Creative writing by trans artists is flourishing in exciting ways, says Cat Fitzpatrick, founder of the Trans Poets Workshop NYC.
From a growing number of independent trans-focused presses, to trans-centered book tours to a small boom in novels and poetry, trans writers are seeing their work spark more conversations and reach wider audiences.
"Right now is a really exciting time to be a trans writer," Fitzpatrick says on the workshop's Facebook group, and no doubt its members agree. A core group meets monthly at New York City's LGBT Center and invites any other self-identified trans poets to join them. During each session they workshop a piece from one poet in a "structured way … so as to produce the most useful possible feedback," Fitzpatrick explains to The Advocate.
Recently, the group released the first issue of its zine, titled You Have Ripped Your Dick Off, which will continue to be published biannually. The zine, whose release event was held last week at Manhattan's Bureau of General Services - Queer Division bookstore, is "partly [a] contribution to the audibility of trans voices during Pride week," says Fitzpatrick. "And also because it sounded like fun."
In celebration of their achievements, The Advocate asked members of the Trans Poets Workshop NYC — including Charles Theonia, J Mase III, Cat Fizpatrick, Olympia Perez, May Adriene Byrne, Andy "Rocket" Izenson, Alyssa Harley, Francisco Salas Pérez, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Maxe Crandall, Phoenix Natasha Russell, Charli Cleland, and Buzz Slutsky — to each share one poem from their collections.
Scroll through the pages below to read some of poetry's refreshing new trans voices.
The day after a blizzard.
Among the uncollected trash bags
there’s a mop planted by the curb,
proud flag staking claim to its grey peak.
We stay inside and talk fathers.
Chrístopher says dealing
requires the patient willingness
to be deficient.
It’s how I say
Please, Charlie, they,
and mine says
Police, fascist, grammar,
until we’re screaming
in the still snow of the street,
not yet waiting for patience.
In my dream David and I travel through Alaska
speeding, unbounded, open to everything
as if on an invisible train.
We come to a glacial crest
and from its height suddenly see
the gleaming mountains
we’ve passed through unnoticing.
It’s been our way,
in our continuous parting,
grasping each other loosely,
yet we still hold over
and over, so I’m reminded
knowing isn’t done once.
means telling your father
if this continues
he may never know you
and letting him
make his decision;
letting your throat go soft
beneath its scarves;
turning to leave; it means
the swan lying
on the frozen pond
tucking its neck over its back
like an arm over someone
else’s shoulder; it means
waiting to see.
Charles Theonia was born and remains in Brooklyn. Their work has appeared in The Artist Catalogue and Volume 1 of Zine of the Trans Poets Workshop NYC. They teach CUNY Start remedial reading and writing classes at BMCC. For more, see tumblr.com
J Mase III
To the woman that frequents my girlfriend’s apartment complex
with the stank face that always reads
Here come that gay bitch again
I want you to know that I get it
You are not used to gay people
They’ve been the stuffing that jokes whispered on sidewalks
and behind the backs of strangers are made of
Not very tangible
Not even very human
As a teenager my father (or the way I imagined him)
Would tell me that we’re all the same
and anyone that didn’t like me ‘cause I was gay
was simply just ignorant of that fact
We’re all the same
like a handholding
‘We are the world’
My father was pretty corny like that
And you my friend
are more right than my father ever was (even his imaginary parts)
There is a very distinct difference between gay people and straight people
that is sooo slight
I’m glad and a bit surprised you’ve noticed it
Gay people just fuck better
And I know you know that
because you live next door
And the particular intensity of anger you are expressing comes from a focused type of sexual frustration
that can lead to ailments such as delusions of heterosexual grandeur
and rampant unchecked homophobia
that leaks out into cultural norms as emotional and physical transgressions
from a lack of clitoral release
If I were you I’d hate gay people too
Because we have been interrupting
quiet nights at home with your cat
and repeat episodes of Meet the Browns
America’s Next Top Model
and The Housewives of Orange County
That is some seriously important shit!
A better question
is not why are you gay
Why do y’all fuck so much and so good when I’m trying to sleep
or in the four corners of my mind?
See I added that last part
because every time you say the word gay
I can see behind those perverted eyes your ass is only thinking about sex
(To the point I often wonder if my butt looks good in your preoccupied heterosexual fantasies)
So let me answer both of those questions for the two of us
Of course it does and
I don’t fuck more
I fuck harder
I fuck harder
For when my mother slapped me across the face at Christmas for looking
like a boy
I fuck harder
For the boy that thought he could fuck the gay out of me
I fuck harder
For the 13 year old trans girl turned prostitute
because her parents forced her to sleep on the streets
I fuck harder
Because Ugandan activists like David Kato
don’t deserve to die at the hands of American Evangelism
I fuck harder
Because my government thought it was more important
for me to be able to die for my country
than to live in holy matrimony
or with equal job and housing protections
I fuck harder
Because the trans life expectancy in this country is only 37
So don’t blink
I might not be here much longer
I fuck harder
To prevent forgetting
that the ability to come into the warmth of your partner
from the cold of outside
is a luxury not everyone is allotted
I fuck harder
To let her know
that this very moment is sacred
I fuck harder
Because every time a post-dyke transfag thrusts
A fucking faerie gets its wings~
So that being said
If you have any more questions
you can feel free to give a knock on the door
of apartment 305B
and I’d be more than happy to answer them for you
I hope you have a good night
See I’d say good night’s sleep
but between you and me
I just got back from a looong trip
and the way my girl looked today]
Ain’t nobody in this place gettin’ any type of rest
for the next week
But just in case we’re both up later
You should leave your light on
So we can chat again
J Mase III is a black/trans/queer poet currently based in Queens. The creator of the traveling performance event Cupid Ain't @#$%!: An Anti-Valentine's Day Poetry Movement, J Mase has shared his special brand of poetry on stages around the U.S. and U.K. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @jmaseiii, Facebook.com/jmaseiii, or track him on his website at www.jmaseiii.com.
‘sticky and sweet’
No money left.
I have no gifts,
except for this:
These words that fall
Out of my mouth.
The way you smell.
Never too much.
Instead of fate
I might believe
In this. Like milk,
Like earth, like grass.
Our lives are like
A little dance.
You step, I step
As if we both
Could hear some kind
Of silent noise.
Those games we play
Where you convince
Me things are true
That aren’t make me
So happy that
I don’t know what.
The summer heat
Keeps you inside
But I go out.
Don’t worry, love.
I still intend
To come back in.
I like it when
We take our clothes
Off and have sex.
I was afraid
But now I think
That it’s alright.
I do get lost
Inside my moods;
Get sad, get wild.
But if I find
It will be yours.
So hard on things.
It makes you sweet.
Even your rage
Fills my heart
How can it be
That I always
Want more of you?
Are you holding
Or is it me?
Our bodies are
We made ourselves
Into a pair.
The best we could
With what we had.
Please take my head
Into the place,
Beside your breasts,
Beneath your arm,
And hold me there
Until I move.
The way you love
Me is so good.
I know that you
Prefer it when
I am direct.
So here, I tried.
Cat Fitzpatrick convenes the Trans Poets Workshop NYC, teaches English Literature at Rutgers University-Newark, and is the poetry editor at Topside Press. She is responsible for the trans poetry zines At Least It’s Short and You Have Ripped Your Dick Off and has published work in venues like Asylum and Glitterwolf. Her twitter handle is @intermittentcat.
3 distinctive perceptions placed on my person by strangers
Wait? is that a boy or a girl?
What the fuck is that? son thats a dude
Baby? whats that? o, yeah thats one of them things.
She told me i was beautiful, that i was worth loving...wow i believed her
Inductees it was silly ol' me now realizing pain is free
Masked by greatness overshadowed by love
no wonder why we walk around like we got it all.
Flaws make us perfect but we reject it see i turned it
credentials don't match what most say but we believe it anyway
because its spoken?,
Unbroken are my thoughts subsided to a place where thoughts can bloom
One day ill have a groom yeah me the boy girl, girl boy
I even love you for caring
Sometimes i stop and think Fuck the World cause they fucked my mother and she fucked me
i hate the fact i care and you cant see
bear to walk a day in my shoes thats where i be
forceful acts of emotions evaporate from growing sour so as long as im sweet
ill feel unique and at times its like damn im so different but indifferent.
the world gives me something to smell and when im about to inhale to keep the reminder oop there it goes
" did you find her ? "
It was cute being kicked with a boot
its like to test who i am and where i want to be
Snakes wondered how i had the power to move and rebuild and believe in me .
From under the tall tree, that beneath was me snatched from the roots that breathe relief,
Constantly fixated on what i did not achieve.
Detached from origins how can i believe ?
We are Kings and Queens if
My mind is the only mystery .
Where am i?
Based out of Brooklyn, Olympia Perez is a mysterious canvas. Her pronouns are her-she like the chocolate bar.
Mya Adriene Byrne
We are irises:
When true sun strikes us,
so quickly we blossom our fragile, curved petals,
our veins newly hewn
under transparent ghostflesh.
We grow in waves,
as our last remains fall
to a field of hidden rhizome; we are irises,
and find others growing beside us, begging the question:
Were we intended to complement
each other's delicate spirals?
As we emerge from what could be mistaken
as common grass?
The first season, we had no flowers; from then on, we bloomed;
We are irises.
Violet and buttercup colors,
enrobed by soft vellus,
complete in our dissymmetry;
inflorescence, blossoming symphony,
breathing life from the most poisoned dirt,
climbing any fences without trellis,
so quickly evolving in the satin spring:
Mya Adriene Byrne is a poet, multi-instrumentalist, award-winning singer-songwriter, and a proud transgender woman. She released her debut solo LP in the fall of 2012 and is currently mixing her second full-length record and preparing her first collection of poetry. Find Mya online at www.myabyrne.com, www.soundcloud.com/myabyrne, or @myadriene.
Andy “Rocket” Izenson
LESS THAN THREE
Only my heart is left in New York.
If you trace your finger along my arteries – here – here –
you'll see they are splayed out along the telephone wires
from Maine to Ishikawa,
tangled with the highways that pump from
western Massachusetts to Kentucky -
feel, here, where my nervous system is saturated
with the exhaust of endless commuting kisses,
exes and ohs, lesses than threes, colon-dash-asterisks,
that you can – almost – feel on your lips.
We don’t know how to be family. We certainly don’t know
how to fit words like “I love you” in the shapes of our mouths.
It sounds like something someone else would say,
someone who knows how to be held close or kissed without violence.
I know what your cheek feels like against my eyelid but not how to be your brother.
I know what you look like just before you cry
but not how to make you stop.
My words only come out in brutal tenderness or tender brutality
because I have never wanted to be fucked but
the only tokens I know how to give are unwanted
and dripping with gore. I wish I could give you more.
My loves, I feel your distance like dry retching.
There is a hook in each chamber of my heart and
my blood vessels are twined intimate as ivy around the wires that lead
from my wrenched guts to your fingertips, twanging taut lines of longing across the globe,
I feel your every movement in the ripples that move through
the nest of razor wire inside my skin – if only I could loosen the knot by touching you –
if only I could feel the knobs of your spine with my hand –
but rather I am the sounding board of a cruel harp, I am the sound,
I can touch the wires that thrum across the miles between us,
pluck at them with bloody fingers,
make of this a song
Andy "Rocket" Izenson is a trans*human genderqueer event planner, poet, attorney, and activist, previously published by 24 Magazine, Sibling Rivalry Press, Sock Drawer Press, and the Yes Means Yes blog. They are likely of extraterrestrial origin and they miss their chosen family.
The first time you hit me,
you got out of your car and yelled,
“Are you smoking reefer in front of my son?”
and you pointed out your son to me, whom I had already seen.
I pulled the rolling American Spirit out of my bag and said,
“See, you hit me for no reason.”
The second time you hit me,
you said it was because I was a “faggot ass motherfucker,”
but since it was Christmas Eve and you were with your wife and baby,
I tried to wish you “happy holidays” and “Merry Christmas.”
I certainly could hear you yelling at me,
even as you kept on shouting out you weren’t.
The third time you hit me
was after I invited you to bend right over for me,
maybe you feared the scratch of my lavender nails
or maybe you knew that I was really shitting you,
that I would have never wanted your mean ass prison flesh,
even if your suggestions weren’t already not my style.
Fuck all of these holidays of self-righteous men.
Fuck these self-righteous men
beating their blind stupid paths across this earth.
Alyssa Harley is a poet and playwright and the author of the spoken-word opera Number Ten Dream.
Francisco Salas Pérez
UNTITLED (CROWN HEIGHTS, 16 FEBRUARY)
It’s snowing outside. Looks
like Venus in a movie—like the
planetoid from Alien,
the comic book
adaptation by Dark Horse
in the late eighties. You
know what I mean.
All blue and lavender. All
black and mauve.
Imagine this world
is the world
we were born
soft and careless.
All flesh, all organs. All
the same atmospheric gases
as the monsters
who will one day come,
the weaknesses of our compound
and so swiftly
exuberantly consume us.
Francisco Salas Pérez is a two-spirit writer based in Brooklyn and Mexico, studying human-computer interaction at the Graduate Center of the CIty University of New York. Their academic and creative work focuses on indigeneity, queerness, violence, and science fiction. They are currently completing their first book of poetry.
Kay Ulanday Barrett
HOMEBOIS DON’T WRITE
homebois we don’t write enough love poems.
we re-name ourselves izzie from Isabella,
casey from Cassandra, kay from Kathleen.
we run out of ink for our stories cuz we’ve been
running through doors of male and female, never satisfied.
we stunnin’ baggy jeans and bright colors over the sirens,
we stop cars and walk with stride that makes the concrete self-conscious
about it’s own stability.
hitting pavement at the tip-toes of summer,
there you go talkin’ about how you
“need a woman pregnant and barefoot.”
as I shutter asking,
are you gonna find a stiletto ready to stab you
if the knight sticks don’t come get you first?
asking- are you gonna be that bullet that is a mouth?
asking- are you gonna be that missile that blasts your woman until she misses you,
even when you will both be in the same bed?
if we make ourselves harder than bone,
make us a legacy that is beyond all this.
cuz I’ve been running through doors of male and female,
that makes you nervous doesn’t it?
are you worried, your palms sweaty
because I am NOT that kind of a man
and that might make you obsolete, that means this whole system
needs a revision. that means, we have to ask ourselves daily
are you are doing your homework?
homebois, we don’t write enough love poems to
ourselves. spell out our soft syllables unapologetically, letting
the ferocity in us extend us a strength beyond stiff jaw and cold silence,
the stuff of abandoned buildings.
let us unfold the photos with us dipped in lace and dresses and laugh.
let the most tender cipher surround us not be our mother’s tears for the loss
of a daughter.
let us hold our breaths for the sakia gunns and the fong lee’s, as it
could easily be our sweat on this sidewalk.
let us adore the swiftness of kisses in moonlight rather than the
pummeling cusses of strangers scared of difference.
let the tensile ace bandage be a testament across this chest, waving like prophets
of a gender war.
let every poor black brown and yellow butch see her way into
a paintbrush, a camera, an uprock, a computer, and not into the hips of
hand grenades chucked on someone else’s homeland.
to every person who squirms in the bathrooms, classrooms, and on stages
next to me, let them know that this moment is a clue of your queerness.
let them know my titas are at casinos burning this American dream away too
let them know my kuyas christen their kid’s foreheads and give me daps with the same hands.
let them know that each time they make fun of us, they could be in a feather boa,
singing prince, showing their wives some force that will drive them toward and not away.
let their children run up and down the city as the confident queer kids, who get
scholarships to college for a GSA or for promoting safety at school,
you being the backward parent they divulge to teachers they are ashamed of.
let me not reveal my monster each time I hear “I’ll fuck you straight.”
let my fingers not be readied trigger, grabbing sharp objects for stabbing back,
to turn them into the bloodiest meat they make of me
with their pyramid of power.
let me walk away without harm, disbanding my razor-edge
that could cut their lifelines, slice steel song into their temples,
shear off their pride as soon as they start to unzip their pants.
let us know we can do this
and make it clear:
we choose not to.
universe, if we can make ourselves harder than bone, harder than stone,
make us a legacy that is beyond all this.
A 2009 Campus Pride Hot List artist, 2013 Trans Justice Funding Project Panelist, and 2013 Trans 100 Honoree, Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, educator, and martial artist navigating life as a disabled pin@y amerikan transgender queer in the U.S. with struggle, resistance, and laughter. Please see his online swerve at: kaybarrett.net and on twitter @kulandaybarrett.
DIONNE WARWICK STARES DOWN HER ENEMIES
for JR Blair
Raising banners is attractive,
makes one burst with personality.
Women have a lot to say about these things,
while assuredly "not speaking"
to men through style.
To wit, Jackie O likes her girlfriend
thank you very much
and would rather not see her burned at the stake.
Besides, Jackie’s busy at the nursery, where she
works nights, fretting over hibiscus,
and O the constellations!
Meanwhile, in her everlasting trenchcoat,
Dionne Warwick stares down her enemies,
reducing them to straining teenagers
and secretly considering herself
"America’s Last Action Diva."
Like us, she spends much of her time
leaning against doorframes and talking
on the telephone, dreaming of cartoon heroes
while fingering the long cord.
The men tend to more commemorative cruelties.
With Chris Brown in his wretched kingdom,
the stakes of celebrity vassalage get knobby
around the nobodies he becomes and then shuns.
Speaking of Violence, the first episode ponders
Hemingway's flagrant remarks about lesbians.
In the second installment, rumor has it
Papa will hand over one of his savage sweaters
to the singer. To close, the forest weeps
new rivers suddenly, as in myth.
Everyone knows gold is a shaking color,
a key to what the early bisexuals taught us,
with their oratorical chanting: "Earthquake,
or milkshake?" which is to suggest
there will always be progress,
but to clash, and to do it well,
one must couch objection
and eat and yell, and eat and yell,
and eat and yell
Maxe Crandall is a 2014 Poets House Emerging Fellow. Maxe’s first chapbook, the play Together Men Make Paradigms, is forthcoming from Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs. You can purchase tickets for the July 10 performance in the Hot! Festival at Dixon Place here!
Phoenix Nastasha Russell
STILL I RISE
I’ve been beaten down and left for dead and still I rise.
There were those that I thought had my back should I fall but when it happened there was no one to call…..and yet through it all still I rise.
There have been times when I was abused by the very ones that I thought cared for me, but I made it out with my soul still intact so I say to you… still I rise
Where there was nothing but falsehoods and the maybe I should or could from those that I viewed as role models but the advise that was given was nothing I could believe in ………yet still I rise.
I give unconditional love to those that I call my friends and although that love may not be wholeheartedly returned …….still I rise.
I’ve been looking for the true meaning of my actions and my deepest regrets, seeking the answers as to why did this happen and the realization that if I had only thought this through and done this differently that I wouldn’t be dealing with this horrible outcome but, what I’ve come to realize is that it is all destined, it’s all a learning experience…….and still I rise
Those with the purest of hearts; those free of malice intent in the way their daily lives are spent …… are the ones that suffer the most …… having a pure heart comes with a grave cost …. When you open yourself up to those you trust and in return they cause you to feel lonely and lost ……and still I rise.
Reflecting on the material things that I’ve lost; items that came at a great cost. They were either taken from me by some sneak thief in the night …… a coward full of jealousy and spite, not caring about the struggles I’ve gone through to get what I’ve got…..these material things can be replaced but the trust I once had in people is now gone without a trace …….. and still I rise
I got caught up in the “I coulda, woulda, shoulda”, when remembering quite a bit of the experiences of my life some things I’m so ashamed I’ve done that I wish I could find a safe non-judgmental place to hide, somewhere where I don’t feel the dumb mistakes I’ve made would affect my self esteem and pride……yet still I rise
How do I nurture and restore to the forefront that kinder, more loving, gentler side………the parts of me now locked away and hidden so deep inside? Me always remembering that my life has been one bumpy rollercoaster ride…….full of high ups and drastic drops from astounding heights and of my being thrown all around. Me wishing only that I could plant my feet once again on solid ground and praying that I manage to get off this rollercoaster ride somehow……and still I rise.
Hey have you seen my pride come running this way? That part of me that seems to always get in the way of making wise decisions and coming to clear conclusions concerning the events of my day…….my true purpose in life is yet to be found and I will never find it if my pride is left unbound; keeping me on that rollercoaster with it high ups and tragic downs…….yet still I rise.
It’s all been a sordid affair……wanting to be there where the treatment of me will finally be fair, but I'm forced to remain here in this frame of mind, just where will destiny take me this time? When will we be free to climb the wondrous life tree the one we planted when we finally made it out of slavery…its roots so nice and deep…..holding much of our rich history…….history to be explored not ignored as if some of the facts aren’t straight. Being held back and oppressed and the ones responsible still have no sense of regret……and still I rise.
I've been told that consequences are a direct reaction to the choices you make......well I choose to live happy and free but in total contradiction to my choice the consequences have been oppression as if time has been turned back to the days of bigotry and slavery.......and still I rise
I'm sitting here all wrapped up in myself full of self doubt, self pity no room for anything else. At times I feel so out of place, as if being of Trans experience and of color is nothing but a disgrace, but as we fight for equality we will prove this is not the case ….. and still I rise.
Babies being thrown away children being kidnapped or shot, rapist, pedophiles roaming our streets, cops accosting, arresting or shooting the wrong people as they patrol their assigned beats……Oh, we’ve come so far but have yet so far to go, but hey this isn’t a secret it’s something we all know ….. and still I rise
Like the phoenix being rebirthed from the ashes of its own demise …….still still still I rise.
Phoenix Nastasha Russell is an accomplished poet, whose raw, sensual, energetic and enlightening words have been featured in books like Rivers of Emotions and websites like poetry.com. A fantastic performer, Phoenix will bring you to your feet or have you doubled over with laughter.
LOVING ME IS DIFFICULT
Loving me is difficult.
I shed my skin too quickly
Trying to forget what it feels like
To be held by the brown callous palms
Of uncles, friends and strangers.
My new skin never remembers
The coolness of your touch
On the parts of my body where you need maps and lights to navigate safely.
Loving me is difficult
When it hurts too much to become
I wear masculinity like a cloak
And refuse to leave enough room for you in the spaces between my fingers
I forget the taste of your mouth
And allow bitterness to drip from my lips
The kind of bitterness that tastes like hate
Loving me is difficult
I ask you not to say “I love you”
Afraid that it will sound a lot like
The first one I ever heard
I will be 8 again, trapped beneath the taste of sweat and disgust.
I forget, that your I love yous
Sound like caresses and taste like nectar.
Loving me is difficult
I package my anger and grief neatly
And hide it in my sternum
Waiting for it to become potent enough to poison you
I haven’t learned how to stop eating my emotions.
Or how to stop throwing them up on your lovely blue dress.
Loving me is difficult
When you kiss me
I slip marriage into your mouth
And refuse to perform the Heimlich
When it becomes lodged in your throat
I forget that you choose me every day
And choosing me in a wedding dress won’t change a thing.
Loving me is difficult
I forget to see the world in you
I forget that your pupils are galaxies
And you are wind.
Loving me is difficult
I am still learning to not pick at my wounds.
Charli Cleland is a two-spirit Ghanaian spoken word poet, photographer and law activist based in Brooklyn. His works, both poetic and visual, focus on themes of gender identity, race, love and the complex cycles of internal psychic life.
THE POET DOTH PROCESS TOO MUCH
My lover blocked me on instagram.
Too much Gemini; it was bound to combust.
Every decision was heavy, a final exam,
but we drew close like magnets, such fire, hot damn.
Their sleeping was rough; with their binder they fussed.
My job was to comfort like a cuddly lamb.
They were smaller and younger than I am—
Nervous in bed, too fragile to thrust.
One time, late at 3:30am,
My lover froze up and asked me to scram.
They spoke real confusing, like through tin cans caked in rust;
But they sent pensive selfies, a millennial ham.
Their boyish outfits so fresh, so glam.
Silence might help temper our magnetic lust.
Maybe that’s why my lover blocked me on instagram,
where they posted snapshots of their fam.
No more pictures of their pizza crust
which probably won’t be topped with ham.
My other ex just sent me spam.
while I was in Oakland, their turf. I will delete it if I must.
But my new ex-lover blocked me on instagram.
They’ll prolly date some butch named Sam
who meets their needs of care and trust
and takes coupley selfies like a fake-happy ham.
This app is way more drama than shazam.
Even my phone needs to adjust.
My lover blocked me on instagram,
And I’m hanging on their lips, in front of you, like a desperate ham.
Buzz Slutzky is an interdisciplinary visual artist, writer, and performer. Buzz's work has been shown at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, La Mama's SQUIRTS: New Voices in Queer Performance, Frameline37 International LGBT Film Festival, and the The MIX NYC Queer Experimental Film Festival.