“Today I refuse to come out,” read Roberto Flotte, off a poem he entitled "The Queer Spirits Manifesto". Using his entire body to communicate with the audience and relying on the power of his voice instead of a microphone, he said, “I am captured in a pitiful prison that can only be defined, by those powerful enough that asked me to forget and redefine.” Flotte continued, “my sexuality, my gender, my abnormality, my love, my color, and my demands; today I tell you: I develop my own instructions.”
In light of National Coming Out Day (Oct 11), members of Queer People of Color & Allies (QPOCA) held a poetry performance, appropriately titled “Come Out, Speak Out” Wednesday evening inside the BlackBox Theater at the University of Texas’ Student Activity Center (SAC).
Flotte’s confidence in word and action amplified a liberating atmosphere, capturing the spirit of awareness and change inside every performer.
From the bordertown of Presidio, Texas, Flotte credits his outspoken nature to an upbringing that was conflicted by racism and homophobia. Closing his eyes, he reminisced on a rebellious past. “When people say something wrong, [I] can’t stay quiet,” said the poet/activist. Once verbally and physically abused by classmates, Flotte vows never to put himself before society and wants to dedicate his life towards seeing that children “will not suffer what I did.”
Speaking out against teachers and students alike, he remembers often being sent to the principal’s office and in-school suspension. “If I didn’t fight back, I wanted to make them feel uncomfortable,” Flotte said. Identifying as queer and being raised in a Mexican household, the senior notes that he himself felt uncomfortable in his surroundings, and thus began to suppress his naturally feminine characteristics.
I think I accept myself, [but] how can I be okay with it, if I cannot marry the man that I love, if I cannot get domestic partner benefits, if I cannot hold a man’s hand?
“You train yourself to act different,” he said - admitting that his sense of self was often blurred in adolescence because of this, but strengthened in college after he started to understand his ancestor’s traditions, through a strong concentration in Anthropology, Indigenous, Native-American, and Mexican–American studies.
This influence was apparent in Flotte’s poem as he spoke in multiple languages - including English, Spanish, Apache, and Nahuatl.
“Mi cultura no es tú diversion, mi espiritu no es perdón,” my culture is not for you to be making fun of, my spirit is not an apology, he said firmly, reading from papers, and throwing each one on the ground consecutively.
Summarizing the frustration of many in the room, the conclusion to Flotte's manifesto read, “by choice and by life, I am a queer person of color. I am blameless, I am hurt, and this is not my fault.”
Actively involved on campus, Flotte exudes an outward confidence that he is still working towards internally. “I think I accept myself," he said, “[but] how can I be okay with it, if I cannot marry the man that I love, if I cannot get domestic partner benefits, if I cannot hold a man’s hand?”
As each writer presented - whether singing and playing on a guitar, reading from note-book paper, or speaking from memory - it was apparent that in communicating, they were taking both a physical and emotional stand, affirming the right illustrated in Flotte’s poem.
“I cannot seek my femininity because I have a [penis] that hangs, confusing people colonized that such things [make] a man,” Flotte read. “I am neither a female nor male, the division of these genders broken and punished; I cannot be free because I have nowhere to rely.” Though this statement was spoken so profoundly by Flotte, it seemed to amplify the voice of fellow performer and senior, Sam Sanchez.
Physically born a male, Sanchez now identifies as gender queer and asexual. Ze, a term used instead of he or she, chooses to dress femininely despite the disapproval of hirs (used in the place of his and hers) family, further saying that ze doesn’t identify as feminine but rather identifies with females. Like Flotte, Sanchez also comes from a Latino background and hopes to incorporate the difficulties ze experiences living a trans lifestyle, by authoring books that serve as a voice for both the Hispanic and transgender community.
A natural writer, Sanchez remembers giving a coming out letter to hirs family at age 12. “I was trying to explain to them who I was, at the same time I was trying to figure it out,” ze said.
Wearing oversized hoop earrings and a black t-shirt that read “fight like a girl“, Sanchez also tells of the first time ze remembers leaving the house in feminine clothing. Sanchez put clothing in a backpack, carrying a cell phone, a box cutter, and a knife, to be prepared for the societal dangers that come with staying true to the identity that Sanchez feels ze is.
In a soft-spoken voice, ze confides that acceptance is a gradual process, and similarly with Flotte, said that a sense of individuality came with attending college. While serving as an Orientation Advisor in the summer of 2009, Sanchez said that ze not only had to be a reflection of the university, but a reflection of hirself. “I realized that this was my body, and I could make it mine,” ze said.
Intimately talking with both Flotte and Sanchez, I noticed a power and confidence in both of them that can only serve as the product of revolutionary souls, meant to lead with minds that focus on equality, hearts that beat for acceptance, and voices that will continue fighting to be heard.