[Author’s Note: I wrote the following while living in Zanzibar several months ago. Life there was a disembodying experience at times, though meaningful and learning always. This piece is an attempt to dissect the feeling of being less than a full person, be it because of my foreignness, my gender or my perceived wealth. More than anything, it reflects the cumulative experience of years of being a traveler—and a lifetime of being a woman.]
Do you want to know what it feels like to be an object?
Let me tell you.
When you slow down to a crawl to take a closer look, I am not light or spirit, but a mere collection of parts:
Two swaying hips. White skin. Grey eyes.
Two swinging arms. Two lips. Two thighs.
Your gaze dismembers me into sale-able bits:
Long dress. Small breasts. Long hair. Long legs.
Money in my pocket. Rings on my fingers. What else is left?
Is my soul of use, too? No, of course not; it doesn’t exist. For things are made of plastic.
Now, I know that we are made of the same star-stuff, and that we carry the same light inside, but you… You forget, and that renders me an object. (No matter if it’s your leer or your brother’s; you are complice.)
So let me tell you what that feels like:
Imagine that you were only the sum of your parts—skin, teeth, hair and flesh—that you were only a carcass. No more, no less.
Imagine no one saw your soul but yourself, and the empty stares of others almost caused you to doubt—that in moments of misgiving you looked at yourself and saw only what they saw:
White skin. Two breasts. Two thighs. Two hips.
Black skin. Two arms. Two legs. Two lips.
Brown skin. Long hair. Long dress. Fingertips.
No skin. No spirit. No flesh. Just plastic.
Imagine how it might feel to know yourself a being, but see in their eyes only a thing.
Wouldn’t you wonder? Wouldn’t you seethe? Wouldn’t you want to show them the fire this thing could breathe?
There are no objects, only presence in space. Inanimacy is a myth they tell to fall asleep at night.
So from one light to another, let this be a reminder: We are all star-stuff, reflecting one another. There are no objects; no plastic; no things. Only liars reify according to their whim.
Don’t cut yourself any undeserved slack; don’t try to justify your gaze, or theirs.
You and I—we are so much more than hips and hair and skin. We are as vast as the universe within.
Do you want to know what it feels like to be an object? Look at yourself with eyes that don’t see inside, and you will understand what I mean.
Then try to tell me I’m overreacting.
Another Human Being
Author: Toby Israel