Mama Outsider: How I Learned the Definition of Obscene


Night sky black. Daddy tall against the wind. I am five. Big girl, they say. There are six people in our house and tonight only two are going to the grocery story. Me and Daddy. Mine.

Night sky black. Store lights white. We hold hands. Then, as if by some premonition come too soon I turn toward Daddy and raise my arms. The gesture more prayer than command. “Up. Us.”

Daddy laughs, reaches for a hand instead. “You a big ole girl. What would it look like for a grown man to have your long legs dangling off him? That’s obscene.”

I am a smart girl. I learn a new word. Obscene: too much too big too long to be seen loving a big man whose chest is your pillow whose breath is your air whose smile shines bright and gravitational like the moon.

Does every girl memorize the first time someone said she was too much?

I don’t stretch my arms up again until the coroner wheels Daddy through our kitchen and out the door and by then it is too late. “Up. Us.” lost on closed eyes. No pillow. No air. No moon. No us.


The only time Daddy ever swung a belt at me with rage was the night I let a boy whose name I don’t remember pick me up from an empty house. Lonely, only girls just want company. We seldom ask for clarity about the things people really want when they ask to “scoop” you. So when the boy takes off his shirt as if unveiling an aphrodisiac, I just ask to see his yearbook. “Show me your friends,” I say, the way latently queer girls be awkward with naked boys. Babies and fools, my Daddy would say.

I remember it’s time to be headed back that way since my parents will be home soon. Down the street from my house, I see the car in the driveway and Daddy on the porch, cordless phone pressed against his ear. In hindsight, I recognize panic in his face—the price of loving a Black child like air.

I ask the boy to drop me off down the street because maybe if Daddy doesn’t see him we can still go to prom together (a promise he’d made as he was peeling off his shirt). Daddy sprints off after the car like a man gone mad. He is shaking by the time he mounts the steps and takes off his belt. He yells at me and to himself as the leather slices skin: “…dropping you off down the street like some ho!”

Up the road Lexington, black women have been going missing and the word “prostitute” is thrown around. I’d never seen a ho dropped off but the leather tells me it is obscene: that which is too close to others’ fantasies of you; a grave misunderstanding of your motives, a devaluation of your will.


I have climbed into the lap of a man who is tall like my own Daddy and that is where the similarities end. Baby in a lover’s mouth is the promise of Daddy sweetness with none of Daddy stress. A person who can give kisses without wondering if too much love will spoil you — make you a target in a country of men whose phalluses (both symbol and real) are always aimed at Black girls.

This is what I remember about choosing to drink Daddy love from the cup he carried. He had a Swahili name. He had an analysis of race on the campus that was trying to kill me. He cried. He had a notebook he’d covered in pictures of his daughter. I thought, this man’s arms are big enough to hold us both. I was wrong.

I snuggle into his neck to breathe his not-my-Daddy-ness into memory. It works. He is there still on my red sofa smelling like Kwanzaa and laughing, “I can tell you a Daddy’s girl, ain’t you?” All these years later, I wonder if he was saying, how obscene.


My first girlfriend is born under the same moon sign as my father and that is where the similarities end. He is not dead yet, just disappointed that I’ve chosen to build an abominable life. The moment I realize she will never give me Daddy love is flooded in fluorescent light. We walk the mall, my toddler daughter’s chin tucked between my shoulder and my neck. We are brown and queer in Baton Rouge and maybe this is the reason I stretch my hand to her like Jesus saving Peter from his own fool self. Or maybe I know by now how hard it is to carry a girlchild (even a small one) by myself. Maybe I reach to steady us, the way many single parents in financial binds reach out for third legs. Maybe I reach because I know we will be over before Daddy takes his last breath and I’m not ready for this relief. She steps further than I can reach. The breach between us marks our love obscene: drought love and desert thirst are common for the kinds of people that Colonizer Jesus would rather burn than love.

2013 – 2014

The reason I will never not love my next girlfriend is because she pulled me into her lap on a post-Daddy summer day. She was on the phone as I hovered around her space, touching things in the small kitchen that I willed to be her body: refrigerator handle, cereal bowl, spoon… She absentmindedly reached for my wrist and tugged me toward her lap, legs spread wide to hold me. Was relief the flood as I pressed myself into her body as if it were rock on wind? I chose and choose to call this love.

Six months later, I climbed into the same lap and found it cold. I thought I could convince her to lend me Daddy love one more time if only I were close enough for her to remember my scent, so I climbed into the lap of the girl I’d grown to love long after she’d grown weary of trying to love me. Which is not to say that she made a poor decision. I was a mess. I was mean. I was unstable and grieving and more suited for a patient friendship than the dramas of new love. But I loved her and in thirst, I acted unlovingly by climbing into a lap in which I wasn’t welcome. My behavior is the definition of obscene.


I have become the girl they think they know. Thirsty Black girl seeking Daddy long gone.

But I was a seeker of Daddy love while he was here and loving freely. He accused himself of my poor dating decisions, my thirst. I believe he knows now the secret life of appetite — the way our palates are shaped in the womb. The way my Daddy thirst is actually my mother’s, the way hers is actually American sub-citizenship. The way we are all Black girls living in a violent patriarchy without the legal or social protection of founding “fathers”— the O.G. Absentees. The way we be searching for Daddy love big and strong enough to stop the men with ropes and guns, sweet enough to rub salve on our wounds.

Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Rekia Boyd. Mike Brown. Trayvon Martin. Jordan Davis. Aiyana Stanley Jones. Mike Newby. Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. Gynnya Hope McMillen. This small list is metonym for threat. The names stretch as far and wide as stars across that first black night’s sky when I learned the love I needed was obscene.

And now with Daddy gone, the sky really is bigger. More ominous. Who will hold me in this night is the question I pose to 1,000 friends as I post obscene statuses on Facebook. Statuses that clearly say, “Up. Us.” Requests for cuddle parties, thinly-veiled flirtation… these days all my messages are raised arms and thirst, the most obscene thing a Black girl can possess.

A Facebook friend posts a Sprite ad in the comments of a touch-starved status. He posts from the home he shares with his wife and kids and I am willing to bet he has enough love and food there to sustain him through another red summer. I am willing to bet there are enough people to hold him if ever he feels threatened by the expiration date stamped on his own brown skin. How gross of you to raise your arms, his meme suggests. How obscene.

The thirst he called out is the only thing I choose to obey these days. Fuck the rest. Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to be a big girl. Nobody asked me if I was ready to walk. Nobody asked me if I could handle all the hashtags, all the acquittals, all my kinfolks’ fragility, all these systemic failings, all this homelessness, all this daughter all alone. Nobody asked me so I don’t ask nobody for permission to be a water witch. And fuck any critique of my dowsing rod that is not also an indictment of the desert.

It would not be reaching to call it all obscene.

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Asha French is a writer living in Baltimore, MD. She has been published on, Mutha Magazine, Emory Magazine, and poetrymemoirstory. She is currently working on her first book. Check out more at her website.

Asha has written 6 articles for us.


  1. This was really beautifully written, especially the rhythm of the first few “years” !!

  2. This is an incredible piece. I had no idea thirst policing was something people did so thoughtlessly and so righteously. I had been thinking of similar behaviors as the cult of chill, but you’ve shown its more insidious than that. I’ll second your indictment of the desert.

  3. I didn’t make it through 1987 before coming to a dead stop.

    “Does every girl memorize the first time someone said she was too much?”

    I had to stop and think and digest. And I’m not sure I can identify a time when I *didn’t* feel like I was too much.

    I had to think about how just a few weeks ago my beautiful, chubby 8-year-old goddaughter who looks so much like me that she could be mine was afraid to jump into the pool into my own daddy’s waiting arms, because she was afraid she was too much.

    And right now I’m sitting here still thinking about how I seem to always feel like too much and simultaneously, not enough; too much of the ‘wrong’things, never enough of the ‘right’. Always thirsty, it seems. So, I’ll join you in saying fuck the desert. ✊

    • Thank you Dani! I think messages about which bodies are “too much” are pervasive and smart kids learn to read early. I wish your goddaughter the tools to deconstruct the too much indictment and I know that she is lucky to have you as witness as she grows more aware of those messages. And yes, fuck the desert!!!

  4. Your writing is stunning and beautiful as always. Never apologize for needing “too much,” and ignore those who try to shame you for it.

  5. My father never wanted anything to do with me, so slightly different. But, I can’t imagine a loving father suddenly pulling away. I’m so sorry hun, you are not, nor will you ever be obscene. Only people’s ugly minds are obscene. The innocent love of a child is beautiful as is the innocent need for safe human touch. Without safe, positive touch we die inside. You are normal and beautiful. I hope you find someone to provide that loving, safe embrace as needed. <3

    • Thank you so much for reaching out. The Asha that is the character in this piece knows that her father doesn’t think of her as obscene, but also knows that he lives in this desert where anything black is obscene. He knows that his world can be rocked by the perception of others, so that is why he is hyper-aware of the obscenity of affection, not for any lack of love. Thank you for your comment. It points me to where the story can be tightened up.

  6. I’ve failed compositional english, a lot, but somethings I retain. The structure thing: Intro, Body, Conclusion and what’s suppose to be in them. How to use them to pack a punch.

    But this piece Ms.Asha is a crescendo, a death by a thousand cuts that never stops that just keeps going.

    When I was five years old someone looked at me in sexual way. I didn’t know that is what he was doing, all I knew is when he looked at me it felt WRONG, it felt like he was trying to consume me.

    Consumption is not specifically or directly destruction, it is using and taking. Usually of a resource.

    Destruction is the thing I can’t seem to through to other white people who think think if one is properly behaved or something that police won’t kill you, that success will happen.
    There is no proper behaviour or anything that can protect someone who isn’t suppose to exist.
    Someone who the world is set up to destroy, not support.

    Obscene comes from latin obscenus (inauspicious)

    Also from the Romans is the idea of physical affection being an act where somebody is taking something from another. That someone in the exchange is being devalued, is losing.
    Something could easily be said of violence as entertainment, as something worthy of glory we Americans hold in common with Romans.

    I read this piece of yours over and over and there’s this tapestry building of the connections in American history that brought us to this point where we’re divided by understanding why black lives matter is a thing that needs to be said.
    Abolitionists crying out to end the inhumanity of slavery while deciding black Americans who’d known no other country were not Americans and didn’t belong in America.

  7. All a this, and plus: “And fuck any critique of my dowsing rod that is not also an indictment of the desert.”

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