I had heavy competition for my Take Back The Night keynote performance on Friday night. Elsewhere on campus, they were screening the new Spiderman movie.
Which made it heartwarming and wonderful that over 100 students came to Take Back The Night. Filled the bleachers, crowded the floorspace, stood in the doorway. The organizers of SASS (Students Against Sexism In Society) did a brilliant job constructing a small black-box theatre and stage for me, in the gym / dance studio where the event was moved to when the rain scuppered the original plan to do it outdoors.
I'd planned a set of poems that focussed on violence, and empowering us to act against violence. Before I went on, though, I was told that a group of students were really, really eager to hear "This Is How It Feels" (which they'd read in Bullets and Butterflies, the queer slam anthology from Suspect Thoughts Press). So I changed my set - and it was incredible fun to do "Feels'"again, especially for an audience that was hungry for it.
A woman from the crowd told me afterwards that "She Said No" triggered her memories of being raped. That's happened before, in other places I've done that poem. When I performed it at the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi, December 2006, a woman told me the next day that she had to leave the room to throw up, because she had been raped.
It brings home to me the power of words, and the images they create, and the responsibility of wielding that power. Each woman who's told me that "She Said No" brought up her experience of violation, has also said that she wants me to go on doing that poem. That it does important work in sensitizing people to rape and violence against women. But it makes my gut clench to know that my words could bring up that horror again.