Today is my birthday! I share it with a special day, Transgender Day of Remembrance.
This day is necessary to remember all of those who lost their lives
to anti-transgender violence. Unfortunately, anti-trans violence is all too common, and the majority of the victims are transgender women of color
. They've experienced multiple forms
of violence and oppression throughout their tragically short lives. And after death, the media continues to disrespect them
by ignoring, misgendering, and even villifying them.
We can fight against the messages and violence that treat transgender people as disposable by honoring the lives we've lost this year
. I mourn with sadness and anger. At the same time, I celebrate the resilience of transgender people who defiantly show each day that their lives matter, as they face the struggles of discrimination, harassment, and violence with courage and strength
For my birthday wish today, I ask for your support in my organization's work to combat anti-transgender violence. At Community United Against Violence (CUAV)
, we work to restore the dignity and self-determination that all of us deserve by making changes to create a world in which we can all feel safe from violence, regardless of gender identity or expression. Visit CUAV's website
to learn more about our work and to make a donation. If you're thinking about donating, now's the time – a generous group of CUAV supporters have made a Community Matching Challenge, so if you join our circle of monthly sustainers at $10 or more, they will match every dollar you donate in 2014, doubling the impact of your gift.
Thank you for supporting this essential work. You can also recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance by attending an event in your area
. Let's make this a day of reflection, and a day of action, as we stand up and say that nobody is disposable. Nobody is forgotten.
We remember you, and we continue to fight for you, in your spirit of bravely fighting for yourself every day.
Audre Lorde died twenty-one years ago today. When I first composed this post, I didn't realize the significance of this day. It's not a coincidence, I'm sure. The spiritual connection that allows black women to strengthen each other can't be broken, even in death.
Last month, I got the thrill of a lifetime with the chance to see a documentary film about Audre Lorde, my activist poet queen, at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland. Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years
was playing as the final feature film in the 2013 International Black Women's Film Festival
, an event designed to combat negative stereotyping of black women in the media by giving space for black women to tell our own stories. As soon as I heard the film festival would be playing this film, I knew it was the place for me.
It's just a movie, I know, but as I headed to the theater, I felt the giddiness of preparing to meet my idol in person. It seemed like the closest thing – when Audre Lorde passed away in 1992, I was a child unaware of her existence, and I have rarely seen evidence of her life in any form other than text. This text has felt, to me, like sacred traces of a mystical woman, echoes of divine footsteps that once walked the earth with us mere mortals. As I've read Audre's poetry, essays, and speeches over the years, I've imagined her as such a human being who is so extraordinary, she may not be human at all. In my mind, Audre Lorde has always been a goddess.
It remains true that Audre's spirit is divine and eternal. But the film showed many things, and perhaps most of all, it showed her humanity. Would a goddess walk through parks with friends, or laugh, or dance? Would she face the struggle of a cancer diagnosis? Would she endure the gentle teasing of her loving life partner? Maybe. But it's possible for any person, including me, to experience such things. Any of us could live our lives as she lived hers, with love and poetry as social action, with the capacity to change the world around us.
After the movie ended, I was a blubbering mess of joyful tears, and I didn't have the words to explain why. Maybe the sight of Audre Lorde dancing was something I never knew I needed to see. Maybe I'd been thirsting to hear her speak the words I'd read so many times. Suddenly, she felt more real to me than she ever had before. Maybe I needed to see her in the flesh. Maybe I needed to be seen.
It's strange to think that seeing somebody else on a big screen could help me
feel seen, but it's true. The film chronicles the final years of Audre's life, 1984-1992, when she spent time in Berlin and had a profound impact on the lives of black women there, challenging both black women and white women to think and write about race as they never had before. She mentored black women who had been silenced and isolated from one another, bringing them together to recognize one another and themselves as Afro-Germans. Many of these women testified in interviews that Audre's guidance allowed them to feel proud of who they are, for the first time in their lives.
The film sent me off with the exhilarating, terrifying feeling of seeing myself as Audre Lorde would have seen me. Not the goddess Audre Lorde, mythical creature of my dreams, but Audre Lorde, the human being, who really lived and breathed and saw a magnificent power in every black woman.
Now, I don't have to wonder what it would be like for me to meet Audre Lorde. Now, I know. I wouldn't have to prove my worth to her or ask her permission to step into my power. She would believe in me, simply because she could see me for who I really am.
I got to step into the power of my visibility later that day, when I read my poetry at Hazel Reading Series
, opening my reading with an epigraph by Audre Lorde: "Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs." Hazel's all about fostering the visibility of women, featuring women writers who each invite another woman to read at the next installment of the series.
Hazel's next event is today at 5:00 pm, at 1564 Market St. in San Francisco. My invitation to read went to Jezebel Delilah X, another queer black woman writer with divinity in her humanity. I can't wait to witness her sharing of magic through her words, continuing the legacy of resisting invisibility by lifting up our own stories to be seen.
Tomorrow, CUAV and MCCLA present Color of My Spirit! This post is cross-posted from The CUAV Blog
To love ourselves is to celebrate ourselves is to give ourselves a moment to shine in the spotlight, I say. So I'm really looking forward to doing just that at CUAV's 3rd annual Color of My Spirit, our performance night of queer and trans artists celebrating our survival and resilience. This year, we have a really exciting lineup of performers, including our returning host, Yosimar Reyes, who will share new poetry and lead us on a journey through song, dance, film, and more.
When we applaud, we will clap as audience members, witnessing the gifts the artists offer us by bringing their work to the stage. And for many of us, we will also be appreciating our own strengths, reflected in the strengths of the performers. As queer and trans people, we deserve to show ourselves some love for how we've managed to thrive in spite of forces trying to put us down.
Color of My Spirit will coincide with the time we spend with the Spiderweb of Self-Love, our wellness tool that helps us finish the year with activities all about showing ourselves gentleness and care. When I think about the connection between Color of My Spirit and self-love, I think about the young person from Our Space who watched the performers last year
from El/La and was moved to tears, having their first experience of seeing such positive images of trans women, as they prepared to come out as transgender themselves. And I also think about my own life, because it is so meaningful to me to have this annual event to help affirm and celebrate my existence as a queer black woman.Color of My Spirit
takes place on Thursday, October 3rd, at 7:00 pm at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco. We hope you can join us there!When: October 3rd, doors at 7, show at 7:30Where: Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission @ 24th St, San Francisco
$10-20, no one turned away, buy tickets hereSpanish and ASL interpretation provided
Fully wheelchair accessible
Help us keep this event accessible by not wearing scents or perfumes.
Buy your tickets ahead of time to make sure you don't miss this powerful night!
The post below is cross-posted from the CUAV e-news. I wrote it to address S-Comm, the harmful program that has law enforcement and ICE officials collaborating to hold people in jail, with no regard for the basic principle of due process. Anyone, regardless of immigration status, can be detained on an immigration hold, even without charges against them. That means this program affects everyone, including people of color, LGBTQ people, and survivors of violence.
To help say no to S-Comm and yes to Due Process for All, come out to San Francisco City Hall tomorrow, Thursday September 5th at 11:45 am, and add your name to this growing list of voices. "What is a witch if not a woman blind to all except surviving?"
- Gale P. Jackson
What might someone find if they burst into your home today? Would they hear the stories the walls have been holding for years?
When I was growing up, my father told me about immigrating to the United States from the islands of Trinidad & Tobago at the age of seventeen. He told stories about two families sharing a one-bedroom apartment. Stories about my grandmother separating from her family, hoping to support her children by working tirelessly in domestic work. And some of my favorite stories came from Trinidadian folklore, such as the tales of black magic women called soucouyants. It seems like every culture has its own witch stories.
These are the stories the police would have unearthed if they had raided my father's home back then. And if the police came to my home today, answering a call for help, or seeing my dark skin and profiling me as a criminal, they would find the altar I've built to honor my grandmother, who passed away one year ago
. They would see a photograph of me with an old, wise woman, alongside candles, stones, and a small replica of a steel pan, an instrument created to celebrate the survival of Trinidadians
And what would they think? Would I be the witch, the danger to society? Would they confine me to the custody of immigration officials, just in case?
I don't want warnings of witch hunts to become part of my family stories, or the stories of my communities.
What I want is what we deserve, due process for all, so I'll be showing up to San Francisco City Hall on September 5 at noon
, to help make sure the board of supervisors votes to restore the rights we all deserve. Can we count on you to be there? Will you help turn the story of S-Comm into our story of survival?
Sassiness at The Lit Slam
The last time I participated in the competitive poetry show The Lit Slam
, I made it to the final round, and left pumped with adrenaline, infused with excitement, and promising to return. Well, it took a shamefully long time for me to return, but I finally made it back. Last time, I wrote about what I learned
from my first experience in a poetry slam. This time, I get to write about what I won.
That's right – I won a poetry slam! This is a first for me. And technically, what I won is purely self-serving: I won bragging rights, and something to add to my bio, mostly for the sake of telling myself that there are people out there who have heard my poetry, and they don't think I'm crazy for writing it. I won a place in The Lit Slam's journal, Tandem Vol. 2
, along with some of my literary heroes, which just makes me think, again, that this all comes down to bragging rights. You better bet that I'm going to perfect the art of name-dropping once I'm published alongside those legends.
And speaking of name-dropping, I got to connect with the extraordinary Ryka Aoki
, the show's featured writer. In doing so, I won the invaluable prize of encouragement from another woman of color artist, one who fully embodies what it means to create visibility for queer and transgender people.
Since I hope to integrate my writing with the work it takes to create an impact in social justice movements, I like to think it's all a little bigger than me. So here's what else I won, broken down by the pieces I read in each round.
imprison her or love her or love her or love
- Round 1: I read a poem called "alternatives to sentencing." I won a moment on stage to honor some of the inspiring young people I met in writing workshops at juvenile hall, through The Beat Within. Through art, I won the chance to show that there are always alternatives to our criminal legal system.
who does she think she is?
- Round 2: My poem was one of a series I call "the people say." These poems focus on one black woman doing what black women supposedly don't do. In this piece, I won the opportunity for confession, to admit that I am a black woman who does yoga, in spite of the common thought that yoga is for middle-class white women. To admit that I feel privileged when I can pause to stretch and breathe deeply, while others who look like me only have time to hold their breath and survive.
but i just thought i'd finish our chapter with something familiar: the way this pussy won't fall to you.
- Round 3: My final poem, "the power you left." I won the chance to say the word "pussy" eleven times on stage, and get nothing but respect for it. No, really. And with that, I won the right to have attitude, to emerge from the meek exterior I tend to hide behind, to laugh, to show anger and pride and self-assurance. I can think of times when I've been abused, objectified, or broken-hearted, and I can assure you, that confident attitude was surely a victory for me.
And in a space like The Lit Slam, surrounded by air electric with competition and encouragement and community, I won a boost to better myself as an artist. Not to feel superior or merely to brag, but to honor my fellow writers by recognizing that their art invigorates me to strive to be the best I can be. Especially with the knowledge that my victory can be for more than me.
Much love to Tatyana Brown
, the whole Lit Slam crew, and everyone who was part of that thrilling night. Look out for videos, publication, and name-dropping, coming soon.
Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
Me & my shiny new degree
School's out! One week ago, I graduated with my MFA in Poetry from Pacific University. It's hard to believe that my first residency there was already two years ago
, and now, my turn to walk across the stage as a graduate has already come and gone. Tonight, I'm showing off what I learned at Oakland's Beast Crawl, not by reading poems from my MFA thesis, but
by reading brand new work, all about vengeful sex. What can I say? I guess I needed some kind of release. If you can, come hear me read during leg 3 of Beast Crawl at Anger Management & Revenge: Dirty Trixxx
.I do have plenty of reflections about what my new degree means for my life and writing moving forward, though. I'll have lots more time now for sharing about this life here on the blog, but for now I'll leave you with
this – a version of the graduate presentation I gave at my last MFA residency. It's edited to remove the poems I included (gotta keep those to myself for now, in case of publication), and it doesn't quite carry the full effect of me delivering all this truth-telling in a little chapel hall full of people, of all places, but you'll get the idea of my journey through all of the learnings of the last couple of years. Click below to read more.
Here I am, blogging and apologizing. Saying, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging more often. Here I am falling back on the excuse that I've been busy. Busy, busy, busy. Here I am claiming that being busy keeps me connected, keeps me aware, makes me feel like I'm contributing to life around me and weaving a thread between my own heartbeat and the drumming that makes the world go 'round.
And here I am admitting that it's not (always) true. That sometimes, it's quite the opposite – staying
busy helps me disconnect, helps me keep moving without pausing to consider how I'm moving, or why. It helps me feel productive, which can seem fulfilling when I convince myself that I value productivity more than being in touch with the fullness of my reality, including any uncomfortable feelings I'd rather avoid.
For me, working and creating with dignity means being mindful about the work I'm doing, and being aware of all of my needs, even those I might be neglecting in any given moment by staying so busy. I'm thinking about what bell hooks wrote in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery:
"[t]he practice of 'right livelihood' invites us to become more fully aware of our reality, of the labor we do and the way we do it."
So here I am, pausing. Practicing "right livelihood" by taking a moment to think about how I can align my busy life with my dignity.
We all deserve to work with dignity, which is one of the reasons I'll be marching tomorrow for May Day, also known as International Workers' Day. It's a day for uniting in solidarity with immigrant workers, to stand up for human rights and say no to criminalization. CUAV's contingent will be part of San Francisco's march, walking together as LGBTQ survivors and our allies. Join us
, or find May Day events in your area
What does working with dignity mean to you?
Mr. Invisible Doesn't Like Rain
by Candace Fowler
I'm realizing I spend a lot of time trying to shake off the good things that come my way. I dismiss compliments to my work as exaggerations of my talent, shaking my head rather than letting the words stick. If I read the poem and the audience applauds, I try to let the sound fly off me like a dog shimmying water off its coat, instead of letting the praise sink in. And recently, upon reading a particularly glowing review of my poetry, I seriously considered the possibility that the reviewer was uncharacteristically drunk when she read my work. But I guess that's not likely.
Can anybody relate? Why do we do this? I guess I can see why people of color, or women, or queer people get used to the idea that we're not good enough, not deserving of good things, so it's easier to attribute our successes to other sources than to believe that we're really the ones who created something of value. After surviving abuse and oppression, I can understand why someone like me would have a hard time accepting that she's worthy of praise.
Today's practice is not one in humility. Today, I'm practicing saying something new - "I deserve this."
Recently, I've read my work as part of some truly magnificent events
, and poems of mine have been published in some compelling journals. It feels both humbling and empowering to share my work among such talent, and instead of asking, "What the hell am I
doing here?" I'm taking a breath and sitting with the feeling. And I'm saying, "I deserve this."
Try it out when good things come your way. Let me know how it goes.
And for one of those compelling journals in which I'm honored to have my work published, check out last December's issue of Blackberry: A Magazine.
I’m finally back to blogging! Sorry for the extended break, and thanks for sticking with me. What have I been doing during all this time off, you ask? Keeping busy. Here are a few highlights – more on the resulting insights later.
- I made a big move, crossing the Bay to move from San Francisco to Oakland. It feels a little like hooking up (and shacking up) with the person I’ve been crushing on for a long time, and it’s been really good for me so far.
- I attended my second-to-last residency for my MFA program at Pacific University. Spent most of my time there feeling floored by the fact that the time has passed so quickly, but I had a great time. One of the big high points – Kaffir Boy author Mark Mathabane as a guest speaker, calling us to be a “courageous, humanitarian generation of writers” who write with the spirit of Ubuntu, that which makes us human.
- On the school note, I’m now in my final semester of my MFA program, which means I’m putting together my thesis, a manuscript of poems. It’s an exhilarating, excruciating process that feels a little like killing my darlings and giving birth to new ones every day. So exhausting and so rewarding, to say the least.
- I’ve been booking reading gigs, and I’ll have details on those soon!
- And I’ve been taking good care of myself, which totally counts as a thing to include among this list of life achievements. Because it’s necessary. It’s revolutionary. It’s love.
But okay, I would be lying if I pretended I’ve been only triumphant in my time away. I’ve also been feeling the pressure of what Jay Smooth calls “the little hater,” which said that when I finally got back to blogging, my return would have to be GLORIOUS. Well, this is my return, and it might not be so glorious, but the important thing is that I’m back.
I encourage you to watch this video, and to beat your own little hater by getting back to doing something you love. Let me know how it goes. *Shout out to Sugarcane
, the LGBTQ of color writing workshop that brought this video into my life and helped me beat my little hater*