Conducted by Jessica Therese, Senior Editor of Prose
1. Hi Stephanie! A lot of your poems revolve around the idea of girlhood and girls loving girls. Can you explain what both womanhood and sexuality mean to you?
Yes! To be quite frank, I think both of those things are concepts I’m still exploring in myself. I first realized that I liked girls (and not just boys) in fourth or fifth grade. As I grew up in (and still attend) a traditional Christian school, I avoided asking questions or expressing feelings that would jeopardize my ability to be seen as someone normal; not something my teacher or parents would have to “fix.” This mindset encouraged me to suppress any notion of a non-heterosexual identity, and while homophobia was quite prevalent among my peers and I stayed out of it, I couldn’t find myself speaking out against it either.
I’m currently in my junior year, and though the toxicity in my school environment has diminished, many LGBTQ students I’m familiar with fear being found out, including myself. I am terrified that things are this way. And yes, having allies in some friends does alleviate the pressure, but being forced to stand by and accept some of the rhetoric preached is a bit disheartening. My take on my identity has shifted a lot, and I think the influence from school is rapidly decreasing in determining my self-esteem or self-validity.
I am actually quite happy this question was asked. Recently, one of my favorite cartoons (Adventure Time) openly confirmed the romantic relationship between two female-identifying characters by showing an on-screen kiss. By the time I reached this scene, I was sobbing. One of the girls was the only bisexual figure I’d stood by and watched since elementary school. And to see such a healthy, emotionally-invested relationship between two people I’d grown up watching and interpreted as obviously having the hots for each other despite the men who protested online is really another reason why representation matters on an individual level. I cried not only because I knew them so well, but because I had in front of me a realistic and loving bond that wasn’t between a man and woman. I was so, so happy.
Girlhood and exploring the idea of girls loving girls never end for me. I am still a young girl who’s only looking to help others like myself create their own sanctuaries and spaces. I still crush on straight girls as well as boys and vehemently fight bisexual erasure. I think girlhood can be soft, but it can also be fervent and spun into storms. As for sexuality, much of it for me remains uncharted. I do hope that I can continue to pull from my imagination, however, and write for the girls like myself who are still searching for happy endings, or a home in self-expression.
2. You recently spoke at a Ted Talk in Vancouver! That’s amazing. What did you speak about and what was your experience like?
Thank you! I spoke at a Tedx conference specifically run by and for youth, and the chance to talk to so many high school students in my region about something so personal was an amazing opportunity. A bit about me: I’m a debater. I’ve done British Parliament, Canadian National Debate Format, Public Forum, and a few other debate styles that have worked to sharpen my voice into a weapon if necessary.
Another thing about me: I’m your text-book introvert. Looking at these differences, I spoke on how introverts approach public speaking compared to extroverts; ways that introverts can succeed with raising their voices when they feel every part of their mind preventing them to. Of course, introversion can manifest into an endless stream of behaviors for every person. However, I did feel that discussing this topic was very close to heart, and it gave me the chance to reflect on why introverts could be even better public speakers. For me, the desire to succeed in the sport and eventual fruition that came was, with no better word, empowering. Having struggled with anxiety and dangerously low self-esteem, the ability to express opinions or craft speeches in a way that makes me know my voice matters was a power I could claim and attribute for myself.
3. Many of your poems are political in nature; what political events have been inspiring you to write lately?
Most of my recent work that’s been hiding and seething quietly in my Google Drive revolves around the fetishizing of Asian women and issues faced by the diaspora. Having been born in Canada and raised in a typical Asian-Canadian fashion, my writing covers vivid memories and experiences of feeling unwelcome in my own country. Or being commanded to leave.
Examining the hold that white men have on our political system always makes for a good poem. Really, I think the political nature of some of my poems are political because everything is. I’m putting into words the ways I am directly affected by governmental decisions, or how despite progress, I have yet to see it in my day to day interactions.
4. Do you have any words of advice for young writers who want to write about controversial or sensitive topics but aren’t sure how?
I think accepting that some form of opposition will always exist is the first step. Thankfully, the writing community I’ve immersed myself in online actively advocates for banning guns to prevent further violence, promotes LGBTQ rights in a manner that demands positive representation, etc. I think a lot of the political turmoil we see today, especially as youth, is begging for responses. I don’t believe that young writers should ever feel obligated to only write ‘looking-out-the-window” poems or stray away from sensitive topics out of fear of their writing lacking depth. Unless they wish to write about concepts that are intrinsically harmful and perpetuate discrimination against any group of people, I think it’s important that youth can reflect on the changing landscapes they are growing up in.
And to this, I consider vulnerability an important trait that can help a writer’s voice find footing in otherwise heavy and highly relevant political or social issues. Remember you aren’t outlining a news article, you’re addressing a nation or an ideology or an event that infringes upon your freedoms, or possibly involves you immensely. Drawing personal connections and getting to the root of why something matters to you in the first place is crucial.
Stephanie Chang tends to focus her poetry on engaging with the current political atmosphere by weaving language into identity, as well as using concepts like memory and girls loving girls to ground and center her writing. Her recent work appears in SOFTBLOW, The Penn Review, The Blue Marble Review, The Rising Phoenix Review, and more. She currently interns at Half Mystic Press and serves as a Magazine Writer for Her Culture. Additionally, she was named a semifinalist in 2018 The Adroit Prize for Poetry and spoke at a TEDxYouth conference in Vancouver.