Erasure Poetry: Behind the Book with Sarah Kate Smigiel

Can you turn hate comments into love poems? Educator, creator, and gender-bender Sarah Kate Smigiel says absolutely!

We sat down to discuss Smigiel’s online education efforts, how they amassed a huge social media following, the power of self-publishing, and why transforming hate into queer-affirming art has been an invaluable part of her journey. Read the interview and poetry collection to have your heart warmed—and then join their community on Instagram or Facebook.

You’ve turned hate comments into stunning, reclaimed poetry for the LGBTQ+ community. Tell us about how Erasure Poetry started—and then became a book!

It started out as a therapeutic tool for me to work through the hatred I faced online. I felt a sense of reclamation as I erased the hateful words and made beautiful messages out of them instead. Once I started to share them with my online community, I realized how impactful the practice was from all of the amazing feedback I was getting. I decided to collect all the erasure poems I had created up until that moment in one place for people to hold in their hands and absorb back to back—thus, the book was born. 

After many sales and amazing reviews, I began offering my hate comments to my followers so that they, too, could take part in this self and community care. Since I decided to do that, I have gotten thousands of weekly submissions and an endless amount of the same sentiment—this poem-making provides a moving experience!

These hateful comments have come from your successful, educational social media account. What was your process for selecting the comments and transforming them into poetry?

A big part of what sets my page apart from other LGBTQ+ education pages is my prioritizing the deletion of hate comments and moderating them out of my comment sections. I have followers of all ages, on all different parts of their journeys—and I don’t want them to come to my page for a safe place to explore their identity and be bombarded with hateful messages. Therefore, I spend much of my time keeping this online space safe. During the process of deleting and moderating hateful comments, I’ll screenshot and save the longer, more complex ones that I feel could be useful as poetry material later on. Then weekly, I will select one from the folder of screenshots on my phone and transform it myself or share it with my audience to transform. 

Transphobic comment turned into a transpositive poem verse
Comment: “The trans community is so focused on their own agenda and their own beliefs and entitlement; they cannot Phaethon or consider how their rhetoric is extremely offensive or demeaning to actual women.” Poem: “The trans community is a love act.”

How did you make the choice to be so open about your journey to your non-binary identity and gender-affirming surgeries? Why do you think your experience resonated with so many others?

When I first heard the word non-binary at age 23, it was like a world opened up inside me. I finally had the language to describe how I exist in this world. Despite this realization, during my deep dive into the non-binary community online, I couldn’t find any representation of non-binary people who looked like me. Softer, non-thin, feminine, bright, and bold people who simply didn’t want the chest they were born with. Everyone I saw was androgynous or masculine and utilizing testosterone to affirm their gender. This felt so far off from the truth of who I am authentically, and I came to the conclusion to pursue top surgery, I had to be this masculine, male-passing human. 

This lack of representation delayed my identity development significantly. One day I realized my fear of staying in a body I was uncomfortable in was larger than my fear of leaping into the unknown, so I pursued top surgery with no reference point or guiding light in front of me of how a soft/feminine person like me could achieve this journey or what it would look like on the other side. 

That’s when I also decided (through fear and uncertainty) that I would share my pre-op and post-op journey on YouTube and Instagram in hopes that just one other person searching for this representation would see me and feel less alone. I wanted to be the representation for someone else (that I had needed) to make their journey easier. 

Over the last three years, almost 50,000 people have started following my gender journey. It was extremely unexpected but so beautifully received—and has become incredibly healing work for me to be leading an education account that uplifts this community that, three years ago, I was so desperate for. 

I am so glad I took that leap of faith. It turns out I was so far from alone. 

Regularly asking questions, requesting stories, and doing check-ins is a huge part of your platform. What role does community play in your work as an educator and creator?

Community is my work as an educator and creator in this field. I see my page as a platform for everyone to come together and share equally—all voices holding the same weight as mine. I am not their teacher; I’m just guiding and facilitating connections and conversations that need to take place online. 

My page started this way—with thousands of feminine non-binary folks gathering to share their experiences and desires to get top surgery under my posts because they, too, couldn’t find another place to have these important conversations. It feels in alignment to allow that same energy to remain even as the page grows.

Sarah Kate Smigiel smiling with pride and trans flags behind them

You’ve recently mentioned that, unlike some, you welcome ignorance on your social media accounts. What practices do you have that allow you to hold space for hurtful comments about your own identities while continuing to show up as an educator?

I think it’s an important distinction that ignorance is not the same as hate—and after a lot of practice, it is now clearly distinguishable for me as I encounter both daily. Intention is everything. 

Most queer education accounts are not actually accessible for those who are still learning—which fully defeats the purpose. There is often a barrier between those who are in the LGBTQ+ community and those outside of it caused by those who are knowledgeable on queer topics expecting everyone to be on the same page as them already. 

We are all born in ignorance, and only through our experiences and conversations do we learn more in order to do better. My approach to education is meeting people where they’re at. 

If someone doesn’t know the right way to word a question or they fear that they’ll be attacked by their teacher for not yet understanding the subject matter, they’ll never learn properly. I prioritize facilitating a safe environment for people to show up ignorant and leave with a better understanding. 

I have a series of posts specifically for people to ask the questions they’re otherwise afraid to ask in a safe and secure environment and get the answers that’ll make them better allies. I’m incredibly proud that my community has taken on my approach and spread that same energy, always being willing to jump in and answer questions for me when the volume is too large for me to do it alone. These small changes in our connection culture have huge, moving ripple effects that I’m just thankful to be a part of.

This isn’t your first book. How did the self-publishing experience from this book differ from your children’s book, They Love, We Love?

My children’s book was written and illustrated when I was 17, and my dad surprised me a few years ago by publishing it for me as a Christmas present through a publisher. The experience was much different this time around as I created and published it on my own from start to finish! 

I very much enjoyed being a part of the process and doing it in my own timing and having control of all the visual and design decisions, as I’m a detail-oriented creator! I was also super surprised by how easy the process was through Blurb, and I’ll definitely be doing it again in the future. (Stay tuned!)

Erasure Poetry book opened up showing two poems, one on each page

How did you design the book?

I kept the book in the same graphic design style as my Instagram account, just using the editing apps on my phone that I use for all my graphic design work and text posts. So mostly, iPhone editor and an app called PhotoGrid. This choice was intentional, as I wanted to keep the online comment section feel the same as the original posts, so the book feels like an extension of my page.

What have been the reactions to it?

I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to this collection of poetry. Most folks have commented about how healing both reading and participating in this kind of community and self-care have been for their personal journeys. 

Many have been inspired to use the same technique with their own hateful comments, which I love! I’ve also been interviewed by quite a few publications and asked to lead discussions about the book and this practice at a few LGBTQ+ organizations nationwide. I included some of my follower’s comment reviews in the book—to keep the feel of the online account—and so others can see what people are saying about it!

What do you hope will come from this collection of poetry?

I want anyone who has ever faced oppression or hate for just being authentically who they are to feel like this book is a collection of little love letters to them. I also hope it continues to spread tolerance, love, and peace to the corners of the world that need it most. 

Do you have any tips or suggestions for LGBTQ+ poets and creators hoping to self-publish?

Use Blurb! You can take it into your own hands to design and publish the content you want without being censored or edited. Plus, you can easily promote it in online spaces where it’ll reach your target audience

What else would you like to share?

I am so grateful for the opportunity to share this book on a larger scale and similar to how my Instagram page surprisingly grew and brought me the community that I now can’t imagine my life without—I hope this book can do the same. Above all else, I desire that copies of my poetry fall into the hands of those who most need messages of love and light to affirm the parts of them they fear celebrating. Everyone deserves to feel seen, understood, and uplifted. 


Find Erasure Poetry for the Queer Community in the Blurb Bookstore. Find Sarah Kate Smigiel on Instagram. 
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