Poets speak about gender identity, women, other social issues

Mar 8, 2018

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Unity House marked International Women’s Day with spoken word poetry by two trans women of color on March 8.

Justice Ameer and Chrysanthemum Tran, both award winning poets and long-time friends, took turns reciting spoken word poetry at the event. They covered everything from self-identity to social injustice.

Ameer began with a poem on teeth whitening, which was a metaphor for how society tries to make people of color look and act a certain way to fit a specific idea.

Tran, who began transitioning five years ago, recited a poem about her body and how she wished it was easy to Photoshop herself the way she wanted to look.

It was a reminder of how her mom is not currently in her life, and how she mourns for the relationship. Like many of the poems, it was meant to bring out people’s emotions.

For junior Lion Evercrest, that is exactly what happened.

“Emotionally it was really important to me,” said Evercrest. “I resonated a lot with the poems that were presented. I actually sat there crying through one of them.”

One of Ameer’s poems touched on feeling constrained by clothing that does not fit her personality, mood and body, to the point of feeling paralyzed about an outfit choice. It also touched upon shootings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgender people, and people of color.

Tran spoke about a time she argued with a woman on social media about legislation designed to allow transgender people to use public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. Transgender women just want to use the bathroom, and not feel battered when doing so, she explained through poetry. She also talked about having her image stolen and made into something else.

The poem was symbolic of a Vietnam War-era photo of young girl naked running after a bombing.

“Gender is a fragile shot glass I’m afraid to spill out of,” she said.

During their final piece together, Ameer and Tran noted transgender women cannot always be the Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox of the world. Instead, women should be able to be complex. Their poem focused on how women everywhere need to uplift each other.

“Love wins when we resurrect each other,” they said.

For Nishani Upadhyay, a women’s and gender studies professor, even after hearing the two women talk before, the poems still gave him chills.

“This is my third time hearing some of the same pieces and I still have goosebumps and I still cry,” Upadhyay said. “They are just such amazing powerful speakers and it’s important to recognize them and trans women, especially on International Women’s Day.”

Ameer and Tran meet at Brown University and from there began their careers in poetry and education of the transgender community. Tran said their experiences are what truly inspire their work.

“A lot of our work gets rooted in our experience with discrimination,” Tran said. “It’s learning how to heal from that in a creative genitive way and being able to create work that responds to the outer political climate to make sure our stories are intervening in the world.”

Ameer said International Women’s Day is important because it enables us to fully look at women for who they are and what they do.

“Everyone is complex and I think for us recognizing the humanity and allowing the humanity of trans women and of women in general and especially women of color is really important,” Ameer said. “Acknowledging all trans people and all women as whole, as complex, as nuanced.”