Tag Archives: Poem

I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin (poem)

16 Oct

Have you ever heard a Christian person mention,
“I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin”
Can I tell you how annoying that comment is?
And I grew up Christian.

(Michael Vidler)

(Michael Vidler)

I recently had the opportunity to film one of my poems, I Don’t Hate the Sinner, I Hate the Sin, in a Vancouver church. I’ve wanted to film one of my pieces about being gay and Christian in a church for several years, and I finally had the opportunity during my Vancouver Biennale artist residency over the summer.

It was an interesting experience to film in a place that has become foreign and scary to me. I had many thoughts and feelings of belonging (or lack thereof) while I was there.

It brought me back to the place in which I had written this poem. It brought me back to harmful comments that many Christians say to people who are LGBTQ without thinking twice.

It was a place of hurt, pain and shame.

One of the most common phrases is, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin.” Christians often say they don’t hate LGBTQ people, but their “lifestyle.” It’s a shame that same-sex love is somehow reduced to a lifestyle and not simply love.

But this poem reminds me that change can happen.

Since writing this piece, I’ve grown in loving myself and accepting my story. Others have also grown in listening and understanding my experiences. We may have different perspectives, but I know how much they love me and our hearts are softening.

It would mean a lot if you checked out this personal poem when you have a chance. Thank you to Michael Vidler for producing this video, and Canadian Memorial United Church for allowing us to film in their sanctuary.

Let’s keep chatting, breaking down walls, hearing each other’s stories and living in the grey.

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question (poem)

1 Oct

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question
A question I have been revisiting and trying to comprehend
From the outskirts, being a minority doesn’t seem like the ideal position
Being different, perhaps a dissident, maybe exotic
And I’m all too familiar with these words and trends
Having used them, even in my favour.
But as I have come to understand and accept my story
This minority status has become a fallacy
A malicious status imposed on me
The dominant norms and ideologies that have bruised and broken and beaten me
Boxing me in to this tiny crevice of being a minority.

Have you ever felt different, or that you didn’t quite fit or belong?

Most of us have felt that way at one point or another in our lives. It’s not an easy place to be, especially when we desire love, connection, acceptance and belonging.

Puzzle

Trying to find the right pieces. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I’ve felt different for most of my life and my puzzle pieces never seemed to line up. There was always a part of me that didn’t quite fit the community I wanted to belong to. It has been really challenging negotiating the various pieces of my identity and figuring out how I belonged (or didn’t).

In some groups, I held back certain aspects of my identity and part of me was missing. In other spaces, I hid different pieces and didn’t feel whole. There was silence, insecurity and often shame.

Gay AND Christian? Chinese AND Jamaican? Say what?!?

Many of us never feel like we’re enough.

Never forget these powerful words. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

And yet we are. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Can I tell you how awesome you are? It’s true! Many of us navigate these in-between spaces and yet, we often marginalize others who are different. We really need to listen and hear each other’s stories, and not be afraid to bring our whole selves.

I’m still figuring out what it looks like to bring all the pieces of Jenna to the table. It’s tough and will be a lifelong journey, but I know it’ll be worth it. When you have a chance, check out my poem, Minority, and I hope you can connect.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? How have you negotiated the various pieces of your identity?

How a 20-minute bus ride turned into an hour (poem)

4 Dec

Sometimes, I’m terrible with directions. Okay, most of the time I’m terrible with directions. Let’s just say South Keys and Westboro are really great places to help direct and situate me.

Sometimes, I get on the wrong bus. Okay, maybe that has happened numerous times. I try to trust my intuition in many areas of my life, but I often opt for following OC Transpo when it comes to the most efficient route.

Last week, I got on the wrong bus and added an extra 30 minutes to my bus ride to work. The bus didn’t stay on the Transitway and it took a roundabout route through many neighbourhoods. I didn’t realize Alta Vista was so long!

If there wasn’t so much snow and ice, I would still be biking to work. At least I reached my new life goal of biking until it snows and due to the milder weather, I even biked yesterday. I felt like I could achieve anything while biking in the snow  in December!

This is what biking in Ottawa looks like.

This is what biking in Ottawa looks like.

Anyway, back to my story. After half an hour, I was feeling very frustrated that I didn’t just wait for the bus I normally take. I put on some jazz music to help me relax and calm down.

I realized that jazz music and my longer bus ride were more like life than the direct route many of us desire.

Life is rarely straight and direct. Although you may know where you want to be, you hit stop signs and often wander new roads before you end up at your destination.

You can get frustrated by these roadblocks, or you can appreciate the journey and lessons you’re learning in those moments. Perhaps it’s even time for you to step out of your comfort zone and explore new areas and paths.

I wrote a poem about my adventure, so check it out when you have some time.

How can you appreciate the windy roads and indirect routes of your journey?

I finally made it! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I finally made it! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

My 50-minute bus ride 

What should’ve been a 20-minute bus ride turned into 50 because I got on the wrong bus
I figured that the bus would be safe to take since it said Billings Bridge
And it eventually got me there – 50 minutes later.
I kept hearing familiar names like Alta Vista and Walkley, and I knew these places weren’t too far from my destination
But they were
They were very far from where I intended to be
As I constantly looked up, hoping Billings Bridge would pop up
But it didn’t, not until the very end of the trip.

As I was sitting on the bus and the time was passing
I knew I should’ve asked the bus driver beforehand if this bus stayed on the transit way
Quickly taking me to where I wanted to be
And usually, I’m not afraid to ask
But something inside me thought it was a stupid question
So I didn’t say anything and sat at the back as I saw everyone get on and off the bus before me
Because they probably knew this wasn’t a direct route to Billings
And anyone who wanted to go there would obviously take the 97.

I tried to stay positive because I knew I had places to be – like my job
But I tried to take in the pretty houses in Alta Vista covered in snow and icicles
And places I had only heard of, but never ventured to.
As time progressed and I knew I would be extremely late
I felt myself getting frustrated
Thinking about how I’d already be at my destination if I waited a few minutes and took the 97
Instead of jumping on the first bus that said Billings Bridge.

So I took a deep breath and put on some jazz
Listening to the smooth, erratic and passionate sounds of Ella, Louis and Billie
Thinking how unplanned these melodies and harmonies can be
The improvisation and offbeat notes with sharps and flats thrown in
Soothing my soul and calming me down
Realizing that jazz and my bus ride that morning was like life
There aren’t many transitways that take us right to our destination
You have to hit some flats and go through Alta Vista and past Walkley
Passing through neighbourhoods and roads you’ve never seen
But eventually, you’ll reach your endpoint in some roundabout way if you stay on for the ride
And the point is getting there, so appreciate the journey and get out of your bubble.

A poem for my sister: some day we’ll meet and understand

21 May

Quickly life and death
Some day we’ll understand why
Never forgotten.
– Jenna Tenn-Yuk

"Some day we'll understand." (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

One day. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

When I visit my family, I often go to the graves of my grandfather and sister. These are places that ground me when I’m stressed out, and remind me what’s important and how precious life is. I feel a sense of peace and re-centred after visiting these places.

Many people don’t know I had a sister. I rarely talk about her. My family rarely mentions her name. I think her memory is too painful.

Her name was Danielle Marie. She was born on January 2, 1985. She also took her first and last breath within the hour of her birth because her kidneys weren’t properly formed.

There’s only one date on her gravestone.

When I visit her grave, I often cry. I’m overwhelmed with grief for my parents who lost their first child – their first daughter.

I also cry because she never got the chance to take her first steps, laugh at silly moments, have her first kiss, experience many large and hilarious family gatherings, discover who she is, see the beauty of the world, find her voice and so much more.

Why was I so lucky to have these opportunities and not her?

Life would’ve been so different if she had survived. Would my older brother who was born that same year be here? Would I be here?

My brothers and I. (Ben Tenn-Yuk)

My brothers and I. (Ben Tenn-Yuk)

Some day we’ll understand.

I stare at those words on her gravestone. My family will never understand why they had to experience this pain. At least not in this lifetime.

I don’t want her life to be forgotten. She was someone. She was a daughter. She was a gift. She was my sister.

She also reminds me not to waste opportunities or to live in regret. I want to be the daughter, sister, friend, partner and mentor she never got to be.

My sister, Danielle
I’ll live the life you couldn’t
Your memory lives.
– Jenna Tenn-Yuk

I wrote this poem a few years ago about her story and would like to share it with you. I’ve only performed it in public a few times. This is the legacy and inspiration she leaves for me.

More Than An Hour

In an hour, you have the power
To watch a really bad reality show
Browse on Facebook
Live through the most heartbreaking tribulation
Or take your first and last breath.

So I have two brothers – my older brother Jonathan and little brother Jordan
Jonathan, Jenna, Jordan
Apparently, my parents thought they’d cleverly name all their kids with Js. Cute, right?
But I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to have a sister, especially an older one
One I could share clothes with and go shopping with
And dance with and do girly things with
Things my brothers would never want to do

And because she was older
She would get in trouble for all the things I got in trouble for
And then it would be clear sailing for me
Just like the difficulties I had to go through
So my little brother could sail free.
And as much as I love my brothers
When I see my friends with their sisters, I wish I had one
There’s a bond that only sisters can share and bare their souls together with
They just get each other.

You know, I wonder how different my life would be
If she – survived.
She was born January 2nd, 1985
25 years ago.
Three months into her pregnancy
The doctor told my mom her baby wouldn’t make it
Because her kidneys weren’t properly formed
And with only one kidney, not properly formed
Her form would never properly develop and she would never survive.

But my mom believed Danielle would be healed as a baby grew in her
Holding on for 6 more months
180 days
4,320 hours
Holding her baby girl
Hoping her baby girl
Would hold on and live.
So my mom held on through Christmas
Receiving new baby clothes to dress up her soon-to-be daughter
Not realizing someone was dying inside her
A baby in her who would never survive outside her.

But life wasn’t the Kodak moment she would take
Just the wake she’d walk as she dealt with heartache and heartbreak
Staring at the tiny coffin of Danielle Marie
Do you know what Danielle means?
“God is my judge. God is my judge.”
God knew she wouldn’t make it through that day or month or year
Or even more than an hour
And though my mom held on for 6,480 hours
Danielle just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, or shouldn’t?

But what if Danielle lived
Jonathan, my older brother may not exist
Because he was born 10 months later to cater to the deep crater
Missing deep in my parents’ hearts.
Or maybe I wouldn’t be the one here
Thinking about a sister I only see when we visit the tiny grave
Hidden under a tree in the cemetery
Cementing the terrible tragedy in my parents’ memories

And Danielle, I know God is the judge
But sometimes I judge his decision to take you away
And the pain our parents faced in losing their first child
Their first daughter
And do you hear? Are you here?
Because I will be the daughter you never got to be
The sister you never got to be
Because God could have taken me or not allowed me to be
If he gave you the chance to breathe for more than an hour.

You are not a label, you are a sentence (poem)

4 Mar

I used to see labels – until I became one
Where I allowed that one label to pigeonhole and mark me
And devalue my identity and tell me, I just wasn’t worth it.

*An excerpt from my poem, Labels, which you can see below.

Labels can be helpful to understand objects, issues and people. However, they can also been used in negative ways to stereotype, limit and stifle those around us.

We have all used labels. Some labels have positive qualities associated with them, while others bring insecurities, shame and fear. These boxes can limit, and prevent people from being who they are and who they can be.

I don't like black and white boxes. (Terri Figueiredo)

I don’t like boxes, especially black and white ones. (Terri Figueiredo)

How often do we put people and communities into boxes, labels and stereotypes without hearing their stories? 

We do it all the time. It’s easy, convenient and often lazy.

And you know, labels just let us be lazy
Because we can’t see past the hazy label
And realize life is more grey than black and white
That people are more than black or white or brown or red or yellow
They are people, and should not be hated for being different.
And one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was when my friend said,
“Jenna, you are not a label. You are a sentence. Actually, you’re a few sentences.”

I shared this beautiful quote during my TEDTalk (Allison Smith).

Sharing my friend’s words in my poem and TEDTalk. (Allison Smith)

One of my best friends shared these powerful words with me a few years ago. Her words are just as profound then as they are now.

Why do we use labels and erase our sentences?

Our first impressions are often incorrect and limiting. We don’t take the time to hear people’s stories. We don’t even take the time to see the various pieces of our identity that make up our beautiful tapestries.

Everyone loses out when we simply see labels and ignore our sentences. We need to remember that we are whole people and each one of us has so much to offer the world.

I recently gave a lecture at the University of Ottawa and shared my work on the politics of slam poetry, as well as the complexities of identity and the potential for change in the slam arena. I also wove in some of my poetry to flesh out some of these ideas, and it’s neat combining my passions with academia.

I would like to thank my friend, Caro Ibrahim, who filmed my poem and lecture. They are a talented, Ottawa-based filmmaker, so check out their work when you have a chance!

What are some labels in your life?

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