through the misery and acting normal. 


Why do I hate myself so much when I am on my period?

Why am I so intolerant of this natural and miraculous bodily process?

Who taught me to feel this way?

Why is it that we live in a world that does not acknowledge the feminine?

Why is it still taboo to mention periods at work or in public?

Why is period pain treated like an illegitimate ailment?

Why am I so angry, so enraged?


I know the answer to these questions. I know a male dominated society is designed around the premise that female bodily functions are unworthy of attention. I get even more angry. It makes me want to rebel against work. Against the system that treats menstruating humxns like machines. It makes me fume.

Instead I curl up in a ball with a hot beanbag on my tummy and cry. At the same time I hope that my little act of courage (making it home and to bed) means something in a world that refuses to acknowledge half its population. I try to calm my mind about the anxiety about the work I need to do.

Deep down I lament the sad fact that... "If period pain were a male problem it would be solved by now."


Friday, 24 June 2016

Loving a white (man) - part I

My partner and I have been together for a couple of years. Enough to know that we cohabit well together, and that we do love each other and for the most part want to build a life together.

He is an amazing human being, kind and compassionate. He is just the right amount of tender. He is open minded. Gifted. We even share the same political views.

But beneath the surface of our relationship I struggle with something.  He is a cis-het White Male. I capitalise white and male for a reason. Male and White dominated existence is the unfortunate reality of the world.  My partner, through no fault of his, is the product of hundreds of years of privilege and the world is created in a way that serves him. And while he may intellectually comprehend this (bless him), I struggle.

I struggle because he will never know what it's like to walk my path.
He will never know what it feels like to be belittled, reduced to a stereotype or seen as a sex object because of the colour of his skin or what is between his legs.
He will never understand the blood boiling rage that takes place due to an accumulation of microagressions from people we both know, and often people who are dear to him.
Every time someone in his family speaks about someone or something related to my race they make eye contact with me. He will never understand why this upsets me.
He will never understand why his racist friends make me feel murderous.
He will never understand rejection based on his sex or race.

All he sees, is that I am right, they are wrong, and that he is torn between the two because of joint allegiances.

All he sees are things in black and white. There is no deeper meaning. There is no sensitivity. There is no need for a double take when the world was created to be as you see it. You as a white male.

He thinks of this as an attack on him. He feels threatened because he says I hate white men. If I hated white men, I think, why would I be with you? He fails to see that Whiteness is an institution created to empower people like him. He tries to listen, but he does not hear.

My partner probably never thinks about the fact that we see no other black people where we live, that I am the only person of colour in our apartment block, that I "fit in" because I'm light skinned. It probably never crosses his mind that I grew up in a ghetto designed for people of my colour, where all I saw were people of my colour, and that that is my culture. And I miss that.

He probably has no curiosity about why it is I know so much about other cultures, or why I tie a scarf over my head at night.

I wonder if he thinks about the blood that runs through my veins, and that I was born of a woman who was born of a woman who was born of a woman who probably could not speak a word of english, had probably never seen the inside of a school, and had never had a man respect her a day in her life. And here I am unable to speak a word of her language.

I think about our children. I cry for them. Will they know what blood runs in their veins or will they inherit his privilege. I think about the little superstitious prayers I say when I lose something or walk under a ladder, or almost have an accident, or sneeze. And I wonder: will they ever be curious? How will they know these things if I don't share it with them? Why is the burden of this responsibility on me? Why is WHITENESS the default culture for mixed race babies?

Will my partner ever know, will he ever care, will he ever see, that he and I are not the same.
We never will be.
My love, we are not equal.
You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth.
I was born to give my life to make that spoon.
And still I carry this burden.

I say a superstitious prayer for your eyes to open, for your ears to hear, for your self to retreat and for you to understand.

I say Insha-allah.

Conversations about home (at a deportation centre) - Warsan Shire

In response to this morning's resignation of David Cameron and the news that Brexit has become  reality with the inward looking nationalist government coming to power in October, the only thing on my mind, and on the minds of many in the U.K - is the plight of immigrants. Both, those who have found a safe place in the U.K and those who are yet to arrive. 

This is a piece by poet - Warsan Shire. It speaks for itself:

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I've been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can't afford to forget. 

They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket. I hope the journey meant more than miles because all of my children are in the water. I thought the sea was safer than the land. I want to make love but my hair smells of war and running and running. I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you're young and asleep. Look at all these borders, foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate. I’m the colour of hot sun on my face, my mother’s remains were never buried. I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck, I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body. 
I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.
I hear them say, go home, I hear them say, fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this arrogant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second and the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I'll see you on the other side. "

*Originally published in TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH (2011).

Friday, 17 June 2016

Why cleaning out your social media account can be as good as cleaning out your closet

Social media - facebook. instagram, tumblr, twitter - you know the rest - are to say the least, places where we express who we are at that moment in time, in that space. And over time they tend to become strange amalgamations of moments of projection as they pass our lives.

There is much criticism of social media on... social media. You need to be blinder than a bat to not see the irony in that. I am not here to advocate for or against social media but just to briefly point out that it is natural for us, over our lifetimes to grow and evolve.

If you're in your twenties or thirties at the moment, you're most certainly not the same person you were ten years ago, and it was around ten years ago that Facebook came to be  (most of us in Africa however, have it for 7 years or  much less). While it can be fun to look at pictures from ten years ago, as we all tended to do in the days of good old picture albums, it may not be in our own self interest to constantly be reminded of how we used to be, not only ten years ago, but last year, last summer or last week.

Social media, in particularly Facebook, constantly reminds us of times bygone. This can be good for us, no doubt, reminding us of happy memories. But it can also be fucking shit.

As it reminds us of who we used to be we often...:

- become nostalgic
We've all gotten those feelings, recalling how we used to look, or what we did, and who we did it with.

-pine for things that are gone
Coupled with the nostalgia we long for things that have passed us by sending ourselves into a suboptimal stupor.

-put on rose tinted glasses
The nature of memories and recollection, unfortunately, is that we omit many many details about the reality of the situation. We put on rose tinted glasses and romanticise people, places and things we would not if we were probably 100% objective.

- are reminded of the past and in the worst case triggered in a negative way
A friend of mine recently mentioned that in the last few years she's had atleast three exes and made the point that facebook's memory function reminds her of things she would rather not remember at all.


- are not present
This is the most important of them all. Combining a little of all the aforementioned factors social media has the potential to detracts from our lived experience in this moment. And in order to be who we are right now we need to detach from those bygone experiences.

For these reasons, I not only think that occasionally cleaning out ones social media account can be worth the tedious scrolling through old photos and posts but is also a little bit like uncluttering your mind. Or cleaning out your closet.

When our clothes date and wear we don't hesitate to let them go. Why should we then hold on to little snippets of our lives manifested by status updates and photographs online. We should do whatever it takes to give us improved peace of mind and a more equanimous environment to love ourselves.

This can involve:

  • Deleting old posts, statuses and photographs. 
  • Unfriending people with no shame. 
  • Blocking people who put you in a bad space and spread their negative vibes. 
  • And, taking ownership of your online space. 

Feng shui that shit so that it works for you!

Go on... Spring clean and compartmentalise a little. Unclutter your online life.
And do it as often as you need.

Thoughts on the Orlando Pulse massacre by a queer South African muslim

The mass shooting of defenceless LGBTQIA members of our society Orlando marks a collective stain on our humanity, make no mistake - where those already vulnerable in society are gunned down by a man with an automatic war machine and picked off like vermin in a space supposed to be safe. It is not just a problem for the US, but one for all of us at large. Thirteen years ago in South Africa 9 men were executed in a gay safe space in one of our country's own hate massacres. We are quick to forget about the Sizzlers massacre and the hatred of the two men who perpetrated it. We are not exceptional, we are not immune. Section 9 of South Africa's democratic constitution guarantees that nobody, including the state, should be allowed to unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. Yet daily we hear stories of violence against members of our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters- corrective rape, stigmatisation, assault, abuse. It goes on. We allow those around us to foster casual discrimination, to say things that denigrate the LGBTQIA community and dehumanise the love between people. And the worst of it- just when the LGBTQIA community finds a safe space we have individuals and groups who are determined to destroy them. This is not us. This is no religion or faith. This is no teaching of love or spirituality. It is not Islam now or ever. It is not heroism or grandiose masculinity. It is the deepest and darkest of evils perpetrated by the worst of our society, designed to further divide us. We cannot allow people to claim their hateful causes in the name of us all. And we should certainly not judge a whole group by the actions of a hateful few. Perpetrators of violence are in no way unique to those who incorrectly profess Islam. They are found in all corners of society- in Sandy Hook, in Columbine, in Virginia Tech, in Norway. We cannot deflect from our failings to stop hatred, to stop access to war machines, to protect our most vulnerable. We are jointly and collectively responsible. And we bleed for it.

Say their names. Remember their faces. 
But we will not be divided. As Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, gay, straight, bisexual, black, white, coloured, Asian, Indian, woman, man, trans, and all the other shades of these. We are together against hatred and violence. We stand with Orlando, we stand on the side of love that knows no label. And our struggle will continue.

*Published with permission of the author - Ziyaad Bhorat.