On November 16, 2016, I talked with poet Kay Ulanday Barrett about their book When the Chant Comes: Poems 2003-2016 (Topside Press, 2016). Kay or K. aka @brownroundboi self-identifies as navigating the world as a “disabled pin@yamerikan transgender queer.” Conducted just days after the 2016 Presidential election and in the wake of the summer 2016 Pulse night club shooting, this
interview was motivated by a spirit of resistance to the current political moment. As Kay shares in our interview, When the Chant Comes is a “book of transitions” and creates an ancestral archive of “coming of age as a disabled, queer trans mixed race person of color.” Little did we know at the time just how many transitions we would face in the coming year, and Kay’s poetry demands a legacy for SD QTPOC (sick disabled queer trans people of color) and offers all of us a road map for defiant joy
and unruly resilience in the face of devastation.
Laura Kina: The poems in When the Chant Comes span thirteen years of your life, flickering between resistance, rage, and resilience. Can you take us into this process—this journey?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: The title of When the Chant Comes is really important to
me as it stems from chosen fam to chosen fam, friend to friend—interaction between me and my friend Andre. We both went to DePaul together. We both went to undergrad together. We were young, tiny, queer people raised together. I thought it encapsulated what I needed for the book. The full thirteen years of my life—really some of that was written when I was just hitting my early twenties.
This book is in so many parts for myself. It’s broken up per section with death, sickness, love, and soul. This book is where I came of age as a queer person, as a trans person. This is when I first started doing work with women of color—specifically Filipina and APIA women and trans and queer people. This book is very much to me a dilapidated mapping of what it was to be a queer trans person of color who was kicked out and homeless, went to school, and collaborated with a bunch of people. What it tries to do, what it aims to do, is really just look at the full scope of what
QTPOC adulthood is.
It landmarks before my mom’s death, after my mom’s death, being able bodied, and then being disabled. There are a lot of transitions. This book in itself is a book of transitions. Not just in the most typical transgender journey of female to male in its most binary sense, but I feel and I hope that it grapples with the strangeness and oddities of everyday pieces of being—what it’s like to be mixed race, brown, and trans, the child of a migrant, fluctuating between poverty and upward mobility.
I haven’t read very many books trying to have a broader discussion of how all those pieces operate as a whole. I remember being younger, performing queer poetry, and a lot of what I was hearing being white and cis, and me thinking, “Wow, there are parts of this I can take with me and there are parts I’m still really thirsty for.” During that thirteen years, people are actually growing with me through my fumbles, through my mistakes and my own internalized misogyny, through my struggling through poverty and financial privilege, struggling with being able bodied and not.
I wanted the book to be ancestral. I wanted it to lay a groundwork for trans people of color, queer people of color, who may not have family of origin, to really try to call to the family of origin that may or may not support you, whether they are dead or alive. A lot of my dialogues are around coping with death—coping with death as a young queer person of color. I don’t think there are manuals for when a parent dies, or when a grandparent dies, or when a friend dies in the queer trans people of color community. I think we have a lot of visuals, which are important, and days of
remembrance, but I don’t think we have enough models for when—which is often for queer trans people of color—for when your friends, your lovers, your comrades commit suicide. What does that feel like? What is it like to be excommunicated from your family but still be a caretaker for somebody who has passed away?
This book is not linear. This book isn’t saying this is what the trans experience is, but this book is saying, “here’s some things that are really strangely being uncovered, let’s try to use poetic technical devices to encapsulate that experience within under one hundred pages. Go.” Hopefully every poem has some form of a chant that I’m calling, whether it’s of hopelessness, of needing support, of feeling loneliness, of feeling like you don’t fit—whether it’s in gender binaries or with your family.
LK: “If your family is forced here” opens the book, and poems to your family members are woven throughout. I was really struck by “Uncertain” and how prescient and pertinent it is to our current political moment. You set up personal and institutional contrasts between you and your “beaming activist,” college-educated queer friends and your mom—who was working class and an immigrant from the Philippines. Can you talk about your mom in terms of, as you state in your poem, knowing only two places, “work and home,” and how she told you “report cards were methods of survival”?
KUB: I was raised to understand the bootstraps that are within the American Dream, that thick space that is survival, survival, survival. It’s a weird space. Here I am, with a single-parent mom, and she is the most scary-frightening, most powerful being that I have ever reckoned with as a child to an adult, and she is deeply affected—the word “oppressed” is such a minimal word—deeply impacted by this system. Growing up with a person who could feed you, take care of you, work miracles in a super-white, super-straight, cis, skinny, white-womanhood American place. And here my mom was, and not to speak of her in isolation—I’m not the only kid who had a brown mama who worked her ass off to make sure her kid had something that she didn’t have—but what a curse the United States imposes on people of color and migrants of color to create this dynamic. My mother and I were always in tension, and this tension was always grounded in U.S. colonialism. It’s a
deep love-hate relationship.
What’s really beautiful and exquisite but also super fragile there is that…just cuz I went to college doesn’t make me better, you know? Because I was in the right place at the right time, had the right resources, I worked hard enough, this right niche in time, I was able to ascend in a way where my mom worked her whole life and couldn’t ascend. That burden that comes to both of us truly hit her as a working-class mom—of course that’s what she wants for her child. Though I’m sure from what I experienced and what I heard from her, it was super heartbreaking. So to carry that persistent heartbreak that happens from institutional, constant institutional ache— fat brown women who are working-class domestic workers are told that they are not something to be proud of, are not celebrated in this country. But your responsibility is to raise a “citizen” or somebody who can assimilate into the same system that is holding you down. That’s beyond cumbersome.
My family didn’t choose to be here. They tried to assimilate. They tried to do their best to survive. They equipped me with as many resources and educational opportunities as they could as brown people. I grew up political as a child. My mother always made sure we were with other Filipin@ folks and that we spoke her languages—not just Tagalog but the languages where my family is from. I think there is something to say about that again where you are institutionally told that white is right—when that’s just poured down your throat, right, there has to be a way where those parents teach their children to really navigate that.
My mom was like, “I know school sucks but you have to do well. That report card, unfortunately, is going to get you to places that I can’t get you to.” She would give me a real talk at age twelve like, “You don’t have the space to fuck up. You are not white. We didn’t come from money. You are a girl.” At the time I was assigned female at birth. “You are a woman. This world hates women, moreover brown women, so you just have to work harder.” I know those things she instilled in me are still lessons that I embrace enough to feel plagued by.
How do we buy into this system? How do we connect to this system? How do we disassociate from it? How do we resist it? My mother had so many tools that she used every day—she used those multiple strategies simultaneously. To try to encapsulate that in poem 1) is really difficult and 2) to try to capture that on page is tricky. I can perform it. I’ve created an embodied way to develop characters and to develop my mom throughout my poetry, but to capture it on page was a deep
I think there are ways that that specific poem “Uncertain” just feels like it connects with how people are displaced from their countries, how the U.S. and war have impacted our parent’s homelands, our own homeland, and those residual effects that are on us. Growing up, I knew what martial law was. Growing up, I knew what a dictator was. I don’t think a lot of young white Americans who are from anywhere from third to eighth grade know those words.
LK: Yet. Sadly, yet.
KUB: Now, right! Even with the Bush regimes, I was thinking about the Bush regimes—there were children who grew up with the wars in Iraq, just grew up with that as every day. But again being in the belly of the beast, it’s different. Whereas with my mom—people had to leave the Philippines. There was always an urgency. You have to take care of family in the Philippines. My upbringing, though I am not of the Philippines—I was born here, there was always this etched in responsibility.
LK: When the Chant Comes is a familiar Asian American story of immigration, diaspora, assimilation, and alienation that explores your position as a 2nd generation “pilipinx/pin@y,” but it’s the “x” and “@” that resist normalization. How do you say “pin@y”?
KUB: I say “pilipinx/pin@y”—the “@” symbol resonates with me a lot because “pinoy” and “pinay,” to me…
LK: …are gendered terms.
KUB: Yah. “Pin@y” is non-gendered or a-gendered or represents all the genders. “Pilipinx” is a newer term.
LK: Like “Latinx.”
KUB: Exactly. We’ve come in that wave of using that term as a more queered and GNC [gender non-conforming] term. Now would I ascribe that term to folks back in the Philippines or other places abroad? Probably not. That would be assumptive.
LK: It’s a very English-language term.
KUB: Yah, and it does push back. I am not pinay. I am not binary-gendered pinay. I do not fit in the scaffold of what those scripts are. I just don’t. So there has to be another term to call myself, to call my peers, my fam in ways that resonate with us. I think that’s what the carving of language does. That’s what artists do. We try to find resilient ways—pockets where we can still feel alive, where we still feel like we are not as encumbered. People say language is just a joke, but it’s not. Sometimes we need it to hash out what fits and what doesn’t. When people say, “Oh yeah, Pinay is organizing for justice”—I’m not a cis woman. Some of those terms just don’t apply to me. So that’s where that language takes place.
LK: Earlier you were saying that this book is about “people growing with you,” and you talked about your friend Andre. Can you take us into the world of “Rhythm is a dancer” and your pop and lock, uprock, b-boying teenage years growing up on the Northside of Chicago in Logan Square? “Rhythm is a dancer” is so nostalgic and celebratory.
KUB: That poem was written ten years before Pulse Orlando. Somebody pointed that out in another review, that to them it feels like a psalm. It was a reminder about how cultural spaces, particularly for queer trans people of color, cultural spaces are a vital necessity. How do we create? My mom knew what colonization was before people taught me that word; I knew what queer antagonism or queer phobia was before I knew those words were even common vernacular.
My friend Andre, and a lot of people I grew up with, who also still now live in Chicago and organize in Chicago in QTPOC spaces, used to go to this club called The Royal. It was spelled “THE ROYAL,” but we called it the “ROY + AL—I have no idea why, but I guess it was to give it more zing. A lot of us were under twenty-one so it was an under-twenty-one club, and it was mostly POC, and they played freestyle music, hip-hop, bachata, merengue—they played everything that was possibly brown or black.
I swear going to school, there’s something about being raised working class and poor and then going to a school that is highly affluent, where code-switching becomes desensitized…growing up, I just really needed a break from that shit. And to do that, the cultural spaces like this club really enabled me to be my whole self. I didn’t need any words. I could really socialize with queer and trans people of color and discover myself. For right or wrong. For sloppy or beautiful. We had a place where we could be ourselves whether conservative schools or conservative parents or conservative systems we were surviving could hold us; those structures were always precarious. But going to a dance club and seeing yourself reflected in other young people—not being told holding another girl’s hand is wrong, not being told that wearing clothes that people feel are opposite of your assigned gender is wrong—is completely revelatory.
I can’t say enough…the loss of art in QTPOC space is basically the loss of historical archives and the loss of safe spaces.
LK: This poem is an archive. A living archive.
KUB: Exactly. I want my friends now who are in their mid-thirties, hitting our forties, to remember this is where we developed our cultural resistance. Maybe there weren’t placards there, but we knew how to take care of each other. How to dance. How to bring joy. During that time—that’s during the Bush regime. I remember the fear of the Bush regime. I remember going to protests on Lake Shore Drive and how if you don’t have art—whether that’s a dance space, a visual art space, a poetry space,
I don’t care if it’s like pottery, whatever it is—by your people and for your people, the odds of us surviving felt pretty limited. “Rhythm is a Dancer” states: “before the well-intentioned missionaries, before the rich studied our rhythms,” all of that stuff is compounded and causing so much pain and institutional pain—I want to say psychic pain, mental pain, physical pain—you need places to go. “Rhythm is a Dancer” is that place where in every city there are some queer and trans youth of color who are hella broke but they have places to go where they can juke and dance. “Rhythm is a Dancer”—that was my place as a young person, literally seventeen to twenty-one. We were out clubbing a lot! I don’t know if you knew that about some of your students, Laura?
LK: Oh, nooo…[sarcastically]
KUB: Working all the jobs, going to all classes, and going to all the clubs to balance that painful deficit that happens in classrooms of whiteness or in the streets of straightness. The places that “Rhythm is a Dancer” tries to embody are the places that I feel remind me that there is joy, that remind me that queer and trans people of color socialization is an exclusive and necessary act of resilience.
LK: I want to stay back in the past. When I first met you, it was after 9/11 and we were both part of the Asian American Artist Collective-Chicago. I was part of a group called Project A under the Collective and you were a member of the Collective’s Mango Tribe. I know you came up through the spoken word scene in Chicago. You’ve talked about not being formally trained in poetry. I still see that spoken word, Chicago style in your work. Reading this book, I could hear it and I could see it on the page too. Can you talk about that mix of genres of spoken vs. composed for the page, particularly in “YOU are SO Brave”? It’s so hilarious, pissed-off, and painful all at once. The way it looks on the page is fascinating. It’s performance on the page.
KUB: Thank you for that. That poem, I had a round of editors…it’s interesting— some people adored it and other people were just like, “trash it.” I had one particular editor who was like, “I don’t see the point in it.” I was like, “Wow!” I was befuddled. First of all, it’s from a very specific embodied location. When you build anything from scratch…I’m coming from the positionalty of poverty. I’m a poor person. I’m a person of color. I’m a childhood migrant. I build things from scratch. That is what I do. That is no different in my poetry. If I am not taught, I will find a way. What better than specifically with “YOU are SO Brave.” The connotation of sarcasm is so sharp—what better to do than to take exactly what people say to me, my peers, things people say in medical offices and at the SSDI [social security disability insurance] offices and exams, workers comp exams, take it and put it on its head; just lay it flat out for the whole world to see. This cento showcases the combination of harmful phrases said to us in one whole day. Could you imagine? It’s very hard to read. I am making the audience work.
LK: I had to hear you in my head in order to be able to read it.
KUB: Precisely. So we are shifting inflection, causing accidental indentation. We are going from lowercase to uppercase. We are going out from first person narrative to exact quotation. In that, I want my audience to work. Cuz if they feel just slightly entertained or slightly in pain or slightly exhausted from that work, then they can get just one millisecond of what it’s like to be a sick and disabled queer and trans person of color.
When I’m thinking about my lineage—my poetry lineage—as you know, the 90s and early 2000s, I feel like that was a spoken word and slam renaissance. Young Chicago Authors had just started Louder Than a Bomb in the early 2000s. I worked with Young Chicago Authors, I was with Mango Tribe, and Women Out Loud. I was cultivated by mostly queer women of color and women of color; some were educated in poetry and others were not, some went to residencies and some did not. I
got to workshop with them and draw from our mixed APIA and women of color and queer experiences.
During that time too in Chicago, it’s like super slam, super hip-hop. Hip-hop was so hyped with young people and people of color. What was missing—queer and transgender non-conforming people weren’t allowed in the fold. So we had to create ourselves in different places. There was an acceptance of white straight people in hip-hop, but a deep lack of gender non-conforming and trans people of color. Now, there are a few trans men of color, black bois, trans brown women in a cipher battling anybody. That was not always, in my experience, welcomed. If anything, it was met with discouragement and erasure.
I sought some form of queerness through Mango Tribe. Not all the members were queer, but you know, there was less struggle. I could talk to folks about my pronouns and we could get it together. My poetry was always welcomed. I worked within big cultural groups. There was always this interconnected network of Asian Pacific Islander women and women of color and queer and trans folks. Within that patchwork, I was raised to be at a mic. I learned my basic mechanics from sound
management from being in a sound booth, to being a stage manager, to coaching poetry slams, to directing plays, directing young people in theater production. Chicago raised me in my arts background from the ground up.
LK: Hoot! Hoot!
KUB: There’s nothing…even when I’m on the East Coast—I said this to another person who works in Boston who was raised by the Midwestern spoken word and poetry scene: Chicago is both literary and spoken. For me it was entirely cohesive in the arts process. If you went to a writing workshop, you would then later go to a protest where that same facilitator would be there. And then you would go to a slam or open mic, and sneak in if you were under age, and they would be performing.
During that time, I felt like cultural workers and poets weren’t just literary poets or onstage slam poets, but they worked on the mechanics of the page and the stage and also in political protest. It wasn’t like, “I’m just going to teach poetry to these young people and call that political.” It was like, “No, now we are going to do political organizing.” People like Lani Montreal and Sharmili Majmudar—those are queer women of color who raised me. Anida Yoeu Ali, who is a cis straight
Cambodian Muslim woman, who raised me and taught me theater mechanics. If you name any of those three people, I would never consider them “arm chair revolutionaries.” Those people are the down and the brown. I wasn’t raised by people who were just satisfied with poetry in the classroom or just thought the mic was enough.
My perpetual goal in any adult writing career is to engage that cohesion. I would have gotten that nowhere else. I firmly believe, having travelled nationally, and this could just be my Midwest best 773 pride, but I sincerely feel like Chicago during that time really laid a foundation for me.
LK: I see you still have a Chicago phone number too!
KUB: Yup! Not ‘gonna change.
LK: “Crip Sick Tankas: A Performance Series” is similar to “YOU are SO Brave” in that it’s highlighting disability. Is this one you would also perform? Is it written for the stage or page?
KUB: I think they are for both. They are read in a way that is everyday conversation. For me, the poems are good individually, they are also for the wingspan of someone who is sick, disabled, and queer (“SDQ” is a term coined by Billie Rain). So if you are low-spirited and down without energy, with those poems—you read one and you good.
LK: It’s like a little haiku.
KUB: It’s an extended haiku. It is actually the form of a tanka, also Japanese. It has a 5-7-5-7-7 scheme with two lines extra. I wanted to play with a very tight form and be adamant with those restrictions to demonstrate the restrictions that enable a sick, disabled, queer person on their everyday and how things sometimes come in spurts. There is humor in the sickness—when I go from “sdq love” to “ex-partnership” and then talking about my dogs and breakfast—
LK: —and “Netflix.”
KUB: Yeah, as somebody who has acquired a disability and has multiple disabilities and chronic pain, it’s an isolating life. It’s “you soon to be forgotten,” especially that poem “when your body outgrows your friends.” People forget you. We are in an age of social media, instant gratification, constant Facebook updates, and so if you are not plugged in in a particular way that is extroverted and social and public—especially in queer space—I think you become forgotten.
You don’t have energy because you are talking to doctors about reinforcing your pronouns or telling them exactly how your body feels. You’re trying to explain to your friends who are able-bodied who never felt pain. You’re literally speaking multiple languages. I tried to express to a person, “Why am I so exhausted?” and they had just acquired their disabilities, and they said, “You talk to the rheumatologist, you talk to your x-ray person, your MRI person, and none of them get your gender, right? They are probably anti-black, if you are a black person. And then you’re talking to your friends who are used to going out clubbing and used to hanging out and socializing in a particular way, and you are unable to do that anymore.” So you are traversing multiple languages just trying to prove what is happening is real. I find that to be so exhausting.
And then when you are trying to love somebody and then when you are having sex with somebody who is also in pain. And then you always have to navigate the medical industrial complex. It’s not the disability that for me is so painful, it’s mostly the harmful implications and effects of systems and of people who just don’t understand sick and disabled chronic ill experiences. That poem, I want somebody who is in pain to be able to flip through my book and be like, “I just need to read somebody who kinda knows what this is like.” And if they pass out from meds or they are in too much pain, they can look at one or two poems and be like “OK” and then that was that. It doesn’t have to be an extremely long read. They don’t have to be exactly performed in a loud or a quiet manner. It’s more so to make them accessible and short as possible.
LK: Can you tell me about the book’s title piece “When the Chant Comes,” which you dedicated to your friend Andre, and how this piece relates to your transition and “getting top surgery and being ready to be on T” [testosterone]?
KUB: I think there is this mistake that happens in queer, trans, and gender nonconforming
spaces that “we all good,” that we all get each other. We are all on the same page. Often you have communities that are marginalized that struggle to perform that everything is “all good.” But here I was in a very long-term partnership with somebody who I thought knew me through and through, and when I was finally like, “This is what I want to do with my body. Bless it, I’m finally at a financial place where I can do it. I want to engage this way,” to be told by anyone you love…and to have that deeply questioned…and also for them to not just further fat shame you but minimize basically who you want to be—it’s like denying somebody their puberty. That’s basically what happened. When you are your most heartbroken, I really feel that it’s your chosen family that can uplift you.
I remember that call. This poem—it doesn’t sway too far out there from the actual conversation. From verbatim. Andre did say, “Baby, I’ll breath, meditate, love you, and tell you when the chant comes.” It’s a place of trying to be a reckoning. I’m trying to reap some hope. There’s somebody who is rallying for me. There is somebody who knows my history. Who knows my sweat. Somebody who has known me broke. I have a history of surviving even the most painful of heartache. “When the Chant Comes” tries to create a chasm in those spaces that are the most deeply broken. Like when you think you got your shit down and you got all your ducks in a row and here you go, you deliver this beautiful gem of accomplishment and for whatever reason, whether it’s institutional, personal, whatever reason, political, it is not accepted or it’s shot down.
That momentous piece of defeat—where do you go when all you’ve got is dust? This poem also tries to scrape, to ask, “Where did you come from?” “Who are your people?” “Who came up wit’ you?” before this heartache came, and they will be there, whether symbolically, metaphorically, or literally on the phone with you, talking you down.
This is a panic attack poem. This is like, “I’m going to create the best of me. I am ready to become what I need to become so I feel safe in my body. Not just in the system but to just feel safe in my body.” And somebody I love said, “blah” [Kay makes spitting noise and laughs.] Wow. I laugh because it is still so painful sometimes to read that poem. It’s not even the person. It’s the sheer act of it and how that translates to other things.
Have you ever just wanted something so bad and you know you deserve it? It’s in you. It is yours. It is your gift. It is your right. It has been called upon by your ancestors and everybody who’s built you and mentored you and you just did not get it. I think that is a frequent arc in queer trans people of color space. We do not get what we deserve. And when we try, we have to work harder for it. Sometimes we are going to face heartaches that we did not anticipate. So where do we stockpile our
canned goods and prepare for those emergencies? Because we know we won’t always be accepted. So what does it take? Where do you scrape at the bottom of your bowl to still feel fed? “When the Chant Comes” aims to embody that feeling.
LK: A lot of your book is love poems. You’ve divided up the book thematically in Tagalog/English captions: katarungan/justice; mahal/love; karamdaman/ sickness; kamatayan/death; and kapwa/soul. But nothing stays in the “correct” spot. The themes are all mixed together, and it’s misbehaving. But I feel like there are love poems in every section, and a lot of these are beautiful self-love poems too. “Homebois Don’t Write Enough” is at once an anthem and love poem. Can you talk about this piece?
KUB: I think that it’s something I struggle with on a daily basis, along with my comrades and peers and my other trans masculine, masculine queer community. How do you value yourself and not ascribe to heteronormative, cis, white, American standards? You already know you don’t fit there. Me personally, I’m a super tender queer—not the quintessential man by any means, but depending on where people are, I reap those benefits because there is cis-sexism involved. But what do we do?
And I think I’m still answering that question, and I think I’m still doing that work. I’m constantly being challenged in ways that I need and also challenging other people around me. It’s not the same, but it’s like American privilege. It is loathsome and strong and insipid. How do you counter misogyny? How do you not benefit from it? And how do you love yourself at the same time? I want to be proud when I wear a fitted. Some of my body, actually, is not binary gendered. I am gender nonconforming. Do not mistake me for that regular bro-dude frat guy and understand that my body is not safe and my body is policed and I can be an asshole!
KUB: I’m so glad that you say the book is misbehaving. The entire thirteen years
of my life have been dedicated to misbehaving. Nothing that I do (or a lot of my
communities do) is considered being in tow with mainstream.
So in that poem, I also wanted to take what people considered binary genders— folks who super ascribe to a certain kind of masculinity, masculinity doesn’t have to be toxic, it just doesn’t have to be. I don’t think toxicity and masculinity have to be one and the same. I think that’s a very controversial thing to say. For me, supremacy is my concern. Misogyny is my concern. If that is the primary standard of behavior that is harmful, that’s something I have to learn to undo, that I’m trying to undo. Often times I fail. Often times a lot of my peers fail.
If we are really working in transformative justice, then we have to allow for human mistakes but also human change. I hope that the poem can try to do that. I don’t think it fixes everything. I know femme transness. I know butch transwomen who are femme. For me, it’s not necessarily a debunking of the binary, but it’s like, “Yo, it has mad holes. It is not working.” If you’re ascribing to it, in a way that internalizes or perpetuates misogyny—things that I’ve done, the way that I was raised, the men in my life, cisgender straight men (white and brown) taught me many things. That’s what I thought manhood was. As I became gayer or queerer or faggyer or more genderqueer, I was like, “Oh, that’s not me at all.” I know I’m not a conventional woman, but so then what? Then we create words like “pin@y” and “pilipinx.” Then we create words like “genderqueer.” Then we go back to homeland languages.
“Homebois Don’t Write Enough” informs “you are lovable. You can be seen. You can be visible.” The system treats you like shit but it doesn’t matter if you wear a cap or if you look like a man because people read that as patriarchal misogyny, and patriarchy and misogyny want to hold their place, they will attack you for even trying to resemble them—for being non-binary. Brownness is a threat. So it’s about being a threat. It’s about being threatened. It’s about internalizing how to threat. What do you do afterwards but talk to other people who might have those same experiences and really mourn together and really celebrate each other?
That poem in particular is an anthem. It’s a hard anthem to perform honestly because I struggle with its meaning and its tenets every day, and people come to me with the same. How hard is it in this world to be told you are unloved and to be told in the same sentence that you are privileged, right? Again, it’s a both/and concept…What I’m trying to do is like, “There is nothing cut and clean.” There is nothing 100%. This is not necessarily a linear existence…this is a dream space. This is a visioning space. This is a space that people taught me way before I knew how to write poetry. The people in this book, the ancestors I brought, taught me how to write these poems. I’m not saying they are squeaky clean at all. That’s the opposite of what I’m saying. I’m saying they definitely misbehaved. I think the center of them is ruckus and at the center of them is a lot of discomfort. And it’s okay to love and still be uncomfortable.
LK: And you end it, “Make us a legacy that is beyond all this.”
KUB: There has to be more, right? In this system, in what we are dealing with now, this level of terror and trepidation, if we don’t create on-the-ground strategies to survive and thrive together and dream bigger, dream bigger than this—my worry is that let’s say we do. Let’s say we accomplish what we need to accomplish in social justice and liberation, and everybody is taken care of; what does that mean tangibly? I want to be beyond this. I want to take the parts that I need, like a fucking salad bar, eat what is nutritious for me and helpful and leave the other stuff behind and remember that’s what brought us here. Whatever this is, it’s important to say it’s valid and not good enough. It’s important to say this is real. These are the stakes we face as queer trans people of color, as women of color, as black folk, as indigenous folk, migrant folk, as disabled community. Wherever you are in this timeline of political upheaval and spiritual grace, wherever you are, you are valid, and what you are navigating, what you are mourning, what you are angry about, what you are
celebrating, those things are all valid. And you know what, y’all? Try to dream bigger.
I don’t know what those answers are, or what that looks like for you or even for me sometimes. But if I can’t fantasize about something bigger, I won’t stay here. I have to think there is something not as horrific as what is happening in our political landscape right now. I have to think black and brown and indigenous resistance is stronger. I have to think that queer and trans liberation are stronger. I have to think that youth uprise and disability justice are mechanisms and powers that are stronger. I want a legacy. I don’t want to uplift single moments, the patterns of joy and futurity we deserve. I don’t want one joyous moment. I want it to be systemic. I want our joy to be a legacy, and I want it to be systemic. Our poetry is inherently an investment in that.