Personal Reflections and Issa Rae’s “Insecure” from a Forever Awkward, Formerly Insecure Black Girl
It isn’t every day that I turn on the TV and see myself. Admittedly and thankfully, it is happening way more often now. I imagine this is what many other people experience on a regular basis. So frequently they watch their stories being told that seeing their own reflection is taken for granted. Representation is taken for granted. What a concept. I still value it, though. I relish in it. It is fortifying to feel seen. And season 1 of Insecureon HBO has felt like a personal gift 8 episodes in a row. Seeing my lived experiences expressed with language that I use over a soundtrack of music I love, has allowed me to reflect on my own stories.
After the season finale, I wasn’t left with any hard feelings for any of the characters. (This is apparently an uncommon opinion. I’ve seen people hoping Tasha gets pregnant and Lawrence gets hit by a car. LOL) There were no hard feelings because I recognized each and every one of them. I have been some of them.
This is a raw, explicit, extended stream of consciousness about MY life, MY growth and MY embrace of personal responsibility. This isn’t a review of the series. This is a personal reflection of my own experiences–many of which I saw depicted throughout this season. The familiarity I had with the cast and stories of Insecure gave me courage. It is with love and a desire for freedom that I share these words.
I remember the first time I watched Issa Rae’s Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl on YouTube. It was 2012. I had recently graduated from college after completing my 5th year/victory lap. I had insomnia–which was normal for me at that time. I was living in the way too expensive 3 bedroom house/apartment in Charleston, SC’s rapidly gentrifying East Side community. I was filled with angst and despair–also normal for me at that time. I had taken myself off of antidepressants the previous year. I’d been prescribed Zoloft–and the only obvious effects, side/front or otherwise, were scary, vivid dreams I’d always remember the next morning, and apathy. Gray, monotone, super-hard-to-care-about-school-assignments apathy. As I said, I’d finally graduated; and besides the joy and pride my friends and family expressed over my completion, I just felt like a 22-year-old failure at life. Lame. I felt really lame and sorry for myself. I had no job. I had no man. I had to move back with my parents. Couldn’t find a job. Didn’t have a man. Repeat. Repeat. So, that night in 2012, as I lay on my twin-sized mattress that was on the floor because the bed frame I’d ordered from Overstock a year prior was actually delivered to me broken and it had finally given up, saying you and your friend Dennis really tried it with this heavy duty gray tape, I don’t know what drew me to Issa Rae. I just remember laughing and crying until the sun came up at this beautiful brown girl with natural hair who was awkward AF just like me. With the sarcasm, wit and uncomfortable interactions with men just like me. My favorite episode to date is Season 1 Ep. 8. Jay (Issa’s character in the youtube series) is in a board meeting and her newly sanctified, former heaux colleague “Sister Mary Clarence” parodies the scene from Sister Act 2, leading everyone in the meeting to start beating on the table singing, “If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere…” (6:17-7:18) LMAO So good.
In short, this web series felt like a ray of sunshine and affirmations in a time when I felt like a depressed failure with notches on her bedpost and a GIGANTIC bachelor’s degree and seemingly nothing to show for either. I was delighted to see myself represented on screen, my awkwardness validated. I immediately shared it with all my friends. “She’s me, y’all!” During that time I was involved (read: begging this man to make me his girlfriend so I could fully commit to wasting my time, energy and emotions) with a guy pretty similar to Daniel, a character from the HBO series Insecure.
Now, I’d like to say “fast-forward 4 years”–because the next 4 years truly did fly by in hindsight. However, “fly by” seems like an inaccurate description because those years were filled with pain, growth, tears, self-medicating, and hard, self-reflective work. I’ll get to that.
It is only fitting that I viewed Insecure, Issa’s bombass, sweat and tear filled, hard fought for, well damn deserved HBO Glo Up as this New Sara I am now. I like this Sara the most. So bear with me: these reflections are coming after watching all of season 1 twice. Once by myself, and a second time with my boyfriend. I was a bit surprised to read the reviews and responses shared on my various social media timelines. I see a lot of #TeamIssa or #TeamLawrence. A lot of familiar hurts and bruised egos and triggers.** Throughout the season I remained on #TeamDamnWeReallyAreBrokenAF, #TeamWeAllNeedHelp and #TeamHealing.
“Quick” synopsis for anyone who hasn’t watched the series. If you haven’t, you really should get your life and revel in this 5 Star quality #BlackGirlMagic. SPOILERS to follow:
Insecure is about best friends Issa and Molly–two beautiful, Black twenty-somethings navigating life and love in a world where black women are regularly told we’re too everything but right/enough. Issa has been in a stagnant relationship with her boyfriend Lawrence for 5 years. For the latter majority of said years she has been supporting both of them because Lawrence has lost his confidence, mojo and desire to get a haircut. He’s depressed. Now he sits at home playing video games and coasting on unemployment checks. Issa is disenchanted and disappointed with his complacency and equally annoyed with her job. She’s the youth-liason for a white-owned non-profit called “We Got Y’all” for “at-risk” black and brown kids. She is the sole black employee in an organization full of light, white people who consult her for the definition of “on fleek” but otherwise think very little of her insight, intelligence and contributions. In the season opener we’re also introduced to Daniel–Issa’s former friend-with-benefits from high school who has always been her “what-if” guy. Daniel has a haircut and great teeth. He also makes beats. From the beginning he let’s her know he’s only interested in fucking. This is made clear by him supplying alcohol and gassing her creative fantasies up at every encounter, and blatantly stating, after their first passionate kiss in the car, that he’s “not looking for a relationship right now.” Things are very rocky between Issa and Lawrence during this time and it is immediately clear to me, from the first time Daniel pops up in her Facebook inbox, when he sent her the entitled “I wanna see you right now” text and when he got in her car bearing Arbor Mist (like it was some great treat) that Issa was going to fuck Daniel. It was set up. That’s how that goes. They both wanted to. Just like I knew that Tasha, the flirtatious, voluptuous bank-teller with the cute smile who is seemingly so impressed by the consistency with which Lawrence cashes his unemployment checks is going to have sex with Lawrence at some point. It was set up. That’s the way that goes. It was only a matter of time/a few episodes for both encounters to take place.
Molly, Issa’s best friend, is a gorgeous, successful lawyer. She owns nice things. She loves her sorority. White people love her. Black people love her. And yet, she can’t seem to find a man (worth keeping.) She tries sex on the first date. No sex until later. She tries free dating apps and exclusive, waitlist dating apps. Black guys. Arab guys. She’s a mess. The guys are either too clingy, not interested enough or only interested in sex. She is often told she is way too clingy as well. To add insult to the all too familiar injury, Molly’s non-black co-worker gets engaged to her black boyfriend–sending Molly deeper into the “what is wrong with me? I have all the things–why can’t I find a man? What’s she got that I don’t have? Don’t I deserve love and marriage?” abyss. At one point we see Molly get with a seemingly great guy, Jared. He’s cute, respectful, hardworking. He’s genuine, comfortable with who he is, and straightforward about his attraction to her. (It sorta looks like even their relationship may be reduced to really amazing, consistent sex). However, she becomes disillusioned when, during a night of swapping past freaky sexual encounters, Jared reveals that years ago he and a male friend were drunk and the friend gave him head. He shares this story comfortably, obviously not carrying any shame or baggage–GOOD FOR HIM! And he admits that during and immediately after the encounter, he was positive that he isn’t interested in any kind of sex with men. Molly can’t get over this, though. Her girlfriends, particularly her soror (the only character I really could’ve done without) affirm her double standards. “He’s gay, girl.” End of discussion. Molly ends things, for the 2nd time, with the honest, genuine, hardworking, handsome guy with the great sex who really liked her.
I’m not going to try and summarize every single episode. You should definitely watch it. I just needed to set the stage. I fully identified with so many of the characters. Their insecurities, false-sense of self, loss in confidence, disillusionment, self-sabotage. I loved the ease and deep sister-love Issa and Molly shared. They were always there to pick each other up after heartbreak, one-night-stands, co-workers that had them fucked up. Neither woman, however, could really be honest with themselves. This, folks, makes it terribly difficult to be honest with other people. They were both unhappy with some or many parts of of their lives, but weren’t willing to sit still long enough to identify and articulate those things. In many ways, even their love for each other enabled the other. Issa was frustrated with her job. She was also carrying the the bulk of the financial responsibility in her relationship and was beyond disappointed with how complacent Lawrence had become. Unless the conversation happened before the season started, though, she never actually expressed these things to her boyfriend of 4-5 years. At all. And he was definitely trippin’. No qualms about that. He wasn’t handling his business, carrying his weight or EVEN GETTING HAIRCUTS. He messed up her birthday and then joked about Molly having impossible standards for men. This prompted Issa to say, passive aggressively, “Yea. I guess she should have just lowered her standards like I did”, and leave the house with no further explanation. Issa nor Lawrence were bringing their best selves to the table. I don’t think they knew who/what their best selves were. They weren’t self-reflective. They weren’t good communicators. They weren’t holding themselves or each other accountable.
Molly also couldn’t articulate exactly what she wanted. She slept with men–or not. Never feeling amazing about either choice she made. She obviously wanted love but couldn’t really show it to herself. She was beyond self-sabotaging. I CAN RELATE. She was also, apparently, vehemently opposed to therapy. This is a revelation the audience gets right before, in a haze of pent up angst, disappointment, embarrassment and avoiding confrontation, the best friends finally angrily tell each other, “You’re fucking up! Why can’t you handle your own shit?!” This was probably the most triggering part for me. I’ve always hated confrontation with ANYONE and for years, I’d choose to be silently unhappy versus having an uncomfortable conversation. This is never healthy. This blow up looks like the most honest the two have been with each other about their perceptions of how the other is living. The conversation is foul, hurtful, poorly executed and reactionary–but it’s the first time they appear to hold each other accountable. In the end, Issa cheats on Lawrence with Daniel. Surprise, surprise, there’s alcohol, beats and slick words involved. Lawrence FINALLY gets a haircut, an hourly job and then successfully interviews for a position in his field. He’s trying. He’s “in this,” he keeps saying. Issa “realizes” she really loves him and is also “in this.” She serves him real pig bacon for breakfast. But of course, Lawrence finds out Issa cheated. He is humiliated. He angrily and promptly ends the relationship and in the final scene [SINGLE] Lawrence fucks Tasha the bank-teller, whose been checking for him and encouraging him since Ep.1. Molly and Issa acknowledge that they both really need help and at least they’ll always have each other.
So. This new Sara, aka the most whole Sara I’ve ever been, can recognize when I’ve been Issa, Molly and Tasha. I currently identify most with Crystal. We only meet her once but she is going on and on about how she was a mess in college but she is healing, in therapy and happy to shout about it in the streets. “I’m getting help, girl. Therapy. THER-A-PY! I’m getting it! Have you heard about it? We need help, girl! We all need help! I feel so zen!” LOL That’s definitely me. I was in a relationship with a liar for 9 months. This was a man who told me from jump, in so many words, “I’m a liar and I don’t stay in relationships for longer than 9 months.” So pressed to prove to him and myself that I-really-can-be-an-amazing-girlfriend-just-give-me-a-chance-to-fully-waste-my-time, I ignored homey’s honest admission. Yes. He’s a liar and a cheater but he won’t lie or cheat on me. Sure he doesn’t stay in relationships for longer than 9 months but we’re in it to win it. Just watch me give my all. We weren’t “in it to win it” of course. And as we crashed and burned in month 9, I entered my Molly stage. The I’ll fuck whoever I want when I want. I’m fucking them, they’re not fucking me. Didn’t I tell you that I was a savage? stage. It was all fun and games. (It wasn’t that fun) I was self-medicating, HEAVILY, and messing with men who didn’t respect me, or even think much of me. I was a witty converser who cared about the kids and Black culture with really bomb head. I remember lamenting to my homegirls that I couldn’t understand how I, the shy little girl from Gullah Gullah Island, with no daddy-issues, who was a favorite RA and president of BSU, had become the girl who men would fuck but not take home? Texting my sistercousin like “Wale’s song ‘Bad’ is the story of my life. sad face”. And how did shit get like this? I was Tasha, waiting in the wings for some dude who looked good on the outside only…Looked Good On The Outside ONLY. I fucked quite a few Daniels. I held down a few Lawrences. I did the whole But I wrote him a letter EVERY DAY of basic training and talked to him until 5am my first year of school when he was stationed in Japan. But I encouraged his rap ambitions and told him he was smart enough for college and bought him school supplies and a comforter for his freshman year. But I listened to his goals and ideas for opening his non-profit (and his rap ambitions) and did his hair every time he asked. Allowed myself to feel shamed by the bullshit double-standard “how you gonna fuck with another dude when I told you I liked you but only wanted to hook up after midnight and make sure nobody saw us?” L O L
This Sara I am now knows deeply that many things about these men were foul. They were disrespectful, dishonest, complacent, entitled…BROKEN. Exactly who they’d said they were. Should those men be held accountable and responsible for their bullshit? AbsoFUCKINGlutely. Were they mirroring my own I ain’t shit sense of self? Right again. Did I consciously choose to put up with/share my time, energy, emotions and body with these men who were exactly who they told/showed me they were? Damn skippy. I did. I chose. I didn’t feel like I deserved any better. After my 9 month relationship ended with the lying liar who lied(s) (idk), I convinced myself that this breakup meant my 100% wasn’t worth anything. I wasn’t shit. I didn’t deserve shit. (Shoutout to my daddy for taking me to Ruby Tuesday’s after that breakup and listening to me sob and buying me a turkey burger that I was too devastated to eat.)
The strongly-worded, pained reviews I’ve seen after the season finale make sense. The familiar desire to receive a Purple Heart for putting up with some real outlandish, off-the-wall bullshit that we didn’t have to put up with. As synchronicity would have it, Feminista Jones just posted an excellent video refuting the tired claim that Black feminists destroyed the “Black Family.” She drops GEMS on GEMS and FACTS on FACTS. Two in particular are relevant to me in this case. One point she makes is about a generation of men who believe manhood is about having (possessing) a wife and children and providing for them–many of these men then had multiple families. Some across the country. Some in the same town. And the wives of these men generally stayed because men will be men and it’s better to have a man than not and we can’t expect any better. This speaks to the conversation Lawrence’s boys are having in the strip club. “Bitches today ain’t like what they used to be. Back in the day my grandaddy cheated all the time and Grandma wasn’t out here acting up. She was still ride or die.”…Yes. Because that is the type of love we should all aspire to. The video also speaks to the false and toxic belief that “a real man” always has his shit together. ALWAYS. If he doesn’t, he is a failure and not a real man.
I know shows and movies can’t actually work if all of the characters are honest with themselves and each other, say what they mean/feel, communicate effectively, and heavily prioritize therapy/healing/self-reflection/accountability. But I wasn’t angry with any of the characters in Insecure because it was obvious to me that not one of them was coming from a healthy place. A place of wholeness.
Casual sex is awesome if everyone’s consenting and that’s what you want to do. Expecting sex of any kind to heal a void inside of you doesn’t work. Weed and alcohol can be really fun/relaxing if that’s your whole thang. lol. Relying on either to cope with day to day life really ins’t a good long-term plan. Affirming your homegirls and letting them know that they’re the shit is…NECESSARY. Keep doing that shit. Not being honest with your sisters about the self-sabotage you’re witnessing and refusing to be held accountable for your own shit–that’s not healthy. Shaming anyone’s honest sexual exploration/sexual fluidity is WACK. Really, Really played out. Lashing out at our reflections is a damaging waste of time. Assuming the next person has it all together because of how they look on social media/the finesse with which they cash their unemployment checks is unwise. Getting your shit together for anyone besides yourself [FIRST] rarely fares well. Thinking someone is going to be different than exactly who they said/showed you they were is a set up for failure. Having expectations for someone and not communicating what those expectations are isn’t fair and doesn’t work. Coasting, becoming complacent, taking loved ones’ time, energy and compassion for granted and not being honest about insecurities and fears breeds resentment. Putting up with toxic bullshit from ANYONE expecting to get the glory or the faithful servant award in the end is…time consuming at best. Unfair, ludicrous and illogical double standards for different genders are wack wack wack.
I am reflecting on all of these things in love–after 4 years of hard, painful reflection, lifestyle changes, giving up pig bacon and re-establishing my love for pig bacon, losing over 70 lbs, finding an effective antidepressant/anxiety medicine that cleans out the static in my brain, embracing a meditation style that works for me, replacing one vice with another vice and learning that the last vice might be making me sick, two EXTREMELY stressful jobs, HELLA therapy, speaking to God in public, deciding I will not carry any shame for my past because I’m amazing, meeting a WHOLE man who my family, friends and most importantly I recognize is the dopest and most beautiful reflection, witnessing my web of sisterhood strengthen and expand-finding safety in our shared traumas, triumphs and flawless lipstick selfies, falling down, getting back up, accepting that I’m gonna fall down again but I can ALWAYS get back up, getting comfortable talking to sisters and elders about sex, nights of insomnia, suicidal thoughts, recognizing that stress will actually , literally kill me, and acknowledging on 11/9/16, that my wellbeing, my healing, my self-love, survival, joy and liberation are no one’s responsibility but mine.
That was a lot…
In closing, Issa Rae, I am so freaking proud of and grateful for you. You dreamed it. You worked hard. You made it happen. You have men and women in heated discussion about our reflections. I can’t wait for season 2! You affirmed my truth, my awkwardness and my writing style.
Also, shoutout to every single Black and Brown content creator who knows that the opposite of war is not peace. It’s creation. Thank you for blessing us with beyond incredible music, poetry, t-shirts, fashion designs, hairstyles, theater, web series, podcasts, movies, television, photographs, literature, blogs, artwork, etc. all year long. We need it. And shout out to me. I’m proud of me. #Teamhealing is undefeated.