Black People White Gays Should Know: Introducing Staceyann Chin
Taj Paxton is a writer and bridge builder. This column is a provocative yet real door to open communication across all of our multiple identities. For her debut column, Taj profiles poet, writer, lesbian, activist and so much more, Staceyann Chin. 'Her name has become synonymous with words like razor-sharp, fierce, feminist, radical lesbian, and heard most frequently, 'that mixed-race girl from Def Poetry Slam with the big hair'. All those phrases can be used to describe her.'
Taj Paxton is a writer and bridge builder. This column is a provocative yet real door to open communication across all of our multiple identities:
Staceyann Chin. Her name has become synonymous with words like razor-sharp, fierce, feminist, radical lesbian, and heard most frequently, 'that mixed-race girl from Def Poetry Slam with the big hair'. All those phrases can be used to describe her.
And yet, when I think of her, I see the size 4 woman who sat in Oprah Winfrey's famous chairs and spoke in a soft but steady voice about her experience growing up in Jamaica, the daughter of a Jamaican mother and a Chinese father who deserted her family early and her later struggles with having to leave her beloved land of world renowned beaches and mouth-watering delicacies because as a gay woman, she was afraid for her safety. That woman's story and her honest way of telling it had me glued to the screen. It's her ability to hold readers and listeners in rapture that makes Staceyann Chin an ideal subject as the first personality to be feautred in this column.
In her new book, she courageously brings forward all of her unique qualities and offers us this complete picture of a woman, an artist, a daughter, a thinker and a lesbian longing for home. The Other Side of Paradise is Staceyann Chin's long anticipated memoir, published only weeks ago (Scribner, April 2009). Rebecca Walker, a phenomenal memoirist in her own right, says the book "captures the evocative struggle of one strong but fragile flower. Staceyann breaks our hearts a little, and then brings us safely, gratefully, home."
She writes dramatically, comedically and, all the while, with a haunt behind her tones. She tells humorous stories of her grandmother who has lost her hearing and thus is the only one in her family spared the embarrassment of hearing this gay daughter airing the family's dirty laundry. Then in the next breath, she writes poetically about Jamaica, her complicated island where luxury hotels and reggae music lull you into euphoria and yet, hate crimes against gays are on the rise.
Chin is not a supporter of any proposed boycott of Jamaica because "if you boycott Jamaica, people don't eat." Organizers of any planned boycott would be wise to have a dialogue with her about the politics of the place. Even in the face of growing sentiment in favor of a boycott, Chin's sentiment is understandable. For many, Jamaica is a destination to visit. For her, it's a place she longs to be able to call home again. It takes courage to take a stance that separates you from all that is familiar. And that's exactly what Chin did, when in 2001, she sold her desktop for airfare to New York and settled in Brooklyn, Manhattan's artistic enclave for writers, dancers and multi-cultural cultural elite.
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Many gays across the world understand what it means to have to separate from family but I'm not sure many would understand leaving behind an entire country because you choose to live your life OUT, in a country without same-sex legal protection, where you can be raped or killed at whim. Reading Chin's book gives you an understanding of why she's made the choices she has -- to leave, to return for writing festivals and to engage and to share her story with the world.
She's established a large international following. She's given talks in London, Denmark, Germany, The Danish can't seem to get enough of her. "staceyann chin," the documentary, was released in Denmark in 2001. She's performed her poems throughout the States in prestigious venues like Pace University and New York's own Central Park-Summer Stage. She was invited to read the words of Cindy Sheehan at anti-war rallies and is called the voice of many generations. Professsor of Sociology Mignon Moore of UCLA hosted a recent talk with her on the Westwood campus and says that, for her, as well as for her students, Chin expresses "a toughness and vulnerability that her fans and friends have always appreciated in her art."
Here's an example of her boldness in this poem from her website, www.staceyannchin.com.
watch me lose my acquired manners
see me run wild woman loose skin
stop asking me to be still
kill me if you wil
I intend to run circles
round this tight white drawers you have put me in
(copyright, staceyann chin)
It's her graceful delivery and humble approach to her verbal gymnastics that wows this author. That makes me say she's definitely a "Black Person White Gays Should Know."
Who is she?
World renowned poet, performer, author activist. She dishes on all topics, from Voting to Vaginas to Versace and everywhere in between.
What's her "T?"
On an out meter of 1 to 10, she's a 12
Why should you care?
Because she's smart, she's vocal and she's our generation's Dorothy Parker
Order the book here: staceyannchin.com