The house I live in has two addresses. A peculiar, but not uncommon, occurrence.
She’s a corner house, tall, with a worn exterior. Two streets brand her, Brentwood and Durham. She’s both house and hero because of her ability to exist dichotomously and remain unmoved. I am not yet convinced of her inanimacy, but I also could be projecting. Her reality is perhaps best encapsulated by the labour of calling an Uber to her doors. A quick typing of the address leads to a battle to find it on the map. It shows, but it shows the wrong house. A house that is five houses away. I apologise to the driver every time, for a fault that is not my own. The compromise has been to use the neighbour’s address, a far simpler exercise. And just like that, my house becomes a ghost of the street; she’s there, but she’s not, on the Uber app at least. She is the neighbour’s neighbour, without an address for herself. This is a lie, because she has an address. Two, in fact.
She’s Seven on Brentwood and Two on Durham, never just Brentwood’s and never solely Durham’s. I laugh at this, questioning whether these are her names indeed. Or just her relative placement to those with names. But, this could still be me projecting.
This piece is for her and the bills that come, citing one address and forgetting the other. Or choosing to cite the neighbour’s address and forgetting hers. Her feminine spirit emanates from her ability to stand in her truth, womb me and inspire me to write about my own complexities in her honour. This house moves around the halls of my thoughts like a nosy chambermaid prodding at the things and beings she meets there, forcing me to face my own addresses.
And so here, in underwear and oversized t-shirt, nestled in the warmth of an Intersectional symphony where Brentwood and Durham meet, I write, an homage to the many addresses I wrestle to bring to the sun and its warmth.
It’s a cruel thing to be asked “Who are you?” and never have a satisfying response, for yourself or anyone for that matter. Are you Black or queer? Male or gentle? African or educated? The lives of young Black beings seem to be marred by constant existential crises. We are repeatedly forced to choose sides in teams that we are thrust into. I, like many others, have considered my who-am-I–ness many a time, engaging in long conversations with cold walls in the ambiance of Miss Simone’s eerie voice chanting, “Please don’t let me be misunderstood.” I am many things, among them Black, cis-gender and male. Intersectionality is trite yet a majestic concept. It commands all creation to recognise its many faces, but somehow humans are pained to disprove this. A lion, though a predator, knows when to run from a pride of buffalo. A hen must strike when danger faces her chicks. But a human man must not cry in the face of melancholy. And to be a young Black man who decides to love, in a country whose known history is organised around a special dehumanisation, is revolutionary. But that is a piece for another time.
It’s a cruel thing to be asked “Who are you?” and never have a satisfying response, for yourself or anyone for that matter. Are you Black or queer? Male or gentle? African or educated? The lives of young Black beings seem to be marred by constant existential crises. We are repeatedly forced to choose sides in teams that we are thrust into.
I practiced my many accents and masculine oddities to perfect the shield that masks away the inconvenience of my truths. I am a man, a Black man who loves and speaks in tongues of magic and Ubuntu – an African philosophy of being my brother’s keeper. I am a son. The Black son of many mothers, fathers and in-betweens who are responsible for the human who writes this to you. I am a lover. The Black lover of men and women who are not yet sure what to do with my intense affections. I am all of these things, but it is easier to convince the world that I am just one, because it is tiring to say otherwise and explain. Humans are interesting. Their most beguiling trait is the plurality of their identities and the intersectionality thereof. More than not, we have to convince the world that we are not just one thing. We are forced to masterfully curate our being, our Blackness, our humanity, inoffensively, all the while negotiating for a space in the known society. We deserve a place, but the world isn’t yet convinced.
The frustration of being an intersectional within a space that denies you expression to this end is constant antagonism. We exist in communities where the expectation to be part of something is obvious, but our identities are erased from the discourse. As an African human, I can remember the many times when people either did not expect me to “know” because of my ethnicity or did not expect me to be in touch with my ethnicity because I “knew.” The revolution of the man is to show femininity when masculinity is expected; of the woman, boldness when meekness is the expectation. The intersectional is stuck in this state of internal dialogue, “to be, or not to be” a part of this community.
We cannot underplay the importance of a sense of community as a basic good. The intersectional, particularly insofar as marginalised identities are concerned, is dispossessed of that sense of community. I use the term “dispossessed” deliberately. Family is the initial human experience and a subset of community. It forms the foundations of what becomes a sense of community, and usually it serves as ground zero for imagining ourselves in the world. The antagonism is dispossessing of this sense of community. The more you intrinsically negotiate your place in the community, the more elusive the idea of community tends to be. And instead of being a member of a community, we do as Paul Laurence Dunbar suggests, “we wear the mask that grins and lies”. And to lie is the intersectional’s natural state in this society. The code-switching, giggles at offensive jokes and complicity by silence – all done to survive. We are there, but only as ghosts, for we never really show our true selves, just our convenient selves.
More than not, we have to convince the world that we are not just one thing. We are forced to masterfully curate our being, our Blackness, our humanity, inoffensively, all the while negotiating for a space in the known society. We deserve a place, but the world isn’t yet convinced.
Solitude becomes inevitable in the absence of community, and the accompanying ailments of this solitude follow close behind. We are asked to be normal upon this backdrop. We are required to overcome. This is the burden of the Black intersectional, to go from being less than human to more than human. Superhuman. When do we get to just be human, and savour that? The philosopher in me is tempted to ask what that even is, human. But since the struggle is to be it, I’ll wait a bit longer to meander in existentialism.
I live in a corner house. Seven, Two. She has two addresses. She reminds me every night that I don’t belong. She inspires me every morning to live anyway. And to live, we must.