You are never ‘too much’
- Published: 13 August 2011
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We are taught by society to shrink from ourselves. To be afraid and ashamed of the brilliant light that shines inside of us. To play it down, play it cool, be invisible, be downright robotic. Joelle Ruby Ryan says it’s time to stop tip-toeing through life and be loud and visible.
14 August 2011
Has anyone ever said to you: “You’re too much!”? It drives me crazy. I think it needs to be eliminated from the English language. People who say it certainly don’t mean to be malicious. In fact, it’s usually just an off-handed little phrase. But despite lack of nefarious intention, I assert that it is a dangerous little utterance, an insidious little turn of phrase. Here’s why I think so:
We are not meant to be little in this world. Moreover, in this time of multiply occurring and impending crises, we can ill afford to be little. We need to be big, loud and visible. Emile Zola said: “I am here to live out loud.”
I do not want to tip toe through life. I want my meanings to be made perfectly clear. At the end of the amazing documentary A Litany for Survival about the life and work of writer Audre Lorde, on the screen are the words “Gambda Adisa,” which means “Warrior Who Makes Her Meaning Known.”
There can be no doubt that Audre Lorde, through her speaking, writing, activism, and teaching made her vision for a radically different world undeniably visible, audible and palpable. Her legacy is perhaps even stronger today, nearly 20 years after her untimely death. Audre Lorde was known to go up to people and say: “I am a Black, Lesbian, Feminist, Mother, Warrior Poet who is here doing my work. Are you doing yours?”
It was Warrior Audre Lorde who taught me to be able to recite my identities with pride and power. I am a 6’6”, fat, queer, feminist, transgender warrior woman. I am a first-generation college student from a rural, working-class family. I am a person in recovery, a person who struggles with severe depression, anxiety and social phobia, and a survivor of a suicide attempt.
I am a person who carries six-figure student loan debt. I have sleep apnea, plantar fasciitis, and other health concerns that make life more difficult and painful. I am trying to learn about who I am in a world which constantly wants to negate my very being.
In the face of formidable challenges and systemic discrimination, I am trying to become the best person I can become. I am trying to be proud of the things the world taught me to despise. It is a very hard job, but I will continue to try. And sometimes I will win a battle or two.
You’ve all heard the saying, “No publicity is bad publicity.” Well, there really is a certain truth to that.
Sometimes I think: I want people to say: “There goes Joelle Ruby Ryan.” And some of those folks will love me, and perhaps some of them will think I was a big ‘ol overpowering bitch. But what matters is that they will know I stood for something. I tried and I put forth the effort to change the world in ways both big and small.
It reminds me of when an interviewer asked Shirley Chisholm how she wanted to be remembered, and she said she wanted to be remembered as someone who stood up, as someone who was a catalyst for change. Amen, Sister Shirley! I can think of few better legacies than being a warrior who fought to change our world for the better.
People who try to be big, who don’t shrink away from being “too much” face many detractors, nay-sayers and plain old bigots.
As I approach four decades of life on this planet, I can’t tell you how many times, in one way or another, people have told me I am “too much.”
I have been told that I am too (fill in the blank) more times than I can shake a stick at. Joelle: you’re: Too Tall. Too Fat. Too Angry. Too Militant. Too Radical. Too Queer. Too Trans. Too Feminist. Too Aggressive. Too Outspoken. Too…Too…
I used to listen to these detractors and internalize everything they said. Being human, I still struggle with it. But what I try to do now is listen to the people who tell me the opposite, who praise the very qualities that others seek to disrespect.
What I believe is that I can never be too much of any of those things. That in a world that so often wants to grind you down into dust, that sometimes actively seeks your destruction, I will take the risk of going too far.
As T.S. Eliot said: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Let us manifest the very powers that they seek to diminish within us.
For every “diss” I have received, I have received many more compliments, many more “You go Girls.” It is those times when I feel most wounded by the world that I pull up those kind words in my mental inventory: You can never be “too much.” Your creator means for you to proudly represent your unique qualities. Be who you are and do not apologize!
I am not a religious person. But I am spiritual in a lot of ways. I believe there is something greater than you or I that watches over us in the Universe. I believe that this entity delights in diversity and delights in people being flamboyant, audacious, sexy, dazzling, colorful and loud.
From cradle to grave, we are taught by society to shrink from ourselves. To be afraid and ashamed of the brilliant light that shines inside of us. To play it down, play it cool, be invisible, be downright robotic.
I once had a student who told me that it was his goal to be “anonymous” in all of his classes. But no, I said: “Distinguish yourself. Let me see what makes you unique and let me see what you are passionate about!”
I grieve that the fierce drag queen-diva-warrior inside of each one of us is all too often extinguished in the name of conformity, destroyed in the name of “go along to get along.” Fuck that! It is a cliché to say, but true nonetheless: our time here on planet Earth is fleeting; each of us knows few things for sure, but one thing that binds us all is that we are eventually going to die. In the short time I have on this earth, I refuse to play it small and safe for other people’s benefit. I refuse to give in to fear, shame, guilt, hatred or self-hatred. For, as Marianne Williamson so eloquently stated:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
One of the hard truths I have had to learn is: life does not begin after surgery (if I ever get surgery.) It does not begin 50 pounds from now (if I should ever choose to lose weight.) It does not begin when I put a down payment on a house (if I ever am in a financial position to do so.) It does not begin when I get a life partner (if I should ever find one.)
Life is right now, and how powerful and beautiful that none of us need wait another second to love ourselves, just as we are, right here and now.
And how magnificent that the great stage called life allows us to be big, boisterous, rancorous, animated, noisy and vibrant.
Are you sparkling glitter along your trail? Are you doing your work like Audre Lorde implored us to do? Are you freely allowing yourself to be too much, go too far, and live vivaciously and vociferously, without apology for who you are?
Remember what the great activist and poet June Jordan always said: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” And not to be too pessimistic, but the world can’t barely wait much longer—it needs you to be all of who you are now if the planet is going to survive, not to mention the billions of people who inhabit it.
I have to believe that the world is automatically aided by people allowing themselves to be who they are. Repression of any kind leads to many harmful things, and we are all paying the price for it.
I leave you with one more quote, one of my favorites of all time, from the poet e.e. cummings:
To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.
Fight to be you, and tell the haters where to go stick it. Tell ‘em I sent you!
Joelle Ruby Ryan is currently a lecturer in Women's Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She completed her Ph.D. in 2009 in American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University.
Her research interests include trans studies, feminism, fat studies, sex worker rights and film/media criticism. She is the Director of Trans/Gender New Hampshire and the author of Gender Quake: Poems. She is currently completing an autobiographical film entitled Transilience.
Joelle blogs at Transmeditations where this article first appeared.