Growing up, as a student of that very proper school on the hill, the one that provided both a demanding and rigorous curriculum and that policed skirt lengths and hairstyles, I was taught how to work the status quo to my advantage. The how to challenge the status quo part, which became a favourite pastime, that I gleaned from a combination of observing my relatives and from having read too much Wilde too young.
And yet, despite all the ways in which I was determined to be unconventional, when I graduated after seven years at the school I had a lot of unlearning to do.
Small things, like believing that visible tattoos and piercings would bar me from gainful employment (this, despite having worked most holidays in a tattoo parlour / piercing studio that also did a brisk trade in airbrushed copyright infringement). Big things like how I thought about class and race, and about how I felt about (and operated within) the various categories of these that had been bestowed upon me like a birthright. Red, in the Caribbean, is distinct from Black. With a complex post-colonial universe in between.
It helped that I moved around a lot: cities, countries, personal and professional contexts. Novelty provides endless opportunity for unlearning, if you let it. If you can bear it.
As an undergrad in London, watching a performance of High Heel Parrotfish (featuring Nicholai La Barrie absolutely nailing the stiletto strut) and finally understanding drag and gender performance. As a recent-ish graduate New York, experiencing for the very first time the liberation of being a place that did not care at all about me. New York is “you do you” rendered in concrete.
What would you say to your 17-year-old self? And what would they say to you?
Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.
— Prayer by Galway Kinnell