KAI CHENG SPEAKS FIRE
“Suffering can either break you – or it can teach you how to lead people toward their own greatness” – Kai Cheng
I believe that each of us is born to reshape the world. The prophet and storyteller Octavia Butler has written that we change everything we touch, and everything we touch changes us – and every moment of my life has proven this to be true. I am a storyteller in the lineage of change-makers, and my message is simple: we need to discover a revolutionary love. I speak this message in poetry, in song and movement, in words delivered straight from my soul.
My teachers and mentors include d’bi young anitafrika, Deanna Smith and Jason Blackbird Selman of the Kalmunity Vibe Collective, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, and others. These artists and thought leaders taught me that words matter, that the role of the storyteller is to speak truth to power in service of the people. Over the past ten years, I have been asked to speak on many topics all over the continent: anti-oppression, trans rights and gendered violence, racism, mental health, conflict resolution and social change. My views on these topics are shaped by my lived experience, as well as my professional training as a former clinical social worker and therapist.
Previous institutions and organizations that have partnered with me as a speaker and/or performer include:
- Verses International Poetry Festival
- The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word
- The Festival of Literary Diversity
- Edmonton Poetry Festival
- Calgary Poetry Festival
- McGill University
- University of Toronto
- University of Calgary
- The Simone De Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University
- Toronto International Authors Festival
- Camp fYrefly
- Skipping Stone Foundation
- Smith College
- Princeton University
While I am still open to speaking on these topics on special request, I am more lately focusing my attention on the work of strengthening leftist and liberatory movements by addressing the ways that trauma and oppression prevent people from building strong loving relationships, which in turn stops activist movements from creating sustainable interpersonal change. My latest book, a collection of essays titled I HOPE WE CHOOSE LOVE: A Trans Girl’s Notes From the End of the World (Arsenal Pulp Press, Sept 2019) dives deeply into the topics of transformative justice, prison abolition, trauma-informed activism, and building queer and trans futures. My aim is to participate in a paradigm shift that moves beyond the simple politics of identity and diversity: I dream of a movement that radically re-envisions the ways that we relate to one another.
In the service of this goal, I am excited to offer speaking engagements on the following topics:
- It’s Time to Choose Love: Drawing on psychology, trauma and attachment theory, and community, I examine the meaning and importance of “radical love” as a political intervention in the face of late-stage capitalism, impending climate disaster, and an increasingly polarized political scene. I push back against “call-out” and “canceling” culture and argue for a more compassionate form of justice that retains a fierce ethic of accountability and integrity.
- No One Is Disposable: I explore the meaning of transformative justice as an alternative to punitive and carceral justice from a personal and psychological angle. Using my experience as a former therapist to queer youth and a member of various activist communities, I examine how many marginalized communities replicate the dynamics of punishment, control, and disposability as the systems that oppress us. I offer a trauma-informed perspective for understanding these patterns and offer suggestions for resolving social conflict that are not based on punishment or getting rid of people.
- Monstrous Love: In the wake of the Me Too movement, I re-examine the meanings of consent, sexual violence, and intimate partner abuse as they relate to the queer and trans community. I ask and attempt to answer the following questions: What do we do when we hurt someone we love? What do we do when the people we love have hurt others? How do we heal when our communities have failed to protect us?
- From Tokenization to Transformation: Social movements have become increasingly centred aroundnon-profit organizations as the leaders of change. Yet such organizations are regulated and constrained by their reliance on state and private funding in order to sustain themselves. I reflect on over a decade of working both within and outside of non-profit movements in order to point out their limitations and point out ways that activists can channel our energy back into grassroots community networks for change.
- Finding Your Fire: I speak specifically to young people and the role of youth in building stronger societies. I use spoken word poetry and storytelling to illustrate and inspire young people to find their own creative, vital voices – because the future is in their hands.
My speaking style is engaged and dynamic, employing audience call-and-response and performance in order to create a unique imaginative space. I am also available for feature length performances of spoken word poetry. When I come to speak with you and your community, I do so with humility, as a guest, a playmate, an adventurer, and a facilitator of change.
If you are looking for any of the above, I encourage you to reach out about the possibility of bringing me to your event or organization. Let’s make fire together.