Festival Readings: Boo by Ana Maria Gomides

Here at EWF, we’ve selected some of our favourite pieces that were originally performed at the 2020 Emerging Writers’ Festival to publish over the coming weeks. We hope you will read and enjoy them as much as we did!

This week we’re sharing Ana Maria Gomides’ humorous piece “Boo”,  first performed at Kiss Me Thru The Phone – on ghosting her white male therapist.

Before I begin, I’d like to make clear that when I write about my own racialized experiences from Narrm or Birraranga, I do so as an uninvited guest; a settler. My Indigeneity and Blackness don’t change the fact that, by being in these unceded lands, I am complicit in Indigenous dispossession, a huge part of which is Aboriginal deaths in custody.

With that in mind—though it feels like an especially empty gesture at the moment – I’d like to pay my respects to the elders of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander folks encountering my work.

I have a very strict No Ghosting Policy – just ask anyone who’s ever dared leave me on read. Boy, did they get a talking to. I may be a light-skinned bitch, but you bet Imma go off at you, mm-mming, nuh-uhning, clicking and clapping and all. Try me. So, I’m not necessarily proud to say that, since our last session irl, I’ve been ghosting my psychologist.

Even before then my therapy attendance had been pretty patchy for a while. The commute there and back adds up to like three hours, and my agoraphobia was already on one.

In case you don’t know, agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder where you basically fear certain places and situations so much that you avoid them. My health’s been kinda terrible lately so, in my case, I’ve been scared of being out of the house in general. When I am, I often get these dramatic panic attacks, which draws attention to me, thus escalating my fear of going outside and so on.

Some mental health professionals suggest that you give your illnesses a personal name so that, when you’re having a particularly hard time, you can talk to them directly.

The first name that popped into my head just happened to be the same as an ex’s very hwhite mother. When writing non-fiction, I almost always give pseudonyms to people in order to avoid defamation lawsuits – I mean err… protect their identity. So, from now on, let’s just say that I call my agoraphobia… mmm… Ariana.

Ariana had shown up with heaps of baggage this time. Sorta like when anyone in the family goes back to Brasil, and we have to take extra suitcases packed with the weirdest assortment of crap, pre-ordered by friends, family and your old neighbours’ second cousin-once-removed’s sister’s son’s girlfriend.

This break in regular sessions isn’t that big a deal. I’ve been in therapy with Simon for going on seven years now. When I’m feeling especially fucked up, I give him a call. If he doesn’t hear from me for a while, he texts to check in. The latter doesn’t usually happen though, because I’m always sending him mental health related memes, which is one of my favourite things about our patient-psychologist relationship.

Simon likes Pingu-related content the best. He’d watch the show with his kids when they were little, and I guess knowing the context of the original image can be a huge part of what makes a meme funny. Nostalgia, relatability, etc.

Which is why he probably wouldn’t find as much humour, if I were to send that photo of five-year-old Cardi B saying, ‘Me at the end of our last session.’ However, I imagine that’s exactly what I looked like: sassy hand on hip, brows raised, wide-eyed, unimpressed as fuck.

*

The topic of Ariana took up the majority of our last session. Ironically, that was the week during which laws started being drawn up to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Victoria.

I was woefully unaware of this because, like I said, I’d been having a particularly rough time. My phone had been on silent, buried somewhere beneath my doona, unchecked for days. Which is why, despite waking up with a sore throat and achy body – and being terrified of the outside – I pushed myself extra hard and went to therapy, when I should’ve stayed the fuck home.

On the way there, I tried to soothe Ariana by listening to my podcasts, counting my breath and treating myself to a delicious cocktail of sometimes-meds: 1 cup of Red Bull Zero, 1 Dexamphetamine, a dash of Diazepam and just a sprinkle of Propranolol to finish it off.

*

Years ago, Simon spent session after session gently trying to convince me to start PTSD exposure therapy, but the mere idea of it made me extremely anxious. I would be trying to put myself back in situations that were particularly traumatic for me, by invoking sensory memory and speaking in the present tense.

Terrifying, right? (Trauma? I don’t know her.) Except that it wasn’t just the prospect of the process itself that made me anxious.

Simon is a white, middle-aged, cis het dude, which surprises everyone on account of me being ‘sooo political’, or so I’m told. But we started working together before all that – before I realised that I was fearful of people who fit his description – and by the time I did, I’d come to trust him.

Here’s the thing though: intergenerational, racial trauma isn’t really on the priority list of psych degrees syllabuses – the subject itself is inherently white to start with. But BIPoC experiences of trauma are vastly different from those of white folks’, who actually play a rather big role in perpetrating that trauma in the first place.

So, when I decided I was ready for exposure therapy, I told Simon we’d need to breach the subject. Like most white people, just at the mention of the word ‘race’ by a Person of Colour, an expression of panic immediately took over his face.
‘I’ll have to talk to Sharon about it beforehand,’ he stuttered.
Sharon is Simon’s boss. Her name isn’t Sharon, but she would like to speak to the manager for sure, which is to say, she’s um… hwhite – I mean quite… conservative.

Next session, Simon came back to me with a bunch of wishy-washy crap about The Human Race blah blah blah.
‘Throw that shit in the bin’ I told him, adding in my head, ‘along with Sharon.’
‘How about you give me some stereotypes of what you think a white, middle-aged, cis het man is?’ he said, carefully.
I sighed, already exhausted at the conversation I knew we were about to have.
‘First of all we, as a society, have been conditioned to believe that the white, middle-age, cis het dude is The Type. Anything other than that is a stereotype.’
‘I then proceeded to give him a 45-minute racial literacy crash course – ‘So, race is an invention…’ – during which he became the spitting image of the math lady meme. ‘Okay listen, I just need you to understand that I am Brown, and you are white. That means when I talk about my racialized experiences, I need you to not question them. You can’t tell me that they are far-fetched, untrue, or that I’m being paranoid. You have to take my word for it.’
He’s not getting cookies for this, because it’s the bare minimum, but Simon didn’t charge me for that session on account of me educating his pasty ass. And he’s been fucking great about that stuff since. He doesn’t question my racialized experiences, or pretends to understand them. Until that last session.

*

‘Could you remind yourself that you are safe?’ he asked me.
I sighed again, already exhausted again.
‘I’m Brown, I’m a woman, I’m a migrant, I’m queer, I’m mentally ill. I am never safe.’
‘Okay. If you do find yourself in danger, what could you do to protect yourself? You could call the police—’
‘Simon, the police are not safe for me.’
‘But,’ he tried to continue, sounding exasperated, ‘if you’re being chased down the street what would you–’
‘Nu-uh.’
‘Well but–’
‘Simon, no. We’re not doing this.’
Channelling Dr. Miranda Bailey, I Black-woman-stared him down until he shut the fuck up.

*

You might be looking at me thinking, ‘Da hell this bitch going on about? She wouldn’t be a target for cops, she doesn’t even look Black.’ And it’s true.

My light skin protects me from the kinds of racial violence that people who are more visibly of colour than me are subject to. This is a fact.

Although I don’t cop the brunt of racism, I was taught from a very young age, still back in Brasil, to not trust the police. Why? Because my family grew up Blacker and poorer than I did. Cops might not come at me specifically, but the fear that they will lives on in my family’s collective memory.

We can’t forget the past, because it’s not history.
White people can though. They seem to have a short-term memory when it comes to race stuff, which I actually believe to be pretty selective.

Call me a pessimist – because when it comes to them, I really am – but, I got my reasons. For the 28 years I’ve been around… oo-ey! they never fail to disappoint. Mm-hm.

Imagine being able to just like, take a break from giving a fuck when you get tired of it? Imagine being able to pick and choose when to be political? Doesn’t that sound nice? I fucking – I wish I could! Have myself a cute holiday, a sweet lil vay-cay. What a bloody dream! Girl, sign me right up!

Except that I can’t.

That sarcasm earlier about being told I’m “sooo political”? I don’t get a choice if I want to survive – and trust me, sometimes I don’t want to anymore.

*

On May 25th, George Floyd – an unarmed Black man – was brutally murdered by four white police officers in Minneapolis. In the weeks following, millions of people around the world have been taking to the streets to protest the ongoing police brutality that not only killed this man, but continues to murder Black and Brown people everywhere.

Here in Narrm, as well as to show solidarity with George Floyd’s family, tens of thousands of people gathered to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Not only are these folks putting their health at enormous risk by being in extremely crowded scenarios during a pandemic, but these protests have also been heavily policed, so BIPoC showing up are literally putting their lives on the line.

Needless to say, I didn’t go.

There are days when I wake up and think to myself, ‘I can’t be around white people today.’ Complete strangers, dear friends, chosen family, my housemates, it doesn’t matter.

I just feel too disheartened sometimes. And weary. And angry. So angry.
I’ve been feeling that way every day in these last few weeks. Mind you, I don’t leave them on read – strict No Ghosting Policy – but I do partake on leaving folks on unread.

I’ve been trying to avoid social media too. The black squares on Instagram clogging up the Black Lives Matter feed. The selfies of woke white folks at protests that feel eerily performative and self-congratulatory to me.

Protesting is vital. Visibility is crucial. Showing up is important.

But how long will it be, until they get tired of giving a fuck again? Will it be when the next brutal Black death trends on Twitter?

I have news for you boo boos: those happen
Every.
Single.
Day.

But, other than existing, what the fuck am I doing about it?

*

In many ways, I’ve been able to deal with self-isolation better than a lot of people ’cause I’m used to not leaving the house. But my mental health has also gotten significantly worse during all this. The extreme mood cycles are back, my sleeping schedule is non-existent, my OCD – which up until now was super chill when it came to germs – is through the roof. Needless to say, Ariana is even more on one than she was before.

And I find myself heart-broken: about people killing us on the streets, about my own scepticism regarding white people’s responses to this, and about the fact that I can’t talk to the person who I’ve been talking to for going-on seven years about any of it.

How can I, when that person equates the police with safety?

So, I don’t.

I break my own, very strict policy and ghost the shit out of Simon.