DarkMatter poetry performance challenges gender binary

By Ashlyn Korienek | 4/21/16 12:04am

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GVL / Coutesy - Alok Daid-menon Alok Daid-menon (right), Janani Balasubramanian (left); DarkMatter Poetry

by Alok Daid-menon / Grand Valley Lanthorn

As the music ceased, silence hushed across the audience anticipating a performance chock-full of poetry regarding social justice and of course, featured DarkMatter in signature neon blue and pastel shades of lipstick.

On April 16, located in the Kirkhof Center’s Thornapple Room, the Queer and Trans People of Color at Grand Valley State University hosted DarkMatter, a South Asian spoken word duo. The theme of the 2016 tour is called "It Gets Bitter."

DarkMatter is comprised of Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. Based in New York City, DarkMatter performs at sold-out venues such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Asian American Writer’s Workshop.

As the audience expressed powerful agreement, Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian passionately recited poems targeting injustices on sexuality, race and gender. Relating personal experiences, DarkMatter targets the origins of racism and homophobia by confronting the roots of colonialism.

During the two-hour performance, the duo performed thought-provoking poems such as “It Gets Bourgie Project” and Balasubramanian’s “Nursery Rhymes” themed piece.

Scott Burden, graduate assistant at the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, said the center sponsored the event in accordance with the QTPOC.

Working to dismantle the binary systems of gender, Burden said DarkMatter articulates the oppression of transgender people of color in the U.S., who often are marginalized by society.

“DarkMatter’s lived experiences permeate their spoken word pieces in an incredibly challenging and entertaining way,” he said. “In regards to transgender people of color, this may be the most vulnerable group.

“We believe that the highest rate of murder exists for transgender women of color, it is extremely important to be in tune to these issues and advocate using an intersectional lens.”

Deandreah Hollowell, president of the QTPOC, said in the U.S. transgender women and people of color are often disproportionately targeted with acts of violence. In the past few years, they said overt oppression against these individuals have been expressed around the country through acts such as discriminatory bathroom legislatures.

“Western society operates with a colonial binary that wasn't created to deal with the reality of transgender people,” Hollowell said. “DarkMatter really digs into why that is through their poems, and challenges the readers to think critically about marriage equality, adoption rights and pride parades.”

Hollowell said DarkMatter works to address these issues, whether on a small scale or a large one, and bring them to light by using the power of spoken word and subtle humor.

Ezra Smith, general officer for QTPOC, has faced oppression regarding his gender identity and his race, on a daily basis. Similar to DarkMatter’s told experiences, Smith said transgender people of color are held to higher societal standards through gendered expectations, such as masculinity and femininity.

“We're held to a stricter standard of gender than a white transgender person,” Smith said. “In my case, I'm expected to be more masculine than my white transgender counterparts, and I pass less often because I'm not on hormones.

"This puts me in danger in trying to do things as small as using the restroom or getting a job, and I am often misgendered obnoxiously. My gender is disrespected because I don't fit the hyper-masculine standards expected of black men.”

To become more inclusive, Burden said the GVSU community should focus on more gender-specific issues by first becoming educated. In addition, he said supporters of the LGBT community should stand against harmful language or belittling of marginalized communities.

"There is absolutely a lack of education, focus and representation of transgender people and transgender people of color in the media, and our various systems," Burden said. “Advocate for broader anti-discrimination legislation that includes protections for transgender and gender non-binary individuals, and turn your ‘allyship’ into action.”

DarkMatter’s work can be found at www.darkmatterpoetry.com, and general questions can be sent to info@darkmatterpoetry.com.

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