too much poetry for a grad student

Now playing: “Signal and Sign” by Maxïmo Park.

From 7 tonight till 12:30, I was either at a poetry slam or at the open mic, which probably isn’t a good idea when it comes to how much homework I had/have to do tonight. I managed to get some done during these events, but slowly and not very well. At the open mic I read the following essay, due in seven hours. It still needs some revision, but I thougtht I’d go ahead and share it here:

A few weeks ago I received a message online from my friend ___. Her partner ___ is teaching elementary in ___, and on that day a little third grade boy had come to school with two bruised eyes. When I read further and discovered that this boy often wore dresses to school, and today he wore blue jeans to match his black and blue eyes because the night before a group of eighth grade girls had beaten him up, my heart broke.

The town was too conservative and too violent for ___ to do much to advocate for the boy, and his guardians had decided not to take action. I want desperately to hate them for not suing the school or those girls, but I realize the situation is complicated, and that deep down, they love that boy.

In an attempt to define himself, this little boy was playing with the gender roles that had been assigned him at an early age. I think I was probably in third grade when I first began doing the same, slipping my shirt down to reveal a bare shoulder and flirting with the boys in my class. Luckily, I never was on the receiving end of a fist, let alone a slew of fists, for my deviance, but the metaphorical fists restricting who I was were fierce.

Fingernail polish was forbidden, and the word “faggot“ echoed down the hallways of school when I’d wear too much pink or did funky things with my hair. I saw fences constructed all around me, meant to restrict people. Growing up on a farm and going to a small school in rural Iowa, I didn’t have the resources necessary to allow myself to truly develop myself. I withdrew into the social criticism found in punk and ska music, but it was in college when I was able to truly begin to understand how cruel our society is toward people, when I saw the injustices of war, racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, classism, and ablism.

As my consciousness of the oppression in the world around me developed, I realized that I had to act — that every act not against the oppression in dominant culture was probably an act reinforcing that oppression. My senior year of college is when I began protesting war, writing zines, and writing political poetry, and when my political activism truly grew, when I truly took on the feminist belief that the personal is political, and that everything personal in my life was political.

And now I think about myself as a writer, as someone who feels he has something to say to the public. I’ve come to realize that the essays, poems, and stories I write are not just texts, but acts, and are therefore doing something in the world. It is from this perspective that I think about what I might write for possible publication. I think about how language has been used historically to hide and mask, and how I feel it is my duty as a writer to use it to unmask, to reveal, to show to others what is on the edge of awareness.

I think about this young boy in ___ and how society violently tells him and so many like him to conform to rigid gender roles, either through physical strikes or through the much more subtle use of harsh words. I think about my friends in Corvallis who must be conscious of what bathrooms they enter, because in a world that pretends gender is a binary system, they are often forced to chose between two gendered bathrooms: one that might be physically safer and the other that is more true to their identities. I think about places in Oregon where some don’t feel safe: places where women, people of color, transgender individuals, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and queers feel their physical safety is in danger. But in addition to these issues, I think about some of the radical people I’ve met, who are doing studies on homophobia, trying to find the root causes, of people working for inclusion, for unisex bathrooms and changing applications to Oregon State so that you don’t have to mark male or female.

So, those are the issues I want to write about, the issues I want to research, the everyday injustices that occur around us that we don’t see, and the everyday actions by heroes that are so important but go unnoticed.

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