The hum of voices in the crowded and softly lit Hedrick Fireside Lounge slowly faded out when the first performer tapped on the mic. Sitting in the back, I could see the audience seated in a semi-circle, leaning forward as words dropped into the calm silence from the impassioned performer. Every few minutes, at the end of a particularly moving segment, the crowd would hum with agreement, their voices adding to the poetry bouncing off the walls.
When many members of the UCLA Queer Community hear the phrase NCOW, the images that undoubtedly come to mind are ones of the friendly bbqueer, informative speakers, or perhaps the more…unpredictable NCOW afterparty. The trend throughput these images is that UCLA’s Queer Community places fun, socializing, and networking at the top of it’s priorities. However, as many members of the community would agree, there is also a strong sense of camaraderie established through the struggle of being marginalized by one’s community.
Last Wednesday, students, faculty and members of the Los Angeles community gathered in the Hedrick fireside lounge for the Transpoken Word event–one of the series of events and performances which took place last week as part of UCLA’s celebration of National Coming Out Week, an extended version of National Coming Out Day, a tradition falling on October 11th each year and celebrated across the US and also in Australia, Canada, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland and the UK. October 11th was picked because it was the date of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
The Transpoken Word event provided an emotionally distinct experience as compared with the more celebratory events throughout the week. The spoken word was performed by students and UCLA affiliates, and covered the wide range of issues faced by the often marginalized members of the diverse LGBTQIA community at UCLA and in the general population. Some of the performances also addressed issues facing queer individuals of color and other stigmatized groups.
One memorable performance by UCLA 5th year Asian American Studies with Pilipino Concentration major, LGBT Studies minor Ryth Abalos Mendez contained an important message related to the feeling of ostracism in one’s own community. “I’m too much, too “heavy” from being womyn-loving, transgender, genderqueer, immigrant, of color, Pinay, API. To blame these pieces of my entire existence would be false healing, more lies meant to silence me. No, I am not a failed star. I am still beautiful, for my entry into this world, yet turbulent as it was, brought joy to those who witnessed it. No I am not a witch. I am a sage.”
The event also included a performance by guest artist Lex, an aspiring minister and outspoken member of the trans* community. Lex’s performance highlighted the complicated relationship between identification as a member of both the Queer and Christian communities.
Overall, the performances highlighted some of the very real struggles still facing members of the Queer Community today, especially those who identify with some of the lesser known identities who are marginalized within the Queer Community itself. NCOW is an important time to celebrate ones pride and enjoy the privileges we have today; however it is also important to raise awareness about the struggles and triumphs of the individuals who fought and are still fighting to provide us with those privileges.