Poetry is like a complicated dance; the movement of my pen and the steps of my heart working together to produce choreography that mirrors the shape of my soul. Poetry, to me, is the pure distillation of the human spirit. Poetry is the way I reveal the vital force that creates my being. It is the vehicle by which I can tell the world who I am.
I remember the first time I really met a poem. I had spent the past 9 months working as a queer youth organizer and then as a workplace justice advocate in Austin, where I had enmeshed myself in the local queer people of color community and, for the first time I could remember, felt like I had a home.
In Austin, I felt like I had a real family who understood who I was, the work I was doing, and where I was headed. It was perfect. So when I moved back to Boston in order to finish school, things changed; I suddenly found myself in a very straight, very white city.
I’d always heard about the glories of northeastern liberalism and how northeastern cities were so inclusive. “They have gay marriage in Massachusetts!” What more could a gal need? But accusation after accusation of “reverse racism” from “well-intentioned” liberal white people for challenging and critiquing white supremacy made me realize those myths about the liberal north couldn’t be any further from the truth, at least when it came to Boston. What I concluded is that the north is just as oppressive as the south; they are just better at deluding themselves that they aren’t.
Needless to say, my first month living in Boston was very hard. I had left my partner, my community and the work that I was passionate about behind in Austin. And what’s more, is that I had changed.
Before I’d left Boston – I confess now, it’s where I grew up — I was much less outspoken about my experiences and political opinions. I was much less willing to challenge power and privilege, whether within the realm of personal relationships, or systematically. One of the biggest reasons I hardly spoke up was because I felt alone; I didn’t feel like I had the community support I needed to do so.
I was surrounded by mostly white queer people, and on top of this, there was virtually no critical racial analysis or general consciousness in the spaces we shared. Naturally, I never felt comfortable or safe enough to advocate for racial justice; I didn’t want to alienate my white friends. I didn’t feel empowered enough to share the truth about my experiences.
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” ― Audre Lorde
When I returned to Boston the second time, however, I was stronger, my voice much clearer and more powerful. My experience in Austin, with the work I was doing and the community that I was a part of, allowed me to embody myself more fully.
I remember meeting with one of my old Boston friends for coffee — a guy I would have considered a best friend back then – and being so astonished, frustrated and disappointed to find that our conversations had grown so dull and vapid. As he brought up video game after video game, my mind wandered farther and farther away, and my eyes darted around impatiently in search of more interesting objects to focus on.
In an attempt to reconnect, I kept trying to interject stories and anecdotes about my role as a youth worker in the reorganizing of the queer organization that I had worked for in Austin. But he invariably shifted the focus back to his immediate concerns: fine-tuning his latest video game character. His concerns seemed so trivial in the light of all that I had seen and done. We were obviously in two very different spaces.
I walked away from our meeting feeling horribly, wretchedly alone.
A few months later, I became very depressed. It was a very cold winter, I missed my partner, and I’d become very stressed over school. In order to lift my spirits, my partner sent me a care package replete with soft, warm sweaters, fantastic music and two books that ultimately changed my life.
The first was “Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde” by Alexis De Veaux, which painted a very beautiful, very human picture of Mother Lorde, a famous black lesbian poet. The other was a single, book long poem about love and revolution, by Saul Williams, “Said the shotgun to the head”.
I remember weeping when I finished “Warrior Poet” and then crying again as I read the introduction to “Said the shotgun”. The words of both works rang like a clear bell through my mind, clearing the miasma that had been my misery. I felt a tingle in my hands as I held these two books close to me. For the first time, I held Power.
Moreover, I knew what this Power could do. I could feel it already working on me. This Power could open up hearts, arouse love, excite passions, revolutionize thought and, most importantly, inspire radical action. This Power could create space to have oft silenced voices heard and articulate a demand for liberation.
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” ― Audre Lorde
I thought about all of those fierce trans sisters that worked the streets day in and day out to survive. I thought of friends of mine that had been murdered, killed for their desire. I thought of CeCe, who was jailed for fighting back against hate violence. I thought of all of those powerful mamas who struggle in the face of overwhelming adversity and still manage to look sickening. I thought of myself, the harassment I had faced and the overwhelming love that I was fortunate to still have in my life. We all needed this Power.
Trans women of color need this Power. We need this Power because we are the most at risk to be targets of violence, of murder. We need this Power because we are the most vulnerable to be kicked out of our homes and fired from jobs. We need this Power because we are not given space or represented by those who would say they do. We need this Power because we need Voice. And we need Voice so that not just our deaths are mourned but our lives celebrated. Most importantly, we need this because we have a right to it and we have a right to survive, to thrive.
So I call upon all of my black and brown trans sisters: let our stories be heard. Write poetry or short stories or flash fiction or monologues. Write plays or love poems or autobiographies or memoirs. Sculpt, dance (vogue!), take pictures, shoot film, cook, build. Paint, on canvas, on the walls of your apartment, on the city streets, on each other.
“Come, my love, we have oceans to sail.” — Saul Williams
Whatever you do, create and shine your Light on the world.
Create art so that we can see each other, so that others can see us. Create art so that future generations will remember us, so that our herstories are not erased. But most of all create for yourself, for your own survival. Create for your own liberation and the liberation of your family, of your community, your people.
Never doubt: our fertility exists in the realm of the spirit and we are the Mothers of revolution. You are, all of you, Goddesses.
Poetry is the mountaintop from which I shout beauty and fury into the sky for all to hear. Poetry can make you see the light and glory of Goddess, can make your body shiver and shake with power. It is poetry that facilitates the creation of space, the words that open eyes and expand minds.