I would have been your darling

I would have been your darling.
Y’all would have posted my poetry and videos
on your facebooks. Afterall, I am skilled.
Bragged about me to all your friends.
Blessed me with gifts for my journeys.
You would have anointed me your ambassador.
My fame would not have been contained by the edges of
Tamil poets, truthtellers, healers, and witches–
The darkest skinned beauties who do not give a fuck
those who would fearlessly come to my defense
when you threaten, intimidate, undermine, manipulate, and shame me,
and I was so sweet and obedient, too.
Eyes sparkling with thoughts of liberation.
One who served you so well.
Appedi idinkringal Aiya, Enna vitampa? Taetani, copee venama?
Pal m chinni Oda? Maricurry mutumma?! Amma’da mutton puriel irrukathaaa.
You would have helped sharpen my tongue.
Encouraged my mothering of children.

I would have been your Eelam Princess,

If I hadn’t loved the sex of bad gen(d)erous warlocks
unbound by the toxic of humanity–
those who actually have control of their fiery tempers.
I would have been yours had I hadn’t been the type
unafraid of speaking the stories of scathed privileged men
who take advantage
of those who love and serve them.
Do you know when we sweet obedient ones
become unstrangled by those who ration
their kindness for when they are pleased by you
and abandon you at the mercy of their rage
when we question or challenge you,
giving us no choice but to shrink?
Do you know what happens
when we choose to heal
and seek nourishment?
When we can finally experience
pain without wishing to die.
Do you know what happens
when instead, we wish to thrive?

Well, we’re about to find out.

Refelections: 15 years since Sept 11th, 2016

I can’t believe it’s been 15 years. I had been out of town performing in Minneapolis. I was staying with Deepa Jeeva. She called me to say turn on the TV & I assumed that it had to be about Sri Lanka. But it wasn’t. It was NYC, my new home of less than two years. Duke Hogwild was supposed to be at BMCC at 8am. Please let him have overslept. He did, but I wouldn’t know for a couple hours. We couldn’t reach anyone by phone. I left one New York and returned two weeks later to a completely different one. Huge flags went up all over. The smell even days/weeks later would pound my head. Familiar enough for me to piece together what it was. Like when I’d put the iron too hot to my hair or a car was driven with the emergency breaks. Or the stove was left accidentally on cooking the meat to a crisp. All at the same time, but stronger and lasting and floating like the ash and burnt paper over the water, landing in Brooklyn. I could feel the ghosts passing. I was living with Prachi Patankar & Piper Anderson. Together we filled our home with paintings, poetry and song. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be triggered at that time and failed to see it in myself as I dove into workaholic arts, activism, & organizing– some healing, some escapist, some damaging.

I’d join APIA feminist performance collective Mango Tribe. I’d burst into tears as folks told us we need to focus on race right now. Intersectionality was not yet as common a term in activist circles. “But imperialism and war is gendered! The culture of violence being cultivated impacts us on multiple levels! September 11th is allowing for the acceleration of a comprehensive right wing agenda that’s been in the works for years! It is about race, but it’s more than that too!!” I would storm out of collectives “This is a Patriarchal collective!” and eventually would find my home at the Audre Lorde Project (ALP).

I would speak in front of over 100,000’s protesting against the war in Iraq, despite the organizers skimming my minutes afraid that I was going to speak on Gay Marriage, failing to understand that a Queer Feminist Sri Lankan Tamil perspective– representing one of the only slots for Queer & Trans People of Color– is about digging deeper, unearthing the silenced, opening space for the hard conversations and looking long term at the multiple possibilities and obstacles ahead. With others from ALP, DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving, Caaav: Organizing Asian Communities, Peoples’ Justice for Community Control and Police…, Justice Committee (JC), Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and others we’d launch Operation Homeland Resistance. Yul-san Liem & Wol-san Liem would teach me how to go limp, and I was carried off by 5 cops as I was arrested, committing civil disobedience, protesting the War on Terror at home and abroad. Meanwhile in Brooklyn there were more and more murders and the increasing police often made things worse. Queer and Trans People of Color were being killed in brutal ways and there was no accountability. ALP’s working group against police and state violence, that had been chaired for years by Ang Hadwin, would shift under  Ejeris Dixon‘s new leadership into the Safe OUTside the System Collective (Audre Lorde Project) which sought to address homophobic and transphobic violence without relying on the police. Peers located in other parts of the movement saw my commitment to ALP stemming from identity politics. But mine was always tied closely to a commitment to ending war in it’s many iterations and solidarity with old school Black & Brown Brooklyn. How could I fight for justice thousands of miles away and ignore the armed conflict here on the streets of Brooklyn?

I continued to open space in Sri Lankan Tamil diasporic communities for us to be critical of multiple armed actors, patriarchy, child abuse, and other silenced issues. Then came the Tsunami, and cease fire ended. The vibrations of my Cambodian and other war affected APIA communities would draw me in closer and I’d have the blessing to work with Khmer, Vietnamese, Laotian, Philipinx youth at Asian Arts Initiative— forcing me to center and model a healing relationship with activism. An encounter with Chitra Aiyar on the train would bring me closer to Nahar Alam and the amazing domestic workers organizing of Andolan– a workers center run by and for domestic workers. Andolan committed me deeper to the intersections of class, caste, (forced)migration, gender and violence– preparing me for the work I’d be blessed to be a part of in Sri Lanka.

The broader anti-war movement in the US dwindled. I went from speaking/performing before uncountable numbers to working against the war in Sri Lanka in quiet closed small underground circles. We wore masks at our vigils and rallies. Security an ever present issue. I would finally save enough money to go to Sri Lanka. But the war was in full force and why would I go to Sri Lanka if I cant go to the North to where my blood hails. So I began working in the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. Eventually though I’d return to the North & East, having to apply for Military of Defense permission, visiting my grandfather’s grave before my mother. I’d light candles with plastic matches in the Jaffna rain for every one of Papa’s (my grandfather’s) descendants.

I would come back to fall in love with and join forces with Jendog Lonewolf. Our first performance together would be at the Stolen Lives Project Induction ceremony that brings families who recently lost loved ones to police violence together with others who lost loved ones in the past. My return to the US would also be gripped with the economic struggles of being a working artist. The landscape had changed. We were now in the world of social media and years of quiet solidarity did not serve you in an economic landscape dictated by visibility, likes and youtube hits. The recession had taken its toll and “pick up jobs” were harder to find. My capacity to volunteer dwindled and I left SOS collective, only having room for my art, Sri Lanka, and slowly getting on social media, as piecing together my income with performing, facilitating, bartending, babysitting, database entry, dancing at raves, became harder and harder.

I finally found consistent part time work at War Resisters League and was able to locate my trajectory of anti-war activism within the org’s 90 year history, learning more about Bayard Rustin and discourses on radical nonviolence. In 2014 Jendog Lonewolf, Varuni Tiruchelvam performed at the opening ceremonies of War Resisters’ International in Cape Town South Africa, sharing a stage with Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, Omar Baghouti, and more. But even more soul shaping was meeting our brothers from Soundz of the South (SOS) Mkhululi Khusta Sijora and Mawethu Gejies Mapotolo who generously taught us the resistance of the townships and meeting Roegshanda Pascoe who inspired us to keep fighting for the children, love and justice no matter the circumstances.

The last two years has been understanding better what Emile YX? calls the Mathematics of Survival, so I can one day better execute the Mathematics of Thriving. Vision Change Win Consulting called me into its fold– with Ejeris Dixon reminding me that quiet solidarity is remembered more than I thought. Monisha Bajaj and Susan Roberta Katz saw that I have skills to share and invited me to teach Social Justice Pedagogy and the Arts to graduate students in Human Rights– believing that there is wisdom that can be learned from those without PhD’s. Emory M Moore Jr. created the path for me to bring all I’ve learned to the children of Brooklyn giving me space to teach the teachers. Robert Gass invited me to relax into my dreams and continue to believe in my bold new visions.

15 years later I am equipped with so much more insight and skills. I recognize the need to center our healing in all of our work. Recognizing that politics/activism without love can become a virus, the spark of another war. I recognize that relying on the fuel of anger alone to build our movements is dangerous. I follow the call of Eve Tuck to go beyond the damaged narrative and cultivate our dreams of what could be. I am still mourning all the lives lost that day and since.  And I am full with possibility.

 

For our beloved Priyadarshini Thangarajah

Priya Thangarajah

Priya Thangarajah

I did not know absence’s depth until you illuminated it.

I missed contradictions & absurdities until your laughter mocked it,

like I seemed not to feel the gasping aches, until love blistered beneath scarred skin to soothe it,

nor did I fully anguish with the ghosts until the peace disturbed them into wail.

Yet to the vulnerable between armor & shield, your existence gave hope– shrinking the utter solitude of being so deeply affected….

It became a given.

We will swab stories
with salt water and petals
under smokey halos
sipping toddy
while adorned in crowns of
resilient, rebellious, undyeing silver
wittling the truth from the ones we still await with easy teases–

the other marked outcasts
with higher standards of liberation
fighting with every breath for transformation

They will come.

But how often
were you a lone gull
beak on land & sea
darting tween shells
to fish the poisoned sacred?

What was given has been taken.

And while I am so much more connected because of you, my loneliness looms without you.

Learn more about our dear friend Priya and her powerful work:
http://groundviews.org/2015/11/06/in-memoriam-priya-thangarajah/
http://kafila.org/2015/11/06/tribute-to-priya-thangarajah/

Blocked Writer

Blocked Writer
by YaliniDream

When you know your potential

are hungry to fullfill it
yet find yourself having to fight each step of the way
fencing off harm
pausing for the pain
sharpening defenses
stitching your own safety net and parachute in one as you fall, tumble, & find your way back to ground,

the difference between where you are and could be
can make the distance you’ve come feel mediocre
regardless of your brilliance or journey.

And yet on the deepest days of doubt
when mediocrity, rejection, judgement, blame, fear, abuse, weariness
take thick ghostly grip,
it is that same pain that
compels many of us to live.

“I have so much more still to write.”

How tightly tied some times
is the wish to die

to the wish to thrive.

IMG_7044
photo by YaliniDream

This Step On the Path: #Love Wins

#LoveWins

Ylini & Jendog in woodsMy journey from Catholic Sunday school teacher to unapologetically Queer has taught me not to run away from my sorrows or fears, but rather experience them and follow them to my deeper unrealized desires.  I am asking the broader Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) movement and it’s supporters to do something similar:  listen to our communities’ heartaches, love ourselves through painful realities, understand our fears, and follow these sorrows to deeper unrealized desires and aspirations.

I went through my teens in a socially conservative Catholic Sri Lankan Tamil immigrant family in 1980’s & 90’s Texas.  The pressure to get married to a man is a stress I have endured starting as early as 10 years old.  By the time I was 12, I was clear it was not what I wanted for my life.  Though I wanted the dignity and acceptance that I thought came from being attractive to boys, the idea of marriage suffocated me.  Being religious, I did my best not to think about being attracted to women.  I became convinced love was a collective hallucination that fairy tales and romantic movies fostered to make little girls insane.

3rd grade6th grade school 9th grade school pic 2

I was a social outcast and teased for so many reasons. As the first of my family raised outside of Sri Lanka, my parents knew little, or thought absurd, American feminine teen norms of shaving your legs, wearing skirts above the knee, or wearing deodorant/make up/hair spray/name brands. I was small, wore thick lensed glasses, and, as a Tamil, darker than any other lanky-armed “Indian-looking” girl running track with unshaven legs. In junior high, I got branded with slurs like “cockroach” and “orangutan arms” and was the object of more than a few “let’s make over the ugly girl” and “I triple dare you to ask cockroach out on a date” sessions.  My mustache garnered the insult(s) of Lesbian & Dyke, but since I had no idea what that was, the sting was less. (I thought Dyke was a southern way of saying Dick.  I learned what a Dick was in first grade in San Francisco, fresh off the plane from England, I asked a classmate to pass me the rubber [in England that’s an eraser]).

At home, my parents were under an entirely different level of pressure.  Sri Lanka was engaged in a horrific civil conflict, the longest war in modern Asia.  Our family is of the Tamil ethnic minority that was systematically discriminated by the state and whose political voice got hijacked by a rebel group (the Tamil Tigers) that countered the monstrosities of the state through ruthless tactics. Our family is from the areas where the war raged.  As a teen, my mother escaped peaceful demonstrations tear-gassed by the state. By the time my father was eight he had witnessed Tamils doused in gasoline and burned alive in front of him by a racist mob.  A combination of privilege, luck, sacrifice, exceptionalism, and debt had it so that I grew up playing on American black tops, apartment complex playgrounds, suburban cul-de-sacs, and splashing in subdivision pools.  Meanwhile, my aunty breast-fed my cousin hiding in chicken coops to keep from being killed.  Another cousin, two years old, was shot by helicopter fire as she laughed in the yard watching Uncle dig a bunker.  And as food and holidays stretched, as school was interrupted by displacement and fighting, my aunties were convincing their teenagers not to join the rebels. Countless calls came in the middle of the night informing my parents of someone else they grew up with being killed, of another person needing support to escape, and desperate requests for more money.  My parents had little patience for my whining about Guess jeans and waxing my mustache.  Fights went quickly from zero to a hundred. I understood I had two things I was allowed to be concerned with:  studying and remaining marriageable for a “suitable” Tamil Catholic man.  Shaving my legs, wanting the approval of freckled blonde boys, or crying about scratching up girls trying to stuff me in a gym locker, did not fit into that equation.

Suicide and running away were constant daydreams of mine.  Like so many resilient outcast young people, however, I found a life outside of school and my home.  While there were no Lesbian discernment groups or Gay-Straight alliances where I was, I had the privileges of finding solace and hectically juggling away my problems by getting involved with church, running track, performing with a community theater, taking dance classes, and working as a babysitter.  My dance & theater friends embraced my weird, shared my passions, and taught me how to shoplift lipstick, deodorant, razors, and bras.  My track friends cheered for me no matter what place I was at; were the first to unearth the true essence of my dancing soul; and taught me mantras like “dynamite comes in small packages” and “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”  Working let me pay for mustache waxing, a new wardrobe from thrift & discount stores, tickets to dances, and other forbidden items.

And church. Church gave me a space for my soul to sing in collective praise, a group of friends more interested in “doing good” than “what to wear,” and a place for my heart to ache in silent prayer.  I was all in when it came to church.  I joined the youth and adult choirs, became a Sunday school teacher, was on the church youth board, and was a confirmation sponsor.  I went to church at least three times more than my parents did; I still have catalogs of Christian children’s songs stored in my brain.  Being any kind of die-hard Christian in Texas has a little zest to it, even if you’re not evangelical.  So it is confusing to many, how I went from zesty Sunday school teacher aching for the attention of blue eyes, to a radical Queer anti-capitalist performing artist who is strongly connected and committed to communities of color.

YaliniDream by Ren Hsieh-2My journey has been one of healing my own wounds, releasing guilt, mourning injustice, refusing to be at the mercy of other people’s bigotries, challenging my own place in oppressive systems, and becoming an accomplice in the sovereignty of the outcast, marginalized and oppressed. Despite intense homophobia from multiple communities that I am deeply connected to, I have been out as Queer for over fifteen years.  I am deeply in love and building my life with a Two Spirit woman.

You would think. That I would be. Rejoicing in the streets. Now that Gay Marriage has been legalized in the US.  And yes, it is amazing.  When I was a child, all I knew about being gay was the TV show “Three’s Company.”  Now, on every major news network LGBTQ people are speaking openly about their experiences, expressing their love, claiming their dignity, and celebrating their relationships.  My wife and I, though not legally married, have the choice to access rights that impact how we raise children, care for each other when sick, and share resources.  Still, as I raise my glass, my heart aches and pounds deeply.  And it is infuriating some members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual community that I am not celebrating with them, wholeheartedly.

As a performing artist, I collaborate with my partner/wife/Kueen, Jendog Lonewolf.  Jendog is a Hip Hop MC and photographer of Caymanian, Black and Native American descent who grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  Together, we travel and perform work about our lives, perspectives, and communities.  We intentionally perform for audiences who are very new to the ideas we explore, sometimes putting our lives at risk.  We are used to talking lovingly to and navigating our safety amongst people who believe our relationship is wrong and/or find our political views outrageous.  We have dedicated our lives to catalyzing conversations, opening hearts, building trust, and sharing information on a grass roots level with “everyday people” of all racial, class, education, ability, age, and gender backgrounds.

Jendog & Yalini on way to ChicagoI find this work essential, as I’ve observed that without engaging across different communities, higher visibility can actually make conditions even more dangerous for vulnerable parts of a community.

If a Gay person has the money, social mobility, and/or can pass for straight, they can move to a community surrounded by other Gay people, get a job that’s Gay-friendly or at least where they can mask their sexuality or identity.  They can hang out with only Gay people and not engage with homophobes.  They can use their economic power and privilege to get the political and legal system to work for them.

Meanwhile many rural, working class and/or people of color communities experience an economic, political, and legal system that disenfranchises them.  For some straight people, when laws such as the one legalizing Gay marriage are enacted, it can once again feel like an oppressive system imposing it’s will.  Greater visibility of Gay marriage in the media, especially when the representations are of more privileged people, can stoke flames of resentment and anger amongst straight people against openly Transgender, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer (TLGBQ) peoples.

Straight folks in systemically marginalized communities don’t have access to most people on television. Thus, the people who end up receiving the backlash are youth, visibly TLGBQ, or other vulnerable gender non-conforming people within the community.  There are deep fears that the legalization of Gay Marriage, without a strong on-the-ground movement engaging people new to these conversations, could actually result in more homeless TLGBQ youth, more suicides, and more Trans Women of Color being murdered.  It’s important to note the reason we see more transphobic and homophobic violence in rural, working class, and people of color communities is not because these communities are more bigoted than rich white communities.  It is because more rich, white members of the LGBTQ movement can use their money, mobility and access to shield themselves against brutal violence; it is because the political, economic, and legal system works more for rich, white people in general.

Thus, when I raise my glass to toast for Gay Marriage, it trembles with anxiety-ridden clinks.  I think of the backlash that many of the people I love– especially Working Class & Poor Trans People of Color– are vulnerable to.  There were many years that I would wash away my anxieties with drink after drink turning my heartaches and fears into the life of the party. These days, however, I have learned to listen to my nerves.  I take inspiration from my younger self as she first bravely owned her Queerness.  I discover my feelings.  I sit with, and understand, them.  I learn.  I mourn.  I move further from self-destruction, supporting my aging bones to dance even fiercer on the floor.  I follow my emotions to deeper, unrealized desires.

When I take a breath and listen to my heart, I feel how angry and bitter I am with the Gay Marriage movement.   As an organizer and artist who has been working for TLGBQ liberation since George Bush was governor of Texas, I feel a deep betrayal by the Gay Marriage movement’s lack of commitment and resources to artists, community groups, and organizations working across different communities on a grass-roots level. So much of this life-saving work happens volunteer, on shoe-string budgets. Many artists who have been risking their lives and doing the hard necessary work of speaking to people’s hearts, creating spaces for healing, working across movements and communities, barely make a living wage while larger LGBT organizations are renovating their office spaces and siphoning resources from fancy galas to just a limited few.  As a result, these legal victories remain a precarious shell with caverns of distance between a vulnerable grassroots core defending themselves against some of the most violent, vitriolic backlashes.  What many privileged members of the LGBT movement fail to realize is that the limited focus of gaining rights primarily through the legal system and media has literally cost us lives — especially those of Black Trans Women and other vulnerable communities sitting at the intersections of multiple bigotries and hate.  Because of the vast reach and power of American media corporations, this narrow focus has global implications.  This betrayal creates deep divisions along race, class, education, language, ability, and immigration status.  Many within the TLGBQ community in the US are in the midst of mourning the staggering weekly murder rates of Trans Women that opened 2015, while additionally mourning the horrific police, hate and other gang violence committed this year; the increases of detention and deportation; and the horrific abuse(s) endured in a prison industrial complex that breeds more violence than stops it.

As I breathe into my bitterness, sadness, anger, and fear, I discover that I also hunger the less fractured movements my critics get angry at me for illuminating.  As I breathe, I remind myself that in the midst of great sorrow is an opportunity to expand empathy, connect deeper, and express care.  I remember that rainbows are not symbols of betrayal, but a magical vision of bold unapologetic color that manifests when Sun meets the rain– our rays mix with tears; when thunder booms and lightning strikes in the shine of our most intimate star.  This reminder helps me to envision mass movements united in lifting up, having the backs of, and taking leadership from, the most vulnerable, subversive, and courageous amongst us. I dream of mass movements so powerful that we radically shift the course of humanity!  I see us breaking the boundaries that separate us so that we truly love deeper and better.  Because when we LOVE each other, we feed and nurse each other.  We raise our children, no matter how different they are, with undying dedication, collective understanding, and compassion.  We share. When we love each other, we listen to each others pain.  We take responsibility for our oversights and harmful actions.  We change.  We grow.  And we Win. Because it always does. #LoveWins.

YaliniDream & Jendog Lonewolf


About YaliniDream

As a poet and performer, YaliniDream invites us to hold onto what is precious about the ancient while moving society forward to become less violent, less harmful, more loving, and more magical.  She has fifteen years of experience using artistic tools for healing, organizing, and empowerment with communities recovering from trauma, including war-affected communities in Sri Lanka, refugee camps in India, and South Asian domestic workers in Queens, NY.  She’s a volunteer with the War Resisters League and was a founding member of the Audre Lorde Project’s SOS (Safe Outside the System) Collective working to address homophobic and transphobic violence against people of color in Central Brooklyn.  YaliniDream is currently a consultant with Vision Change Win, a partner with Wellness & Arts Specialists EM Techniques, represented by awQward Talent a Trans & Queer people of color talent agency, and performs/tours with her partner in art & love Jendog Lonewolf as part of DreamWolf.

Bring YaliniDream to your community:

To Book YaliniDream or DreamWolf to perform or speak contact awQward Talent or email bookdreamwolf@gmail.com

To Book YaliniDream to work with your organization towards social justice solutions contact Vision Change Win

To Book YaliniDream for Professional Development, Wellness support or Arts Administration with your school or educational institution email emtechniques@gmail.com

dusty waters by YaliniDream

there is deep pain the world seems not to feel

beneath dark earth flows

rich blood, burned bones, torn tendon

she is slowly being paved

less dust

less foot to sand

after droughts

when luscious waters finally fall

unable to sink

they flood

soul to soul

skin to skin

dust to dust

they blood

they word

they one

they they

they she

she she

she he

she heal

she

be

she I

I

We

We, Lands of muddied red soil unable to swallow the mounting bodies

We, Seas of Spirits of dark drowned skins

We, Moons who witness the horrors thought unseen

We

harness the power unions release

Join

healing courage truth love faith dignity

balance alignment connection unity

understanding stillness risk integrity

passion joy desire creativity

focus wish

surrender, now and infinity

as the Universe activates stars

the body activates cells

as the moon pulls the seas

We Waters Rise

We Rise

We listened to the pain

intended to be felt

We are the power that can not be unseen