Being a lesbian was my gateway, a passport to the world of activism. I’m one of the millions who come from poverty, but through struggle, caprice and an inclination to book learning, made it to the middle class. All through high school and college I looked across the proverbial tracks, longing to be invited over. It was only after I made the transition from country bumpkin to university student that I began to focus on my sexuality.
Discovering my love for women was liberating, and I told everyone as much. My middle-class community in Kingston rejected me. As quickly as I had found my place, I lost it: I became a target of gossip, an outcast. My response: defiantly crude, loud and very lesbian. Their response: sexually assaulted by a dozen boys. I fled to America. I quickly discovered that freedom in America is complicated. I could be lesbian in one part of New York—the Village—but not in others, only a few miles away. In the Jamaican community of Brooklyn, I risked the same violence I had encountered in Jamaica. With nowhere else to go, I started screaming in poetry in response, in resistance, to the global phenomenon of oppression. It was here, among the poets, that I began to speak out. What I wrote and said evolved into poetry, theater, essays and a memoir, The Other Side of Paradise. Through this art of resistance, I understood that the world—and all oppression—is connected.
I’m an activist, committed to making the world better. Unequal distribution of wealth and natural resources is the focus of what I write and scream about from stages across the globe. It’s the reason I rise at dawn and the reason I’m able to sleep well at night. I believe I am living on the right side of history. Yet this work requires many hands, hearts and kinds of art to keep moving forward, to achieve equality for LGBT people, to end the systematic racism that disenfranchises people of color, to protect the bodies of women and girls. If such a world can be conceived, it can be actualized. I believe in equality, world peace and all the other clichés of the left. Still, that belief is futile inside a vacuum. We have to consistently hold each other accountable, to name each other, to name ourselves, to speak our truths to access our true power.
ALSO IN THIS FORUM
Antonino D'Ambrosio: “How the Creative Response of Artists and Activists Can Transform the World”
Hari Kunzru: “Unacknowledged Legislators?”
Billy Bragg: “Jail Guitar Doors”
Yetta Kurland: “The Creative Electoral Response”
DJ Spooky: “Reflections on Mortality From a Land of Ice and Snow”
Stanislao G. Pugliese: “How the Study of History Can Contribute to Global Citizenship”
Edwidge Danticat: “Homage to a Creative Elder”