The Bars in a No-Holds-Barred Life

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I didn’t know why I was feeling so overwhelmed.

I didn’t know why I had a growing lump lodged in my throat.

I didn’t know why I was feeling so ill-at-ease with myself.

I didn’t know why I broke down in tears the moment I went into my gynecologist’s clinic for a much-delayed check-up.

I didn’t know why I didn’t want him to examine me, even though he’d examined me many times before.

I didn’t know why I felt a silent revolution burning inside me.

I didn’t know what to do about any of It until I rambled on with my troubles to my friend and she asked me: “Do you feel the pressure not to conform?”

And that’s when It finally hit me: Yes, that was It: The pressure of non-conformity is what’s been gnawing at me relentlessly for the past few months.

I’m not one to be influenced by social norms and mores. I’m not one to follow or dance to the rhythmic tune of “You should do this and that.” But somehow, It snuck up on me and compromised my well-being. And that’s when I realized that, at the gynecologist, the dread and discomfort came from having to face the implications of what is or isn’t down there.

As queer feminist activists, we spend our time breaking stereotypes and boxes, dissecting images, deconstructing concepts and notions that bind and bound us. But in the process of reconstruction, we are inadvertently creating new models of conformity, albeit freer ones. As I fell prey to them, the measure of my non-conforming life, if there’s ever one, became that of other non-conforming folks. In the discourse around me, all I heard was stories of sexual and bodily freedom and emancipation that I had to adhere to. That was the pressure to “fit” in the realm of non-conformity. But the truth is that no matter how hard I tried, I always fell short. I didn’t measure up. I’m 29. I’m a woman. I’ve a hymen and I don’t know what to do with it. I’m angry at society for dictating what it means, what should be done with it and what happens beyond that. I’m angry at myself for minding society’s view on the matter, whether they conform or not.

My activism has taught me that my body is my own. I can do whatever I want with it. But what is that exactly and at what cost? Lately, it seemed that being myself wasn’t enough, and thus my acceptance of my own individuality was nowhere in sight. Salvation, it seemed, lied in my being like “The Others”, talking like “The Others” and acting like “The Others.” But I didn’t exactly walk the walk. Neither did I talk the talk. I’d broken and thrown away all the boxes that I knew and walked into this brave new “free” world. Little did I know that it wasn’t so free after all.

In this open, taboo-shattering, no-holds-barred space that we create for ourselves and ultimately hope to thrive in, we tend to wittingly or unwittingly flaunt our non-conforming lives, which come out as images to look up to: the unconventional way we present ourselves, the hymen that we break ourselves at so and so age, the series of relationships we’ve had, the people we’ve slept with and the daring adventures or misadventures we’ve had to sleep with or while sleeping with them, the number of times we masturbate, the things that get us off, the wet dreams that inhabit our nights and days…

In this free-wheeling space where I was told I could be anybody I wanted to be, I had to be somebody else. I was sidetracked and left behind. I was left alone with my pesky insecurities, feeding on my experiences, desires, aspirations, achievements, disappointments, shortcomings, failures, successes, feeding on my entire life, warts and all, that neither conformed to the world I was born into, or the world I was trying to be reborn into.

Just because we defy the limits and boundaries of control and confinement doesn’t mean the pressure to conform is not there. And when we’re so hard on ourselves, like I am, this pressure tends to increase with the bars and barriers we set for ourselves rising higher and higher. To withstand it, we just have to pause and remember that we each have a life to live, our own private and personal life.

- Acknowledgments: I’d like to thank Lynn for pushing me to peel off all the layers of privacy, intimacy and discomfort related to non-conformity.

Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, Joelle found queer and feminist activism, which only added to her always being lost – in thought, that is. Joelle likes to wander (or is it ponder?) the world, read books, listen to her – yes, her – music, and mull over her existence, the human condition, and the thoughts zooming through her mind when she’s running or biking in the city and beyond. Queer existentialism anyone?

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