From the age my eyes grew ears, I can remember my mind associating anything to do with our bodies with skin. There were no arms, no legs, no face structure or elbow joints- just skin. Everyone became a colour, ascribed to them so carelessly by me, and that was all they were. “You are brown muddy boy”. “You are pale pink girl”. “He is porcelain white”. And that was all there was. I didn’t see the depth in their eyes, the dips in their soul or the grit in their teeth- just their skin. Travis Alabanza, a self-defined “muddy brown boy”, at the age of 8- defined bodies by their skin.
I wondered by myself for a long time. Wondered why I was so fascinated on who was an “off white cream” or a “caramel shine” and not fascinated on the shade of green in someone’s beautiful pool of green life-windows (what I then called eyes). I wondered why I didn’t care how wide someone’s jeans were, but rather how they felt about being “a dark sunset orange”. I wondered why all the other kids would look at the kid in a wheelchair with such sad eyes, and instead I’d be jealous because that kid was a “dull-set white” kid, and I was just a “muddy brown”.
Although as I grew out of my curly afro, and stretched into a shaved clean head. And as my arms stretched longer and my legs walked taller, I stopped consciously labelling bodies with a colour; subconsciously I don’t think I ever stopped being the “brown muddy boy”, I don’t think my father ever stopped being the “blessed white-cream saviour” and my mum the “dark, charcoal warrior”- I think that coloured lens outlook never shifted. When I looked at my body (as a muddy boy early teen)- I still saw my skin. When I looked at my first loves body (as a muddy boy late teen)- I still saw his skin (he was a dark, chocolate coating), and I still wondered why? I’d scratch my skin frustrated on why that was the only part of the body I could see. I’d scream internal racism into my head, realising the system had crept its way into my blood, and then I’d cry tears of frustration as I longed to see someone’s texture, not colour, of their lumps and bumps.
I realised just after my 18th birthday that I was taught to see this way. I was taught to only ever see my skin. I was taught to calculate “which skin is more worthy”, and taught to know where my skin stood on the systematic scale. I remember recognising my then lovers eyes properly for the first time, and my heart bursting with excitement. So long had I wasted time looking at bodies in just their skin, then seeing them as doors to someone’s character. His eyes screamed “help me”, “see me”, “feel me” and “love me”- and I couldn’t get any of that from just his labelled colour. I feel now, as I still wander through these colour coded doors- I see skin, importantly, still in its full colour- but now I feel like the scale has changed. When I see “dark charcoal” I think survivor and power, not weak and lonely. When I see “white porcelain” I don’t wish and long to be them, I just look for the colour of their eyes instead. And, when I look in the mirror, at the “queer brown muddy” shade of me: I don’t long to be lighter, I smile, I see my body that this skin keeps safe and hug it even tighter.
The skin is still, and probably always will be, the first thing I look at when peering at a body- and I don’t know whether I need to change that. But at least now, as I’m constantly learning and growing, I look at every aspect, particle, bump, shape, and turn on their body- and only the beauty in their skin holding it all together.
A Queer Brown Muddy Kid..