Spoken word performances promote healthy sexuality

Photo by Raelyn Fines
Photo by Raelyn Fines

Slam poets and comedians promoted healthy sexuality and addressed sexual assault at a March 15 performance, “Who You Callin’ A Slut,” at The Depot hosted by Good Clear Sound and SAVES at VCU, an anti-violence group.

The comedy portion occupied the second half of the evening, in part so the event ended on a “lighter note,” said Marieka Turner, affiliated with Good Clear Sound and SAVES as president and diversity chair, respectively. She hoped the comedy would show how individuals move on and grow from difficult experiences and develop a healthy sexuality.

“Whenever I do comedy I think about how I can bring light and positivity to all of the dark things in my life like racism, sexism, homophobia, all the things that have happened in my life,” Turner said.

Jokes about dating married men and members of white supremacy groups appeared in Turner’s performance, though she assures she hasn’t actually done either of those things. She bases her jokes around real experiences with “ridiculous” twists and hopes audience members with similar experiences can relate to her performances.

Turner started performing stand-up comedy about eight months ago, but has been a poet for much longer. She said she started feeling comfortable identifying herself as a comedian a few months ago.

“[Performance] is an outlet for all the crazy stuff that happens in my life,” Turner said. “What’s different about comedy, it’s really based off the audience and making sure the audience feels comfortable.”

It’s not common for slam poets to transition to comedy, Turner said, but the two fields are similar because slam poetry sometimes employs comedic elements.

“Poetry is definitely more cathartic, in like I want to just cry,” Turner said. “But comedy is cathartic in the sense that it’s an ‘f you’ to all the people that have hurt me and I’m going to make stories about it.”

The many facets of sexual assault — abusive relationships, victim-blaming and consent, among others — arose in the slam poetry performances. One performer presented the situation of a barista always asking a customer what she wants in her drink, despite the fact that she orders the same thing every day, as a metaphor for sexual consent. No matter how many times she requests the same thing, the barista can’t make an assumption, just as a sexual partner can’t assume consent. The end of the poem alternated between lines of a coffee order and language associated with sexual assault.

Before the performances began, a speaker asked audience members if they could define terms like “slut shaming,” or stigmatizing a woman’s sexual behaviours. This is different from last year’s event, Turner said, when audience members were encouraged to ask questions after the performances. This segment led to an instance of victim-blaming, Turner said.

“I don’t think people intentionally try to be hurtful by any means, but I think sometimes it’s the whole essence of rape culture,” Turner said. “If you’re coming to this event to learn, it’s okay to ask questions, but [make] sure you’re coming from a place of listening.”

Turner encourages attendees of events that address sexual assault to make sure they listen more than they speak and be conscious of the impact of their intentions in order to avoid causing harm.

“The whole point of the event is to not have judgement. It’s a space for these performers to reclaim space,” Turner said.

Georgia Geen Spectrum Editor 

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