You May Want To Step Outside – Tyece’s Story

I try to psych myself out and let confidence-boosting phrases reverberate through the back of my mind. “Tyece, this is what you do. You perform. You show up and you show out. This is no different.”

Except this time, it is different. Everything is different. It’s a different venue. Different audience. And certainly different content from what I’m accustomed to spitting. I take the stage at Culture Coffeehouse, a hidden gem in Washington, D.C., around 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon (also not at a time at which I’m used to performing). I’ve let GG, the host of the event, read the piece I’m set to perform beforehand as a heads up. When she introduces me, she advises one of the women who has brought her child with her to step outside.

I am both relieved and unnerved by her introduction. I’m sure a mother would not feel comfortable with her six-year-old daughter hearing the word “rape” used repeatedly in a poem. I would not want to be the catalyst for that household conversation later that night. I take the stage, thank GG, ask her to record my performance on my phone and begin.

This is not your Rosie the Riveter kind of feminism.

I try to get into my groove. I’m dressed in all black per usual, a performance fashion staple I adhere to in order to keep the audience’s focus off my wardrobe and on my words. But, today, as the words spill out, my attire feels more like a symbol of mourning and not practicality. 

See, Sheryl Sandberg wants me to lean in, but all I want to do is cry out…

I’m a minute and a half into the piece when the approaching screech of an ambulance siren yelps on the street outside and throws me off. I keep talking.

This is feminism that sat on porches and cried, sat at desks and cried, sat in church pews and cried…

I’ve missed a phrase. I know it. I don’t know if the audience can tell, but I know it. I’ve lived, slept and breathed this piece for the past four weeks and now I’m missing phrases. The sentence gets tripped up. I keep going.

This is that can’t-walk-down-certain-streets-alone kind of feminism…

I start realizing that feminism is a clunky word, not one that lends itself well to being said repeatedly. I also know it is not mixing well with my proclivity to speak quickly. I wonder if the audience hears English or Mandarin at this point.

When I say I’m a feminist, people like to roll their eyes. But, what they don’t know is that I’m a feminist because my body was broken, I’m a poet because my scars haven’t healed, I’m a writer because otherwise I might be dead.

I’ve hit the crux of the poem, the lines that bring me back to that pit of a place I endured in 2011. The audience has now gone silent, stoic and shell-shocked. Audiences always surprise me by what they respond to; things that are often time the favorite lines in my work go unnoticed and the lines that strike me as filler get laughs and head nods. Go figure.

This is that don’t-really-care-if-you-feel-uncomfortable kind of feminism. That I-actually-kind-of-want-you-to-feel-uncomfortable kind of feminism.

It’s no secret that the audience feels uncomfortable. I’ve made everyone in the room, self included, hold their breaths and cling on for dear life. And while the final stanzas of my performances are often times the grand finale, I, too, can’t wait for this to be over. I rush through the last stanza too quickly and spit what should have been my last line too early, causing me to repeat the phrase “This is that kind of feminism” twice more than I practiced. I wonder if this has unraveled just as much for them as it has for me.

I finish the piece and am met with a lukewarm applause. The mother and her six-year-old daughter who previously stepped out come back in. The structure of the event includes a short Q&A with GG after each performer concludes. I can’t recall exactly what she asks, but I use it as an opportunity to explain that I wrote the piece the night I returned home from the Louder Than a Bomb D.C Youth Poetry Slam Team Finals a few weeks prior. I remembered feeling moved and humbled by these 16 and 17-year-old students who were assassinating the stage with topics most adults don’t touch. They inspired me to be more brave with my performance choices, to say things that people don’t want to hear but need to know.

I’ve relayed the story of being raped in many different forums, to different audiences and in different ways. I’ve told it on therapist couches, to friends in coffee shops, to love interests while stretched across beds. I’ve told it to women’s circles and written about it in essays. I’ve questioned whether I’ve told it too much or told it too little. 

I’ve worried that telling it too often lessens its gravity. I’ve worried that not telling it enough misleads people about who I am and why I am that way. 

Telling that story as a spoken word performance at GG’s “Soulful Beauty Chat” was the first time and last time I have ever relayed it in such a way. I wanted it to be cathartic and courageous and I do believe it was. But, it also revealed to me that there is not a hierarchy when it comes to bravery. 

Sharing our stories is brave. Revealing ourselves is brave. Baring our souls is brave. 

It does not matter if we tell an audience of 100 or 1. It does not matter if we write it or speak it or whisper it. All that matters is that we let others know what makes up the unique and beautiful strands of our emotional DNA. All that matters is that we revere our stories and meet them with grace and gratitude. All that matters is that we bring ourselves to the edge and share the fragments that make us who and what we are.

Tyece Wilkins is the creator of Twenties Unscripted where she offers a sincere, sassy and sometimes smart-assy take on growing up. Her work is aimed at observant, courageous and unconventional young women. Tyece enjoys drinking red wine, reading and getting entrenched in long one-on-one conversations with friends. 

To my writing PIC, I appreciate you for sharing that experience in this space. I wouldn’t have opened up this series any other way. Ty, thank you.

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