Disabled trans artist reads poetry on ableism, discrimination

Kay Ulanday Barrett speaks during his spoken word poetry reading at UConn's Rainbow Center in the Student Union on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Disabilities and injustices were the subject of a spoken word poetry reading by Kay Ulanday Barrett, who identifies himself as a “brown trans disabled artist,” at the Rainbow Center Wednesday evening.

“My work is based on this thing call disability justice…it’s basically the intersections of disability, racial justice and gender justice,” Barrett said in his introduction.

Barrett read from a series of poems he has written in his career as an artist. In between poems, he spoke about the inspirations for his poems, which varied from his personal experiences to those of friends and comments he has received about his disability, his  gender and his ethnicity.

One poem Barrett read was about a past relationship he had, and the emotions that come with being in a relationship or wanting to be in a relationship.

“Even we could not understand the rumble we would become, the quake. And how friendly we have become…we weren’t built for those plans,” Barret read. “Sometime between dawn and dusk, this asked my naked little brown butt to get out and get you a gallon of ice cream…This love has bent the clocks arms to an unsullied mercy.”

Introducing another poem, Barrett brought up the median age that a transgender person would live to and what that says about societal attitudes towards transgender people today.

“The median age for trans people of color to live is 33. I’m 34. I beat Jesus and I beat most of my colleagues. We’re one of the few communities where our ancestors are younger than we were,” Barrett said.

In that poem, Barrett commented on the struggle that transgender people face in being intimate and close to others. 

“Do you know how long it takes sometimes for trans brown people to just accept a hug…You are not normal either,” Barrett read. “Forgive me, for we know how this story ends. But do we?” 

Throughout his performance, Barrett engaged the audience by alternating between speaking loudly and softly and gesturing with his hands to accentuate certain lines of his poems. In one “cento” poem, or a poem assembled from materials that the author has seen or experienced, Barrett yelled at times when people got particularly aggressive in their comments or behavior. 

“The cento is a literary form where you…excerpt works and make a new poem,” Barrett read. “This is a poem that is ‘found,’ so nothing that is written comes from me, it’s more like an ethnographic piece of research. There’s obsessive ableism, racism and sexism…That’s all in this poem.”

After the performance, Barrett talked about what it means for his to be able to come to events like the one held by the rainbow center and talk to people going through experiences similar to his own.

“It’s a blessing and a curse. Whether I’m in rural Indiana, UCLA or UConn, I hear about how campuses are inaccessible, how students experience racism,” Barrett said. “But part of my job is to make people uncomfortable.”


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.