Disclaimer: To keep the creative integrity of the featured pieces, the following excerpts contain profanity.
Co-hosts Regie Cabico and Danielle Evennou kicked off the Sparkle Queer Open Mic night as they entertained the crowd with friendly banter and Judy Garland impressions at Busboys and Poets on 14th Street Sunday night.
“If you do something extremely homophobic, people will let you know and we will beat you with a rainbow,” Cabico warned the audience with a smile.
The open mic night featured 12 performers who signed up and covered topics ranging from Justin Bieber and underwear to gender issues and sexual harassment.
Event highlights included performances by Sarah Browning, author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, poet Zaira James, spoken word artist Tolonda Henderson and former University of Maryland student Tyler Vile.
Vile, 21, made an impression with her poem concerning the harsh reality of street harassment for being transgender.
“Hey are you a man or a woman?” the Baltimore native read from her poem. “Oh, you’re a man. But you’re pretty enough that I’d still fuck you.”
The crowd stayed silent as Vile continued to recite raw, degrading insults thrown at her for being disabled, as well as transgender.
“Aren’t you enough of a freak? Why are you trying to be a woman?” Vile read.
Her poem ended with “why don’t you suck it, and find out,” resulting with audience applause.
Vile, also a former member of The Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, dropped out of school last year when her parents refused to continue to finance her education after she came out to them, she said.
“That’s when I left and moved out,” Vile said.
Vile said she attended Sparkle for the first time last April when she read aloud a poem she had written on a napkin. Following her performance, Cabico immediately came up to Vile, hugged her and told her to stick around.
And she has.
“I’m hooked,” Vile said.
James, who took a bus from New York to attend Sparkle for the first time, read poems about gender issues, facing fears, experiencing derogatory catcalls and sexual experiences.
“That shit was awkward,” the 20-year-old said about her first time with a woman.
Henderson, who celebrated her 37th birthday Sunday night, is also a librarian at George Washington University, which fueled her piece, “Shit Librarians Say.”
“Yes, you need a graduate degree to be a librarian,” Henderson said. “No, I am not afraid of losing my job because everything is on the Internet. Everything is NOT on the Internet.”
Henderson first began writing poetry about three years ago. Since then, she has been regularly attending Sparkle and other open mic events.
“Tolonda has definitely been our most frequent reader in the open mic and I feel she really has put herself together as a strong spoken word feature,” Cabico said.
Sparkle is held the first Sunday of every month at the same location at Busboys and is open to everyone and anyone.
Last Sunday, nearly 60 Sparkle regulars and newcomers filled the venue.
Sparkle is more than just a poetic event, Vile said. This is one of the few places where she feels a true sense of community.
Henderson agreed. There weren’t a lot of “queer-friendly spaces” in her life before Sparkle, she said.
“There isn’t a lot of homophobic speech in D.C., but there is a lot of heteronormativity,” she said. “It’s really nice to have a space where the assumptions are flipped on their heads.”
It was also gratifying to see how many people came out to the event, Henderson said, because there were often times when there was a smaller crowd.
“I feel proud of what Danielle and I have been doing and to see this catapult of enthusiasm and heart on U Street,” Cabico said.
Maria Kim is a junior journalism major and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.