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Unlearning the Rules of Silence and Noise

Arts & Culture | October 15, 2018

Cavity is a new international and Boston-based publication for women, trans, and gender-nonconforming writers. Cavity unapologetically centers queer and POC voices and seeks to rot an exclusive, tokenizing, and imperialist understanding of literature. Cavity is in large part inspired by the tremendous work of the Observer and shares several core staff members, including Arts and Culture Editor Sonya Bhatia, staff member Alexandra Strong, and Creative Director Erica Levy. In this piece, Chopper—president and co-founder of Cavity—explores both the personal journey and mission behind the publication’s name.


the opposite of belonging is shame. shame is the tax enacted upon non-normative bodies. it is insatiable, parasitic, alluring, and safe. shame wears the yellow felt that covered my first diet journal. it has an introduction written in careful letters (third graders like me were learning cursive that year): this belongs to chopper.


i learned shame young. Shame was my guardian angel. she was beautiful, she was white, she fucked men because she wanted to. she was my protector. when i was nine, i began to understand there was something fundamentally wrong with me. i was ruled by an overwhelming discomfort with myself, and constantly performed rituals to try and right it. i did not have the language for it then, but i knew my Habits—the word i used to describe what i now know are textbook symptoms of OCD and PTSD—were punishment for something about me.


when i was thirteen, i became convinced that my discomfort with myself would be solved if i had a boyfriend. i carried a constant feeling of shame and self-disgust. being a skinny, pretty white girl with a boyfriend promised me absolution. i read every vampire romance novel i could get my hands on—something rang very true with me about fucking someone who could hurt you. gender and sexuality were a performance. i saw my script in books and movies. i became excellent at my lines. i thought if i only learned this language well enough, no one would know i was crazy or other.


i was sitting in ms. malin’s class when i first heard the word dyke. it was in a conversation about water distribution. a boy named Josh Bernstein began laughing, asking ms. malin if she’d ever seen a dyke herself. the boys in the room laughed. the girls around me sighed. i laughed along, loudly, in Josh’s eyesight. i wanted him to like me. we had all been wrapped in that laughter before and knew to make ourselves consumable and inconspicuous. this was the beginning of learning my own language, and it came from the jeering mouth of a hungry, growing boy.


that joke further confirmed what i had already been learning in books: i should strive, before anything, to be wanted. i should be ashamed to want. young women were the objects of wanting, not the perpetrators. i spent years confirming this to myself. five years later, one of the boys who laughed at Josh’s joke would ask me over at 2:00 a.m. because he was bored. leaving his house that night, i drove my car at over 100 miles an hour until i smelled smoke.


a turning point came in a creative writing class my freshman year. it was a class of all women and non-binary people, and one cis man. his off-color comments became a staple marked by shifting weight and shared knowing looks. one day, a woman brought in a piece in which her narrator masturbated with a vibrator. the boy burst out laughing. he did not apologize. he was not called on to explain by the teacher. when it came to his turn to give feedback, he informed the writer that “female sexuality is most effectively used in evil and/or comedic characters.” the class proceeded.


upon leaving, a friend and fellow classmate, kriska desir, and i made small conversation on the walk to davis. eventually, we both erupted with: did you just see what i saw? quickly, it became: have you been seeing that for as long as you can remember? cavity was born as kriska and i gave words to the things we were meant to accept silently.


the stories we are told are the stories we take to matter. the voices we hear define the language we know. my entire life, i was told very specific stories about gender conformity, latinidad, beauty, queerness, and mental illness. this resulted in me feeling self-loathing from the time i was in elementary school. these stories are not coincidental: they are intentionally propagated by a society that knows it is impossible to self-advocate if all the language you learn is meant to discredit your existence.


cavity exists because most of the books i read in school and at home were exercises in relearning the ways i should be ashamed of myself. cavity exists because i cannot even begin to imagine how different my life would have been if books with lesbian characters were as accessible as books with literal vampires. cavity exists because in almost every writing class i’ve been in at tufts, white man authors are used to discuss god, travel, transcendence, religion, love, and tragedy. on the other hand, non-white authors are used to discuss race, and women authors are used to discuss heterosexuality and gender. i have never been assigned to read a book by a queer woman of color in my life. that cannot be considered anything other than systemic violence.


this Observer issue is built on the question of names. i am writing this piece to explain the name “cavity.” i have a rehearsed and clinical definition of the work i do: cavity. 1. the empty space of voices that do not align with what is “normative” 2. the sickened and violent cavities in the bodies of those deemed shameful and disruptive 3. the unapologetic rot of seemingly impenetrable white cispatriarchal hegemony that defines the stories we learn.


cavity names the power in envisioning a new present. we work for a world in which the stories we tell do not teach an inescapable shame and discomfort to individuals in bodies deemed Other. by publishing works that are exclusively by women, gender-nonconforming, and trans artists, we center voices that the literary canon is built on marginalizing. by having a publication that is founded and run primarily by queer women and trans writers of color, we rot the current practice of white publications with savior complexes tokenizing non-normative voices to appear more “progressive.” by unapologetically prioritizing POC and queer voices, we disrupt the idea that these voices are the tokenized exception to a norm. we are not an exception. we are here and we are powerful. we are building a language that allows us to control our own bodies and articulate our own narratives. we refuse silence and shame. we are learning the language of pride in our own selves.


To learn more about Cavity and its formation, visit welcometocavity.com.