So here’s what happened.
I was at one of these conference-type things with a friend (we’ll call her Jules), shopping for pagan statuary and taking little workshops on things such as Past Life DNA, The Buddha in You, and Intuitive Expression through Art. We’re wandering around, and we see my book being sold at one of the stands. I get excited of course – it’s been a year since publishing and I still take cell phone pics of my book whenever I’m in a bookstore – and my friend and I are giggling and fawning over it. A woman standing next to us overhears our conversation, and says “You wrote that book?”
“Yes, that one’s mine,” I said, still smiling.
“Really?” she said. “You?”
And I, being easily offended and occasionally having no class, sucked my teeth and said, “Yeah, me!”
“Oh. I have your book, it’s great,” the woman said. I sparkled with pride, until she looked me up and down and then said, “You’re just not what I expected.”
My friend and I glanced each other, confused. “And what exactly did you expect?”
She looked thoughtful. “Well, you just don’t look like you wrote a book about Goddesses.”
And Jules, having even less class than I, said, “Is that ‘cuz she’s black, or because she’s not dressed in a cloak?”
Good question, Jules.
Let me interject here. This is a reaction I get often. Most women in this area of spirituality are not of color. Few are as young as me and gotten to this level of teaching and healing. Even fewer have a penchant for corsets and hot pink Converse sneakers.
And to a certain degree, Inappropriate Stranger Lady was right, I don’t look like a “typical goddess woman” – if there is such a thing. I’m African American and covered in tattoos of religious symbols. I often reek of coffee and cigarette smoke, because most of my time is spent at cafes with a Camel perched between my lips. My wardrobe ranges from business suits to jeans and t-shirts, to gothic and steampunk inspired garb. My hairstyle changes as often as my wardrobe. I am not a vegan. I grew up in the ghetto, fuck is my favorite word, and I flirt with anything that moves.
And within all that, I understand that first impressions are lasting. That’s why I don’t show up to work in fishnets and a top hat, cursing like a sailor. But even in my best suit, there is always a glimmer of surprise when someone meets me for the first time. I’ve even had one client say, “Wow! You’re black! You didn’t sound black on the phone.”
But I get it. I’m not what most people expect when they buy my book, come to classes or make an appointment for counseling and energy healing. Many people, regardless of religion or caste, hear the words ‘goddess’ or ‘spiritual’ and look forward to seeing me dressed in ritual robes or a dashiki, or for me to finish every sentence with “blessed be.” Some assume I’m a lesbian. Others see my skin color and are confused as to why I am not a Baptist, or surprised that I’m articulate. The stereotyping of spiritual people by other spiritual people is a regular occurrence, and to me it’s a bit odd. Aren’t we the ones who are supposed to be connected, the ones who see beyond socialization and conventionalism? But this pigeonholing happens, and most times people don’t even realize they are doing it. For some reason, we think: If you’re a Buddhist, you look and speak this way, a Christian walks and talks this way. Goddess women wear gauzy dresses and no bra.
For a long time, I tried to separate the facets of my life. Spirituality writing from fiction writing, comic book writing from ritual writing, meditation retreats from I-need-a-drink retreats. I was driven to believe that since the two facets of my personality were so far from one another that it would be best if my behavior reflected as such – the Narrator vs. Tyler Durden.
And one day, during a deep meditation, I saw how much of myself I was hiding from the world, and my own consciousness. And why was I doing that – to make others more comfortable? To get more clients, or a better chance at getting published? Was I seriously sacrificing my own comfort level, happiness, and growth to supply people with what they were expecting to see?
The different things I am interested in don’t seem to mix, but they are all a part of the same path because they all come from me. Those facets are all part of one diamond. My job in it is to accept who I am, love that person with all of her strangeness, challenges, and loveliness. This is who Spirit built me to be. My tattoos, my skin, my love of Bauhaus give me access to teach and thrive in areas where the ‘typical’ person would be denied entry. My knowledge and my kookiness all combine and work together to give me the insight and the experiences I need in order to do my part in healing and blessing the world.
So while l I may not look like the typical Goddess woman, the typical counselor, the typical spiritualist, it’s who I am. If all the wondrous things I am make me an oddity – hooray! Who the hell wants to be normal, anyway? A complete and total dichotomy, the intersecting point between the expected norm and the unknown alternative, that’s me. Only now, I’m no longer afraid to admit it, I’ve stopped trying to dissect it, and I’m showing it without shame or explanation.
There are counterculture spiritual folks out there waving the freaky flag with me (from the Dharma Punx to the Christian Goths), people from a different walk of life who find their pleasure and their joy from Spirit, those who may seem atypical to the generalized unpierced crowd but at their foundation are seekers of truth, love, and peace.
Some may shy away from us because of how we appear, and honestly, that’s ok. Please, keep your assumptions and your judgment over there in your corner. I’m used to being one of two colored folks in the room when I attend/teach classes and events. I’ve accepted the odd looks and the timid handshakes, and in some groups the talking down or flat-out segregation. It’s cool, because their reaction to me – before I’ve even said a word – says more about who they are than who I am. And hopefully one day they’ll learn the lesson hidden within their negative or surprised response. Perhaps that’s the purpose I am meant to serve in their lives – to shine a disco light on that piece of them that expects the average, the mundane.
Because in spite of my unconventional appearance, I’ve worked as a healer and teacher for over a decade. I’ve studied spirituality for more than half my life. I’ve helped women and men all over the world heal and transform themselves. Sometimes in jeans, sometimes at a workshop, sometimes sipping a martini. Always Black, and usually smelling good.
And I can look in the mirror without flinching, nicotine stained fingers and all.