RANT// for my brothers: the end of a world without equality

Women, are so, chill. I mean, a prevailing cultural idea is like two related things –women are “crazy,” and, um, that it’s men’s “fault.” There’s some Louis C.K. about that, some Tyler Perry plays, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” is about that. And underneath it all, you know why we give Men The Pass, let them run Things and run for president, and run guns, and be insane and make people insane is because:

We Think We Still Need To Fight To Survive.

OH MY GOD! What?! We have absolutely magical communication abilities, all these avenues for sustainable energy, and all this evidence for cooperation and fair compensation being good wherever it exists, and people are still afraid of each other. >_____<;;;;;;

My brothers are all “very religious.” Not just spiritual, but religious: their worldviews and icons for worship are intimately related to the interpretations of the text adhered to by each of their respective spiritual communities. When I went out to dinner with my brothers, my brother’s friend, and my father, I knew they all had problems with gay people and that it was bolstered by the religious culture they identify with.

Imagine any given religion’s SOCIAL functions in a world built on inequality, hoarding, and violence……..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Now imagine how much violence would remain in the rhetoric, how many cultural distinctions would seem as rooted in divinity and necessity in a world where people can eat, sleep, and learn for free. Where we organized our societies around sensitive, respectful trading? Would men be able to tell us we need them to survive? Would they smile more? Would it be Okay to Be Gay? Would women and queers be so assaulted?  Inequality is my devil; who is the devil without inequality?

OLD ESSAY// #LTAB2015, observations and feelings



note: this was originally posted on my personal tumblr 7 months ago during the 2015 Louder Than Bomb competition. my current recommendation is more workshops centered around community/writing etc included in next year’s festival (hopefully at least as an extension of the Queeriosity program 🙂 ). I look forward to continuing the discussion and thank everyone who makes LTAB possible! – +, 10/26/2015

In my experience, poets on the Louder Than A Bomb stage tend to perform provocative pieces about being great writers, free thinkers, and cultural revolutionaries; eager to break free of oppressive molds and affirm their truest self. With respect to the urgency of that spirit, I speak:

When I was in high school I pretty much only wrote “slam pieces” during the school year. Not just “slam pieces” but LTAB pieces.

In 2007 the Morgan Park High School team I was on made it to finals. I think we came in fourth. My piece was/is called “Price of Retribution.” In it I spoke to a Catholic priest who had abused a child and on behalf of the child who grew up to eventually speak out. I don’t remember my scores, they weren’t great. I’m proud forever, but I can admit now that on that Finals stage a good amount of my performance style was keyed up to make it seem like I was more emotional than I actually felt. Not for the audience, not even on behalf of my subjects, but for the scores.

Yesterday I went to LTAB semifinals. I went to the 4-6 PM bout and was a VIP judge for 7-9PM.

I left several times during the first semis bout. I was disturbed by the consistently upsetting content. I had to call a friend for help. To calm down and also to ask how I was supposed to judge in this setting. My friend asked me -my- criteria, I chose out of what they offered: word choice and complexity of approach to the subject matter.

In my experience, homogeneity has increased exponentially as the slam artform has gained in popularity and prestige. Fellow competitors (and current organizers) have talked about this trend for years behind doors and occasionally through satirical performance.

I gave 7s in my bout when I judged yesterday and people yelled and booed and ridiculed me the entire time. I can tell you, as objectively as I can, that those pieces of art entered into competition with one another were indistinguishable in terms of content, performance style, and diction. Within the bout itself and especially in relation to the hundreds of #LTAB poems I’ve seen in years past.

Louder Than A Bomb has become a themed slam. And a mold to fit or be rejected from. And when I thought that that was all these children, these judges, or these slams were good for I wasn’t thinking hard enough about what kids are actually capable of.

LTAB being presumed as the most authentic voice of these children is inaccurate. And dangerous, not least when it comes to the dis-ability of someone to dissent from affirming that concept.

If I see an [ethnic background] poet onstage and they are using their 20 or so lines in the group piece to yell about how they are more than the stereotype of [ethnic background], at this point of the culture on some level it can feel like they have unwittingly re-become a different kind of caricature for a different kind of audience’s gaze.  Is that still as powerful as they can be, as an artist or human? As liberated?  What other ways do they write? And when they “lose” with this specific presentation of self, in this specific format of a format of a format, and have been made to feel like this their most authentic outlet…Well, IDK.

My definitive question is, is LTAB now encouraging children to tell us only what we want to hear, how we want to hear it? And worse, are we tokenizing pain- actually encouraging insincerity as the norm? If not, then why is the slam the way it is? And what can we, as a community of thinkers, competitors, and co-creators do to shift to something more expansive and inclusive?

I made tweets criticizing the first slam and it embroiled me in some serious conflict with a few organizers of the event during.

My initial tweets read:
rly disappointed in & unenthused by this #LTAB semis. it feels formulaic, uninspired. “every piece” is quivering voices, generic complaints

and all the scores are like 8.5s.  realized what a specific event this is (has become) #ltab

The organizers feel that I was belittling the children.  Given the sensitive, passionate nature of my self, the children, the organizers, and the cause itself I hope you can empathize with how difficult and tenuous this is. I am trying to be direct. And kind. I do not intend to be destructive. Ever.  Forgive me, please. I offer this essay to give background to my truest, most complex thoughts.

“The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: talking with transqueer author H. Melt about their new book “The Plural, The Blurring”

h.melt bio photo

Photo by Kiam Marcelo Junio

H. Melt is my friend. It feels really good to say that! H. Melt is also an inspiration and role model to me as an activist and queer person and human being. Their new book The Plural, The Blurring – out November 20, via The Neutral Zone & Red Beard – exemplifies a lot of the things that make me love H. so much. There is the craft of their words, the memories, sometimes shared, that are weaved throughout the book, and the progressive, startlingly impactful documentation of their work writing to institutions for better treatment. Theirs is an intimate kind of activism, one they identify with the Chicago school of poetry writing, and one I have taken to heart as a queer revolutionary. Reading and being with H. Melt makes me feel excited, it makes me feel sad, it makes me feel the spectrum of emotions but knowing that H. Melt is out there, anywhere, just makes me feel safe.


The Plural, The Blurring largely focuses describing a very specific place and time. What’s the significance of having that setting at the center of the book?

The book is about Chicago’s queer arts scene between roughly 2012-2014 and how the art and activism going on in the city during that time coincided with my development as a trans writer. The book is largely about place and community, the ways in which they can influence an individual’s sense of self. For me, that period of time is when I am meeting and forming relationships with other queer and trans artists for the first time. I’m starting to take myself more seriously as a writer, as a trans person, and end up writing and publishing about the people, performances, and spaces that are most influencing and inspiring me. I’m also starting to grapple with queer loss and trans death, the ways in which loss can impact a community.

How have you been changed by the loss you’ve experienced and the gains you’ve seen achieved? Do you feel weaker and stronger at the same time?

I think that loss is inevitable. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s painful and unexpected. The queer community is not stable, I don’t think that any community is. There will always be people leaving and spaces closing down.  This can open up room for growth, for new spaces and new relationships to form but at what cost? What’s being lost? I think the people mirror the changes going on in the city and vice versa.

In your review of the trans & genderqueer poetry anthology Troubling the Line (included in The Plural, The Blurring), you write about your roots in the Chicago tradition of poetry and how that has affected your own work and what you tend to relate to as a reader. Have you found other queer poets who similarly embody that tradition?

I have never read a book of trans poetry by someone from Chicago. That’s part of the reason that I wrote the book. Many of the queer and trans writers that I’ve connected to most are not based in Chicago. While Chicago is a very literary and even poetry focused place, I don’t feel like there’s a queer poetry scene here. A queer arts scene definitely exists, and that’s very present in the book. But something about the literary scene hasn’t always facilitated a place for queer writers. My writing community and queer community are more separate than I would like.    

Where does the inspiration for the essays and letters to institutions you include come from? Are you still writing those?

Yes, I’m still writing essays. A lot of them came out of feeling powerless, especially the ones directed at specific institutions. I actually sent or performed most of the pieces in the book about specific places directly to people who work or spend time there. That’s part of my practice. In some cases, those writings actually sparked real change, new relationships, and projects. For example, there is now going to be a trans poetry category at the Lambda Literary Awards and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has improved their trans healthcare and now has a student-led group called the League of Extraordinary Genders. In other words, the essays and poems are part of a larger movement to create more access to resources for trans people. To help keep us alive.

“Part of your practice,” can you talk more about that?

The letters and essays felt more urgent–they were tools as part of my larger vision and hope to make more space for queer and trans writers and artists–by critiquing institutions that could be more welcoming to us, and reviewing exhibits, books, and plays that had some relationship to myself and the larger community. That’s really what I see my real work as–supporting other queer and trans writers and artists.   

The Plural, The Blurring is now available for pre-order.

ESSAY// Native Foods & Atheism, a worthless essay


I can’t tell if the person in front of me is laughing or crying
I went to a music festival called Fed Up Fest, by and for Chicago queercore punks. There were workshops, and vegan cupcakes, and support liasons, and there was a garden and the third day was at a nonprofit. It was a place where I felt especially whole yet charged up to be better. Safe & full of potential like a child. While there I thought of my brother’s Jehovah’s Witness conferences- how they must have felt exactly like this. “I feel saved, we are surely saving the world.”

I met Spaghetti at the fest. We danced a bit we felt a connection we went out on the town, sitting on the grass Spaghetti relayed to me how judged they felt by (some of?) the other organizers of Fed Up Fest because they weren’t punk enough or the right kind of punk – just outside of Jehovah’s range, right? I had written “and isn’t just love itself?” on my arm

Native foods & Atheism

I’m with Jesse in Indiana. No alcohol sales on Sunday, we talk about how cultures make up rules that calcify. I think about hip-hop, “dead” genres of music. Poetry slam. Cultures make & fulfill their own prophecies, have enemies & when people get together the high divine, the songs gospel. It’s just the sharing of information tho.

another essay about love

I go spend some money at a coffee shop, they play some music I deeply relate to. It feels special. It’s not special.

I go to Native Foods they play a song I deeply relate to, there is no god, love is just a chemical reaction that helps us mate, our experiences are shaped by our brain power, there can’t be a heaven if i have Alzheimer’s, if a fungus can take my brain from me, my personality, which personality? when i’m 19 and write my best songs because of my low self esteem? when i’m 24 and dying? when i’m a zygote? so malleable, when we die we die, when i’m funny because i’m afraid which me slave me only charming to you because you fit my cultural mating patterns i like your body shape and your clear skin that’s why i saved your life

We pretend that the aesthetics of our cultures are more than they are worth because capitalism makes it illegal to eat, sleep, and learn for free. We derive a context of meaning from Jesus, or Yeezus, or drugs, or rehab because money makes everything worthless. Post-that, when we have present-freedom, that is when meaning will be real again, for the first time.

the homies blog// ESSAY: on mick jenkins’ “Your Love” video and consent

mick jenkins your love

your love

trigger warning this piece contains writing concerning sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

My last few months have been filled with cartoons and Harry Potter.

Last week was Pixar movies + Goblet of Fire! Pixar’s celebrated 2008 film WALL-E came up in a conversation with some friends at a show the other night – Eric described its first half hour to Alex as an “art film,” and I agreed that it’s the kind of animated film you recommend to your sophisticated 30 year old friend (Alex is our sophisticated 30 year old friend). When I actually re-watched it, though,  what I saw made me feel disturbed, alarmed, and disappointed.

Mick Jenkins’ new video “Your Love,” off his recent Wave[s] EP, is a lot like the beginning of Wall-E. A dude sees a woman and is instantly attracted to her. She is uninterested. He follows her. He initiates physical contact, she violently resists. He then finds a cute, funny way to violate her while she is unable to fight back. As a result, she falls in love!

The violation in Wall-E occurs when, Eve, the robotic love interest becomes incapacitated. Her system shuts down and our titular character, the guy who lives alone collecting garbage, dresses her up in the aforementioned trash and wheels her body around town. In a sentimental montage, Wall-E makes her do the things he wanted from her like appear pretty and nonthreatening, desperately need his protection on scary nights, and, yes, hold hands.

Jenkins shows off considerable comedic acting chops in the “Your Love” video, a nice change of pace for an artist whose visuals are often purposefully serious. Even so, there’s an off-kilter element to “Your Love,” something strangely empty in its actors’ mannerisms. It culminates when Mick’s character rolls up on the other lead, played by musician Jean Deaux, and shoots her in the chest with an arrow. As blood drips from her lips, the viewer can’t tell from her stare if Jean is falling in love or dying.

What appears in Wall-E and “Your Love” is what happens to women in a lot of media. They’re set up as objects of desire with a false sense of independence. I watched Ratatouille following Wall-E, and the main (human) character, Linguini, is introduced to his eventual love interest Colette by being thrown face-first into her breasts. Her very first act is to be violated. Colette is characterized as irrationally combative, as if she’s paranoid that some dude (or collection of dudes making a plan/writing a movie) is out there ready at any second to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. The more she resists the more coveted she becomes, like Eve, like Deaux. When Colette, after showing no prior attraction, is kissed (without consent) by Linguini she has pepper spray in her hand.  And then she falls in love!

This pattern upsets me because I see it in myself. It reminds me of my own behavior, a past that includes physical violation and unhealthy objectification of women in my life. I used to think that I was being romantic when I was being obsessed or that it was sexy to force contact with someone I desired and then see what happened. In the surprise ending of “Your Love,” the car Mick Jenkins’ was riding in has crashed into a pole. All of his friends riding with are dead, their bodies littered everywhere. The implication is that his arrow-induced interlude with Jean was just a fantasy. Mick staggers out into the street and looks off into the night as if he’s deep in thought; he might be contemplating gender politics.

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: fatimah asghar lets me love me


Philosophically, I believe that everyone is “saving the world,” all the time. You, me, Donald so-and-so, my friends; we’re all great and positive and powerful. But like, I really feel like Fati is someone I know who is *~saving saving the world world~*. She’s always out doing engagements that are meant to push the boundaries of language, perception, and community. Whether educating youths, organizing, or speaking at a conference Fatimah makes openness the priority. It’s immensely painful work, but she stays at it day in day out, in many different lands spanning the globe.

Recently, @asgharthegrouch started a project called Let Me Love Me. It consists of photos of brown people, nekkid, discussing their feelings on beauty and vulnerability. I find something very special in the place Fati creates in LMLM and am very happy she made time to talk to me about the series.


Can you talk about the aspect of having friends as your subjects throughout Let Me Love Me?

I think it makes both parties feel more comfortable if we know each other or are friends. I’m generally an awkward person, but I really enjoy photographing people. I think it feels more comfortable for them because they aren’t getting naked for a stranger. I think it also helps with conversations, because I’m able to ask questions that are catered to individual people rather than asking stock questions.

What was the genesis of the LMLM like? Did it take some time to figure out?

It happened on a train ride to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. But it was this last winter and I was thinking about how most of my friends of color were constantly fighting for racial justice and how we weren’t always taking care of ourselves. We were just going and going and forgetting to eat and forgetting to sleep and fighting and it was really hard. I was thinking a lot about how people of color are very rarely in control in our own images or stories. I wanted to do something that felt like a gift for people of color, a moment where we could just take some time and really focus on who we are, how we are beautiful, and how far we’ve come.

What did you learn about yourself or the world around you as you completed this project?

Just how much shit we each have to battle through just to feel comfortable in our own skins. The world is always telling us that we aren’t enough, and that’s not fair. Also, I learned a lot about some of my closest friends doing this. I think that’s really amazing, that we are constantly learning about ourselves and each other. That learning is never going to stop, no matter how long you’ve known them.

What other long-term photography projects have you done?

None. This is my first, so it’s really exciting.

What would you like more people to know about you as a photographer?

That I’ve taught myself how to do this. I’ve never taken a class or gotten a formal instruction. I don’t know the camera as well as I could, but for me photography is an experiment, its something that I am learning. I tell that to most of the people I take a photo of, that I’m not an expert, I’m just trying.

Fatimah Asghar’s chapbook After is now available for preorder via Yes Yes Books. Check out her recent TED Talk, “We Own All The Language In The World” here.

announcements// OCTOBER 2015

+ has finished the curriculum for a six week program intended for teens interested in writing poetry, Plus Sign’s Break It Down, OK! Poetry Program.  Using +’s new educational word game The Bucket! participants will analyze text & performance for meaning, while producing several original pieces each session.

For more information, contact + at coms@tenderdiscovery.com.


+’s seventeenth album PLUS SIGN FOREVER is coming out october 31st. it will be an acapella pop album!


October 9th, The Cooperation Operation is holding a big fundraiser, This Is All There Is. Thank you, Little Jack Marketing. Plus Sign is the master of ceremonies for the event, which will feature art exhibits and music performances from DAYMAKER., Right Eye Rita, and more!



Plus Sign’s the homies blog is back! Check out the first (new) entry, alex lukawski gets busy now! New entry on Tues, Oct. 6.

love you