I do not know why I have always been obsessed with men. In elementary school, my pocket-sized, teal diary was filled with pages of unsent love letters and doodles about crushes. I covered my high school binders with photos of my guy friends and me. My older sister often called it boy crazy, but it went deeper than that as I grew. I constantly read about men. I listened to men. I lived with men. I spent all my time hanging out with men in studios and in living room smoking sessions. I got drunk in raunchy strip clubs with men. I hit on women with men. I even learned how to speak like a man — to greet them carefully so as to say “friendship” and not “flirting,” to objectify women in a way that made them feel comfortable enough to call me “one of the boys.” I learned how to be a good listener, so that men could feel comfortable exposing their weaknesses and insecurities to me. I took pride in that, and pride in my long list of exes and knack for seducing free spirits into committed relationships and cohabitation.
I have loved men — many of them — deeply.
Maybe it was survival. On some unconscious level, I have always known that my ability to navigate this world relies entirely on my ability to understand the male world, and perhaps more importantly, the male gaze. So, naturally, as my understanding of men deepened, I began to analyze their archetypal desires and how I might be able to fulfill them. I worked at crafting and perfecting my own image. I made it my mission to get them to accept me; to not see me as prey, but as one of them or someone to be loved and protected; to learn how they hid their fragility, so I would not, as my mom advised, be a “fragile female” or an easy target. However, still an outsider, my attempts were not always successful.
I watched how they built women up and tore them down. I saw them idolize flat stomachs and big butts, so I went to the gym. I observed my dad’s eyes light up whenever my mom set a meal on the table for him to eat, so I learned how to cook. I cringed with jealousy as my high school boyfriend drooled over Beyonce’s “Naughty Girl” video, so I bought red, rhinestone lingerie and modeled it for him, standing in front of the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ poster in his room once his parents had backed out of the driveway. I listened to Drake croon over a stripper who was too intelligent to work in the club, but did so out of necessity. So, I let everyone who dated me feel like they were my savior. I began to accept the story they were telling about me, and soon, I found them writing my story for me.
It wasn’t until the winter of 2011 that those narratives no longer fulfilled me. It hit me as I rode in the car with my mom during a weekend home from my first quarter at UCLA. For some reason, in that particular moment, the pressure of this patriarchal machine I had lost myself in was crushing. Memories of abuse and assault I had endured at the hands of the men buzzed and boiled until I burst and poured myself out to her in a way I had been terrified to do before. Feeling fully a victim and no longer in control of my experience, I cried. Then, she opened up. Something compelled her to speak about the miscarriages and infant deaths before me. She told me of the unplanned pregnancies, and the babies she’d had to abort because of genetic defects that would have given them slim chances of survival. She explained how at first it made her feel like less of a woman, but how now she is grateful she knows how to re-channel that pain into adoration for my siblings and me. She exposed her shadow in the hopes of shedding a compassionate light on mine. That was the first time she had ever let me see her fragility. It transformed me. Finally, I had a story about womanhood, told by a woman, not retouched, edited, or pitch corrected by a man. It was messy, and beautiful, and heartbreaking. It was intimate. It healed both of us.
2012 was the year I decided to start writing songs again. I felt the urgency to do as my mom did — to tell my story in all its complication, all its mess, all its contradiction, and from that my first album, thesis, was born. As I found my voice, I met other storytelling women and watched them empower each other. I recognized the value in what we were doing, and found that teaching younger girls to define the narratives of their lives, and resist the ones that do not honor them could be a way to change the world. From then on, I began to look forward to the day when I would have a daughter and expose her to my shadows just as my mom did for me. And, I began to look forward to the day when she would feel confident and empowered to tell her story, unfiltered, to the world in an effort to transform us all.