TW: sexual assault, rape
“That is my greatest fear. That if I lost control, or did not have control, things would just, you know… I would be… fatal.”
A group of amazing sister-friends and music literally saved my life. About four months ago, I was an absolute mess. I was so incredibly lonely, down and depressed. The phrases “I’m over it,” and “I don’t care,” were beginning to feel a little too real. I wasn’t eating, I missed days of work, I didn’t want to leave the bed. I didn’t care and I meant that. Thoughts of closing my eyes and letting go of the wheel while driving was the only thing to soothe my anxiety at times. I was a wreck, and I could no longer hide my insecurities, the things I had suppressed for seven years, and the fact that I did not love myself. How dare I? How dare I be a social worker, telling people they need to be the best version of themselves when I couldn’t even do it myself? How dare I talk about Black girl magic and align myself with women who exemplified that when I didn’t even love myself? What’s magical about that? I was an incredibly convincing actress, and I always had been, but I no longer had the energy to continue the act.
The idea of femininity has always been put into a tiny box. Black femininity in an even smaller one. Soft, gentle, quiet, warm, nurturing. I grew up as the only girl with three brothers, I was none of those things. I was rough, I cussed, I had a crass sense of humor. I was cursed as a loud Black girl, but Black with no curves, no ass, no hips or thighs. How you Black with no ass? I was a twig. I was comfortable with me, but I didn’t adhere to ideas of femininity. I never felt feminine, and that bothered me. I needed my womanhood to be validated, so I mistook attention from men as affection and I found myself in many toxic situationships and dealing with unhealthy and sometimes unwanted sexual encounters.
The first of the two times I’ve been sexually assaulted was my sophomore year in high school. The second would occur my second year in college, in an eerily similar way, however, I had the voice and physical strength to get away that time. Unfortunately, I had not yet learned the power of “no” as a newly sixteen year old girl. Initially I said it, but he coaxed and coerced, I froze and couldn’t speak, so he took it. I never said anything to anyone. It was my fault, that’s what I thought at the time. I didn’t say no again, I wasn’t assertive enough, I wasn’t with the person I left the house with, I was “too smart,” “too responsible” to have put myself in that type of position. I did what I knew how to do, pretend. Two weeks later he had got into a relationship and I didn’t exist. That set the tone for relationships and my sex life. Start talking to a guy I really liked, give in to pressure for sex because that was the only thing that made me feel feminine and appealing, only to be told we’re better off as friends afterwards. My insecurities allowed me to get into a relationship with a controlling twenty-six year old predator when I was a seventeen year old girl. My insecurities allowed me to be assaulted, manipulated, used and controlled. I was just a homegirl and sex, that was me. Nothing more, nothing less.
Later I met a man that changed that. Genuine, beautiful inside and out, taught me that sex wasn’t a tool of manipulation, that it wasn’t aggressive, and that it could be loving, soft, gentle and beautiful. But, he had his own troubles and baggage, and though it wasn’t his intention, I was stripped of the self-love and confidence I had been so desperately trying to build back up because of it. I was back to feeling like I wasn’t good enough, all the while hating myself for allowing myself to put up with more bullshit, for allowing myself to be hurt again. I was tired, and lonely. My facade had kept me from having the village that I needed. I didn’t want to let anyone down by telling them I was a mess. I was amazing at pretending, people actually thought I had it all together, so no one bothered to check on me much and my embarrassment kept me from fellowship. I curated relationships with fly ass women. Women I had stalked on social media before actually having the courage to talk to. These women were creative, both beautiful and sexy, they were the definition of Black girl magic and I looked up to them. Basically, they were everything I had only pretended to be.
I couldn’t handle the grief anymore, I was drowning and knew I needed the help of others to pull myself back up. “Wine and fuck these niggas session?” My last attempt to appear as unbothered and fine. I was still pretending, but when these women walked through my door, the mask came off. I could finally say I’m hurt, I’m broken, and I need help. To my surprise, I wasn’t judged, I wasn’t made out to be a fool. I was validated, and consoled. I heard their own stories and I no longer felt alone. They supported me, gassed me up and reminded me that I’m bomb as fuck. By simply being themselves, speaking with me, and answering the phone when I needed to talk, these women taught me that it’s embarrassing to say you’ve been hurt and it is okay to confide in others; I didn’t have to have it all together all of the time, and that’s okay. They taught me that I was beautiful on my own and my self-worth and confidence were no longer tainted with the false idea that a man needed to validate those things.
I was being restored. I was starting to feel like Bianca again. I was back on track to loving me for me, but I still had some trauma that I couldn’t speak on, that still needed to be shifted through. Then along comes “Ctrl.” I’ve been an avid SZA fan since the release of “Z,” so I fully anticipated my edges being snatched, but I had no idea it would give me the courage to be brutally honest with myself, and deal with the things I tried my hardest to forget. The album fully entails all of the insecurities I once dealt with. SZA begs the question “am I warm enough for ya,” apologizes for not being more attractive enough and ladylike, and admits that she too is “sensitive ’bout having no booty” and nobody. For so long I thought something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I have emotional connections, why was it always just sex? I felt crazy, I wasn’t girly enough, I didn’t have the right body type, I didn’t dress the right way, I wasn’t what a woman was supposed to be. But here’s this goddess saying she felt like that too? Wow. Now I say fuck anyone else’s idea of womanhood and what they want me to be, but it took a long time to get there. Songs like “Drew Barrymore,” “Garden,” and “Normal Girl” resonated with my inability to be alone, what it means to be feminine and body image issues, while others like “Go Gina,” “Wavy,” and “Supermodel (this one in a bit more cynical way), remind me that I’m fly as hell and everything will be okay.
I’ve learned that sisterhood is so incredibly important. Carrying so much baggage on your own is a sure way to drown yourself and talking is a way to release it. And though I don’t know SZA personally, the album was so personal that it feels like she came from my tribe of sister-friends. I so needed the vulnerability and honesty that is Ctrl. Seeing women who are so beautiful and talented strip down and say “hey I’ve dealt with these things too,” lets me know it’s a universal thing and I’m not alone. It’s not just me. Having someone so publicly examine themselves gave me the strength to do so myself. Self-love is a process, and it’s something that you have to find within yourself, that only you can grant to yourself. Thanks to my sister-friends and this album I’ve been able to have these moments of self-discovery and healing. I’ve been able to work through this trauma, and forgive and accept myself for the blame I placed upon myself. I can be a sexual being now without the shame and guilt that sex once represented. Now I fully control who gets to see that part of me. I’m taking back the control that I gave away to so many others before. I no longer feel like this dirty, shameful person full of secrets. I’m a better version of myself, “I found the way out, now I’m wavin'”
**I do not own the rights to the featured cover photo*