Ashe Vernon is a queer poet and playwright from Austin, Texas. Author of four full length collections of poetry, Ashe is a very tiny person with very tiny hands and a whole lot to say about it.
1. How do you think your gender identity and sexual orientation has impacted your work as a poet and artist?
I started writing poetry before I fully understood (or even had started to understand) my gender. Poetry was a place where I could explore questions without having to have an answer. I’ve always used poetry as a way to know myself better, and most of my poems are self reflective: examining feelings and events with greater detail and a broader understanding. It would be impossible for me to turn inward without addressing my gender and my sexuality. Queerness has shaped every part of my life, and every part of who I am. I think my best poems are about the queer experience. Some of the most profound moments of my life have been when someone I care about talks to me about their gender. I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by other people with similar experiences to me, but many people aren’t. For this reason, I feel poetry is vital–it shows people that they are not alone, even when they feel like it, and gives you that intense feeling of catharsis in knowing that you are seen and you are understood.
2. In your poem “QUESTIONS FOR GOD, OR JUST ANYONE WHO’S LISTENING “, there’s one line that really stuck with me – “my gender is language i cannot speak, yet.” – Could you explain your thoughts when you wrote this line, and the poem?
I wrote that poem during an uncertain time in my life. I knew that “girl” felt wrong on me–an ill-fitting hand-me-down that I had never been allowed to grow out of. I knew what my gender wasn’t, but I didn’t know what it was. It was very isolating. I often worried I wasn’t “trans enough” for the trans community, but I certainly didn’t relate to the cis gender experience. Of the many gender related metaphors in that poem, “a language I cannot speak yet” was the most honest. In a way, it’s still the most honest. Gender as a concept never made sense to me. I couldn’t relate. It was something forced on me, not something I experienced for myself. As a teenager who was just starting to learn about things like feminism, I assumed that my various gender issues were just a combination of internalized misogyny and self loathing. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I saw the early signs for what they were, and myself for who I really am.
3. How have the people around you reacted to your gender and sexual orientation? Has it been, or is it still, hard for people to accept you the way you are?
I’m lucky in that the poetry community has given me access to lots of like-minded and open-minded people. I’m also lucky that, while my family didn’t completely understand it at first, they’ve never rejected me or made me feel less than. The day to day of it, however, is still very difficult. I’m not out about my gender at work out of worry that I would not be respected. I like wearing makeup and wearing “girl” clothes, so am typically misgendered. I didn’t figure out my gender or sexuality until I was already an adult, so I was able to avoid being terrorized in school settings for it, but I saw people who were and I’m sure it kept me from letting myself think too hard about the things I was feeling. And the U.S. is becoming increasingly unsafe for queer people.
I think it’s easier for me to be out about my sexuality than my gender. Because gender education is so lacking, and so many people have never even heard of being agender, I run into people who think my gender does not exist. I’ve been called some pretty awful things, and the theme that connects all of them is that I am some kind of liar. Some days, it’s easy to ignore them. Other days, it feels earth shattering.
4. Do you think your poetry is political? Why/why not?
I think all art is political, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Art is often either the creation of the kind of world we want to live in, or an exploration of the kind of world that we don’t. I rarely write poems that directly address things like legislation. However, every time I talk about the space between queer bodies, I’m talking about what I believe in. The things I value. The world I want.
5. A lot of your poems talk about religion, your family and where you grew up. How do you think your location, family and religion impacted the way you viewed your gender identity and sexual orientation?
It’s interesting how many of my poems talk about religion, when religion has so little impact on my daily life, however I grew up with a pastor for a father and it was deeply ingrained in my upbringing. I am not a religious person, but I was raised by one. And I was raised in Texas, which is a militantly Christian state. There’s no getting around the impact that growing up in a deeply conservative state has on a young queer person–how it suppresses you in a way that can feel impossible to get out from under. I think, had I grown up somewhere else, I might have discovered these things about myself a lot sooner. Especially since all it took for me to realize my sexuality was to hear a pansexual person explain what pansexuality meant.
I don’t think my upbringing changed how I viewed my gender and sexuality once I KNEW them, but I think it had a profound effect on how long it took me to know them. I wasn’t exposed to queerness except in the simplest of terms, and it prevented me from forming a vocabulary to express my experiences.
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