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A common language with Kay

February 18, 2015

I feel so sure that I’ve written about the importance of Tumblr in my life on this site but after a quick browse through past features, it seems that I haven’t. According to my Tumblr archives, I have been a member since April 2010 which seems like a long time to commit to anything, especially social media. Those first few posts really do sum up everything I love about the space: obscure news items (the Greek protest pup), life-changing views (the term Hispanic  was created by the US government, erasing our individual indigenous history), Aaliyah (all the brown and black artists) and a quote by Kay Ulanday Barrett. The way they explored the complexities of family, the embrace of chosen family and the healing power of our foods, inspired me to do the same. I didn’t have many POC around me at the time living in the prairies, let alone QTPOC, let alone a “[email protected] transgender queer”…let alone such a dapper one.

I finally met Kay in Toronto during one of their performances  (powerful and vulnerable as ever). You should catch them too (Toronto! February 19th!)

I’m so glad one of us reached out those years ago. It is a gift to still have their words around me today. Read on (swoon on)

Interview and photos by Karen Campos Castillo

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You’ve been profiled as a dapper boi. How would you describe your style and what influences the look?

Such a dope question! I was recently asked on tour by another QTPOC How would I define my aesthetic? My response was, homeboi switchy homeland swag on a budget. I would say my style has definitely evolved through time. Where once was a bandana touting baggy pants person, now is a patterned out fellow in fitteds. I try to be as thrifty and thoughtful as possible, realizing my aesthetic is based on a host of factors like safety, cost and size.

In my feature in DapperQ, I discussed how I don’t fit in an able-bodied, amerikan, & white existence. This is my everyday reality as soon as I get dressed.

From the beads around my neck to the click of my cane, I utilize patterns and themes that remind me of my homeland, of my brown culture, of my lolo and titos, of the kid who was beat up in the 90’s for dressing what was classed as poor and a place of ridicule with loud ass colors but now, said looks have been burgeoned as nostalgically hip by white and rich people alike. Lately I’ve been inspired by all kinds of textures — crocodile, leopard-print, various kinds of calligraphy & text. I must say, I have an equation with a statement piece, a bold necklace or sharp accessory that my entire outfit harmonizes with. Some areas that nudge my fashion directions are old photos of my family, textiles and woodwork from the pilipinas, 90’s hip-hop culture—just living near NYC gives me enough life. There are boi & queer masculine styling spaces like Saint Harridan, Jag & Co., the Distinguished Cravat, and haute butch.

Again, my allure towards fashion is like sewing a bunch of resources, and is an explorative tailoring of various facets of my life.

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You’re a writer and performer but where does your creativity with food come from? Itseems to play a pretty prominent role in your social media presence.

Food is everything! You know to ask all the important things!

Food wasn’t always affordable or accessible. I grew up from poor, so I’ve gathered skills to be hella creative about having a fulfilling, delicious, thrifty, and nutritious meal.

Nowadays, now that I’m able to revel in meals, I archive them everywhere. Food adoration stemmed from a long line of fundamentally incredible home cooks and fam of origin who were in the food service industry. My titas, titos, and mama were either serving, cooking, cleaning or washing in the kitchens of other people’s houses and restaurants. When they came home, we’d have our food, big family style dinners and bbqs, where food was the common language and most obviously, therapeutic. I learned about being [email protected] through my taste buds, I learned how to build bases of people feeling struggle through Midwestern potlucks with elders talking story and babies at the hip. Food is multigenerational. Everybody gotta eat. This tool is something enjoyed by so many and opens us up to having conversations in ways a classroom, museum, and even concert cannot facilitate.

There’s an intimacy of all senses that gets vulnerable. There’s testimony in food, have you noticed that?

Even if you don’t say, speak your homeland tongue or have gone back to your family’s nation or town you can elaborate on your culture through taste buds. My social media is emblazoned by food. It’s a privilege, but also a reclamation. Food justice is centered that all people have access to fresh, delicious, food that is nourished directly from community and land in a way that is humane and respectful. Every time I archive my food exploits it’s to support the growers, the brown businesses, the meetings that run late but with the perfect salad or passed down recipe from your grandma. When I worked with Recipes For The People, connecting with qtpoc people about their food lineage was the biggest gift. People shared their first bites, their great lolo’s or their umma’s recipes by memory, there were no measuring cups, but body memory.

To think, colonization and displacement and systemic struggle takes so many things away, but brown people remember how they grew up through tastes, through community and organization kitchens. Self and collective preservation knows there’s magic in food.’

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We are both pup owners and lovers. Is this your first dog? What do they mean to you?

*cornbread siopao stinkerton the pogiton, is my first adult dog. I previously had a cat named cloverton humbean bonifacio the preposterous, shout out to clover! In high school, I had a sweet little mutt named tofu, but that was sadly short-lived (ex-boyfriend got him as a spur of the moment gift without realizing responsibility as humans do and so we gave him away). I like that you didn’t use the term pet. LOL. Breadhead (his nickname) is without a doubt my #1 and so far, my longest relationship in many ways. I got cornbread during a hectic time, I moved to a new city, and selfishly as humans do, decided I needed company. Yo. People, say that you rescue dogs and yes, 70% of dogs are in shelter systems and put down, but when the dog finds the right human! there’s no other way to describe it but as something phenomenal or otherworldly.

Here’s this pudgy little being who grows exponentially faster than you, whose smell and hearing skills are a bajillion times more astute than your pesky human senses, but they team up and create interdependence with you.

He psychiatrically supports me with my anxiety and also with natural cuddles when I need the cuddles. I love dogs and when trained with operant positive condition and clicker training (yes, I’m one of those queers), we develop a relationship that evolves and is predictable. He gets positive reinforcement knowing that when we learn a new task together, a click marks the behavior and then he is given reciprocity with a treat.

Humans ain’t that reliable. They are temperamental. They break your heart. They don’t respect boundaries. Dogs though, if you develop supportive agreements together and for them, they are consistent.

As somebody who has lost fam of origin, been kicked out, been in abusive relationships and just hella forced transition, I adore that I have this rhythm with my dog. Doesn’t matter if my poems suck or if my words fail or the paycheck or organization runs late, Breadhead will hold that down-stay for a long ass time and he will “up up” on the bed and lean up against me during anxious moments, guaranteed. I’m recently fostering a new dog, BIggie Kamote Jowls Baby Dinosaur Jowlsington. He’s huge and sweet and tender and slobbery. We have so much in common. He offers and cuddles and stays near in ways that just melt anyone who he interacts. He’s a lover, not a fighter, and he’s currently teaching me a great deal of self -care: make boundaries, no matter how cute someone is don’t let them dictate all the things, stretch after every entrance and exit.

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I’m from a much smaller community than NYC or even Chicago. As an able-bodied organizer back in 2008, I was totally clueless about accessibility. These days, I see the term in conversation online and even for events back in my hometown. It would seem that we have come a long way but again, an as able-bodied person, am I being naive about the progress? Are we having the right conversations?

I think progress is perpetually subjective na. I am also coming from a previous able-bodied perspective so we have that in common! I think what is admirable is that we’re having those conversations now, and that sick, disabled, Deaf, and various ranges of mental health community are not being asked to change or shift to compromise themselves. Spaces are trying, and actually, NYC is hardly a model for that in social justice spaces. I’ve seen online posts and event invites by prominent community and social justice space that disappointingly still use terminology like “special needs” So then, there’s that. That’s QTPOC space, by the by. I’ve noticed hip arts spaces just simply state, “we’re not accessible.” It’s like gee, thanks for taking away the self-determination of people and not identifying the plethora of ways people can be disabled, be a person with disability anxiety, chronically in pain, or with chemical sensitivities. Awesome. (insert my stank face or side eye emoji)

I think conversations I would love to see would be expanding knowledge around fixing and wellness as an end goal of humanity.

As Sins Invalid puts it, “All bodies are unique and essential. All bodies are whole. All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them.” If we question our barometers espoused in labor and desire and what is valuable, we’ll uncover that many of us don’t sum up to the standardized american white cis skinny able-bodied archetype of success. All our stuff comes under question and naturally, rightfully, and hopefully, organically our cultural and organizing spaces will remarkably benefit.

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We met online through Tumblr and I am so thankful for that. Online communities have had a really big impact on me creatively and personally, and I wonder if they have done the same for you and how?

Tumblr homies for like, what five years now? Your posts are/were always on point and showed such a range of fashion, politics, and art! Total tumblr crush times are the QTPOC reality, no? I find that the internet, when accessible to certain abilities and class access, is an ever critical tool that has sustained me. We’re not talking about OKC, but I am old enough to have used AIM and went to AOL and hotmail chat rooms. Friendster queers raise em’ up!  I think that online connections have really elaborated on communication for those living in limited communities, say where safety is rough for trans and queer communities, places with rampant racism, and honestly, sick and disabled people who thrive on communication outside their beds/families/caretakers/partners. There’s no doubt that we artistically and politically have utilized the interwebz for grand scale forms of organizing with hasthtags as very  poignantly and supremely demonstrated by #BlackLivesMatter. A favorite group, Sick & Disabled Queer People of Color on FB, has seriously created some of the best connections, praxis, and strategy sharing I’ve noticed when it comes to facing racism, saneism, cissexism, and ableism. Those people be my family for real.

The internet has enthralled us in ways we document our lives when the mainstream outside world wants nothing to do with us, we’ve become our own curators!

What I am concerned about is that QTPOC in various arts and politics have lost savvy of direct face time and in person community movement building. We can be both online-savvy and develop in depth in-person connection. I worry that text message and passive-aggressive online heroism has left many false idols whereby face-to-face conversation with folks is scarce. How can we unplug, too? A young POC poet Facebooked me a message with the following: “Hey, I am starting to perform and want to start touring. Can you send me your presskit and contacts so I can get some features too? How do you reach out to venues?” I was appalled. Take me to coffee first, LOL. I’m about skill sharing resources, but don’t dehumanize our interactions and also our levels of collaboration till we take our beings for granted.

How can we not soundbyte things away but develop the long conversations needed to sustain our actions, ideas, and theories?

Meanwhile, we all know I be posting all my foods and cultural worker crushes all the damn day.

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I’m a big fan of your writing and performance. I imagine that with all the touring, your work is admired by many people these days. Who are your personal heroes?

I’m such a fan of you, your love and your visual art is tremendously gorgeous. Personal heroes are weird for me, but there are people’s work that I think the utter world of. I‘m extremely into the performances and political work of Sins Invalid in the Bay Area whose work has been a pinnacle for me in understanding sick & disabled art at the intersections. Particularly, I’m also super into cripchick aka Stacey Milburn, Eddie Ndopu, Eli Claire, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. There’s fly work happening with PeaCock Rebellion in the Bay Area that is accessible to people with disabilities and harnesses QTPOC lives. Also, I am eagerly anticipating Octavia’s Brood Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements edited by Walidah Imarisha & Adrienne Maree Brown.

Anything published out of Biyuti Publishing, I would get my hands on. Biyuti showcases some seriously fly, articulate, & groundbreaking writing by Trans Women of Color.

IMG_5107Is New York home?

Jersey City is supposedly geographically home. NYC is that spot 30 mins. away where work and socializing and  politics happen. Home. Home? I think I’ve wrongfully and woefully misplaced homes in people. Perhaps, it’s mercury in retrograde answering the question and the new moon. LOL. Ah, but to continue with your question, I am midwestern born and raised, so Chicago will always be where I land somehow. Jersey City/NYC has been my address for about 8 years. Much of my political growth and artistic epiphanies took place here. I think I tour partially to create chosen fam and homes in cities deliberately. No place feels like a residence, just moments or happenings. It could be because I’m kicked out and formerly homeless, so I have this transient air about my belonging. My bed and my dog are in Jersey City. I’m glad and privileged to have a place to put my stuff, rest my head, and pet my dog.

 

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Karen Campos

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