Throughout our lives we carve ourselves liminal spaces like the grass that grows between the cracks in the concrete; little bits of ourselves nudging their way into the boundaries between the dichotomies of social construction. These places stick in our minds, little pieces of space – of air, water, land, memory, embedded into our identities that leave their mark, just as our presence will permanently be a part of them. Little children make their spaces in bedroom corners and under beds, in cupboards they hide in. Who teaches a child where to play? No one. They make this space, edging into it and widening it with their growing imagination and expanding identity, their little personality bursting at the seams.
As a child my brother liked to sit on the bottom shelf of the cup-board, this was space that no one else was allowed to sit in (or was small enough to sit in). I on the other hand, woke up in the morning and went to the kitchen to sit on a steel container of flour, watching my grandmother make chapattis. The sunlight poured into the kitchen windows and the air was crisp with that early morning zing to it. There was a texture to the air that I’ve only ever experienced in India. This was my place and I knew it, to this day there is still a dent in the lid of that container and my presence remains in it. It brings to mind the Beatles song ‘There are places I remember’, and a wave of nostalgia washes over me. My childhood needed no rose-tinted spectacles, perhaps champagne pink at times, but the small concrete walls of my early childhood echo with the laughter of little children, lego boxes and jigsaws I hid from my brother.
Even if the places disappear, our memories of them remain, having a positive or negative impact in our lives. How do you let go of the house you grew up in, had seven children in, filled with a lifetime of memories, and watch it being sold to strangers who repaint the walls, build up a fence, chop down the trees – or worse – knock it over? Places taken on an identity of their own, becoming part of our family much like human beings. We can have a love-hate relationship with our homes, loving their security and comfort, taking pride in our maintenance of it, and hating the walls that constrict and restrict is, the rooms that witness our grief like a prison. Factory workers go back to see their deserted factory years after its closed down, like the sound of the morning bell still rings at 6am, the ghost of this place, like a family member that has passed away, still haunting them with the memories and sense of belonging they had in it. But not all spaces are physical, the body is a place and in our minds we have many spaces of our own creation.
These spaces we build in the borderlines, the liminal ground between reality and our imagination are unique because we own them, in those early years of not owning anything. When circumstances change and families break up, and we sense our own powerlessness, these spaces give us our sense of ownership and control we otherwise lack. Yet for the minorities who still lack the rights we take for granted, these liminal spaces are still their means of carving a niche for themselves in this world of ours. For those who aren’t hetero-normative, minority ethnic groups, refugees, asylum seekers, women, transgendered people; these spaces are their means to make a mark on the world and own a space that is their own. Spaces become less physical and structural, taking the form of internet chat rooms, activism groups, feminist Facebook pages and protests. It is through these spaces that are minority groups make their voices heard and widen the borders created by society. Social constructs of gender, sexuality, status and ethnicity are diluted and delineated in these boundaries, breaking down the walls of Us and Them dichotomies we have been raised on and take for granted.
I imagine a seven year old boy standing in front of a mirror. With a tentative hand he touches his own reflection and watches the shape of his hand, his androgenous neck, and the ugly black school shoes he wears with grey shorts pulled up high and his clean cotton t shirt. He shrugs them off quickly and holds his sisters pink dress in his hands, peering at himself under shaggy brown hair that curls at his neck. He looks at the way the pink matches his pre-pubescent lips and rubs the soft material on his skin. Looking around him quickly, he glances at the closed bedroom door and quickly pulls the dress over his head and his arms out the sleeves. He stares at himself, scared, but excited, and finally smiles. With a shaky hand he draws on his mother’s red lipstick and hands strings of pearls and beaded necklaces around his neck. I hope this space grows wider, I hope he pounds on the ground and kicks the walls and pushes those boundaries so he can breathe in them, build a house, make a life.
There are places I remember, some that I never will. Whether physical or imagined, these spaces we carve for ourselves in the liminalities of male and female, straight and LGBT, legal and illegal, will change the way these categories are made in the future. Why there are categories at all, I do not know. But they do exist, and its only in pushing these boundaries, that we can create colours between the black and white, spaces within the lines that we created along the way.