Dear Straight People poetry slam draws upon important, emotional topics

The LGBT Resource Center hosted four poets at "Dear Straight People," the keynote event for Coming Out Month.

“Dear Straight People: Congratulations, we made it to 2015 without having this conversation,” Yazmin Monet Watkins said in front of a lively audience that snapped and cheered at Hendricks Chapel on Tuesday night.

The LGBT Resource Center organized the “Dear Straight People” poetry slam, which was the keynote event of Coming Out Month. The performers were four queer and trans* spoken word artists from diverse backgrounds: Danez Smith, Kit Yan, Yazmin Monet Watkins and Alix Olson. The poets explored the way queer and trans* politics intersect with racism and other social issues in the United States in their original poems. Kit Yan, the emcee of Tuesday’s event, was also the keynote speaker for Coming Out Month in 2012.  

Tiffany Gray, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said that the poetry slam is part of an effort to make SU a safer campus and is, “meant to spark dialogue within and across the LGBT community around marginalized and diverse sexualities, and to encourage straight and cisgender people to work in solidarity with LGBT people.”

Danez Smith, the first performer, and their spoken word integrates humor and seriousness, as they tackle a range of topics, such as usage of the n-word, the complexity of gender and the representation of black people in the media.   

In a poem called, “Dinosaurs in the Hood”, Smith imagines the creation of movies with black people that are not centered on race, and will not cause black pain.

“I want Viola Davis to save the town in the last scene,” Smith said, eliciting cheers from the crowd. “And nobody kills the black boy, and nobody kills the black boy, and nobody kills the black boy and for once, nobody kills the black boy.”

Yazmin Watkins discusses hope and love in her work, as well as her struggle navigating her sexuality with her spirituality. She announced that she just got engaged, and in the poem called, “When She Smiles”, she said, “I would harness a thousand suns, and wrestle decades of discrimination,” just to see a smile on her lover’s face.

In his set, Kit Yan discusses queer and transphobia, as well as racism and xenophobia. He talked about how gender can be restrictive and oppressive, and said, “Is it truly worth embarrassment, imprisonment?” Yan also brought in humor by telling the story of his experience with “straight speed dating,” which he described as everything he had previously fought against. He also mentioned healing and said, “Let’s do whatever it takes to take this queer heartache and make this a home”. 

Alix Olson’s set involved reflection on feminism and gender binaries, and she did a performance in a diary format, in which she reveals her complicated relationship with the United States.

“When she thinks I’m not looking, my country steals my checkbook and spends it on things like new drones,” she said.

In the last part of the night, the four poets directly addressed the theme of Dear Straight People.

Olson says that the category of “straight” does a disservice to people by classifying them as one thing. “I mistook straight for a kind of people,” she said. “I mistook straight for a vision: straight uncomplicates what we see.”

Morgan Cavalcanto, a senior Public Relations major at the event, said that her favorite poet was Olson.“She definitely spoke to me as far as who I identify,” she said. “All of them were really great, because they had that intersectional component: they were talking about race, gender, sexuality and class.”

Smith’s last poem was intended to keep straight people in check, and tell them to stop hurting queer people. “Stop killing us. We did nothing to you but be alive. And don’t we make it look so good.” 

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