InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This week we connect with Arianne Benford, a 30-year-old Brooklyn-based poet/producer/visual artist.
ELIXHER: When did you begin writing poetry and performing spoken word?
ARIANNE: I’ve been performing since I was four. My grandmother use to have me memorize poems and perform them at family functions and at church. Yes, I was that little girl, “Come on baby, do that poem for us.” My mom says I started writing poems around the same time, although I suspect it was a stream of rhyming words, i.e., the cat with a bat ate a rat.
ELIXHER: What drew you to the craft?
ARIANNE: It was just what I have always done. We had a lot of books laying around the house. Bibles, inspirational texts, classics from the time of the Black Arts Movement, and lots of encyclopedias and manuals. Between the beauty of some of the books from the Bible, like Proverbs and Psalms and the passionate skill of Lorde, Smith, Dove, Clifton, Rumi, Morrison and Walker, I learned that words have power early.
ELIXHER: Who or what inspires you?
ARIANNE: My mother graduated from college in her late 40’s, got her certification to teach Hatha Yoga at 60. My grandmother worked full time until she was 82. At 23, my girlfriend runs a branch of one of the most progressive queer organizations in the country, and consistently reminds me of the complexity of our complacency. At 30, my best friend is coming out to his very southern family. I am involved with Rivers of Honey, a 13-year-old cabaret for queer and trans folk of color, and together we put on 11 grassroots shows a year. I am surrounded by bad-asses; there is inspiration everywhere.
ELIXHER: If you had to choose three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
ARIANNE: Pensive. Irreverent. Emotive.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
ARIANNE: I tend to walk around with a frown. It’s something I am working on. The biggest misconception that people have of me is that I am angry or upset about something, when really I am just thinking real hard.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
ARIANNE: Studies suggest that 1 out of every 10 woman has endometriosis. I’ve been dealing with a severe form of this chronic illness since I was a little girl. As a teenager I knew the school nurse better than some of my teachers. I’ve had to learn pain and mood management, and how the interplay between holistic practices and western medicine affects me.
Self doubt is a disease of the spirit. I am learning to push myself and get out there even when I really don’t want to.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
ARIANNE: We are a beautiful people. Sexy. Smart. Survivalist. On the first Friday of the month I go to Rivers and see a sample of the magic we can make. Living in Central Brooklyn, I have developed a deep sense of community, in that we live together, brunch together, perform for each other and NYC at large. There is a network here of folk and damn if it don’t feel good that when I go out to party, chill, rally, etc., I don’t have to leave any one of my many parts at home.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the Black queer community?
ARIANNE: I would love to see us take over more shit. I love what the Brooklyn Bois, Fire and Ink, Elements Organization of Philly, and Safe Outside the System Collective of Brooklyn are up to. It’s important for us to be able to see ourselves, whether that be in a calendar of local bois, at a conference, in a collection of writing, or at the first annual Bed-Stuy Pride.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Arianne?
ARIANNE: A full-length manuscript sometime this year.
Check out more of Arianne’s work here!