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These Queer and Trans Students of Color Use Poetry to Put #KindnessInAction

A screenshot of a student performing their poetry during the queer and trans students of color GLSEN Open Mic

For No Name-Calling Week, queer and trans students of color shared their poetry and spoken word pieces about putting #KindnessInAction during GLSEN's first-ever open mic. In case you missed it, you can view a recording of the event and the poems transcribed below!

And don't forget to submit your poetry and art to GLSEN's Creative Expressions Exhibit!

Clara Horton (they/she)

My poem speaks to #KindnessInAction because it shows how hard it is to be queer and just a teen in a school environment and how just small actions can change this.

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Who am I?
I ask myself that at least once a day
Sometimes more than that
I don’t have a solid answer to that
It's rather funny
I’ve been here for my entire life
I don’t know who I am

To be honest, I’m a ball of contradictions wrapped in a facade of happiness and smiles
I’m black but not that black
I love musicals and rock and roll
I’m 16 going on 40 going on 5
I can speak confidently and come off as happy when inside I'm confused and suffocating

I know what some people think I am
I know what I think of myself, yet I don’t trust my own opinion since my self-worth has been shaped and warped by others
You know I’ve been told so many things about myself
It's hard to choose what's right and what's not

People tell me that everyone likes me yet I tell myself that I’m alone
People that I’m incredibly smart, but I often feel lost, confused, and stupid
People say that I’m okay looking, but I would be so beautiful if only I grew out my hair, but my hair is one of the few things I like about myself

What I do know is that I like everyone else struggle
I struggle every day
I strive to let myself out

To not just come out of the closet but to also share who I am
To honestly be who I am and not be scared
Sometimes it's easier to hide than to be hurt
Sometimes the idea that someone would turn away from you because you showed your true colors keeps me up at night

I often hide behind smiles and treats
I’ll make jokes that are just a bit to true about me
Or make everyone cupcakes instead of crying
I’ll send people memes and retweet puppy photos instead of wondering if everyone secretly hates me but talks to me out of pity
I’ll bake treats and buy everyone doughnuts because all I want is for them to like me

Sometimes it even feels like I’m invisible
People make jokes, and my flinches are invisible
I try to stand up and say something, but I’m invisible

I see my friends at parties but to them in invisible
I hold back tears as people talk over me, through me because they can’t hear me I’m invisible

It doesn't help that I blend into the background
People like me when I'm here
But forget about me when I'm not
People never invite me to parties
No one has ever asked me on a date

While a voice in my head tells me that it shouldn't matter... It does

I'm slowly finding a voice, my voice
I've joined speech and GSA
I’ve learned so much about who I am
I’m genderfluid
I like sourdough doughnuts
I enjoy science and space
I can be brash and loud
I can be calm and logical
I understand the pain of others because I’ve been through it myself
I know that sometimes all you need is one person, one teacher to just catch a glance at who you are, one person who tries to break down your walls and push you to be the best that you can be and you’ll start to change
And I'm beginning to be noticed
But that's almost as scary
I don't know who I am
I don't know who I want to be
I have to share who I am with the world
What if I get it wrong
What if someone doesn't like me
What if no one likes me

But I'm trying to figure things out
Figure me out
I'm breaking down my walls and trying to speak the truth
My truth and it's a little less scary knowing that GSA is behind me
Knowing that every second and third tuesday I’ll have a group of people who understand
Knowing that as I walk through the hallways there's someone there who has my back
Someone who knows that I’m a rocker and a nerd
Someone who knows that I struggle everyday to get out of bed
Someone who will text me over a holiday to make sure that I’m ok
Knowing that I have a few teachers who know my struggles and try to help as much as they can
Knowing that I have a teacher who will convince me to write and perform for a GLSEN competition

Just having someone send me a smile in the hallway helps me take the day one step at time
Just a quick hello as we pass lets me know i'm not totally invisible
Just a invite to sit with someone at lunch makes me feel less alone

One small action can make someone's day
You might not know it
They may never tell you
But one small smile can save a life

Soli Guzman (any pronouns)

My poem speaks to #KindnessInAction because kindness and compliments can be interpreted in many ways. Sometimes those remarks can hurt more than they are supposed to make one feel good. Sometimes the best form of kindness can be knowing how someone feels.

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First day of sophomore year I hear a voice I did not know,

She says “I love your skin, I wish I had your tan”,

A complement that can be perceived completely different if she was in my shoes.

As a young queer brown person, I see it as compliment but maybe a joke too,

You see she didn’t know what my skin means to me,

How I see my beautiful golden brown in the summer to the Light brown I face to in winter.

She didn’t know how much pain and beauty I see in my skin,

She doesn’t see the power it holds,

My painfully beautiful brown skin.

She tells me she wants my skin, my “tan”,

But she doesn’t know what comes with my skin,

The overarching history it has.

My skin comes from my grandfather side,

My skin came from Torreón, Mexico,

Where my grandpa was born.

My skin came from a hard working man who worked the fields,

Before him my skin came from native Americans,

And that skin was passed onto my mother.

My skin has such beautiful rich history that can be rolled by so much pain,

Little did she know that my skin caused years of torment to my family,

How my mother got called at by white men in a pick up “go home rosarita beaner”,

To my grandfather who got held behind class by the principle for speaking Spanish because he should speak the language of the country,

And to my great grandfather who got murdered by the hand of a white man and He never got justice.

Yet through this pain my skin has so much beauty,

How it changes shades through the seasons like the sunsets,

how after a day in the sun, my skin has tanned red,

How I wear orange and red and I shine.

My skin shows has the power my mom has when she went to law school,

The same fight that my grandfather had in the marines and when he created his own company,

And the same dream my great grandfather had when he came to America to change the life of his children and wife.

 

To the girl who complimented me,

your act of kindness can be interpreted in many ways,

for me I wish you could have see the inner me.

I wish you could have complimented me on how I am instead of who I am,

Complemented my love for stem and my knowledge,

Instead of what’s on the surface such as my skin or wavy hair

because those have special history as to who I am and who I will become

Mari Contreras (They/Them)

My poems speak to #KindnessInAction because it’s important to show the background of what the names you give someone are, and to acknowledge that. Giving names that we don’t give consent to being called takes away the things we want to be called. Before taking away my identity, take away building a bond with me. Before you do that, know me and know not to assume.

pale;

pale;
it’s a four-letter word that i get a lot,
my clothes mostly dark against my tone
my hair only a bit lighter than my shoe soles
this dark purplish color indented to my face
under my eyes a light reflection of its color
my face low
hands, cracked and bruised 
and the rest of me too
so why am i “pale”?
it is the result of a Latinx student, worker, and peer
the sole of my shoes and sleeve for covering tattoos matches with a work uniform
black shoes, black work pants, black work jacket, black collared-shirt
a strict uniform
under eyes became so indented and dark due to the time of rising
met with the late night with no sleep
seasonal weather jumps around
still have to be marked for attendance, no matter if tired or late
must skip sleep
writing on paper, sketching with a pen, fixing something that’s broken
hands burnt
my hands no longer heal fully
the rest exactly the same
a different color very long ago
drained and faded,
staying up writing essays or assisting a friend
for me to continue my education, late night essays for grants and scholarships
assignments and instructional i take and complete
meetings i attend consistently
the call-in shift i get on the phone during a day off or after school
when is there sleep
a stereotype that someone should look a way to be who they are
listening to a question, one we all hear.
white-passing and that is a privilege, that doesn’t stop the other stereotypes consistently called upon for being Latinx. To take away identity by saying you do not look Latinx is only being put into a stereotype, already faced with many.
working to a point of drained discoloration and dropped looks, 
because a minority, because of the environment around, because of low-income, because of the stereotypes pushed upon us
the future wanted is less likely to have.
for that, i am pale because i am Latinx.

 

not your average gay

We’re not all muscular

We’re not all slim

We’re not all tall

We’re not all short

We’re not all feminine

We’re not all masculine

We’re not all one same hair color

We’re not all one same eye color

We’re not all one same age

We’re not all one same race

We’re not all from once same place

We’re not all a certain gender

We’re not all friendly and are not all nice

We’re not all accepting of our own community, which is definitely not alright

We’re not all quiet

We’re not all loud

We’re not all always excited

We’re not all dramatic

We’re not all one profession

We’re not all open to suggestions, and sure as hell not all into one same fetish

 

We’re not all your average typical gay, whatever that may mean

Whether you expected a gay guy best friend wearing khakis and a turtleneck, or a gay girl best friend who wants to always be more than friends

 

We’re sometimes blunt and will tell you what we think

I know i do and will tell you how it is

 

None of us are your stereotypes, we’re simply not the same

 

But we all do share one thing in common, and it’s probably something you wouldn’t expect

That we are definitely all gay, and that’s point blank

Sarah Bunn (She/Her) 

My poem speaks to #KindnessInAction because growing up, I found that in Asian spaces, I was silenced because of my LGBTQ identity and because I wasn’t considered “Asian enough.” But in LGBTQ spaces, I would be silenced because of my Asian identity. These poems focus on my frustrations about being silenced and perceived by others in a manner that disrespects these two aspects of my identity. It’s so important that we respect every part of others’ identities, and understand that people are so much more than their identity.

variation [fake asian]

the name i carry on my hands is not my own
rather a third variation of a name i will never know
it is merely the creation of my father who wanted his name
to roll right in the mouths of those who didn’t understand
rather than clumsily spill from their mouths and drip to the ground
forgotten and disregarded

my mother’s fear that it wasn’t enough
because her devotion to her last name
made her the sun, searing the pure white clouds among her
they wanted to drown the fire that raged within her
until the last spark from her would die out
and make her cold and complacent like them

so my parents, with love, bleached my name
until the dirt washed out and the water ran clear
was this ambiguity worth the cost?
when my skin and eyes still betray my name
when the words that tumble from between my lips
smell like lemongrass and stain like turmeric and prahok

when a white man sneers at you and asks if you can understand
but his language is the only you understand
and your relatives hiss in a tongue that you’ll never taste
because your parents didn’t want its spice tainting your words
did the love of my parents do any good?
was this false sense of security worth the blood under my skin?

did my parents make me like those around them?
scornful and bitter because i have nothing to claim
but i am lost and I cannot be sure anymore
whether my mother’s fire continues to burn within me
when the one thing that should have been mine
was taken away by the people who love me

 

heirloom

they ask me why this red buddhist string winds around my wrist
and pretend to care about what it means to me
as their silver scissors snip it to tie around their own
the red striking their pure white skin in a way
that i almost envy while my yellow-tinted skin is an envy for them

those like me spit in disgust at me, their pale skin a testament
to my inferiority for allowing the sun to brown my skin
i am pale now, not because i wish to be but because it's how i must be,
but they still pinch my skin and tell me to bleach out the rays of sun

i remember when i first hated this heirloom of mine
when a boy made a joke, making fun of the asian accent
Slurring his r’s into l’s, shrilly mangling words into slices
the very one inflected in my parents’ tone, in my tone
his gaze happened to catch onto mine, but i said nothing
he was wrong and nothing happened to him

The heirloom, a burden i bear on my back and breath
My teeth rubbed yellow from asian tea leaves
And bits of sand underneath my nails because
When the devil sees a pile of sand he must sit and count
Every grain of sand until dawn rises and he disintegrates
And to them i am the antichrist, dirty and wary of their light

I am the force that reckons their way of life
With my slit eyes and split tongue that balances
Mispronounced English and mumbled Khmer in the same second

My mother with her goddamn 3rd grade education
Who was determined to graduate with a degree
And have a home because hers was stolen away
My father, who brought every one of his sisters and their children
To America and into his home so they could have the chance
This is the story carved into the lines of my skin and the swirls of hair on my head

And you dare to tell me that the soil of America
Has rinsed my skin into whiteness
That i am consumed by a culture that isn’t mine
Which i fetishize and perpetuate because i am ashamed
This shame isn’t mine but the one you wish for me to feel

So you can steal it away like they stole my blood and history
So you can twist it like they twisted my words
So you can hide your wrongdoings in the decencies of mine

Because to you, my heirloom is merely a mask
But for me, it’s the very color of my flesh
Yellow and browned
Just how i choose

Larissa Izaguirre (She/Her) 

My poem touches upon the detrimental effect of negative language on others. This speaks to #KindnessInAction because it illustrates how impactful language can be and especially how harmful.

Sticks and Stones

Words have power.
As the phonetics of a phrase slide through your teeth
Stop and think
About what you are about to release into the universe.
Your words dance amongst the stars and rain down upon those around you,
For better or for worse.
The first time a boy hurt me with his words I was five years old.
In the midst of a trivial disagreement he suddenly turned his attention towards me and very calmly said:
“Why don’t you go back and cry to your mom in the fields.”
I now understand what he was trying to say, but at the time I had no clue.
That night I asked my sister what the boy meant by what he said.
She then explained to me what prejudice was and how it affected me.
I was five years old.
I could barely read, yet I had to carry the struggles of my ancestors on my tiny shoulders.
I doubt that the boy understood what he was saying or even how hurtful it was but
that’s the beauty of words.
It is so easy,
easy to open your mouth and change someone’s life.
I hear it daily;
Derogatory terms flying about the hallways like grenades on a battlefield.
Their words pierce my eardrum like the booming of a bomb.
A boy is messing around with his friend and
The R word explodes through the classroom.
A girl gets her hair cut a little shorter and
“Dyke” flies under a desk.
Someone’s accent peaks through while reading aloud in class and
“Spic” splatters across the ceiling.
They may be “just words” but their letters are strung together by hate.
These words have a lengthy history of tearing down people for reasons out of their control.
These words were created to hurt,
to sting when they are spit in your face.
When people say to “Go back home!”
Do they realize that they are the one invading my home with the butt of their voice?
When they shout “terrorist” at the young Muslim girl do they realize that they are the one terrorizing her?
When you say “I don’t see color” do you realize that you are invalidating the issues facing black and brown people and whiting out our struggle?
And please; if you are not black you can not say the n-word.
I do not care how urban you think you are.
That is not your history.
That is not your struggle.
That is not your liberty.
So watch your damn mouth.
l.j.i.