It is 12:42am. My insomnia has yet again gotten the best of me and I’m starting to think that this will just be my life. That I’m destined to become one of those cliché artist types who doesn’t find themselves until 3am. The kind whose most creative, most world changing ideas appear whilst everyone else is sleeping. Even when I picture this artist in my mind. This tortured and revered human manifestation of emotions and creativity I have to stop myself from saying ‘he’. From thinking of myself in this way, as a man, as a white man at that. One who stays up all night writing poetry or composing sonatas. Why do I keep thinking of myself like that, or I guess, not myself at all?
I’m lying here writing this out and I think it’s meant to be a book though I can’t be too sure. I never thought I’d write a book. I used to write them when I was younger. Mostly fan fiction or fantasies about some interracial romance set in the 1960s. Back then, when I was 14 or so, I’d fill up pages of my college ruled notebook with these stories. I’d make my friends read them at lunch. I even published one on Quizilla (a blog site for stories, poems, and of course quizzes). Before Instagram and Twitter, even before Facebook there was Quizilla. It was a place for teenagers to publish their own works, to read each other’s works and comment or share their stories. It was my safe haven. I would be on the sight for hours when I came home from school reading new entries of My Immortal and transcribing chapters of my own story from my notebook to the website.
At that time in my life I was unafraid to share my stories, I was unafraid to let people into my mind. They were fiction, but they were still a part of me. A part that I couldn’t tell then, was what I’d not only been through but what I desired. Back then I wrote like no one was going to read it…and then proceeded to share it with anyone who would give me the time. I lost myself in words, in expressing myself through those words…the fiction of those stories. If I’m being completely honest, I wrote those stories with my experiences and desires, but wanted the protagonist to be anyone but me. (Except I guess in the interracial love story, I’m pretty sure the main character was a black woman.) But in my fan fiction (about my pop-punk obsession at the time, My Chemical Romance) the main female character was white. I was writing her through some of my own experiences of abuse and neglect, but she wasn’t me. She was what I thought people would relate to. She was what I thought someone would be interested in reading about. A white girl falling in love despite having an abusive father…people would eat that up.
This is the first time I’ve admitted that. It’s the first time I’ve wondered why I felt that way. It’s easy to say that because I was in a white environment (the emo world), those were the images I saw so it made sense. But it almost didn’t. My two best friends at the time, Calah and Samantha, were also in the story and neither of them were white. Calah was French-Canadian born Jamaican and Samantha was half philipino half white. In the fanfiction I wrote neither of their races were changed. Nothing about them changed. But I did. I was a white girl named Katrina, Kat for short. I wore dark brown hair with colored streaks in it and wore ripped jeans with stripped tights underneath. I had converse in every color and scars on the arms from self-mutilation. Everything about the way Kat looked was me, down to the scars, but she was white.
I’ve blocked a lot of that time from my memory because of embarrassment. Although embarrassment might be too light a word to describe it. Shame. Shame feels more palpable. I was ashamed of who I was, ashamed of what had happened to me, and ashamed that I kept so many secrets. I could never admit that the insomniac, artist persona in me was a white man or that I wrote a book centering a white girl as my substitute. I could never say those things before because I was ashamed that I’d done them or felt that way and embarrassed that I couldn’t understand why. Now I know better. Now I know that I was unable to write myself in my own story because I wasn’t used to seeing myself in those kinds of stories. I wasn’t used to seeing a young black girl who looked like me be treated with such abuse and terror, but have a young man love her and want to protect her. Or have a group of friends do anything to stand by her side and keep her safe. I wasn’t used to seeing black girls protected so I wrote a story about someone who could be kept safe.
Looking back on it now I know it wasn’t just about separating the author from the work or making it more interesting to a random reader…it was about invisibility. I had gone my whole life- at that point- feeling invisible. Feeling like the world didn’t see me, like my family didn’t see me, like my friends didn’t see me. So, I figured why write about someone that doesn’t exist. I took my creativity and my borderline creepy obsession with this band/genre of music and put it all in someone the world was used to seeing. A beautiful white girl. People would feel bad for Kat. People would worry about Kat, people would want to care about Kat, people would want to rescue Kat. Khadija? No one wanted to rescue her. No one even knew who she was.