A Search for Community

The Transgender and Genderqueer Poets Symposium, May 9-12, Casa Libre en la Solana

Sitting outside the Student Union between composition classes he teaches at the UA, TC Tolbert agrees that it has indeed been the busiest year of his life.

There's a collection of personal poetry expected next year and a chapbook that came out last year, but the center of Tolbert's world is this year's release of the anthology Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics that he collaborated on with Tim Trace Peterson.

Tolbert says the idea for the anthology came from a simple question he often asked himself, "Are there other transgender poets?"

"I wanted to create the book because I didn't know what other transgender poets are doing and really the first question was, 'Are there other transgender poets?' I couldn't find them. ... When I first started doing research on the book I literally found only five Internet sites would come up, but when we put out a call we ended up having more than 200 people respond. Folks from Singapore, England and all over the U.S.," explained Tolbert, assistant director of Casa Libre en la Solana and an adjunct instructor at the UA and Pima Community College.

"That answered the question."

The anthology, he says, is also a way to make these poets' work visible and also create a sense of community.

What and who Tolbert discovered when putting together the anthology will be celebrated this week and through the weekend, beginning Thursday, May 9, with the Transgender and Genderqueer Poets Symposium at Casa Libre.

The symposium opens Thursday at 7 p.m. with a question-and-answer period with poets and artists, followed by a reception. On Friday, May 10, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Hannah Ensor and Tolbert will lead a workshop, On Bodies in Space, On Writing in Public; while at 1 p.m., Ian Ellasante will do a workshop called Queering Liminality: The Uncommon Beauty and Creative Potential of Middle Spaces.

Tucson poet and artist Sam Ace will participate in the symposium, as will Southern Arizona Gender Alliance program director and artist Rae Strozzo. That Friday evening there will be rooftop readings by Ellasante, Ensor, Rocket, Joy Ladin, and Tolbert. "I want to treat poets like rock stars," Tolbert quips. "That's why we'll be reading from the roof of Casa Libre."

On Saturday, May 11, Ladin will do a workshop called Emily Dickinson's Transpoetics, and Ours. There will also be an off-site youth workshop that day with performer, writer and comedian D'Lo. Poet Dawn Lundy Martin will lead a workshop that day, as well CA Conrad. Rooftop readings that night will be from Conrad, Ace, D'Lo, and Martin. The symposium ends Sunday with a closing discussion.

Tolbert says inspiration for the anthology also came from an anthology he read in a feminist theory class called This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

"Seeing the way that that book brought together incredible writers, people who were marginalized for a lot of different reasons," Tolbert says. "... They didn't apologize for their bodies, their thoughts, or their lives. They exhilarated me. ... I held onto ... these texts as I made my way into a divorce, a coming out, and a family backlash. I carried these texts with me to Tucson and UA in 2003 — the place I would find the strength and community to become the person I am now."

Tolbert says it was important to make sure the symposium and its workshops are affordable. The entire weekend is $60, but those who only want to attend a specific workshop can pay $10 for each workshop. Youth, ages 14 to 23, are free.

At that cost, plus the themes of the workshop, while all led by trans writers, isn't the symposium a great experience for all artists and writers?

"Oh yes," Tolbert says. "My fear is that folks will self-segregate. The way I look at it we all have a gender, have a body and navigate this world. And this is also not just for poets, but for folks who want to have an experience with art."

On the phone with his sister recently, she communicated how wonderful it was to see his anthology and the symposium come together. "'You've been writing all this time, and doing all this stuff alone in your room,'" she said to Tolbert.

"It can (feel alone) for sure, especially when I was trying to find other trans poets, but now I don't feel alone at all. Now I'm not alone at all."

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