“The story has always been the same
A source of wonder due to their ability to thrive on poor quality soil offering very little nourishment
But weeds must be kept under strict control or they will destroy everything in their path
Growing wild, then harvested in their prime & passed around at dinner parties
Care for some weed?
So natural, so unrefined”
[Pulp, Weeds II, We Love Life, 2001]
Natural and unrefined about sums me up. Well, if you’re looking for nice words anyway. When I first heard this song in 2001 it was already resonating with me hard. Growing up, I was always referred to as wild which I mistook as a compliment. I imagined myself as some kind of brown-girl Marlon Brando instead of understanding that in the mouths of middle-class mums, the word acted as a thinly veiled euphemism for trash.
Of course, those same mums liked to show off how their kid had a ‘coloured’ (sic) friend as a faux virtue-signaling badge, but for once this isn’t a rant about racism. My presence was permitted as long as I didn’t encourage their precious offspring to be like me in thought, word or deed, that is. A sense of otherness had to be maintained. Of course, my piercings and tattoos didn’t mean I was disinvited to dinner, as long as there was a clear understanding that these life choices stayed strictly on my side of the class line.
Friends ditching me is a bit of a drum I’m banging right now, sure, but as well as being ditched for being too brown, too childless or too lefty, I also get ditched for being too common. So ironic considering I had no friends at school cos apparently I was too swotty (Americans, see nerdy).
Yes, I grew up in a bit of rough town, but I wouldn’t credit Swindon with bestowing my taste and style on me. I was always drawn to excess – to the bold, outre and fantastical. I always aspired to ooze indulgence, much more so than I’ve ever actually achieved in real life (ha), mentally positioning myself somewhere between the Bloomsbury Set and New York’s late 70s punk scene. Never let it be said I don’t aim high.
Embracing my trashiness has never been a problem for me, but it seems to have an ongoing affect on others that I’ll never fully understand. Whether it’s my propensity to leap on stage and karaoke, my willingness to do shots at pretty much any non-work hour, the neon makeup I sport even if I’m just going to the store or my spiky heels and slogan tees, everything about me falls squarely into the category pre-demarcated as immature, chavvy, superficial and ultimately just weird by the middle-class powers that be.
Of course, the parts of me they now ridicule are the same ones that drew them to me like eager little moths in our teens and 20s, when they were trying out personas with intent to shock themselves as much as anyone else. The very idea that I was always For Real (not a Richie Manic quote – definitely not) never even occurred to them. I was expected to grow up, start wearing silk blouses, listening to classical music, only drinking with meals and taking my makeup off before going to bed. And when I didn’t, I became a pariah.
These same people tried on my lifestyle, my values, as if they were thrift store garments of dubious cleanliness, gaudy, chintzy throwaway single-use partywear their parents absolutely wouldn’t approve of, and therein lay the appeal. They used me to guide them, to help them navigate the world of booze and nightclubs and loud, brash outfits when it suited them, dabbling their manicured toenails into what for me is at the heart of who I am and how I choose to live. Watching me with curiosity, mimicking me when it suited them but ready to wring me out and discard me as soon as they’d had their fun and wanted to move on to the next step in the middle class journey to success. Of course, a few kept coming back for a while, just to test the water, see if they could still get away with it. Keeping me at arms length but reeling me in with slippery lies to entice me into thinking I was part of a real friendship, not an exhibit in a zoo.
“Come on: do your dance
Come on, do your funny little dance”
Is there anything nastier than being treated like free entertainment? I don’t understand how or why my authenticity is so often treated like a pathological failure – I can (just about) accept being considered eccentric but when that crosses over into an aggressive critique of my lack of convention, my personal lifestyle choices dismissed as uncultured, uncultivated, unsophisticated and base, I feel the weight of white middle class judgement raining down on me unjustly in a way that makes me want to break shit.
Loneliness is another recurring theme in these posts. My isolation from both brown and white cultures, my unpopular opinions and my ongoing wranglings with sexist and racist attitudes and assumptions. I’d call this classism but I’m not even sure that fully does it justice. It’s more a sense of stifling-a pressure to change, to acclimate, to sacrifice my true self on the alter of inclusion. Which of course is not real inclusion at all. I feel I’ve often been treated like a butterfly in a jar – captured in flight, observed with interest, then left to die alone. I write a lot about being bullied and discriminated against, but being exoticized, fetishized and then discarded is the other, equally insidious side of the coin.
Yes, I still dress like a teenager about to go raving cos frankly why the hell not? I like my style, and I don’t care how many of my contemporaries look down their noses at me. I got this shit even when I was a teenager for heavens sakes – turning up for my first class at Oxford in bright pink bell bottoms while the rest of the navy sportswear-clad students stared and sneered. These days, I’m fortunate enough to have many diverse friends of different ages and backgrounds who are happy to just let me do my thing, which is amazing, but a trip back to London always triggers the disapproval-switch of just how much of a freakish anomaly I’m perceived as.
What even is mature, or adult anyway? A specific colour palate, bedtime and heel height? As I said in my last post, having a home, a career, even a marriage isn’t enough to cut it in certain social circles. Because it isn’t really about being grown up at all – it’s just about being the same and fitting in. Not til I swap out my mini skirts for Lululemon could I possibly be rehabilitated into the rank and file of English 40-something middle class women. And also, what’s with this book club thing? Everyone knows it’s just an excuse to drink wine so just cut to the chase and call it fuckin wine club.
I’m keeping my glitter. I’m keeping my strong cocktails. I’ll keep dancing in my 6 inch stilettos and you can keep calling them stripper heels all you want, cos that’s not even an insult.
“Bring your camera, take photo of life on the margins”
Damn, I could have just quoted the whole song, Jarvis says it all.