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Q&A: UCLA student shares the story of his popular spoken word piece “Enigma”

“I am frequently told I am the gayest straight person you will ever meet.”

That’s the opening line of a spoken word performance by fifth-year physiological science student Dave Anders-Richards. A video of the performance, which took place in the Kerckhoff Art Gallery at UCLA, now boasts more than 9,000 views on YouTube. The title of the piece is “Enigma.”

“When girls say that I’m the gayest, what they actually mean is how could there be a rugby-playing 6’3″ male who’s treating them with respect and attention they deserve,” he continues, a few lines later.

Anders-Richards said he got a lot of slack for including that line. People told him it was clear that he was just trying to pick up women. “But it wasn’t an appeal to women – it was an appeal to men,” he said. “It’s supposed to show that you can be someone who plays sports and is not a misogynist.”

He performed the piece, the second spoken word he’s written, at the UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission‘s The Word on Wednesdays on Oct. 23. The online magazine “Thought Catalog” took notice of the video and gave their take on his performance (headline: “Must Watch Video of A Nice Guy Explaining How Normal It Has Become to Disrespect and Objectify Women”). Anders-Richards will perform at the Social Activist Network for Activism Through Art KnockOut Poetry Jam at UCLA on Nov. 21.

We sat down with Anders-Richards to find out more about why he wrote the piece.

This conversation was edited and condensed.

Mojo: Take me through the process of writing “Enigma.”

Anders-Richards: For a long time I’ve written poetry and, for want of a better term, rants. “Enigma” in particular, was a result of a lot of separate instances of frustration … of me dealing with seeing the double standards, the slut-shaming, the just general abusive patriarchy and misogynism that’s prevalent in our culture. I was trying to really appeal to men, all sorts of men … to just really show them that a) you don’t have to be that way and b) to make this obvious that this is a problem.

Where do you write this stuff? Sitting at your computer?

On my phone.

Your phone? Really?

Phones are really good … I get a lot of crap from my friends because I’m always on my phone. Granted, I am kind of a bit of a social media addict. (Editor’s note: Follow Anders-Richards on Twitter here.) Often, when I start writing, I might start on paper. But then, when your brain starts firing and you start thinking about simile and rhyme, it goes too fast for writing. You need to be able to type.

Let’s get into the substance of what you’re talking about in “Enigma.” One of the things you say in the piece is that people often tell you that you’re the “gayest straight person you’ll ever meet.” How often do you hear that?

With some friends, it’s an ongoing joke. With others, I hear it once every month. Something like that.

Anders-Richards

The assumption that you’re gay is an interesting one.

It is, isn’t it?

What do you think about that?

Well, you see, I don’t have any problem with someone assuming that as such … Sorry, could you repeat the question?

Yeah, sure. By the way, your answer reminds me of how Daniel Radcliffe always responds when interviewers ask him about whether he’s gay, that he doesn’t mind but it’s not true –

– It’s funny that you should say that that because I’ve been called Daniel Radcliffe since I was so much younger.

Why, because you’re British?

Even when I was in England. We both were bespectacled, bull-cut hair, kind-of-chubby kids, and we’ve changed at the same exact rate. I cut my hair and Daniel Radcliffe a month later cut his hair. I got contacts very soon after he got contacts …

You need to start some sort of business deal … impersonator or something.

Yeah, what a force we’d be if we were together. Sorry, what was the question?

Changed my mind … new question. Based on the content of your piece, I was wondering whether you call yourself a feminist.

Feminist is an interesting word.

Why’s that?

I dislike the fact that that has to be a word. I hate the fact that we have to label people as feminist just for wanting to be supporters of women. And for being supporters of men. … That’s a frustration I feel with society, not with feminists or anything.

You use the phrase “heterodictatic rulers of society” in your piece. What does that mean?

Well, if you look back through history, predominantly, the rulers of all of it have been straight males. … It’s not that they shouldn’t have a chance to be, but so should gay people, transgender people, women. … That’s obviously a dream of utopia of sorts, but it’s a frustration of mine.

How did you become interested in these issues?

I’m a pretty open person and that tends to beget openness in others. I have a lot of friends that have opened up to me about being gay, about being survivors of sexual assault. … I didn’t take any gender studies classes at UCLA, I’ve just had kind of a gender studies life.

In the performance, you describe yourself as a “6’3″ male who doesn’t like to talk about sports.” You’re also a rugby player. Why don’t you like talking about sports?

I hate the fact that I go to meet up with friends, for example, at a bar and it’s almost like the only thing the guys are able to open up in conversation about is like football, or fantasy football or stuff like that. I play rugby and sports, and I like doing that …(but) I hate the fact that, in order to feel like “a man,” that’s what’s required of you.

How do you like to change the topic of conversation?

Good question. I’d say it’s not an easy process. You will often feel like an enigma. … It does take a while. But just being able to talk about a lot of things … include people in conversations. I’m not really sure there’s an exact, simple way to talk about it.

OK, so when someone says something you feel is misogynistic, how do you approach them?

Satire is open, extremely helpful. Humor is a good way to discuss serious topics, when done in the right way. With satire specifically, if you do it artfully you can build someone up to be saying these ridiculous things, then you drop the satire, and they’re left with what they’ve said.

Can you give an example from everyday experience?

One of them is the line I wrote: “they get called ‘sluts,’ yet you ‘playas,’ have all sex you want, I don’t cay-are.”

Ah, yes, that line.

Yeah, thanks, it’s always fun to rap like a not-British person … (but) yeah, you hear people talking about girls and calling them these ridiculous, offensive names for just wanting to have sex. I’m sorry, but we’re in college. That’s going to happen. A guy, if he has a lot of sex, is called a player, but girls get demonized for it.

What do you do if someone calls out a girl in that way?

Sometimes I call myself a slut … and then you see this look of perplexion on the other person’s face. From there, there’s never a script.

One of the things you say in your piece is that you’d like people to tell you “good on you for being that kind of guy” – meaning a guy who respects and values women as people, not objects. A YouTube commenter took issue with that statement, and wrote that she wished men “didn’t feel the need for recognition by being the exception when the norm is unjust.” What was the meaning behind that line, “good on you”?

I agree. … They shouldn’t be celebrated, it should be something that is just expected. But, at the same time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong for commending someone for doing the right thing. It’s not a requirement, I’m still going to do it whether or not I get recognition for doing it. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong about commending someone.

On a final, lighter note, in your piece, you mention that you love musicals. What’s your favorite musical?

Oh, that’s a wonderful question. … There are so many to choose from. I think “Wicked” is up there, but the first musical I fell in love with was “Phantom of the Opera.” Final answer.

Final answer?

Final answer.

Note: Anders-Richards texted the author an hour later to retract his final answer. Let it be noted that “Wicked” is actually his final answer, and it is highly unlikely he would ever succeed as a contestant on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.”


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