“God make the freak in everybody.”
I remember how that line stuck out to me when I first heard it in Macy Gray’s “Sexual Revolution” in 2001. The idea of black female sexuality falling in line with freakdom was not new to me. While working on my first-year project, I decided to take a line from a Sonia Sanchez haiku as the title of my paper and presentation:
what’s wrong with being
freaky on stage you a stone
freak in yo own skin.
2.” in like the singing coming off the drums
at least we up front
about this freakdom. at least
we let it all hang out. [emphasis added]
– Sonia Sanchez, “Haiku
Just as I would have denied the moniker geek or nerd at that point in my life, I would have also denied being a freak in the weirdo sense. As a grad student, I was somewhat bound by the lines of respectability that told me to be less “angry” and decenter myself and other black women from work that focused on our representations and struggles. Needless to say, I left academia behind and burned bridges along the way.
However, the road I’ve taken since then has often led me to question aspects having to do with identity and how I see myself. A few weeks ago, a woman I met called me free-spirited when I told her I moved to Wisconsin just because I needed a change. It reminded me how much of a big deal this was to a niece and nephew at home who both expressed how they wished they could just pick up and leave because they wanted to. I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust in my heart and something of a (if you can forgive my use of the word) bohemian spirit that leaves me unhappy when I have to live my life within the confines of polite society.
When I was younger, the freak in me definitely had nothing to do with a sexual context but was more of a reflection of nerdy inclinations and preferences. The freak was the weirdo. No matter what it was called, it was not equated with blackness, so I tried to be anything other that who I was. When trying to hide yourself from others, you create a cocoon around yourself and keep a moated fortress around your heart. It took years to let down that guard, but I reflexively arm myself whenever I think someone wants to penetrate those walls.
I question everything from why anyone would like me to am I even “normal.” Then I see what appears to be celebrations of black folx who are not exactly mainstream, whatever that is. I see that the black weirdo is becoming more commonplace in mainstream representations and in a way it is a relief. I sometimes lament that I did not see this reflection of myself when I was younger and really needed it, but I am also sometimes a bit irritated to see such representations relegated to youth and young people when I know we have been around for decades.
Perhaps that conflict comes from a simultaneous need to be an individual and to belong. It makes me happy to see the rare black carefree pixie girl because I know she’s a different type of carefree than I am. I’m slowly learning that those of us who are labeled as “weird” come in a variety of flavors and have our own talents. I may not sing, dance, act or paint, but I do write. I am finally realizing that I already began living the life I thought I feared 10 years ago when I decided to leave home and change my name to finally live the life I wanted. Quite frankly, I wish I had known I was a freelancing slacker before I went to college and not wasted 10 years of my life and energy, but I live with those decisions.
In my mid-30s, I still struggle with those issues of identity and self-expression. I don’t make resolutions, but I do take some time with each passing year to reflect on myself and consider what I need to do live life on my terms. I’ve decided to devote more time for my writing and put myself first so that I can stop putting off the things I need to do to further my writing career. I try to make a conscious effort to accept myself and not envy those around me who have made it to a place I’m trying to get. I learn from them and try to translate it to whatever I feel would be success.
White collared conservative flashing down the street
Pointing their plastic finger at me
They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die
But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high
I was still in college when I first heard Jimi Hendrix say those words. I loved it but didn’t embrace it then. I know I’m not too old to own that aspect of myself and nurture the weirdo/slash freak within. As long as I just keep doing me, I can’t do wrong.