Last night I went to a performance by Kay Barrett, a transgendered self-described "brown, round boi." A poet-performer, Kay powerfully spoke from his experience as queer, poor, and disabled. He shared a "found poem," a collection of things people say repeatedly that disrespect and "other" him. It was funny and painful.
As I watched Kay, I watched myself. I noticed my discomfort with not knowing what he was talking about sometimes. I noticed myself feeling guilty because I am so able-bodied and conditioned to be judgmental of those who are not. I noticed I felt afraid of saying the wrong thing and revealing how unfamiliar all the terms that he used were to me. I noticed that I referred to him as a she in a follow up conversation.
Kay taught me what I do not know and how I'm conditioned to not know UNLESS I take a conscious step to cross into his world and his subject position. A performance, a book, an interview, a download is a way to cross over to someone else without asking them to do extra work for me.
I also learned that when doing this kind of work, (art that activates, reveals and makes those complicit in your oppression aware), we need to take care of ourselves. Kay shared that he uses a spiritual practice of seeing himself and others figured in the poems in light prior to performing. Otherwise, the stories would re-traumatize. Kay also gave trigger alerts before poems that involved domestic abuse, trans violence and other situations that could spark deep hurts within the audience.
Watching Kay, watching me gave me a chance to practice being aware without judgement. I got a hint of what white-identified people might experience when they come to my performances. This reminded me of the silences after a show or the feeling of heaviness in a space when people recognize how painful racism is. So what to do with what I noticed? Love it. And keep learning. Kay is a part of me and I am a part of him. I'm committed to loving all of us.