A Spoken-Word Poet's Gestural Guide to Creating a Queer World
Members within the LGBTQIA+ community continue to struggle with their identity in the face of a heteronormative world. At the heart of this struggle is the desire to be seen, heard and validated in a society that tells them that they are ‘going through a phase,’ ‘just doing this for attention,’ and/or that they are engaging in a ‘lifestyle’ that is fundamentally and morally wrong given societal norms. This desire takes form in many different ways, including art forms like dance, song and poetry, and it manifests in a way that showcases how a queer individual seeks to create a world in which validation comes first. In this research, we look at how queer spoken-word poets take part in ‘queer world making’ through their use of performative gestures, and we analyze both the speech and gestural components of their performance. The gestures used by the poets create a dichotomy between communication with the ‘other’—the presumably straight audience members—and a conceptualization of the self—the desire to be seen and heard as a queer individual. We find three prominent gestural patterns that manifest these functions: self-referential gestures corresponding with verbal reference to the queer self, deixis towards the audience corresponding to verbal reference to a straight “you,” and gestures corresponding to verbalized interactions between the queer self and the straight “you.” These three gestural expressions, when paired with the stories found within the poems, act as a way to concretely express the queer self. These performative gestures help to bridge the gap between audience and poet and build a world in which the queer identity is seen, heard and validated.