The Common Language of She – a poem by Lisa Luxx

Lisa Luxx, queer writer, performer, essayist and activist, joined us in our Feminist Space on the 2nd of July for our second workshop. Lisa crafted a poem for Feminist Spaces.

You can listen to Lisa’s reading of the poem, and read the poem, below.

You can also find Lisa on twitter: @lisaluxx and here on her website: lisaluxx.com


The Common Language of She

0.
She spins the globe between her thumb and fingers
Sits back, smiles and says, “we’re all in it.”
We pass the world between us.

1.
As a woman
As a woman
As a woman

As a woman I feel scared. I walk in empty space with only one lone man there.
Hang back, I linger, lurking in between pillars, I turn myself into a shadow to hide. My whole ancestral line taught me this is how to survive.

As a woman
As a woman
As a woman

As a woman seeking asylum I go to Primark to feel safe, price tags like invites. The sale never has clothes that fit. I’m too big. They wish I would fold myself into tiny things. I turn them over in my hands, wrists smelling like perfume testers that I spritz because

As a woman
As a woman
As a woman

I deserve it. I deserve a wardrobe and unfolded clothes, I deserve to unpack my suitcase and have money of my own.

2.
Czech Republic: Grandfather, on your business trip, I crossed my arms and sat on the steps where you had asked me to dance for the guests. A hum still beats on the back of my teeth when I bare them. What I didn’t sing then I won’t sing now.

[we sit with you]

Ireland: Grisly bits of meat, still stored in my cheek because every body said a child could not choose what they eat. Tissues catching chunks of flesh, which I’d refused to grind my teeth against.

[we spit with you]

Ethiopia: I came of age but refused my arranged marriage – you can’t imagine how much hate they engraved into me for choosing the freedom of education over the man of their dreams. Knowledge was my resistance.

[we learn with you]

Rwanda: Daddy just opened the front door. The women abandon their new words in haste; half spoken sentences dangling above the kitchen table. Eyes widen as a hush, but my mouth won’t be shut. His feet stomp as he bellows, “I told you not to learn this language! Don’t make yourself at home where we don’t belong!” Tribal tensions that drove us here; still ringing between his ears.

[we speak with you]

Rwanda: Starved as punishment but mama’s hand always snuck food under the door before I’d faint. Mother’s don’t know divide. Women are earth, men are countries. Man made lines as strict as time.

[we hunger with you]

3.
Behind a curtain of citrus, we stir mercy.
Taboos are framed in wooden circles and displayed.

Women speaking languages you can’t even name.
Learn that feminist in Lingala is bo muasi

And why Kurdish brides carry chicken blood to their wedding night
And that you can’t connect with someone else without changing yourself.

Compassion is painted art on mirrors, so you see you
While looking at another person’s heart.

Peace is recognising we are peacocks and parrots and doves
And the free earth carries us.

Release is putting down what we have held this far,
So we can take happiness onwards;

Happiness is two empty palms
Offering themselves as unwrapped presents.

2.
This poem has no author.
It is written by vertebrae cracking into place. Eight backs of bone and flesh, women of nerve and duress. While faces behind fill their mouths with watermelon, droplets ooze down chins like foreign accents.
This poem was written by compassion, peace, release and happiness.

1.
Ink hemmed us into the history of ourselves
We take needle as pen now, hair as thread;
Spelling words we never dared say.
Weaving between Kurdish, Arabic, Persian, Portuguese,
Uzbek, Dutch, Amharic –
Yet all speaking the common language of She

Fluently:

Raise my eyebrows / Cut off my hair / Apply lipstick / Scowl / Choose flat shoes / Walk towards you with my shoulders and hips swaying proud.
Let grey grow without dye / Lower the lids over my eyes / Run along main roads with friends / Raise my head on the same bus I once cowered in.

I am noise

Before I even open my mouth / Crossing borders / I saw myself in you / We applaud when tears rise to one another’s eyes / Laugh, clap, embrace, rise.

0.
She holds the globe to her chest.
A hiss escapes as she deflates it
And we discuss what’s coming next.

Our questions

The network will explore the following starter questions. These questions are ‘living’, evolving and co-created.

1. In contexts where being ‘othered’ (e.g. through gender, race, nationality, religion, as LGBTQI, as poor, as non-working, as migrant/ refugee) and made to be ‘out of place’, is becoming an increasingly dominant political strategy (in the UK, the US, in Turkey, in Brazil, etc.): What embodied strategies are intersectional feminists using to resist? How are feminists and activist re-appropriating and re-signifying spaces and/ or creating alternative spaces and practices and ways of living?

In other words: Spaces can feel very unsafe and hostile to us, as women, as people identifying as LGBTQI, as people of colour, as people with disabilities or as people crossing borders and seeking refuge. How do we cope? Can we change these spaces to make them feel safer? Can we use spaces differently or create new spaces that feel safe for us?

2. How can activist/ academic groups at very different intersections of ‘otherness’ and in different geographical contexts connect and learn from one another?

In other words: We all have very different experiences of feeling unsafe or unwelcome in spaces – but can we learn from one another’s experiences? Can we share practices that work for us or plans and strategies to make spaces feel safer?

3. Given that the global mobility of people and ideas is so structured and restricted by dominant relations of power (borders, securitization, the digital divide, neoliberal/ neo-colonial circuits of policy, aid and research funding!) what channels and methods are there for other, mutually beneficial global solidarities?  

In other words: The spread of ideas around the world is dominated by the interests of the powerful – creating walls and strengthening borders, making profit and exploiting workers, seeking to re-colonise other countries and peoples and damage environments. Can we spread ideas around the world in ways that help the women and girls everywhere live safer lives? How might we do that?

4. Is there anything that we have missed here?

About Feminist Spaces

Occupying hostile environments

Displaced: being ‘othered’, made to be out of place.

(See also: Our questionswho we are, and our resources and inspirations.)

The spaces we occupy are not neutral, but are imbued with her/history and meaning. Certain bodies become socially entitled to take up space, while others are not. Some of us find ourselves within hostile environments where our presence is unwelcome and we are made to be out of place.

Feminist Spaces contributes to wide-reaching concerns, debates and activities on different intersections of identity and space, where positions of authority have become racialised and gendered. Safely existing in spaces, being heard and being visible, or wanting to remain undetected, staying in place or moving across spaces with lines and borders: these are acts of resistance in contexts of increasing barriers and hostilities towards those who are displaced and those who are made to be out of place.

Feminist Spaces brings together feminist, anti-racist, embodied practices of resistance including purposeful loitering, feminist cycle rides, creating safe(r) spaces, and arts activism to resignify space and to perform everyday acts of resistance with voice and action. We aim to articulate some of the complexity and diversity of feminist spaces and to explore and record acts of resistance through occupying hostile environments. Feminist Spaces seeks to build a collaborative, capacity-releasing network by pairing up UK and European-based projects of resistance with a range of allied projects in less economically developed countries*.

Feminist Spaces: We are taking up space, occupying hostile environments, owning our own bodies and telling our stories.

*Countries listed by the DAC as in receipt of ODA (Official Development Assistance)

At the moment, we are creating the network with invited partners, but please contact us if you have any questions.

Who are we?

We are the three co-conveners of the Feminist Spaces project. We are based in the University of Huddersfield. Our profiles are presented here in alphabetical order.

Anna Davidson

I work, think, write, teach and sometimes tweet, on issues that sit at the intersections of sustainability and social injustice. This has led me to research, and write about, the health and sustainability of menstrual practices, the feminist politics of urban cycling, and lately, the queer cultures of Kombucha. I am involved in local groups working on sustainability as well as anti-racist practice and education. Most of what I understand, teach and practice on feminism was learned from activists and thinkers at varying intersectional margins of gender, race, nationality, sexuality, the economy and ability. The activist-thinkers that inspire me are critical of racialized (and hetero-patriarchal, ableist) capitalism and are building worlds otherwise. I’m a lecturer in human geography at the University of Huddersfield, UK.

Grainne McMahon

I was once described by a student as a ‘full-time feminist’ and I wear that badge with pride. As a long-standing feminist activist, I am committed to feminist praxis and I (try to) live my life according to feminist principles of fairness, rights and justice. I research feminist and human rights activism and social movements, and young people’s participation, and I utilise only co-equal and co-created methodologies in my work. My research work and activism centers voice and experience in challenging the patriarchal, elitist and racist structures that oppress, in particular, women and people of colour. I am the Research Lead for human rights organisation, RAPAR. I remain concerned and furious about violence against women, the ‘othering’ of the ‘hostile environment’ of the United Kingdom, and the daily lived experiences of oppression across and within borders. I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield and active on twitter: @grainnemcmahon.  

Kate Smith

I live purposefully with feminist perspectives, women’s rights and empowerment, and practices of resistance within local and global communities. Engaging with those who have been displaced… find themselves out of place, at the margins, in the borderlands… I work alongside women and girls in research, writing, poetry, photography and other creative forms, to ensure the diversity of women’s stories become a central part of our cultural narratives. Much of the credit for my feminist education goes to the women I meet as a Practitioner Manager of women’s services and as a proud member of WomenCentre – I have more than 20 years of experience developing collaborative and participatory projects with women seeking asylum, refugees and new migrants. I also work as a Research Fellow on issues of asylum and migration in Human and Health Sciences at the University of Huddersfield, UK.