Returning to my roots: Acknowledging the intersectionality of my identity through performance
Performing in the Blank monologues
Since freshman year, I’ve dreamed of performing in the Blank Monologues, which is a student-run production hosted by the ASUW Women’s Action Commission that focuses on empowering the voices of students and their stories of survival, resilience, and identity. I admired their vulnerability and willingness to see their past struggles as sources of strength, and I dreamed of a time when I could have that much confidence and ownership of my own story. I didn’t know if I would ever be ready, but when the open calls application became available during fall 2016, I decided to take the leap and apply. I remember filling out the application while waiting for a concert to begin, and I discussed my own intersectional identity and the ways that I interfaced cautiously with the world. I almost walked away from the group interview because I questioned my ability to share a compelling narrative about my story, but when I ran into my coworker at The Daily on the way out, I took it as a sign that I should try anyway.
During winter 2017, I received the news that I had been selected as a performer. I remember sitting on a bean bag in my living room and scanning the email for the word "facilitator," but I saw that I was selected as a performer, which meant that I would be telling my own story for the first time, and the intended audience included anyone at UW. Although I was elated that my freshman year dreams were coming true, I was also completely terrified. I wanted to write something that people would actually identify with, but I wasn’t sure if my story was compelling or engaging or relevant enough. Somehow, I managed to set aside my fear and say yes, believing that I was selected for this opportunity for a reason. I worked with the other performers and my facilitator to craft my monologue, which was called “Norming and Reforming My Identity.” My story focused on the way I interacted with the world as an outsider because of my identity as a Pakistani Muslim woman, and all the covert ways I had been silenced throughout my life. I also discussed how this impacted my perception of my physical body as a vehicle that I could break and build up into better in order to be respected by my peers.
Getting up on a stage with just a mic and a spotlight to accompany me was the most frightful and liberating thing I did this year. My roommates, childhood friends, and acquaintances from my time at the UW saw me share everything about myself without any filters, and I hoped that it would help them see me a little bit more clearly. Although I am an open book about my story, people don’t always take the time to ask, so this was a chance for me to share some of the most significant things that had happened in my life, and the things that I struggled with. For three nights in a row, I shared my honest and unfiltered story on the stage of the HUB Lyceum and people I knew (and people I didn’t) laughed and cried and snapped along. From this experience, I realized that my story is valid and deserves to be heard. As I mention in my monologue, I really am here, living to fight another day. Ultimately, I am thankful for my brown skin/ religion / struggle /self-imposed identity crisis / good friends for helping me develop a story that was worth telling.
Composed and edited monologue about my intersectional identity, salient experiences, and resources that have helped me embrace my perspective and home culture as a strength.
Performed my monologue to hundreds of people from the UW community.
Self-understanding: In the process of understanding my own cultural, ethnic, and religious identity, I searched for moments and people that would help me honestly answer the question, “what box do I check?” I was able to share my story resilience and survival, and no one can take that away from me. I don’t always know who I am but in the aftermath of this performance, I felt strong and proud and resilient and all of the words that I’ve always wanted people to associate with me. I am still grateful for this day and this opportunity and this sense of validation, and it reminds me that the right people will always show up and support me in things that matter.
Verbal communication: Up until this point, I had never given a presentation to such a large group of people, especially such a personal story. To do this effectively, I had to draft a 5-page monologue that told a cohesive story about my life and was accessible to someone who knew nothing about me. I strived to balance anecdotal storytelling with moments of reflection and poetry, and I made clear connections throughout my verbal narrative that connected the various parts of my identity as a Muslim, woman, and Asian American. I also had to add pauses or tone changes to clarify the different voices present in my story, which helped amplify my persona as a storyteller with such a large audience.
Other’s circumstances: The other nine performers in the Blank Monologues highlighted a variety of formative experiences related to identity as related to their origin stories, peer’s perceptions, and interactions with others. Their stories highlighted the significance of resilience and the ways that their past struggle informed their current identity. When working with other performers, I strived to validate their perspective, hold myself accountable for my actions, and use inclusive language. In addition to empathizing with the narratives of other performers, I hope that my story resonated with people in the audience who may have experienced similar struggles of not fitting into the boxes created by society. Now, I can celebrate my story by owning my skin and the thick hair that grows on my head and my face, by acknowledging my sheepishness in the face of intimidating, and by recognizing that the demographic box for "Asian" never quite does it for me (and I hope I can help others do the same).
Becoming the most authentic version of myself
Ultimately, this experience helped me see my own identity as a strength. I was certainly born and trained to be a storyteller, but I have always put other people’s stories first. I could spend a lifetime just listening to people talk about the central conflict in their lives, or the thing that gets them out of bed in the morning. This is why I ask open-ended questions and seek jobs that are rooted in genuine conversation where I watch people light up when talking about their passion; however, I don’t always create room for my own story. Through this experience and everyday conversation with peers, I’m learning how to make room for myself in spaces where I haven’t been welcome. Our narratives, the ones of people of color and marginalized communities, deserve to be heard, and you cannot silence the people who are not afraid anymore. After participating in the monologues, I felt like the most authentic version of myself and am not afraid to call people out on their privilege or language. I celebrate my identity by actively sharing my story and surrounding myself with people who appreciate and respect my culture and values in their purest form.