Reading on 4/19 with Karen Tei Yamashita


Karen Tei Yamashita

Please join BCRW and friends at a reading with National Book Award Finalist Karen Tei Yamashita on Tuesday, April 19 at 6 PM in Altshul Hall, Room 503. Yamashita will be reading from I-Hotel Anime Wong. 

This event is sponsored by the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies (WGSS) and the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIS).

Great News: Paid Family News has come to NY!

BCRW is thrilled to share this news from A Better Balance, which helped lead the successful campaign for Paid Family Leave in New York:

From A Better Balance:

New York has passed the strongest paid family leave program in the nation, becoming the fourth state in the country to guarantee paid leave for workers welcoming a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member, and the first to provide 12 weeks. The law, which will provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave once fully phased in, goes into effect on January 1, 2018.

To learn more about how the program will work, and what to do if you work in New York and need paid family leave before January 2018, click here to read our overview of the new law

Read ABB’s full announcement here:

BCRW worked with A Better Balance in 2007 to organize “Work-Family Dilemma: Better Balance Policy Solutions for All New Yorkers,” conference and A New Feminist Solutions policy report by the same name, producing research, analysis, and policy recommendations to support this campaign. 

Congratulations to A Better Balance and all New Yorkers!

A Better Balance

Fashioning New Methods of Survival: A Conversation with Alok Vaid-Menon of DarkMatter

Alok Vaid-Menon is one-half of the New York City-based performance duo Darkmatter. The pair, who met while studying at Stanford, have been making waves internationally with their thought-provoking poetry, accessible activism, and spectacular fashion. I was able to talk to Alok about the Internet, deconstructing binaries, and apathy as a political act.

Why were you initially drawn to poetry? How has it informed your activism and politics?
I started writing poetry when I was 12 or 13 years old, which goes to say that I have been writing poetry for almost half of my life. It’s hard to imagine my life outside of poetry, because since I started poetry it has given me my life itself. I never really had an intention to “become a poet,” or to “start writing,” I just wrote because I had to. I wrote because I was sad and lonely and angry. I still write because I am sad and lonely and angry. Poetry has given me an opportunity to explore the emotional and intimate forms of violence, oppression and politics that we typically don’t get to work through in the “movement.” Poetry has taught me the importance of foregrounding trauma, emotionality, and creating movements that give spaces for people to feel validated in their pain.

How do you see fashion and other forms of personal aesthetic as resistance?
I don’t think there is anything inherently resistant in fashion or aesthetics, but I think certain types of fashion/aesthetics are subversive in given contexts. For example, I don’t think there should be anything political about me waking up and deciding to wear a dress. The fact that the world feels so downright uncomfortable about it makes this act resistant. So I think I struggle often with the conversation of fashion and politics. What does it mean when certain forms of existences – especially those of transfeminine people – are made to be political? Something about this feels nonconsensual. Why should transfemininity always have to be political? This language of transgression and gender non-conforming assumes that there is something inherently oppositional about us – that it becomes about us crossing a boundary, and not about the boundary that was placed on us to begin with anyways.

How do we best navigate and utilize institutions to make our narratives and our activism visible, yet not water ourselves down?
I think people all have their own strategies of survival, their own boundaries, their own compromises and goals that are informed by their own histories and circumstances. For me — close friendships have been the most helpful. Having people to talk honestly with about how great things are, about how hard things are, about how worried I am – gives me so much relief and guidance. I think struggling through institutions alone is so difficult – it just accentuates the loneliness. A sense of long term strategizing feels important. The language I’m using here feels so militarized (and maybe that’s because institutions are too) but I’m referring to the, “Lose the battle, win the war” type of strategy. Maybe there are certain compromises that grant us access to make more profound changes in the future? I also feel like for me it’s been helpful to enter with both concrete small goals and a larger emotional/political/spiritual framework that informs them.

DarkMatter has utilized social networking (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) to broadcast its work and ideas to a wide variety of people. What does accessibility means to you in this new environment of the Internet?
It’s hard for me to think of the internet is “new,” because I grew up on the internet so it’s kind of my “old.” I’ve had a committed online presence since I was like 13. In fact, I started writing my poetry first online (hey, Myspace!) where people told me, “You’re really good at this keep on going!” So I did, and I’ve found my internet life in different capacity and now DarkMatter is a container that sort of holds all of it. The internet was so foundational for me to access a template of myself – like being able to realize that queerness, that transness was like a thing. The internet was my initial political education – I read about the work of Queers for Economic Justice, Audre Lorde Project, and more, which helped me make sense of my own life and where I fit in the world. I’m sure I could wax poetic about how the internet is doing so many cool things for our movements and making important ideas more accessible to large groups of people who wouldn’t come into contact with them IRL, but honestly (kind of like fashion) the internet was just something I have been doing for a long time so it feels natural. I don’t know if I always want my work to live in the internet, but I am so grateful that it gave birth to it for sure.

Do you see yourselves as deconstructing the imposed binary of the arts and activism? Do you think it is important to dismantle this binary?
Yes! This binary is so, so silly! Like how can art not engage what’s going on in the world? How can activism not be creative? It’s frustrating when artists say that they are “not very political,” because they neglect to acknowledge that in a world defined by violence. Apathy is a form of politics. Similarly – our activism has to be creative. We have to ask ourselves what the bigger questions are, what the meaning of the work we are engaging is, and what kind of world we are fighting for.

What is some advice that you would give young people interested in art and activism?
You are already an artist and you are already an activist. I think we set up so many guidelines and criteria for people to hop through in order to be taken seriously and a lot of these reinforce ageism. There is no one way that “art” or “activism” looks like. Surround yourself with people who nurture your creativity and your politics, and push hard to create what gives you and so many other people life.

What is next for you?
Putting my next performance outfit together (living my life one outfit at a time!)