Getting Raves for Her Rants: Chinese-Jamaican Poet Staceyann Chin Brings Her Outraged Eloquence from Broadway to HBO's Def Poetry. (Television)

Article excerpt

In midtown Manhattan, HBO is taping the third season of Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, a seven-episode series set to premiere April 4 at 12:30 A.M. Eastern time. The hip-hop audience, mostly African-American and Latino, is loving the droll humor of rapper-actor host Mos Def. They're ready for just about anything.

But they're taken aback by the forthright queerness of 30-year-old Staceyann Chin. No sweat: Chin strides onstage with authority, woos them with sexy words about loving another woman, and then demands respect with her passionate poem "Passing."

"I do not wish to pass," cries Chin, her arms defiantly held high. "I do not wish to pass / As semiwhite / Or almost straight / Or nearly normal / Holding down corporate jobs / Stroking narrow-minded dicks / So I can be invited to family dinners / So I can disown my brothers and sisters / Who cannot pass.'

Chin wins them over, of course--just as she does on Broadway in Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam, which opened at the Longacre Theatre on November 14, 2002, and has become one of the unlikelier hits of the season. She's equally fierce in the many low- and no-profile performances and workshops she did before Broadway and continues to do now. With poems that combine hilarious one-liners ("I told her I liked the way she made that pink push-up bra look intellectual") with a refusal to conform ("I want to be the dyke that fucks men"), Chin is out to confront more than just the straight world.

"Even within the queer community, we have ideas of what constitutes queer, and it is not always of color, and it is not always bisexual or transgender," says Chin. "Or it isn't always a femme who wears stick-on nails, or she can't leave the house with makeup. Even within myself I challenge myself daily. Transgender people--the idea challenges me."

She was born in Jamaica to a Chinese father who never acknowledged her and a Jamaican mother who soon abandoned Chin and her siblings. Raised by her maternal grandmother until she was 9 and then bounced around the homes of relatives and boarding schools, Chin remembers attending strict Catholic schools where "we were a sea of white uniforms and white skirts and blue ties and brown shoes and brown socks. …

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