LISTEN: WE NEED TO STOP 'RE-DEFINING'
WRITTEN & SPOKEN BY LAUREN TREND..
Black, white, gay, straight, healthy, unhealthy, beautiful, ugly.
Words hold power. There is no denying that.
They are my art, my musings, my means of cathartic release. They are my activism.
They allow me to express my beliefs, they are a conduit for connection.
They hold our stories, our history, our legacies.
They can also hold pain, suffering, have the ability to trigger and welcome rage.
They belong in forms of love letters and foreign policy. They can be legally binding, and erased.
I am always looking to my relationship with words for clues as to how my lens on this world is shifting and re-focussing over time. I've witnessed my once-favourite words become menial mid essay, and ones that I’ve never really stopped to think twice about, potently shape my current thought patterns and practices.
One word, or phrase for that matter, that I have been witnessing become more and more prevalent over the past few months is ‘re-define’.
In popular culture and media especially - it is used largely when celebrating someones’ courage and ability to push boundaries.
‘She’s re-defining beauty.’ ‘He’s re-defining what it means to be man.’
These acts are of course hugely important to acknowledge, but I wonder if there might be a more suitable and inclusive method of articulating the change-makers of the world?
To define, by very definition, is to specify.
When we specify, we inadvertently alienate all those who do not sit within the re-defined mold. To celebrate a larger girl as ‘re-defining’ beauty is to then alienate the natural waif that, though absolutely no fault of her own, sits outside of this now-celebrated contrasting definition.
These themes, and ideas of course extend beyond body shape, race, colour and gender. We are witnessing people are “re-defining” business structure, marriage, parenting, spirituality - the list is endless.
It was this very notion, of diverse practice, that had formed our #100definitionsofwellness movement, without me, until now, being able to articulate it. But the irony in this movement (as hashtag refers to the act of ‘defining’) is that we have been encouraging you, our community, to un-define (wellness).
When we un-define, we remove all existing constructs. We remove limiting or secular notions that by very definition are exclusive. When we un-define, we are allowing all to exist within their lanes.
Let me pause to acknowledge: you have absolutely every right to lean on words that afford you the apt articulation of your identity. This is not a piece undermining the power those words, whatever they may be, hold for your person. But I would like to encourage you to test out removing some layers that aren’t so close to you. What can you let go of? What words/pronouns/prefaces no longer serve you?
I can not stress enough that my personal wish to see language at large look to un-define rather than re-define, is is not to take away from the pride that (especially marginalised) groups/individuals embody and identify with.
It is so important to see a persons blackness, acknowledge ones gender preference, celebrate another ideals of beauty - especially if that is what our peers are asking for.
It’s 2018, people are allowed to tell us how they wish to be seen. How they wish to be addressed. How they wish to be spoken to, or about. It is not up to us to define or re-define on their part or their person. Only our own.
As far as my personal identity is concerned, it is within my own activism that I am learning to not cling on to identity so tightly. Whilst I do identify as queer, as lesbian, and trying on gender non-binary for size, I am learning that these parts of my identity - beneath all the layers - do not define me, my practice, nor my ability to see the many shades of others’ humanity. In fact, they highlight it.
Although my (proud) identity sits within the queer community, and am fighting for LQBTQIA+ awareness & liberation, it does not stop there. Every marginalised and repressed group matters and needs my/the collective voice. Black lives, the disabled, sex workers, refugees, women experiencing violence, gun violence victims, rape survivors, and every other person/community currently suffering or treated as unequal.
self practice supports nothing if not the acceleration of activism for the collective born out of increased self-awareness.
I would like to share with you words that inspired this piece, and sparked me to have this conversation with myself, and continue it with you. It was spoken by Janaya 'Future' Khan at Yara Shahidi’s Eighteen x 18 summit in October..
‘I want us to get to a place, where our identity is not informing our politics… I started fighting out this work for Black Liberation because I am a black person. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not why I continue to do the work. I continue to do it because I know that Black Liberation is integral to the liberation for all. It’s integral for trans liberation. It is integral for feminism. It’s integral to making this a more religious-inclusive country. Our politics need to be shaping how we organise and what we do. Our identities might be a good entry point, but we can’t stay there, because all I’m doing if I’m ‘only’ fighting for black people.. Is reframing (re-defining) colonialism so that it is more convinient for someone like me.’
— Lauren is the Founder & Editor of Self Practice