The use of the phrase “in broad daylight, black girls look ___” in the title of almost every poem clearly centers visibility. How do you see your work contributing its own rays of light to the representation of Black, masculine-of-center, queer women?
This project was born of my thesis project in a graduate program. The working title of the thesis was Black Butch Visibility. I was really trying to center women, masculine-of-center women, butch women who present in the ways that I do. I feel for the most part, even in hip-hop or in film, when people talk about lesbians they have an image in their mind of what that is. I feel that there is a great element of erasure that takes place there. I wanted more stories like mine to be prevalent, especially in the world of poetry and spoken word, which is something that I’ve come to know and love over the last ten years, but still hadn’t necessarily experienced anyone just outwardly being enamored with themselves and their own representation in terms of butch women and masculine-of-center women.
The poems “in broad daylight black girls look gat” and “in broad daylight black girls look gat II” are made from comments posted in response to questions you asked on Facebook: “Why do you have a gun?” and “Why don’t you have a gun?” Guns and gun culture play a huge role in the American psyche, and that’s directly related to the inherent violence of America. Can you talk about exploring gun culture and violence in the book?
Unfortunately, I have been privy to a ton of violence. I have known and am related to folks that have been lost due to gun violence. My relationship to guns is very complex in that, the first time that I had known someone to harm themselves, I did all of this research about what makes a bullet lethal and what the process is when the bullet itself exits the gun and the language around it — “exit wound” and “ripped entry” and “crime scene data.” I was just really in this wormhole of information. How quickly just this one little small instrument can erase an entire person.
When I was younger I was very much desensitized, and now I feel like I’m very hypersensitive to films that have a lot of gun violence or music and lyrics that discuss guns. I’m affected so much that it doesn’t allow me to live in that moment. It brings me back to all of these other instances and the horror of the guns.
[Asking people on Facebook why they do/don’t own a gun] was somewhat of a social experiment because the things that people say on the internet are so wild. I’m not opposed to freedom of speech and self-expression, but people don’t even know that this is what they sound like. The thought process for me with those poems and blacking out the names was also because I knew folks were going to read this, and I know exactly who said what, but they’re not even going to remember what they said. And now that it’s canonized I want people to focus a bit more on the impact of language and the weight of words.
You write openly about your experience with assault, abuse, and violence. How do you take care of yourself when you write and perform these vulnerable poems?
I have gotten into a place where I can pretty much self-assess if I’m ready to perform a certain poem or discuss a certain topic or not. In terms of the writing, I have adopted this policy of allowing myself the freedom to walk away. I spent so much time guilting myself into believing that the necessity of telling the story meant that I had to hold myself in these spaces of darkness and get the truth out and save the world. Now I know that, one, that’s not my ministry, but two, it’s not something that I can actually do as my own human person.
If I feel overwhelmed, I take myself away. I watch something mindless, like a Disney movie or something, and make sure that I have people around. Mentorship and having trusted editors has been a very influential part of my success and my journey thus far. I also make sure that I’m checking in with them.
But I do think that it’s incredibly important for me to get the stories out. So in some ways, I do hold myself to a certain standard when creating and then afterwards I definitely figure out the best ways to, if I’m down, lift myself up. I think about how to properly get this out into the world, trying my best to focus on harm reduction.