Illin n' Chillin
Trans Man of Color with a Disability, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Breaks It Down Poetically, Politically & Personally PART 2 for Transgender Awareness Month 2013.
(Photo by The Visibility Project)
KHN: What is your definition of Trans Justice and how can the disability and brown communities put it in practice not only in organizations but also in their homes and art/music?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: I’m still learning how trans justice and disability justice are inextricably linked. Transgender People of Color as well as Queer people’s needs in the U.S. are being privatized, without our consent. Trans people and particularly transgender women of Color are being murdered and killed in ways that are inhuman and unacceptable. Access to housing, work, education, and health care, are ultimately systemically space. The support TPOC deserve isn’t up to our own decisions but disturbingly impacted by systems like healthcare and housing that don’t vouch for our best interests. According to the Trans Justice Funding Project, they support, “…the leadership of trans people organizing around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions.”
According to recent, albeit conservative statistics, people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed than able-bodied population. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population. It’s obvious that work opportunities for brown people are limited and scarce. Our sheer survival as Transgender disabled people of color is at stake in every avenue we travel. Systemic institutions flourish in our failing, in our lack of coalition, in our lack of compassion for one another--- divide and conquer, homey! We face isolation and grief with state violence on several fronts. Whatever is considered real or normal, transgender and disabled people inescapably confront and counter those paradigms personally and publicly.
In your home and art, consider who can actually engage with your work. Who visits the most and why? Who is your audience and why? Are there trends of normalized or limited ways of examining relationships, politics, love, and your physical space?
To see a growing list of individuals and organizations committed to Trans Justice in the U.S., please see this list compiled by the Trans Justice Funding Project: http://www.transjusticefundingproject.org/grantees/
KHN: What do you think of the work of Sins Invalid and Disability Justice?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: I think thank Sins Invalid has brought a complex gaze at loving and surviving as a disabled person in ways that haven’t been on the fore before. I feel like there is a distinct and dire need for productions and cultural work like Sins Invalid that celebrates the ways in which queer, brown, and disabled confront society and love us. SI turns activism and desire in all kinds of necessary directions that disabled people deserve and live everyday.
Disability Justice is woefully turning into a newer buzzword I am noticing by able-bodied supremacists to gunk the lineage and efforts of people who’ve been doing the work (please see aforementioned answer re: allyship). Actual disability justice from my understanding and based on what I’ve learned, stems from a complex and multi-dimensional approach of how we fundamentally envision and enact social change. Undoing the shame, the ugly, and the belittlement trusted disabled people; it demands that we envelop our whole selves as political and as politically impacted. It challenges the trust in laws (vs. Disability Rights) and white people to save us. This means engaging in the expertise and the lives of people who face multiple oppressions specifically people with various (mental, physical, cognitive, chronic pain, et. al.) abilities. These communities are invested in taking back power that systemically is denied to them. Disability justice strives for a nuanced realization that “normal” is a farce and that ableism is detrimental on all fronts and for all communities. It’s not separate but interacts with racism, sexism, poverty, queer antagonism, trans violence, incarceration, and anti-immigrant violence. If we can interrogate how we are taught to shame, blame, and victim-blame one another for injustice, we can then really embrace how Disability Justice is for those of us who exist in the margins. None of our love, our histories, our bodies, or the ways in which we think are normal and despite what systemic oppression tells us, that is nothing to be ashamed of. As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has pointedly asked in workshops, “What are our disability and our sick stories? Where have we existed and where is our lineage?”
KHN: One of my pet peeves is police brutality, hate crimes and wrongful incarceration against people especially Brown people with disabilities. In your activism and your communities have there been talks and action on this matter? And have you used your cultural work to shine a light on this issue?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: I come from a poor-working brown family of immigrants and children of immigrants many of whom who were chronically ill and in pain. The little possibilities people of my ilk could get were either joining the military or considering the police force. Policing my body as a poor brown person began early on. As a queer and transgender (formerly homeless & kicked out youth) brown person, being gender profiled along with witnessing Black and Immigrant people being even more racially profiled, the systemic animosity is evident. If you aren’t coerced to be behind the gun, you are a target in the line of fire, so to speak. Injustice all around. I firmly believe that police brutality against Trans People of Color and Disabled People of Color is blatant racism, trans antagonistic, and able-ist. There’s not much else to say about that. I don’t rely on these systems to protect us. The systems are only reinforcing pipelines to prison for specific communities. White and middle-class Trans people are not as affected. White and middle-class Disabled people are not as affected. Who does that leave then? I have skin and shade privilege, I’m American, I’m a walkie with a cane, and therefore the implications for me are different. I feel as though POC and QTPOC skim the surface of disabled people being impacted, but ableism in NYC is intense. I will say I have been targeted or harassed by cops more as a brown trans gender non-conforming disabled guy. All my identities coalesce in institutional ways leave me more vulnerable. I’m noticing how even non-mainstream climates paved by hip and ancestral wellness is about fixing and not embracing disability in QTPOC communities. Disability is a tragedy or a plight if anything, and still, sameness of normalized able-bodied people is the standard of those impacted. I’ve noticed and have been informed outright, that people/org’s disability awareness is shit. When I’ve inquired about disability justice in anti-stop & frisk or anti-police brutality east coast activism, it’s been mentioned that, “…we just don’t have any analysis and not many disabled members.” As you of all people know Leroy, the POC communities are able-bodied dominated by able-bodied stories and few POC disabled community are concretely strategizing because of so much impact, incarceration, and isolation.
KHN: What is your advice for young activists/cultural workers who holds or don’t holds all of your identities?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: There’s stigma in being an artist. There’s stigma in being a political activist. Now that you’ve chosen to be both, be keen on your worth at all costs. Do the work you want to do. We all understand compromises for food and getting paid. You are fancy and some people just don’t get it yet, which is fine. You are an innovator, a lover of your communities, and the crafts you’ve inherited. You aren’t the first or the only; people had work to do before you were even the breath of syllable. Honor those people because with kindness you never know what will come your way. Get a mentor or five. Get peers and colleagues who’ll feed you when you’re hungry and tell you with humor and love when your shit isn’t gold. Be blessed to receive and give a love that honest. Also, if you’re young and your bravado is something that comes off as pure ego, seek people to love you for the rest of the stuff. They will stay with you when the stages come down and when the check might not come. They will cradle you when the police get at you or when the doctors blame you into demolition. They will mourn your dissonance and realize how valid you are. Beware of those who only want your shine, they might dehumanize you worse than any critic. If you stick to your initiative on your terms and terms that do right by those who believe in you, then no matter what the outcome is, you’ll be proud, I think. I’ve been told so many times and said just as frequently, the whole world wants to beat you into dust and I know it’s exhausting, demeaning, that some days due to pain or loneliness (likely both) you can’t get out of bed. Please try to remember, having volition in your cultural work and in striving for justice takes a loving patience for you and those around you. Give yourself that. I’m still working on it, that’s no lie. Lastly, stop being a hero and lay the fuck down with some snacks whenever the opportunity strikes. You are a glorious advocate for your needs and body and spirit. That’s just as cute. If someone tells you otherwise, they aren’t your people.
KHN: What do you think about Def Poetry Jam and all of these contests like the Voice & American Idol?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: I have a confession. I’m Pin@y. Due to elitism and Spanish colonization in Pilipino culture, during my youth I was a product of the beauty pageant. That’s what competitions like that remind me of. I’ve been frequently been asked that. Mainstream digestion of poetry, specifically hyped up models of People of Color have ridden on the wagons of corporate hype machines that mainly skim the guts of cultural work and poetry are in the U.S. I know several people, who compromised on their identities, their work, some POC disabled people who were choreographed certain ways as to not expose their disabilities. What does that do to us but adhere to idealistic principals of meritocracy that fails those of us who don’t get the big breaks? I once got to audition for a televised contest once? The dude coordinator didn’t invite me, but invited a cisgender femme friend of mine at the time despite one of the cis woman producer’s recommendations of my work. He didn’t hear any of her work in advance; he didn’t know her at all but was familiar with my work. Obviously, his lady gazing and misogyny for gender conforming woman was C/V enough. Would she have landed a spot on the show? Who knows, but for disgustingly apparent reasons, she had been offered a gesture, possibly a farce of a gesture, but still. I was the only Queer Person of Color at the time, alongside one other disabled Queer Black Man. The sum total of my feedback was thus: “We really liked your poems (so thought-provoking!), but we’re not sure how your work will fit. The producers (straight cis men of color in hip-hop) were having trouble grasping your material. Do you have a poem that primarily discusses the issues you face being gay or can you talk mainly about your experiences with racism?” This shows two things: You have to just pick one, was the imperative. Secondly, who is at the table making decisions? Competitions like those accentuate a winner of all the gold and glory. See, I don’t buy that those who didn’t win didn’t work hard enough, weren’t good enough. The posture of entertainment models invests in the individual narrative of hard work, on one person’s story being the lotto ticket. Of course, it’s necessary and exciting to see one of ours up on that stage, but there’s still a hip factor that underscores the cameras, the poem, the crowd.
KHN: Give us some of the hottest poets that are Trans men of color and have you met any other Trans men of color with a disability that are poets like yourself?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: I think that much of what is publicly known as Transgender art isn’t very People of Color centered and frequently comprised of skinny, white, middle-class privileged, able-bodied, medically transitioned, and often times binary gender assumed people, mostly Trans men. That’s correct, I went there. Even brown queer and transgender art prioritizes the fit and the muscular, because our bodies have been so ridiculed that any exposure is seen as an ascendance. Bodies so ridiculed that any praise though liminal is an unquestionable win. Invisibility is insipid and we’re out there, doing our thing, but homies not getting the roar because we’re coordinating multiple avenues that assess, calculate, chop, and diminish our daily worth. There are probably many Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming artists with disabilities I haven’t had the pleasure to know because resources for us on a basic level are obscenely difficult. Also, some people may not disclose if they have invisible disabilities or chronic pain out of community shame. After all, masculine vulnerability isn’t necessarily seen as a virtue especially if it entails the thoughtful interdependence required with disabled/crip/krip/PWD. If housing, police brutality, jobs, medical industrial complex, and safe transportation are incessant struggles, our art and strategic ways of existence are not given the exposure we deserve. We sprout gorgeous from systems of vapid ridicule. There are some Transgender Women of Color whose artistic and political work I find remarkable like Ryka Aoki, Reina Gossett, and Bamby Salcedo. Currently, I appreciate the work of trans POC writers/poet Amir Rabiyah, plus the newer insights of Ngọc Loan Trần and Fabian Romero.
KHN: How can we/I be better allies?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: What happened, you didn’t get the manual? Uh oh. That manual was probably written, published, and sold by a cis person or a white person who is profiting big time. That joke went too far. Anyway, I feel there isn’t one perfect equation to becoming the model ally. The terms “ally” and “solidarity” is elusive these days. Honestly, I hardly know anyone (this includes myself) who doesn’t struggle with their privilege. Better allies can realize that taking up space is harmful and disastrous. Supposed allies that have stalk in participation have to realize that there’s a history of colonization in hat participation. Attention: Oppressed and struggling communities do not have any more cookies to give you for self-aggrandizement. This includes cis queer communities. This includes white people with disabilities who puncture disability rights as a primarily white person’s dilemma. I ask myself and ask others, “Who’s missing? Who’s not being represented?” and always ask “Why?” There’s this myth that allyship, then solidarity is by self-proclamation or by a big shiny blingy badge that says, “ALLY.” I think to myself, every time an ally gets props or worse off paid doing work in communities they don’t belong, a trans brown disabled unicorn looses it’s shimmer. To be clear, by shimmer I mean, access to opportunity and resources. To be an ally means that you have something to give up that was never yours to begin with. Some of us being impacted in multiple communities didn’t ask for your allyship or solidarity. There’s incredible work before those terms that has to happen. I wouldn’t make assumptions about any given community. I’ve also noticed a trend of the listing. By stating all the identities like: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, size, nation of origin, etc. doesn’t equate real allied work and coalition. It means you might get it intellectually, but at the heart of your work there’s lacking, and that’s okay just don’t find your naming as the end game. No, we are all not Trayvon, all undocumented immigrants, or all Palestinian. Identities are not about touting a struggle without the real life ramifications. That’s just appropriation. I find a trend of embellishment that involves inclusion on a flier or mission statement, but when it comes to intimate or personal work of understanding deep-seated ramifications of say, ableism and able-ist supremacy or cissexual supremacy, people confuse analysis for having stellar daily interaction. Frankly, I have no interest in whom you’ve read or what token disabled person or transgender person you have at your headlining event if you only opt for politics of recognition. Inclusion is great (Get that cookie!), but what about a complete re-thinking? What about true self-determination?
KHN: What are your next projects and where can people follow your work?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: Check out my online swerve at KAYBARRETT.NET. My latest projects include working on a piece for an anthology called Criptiques and being published in various People of Color, Transgender, and Queer centered anthologies. I was recently nominated for an award by the MOTHA: The Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art, so we’ll see how that goes. Most crucially, I’m booking for Spring 2014 and Fall 2014 to speak at your organization, school, university, and college. Recently, I’ve been speaking for a few organizations and classes via Skype and Google Video. If people want to book disabled and chronically ill people, don’t just read about our experiences but hire us. Consider accessibility as far as travel difficulty and book organizations like Sins Invalid to speak to you about their analysis, actions, and experiences live!
KHN: Any last words, any thing did I miss?
Kay Ulanday Barrett: Nah, I think we’re good! Big thanks to you Leroy and Krip-Hop Nation. I’m humbled by your work and love it! Shouts out to the following: my homies out there surviving all kinds of systemic mess and making that art; to those who know nourishment has nothing to do with shame; to the sick & the achy cultural workers; the complex peoples who no one exactly gets; the chubby and chunky nerdy kids; the wobbly dapper guys who aren’t your quintessential dudes; the diaspora brown mama’s bois; the transmasculine survivors of state and intimate partnership violence; to those whose work, like Sins Invalid, laid it down for me to be this feisty.
Check Kay out http://www.kaybarrett.net/
Moan to me no not my baby
Listen to this interview with Jake Technique, Sound Producer & Musician who worked with Public Enemy and more. He said that musicians with disabilities have to be more professional for the industry and talked about his experience as a disabled music sound engineer back in the 80's and now. His Cousin is now a lead manager and does production for Public Enemy. Listen!
We talked about:
Disabled/Racially Profiling express through song (THE SONG is HERE Disabled Profiled by Leroy Moore & Keith Jones)
Keith Jones and I have a lot in common. Both Black both have CP, both are activists and into Hip-Hop. We also both have been targets of racial/disabled profiling at hotels Keith in ATL & Leroy in Oakland. Now we went into studios and recorded a song, Disabled Profiled, about our experiences of being profiled as Black disabled men. Keith on the beats, raps and mixed it and Leroy spits his poetry. More to come. Another edited version of this song is on the Krip-Hop/5th Battalion Ent's cd, Broken Bodies PBP, Police Brutality Profiling Mixtape that came out 2012
Note: Through Krip-Hop Nation Facebook page I met Ronald Galiwango who lives and report from Kalerwe a suburb of Kampala the capital of Uganda. I asked Ronald Gailwango to write a story about people with disabilities in his country. Below is the story entitled ''Disabled and Riding a wheelbarrow'' Ronald Galiwango is a journalist in Kampala, Uganda
Disabled and Riding a wheelbarrow: A Father’s Love