Poetree: on Being a Creator, Unique Mother-Daughter Relationships, and Overcoming Trauma
On being a creator: I am a poet, a feminist, a creator. I say creator instead of solely dancer or poet because I do multiple things, I’m multi-faceted, and I am always open to learning more. I also teach kids (5 years old and younger) modern dance and 17 years old and older hip hop. I tutor at my college, create my own art and model. I have a lot of experience in dance in particular. I trained briefly from 9 to about 17 years old. I performed at the Apollo when I was in high school and I made it through a couple of auditions for America’s Got Talent. It was the most amazing experience of my life because I got to see other artists, other dancers, who were so entwined in their art. It made me realize that I want to be around art for the rest of my life. Right now, I’m studying English and Sociology in college. I’m also compiling a collection of poetry I’ve written in the last 7 years. It’s autobiographical and in chronological order, events and experiences that happened to me throughout all those years.
On her relationships: I’ve been with my girlfriend for about three years. We went to high school together but she didn’t like me in high school - at all. But while in college, I guess she saw a different side of me. Before my current girlfriend, I had two past serious relationships which didn’t last long but they were very abusive in entirely different ways. They helped me structure the way I am in a relationship now. I really learned a lot. My first was mentally abusive, and the second was both physically and mentally abusive. And it was really hard. You know, I feel like I am a really loving spirit - like I’ve been put on this earth to love. But sometimes, it gets very draining. The first relationship really broke me mentally and it took a long time for me to rebuild my confidence. I didn’t think I was beautiful, I didn’t think I was talented, and when I looked in the mirror I didn’t even see myself. The second one was more of a fight to live and be me. Now I’m happy and it’s beautiful.
On trauma: My mom had a lot of difficult relationships with men which were weakening to her spirit. I watched her go through a lot of situations as a child. One of the boyfriends my mom had was extra horrible. But my experience of being sexually assaulted and watching my mom’s experiences with men made me believe that women are really strong. My mom didn’t find out about what happened until I was in high school (I believe, or maybe the end of middle school). I repressed my traumatic experience so deeply that I thought it wasn’t real. I thought it was a nightmare. But it made me realize how far I have come towards peace and happiness. I went through a lot of pain in my life but only I can choose to get past the suffering if I understand that the things that happen to me are not in my control, but my happiness is in my control.
On must-read books: Anything from Audre Lorde. She was a triple minority, like me. A lesbian and a Caribbean warrior. She’s one of my favorite poets and a big influence on me and my writing. Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o is a must read. Thiong’o, a man of African blood, discuss the ways in which colonization itself is taught and practiced within cultures today and how important it is to stay deeply embedded in your own roots including language.
On traditional femininity: Traditional femininity makes me think of the woman in the kitchen, the woman who tends to the children and the home. She has the babies and then takes care of the babies. I think that’s what some people are still stuck on, even subconsciously. I know some people who say they want to be business owners and do all these different things, but their actions show that they believe that they’re not going to be able to take care of themselves. They want the man to pay for the rent, the man to take care of them...which falls back into that traditional notion that the man is supposed to take care of the woman and the woman is supposed to take care of the house and children. That’s so weird for me because my girlfriend and I are both women and we lead very separate and independent lives. I don’t want to follow behind her and she doesn’t want to follow behind me. We’re working on our own things.
On misunderstandings about lesbian relationships: I think many people think that there has to be a “man” in the relationship. As in, one of us has to assume the “man” role as if the only way a relationship exists is if there are a man and a woman. Yes, both are needed to procreate, but anyone can have a relationship with anyone. There doesn’t have to be a “feminine” and a “masculine” role. That goes for gender and gender expression too. If you put rules and regulations on how to love or who to love then you really aren’t loving, are you?
On the female image: A lot of the time you see women represented only for sexual purposes. They’re up on billboards, they’re on TV, they’re in magazines. However, that’s not what the female body is all about. These representations make it seem like there is only one type of sexy out there - the coke bottle shaped ladies, the girl with the big booty or the big breasts. Women actually now go and buy those bodies but this image is so unrealistic. Young girls now actually aspire to go get those bodies...it kills me. Who can really determine what sexy is? Is it just those women? What about women like me with the little boobies and a little booty? It’s very hard to fight those ideas because they’re everywhere! Not too long ago I had a brand come to me and ask me to model their jeans. They wanted it to be a topless shoot. They said that they wanted to step into a more “feminine” market. So I guess that means showing breasts? In order to model jeans, you need to have your breasts out...which embraces femininity? This made no sense to me and I had to turn it down. What people get confused is the fact that femininity is not only sexual or physical, it’s energy, power, spirit, love, and nurturing. They even said something like “they’re doing this to empower and fight sexualization”...but they were actually doing just that and I didn’t get it. If you’re fighting the sexualized ideology, then why are you planning a shoot to model pants while topless? This type of sexualization, manipulation, and misrepresentation of women directly affects the younger generation. They’re all connected to the internet and the media. Young people are sexualized at such a young age while still being super clueless about the matter.
On coming out: I came out when I was 14. I knew that I was a lesbian around the age of seven because the same feelings my friends would have for boys, I would have towards girls. You know when you’re playing with your friend and you grab their hands and just play? I would get butterflies towards the girls. And I thought it was wrong. I couldn’t stop it. I grew up in a semi-Christian household..meaning it wasn’t as strict as others but it was prevalent, and even though I wasn’t really taught that homosexuality was wrong, I wasn’t taught that it was right either. I just thought “If no one else is doing this around me, it has to be wrong”. When I came out, my mother was livid. I think that was really a turning point in our relationship.
On advice to herself: At 16, I would have probably told myself to not conform to what people expected of me. Even though I was outspoken and willing at all times, I didn’t feel like myself because I was following in the footsteps of my sister or listening to what my mother told me, even when it went against what made me happy. I wanted to be a dancer, a creator, but my mom would give me advice on where the money was... I would tell my 16-year-old self to listen to her heart, even if it disappointed some people around her.
On mother-daughter relationships: My relationship with my mom is different...when I went to college I witnessed the relationships my peers had with their parents and I realized mine was definitely different. My mom and I can go for months without talking and our conversations aren’t super full of substance when we do talk. She’s pretty young - maybe that’s a factor, or maybe it’s just how she was raised. She’s always on the move and she has my little brother, who is 10 years old now. Her relationship with my brother is much better than the relationship is with me and her or her and my sisters. I’m grateful for that though because I want my brother to have everything much better than I ever had, especially compared to my childhood. When we, my sisters and I, were younger, my mom was young. Many of the things I didn’t understand about her then, I understand now, and I’ve forgiven her and myself for that. I have a sister who had her first baby very young, I’m a lesbian, and my other sister had no faith for a while before finding herself, along with many many other aspects. It was difficult for my mom to take care of so many women while still being a struggling woman herself. She said her job was to provide for us and make sure we had a roof over our heads. However, when it came to being emotional and nurturing, it usually just wasn’t there. But my brother does get that side - and I’m really happy he does. I do want to be a different mother than my mom, but I’m afraid that I won’t be. My mom said the same thing about her own mother but some things just became a cycle. Maybe she wasn’t willing to step out of the box, maybe she didn't have the resources. What if I say: “I don’t want to do this because of my mom or how I was raised” but I end up doing it to my kids anyway, even when I don’t realize it? I’m still going to try though. Maybe it will be different.
On sexual orientation as a label: My girlfriend is in the professional public eye, and even though there are a lot of “out” women, she doesn’t want her sexual orientation to be a signifier for her. As in, she doesn’t want it to be her label. People don’t do that for straight people: “Here’s our straight candidate, straight player, straight model etc.” but it happens to people in the LGBTQ community a lot. There’s so much more to any person than just “gay”, “straight”, or “queer.” That’s why I don’t really put much public attention to my sexual orientation. It’s not important if I’m not involved with you or know you personally. Yes, there’s still hate out there, especially on social media, and it’s unfortunate that complete strangers feel comfortable enough to be hateful towards this one aspect of a person’s life, using Bible passages that they barely study, or throwing ignorant slurs.
On catcalling: I hate catcalling. And I get it every single day. It gets on my nerves. Yesterday I was wearing a green dress, and someone started yelling “Hey green!” It was literal objectification. Or they’ll yell, “Hey, lightskin!” or “Hey curly!” I try to ignore it but sometimes it becomes hostile. If a man wants to have a conversation with me, he should respectfully come up to me and introduce himself. That’s fine, I’ll converse with you - we’re human beings. I remember being objectified from a very young age by grown ass men. I was probably 14 or 15 years old being told what type of woman they expected me to be, just from my looks. It’s dehumanizing. It’s hypermasculinity. It’s male privilege. They do it because they think they have the right to, they think that they're doing the woman a favor or giving her attention but what's real is that it’s UNWANTED attention and straight up disrespectful.