“The Pain is Never Just Ours”

Like many, I have bouts of apathy and overwhelming sadness. To combat these feelings, I used to binge eat and sleep (sometimes I still do). But I found a better alternative: spoken word poetry. I’m not quite sure exactly when I shifted to listening to spoken word poetry, but I’m glad that shift happened. I came across Andrea Gibson after searching for “love poetry” on YouTube around a year ago and found “Maybe I Need You”. I quickly fell in love with her delivery, and after I heard “The Nutritionist” she became my favorite spoken word poet. Andrea Gibson’s love, hope, and forgiveness for humanity seeps into her poetry. She’s the type of person whose kindness brings you to tears because, sadly, it’s so unexpected. Listening to her poetry feels like a conversation with a best friend who sincerely cares to understand you. She’s the type of person in your life that you treasure—or at least the type of person that you desire to know.

I didn’t realize the extent of her LGBTQIA+ activism until I heard her perform live in Northampton and here on campus during the Hope Fest. I knew that she was queer, but never viewed her specifically as a queer poet. As cliche as it sounds, she was just another human experiencing a lot of the same loneliness, hurt, disappointment, and hope that I was.

There was a poem in particular that she performed at both events I attended that really struck me called “Ashes”. The poem is written from the point of view of a queer soldier who was burned alive for being gay.

It wasn’t until I became a huge fan of Andrea’s, and heard that poem specifically, that I grew genuinely interested in the LGBTQIA+ community. Before coming to Amherst, I was almost completely ignorant about this community. I knew about gays, lesbians, and bisexuals – but that was it. In fact, I remember sitting in the tent on the Val Quad during Orientation with my mouth agape during the Queer Queries event. Everything was so new to me. Intersex, transgender, cisgender, gender fluidity, gender vs. sex, preferred pronouns, and many more were all new terms and concepts to me. I was terribly confused but because of my lack of interest I didn’t take the time to demystify things. I selfishly thought to myself, “I’d rather expend energy learning and helping communities that I am a part of.” This is a terribly normal response from a self-centered human. This is the reason why many people don’t venture into different affinity group meetings. I’ll admit that I’ve only attended Black Student Union meetings regularly. Why? Cause I’m black, y’all.

Unfortunately, this thinking is flawed because we fail to realize that while there are many experiences that are unique to different groups of people, there are also plenty of overlapping ones. It’s especially important to have representatives from different identities at affinity group meetings because a lot can be learned and clarified. Even though it’s sometimes uncomfortable entering an environment completely ignorant, recognizing intersectionality* is vital. Showing up is the first step. Whenever we label people as “other” we forget that we still share similar experiences with each other.

One of my best friend’s moms, who is basically my spiritual advisor, once said to me that “Everyone is searching for inner peace”. For some reason, this gets forgotten. Instead, pain and experiences get compared to the extent where, sometimes, another’s background is completely demeaned. There is truly no need for a hierarchy of pain and grievances. This needs to be kept in mind, especially when interacting with people from different backgrounds and identities. Everyone yearns for love, belonging, and respect.

Check out these other poems by Andrea: Shine, Enough, and Say Yes.

* You think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”

(Photo courtesy)