Tonya TKO Talks Living In Her Car; The Blessing And Curse Of Asking For Help
CB: So you have this GoFund Me and you raised 12 thousand dollars. Were you surprised about the response?
Tonya TKO: Yeah, I was really surprised by the response. I thought I was going to raise one thousand. In my very first day, I raised six thousand. Even now, thinking about it, it makes me emotional…[voice breaking]…I had no idea.
CB: Yeah that has to be overwhelming because you put so much time into your art and you never really know how people really feel about you. This is especially true online where you’re more likely to hear or focus on the negative rather than the positive. But let’s talk about the criticism for a second. So one of the big issues is the money. In particular, people think that you are running a scam. I saw a video in which someone questioned if you are even homeless. Not that you would actually admit it to me, but are you running a scam?
Tonya TKO: [sighs heavily] Oh Lord. The answer is No. I think there is something really important in those claims. First, the scam question. I’ll say this: I interact with people in real life. And the one thing you don’t see is people who know Tonya in real life saying that this is a scam. You don’t see people I went to high school or family saying it is a scam. The only people you see saying it’s a scam are people who are far removed from the situation. And people who are very far removed from me. So there are so many different things: there is a racial component and there is a gender component to why people keep coming out with these attacks. Because when you look at the faces of the people who are saying this is a scam and attacking me and telling people not to help me, those are the people who look like me. They are Black women and they are Black men.
And I ask you Charing, if I were an Asian woman, would there be an out-pouring of folks saying, “don’t help this b-i-t-c-h” or “don’t help this w-h-o-r-e?” I’m asking you?
CB: Um, probably not. But I have a question: How much do you think you being a woman plays into this?
Tonya TKO: And that’s the next part. There is a racial part and then there is a gender part. People notoriously discredit the word of a woman. Oh my God Charing, there is so much I can say about this, but let me put it this way: forty-seven women come out and call one man a rapist and people don’t believe it. If forty-seven men call one woman a ho, how many people would not believe it? It took one Black man to say I’m scamming for people to come out and start attacking and calling me a scammer.
So, when we talk about The Displacement Diaries falling behind real time, if I had to endure those severe attacks on those days when I was feeling my lowest, it would have been grueling for me. So it is a good thing that there was a little bit of cushion between those attacks they were giving and actual real time.
CB: You raise a good point. I also think it’s that expectation thing. Like, I think that people have an idea of what starting over is supposed to look like and then there is the reality. It’s like that old saying: people like the sausage but they don’t always appreciate how the sausage is made. Changing, starting over, a transformation or whatever you want to call it, is not always in a straight line. I personally know people who have moved with nothing more than lint in their pockets and they may end up slumming it on couches and bus stations or where-ever they could until they found a way to make it work for them. I feel like what you are going through, what you went through, is very human. But then there is this disconnect between what we all know is real life and what the audience actually will acknowledge.
Tonya TKO: Yes, I think that people are very unaware of what it actually looks like. When Tyler Perry says I lived in my car, it sounds glamorous when you see the successful part afterwards. They are clapping and applauding who you are today. But they don’t know what it looks like in the midst of it. They don’t know the emotional ups and downs. And the journey and the struggles. What it looks like is washing up in the sink of Starbucks. Or going to the gym to catch a shower. Or trying to get a shower any place or anywhere that you can. It looks like going to the bus depot to brush your teeth. So yeah, people are not really aware or cognizant of what it really looks like.
Second, people are not really aware of what it takes to really start over and if things do not cohere immediately. There is some stumbling when you’re trying to latch onto the new life. And third, there are people who are afraid to know what that looks like. There are people that are tightly clinging to their jobs because they won’t give themselves permission to try. And because they won’t give themselves permission to try, the reflection of someone trying, is a blinding to them. It’s a reflection of the internal criticism they have that would never allow something like that to happen within their lives. This person going after their dreams makes it glaringly obvious that I am not going after mine. Are they willing to do that? Does that person have what it takes to deal with what may come forward? Am I willing to do what Tonya has done? And they know they are not. And the pain they feel in their own lives, they reflect that back on to me. Why couldn’t Tonya feel like it was good enough to stay at her business? Why couldn’t Tonya feel like it is good enough to stay on someone’s couch? Why couldn’t Tonya feel like it was good enough to prostitute herself for somewhere to stay…
Listen, I was out there. I know what it is like. I am a woman. I didn’t have to be displaced, Charing. I could have prostituted myself night one. There are so many men who are willing to take a woman in for a night in exchange for sex.
CB: And that is a great segue into what I wanted to talk about next and that is attitude. In The Displacement Diaries, you are very positive about your situation and you talk a lot about energy and eternal guidance. A lot of people in your situation would fall into a severe depression. And when you’re deep in depression, it is hard to really focus on what you need to do and enact a change. Not to mention all of the people in your face, telling you it’s not going to work and that you’re crazy. Yet that has not been the case for you. Where does that will come from?
Tonya TKO: Well I think that everything that happened in Latin and Central America prepared me for all of this. I hit emotional rock bottom in Buenos Aires. It had been a year since I closed my business. I had been traveling with no real foundation; no place to call home. I couldn’t stay in the places I wanted to stay; eat the foods I wanted to eat. I didn’t have the type of money I wanted to have. And it really took me asking, “Who am I without the money and the career? What am I once all of that was taken away? And what is my value and what is my worth if I don’t have money. Who am I? Do I still love myself and am I worthy of love?” And these are the things I had to confront myself with on my trip. For so many people, we are the very first person we deny love to. So then you have to ask yourself are you worthy of your own love? And I had to ask myself that.
You know, my mother died when I was nineteen and I had to go through a journey then of figuring out who I am. That journey made me become the woman I am today. And it wasn’t until I got into that situation in the car, and I had to confront whether or not I would continue to love myself, that the words to the book poured out. The outline to my book happened during my displacement.
When you think about it, every cell in our body is different than the cells we had when we were children. But what is the part that is constant? As your body changes; as you grow taller and shorter or fatter or slimmer, what is that one part that stay constant? What is that one part in our body that does not change? That is who we are. And that is what I tapped into when I was displaced. I am energy and I have a very unique vibration that resonates on its own unique level on this earth.
Also tapping into your intuition. We have help. We have a higher self. We have guides. In the midst of all of that and when I didn’t know what to do, I trusted in my own energy and my higher self. And I listen to that because it has never steered me wrong. Does that answer your question?
CB: Yes Ma’am. And finally, you seem to be a person that is all about experiences. Like that is what you value more than anything else. Would you call yourself a wanderer or a free spirit? And in your personal opinion, do you think Black girls allowed to be that?
Tonya TKO: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know. What I do value is choice above all else because in every situation, there is choice. Choices are why we are here. Choices are what created our experiences and choice is how we interpret those experiences. I had a choice to become downtrodden in the car. I had the choice to be depressed. I had the choice to buckle. I had the choice to fall under. I had the choice to start cursing people out if I wanted to. I had choice to love myself regardless. So I had the choice and I choose love.
Do I consider myself a wanderer or a free spirit? I consider us all spirits who are free that we decide to trap into the confines of some many different things: our surroundings, our race, our gender and our religion… I feel deep in my heart that we are all wanderers. And people are here for the experiences of living and the choices thereof.
Finally are Black girls allowed to be free? I think there are so many labels like Black or White, females and males, girls and women…the fact that we have those labels to identify who a person is shows that we already don’t wander. The way that people freak out when a man puts on a skirt even when in ancient Roman times men wore skirts all of the time and in Islamic countries, they still do. So we have these ideas that we pigeon-hole each other into when we were all meant to be fluid. Remember when I said that my vibration is unique to me? Well, I feel like we all have our own vibration. And we were meant to live as we see fit individually. How this relates to Black women is that the confines are even tighter. People have so many ideas of what it means to be Black. People have even more ideas of what it means to be a Black women. And honestly those confines are killing us.
Charing Ball is a writer, cultural critic, free-thinker, slick-mouth feminist and bonafide troublemaker from Philadelphia. To read more of her writing, visit NineteenSeventy-Seven.com.