In the classic Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, we all know Maleficent as the evil villain.
And dude, she fills that role perfectly.
Maleficent put that girl in a deep sleep until she got kissed by her true love or she’d die — all cause Maleficent had some resentment issues.
Who doesn’t, amirite? But, damn, Gina — you have to cast a spell on the bebe? What did that poor bebe do to you?
If you have to pick a side, it mos def ain’t gonna be hers.
That was all good and true…
until Disney rocked our world and shared Maleficent’s side of the story.
Now, suddenly, we realized that she wasn’t actually the villain. She was misunderstood, seen in only one light. Heard about from only one person’s/group of people’s perspectives.
She was the villain in someone else’s story.
But the heroine of her own story.
I know what that’s like.
Being the villain in someone’s story.
Like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty— deservedly so.
But also like Maleficent’s story — unfairly so.
It has taken me some time to get to a point in my life where I’ve just had to accept the fact that I am the villain in someone else’s story
—but, thanks to Maleficent (as well as therapy, daily meditation, and God), that isn’t the truth in my story.
In mine, I am the heroine.
I currently work in a building that is predominantly white people. By predominantly, of the 50+ administrators, teachers, and staff who work in my building, 3 are POC. One Hispanic, one Asian, and myself — Indian.
For the most part, I have good, healthy, friendly relationships with my coworkers. A handful of them I actually consider my close circle of friends — my people.
In that same building, though, some people have painted me as being "intimidating." I've caught wind that I have been described as moody, unapproachable, and off-putting by a few of my more, let's say, "sensitive" coworkers (*cough*white women*cough*).
I've accepted that many of those labels are due to being a woman of color and my refusal to be like those who surround me — in personality, demeanor, tone of voice, attitude, or how I generally carry myself.
Unfortunately, I punished myself for a long time, especially in the last couple of years, for how people have experienced me and the labels they have put on me.
Have I made mistakes with people? Yes. Too many to count, really.
But mistakes are made so we can grow and learn.
The problem with making mistakes in an environment like this, though, especially for a woman of color, is that the mistakes become your labels.
I internalized all the labels (and the white women's tears that came with it) —
— to the point where I hated myself.
They didn't like that I wouldn't talk to them when they wanted me to, greet them with a big grin and be their monkey who made them laugh with my jokes and humor every time I saw them, engage in long conversations with them while waiting at the copier or standing in the hallways, ask them about their husbands/children/pets/weekends/breaks/lives, or treat them how they felt they deserved to be. I was not charming them all day, every day.
So, I apologized left and right and took responsibility for things that I shouldn't have had to.
"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings when I answered your question with one word instead of 18 and a smile."
"I'm sorry that while I was making copies, I was lost in my 32 other thoughts. How selfish of me for not stopping those thoughts so I could say bye to you at the end of the day with a big dramatic Hindi movie send-off — songs and tears."
"I'm sorry I didn't stand in the hallway and feign interest to listen to your story about how your adorable 31-month-old spilled Cheerios on the floor, but you used it to teach them about serving others like Jesus did. Or laugh at the hilariously original story about your 4-year-old saying a cuss word, then proceed to sit through the video of it because you just had to record it!"
"I'm sorry I didn't respond to your statement/question with the friendly, cheerful tone of voice you wanted. I assumed you just wanted an answer. I didn't realize I was supposed to perform as if I was doing a reenactment of a story from Curious George to a group of 6-year-olds complete with voices and actions."
It. Was. Exhausting.
When I wasn't apologizing simply to keep the peace, I was working overtime to change myself.
I was practicing how to smile more in the mirror. (You'd think masks would be my lifesaver here, but my victims now resort to asking me if I am "okay" because I seemed upset. Based on what?? How I'm walking!? You can't see half of my face!!! FFS).
I practiced initiating/having pleasant conversations with them in my head before heading out to work every morning.
Practiced trying to be more sociable, happier, friendlier.
More cheerful, less cantankerous (thank you, Luvvie Ajayi Jones for that word).
More interested and invested, less annoyed and unbothered.
More relatable, approachable, less reserved, cold, and standoffish.
More engaging and chatty, less short and dismissive.
More of who they preferred me to be, less of who they experienced me to be.
I found myself in this constant state of tug-of-war.
More, more more — — less, less, less.
By the time the pandemic hit in March 2020, I was in an emotional and mental breakdown.
Who the hell was I supposed to be??
When I was just me, it was problematic.
When I was pretending to be what they wanted, I was miserable and unhappy.
I hated who I was, but I also hated who I was trying to force myself to be — all in an effort to keep OTHER people happy. It's not that they were my best friends or added substantial value to my life — but I didn't want to be disliked and ostracized.
I wanted to be liked and accepted.
I didn't want to be the bad guy.
I HATE being the bad guy.
I was killing myself because I wasn't enough and, yet, whatever I was, was too much.
I couldn't seem to rationalize how it was possible that I could have this tight-knit circle of friends who liked me and were even pursuing me relentlessly to hang out in this building. Yet, down the halls, these other people were having such negative experiences and feelings about me.
What the hell was happening??
How was I Jekyll and Hyde, but not even KNOW? Was I bi-polar? Did I have multiple personalities?
I questioned and second-guessed myself.
Maybe I am terrible? Maybe I am selfish, hateful, and mean? Maybe I am all those things this small group of people say I am.
I scolded and chastised myself.
By December, I reached my lowest point not only from being overwhelmed with pandemic/work stress but also by the fact that this hurt and trauma had still gone unresolved and was growing like a cancerous tumor day by day.
My sister, fortunately, could see that I was in a very dark place and implored me to seek help.
In January, when I restarted therapy and began doing some real work on myself, I started to learn a life lesson that I've needed to learn for a very long time.
I may be the VILLAIN in someone else's story.
But I am the HEROINE in my own story.
I may not ask for or even want the villain's role, but it has to happen.
I'm not actively trying to BE villainous or vilified.
I'm not seeking out opportunities to be the bad guy or "gaslight" people — as I've been accused-- nor do I know HOW. (In full transparency, my sister had to tell me what gaslighting meant last night — that's how little I knew about it. Do they offer classes for that? Did I miss that in undergrad? Cause Lordt, I am confusion).
But, some people will experience me as a villain in their lives. And if that's the narrative they want to create for themselves and for their own peace of mind — I can accept that.
What I will not do is accept that for MYSELF.
I know who I am.
I know the things that make me innately me.
Trust and believe, villain is not one of them.
In any story, it's more comfortable and natural to take the side of the Auroras.
In Malayalam, we'd refer to these Auroras as "paavum" — the innocent people who wouldn't hurt a fly, yet they have to suffer at the hands of these heartless villains.
I have been vilified a lot throughout my life — I can't seem to find the real reason why — maybe my audacity to say what I feel, my biting wit and sarcasm, my brutal honesty, my refusal to be like them, or hide my feelings, or fake niceties? My incredible RBF? General badassery? Who knows. There could be lots of reasons.
But, I get why it's easier to believe the narrative that I am the evil, intimidating Maleficent to these paavum Auroras who just come to teach children, love on children, and change the lives of children every single day, ministering to them as God has called them to do.
How could these paavums be guilty of doing any wrong, right?? They couldn't possibly be gaslighting ME or constructing a story in their own heads of being victimized by ME. They aren't overly sensitive! Of course not! Not these blameless, innocent sufferers who are experiencing so much toxicity and hurt at the hands of this evil, selfish woman! They're all sweet bebe Auroras!! They would never!
It's easier to believe that the angry woman of color is attacking them.
I've come to "gaslight" and create havoc in their lives while they've just come to live, love, laugh.
I get it.
You keep tellin’ yourself that cute little bedtime story to help you sleep at night, boo.
You do you, sis.
That doesn’t mean I have to accept it as my truth anymore, though.
That doesn’t mean I have to live by it as my truth anymore, either.
Their experience isn’t mine.
Their narrative isn’t mine.
Their truth isn’t mine.
And, if Disney has taught me anything with Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, it’s that eventually….
the truth comes OUT.
That’s the beauty of being the heroine.
Eventually, you’ll hear her side.
It may have taken 55 years for my girl Maleficent, but she was eventually vindicated.
I hope my vindication doesn’t take 55 years, but I’ll bide my time until then.