Poets reflect on the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs

A conversation with award-winning poet Nico Wilkinson.

 

In late November, Nico Wilkinson spoke at a community church service in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in response to the mass shooting at Club Q, in which five people were killed and 19 others injured. The day after the tragedy was also Transgender Day of Remembrance. Wilkinson, a poet, artist and community organizer, had originally planned to speak about queer joy and the accomplishments of the local LGBTQ+ organization they work for, but instead they addressed the tragedy directly, saying how much they yearned for more than just a day of remembrance for the trans community. Afterward, when they took their seat in the pew, they began writing a poem, which they later shared on their Instagram account.

trans day of rage. trans day of vengeance. trans day of bleeding bigots. trans day of not being the bigger person. trans day of every statistic and gunman shattered by stilettos. trans day of we are going to make our own world. trans day of we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. trans day of morning coffee in bed. trans day of never having to explain our bodies or language. trans day of eyeliner and glitter and body hair and sweat and flashing lights. trans day of dancing until we can’t anymore. trans day of coming home. trans day of no apologies. trans day of fucking forever. trans day of guns melted down to o-rings. trans day of unabashed faggotry. trans day of free surgeries and hormones. trans day of living a long, long life. trans day of i love you. trans day of i love you. trans day of i love you. trans day of get home safe. trans day of i will see you in the morning. —Nico Wilkinson

For many of those most deeply affected by the shooting, poetry has become a salve for their grief and confusion. The tragedy at Club Q was Colorado Springs’ 11th mass shooting since 2013. Wilkinson’s poem, “trans day of i love you,” along with the Colorado Springs-based poet James Davis’ 2020 poem “Club Q,” struck a nerve and were shared widely on social media. The popularity of the two poems in the wake of the shooting is a testament to the power of the written word as we try to cope with the horror of yet another violent right-wing extremist attack on the LGBTQ+ community.

High Country News recently spoke with Wilkinson by phone the day before Thanksgiving while they were at home in Colorado Springs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

High Country News: I found your poem on social media shortly after waking up to messages from friends in Colorado Springs notifying me about the shooting. I keep returning to it as a way to fathom it. Can you please tell us about the process of writing “trans day of i love you” in response to the Club Q tragedy?

Nico Wilkinson: I woke up early to text messages asking if I was OK, and I didn't know why. When I found out, I started wailing. I’d felt a grief like this before, with Pulse, but now it was so much less remote. This was here. I started texting all my trans and queer friends, “I love you. I love you. I love you. Are you OK? I love you.” And people started texting me, “Are you OK? I love you.” The whole time I felt wracked with grief. 

When I went up to the front of the room to speak, I was thinking about our other trans “holidays,” like Trans Day of Visibility or Trans Day of Remembrance, and how I want so much more than just remembrance and visibility. So I started saying, “I wish today was Trans Day of Safety, Trans Day of Joy, and Trans Day of Celebration. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to hear who is alive and who is dead.” I can’t remember much else of what I said, but I sat down, pulled out my phone and wrote the rest as a stream of consciousness.

Nico Wilkinson performs at Keep Colorado Springs Queer Open Mic!, an event hosted at Icons, a gay bar in Colorado Springs, this October.

HCN: I worked as a bartender in college at what was then the only other LGBTQ+ bar in Colorado Springs. (It closed in 2018.) During my time there, I witnessed homophobia, transphobia and right-wing extremism target the establishment. How has the city’s politics and intolerance of LGBTQ+ people shaped the queer community?

NW: In Colorado Springs, people don’t take community for granted, because we need community here. Admittedly, it’s not always easy. We’re coming up on Black Friday, which is the anniversary of the Planned Parenthood shooting. We have a lot of transphobic people and religious fundamentalists in the Colorado Springs school boards who are making the lives of LGBTQ young people really difficult. There is a terrible violence that is rooted in the history of this city against marginalized people, and that is not what makes this community great, but it is that (the queer) community stands so strong and so bright in the face of that.

Now is the time for allies to be donating. Whether that’s money to GoFundMe (accounts) or LGBTQ+ youth services, blood for victims, or time for uncomfortable conversations with their transphobic family members this holiday season. It means showing up to school board meetings and protests.

HCN: How has your poetry and the works of others responding to the shooting acted as a salve for the many people grieving both locally and across the country?

NW: There is a huge wound. And that wound, it’s varying in sizes. There are people who’ve lost loved ones and people who are in the hospital right now who will be struggling with this for the rest of their lives. I was just trying to heal myself by plastering this city with a reminder of both the pain and power of this community.

Poetry allows a way for language that moves beyond whatever grammatical, chronological, or logistical rules we might set. What we’re often saying in poetry — queer people to queer people — is “This is what I want for you: I want you to have immense joy and love, and I want (trans people) to have a lifespan that so exceeds the lifespan that we are prescribed by statistics to have.”

HCN: In 2017, you co-authored the chapbook Inauguration with Idris Goodwin, which covers the timespan between Election Day and Donald Trump’s inauguration. What’s the importance of writing in real time?

NW: In that space of immense grief and trying to find some way to feel like I can continue to exist in this incredibly sharp and cruel world, I have to do something. And what ends up being the case is I’ll write and then I'll organize an event. 

For the project with Idris, we wrote response poems as we tried to reckon with the current political climate, which included a poem, “How Many Times Must I Mourn This Year,” about the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

Miles W. Griffis is an independent journalist based in Los Angeles, California. He grew up outside of Colorado Springs.

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