Sister Outsider Celebrates Femininity Through Slam Poetry

Daniella Brito

Editor’s Note: This article discusses sexual assault.

Stepping onto the stage at the Cat in the Cream, Dominique Christina and Denice Frohman, who perform as poetry duo Sister Outsider, were greeted by fervent applause last Friday night. The Women of the World Poetry Slam Champions brought their powerful, socially conscious poetry to Oberlin as a part of a national tour during which they’ve performed at over 90 universities, colleges, conferences, schools and community spaces. Together, Christina and Frohman use art to defy the status quo by telling the stories of marginalized people such as LGBTQ individuals, women and people of color.

Frohman and Christina prefaced their performance with a request for the audience members to “sit tight” if some poems forced listeners to reconsider their views on a particular subject. Their poems tackled issues like sexual assault, survivorship and queer identity formation.

Whimsically summarizing memories the poets declared critical to their development, Sister Outsider began with “‘Home’ Poem,” a piece that describes the neighborhoods where they grew up.

Switching between English and Spanish to recall the language of Latina grandmothers “whose business it was to be in other people’s business,” Frohman highlights the significance of the women in her neighborhood. Women that were unabashedly loud “knew how necessary it was to fill a space, and how often they’d been drowned by their own silences.” Frohman honors the women who surrounded and encouraged her growing up — “the I-wish-you-would women, the I’m-gonna-be-as-loud-as-I-wanna-be women, the you-look-biengorda women.” The audience erupted in laughter when Christina performed her section of “‘Home’ Poem,” humorously recounting her experiences hiding from Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday mornings. Always confident and unequivocally outspoken, Christina says she resented the “chicks in pastels peddling redemption” because they would not allow her to swear freely. These quick snapshots helped Sister Outsider paint a picture of the environment in which they were raised.

As a rape survivor, Christina spoke boldly in her poem “When We Met,” verbalizing her struggle to retain personal agency after the assault. In her poem “Star Gazer,” about her first time consenting to sex, Christina reclaims the body that she “masqueraded” in as a young girl, saying that she was “not in ownership” of her body until this point: “my hymen applauds the first consensual contact she has ever known, she will begin the arduous ritual of disremembering the one who came before,” the poem reads. Paired together, “Star Gazer” and “When We Met” illustrated Christina’s story of survivorship and the arduous path to reclaiming freedom.

Equating her relationship with her gender and sexuality to dressing up for Halloween, Frohman described her body as “bilingual,” speaking the contrasting languages of femininity and masculinity. “It’s Friday night, I cop a fitted hat and baggy jeans from Jimmy’s uptown, I’m used to dressing up by now, it’s Saturday night at the Irish bar, I steal the booty shorts my sisters don’t wear anymore, I’m used to dressing up by now,” she read. Frohman says she felt she had to cater to the male gaze by over-displaying her femininity, yet she also felt she had to assert her queerness by presenting herself as hypermasculine. She describes this period of her life as a time when she was “letting other folks dictate how she [dressed].”

Written as a response to a tweet that stigmatized a woman’s period, Christina traded feelings of shame for honor and power to commemorate her 12-year-old daughter’s first period in the duo’s final poem. She addressed this “Period Poem” to the “nameless dummy on Twitter” she said was the reason for her daughter crying “funeral tears” when she began menstruating. “When you deal in blood over and over again like we do, that makes you a warrior,” Christina writes. The poem, met with passionate applause, exemplifies Sister Outsider’s uninterrupted theme throughout Friday’s performance: a celebration of silenced voices. Because media representation often ignores them, it is imperative that we hear the narratives of queer women of color, survivors of sexual assault and adolescent girls through socially conscious artists like Frohman and Christina.