Not What I’m Not


Sep 22 2020

Gold Tape
An essay on moving on from defining myself by what I’m not. Instead, I am creating the world I want to live in. Featuring Taylor Swift and Queen Elsa, and my decision to keep Hogwarts without its creator.

Dear Reader,

I left social media with quite the mic drop: a Hobbit’s Exit, I called it. 

My last Tweet was a quote from Bilbo’s birthday speech in The Fellowship of the Ring. Then I vanished from the platform forever. BOOM was it exhilarating. I told the tale in rainbow sprinkles, unicorns, and cake.

Leaving Instagram was the most conversation-provoking thing I’ve ever done, and I was so pumped to talk about it. But as time went by, something felt off. So I listened in quiet, and the voice that answered was Taylor Swift’s. This is not unusual for me; my intuition often speaks through Taylor Swift. This time it was the final words she speaks on Lover:

‘I want to be defined by the things that I love. Not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of.’ 

For a little while, I was defining myself by saying no to social media. But I got tired of discussing what I’m not doing. 

At first I felt like Queen Elsa storming into the snowy wilderness.

When I was told I could always reactivate my profiles later, I was like I’M NEVER GOING BACK – THE PAST IS IN THE PAST! 

In the fabulously defiant ‘Let It Go,’ Elsa realises that she was conditioned to be small. She decides it’s about time to reject that. She swaps her thick cloak for a glittering gown, and takes her first steps towards self-discovery. It’s an empowered reaction, but still a reaction: still defining herself by who she no longer is.

No is a useful starting point, but it’s just the beginning. I want to be defined by the things that I love, not the things I discard.

One of my favourite things about Frozen II, is that we get to see Elsa’s journey beyond the origin story of letting go. In the sequel, she’s in a better place, but guiltily wonders if there is even more to discover. First she ventures ‘Into the Unknown,’ then she invites her deepest truth to unfold in ‘Show Yourself.’

I tried on a new assertion: I’m not what I’m not.

And then I realised how many stupid times a day I use the word ‘not’ (to almost quote Princess Mia Thermopolis). I can get caught up in the contrasts I feel, teetering in the middle of many spectrums, from race to nationality to neurodiversity.

It’s not my fault that I feel this way.

Growing up, the characters I encountered were pretty homogenous, representing a certain type of ‘normal’ and a normal type of ‘different.’ The marginalised parts of my identity were depicted as exaggerated stereotypes at best. Society encouraged me to emphasise the white half of my ethnicity, unless an institution needed to tick their diversity box.

For years I’ve tried to shake the labels and let my work speak for itself. But I’m realising that I have another option. I can keep the labels, and be all parts at once. I may feel torn in half, but when I embrace the way the pieces fit together, I am whole in a way that is unique to me. I am a living work of collage art.

Perhaps a lack of representation has been one big training montage for my imagination, taking what I can relate to, and pasting the pieces together. 

My signature question at the movies is Which two characters are you?. I like to say two characters, because I’m never fully one, nor should I be. I see myself in many characters and many worlds. My Sister has her own signature question at the movies, which is also the title of our podcast: What’s Your Favorite Part?. We have this in common, a love for picking parts to cherish from our favourite stories.

I’ve learned that an important part of being a fan is choosing what to keep, what to criticise, and when to let go.

Recently I had to choose to keep my favourite book series, and let go of the author. When I picture the collage of my perfect fictional landscape, a big part of that picture is Hogwarts. Like so many children, I found belonging in that castle. I changed schools many times as a kid, all the while, secretly, actually attending Hogwarts. In ever-changing uncertainty, I knew for sure that I was a Gryffindor. It’s even included in the books that ultimately, each student gets to choose their own Hogwarts House.

I choose to keep my Gryffindor common room, and leave J.K. Rowling out. I draw the line at her harmful words about transgender people, and the insensitive timing of these statements. At first I was concerned with how I should respond to what she’s been saying: I must be firm and clear, that as a Harry Potter fan with a feminist website, I disagree with her. To me it is simple, and non-negotiable: trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are non-binary.

My affirmation is a start, but not enough. It is not enough to not hate. It is not enough to be ‘not transphobic’ or ‘not racist.’ I’m not what I’m not. I am continuing to listen, and make adjustments in my life, so that when I show up – online, offline, everywhere – I am doing my best to create a safe space for all. This is a lifelong process, but it is necessary, for all of us to do, as much as we can, in all of the spaces we inhabit.

I say No to J.K. Rowling. I say Yes to continuing to make my creations more inclusive.

As The Harry Potter Alliance wisely pointed out, ‘Fan activists recognize that there is almost no media produced without problematic creators or owners.’ I read this statement with relief. As fans we can, and must be critical of the things that we love. We can choose to enjoy the parts that lift us up.

Over the years I’ve had to let go of heroes of mine, and it does feel like a loss. But in absence of reverence, I can see what I really value about their creations. Celebrities become symbols for meaning I’ve found closer to home. Best friends I met through books matter more than any author. The many movie discussions I’ve had with my family matter more to me than any filmmaker. Even the joy I get from listening to Taylor Swift is from sharing her music with people I know in person, who are excited about it too.

The world I create, with my writing, community, and life, is one where all of the fictional worlds I love exist together.

My Secret Garden community has always been a place where we can be as geeky as we want. When asked if I moderate content in the group, I realised I’ve never had to. I’ve always implied what I will now state explicitly: in this community, we imagine a better world, and practice creating it. We refuse to be defined by hate, we choose to fight with love. It’s not about shutting down negativity, but inviting creativity. We all have tough things going on sometimes. When we show up in the Secret Garden, we unite in hope. We can recognise the gravity of our world while having a grand time.

The first lines of folklore follow up on the last lines of Lover:

‘I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit. Been saying yes instead of no.’ 

There is a lot to say no to, but I’m more excited about the Yeses. I live in an ever-growing collage of Yes — Yes to everything that I love. It is the best world I can imagine, and imagination is power.

My favourite thing about Frozen II is how Elsa takes responsibility for her ancestors’ actions, and decides to do something about it. She refuses to be complicit in the harm they have caused, even though it wasn’t directly her fault. With themes of climate change, mental health, and dismantling colonialism, Elsa and Anna begin to create a better future.

I create mostly with words, but those words must come with action. So I’m gonna go work on that. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

Until the Next Chapter,


P.S. Please write back. I would love to hear your story too :)

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