The air seems to shimmer with excitement as students trickled in to the beat of a Bollywood song playing over the sound system. Conversation bubbled between the rows of seats as the main attraction settled at the front of the auditorium. The transgender poetry performance duo Dark Matter had been invited to campus, and, as they were known for confronting taboo social issues head on, it was little wonder that so many people had turned out for the event.
The flyers had advertised a workshop followed by a poetry performance. However, the workshop was not the mutual sharing of poetry that we all expected. The duo had prepared a meaty presentation on the perpetuation of our harsh noninclusive societal norms. They explained in no uncertain terms that we are unconsciously silencing minority groups for the betterment of something as trivial as the economy. They pointed out how prevalent discrimination against minorities and people of non-traditional sexualities are in today’s society with passion that would bring anyone to tears. We were all taken aback a bit at first, but despite the very forward start, they went on to point out that student activists are essential for change. We are the body of the university, and as such, we have the power to change what we view as wrong and sometimes backwards. We can change the world if we so choose, but we have to make the choice to act. They encouraged us to stand for what we each believe in, holding true to our personal values no matter what obstacles we may face. While it was not the workshop most of us had anticipated, we were inspired in a different way. Our writing may not have been touched, but our lives had. Hearing Dark Matter speak was like being given the validation each one of us craves in our lives, and it sparked us to stand tall for ourselves.
After a short break, in which many more students poured into the room and took over the empty seats, the actual poetry performance began. Filled with Indian overtones and rhythmic chants, the words that saturated the room felt foreign and familiar, like looking at a photograph taken of a memory from years before. The lines flowed around each other like incense smoke and danced on the ears of the captivated listeners. Snaps of approval would echo when a statement was particularly striking. Dark Matter thrived from the intensity of the audience, adjusting their actions and volume if the crowd showed delight or approval. By now, the room was packed with people from all walks of life, including two service dogs who would softly woof their opinions on the event. My friend Matt, who is not an English major but who rallies behind anything that addresses today’s social issues, sat beside me, swaying slightly in time to the chanted words. I had never seen him so wrapped up in words, and he was not the only one.
The power in that room kept building throughout the night. Maybe it was the tension as the dueling voices wrenched hearts with stories of pain and triumph in our tumultuously cruel world, or maybe it was the emotion that held us all captive throughout the performance. Wherever it came from, it held us spellbound until Dark Matter took their final bow and the crowd filed out into the night, social controversies dripping from our tongues and our minds tingling with the urge to act. We left gasping for air, as if we had all been holding our breath throughout the performance. With each new gulp of cold night air, I felt my mind shifting and my thoughts twisting in consideration. I had been challenged to use my words for action, but I had also been challenged to live my words.