by Misha Krynauw (they/them) & edited by Janine Samuels
Image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor
I’ve always preferred being alone.
I remember having an internal dialogue from a young age, as if there’d just always been this mental mirror that reflected my experiences back to me.
This voice was always a little quicker, more sensible - hell, funnier even. Funnier than me, Katt Williams in a velour suit or my uncle on Christmas, right after church service when he was already three drinks in, but just before the divorce. The first time I got kissed by a boy that voice yawned so loudly I laughed into his wide, wet mouth and manoeuvred a getaway. Even though there was a distance between us, I learned to trust that voice, or at the very least respect its instincts. This served me well despite the implication this had on my constant anxiety imploring me to just ‘fit in’. My anxiety is a chameleon. It doesn’t care what shape it takes, so long as it is a shape that obscures me from sight. I hate my anxiety, and it’s so endless, so giving, if it were a better feeling I would be euphoric. If I could explain my understanding of my anxiety right now I would say it’s almost as if I can’t really tell what should or shouldn’t matter any more. I’m watching the layers come off of the world around me, and I’m seeing the past in its phases. I’m seeing how we’ve changed, despite our denial thereof. I’m seeing who we’re becoming, and who we’re leaving behind, for better or worse. I’m seeing us in so much fullness in my heart, and I’ve really been struggling with holding our soul-sustaining truths against what we’ve shown we’re capable of in recent human history.
It’s too much, I had a heart murmur growing up.
My teenage years started in 2005, along with the first season of Grey’s Anatomy -
coincidentally also the year that Jacob Zuma was ‘relieved of his post’ as Deputy President to Thabo Mbeki in June, due to the verdict of Schabir Shaik's trial a few days prior and when it was also announced that he was set to go on trial the following year. While Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took over in Zuma’s stead, I was singing along to Paramore’s Riot! album and internalising whiteness faster than you could say ‘wait there was a show called “Coconuts” and people actually watched it?’
It was a strange time to attempt self-awareness, so... I didn’t.
I was in Grade 10 when Gossip Girl happened, and the best way to describe what it did to the Milnerton High student body in the wake of Cecily von Ziegesar’s smutfest-turned-fashion-fuelled-enterprise (take that, Twilight) was to say that headbands and blackberries were as integral to ‘girlhood’ as emotional manipulation and fat-shaming. It’s been an interesting shift in perspective, me learning the language of my own queerness. There are things I enjoy about womanhood, about my body, about my past as a woman even, but that’s not who I am. The irony about the narrative against queerness is that being a ‘woman’ was a total phase for me, and I was so relieved when I was free of it. Like, better than the feeling of taking your bra off. Better than the orange juice from Macdonalds when you’re sad and ja, I’ll say it... better than Viola Davis’s performace in How To Get Away With Murder. We all took on the shapes we were outlined with, led by a group of ideas (hypotheses at best) used to stamp us repeatedly to order. Through hard lessons, enforced attire and anecdotal idioms designed to keep us on the ‘straight and narrow’ (like, really? Be more obvious patriarchy!) just about any one would colour within the lines upon instruction.
When my mother insisted on reading to me from a young age, and encouraging me to read and write in my own time, I was set on a path of no return. She got me a library card and let me live my Matilda fantasy, and everything. I read shelves. Shelves. My mother even found my name in a book. I was born to be a writer. The same way I was born without an attachment to gender. It’s just that, before I had any of the words I needed to know who I was, I was stuck deep in the recesses of my mind. Trying to put as much distance between myself and reality as I could, so that I could salvage whatever couldn’t and wouldn’t survive outside of my head. This both did and didn’t work, and I both do and don’t regret it. My ability to disconnect has both ruined and protected my sanity.
There’s something to be said for the nature of relationships before our recent, global, social demand for more transparency with one another and each other as communities and cliques alike. It wasn’t safe to bare your heart, never mind to trust a ‘man’ with your safety, and that just let me drift further off, still. ‘That’s just how it is’ was the song of the season’ back then, and many were contented to facilitate this familiar torture over the horror of making up their own minds. People were happy to be miserable. My family and myself included. That ‘voice’ was the only thing I could sense in myself when I was supposed to be suspended in some kind of ‘pleasure’, and at first I was worried that I’d given too much legroom to this perpetually dissatisfied part of myself, like it had to be my fault that there was another thing I couldn’t connect to. It gave the stereotype of a Virgo a run for its money.
It’s not me, it’s him, the voice insisted, and, eventually, I agreed. Like a well-tempered magician with an audience of one, I lifted the lids off of one idea after the other as we made our way through the boxes I’d heard of in my limited understanding of sexuality (and later, gender).
“What about this?” No, too pushy. “Okay, and this?” No, too awkward. “Okay, what about this? ” Let’s go with ‘never again’.
My sense of shame at not meeting one of the prerequisites (pleasure - the most basic of human experiences) was something I internalised as swiftly as I’d caught an inkling of it. I had a very clear idea of who I was supposed to be, and of course a deep assurance that I was not said person, but should therefore work even harder to be. Everything I’d gathered from eavesdropping, whispering, life orientation modules, then movies, then Etv after midnight, then Seventeen Magazine, my friends, their parents etcetera, confirmed to me that everything was regulated to render expectations. Like a perfect little machine, you and me. But, how can you decide before something is to be, what it must become? How do we speak on behalf of the future? Why do we? As a child I considered myself lucky that I got to pretend otherwise, playing along with the rest of society as I hid behind the mechanisms of what ‘girls do’ when they’re in high school. The rest was too great a task for someone who still didn’t know who they were, someone who was still a child at the mercy of a system they knew they were meant to be grateful to be ushered into.
If I’m grateful for anything about womanhood, I’m grateful for the lessons on intimacy. Platonic love. Emotional articulation. The power of being gentle. But, I could have done without going to a public high school. I should have been homeschooled, or raised in the woods somewhere. Being a girl was exhausting. That feeling of paranoia that you’re bleeding through when you’re on your period is how I would describe my entire time as a teenage girl. While my mother did everything in her and Clicks’ power to keep my hair straight, my ‘friends’ would aspire to my ‘tan’ while their father or one of his friends would hit on me. My aunts would ‘d’jy hou vi’ jou wit’ me to death, while commenting on my weight, and I’d seen enough movies to know what to rehearse to live out the fantasy laid out before me; the best version of what would happen next. I forced and faked my way through as much of it as I could, and it did not end well. But, it did end, thankfully.
There was always something I resonated with when reading or watching movies, or listening to music, regardless of who had created it. There was something in me that was seen by that connection, that surpassed the superficial physicalities of ‘being seen’. There was something about bringing someone else’s ideas into the space I considered the most sacred: my mind. There was something about those ideas opening a window, turning on a light, kicking down a door. Reading and writing were about the only time I wasn’t being told who I was, or who I was meant to be, but was shown everything that I still could be. It was where I first felt safe enough to explore those ideas by and for myself. As a writer, in the beginning I saw the English language as a portal into another world of human contact. I gave it all the credit for the immense awe I felt in observing the mutuality of creativity.
Now, I see the past of my womanhood the same way: I gave it all the credit for the phenomenon of my human experience, but if I’d been given the chance to articulate myself through other means, I would have. I know that, because since my remembering, I do. I don’t associate myself with the limitations of the binary anymore, and it brings me so much relief to know that I am returning to who I was before it was entrained into my being. I spent years seeking and consuming media and engaging on platforms of social media which have yet to recognise their own limitations, ignorant of their influence on me. I have seen firsthand how, through internalisation and ego, many have conflated for fact the heteronormative ideas entrenched into human history.
I’ve often seen a flare of judgment in an elder’s eye when I’m trying to evade what they deem a rite of passage, reminding me of what motivates many to perpetuate ideologies such as ‘that’s just the way it is’. I have suffered through this, therefore, so will you is offered instead of solution or resolution. I mean... I was running that phrase through my head one day, considering all the meanings hidden in the weight of each word, and suddenly all I felt in that moment was a bone-deep relief, because all I could hear was that they were suffering, too. It acknowledged years of pain I’d been turning in on myself as punishment for not seeing myself in the image I was meant to comply with - as if that were even remotely possible. I had to hear that this pain was real, more real than just hiding itself in my head, it was cast far and wide, and tangible, and sour.
That inner voice became eloquent, substantive, intense. It’s like a cunning; a gift.
I am not defective, I am navigating my personhood by myself and no longer through the means of romantic relationships, which frankly, as they stand, aren't conducive to self-nourishment and self-discovery anyway. I was never going to experience pleasure in the same place I was experiencing so much pain. The way in which I express myself and the things I want for myself do not have to comply with my mother’s rules anymore than they have to be identified by the words of the system that established them.
My biggest lesson and my greatest gift in uncovering my queerness, is the knowledge that the closer I get to who I am, the fewer words I have to describe who that person is. While that may have terrified me once upon a time, I am now brimming with the joy that I get to discover them for myself, shape them for myself and make of myself exactly what I am. With each limitation I relieve myself of, my understanding recalibrates, and I step closer to a sincere pleasure that my body already understands enough to seek, and is patiently waiting for me to enunciate well enough to deliver.
Misha Krynauw is a non-binary art and creative writer living and working in Cape Town. Their debut play 'The Infinite Woman' premiered at Suidoosterfees 2021 at Artscape Theatre, and their poem 'hey, i wrote this for you' was published first in Ja magazine and again in them online. Their digital portfolio can be found at @madeformisha on instagram.