Carlos Andres Gomez travelled nearly 800 km to Hamilton Monday night to speak about a confrontation outside a New York nightclub that changed his life.

“We have to start with our own story,” said Gomez, a spoken word poet known to tackle societal definitions of masculinity.

At TwelvEighty, Gomez addressed students and community members about some of the territory he covers in his latest book, Man Up: Breaking the Code of Manhood.

Gomez spoke about pressure he felt to be a jock in middle school and high school in New York City.  He said his concept of what it means to “be a man” reached a turning point one night outside a club when a man he’d accidentally bumped into wanted to fight him.

“I couldn’t figure out why two men were willing to die over nothing,” he said.

Gomez also described his emotional response—what he’d tried to disguise as an “allergic reaction”—to poetry the first time he heard it. A former social worker and inner city public school teacher, Gomez now performs spoken word poetry around the world.

“At 16 I was building myself up to be this perfect man,” said Gomez during his speech. “I realized, maybe everything I’ve been doing to be a man has been totally incongruous to what I am.”

Gomez describes his work as being about “reimagining what it means to carry a banner of identity.”

“The one-sided version of manhood I was given feeds into violence between men, violence against women and homophobic violence.” he said.

The goal of Gomez’s performances is to prompt people to break away from gender stereotypes.

“There’s a tremendous power and responsibility that comes with being on the stage. I want to make sure I’m talking about things with high stakes.”

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