A&E: ‘O, Miami’ Responds to Trans/Gender Issues in Verse

An “O, Miami” project to write and post poems near public restrooms aims to help promote understanding of trans and gender non-conforming people. Credit: Elia Khalaf

What’s in a name? For many transgender and non-binary people, their birth names can be painful daily reminder of the misunderstanding they face.

“My Name is Now” is a poetry and installation project that will illuminate the stories of trans and gender non-conforming individuals and amplify the voices of those most affected by policy and prejudice. The project is part of “O, Miami,” an annual month-long festival that aims to expose every resident of Miami-Dade County to verse—in one form or another. 

The workshop, facilitated by Elia Khalaf and June Romero in collaboration with the Yes Institute, will bring together a group of trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth to write poems that will be displayed in the form of bathroom signs throughout the HistoryMiami Museum and other public spaces. 

“The project came about as a result of my own relationship with my name,” explained Khalaf, a graduate art therapy student. “Because [Elia] is non-binary, I’m often misidentified, based on my name. It came from a personal place.”

Khalaf, a 27-year-old immigrant originally from Lebanon, describes his own gender identity as an “interesting relationship” and noted that a name can become a “manifesto” for people who don’t fit into society’s gender stereotypes.

“I decided to tackle a project that would support this population and their relationships with their names,” Khalaf said.

Choosing their own name is a vital process while trans people transition to their true gender. The act of self-naming becomes a significant one-word manifesto marking rebirth, representing a cultural background or departure from it, while an added surname can spell independence and/or family acceptance. Thereafter, dead-naming, or referring to a person by their previous and imposed birth name, is considered oppressive. 

The written poems will be showcased as signage on the restroom doors of Miami, the city’s inconspicuous sites of identity. Given the politicization of trans bathroom use in recent years, Khalaf thought bathrooms just might be the perfect setting for the exercise. 

“Restrooms have historically been an area where there has been segregation and regulations. It started with race, but shifted to gender,” Khalaf said. “They are so divisive.”

On Thursday, April. 19, 15 youth will embark on a poetic journey with Khalaf and Romero at HistoryMiami Museum. The participants will work within the safe, inclusive space to share their own stories and craft those experiences and raw emotions into a poem. Eventually, they will emerge from that safe space and inject their words into the public conversation through the bathroom signs that will be on display for weeks to come. 

“Words do have power,” concluded Khalaf.

For more information about “My Name is Now” and “O, Miami,”  go to OMiami.org.