Photo By Nerdscarf Photography | Interview By Lissa Alicia
OKCupid was the first video I watched by DarkMatter, a femme, non-binary South Asian poetry duo based out of Brooklyn. The piece literally had me in tears while the pair recounted a false tale of how they met on the infamous dating site. Their vivacity and sarcasm paired with a mindfulness for socially progressive practices let me know that the rest of DarkMatter’s poetry would be intensely insightful and delightful. In this interview we speak about the separation of LGBT movements, Leelah Alcorn, and social justice work.
How do you each identify individually and collectively, who are you? Can you speak a little bit about your background and activist work?
We identify as femme, non-binary south asian nerds. We grew up and were politicized in conservative, white-majority parts of the Midwest and South. Currently our activist work centers around our experience as diasporic trans people in solidarity with communities facing state violence and criminalization. Most of our organizing work has been in the Global and US South, towards gender/sexual liberation in each. We're currently based in New York where we organize with local queer and trans people of color.
How did you both meet?
We went to college together, and there aren't really too many trans south asians so we just started hanging out lol.
Why did you find it important to create DarkMatter?
In order to assimilate in this country, Hindu Indians often police gender and sexual freedom. We grew up with few representations of queer/trans and activist South Asians, despite a long history of both trans and anti-colonial resistance among our community. We also wanted to offer a South Asian perspective around solidarity work with other oppressed peoples. For us, art is a medium by which we can transform hearts and culture--not just policy. We were lonely and sad and started writing to feel better
Although in your work you expressed your desire to not be feteshized by your Asian and Trans identities, do you still find that it still happens? If so, what is your typical response?
Yes, it still happens because the art world tends to exoticize and/or pigeonhole artists with marginalized identities. Our typical response is to troll back-- as in playing with and fucking with public perception of what our 'identities' mean and how we inhabit them.
Often times I find myself wondering about queer & trans lifestyle and culture - there is so much that I don’t understand but would love to. I am apprehensive when it comes to asking my queer and trans friends and acquaintances questions about their culture and lifestyle. I worry that my inquisitiveness will be seen as fetishsizement or may lead to future appropriation. How do you propose that genuinely curious hetero and cisgendered people go about gaining more knowledge about the queer/trans experience without coming off like a jerk?
It's about building relationships. We can't express everyone to understand queer/trans life because queer/trans people have been forcibly erased from our communities. So teaching moments become necessary. But it's less violent when the people we are building with genuinely care for us, our issues, and our livelihood.
Your OKCupid performance was pretty tongue in cheek, so of course I loved it. You poked fun at identity, diet restrictions, privilege and the mercury retrograde - do you feel like these things are sometimes taken too seriously?
Sometimes it's fun to laugh at ourselves! Humor and panache can be useful political tools.
Photo By Andrew Karim
What is your favorite piece in the Philadelphia Printworks shop and why?
We like them all! But appreciate in particular the sweatshirt about the US military industrial complex and how it saps most of the money flowing through our economies.
By now I am sure that your heard about Leelah Alcorn, the young trans woman who took her own life after scheduling a suicide note to be posted on her Tumblr. What advice do you have for young people who are struggling with gender identity, and may not have a fostering and understanding support system?
Young trans people, especially trans people of color, experience constant invalidation and erasure in the most intimate spheres of our lives. We just want to extend love and affirmation for all the things young gender nonconforming and trans folks are doing to survive and thrive. There is no one way to be trans and everything you are experiencing is valid.
Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
From our lives, our friends, the world, our moms, and baby fashion.
In some ways I am glad 2014 is over. It was a rough year for POC, but because of that it seems like there is more public dialogue about racism, privilege, and oppression. Of course talk is not enough, in your opinion, what do you believe to be some next steps for improving race relations in America and around the globe?
It's true a lot of atrocities have become more visible in 2014, but it's important to remember that they all stem from continued systems of state violence that are working exactly as they were intended: to suppress and control marginalized groups. The next conceivable steps are abolishing these systems and supporting organizers who are doing that work.
Do you find it necessary for LGBT POC to have a separate movement apart from the main LGBT movement? Why? Why not?
Yes because 'LGBT' is a narrow way of looking at gender and sexual liberation.
Why do you find it important for queer politics to be generated from racial justice movements?
Because homophobia, transphobia, and patriarchy actually emerge from colonialism and state violence.
Do you have any projects that you are working on or anything due to be released?
We're constantly writing new work. Janani's working on a science fiction novel. Alok is always trying to create new outfits. Watch out world!
Melissa "Lissa Alicia" Simpson is a 23-year-old freelance journalist, media & marketing specialist, event curator and amateur model. Her interests include binge watching Dr. Who, writing creative nonfiction and street art. Find out more about Lissa at lissalicia.com.