Written by: Sedruola Maruska
We moved a lot. It’s the one thing I remember most about my early childhood. It never seemed like a lot of moving because it’s just what we did. We were used to it. I also never got too emotional when I moved because my brother always came with me and he was my best friend, most of the time.
So, I’m seven years old, at another new school, and I ask my teacher for permission to go to the
restroom. She says yes, so I go. As I’m sitting on the toilet doing my business, a female classmate comes into the bathroom, crawls under my stall and ends up standing right in front of me. In my confusion I just sit there. Feeling incredibly uncomfortable and nervous I ask, “What are you doing?” Ignoring me they say, “Let me see.”
Now I’m really nervous, “No! You need to leave.” But they don’t leave. Instead, they try again “It’s okay, I just want to see, show me.” Again, in a frenzied state “No, leave me alone, get out!”
At that point they relent but before leaving they say, “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
I don’t remember if I responded. I do know I didn’t tell a soul about that incident for many years.
It’s a memory that’s stayed with me even when many others haven’t, and I wonder about that classmate a lot. Why? Because the year was 1975 and I didn’t know then what I know now.
As the host of a podcast where I have candid conversations with different people regarding equity, inclusion, social justice, and diversity, I have the privilege of learning new information every time I sit down for a chat.
One thing I’ve learned is the language we have now wasn’t readily available back then which made it hard for people to fully express who they are.
Even as a heterosexual Black woman I don’t always find the words to describe who, what, or how something is impacting me. So imagine being a seven year old child navigating such confusion. Feeling different or like an outsider and not having the language to express that to your parents or even to yourself.
I think about that classmate because I wonder if they finally found the words. Did they finally find a way to express themselves that didn’t involve accosting a fellow student in the bathroom?
We often think that people should be able to fully express themselves, to tell others exactly what they’re feeling, and to give examples. It doesn’t always work that way, though.
Even if the right language was available back then, do you think that seven-year-old child would have been able to fully express what they were feeling and knowing within themselves?
As a seven-year-old girl to Haitian Christian immigrant parents, gender identity, or sexual orientation in general wouldn’t have been talked about, even if it were a thing back then. As far as I knew and was taught, you were either a boy or a girl and that was that.
But as I think back on that incident, was my classmate’s pronoun “she?” They never told me, but I’m sure at that time they didn’t know there were other possibilities.
How would they have known when their parents likely didn’t know either?
Xay De is a lovely woman that I had on my podcast. She’s much younger than me and in our interview, she shared that growing up she didn’t have the language to express who she was or how she felt until much later in life. She didn’t know she was transgender, she thought she was gay. That was the available language at the time.
Listen with Your Heart
That’s why I’m a huge proponent of listening with your heart. It’s taken me years to trust my inner voice.
The voice that’s always right when I don’t feel comfortable with a new acquaintance or in a new place.
The gut feeling I get when I hear someone talk or see them look my way and instantly I go cold.
See, not everything can be expressed in words because words don’t exist with feeling; they exist to describe.
So what do you do when what you need to describe is beyond your verbal reach?
When listening with your heart, not just to yourself but to others, you gain a better perspective.
We’ll never be able to know the full experience of others, but what we can do is listen with our heart.
Listen to the emotions.
Listen to the words.
Listen to the heart.
In a society that values “proof” sometimes there simply is no concrete proof.
In a society that values “telling” sometimes there’s only feeling.
When you’re listening with your heart, what you’re actually doing is tuning in to the tiny, nuanced
expressions that you sense but have been socialized to ignore. As babies we tune into those cues but as we get older we lose that ability because of the way our society is set up. Getting back to that is what I’m asking you to do it.
Get back to where you stop, listen, and feel before you judge or move on.
There are very real situations in the world that cannot be expressed verbally or proven in a court of law. The court of law cannot detect the nuance.
We need to be better at understanding that some words haven’t been developed yet. That many situations cannot be translated properly with words; they must be felt and believed with the heart.
Originally published in Issue 2 · April/May 2021 issue of SOULACY.
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