My earliest memories? My earliest memory is of my beautiful mother who I adore and the colour violet all around, violet everywhere, surrounding me. Another is age three, putting on a dress and running out the door. I was missing for hours. Everyone was out in the streets looking for me, searching for a little boy. They couldn’t find me anywhere, then an old woman said, ‘Oh, but there was a little girl, I saw a little girl go that way.’
The beginning of my difference, my quirkiness, or even my pain if you like began at age 5. At the age of 5 I was closer to my older sister than my brothers, I was the youngest. I didn’t like to play football, I didn’t like to climb trees. My sister always wanted a younger sister, she used to tell me ‘Pray to God to become a girl, so we can be Sisters.
We played with our dolls. I had my Barbie or was is Cindy? The one with the fringe. And I loved Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman. I loved all those strong powerful woman, with beautiful make up. I used to tie t-shirts on my head so it was like a long hair, and another around my shoulders like a cape, then jump from the living room table shouting ‘Wonder woman’.
Then somebody said to me ‘Take that thing off your head, stop behaving like that, stop walking like that. Boys don’t do that. Stop being like a girl.’ That’s the first time I remember feeling humiliated. I felt shame.
I had a very fortunate upbringing in the beginning, I was born in Paris and raised in Italy. We had a big household, with lot of people to help us, integrated into the household like an extended family.
Going to school, That’s where I discovered racism. That’s where I’ve been called a Negro, that’s where I’ve been called all sorts of things. I was lucky to have a very proud mum who always told me I was beautiful, the colour of my skin was beautiful, and those other kids were just jealous.
Those bullies, all I wanted was for them to be my friends.
At school being feminine, outrageous and camp was not a problem, it made me popular in a way. The target was the colour of my skin. I always had something to say, to protect myself. I tried to find a place inside where people couldn’t hurt me, except there’s always those few words that can crumble you.
When the war in East Africa happened we had to leave Italy and go to Egypt. We went from living in a large home to all of us fitting into a two bedroom flat. This was not the Egypt that tourists know, it was the real Egypt.
That was also the first time I was molested, this guy took me, I didn’t want to go with him. He kissed me and put his tongue in my mouth, that was the most disgusting thing. I remember washing my face over and over again, trying to get rid of that feeling.
The war was really tough, we were hearing stories about cousins who couldn’t be found, who we thought were dead. Then we would have others who we thought were dead, would come knocking at the door, turning up alive after all. It was a lot to take in.
Eventually we went to the South of France as refugees. Starting school there, I fought countless times. Going out in the world I had to fight like a Lioness. I would fight like a cat. I would bite scratch, I didn’t care, that was how I defended myself. Fear, pride, adrenaline, I did what I did.
Again it was all to do with my colour. I would get so angry. I would fight tooth and nail, I would battle with those who tried to put me down, I was not taking it. Oh I would fly into such rages. There was so much anger inside me.
The people left me alone after a while because I was a Lioness.
I started to have my first experiences with sex at 14, it was the same as before, I felt disgusted, but it became a routine. I would run away from home and sleep with older guys. I think I’ve always been looking for that Daddy figure. But also there has been always that thing where I felt sex wasn’t about me, I felt a lot of shame and pain and anger.
Because I felt there was something shameful about me, I started to keep secrets. Not being honest was a way of protecting myself. I didn’t want to reveal things about myself in case it was considered shameful. I didn’t want to bring shame onto my family.
I found the gay scene, it was like I arrived. I completely blanked my family for a whole year, even leaving that close bond with my mum that none of my other siblings had.
Prostitution, I started at the age of 20, a guy i was dating he pimped me out. He said ‘Oh, you can go to Porte D, you can work there.’ I went there with another guy, I had my first few clients and I thought, ‘This is fantastic’. I was going there for a whole summer and I loved it. I tell you why I loved it: it was outside, it was in a beautiful place, it was the cars, the people, the transexuals, the prostitutes, the gigolos, the dealers. All of these people, I was drawn to them. I didn’t have any embarrassment around them, they made me feel at home, they embraced me. That summer was amazing. I met many many people and some nights we would talk, talk talk, till the sun came up. Those deep encounters, they shaped me and made me love life more, those beautiful people made me feel there was a way out. Those prostitutes were poets, nurses, mothers, all kinds of people.
It was very dangerous as well, I’m lucky that I haven’t been killed, some times people were disappearing. You know, ‘Where is Jon Franscois? Oh he went into the woods and we haven’t found him since.’ But I wasn’t scared, I was excited. I wasn’t excited because of the danger, I was excited because there was something else, a kind of life I could relate to.
I didn’t like prostitution, I liked the money. What saved me was that if I didn’t want to do something, I wouldn’t do it. Thats my principle, if you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it. Tho sometimes I had a knife in my neck, so I had to give back the money. I liked prostitution when there was a nice client, I don’t mean they have to be gorgeous, it was about the connection. Some of my clients really did care about me.
Can we talk about drugs? I was never really into drugs, I always thought drugs were something people do to fit in. I tried coke, I tried puff, it didn’t really get it. When I discovered pills, oh my. The first time I took Ecstasy, I just felt there really is a god, I felt reborn. It was a feeling I never had before. I was so astonished something could bring me to that level, it became almost a career choice, being an addict. I knew the world of drugs was where I would find myself, actually it was where I lost myself. I lost myself and thought I was never coming back again.
Struggles with mental health, gender, sexuality. Experiences of violence, fear, sexual abuse. Prostitution, rejection from society, family, the LGBT community, the black community, the Muslim community, gay Community, trans community. Racism, homophobia, being disowned, being an outcast. I subscribe to all of the above.
All of the things we take inside that turn to anger. It must come out, no matter what, it has to come out, it must find a way out. Or otherwise all that shit is going to be in there and it will destroy you.
Once I started to be me, that’s when the anger subsided. Being me with my clothing, with my not specified gender, I feel more relaxed. It doesn’t mean I don’t get scared. Sometimes I do get scared, when I get looks on the underground or whatever, but I’ve got nothing to hide, I expose who I am, I’m stronger for it.
Sometimes I take my bravery as irrelevant, I had to be brave all my life, thats just the way it is. My bravery is so inbuilt, I almost forget about it. I don’t see it. Perhaps I should honour it more. I’m one of those people who think you just have to get on with it.
I learned a lot through my mistakes, I’m less defensive, less with a chip on my shoulder. I don’t believe in being constantly chronically angry, but I do believe that when you have had enough you have the right to expose your anger, without hurting people. My anger comes when I feel cheated, ostracised, less than or less of a human, when I think people think they are better than me.
I want every one to feel love.
I searched for joy for all my life. All the things that bring me JOY are all the things I used to feel ashamed of. Creative things weren’t considered good in my family, all my life I felt ashamed of wanting to do those things. I love to sing. I used to be ‘don’t sing’. To do my music, all these things I’m doing, writing, performing. Everything that could bring me happiness was in front of me the whole time. I don’t feel shame anymore.
LIVE READINGS & EVENTS
A Lioness | Live
Lioness @ Come Together
Lioness @ 16 Days Against Gendered Violence
Apr 14, 2019
The live reading of ‘Tribe’ was recorded at the Come Together event. You can find out more about the event here.
Aug 6, 2018
16 Days Against Gendered Violence
This story was also performed at the 16 Days against Gendered Violence event.