Before Fetty Wap blessed us with his sexy, one-eyed gaze and cocky grin. Before he made it cool to rap with one eye. Before he said "fuck you" to the haters who made fun of his eyes. Before Fetty Wap, I can't remember any rapper who wore their disability unapologetically and with pride. Although his music is catchy, it's his authenticity and genuine i-don't-give-a-fuck attitude that draws us in the most. His visibility in the rap world spoke volumes to me--a young woman with a one-eyed gaze and bright grin--sitting at home feeling affirmed as I watch him sing "Trap Queen" on Jimmy Kimmel.
I lived most of my life thinking I was an anomaly-- in many ways, I am and always will be. I'm strange. I'm weird. But, it took me half of my life to accept my me-ness.
The eyes are what people remember about you the most and it took me more than a decade to accept mine. My life was saved when I was 10-months old. I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, cancer of the retina. If I was not treated as soon as possible, I would not have made it to see a year on this earth. Without the prosthetic eye that stares sightlessly back at me in mirrors and pictures, I would not be living.
I lived, but I had learned how to hate myself, an effect of the ridicule and teasing from others. People who stared at my eyes a little bit too long, trying to study me. People who asked me, "are you crossed-eyed?" People who said my eyes freaked them out. Feeling isolated and alone, it took me a while to learn how to love my eyes and how to celebrate my life. These portraits are a celebration of my difference. I look into my eyes, seeing and sightless, and see triumph, strength, beauty and courage.
It is our choice to let our scars, and people's reactions to them, hinder us. It is our choice to allow ourselves to sit in the dark when everything in our being is calling us to step into the light. It is our choice to live in fear.
Before this moment, I never wanted to look anyone in the eyes. I always looked down or away as someone spoke to me out of shame and fear. My insecurities caused me to build a cinderblock wall between myself and others to ensure protection from judgement and embarrassment. Until this moment, I was not liberated. These images represent years of fear being stripped away by a gaze. This is an invitation of who I am, how far I've come and how far I wish to go.