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Anastasia Walker’s Poetry Debut Tells the “Honest and Powerful” Story of Coming Out in Pittsburgh | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh

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CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

Anastasia Walker

Anastasia Walker recently saw a poll indicating that 80% of people said “no” when asked if they knew anyone who was trans.

“It’s four out of five people,” says the Pittsburgh-based trans poet by-way-of-Maine. “Now I would guarantee that a significant portion of that 80% actually met someone, they just didn’t know because we don’t all choose to be away or we’re not timeable or readable.”

Why is this important? Well, as Walker said, your preconceptions and biases, if you have any, are not in question. As a result, you don’t get to see that, very simply, beneath the labels and categorisations, we are all human. Walker’s first collection of poetry, The girl who was not and who is, which debuted on February 4 via bd-studios.comwas written with cisgender readers as its primary audience to help share more about what it’s like to be trans.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about us, and many are pushed cynically by so-called right-wing politicians and religious leaders,” Walker says. “So we have to step back against these misconceptions. One way to do this is to humanize yourself. “Look, I have parents. I struggled with my parents. But we also have a romantic relationship. I have a brother, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Here is his story; here are his fights. I walk in the world. I take pictures. I like nature.’ All of those little and big ways that we’re all members of the same species, and we’re here too.

The girl who was not and who is tells Walker’s story of coming out of quarantine in Pittsburgh and captures the intense judgment many people face during this process. But the powerful and honest collection also explores intersections with other members of the trans community, calls for racial justice, and finds allies in unexpected places. Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with Walker on the phone about his collection and shared experiences.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


The girl who was not and who is tells your story of coming out in your forties. What inspired you to write this collection and share your story with others?
The easy answer is that I am a writer. And as for poetry, I’ve been writing poetry since I was in college. So that’s part of it. As for sharing my story, I began to explore my coming-out journey through poetry. I was writing a lot of poems, and as it was a way of understanding what I was going through, at some point I started to find my voice, and I was writing what I thought were good poems, so I started submitting poems, and they started getting accepted.

To use an old aphorism, “to whom a lot is given, a lot is expected”, I think I’m articulate, and I think my book is pretty good, and I think there’s a real need to just communicate to the world in general, that is, for cisgender people, what it is to be us. I am a member of my Indivisible group in my community, so I participate in politics that way, but I thought that in order to serve my trans community, one thing I can do is share my experiences in a way that might communicate what it is to be us. And I think that’s a really valuable thing that we can do and I think it’s necessary.

In The girl who was not and who is, something that caught my eye was your decision to include your own photography. What was behind the choice?
Well, one, because I love photography and thought I had a lot of good photos – I wanted to include them. That said, I didn’t want them to be just eye candy. As I was composing the book, one thing I thought about was, well, if I’m going to include these photos, let me include them in a way where the photos will somehow enrich the poems. other. For example, the short poem “What is a wall?” just thinking about how we put up walls, and who doesn’t want to know about others, and how ignorance and bigotry comes from that, etc., etc. Well, I had a picture of a wall, or part of a wall, and so it’s a pretty obvious connection, but I chose this one to pair with the poem because it has this brick in the upper center part that has been chipped. So it’s kind of a dark commentary on the walls we erect between ourselves and others; these walls are never impermeable.

Much of your collection has themes from the natural world. Tell me about your relationship with nature.
I grew up in Eastern Maine and grew up as a queer kid in a small town way before the internet, I had no words for what I felt [as trans] to college or high school. So I have this part of myself that I kept really locked away and hidden away. One thing that happened as a result of that was that I had a hard time finding myself, or at least that part of myself, in my community. And there’s an early poem, “The Sea-Eyed Girl,” which talks about it, “She couldn’t see herself in the usual places.”

The natural world, on the other hand, I knew I existed there and I was always drawn to its beauty. Maine may be a beautiful place, but the basic thing about it is that it didn’t judge me. I could go to the beach, we sailed in the summer, I was on the water, I could walk in the woods in the winter, whatever, and I could be me.

Click to enlarge Anastasia Walker - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM

CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

Anastasia Walker

So you talk about your personal challenges, transphobic microaggressions and how to deal with that, and the experiences of the trans community as a whole, but you also include “9:29 Is Long Enough,” a poem about the murder of George Floyd. Why did you think it was important to incorporate this?

Well, two things: one, I really liked the way the poem came out, kind of like the photos. I really wanted to include it. But you are right; it’s a bit aberrant in terms of subject matter; it’s not about me or my community. Going back to the previous goal of talking about myself and my community and our experiences to cisgender people, one of the things I thought about was, again, to tie all of our experiences together and show the commonalities between them. I have these poems about the violence in my community, Muhlaysia Booker, the assault on her, Roxana Hernandez, the Honduran refugee who was imprisoned and murdered by ICE agents, and then this poem “Remembrance”, which doesn’t is just a list of murders and atrocities and such. So violence is a reality for my community – and I think anyone who’s trans, when we leave our home, at least in the back of our minds, it’s the knowledge of “Hey, is this going to be our last day?”

You just don’t know; you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, something like what happened to Muhlaysia could happen to me. I could be beaten within an inch of my life. But it is an experience also shared by members and other minority groups. Obviously, the African American community and people of color, the Jewish community, the Muslim community. Having the poem about George Floyd and his murder is another way for me and my community to share things with people in general.

So you have a lot of themes going on – if someone took one thing out of your collection, what do you hope it would be?
I’m a recovering English teacher, I revel in complexities, so I want people to take a lot of things out of this, but if I had to choose, because it’s a book of poetry, I aim to communicate what it’s like to be me, what it’s like to be us, but I really hope people enjoy poetry as poetry. It’s not just the content that matters here. I hope people will enjoy reading it. It’s a difficult subject most of the time, but as poetry, written verse, it’s quite inviting.

Is there anything else you want people to know about yourself, the Pittsburgh trans community, or your book?
Visit my blog to make sure you know I have a sense of humor. Most of my book is pretty dark, and much of it is downright brutal, but there’s a lot of light in the book and a lot of light in our lives.


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