A PanAfricanist Queer Womanist Collective

HOLAA! Loves Poets: Meet Jacqui The Poet

Pic by Trevor Stuurman

Writer, Spoken Word Artist and Queer Black Woman Activist. 

The artist commonly known as Jacqui The Poet has been involved in Spoken Word artistry for just over a decade. She is also the founder of the Power Tree Movement which aims to create a space for poets, writers, spoken word artists and emcees to tell their stories.

“Thereby completing the human puzzle in this realm of experience and perhaps, finding a common ground on which to constantly review the status quo; pioneering, with words spoken, a path to emancipation.” ~ Jacqui The Poet

HOLAA! had to connect with and meet with this fierce Afro-Queer who uses art as an effective tool of activism.

How do you identify?

As a Queer Black Woman.

How was coming out for you?

Coming out for me was something I could either cry or laugh about, so I choose to laugh about it.  When I came out I was told that I grew up in a good Christian home (by someone who’s probably never set foot in a church) and that being gay means you did not grow up in a Christian home. The other option was you were on drugs and dying to do Brenda Fassie’s things (thank-you Brenda for being brave enough to speak about your lover in public and may your brave soul rest in peace).

There was a girlfriend that my family found out about and I was told to forget about her, which I didn’t do of course, but no one ever spoke about it again and it became the elephant in the room.  When I met my current partner and the relationship got serious (we started living together) I decided to confront the elephant and brought her to meet my family when they came to visit. Of course religion was brought up again but I’d had a long time to have my one-on-one with my creator about who I am and who I was created to be. I was, by then, settled in myself and no longer willing to be bullied into silence by someone else’s expectations of who I should love.

I never believed in coming out, as such, because the concept seems unfair as it further “abnormalises” who we are. I am grateful to my mother for having been the type to show unconditional love, as a result I know what unconditional love is and I accept nothing less from all areas of my life. After all is said and done coming out empowered me, more than it freed me.

Tell us a little about that special lady in your life

We have been together for about 6 years now and she truly is a godsend, ancestor approved and ,as corny as this is, the wind beneath my wings. She is my best friend, my lover, life partner and confidante. I respect the woman she is because she’s been able to love a complicated ,sometimes difficult, human being like myself.

We laugh, cry and pray together. Without her in my life a rainbow would seem dull and grey. She brings colour to everything I do and inspires me in every way. I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things I have done if it wasn’t for her continued support and loving presence in my life.

I am truly blessed to know such unconditional love in my life, through the best and worst of times she has stood by me. She isn’t perfect, like all of us, but in my eyes she comes pretty close to perfection. Absolutely gorgeous in every way, Kgomotso is a very very important part of my life.

What does it mean for you to be a gay and a woman in post apartheid South Africa in light of the Constitution, the culture of corrective rape and general homophobia?

The Constitution is really some writing on a piece of paper.  All women continue to be under attack in my country and this needs to be seriously and loudly condemned – daily!   Women’s bodies (black women in particular) are under attack; be it sexual, physical, emotional or as some form of sexist discrimination in the workplace. They are under attack due to patriarchal, religious and cultural beliefs despite a progressive Constitution that calls for non-sexism.

Now this is where I separate LGBTI women from heterosexual women. There is a hatred in South Africa, emanating from emasculated men (who in my opinion are not worthy to be called men or human) towards Queer Women’s bodies in particular.  Rape is a prevailing evil in South African that is inflicted upon women at  an alarming rate. When it comes to non-normative women, there is a sense of apathy from communities and (sometimes) from the families of the affected. This is because there is a prevailing prejudice against gay women; a painful unspoken (sometimes spoken) senselessness that says ‘gay women deserve it’.  The term ‘corrective rape’ in fact dilutes the hatefulness of the act. What is more vile than forcing yourself onto another without their consent?

I think as LGBTI women we must be the first to discard the term and come with another description for the unconscionable crimes committed to the bodies innocent queer women whose only crime is loving one another.

As I see it, it is only men who can liberate other men. Those men of conscience must be courageous enough to condemn men who have raped in their circles of friends, in their families and communities. We need those men to be activists where it matters. Not just in marches with placards but in private with their friends, brothers, sons, uncles, fathers and colleagues. Change happens one person at a time and change is what we need to turn this scourge that has gripped our country around. We cannot condemn violence against women in South Africa enough. Women are mothers, aunts, friends, sisters, colleagues, teachers, lovers, healers and partners so there is no excuse for it.

How important is it to use art as a medium to amplify the voices of LGBT women in Africa? Are queer women represented within the arts in South Africa/ Africa?

That’s an issue I have not yet considered as I have not specifically gone out seeking queer artists exclusively. I have to say, I am passionate about women artists in general and that’s where my focus has been.  As a feminist activist I think the emancipation of women will come through the unity of women – all women – and the less separations there are between us the better.

What inspired you to start the initiatives you are involved in?

I have always written. From the moment my grandmother taught me how to write my name before I started school I wrote. I fell in love with the craft of writing because of the creativity involved in the process of putting circles, lines and curves together to form letters which formed words which grow into sentences and told stories. I did and do it to express myself self. To be honest  I cannot remember a time I did not write.

Poetry, which I call spoken word art, is a calling for me. Afrikans are natural storytellers it is ingrained in our veins, consciousness and subconscious memories. Our oral tradition is centuries old and even now our greatest lesson are passed on via word of mouth. These stories help us to determine our past in order to contextualise our present and, ultimately, prepare for the future with a knowledge that I would describe as spiritual and eternal.

Are you a full time poet or do you dabble in other things?

I’m a believer in my calling – which is to say I am a believer in the word. For me poetry is a full-time vocation and everything else I do is to ensure that I am able to continue doing poetry and more importantly to continue creating spaces for others who have stories to tell. The Power Tree Movement I started this year is one such platform. Although there is no monetary reward so far the greatest reward has been hearing others share their experiences and contribute to building a collective memory.

‘Two is better than one’ and a colony of ants can bring down a small animal when united.  The same is true for poetry. The more people share their stories the clearer the picture gets, the better we are able to determine our abilities and forge ahead as a united front. Consequently we become surer of our footing and collectively speak truth to power.

Does your sexuality come into play in your writing and your work?

I don’t think my sexuality comes into play in my poetry (well it hasn’t as yet). However in my other projects my sexuality does come into play because I specifically engage in conceptualizing and organizing events that celebrate Women, Womanhood and Queerness.

Talking about sex is seen as taboo, but being as vocal on issues as you are do you think talking about your sex life is wrong or there is nothing wrong with sharing?

We are all creations of sex so I don’t understand why talking about sex is taboo.  Little products of orgasms walking around pretending that sex is something to be ashamed of is quite silly really.

On a more serious note, it is this self-censorship of sex talk that leads to  a lack of proper sex education, especially among teens.  We need to free ourselves enough to discard whatever unhealthy ideas we believe about sex. Maybe that will be a way to help deal with sex violence in families, romantic relationships and communities in general.  I have heard of girls who fell pregnant at a young age saying that they did not know that they would fall pregnant if they had sex. There is clearly something wrong there. We cannot afford to make necessary topics of discussions taboo topics as the consequences of sex can be dire.

Sex is a pleasurable experience that can be enjoyed responsibly by consenting adults and we mustn’t shy away from talking openly and appropriately about it.

You seem very politically aware judging from tweets, what made you become so involved in politics especially in a time when so many are politically apathetic?

To grow up in South Africa is to grow up in politics – our history just calls for it.  As a Black, Gay Woman living in South Africa I really don’t see how anyone can avoid politics because injustice is in our faces daily.  I don’t know what politics is defined as but I know that the woman who came up with the phrase “the personal is political” pretty  much hit the nail on the head. I see politics as unavoidable. To avoid it is to avoid myself and well, that’s not possible. So politics is part of the fibre of who I am, of who we all are. Whether we are aware of it or not.

Also I don’t think people are politically apathetic. On the contrary I see more and more young people engaging in political discussions; more so as youth unemployment rises and entry into institutions of higher learning becomes an uphill battle.Young people are more awake politically than most realise.

Having followed you on twitter we have often witnessed tweets celebrating the beauty of women, please share this with us as sometimes 140 characters doesn’t do it justice.

The beauty in women, for me, is something I can say is tanatmount to worship.  The tagline on my blog is “basadi barena”, meaning women ARE gods! I think the poet Kahlil Gibran put it best when he said:

‘Do penance before Beauty, and atone for your sins, for Beauty brings your heart closer to the throne of woman who is the mirror of your affections and the teacher of your heart in the ways of Nature, which is your life’s home.’ 

Check out Jacqui on her Blog

Follow Jacqui on Twitter

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