we connect through difference

after performing this person came up to me & said that they cried for themselves through crying for me & i was so touched. i started writing poetry to send an SOS to the world like does anyone else out there understand that something had gone very wrong? does anyone else feel this way: like everyone is just playing pretend, like you love & miss everyone even the people you never met, like you keep on being told you are too much because people are afraid of their abundance? most of the time i feel lonely & like the type of intimacy i yearn for in the world feels impossible. & when i say intimacy i mean the borders between people irrelevant — like that stranger is my potential friend, like i do not know them but i love them. but there are moments like this person tonight saying where i remember that i have found my people: the honest people. the messy people. the too-much people. the naive people. the people who can’t do small talk at parties people. the people who are trying to remember something else: a way of relating to one another rooted in kindness and transformation, humor and vulnerability, depth and superficiality (!). & so it’s hard really performing in front of crowds when all i want to do is take everyone out for soy hot chocolate and fall in love again and again as we talk about our daddy issues & how old we were when we learned how to tie our shoes & experienced our first death & skinned knee. one of the first rules of writing i teach is that the more specific you are the more universal it resonates. the paradox is we connect through difference. so i want everyone to have a microphone & an audience & a chance to scream & cry & laugh — to have people say yeah i get it the world is falling apart but you are wonderful and make me wish it wasn’t. so when i feel lonely i remember the people in the audiences: think about their heartbreak & coffee breaks & missed connections. think about their moms & their moms, and their secrets & exes. think about their indigestion & to-do lists, their Netflix cues & favorite recipe. i think about how different we are & how we are all the same. how many words we have created to pretend this isn’t the case.

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why i love workshops

it’s always hard for me to come up with names or descriptions for workshops. workshops are where we come to figure “it” out together. and by “it” i mean our heartbreak, our daddy issues, our dysphoria, our craft. i learned long ago that school often doesn’t work because we are told that the “teachers” are the “experts,” and we are told that the “personal” is irrelevant. but shouldn’t learning warrant a scream or a dance or a poem? shouldn’t learning mean we are all experts & teachers & students at the same time? workshops is where we go to talk about the things we are not supposed to talk about — to figure out how to have a body, how to love a body, how to treat a body. truth be told i am terrible at doing things alone. i couldn’t tie my shoe until thirteen, i burn pasta, i don’t take breaks & i have been procrastinating on taking care of myself for 27 years. which is another way of saying workshops are where we bring all of that to each other say, “here is where i am at. can you help me?” workshops are where we remember intimacy & make friends in a world that have digitized them both. in other words: workshops are where we resist loneliness, practice need, remember how to trust. i don’t know who i would be or hell even if i would be if it wasn’t for strangers i met at workshops who said “i do not know you but i love you, let’s try, fail, and try again.” workshops are for trying. and here i am at another airport trying to communicate how i fell in love with a group of strangers like they were my best friends for three hours on an afternoon in Cape Town where we laughed and cried and probably farted and sneezed, too. and in those three hours i didn’t feel lonely. i didn’t feel lonely.

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they love their power more than they love us

they say that they love us but they only care when we are thriving. they say that they love us, but they do not care we are dying. they say that they love us, but they only celebrate us on stages, ignore us off of them. to be brown & gender non-conforming & queer & femme is to be reduced to a metaphor, a symbol, a meme for the collective empowerment. is to only matter for entertainment value. is to be laughed at & beaten & disappeared. is to not be allowed to talk about it. they say that they love us but they only love us when we are triumphant. but what happens when we no longer can? what happens when we reserve our energy for ourselves? they said that they loved us but then they called us bitchy, selfish, narcissistic. they said they loved us but then they called us ungrateful, predators, freaks. we want them to love us so we forget that when they tried to hug us their hands ended up around our necks instead. we want them to love us so we pretend that we are strong. to be us is to be unreciprocated. is to give & give & give and have them run & run & run and have them take & take & take all of our magic and have them forget & forget & forget your name. they say that they love us but they love their power more than they love us. & so we find our own: we, the unreciprocated. we: the people we have been taught to hate. but are remembering how to love.

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permission to express

today they stared. today they laughed. today they photographed. today they tried their best to make me go inside. today they pointed. today they jeered. today they whispered. today they tried their best to make me go inside. today they repressed. today they projected. today they lied. today they tried their best to make me go outside. but today i went. but today i strut. but today i held my head high. but today i remembered. but today I forgave. but today i loved. but today i went outside. .

the policing of gender non-conformity is part of a larger project of policing creative expression. taking the “art” and cordoning it off in galleries, on runways and stages. making the art finite, temporary, inaccessible. we live in a world that dispossesses us of our creativity because if we were in touch with our self- expression we might imagine something else than the status quo, we might dream beyond the parameters of the now, we might remember ways of loving & living in harmony. art is a mode of living, not just something we do. it is who we are. and so i adorn this body. and so i come to you live and in color — always in color — because i want to give us permission. not just to express, but to be. not just to express, but to be.

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gender non-conforming people are the vanguard of fashion

trans & gender non-conforming people of color have always been the vanguard of style, beauty, and fashion. it’s just that our aesthetics made it into the covers, not our actual bodies. our aesthetics are decontexualized from our (gender)queerness — whitewashed & ciswashed — to make “mainstream culture.” queer culture is not fringe, it is the mainstream darling! the ways we style & adorn ourselves are deeply and inextricably linked to our self-birthing & perseverance in a world that constantly punishes us for being. our fabulosity is a tactic to generate self worth in a world that regards us as disposable. rather than waiting for the white/cis beauty & fashion industries to acknowledge & tokenize us, fetishize us as *new* — even though we have always been there (behind the scenes as makeup artists, designers, stylists, hair dressers, mood boards, culture) — we are doing it by ourselves for ourselves!

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destruction is creation

six years ago i was living in cape town when i caught on fire & sustained second & third degree burns on my hands & feet. my blanket got caught in my space heater & i woke up in flames. the thing about crisis is it suspends time. i googled what to do when you are on fire. i crawled to the shower. i remembered to grab my keys & my wallet. i thought about my mother & god (in that order). i felt mundane things that were magnificent & magnificent things that were mundane. i did not cry until i called my mom to tell her: your child is flaming (!) i will never forget that day lying on the hospital bed at 21 years old, writhing in pain, but viscerally aware that i was alive & that that was enough. this was the winter i couldn’t dance because of the bandages on my feet (so i invited people over). this is the winter i couldn’t leave the house for work because of the bandages on my hands, so i stayed at home. & i needed somewhere to put the pain, so i wrote. every day i wrote. poems about the mountain, poems about my body, poems about yours, poems about love, poems about loss. this was the winter i could not bathe myself so i read my poems to my roommate after they sponged me. this was the winter i made friends out of strangers, along with the leftovers in the fridge. & right before i left i did one final reading. i said “this is who i am” & i read those poems to that small group in that small living room in observatory & the people that i needed they said, “you are an artist” & for the first time i believed it. & i haven’t stopped writing & the living room got bigger & now there are hundreds of thousands of strangers i cannot wait to make friends. this is the winter i learned that destruction is another form of creation — that loss creates the space for something else, the cycle, stubborn & unyielding of a forrest set ablaze only to bloom again. & so here i find myself back again six years later back in this strange city i grew to call a friend writing to you once again because i need somewhere to put the pain. i am so grateful to be alive: in other words, here is my art. come over at 5. i need you.

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sisters not cisters

with the interruption of pride marches across the world this year (london, auckland, baltimore, the list goes on...) by trans exclusionary feminists it is time more than ever to establish that feminism without respecting trans women & nonbinary people is just patriarchy. reducing women to their genitalia & reproductive capacity is just misogyny. fortifying gender and sex binaries is not radical nor progressive, it is racist and conservative.

i believe feminism should be about liberating all people from the constrictive & coercive gender & sex binaries & norms that were imposed on us. i believe that feminism starts with intersex people of color, nonbinary people of color, trans people of color and all of the people they demonize & exclude.

in their efforts to resist male supremacy, these “feminists” have not accounted for how they are actually partnering with cis men to denigrate women (who happen to be trans).

this is not unprecedented or confusing, this is how the gender binary works. in the past decade we have witnessed hundreds of anti-trans policies introduced to criminalize & disappear gender non-conforming people advanced in the name of feminism.

now is the time for all of us to publicly denounce trans, intersex, & nonbinary exclusion. now is time for us to resist the manipulation of feminism in the service of anti-gender non-conforming discrimination. i have been harassed, ridiculed, & maligned by “feminists” for having the audacity to exist, let alone speak out against the pervasive violence me & my siblings endure. i have suffered in silence for too long! i need YOUR help — all of you! — in resisting the gender & sex binary and creating a world that affirms nonbinary people, trans women, and intersex people.

i need your help in ushering not just a new era of trans inclusion, but one of trans liberation! sisters not just cisters! sisters not just cisters!

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 Illustration by  Ashluka Draws

Illustration by Ashluka Draws

walking with grandpa

walking around the city with my 90 year old grandfather is one of my favorite things in the world. people are incredulous, confused, sometimes even abrasive. when people gawk at me or harass me he asks, “does this happen to you often? everywhere?” and i say “yes” and he responds “i don’t understand.” that look in his eyes when he says that makes me want to weep. i hurt and he hurts and it hurts. every time we meet he tells me about watching news segments about violence against trans people & to watch out & be careful. he says that this country is not hospitable to people like me & that it is very unfair. when i told him i was not a boy or a girl he told me that all great artists aspire toward androgyny, and we kept on walking together, talked about his art and mine. today we went on an excursion to meet one of his old friends. when he was talking about me he used gender neutral pronouns and it made me swell inside. pride month is always so hard for me. to watch everyone celebrate while the people i am & the people i love continue to be degraded with little acknowledgement, let alone concern. so i try to focus on the small victories: the pride in my grandfather’s eyes when he looks at me means more than anything else. i remind myself: there is no dissonance here. there is no dissonance here.

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my gender is my race is my gender

shuffling between family dinners & queer parties, disparate spaces & paradigms, where often it feels like all the indian people are cis & all the queer people are white. the collapse of history & language & memory that engenders this moment. the relentless & exhaustive ritual of asserting that we have always been — to the white queers who call their genders new, and the indians who call heteronormativity home. but i know my gender is my race is my gender is my family is my queers is my soiled makeup wipes in the car on the way to my mother is my lipstick, fecund, ready to bloom on the way back.

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our lives are the art

  • there’s this moment in a conversation where you ask a question & they start tearing up a little bit. their eyes glisten. time freezes. they look away. & when they speak it’s like the first time they are naming something. & there is nothing more beautiful than that moment: that dawning, the shedding. bearing witness to that. in that moment that something is the only thing that matters to me. this is my definition of joy: the collapsing of borders, the re-unification, us. the revelations that come from being together: every feeling dependent on its predecessor to exist. the things we don’t get to talk about, but need to. why is it the things that are most important & dear to us are the ones we rarely get to say? i like those moments because they remind me that we need each other to learn, to feel, to realize, to be. i don’t do small talk because i am tired of feeling small — i want to overflow. when i was in high school i used to turn on (mediocre, but deeply charming in retrospect) indie music & have conversations with my girlfriend & we would eventually stop talking & just look at each other in the eyes & start tearing up. we would say that one line from perks of being a wallflower: “in that moment / i swear / we were infinite” & we would feel like we were in a movie or a music video, which made us feel important & greater than ourselves. something about the simulation of it all made it feel more real. i swear i never loved her more. what i like about a good conversation is it is cinematic: the lives we live are expansive, dramatic, whimsical, dynamic. my favorite actors are my friends. & our living is the art. our living is the art! so i just want to take out everyone in the world for hot chocolate or dinner or both & i want to ask all of the tough questions & i want to figure it out together, take out a second to feel the poignancy & urgency of our becoming: how we got here, what we lost along the way. the things we know & need, everything. nothing. infinity.

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punished for existing

the other day i posted a photo of myself with a caption saying that nonbinary people are real. today i woke up to hundreds of hateful comments telling me to die, that i have a disorder, and that i want to be a victim.

this is how transmisogyny against nonbinary & gender non-conforming people works: on the one hand they say that we “want to be a victim” and with the other hand they beat us. on the one hand they make up gender binaries & norms and with the other accuse us of being fake. on the one hand they call us sensitive slowfakes & then with the other threaten to kill us. on the one hand they call us threats and with the other assault us.

all of this comes from having the audacity to exist! literally being told that we should be murdered simply for saying “i am real!” we are already always guilty. we don’t have to do anything, our appearance is weaponized by their projections & repressions. this is how patriarchy & fascism have always worked: scapegoating an extremely vulnerable minority for social/political/economic problems, manipulating discourse to render the people being attacked into being the attacker’s themselves, aggrandizing perceptions of our presence/power/authority to obfuscate our lived realities of violence.

it is important to recognize that these people are not “trolls,” they are not “a few bad apples,” they are not “extreme,” they are painfully normal, and ruthlessly honest. this is what the majority of people think of us: that we are interchangeably frauds, mistakes, threats, cry babies. this is why hundreds of anti-trans legislations are being introduced with little moral outcry. this is why the trump administration continues to repeal protections for trans people with no resistance. this is why harassment, physical/sexual violence against trans & gender non-conforming people continues to escalate with little to no resources or support to combat it (let alone survive under it).

imagine if tomorrow cis “men” & “women” were told that they were making it up, that they should be killed for being visible. imagine the outrage. now remember that this is what they do to us every day. all for having the audacity to exist.

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