Slice of Life

Poets performing at Dear Straight People talk slam poetry and coming out in college

Dani Pendergast | Art Director

In organizing the poetry slam Dear Straight People, the LGBT Resource Center hopes to help build to a safe space for LGBTQ individuals on campus and motivate straight individuals to stand up for what's right.

The first stanza of the poem “Dear Straight People” by Denice Frohman reads: “Dear Straight People,/ Who do you think you are?/ Do you have to make it so obvious that I make you uncomfortable?/ Why do I make you uncomfortable?/ Do you know that makes me uncomfortable?”

Dear Straight People, a poetry slam hosted by the LGBT Resource Center for National Coming Out Month, will take place Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Hendricks Chapel.

Four poets will perform a piece in response to the idea of “Dear Straight People.” The poets include Alix Olson, Kit Yan, Yazmin Monet Watkins and Danez Smith. They will perform their original poems as well.

Jesica Norman, a graduate assistant at the LGBT Resource Center, said that she hopes Dear Straight People and National Coming Out Month will help contribute to a safe community for LGBTQ individuals in what can be a hostile society.

Norman said she hopes that straight people will leave the poetry slam more open-minded, and more willing to address the microaggressions and hurtful behaviors that they witness in their communities.

The four poets — who represent students, full-time poets and actors — share their thoughts on the event and on coming out in college:

Alix Olson

 

Olson began touring as a spoken word poet in 2000. Now, she’s a candidate for a doctoral degree in political science and teacher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She describes her studies as the intersection between political theory, feminist theory and queer theory.

Olson struggled writing her poem for the Dear Straight People event, mostly, she said, because it was difficult to peg straight people into a single group that could be addressed all together.

“In 2015, I think that it’s challenging to think about straight people as a population,” Olison said. “I had to think really hard and really long, and I found this poem an incredibly difficult challenge to be tasked with because I’m not really sure what straight people are and what straight people means.”

While Olson said she values the individual significance of coming out, her studies have pushed her to challenge the LGBTQ perspective on coming out in a society where people are oppressed for all kinds of other reasons — be them race, class or gender.

“To me, coming out can’t be just about being celebrated as a gay person,” Olison said. “For me, it needs to be about understanding oneself in positions of power and privilege — allyship and solidarity with others who have also experienced exclusion.”

Danez Smith

 

Smith is currently a candidate for an MFA in creative writing at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Smith said he had difficulty writing his poem for Dear Straight People because he said he believes that straight people are accountable for respecting LGBTQ individuals and understanding LGBTQ issues, especially given the highly accessible resources on the topic.

Smith came out by accident after his mom picked him up from a party at a camp he was a counselor at. At the camp, a kid came out and all the junior high kids responded in a positive way, Smith said.

“I got tipsy for the first time, and my mom came to pick me up and I told her about the kid,” Smith said. “She asked, ‘How do you feel about that?’ I was like, ‘Oh I’m bisexual so it doesn’t matter.’ She yelled; it was scary. Then, the next morning she got me a book about being an LGBTQ teen. My mom is definitely a huge ally now.”

For his Dear Straight People poem, as opposed to drawing from his own personal experiences, Smith ended up asking his Facebook friends what they would want to tell straight people. He said poetry is a useful way to bring people together because it’s small and compact, “like a very small, very fast motorcycle.”

Yazmin Monet Watkins

 

Watkins is a full-time actor and poet, and volunteers weekly to teach poetry to incarcerated youth.

Watkins came out her sophomore year at Dickinson College, and said her undergraduate academic experience made her coming out process a piece in a greater puzzle shaping her identity.

“Navigating my sexuality and identity, particularly on a college campus, was so important — at the time, I was reading ‘The Color Purple’ and taking black feminist thought classes — and all of those things gave me that opportunity to feel welcome and to celebrate our existence, particularly in a safe space,” Watkins said.

Watkins said she is excited to perform at SU because it hosts The Posse Foundation program. Watkins was a Posse Scholar as an undergraduate, and said the program and its retreats helped mold her into the woman she is today. She said she hopes to meet some Posse Scholars at SU during the event.

Kit Yan

 

Yan is a Brooklyn-based slam poet from Hawaii. He’s been featured on HBO’s “Asian Aloud,” PBS’ “Searching for Asian America” and Myx TV.

Yan recognizes that coming out is different for everyone depending on their culture, and that some people’s life circumstances make it more difficult if not impossible for them to come out at all.

“The common narrative of coming out is a white American version of it, and for other folks of color and Asian-Americans, the coming out process can look very different,” Yan said. “The family unit is very important to many Asian cultures and a coming out process that incorporates that is something to think about, and for some folks, coming out may not be an option because of safety.”

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