On Safety

black and white heart with small checkered inside

By: Micah Hobbes-Frazier

“One of the most difficult impacts of trauma can be a split between two essential needs: safety and connection. On the one hand people become the place of danger that you need to protect yourself from, and on the other hand people are exactly who you need to be connected to for contact, relationship and often survival and safety.”
– Generative Somatics

I think about safety a lot, both as a survivor of violence and as someone that is regularly called upon to support transformative justice interventions into violence, and community accountability processes. These are some of the things I find myself thinking about: what does real safety actually mean? what is it exactly? How do we create safety in the midst of ongoing violence? How do we maintain it over time? Especially in a world that is inherently unsafe, where violence happens all the time, and where we often don’t have access to the resources that help create immediate or long-term safety. And most pressing, what does safety actually look like when we don’t believe in throwing people away or locking them up in prisons?

Safety is one of two essential needs for us as human animals, the other being connection, and both are necessary for our continued evolution as a species. If a person giving birth does not feel (or actually isn’t) safe the biological process of labor and birth will stop. And if we are not connected to other people we won’t have the opportunity to procreate and pass on our genes. The need for safety and connection are so strong in us that pretty much everything we do is about navigating and trying to get these two needs met, especially after experiences of trauma/violence. Ideally safety and connection can exist together, meaning we are able to be safe in our connections and relationships, however, so often that is not the case. Most incidents of trauma/violence happen between people that know each other, and have some sort of connection and/or relationship. That very connection and/or relationship can also complicate the need for and attempt to gain safety.

What does safety look like if the person that was abusive/violent to you lives in the same house or same neighbourhood as you do, is in the same movement or organization as you are, or is a respected and active part of a community you are also a part of? The need for safety doesn’t disappear, however, what safety looks like in those circumstances becomes much more complicated. It is easy to think about safety as sending someone that is abusive/violent away, removing and/or banishing them from community, or putting them in prison. That is our current idea and usual practice of creating safety. However, Transformative Justice asks us to imagine what safety might look like without expulsion, without banishment, without prisons, and most importantly, in conjunction with accountability. Most studies show that accountability rarely happens outside of relationship and connection. It’s the relationship and connection that provide the support, leverage, and motivation usually necessary for real accountability. If that is true, how do we hold accountability thru connection while also holding and maintaining safety for victims/survivors? Especially if what they want and need for their safety is to not have any contact or connection with the person that was abusive/violent.

Transformative justice (TJ) and most other community accountability models, hold safety as both a core principle and a core practice of any intervention or response. TJ defines the principle of safety as “liberation from violence, exploitation, and the threat of further acts of violence”.  All Transformative Justice interventions and responses seek to create safety on three mutually reinforcing levels; individual (safety from immediate and/or future violence), community (establishing norms and practices that challenge and prevent violence, and state (shifting power dynamics and systems of oppression to prevent violence).  However, we are also forced to acknowledge that absolute safety on any of these three levels is not a static place, can never be guaranteed, and may not be possible to ever truly achieve. The reality is that given the current state of our world where abuse/violence is at epidemic rates on all three levels, especially in response to challenging power dynamics and resisting abuse/oppression, being completely liberated from the possibility and/or threat of violence may be impossible. I believe, however, that while the possibility of violence may always remain, we can create spaces where the threat of violence does not exist. I believe that safe spaces on all three (individual, community, state) are possible and necessary, although sometimes difficult to create and maintain over time.

Questions around safety force us to practice holding contradictions. However, even though the questions are sometimes complicated and we may not have all the answers, our transformative justice practice must still focus on establishing safety as a main priority for victims/survivors, and additionally for those that have perpetrated abuse/violence. This means that even in our pursuit of safety (and accountability) we will not engage in abuse or violence against those that are perpetrators abuse and violence. How we do this will depend on what is happening and/or has happened, what resources we have access to, our principles and values, and the level of accountability those that have been abusive/violent are willing to engage in. Somatic healing works with safety as being “self-generated”, meaning that our focus is on building the internal capacity for safety instead of looking to the outside world or external forces to create and maintain our own safety. Our typical reactions after trauma/violence are to seek safety by controlling our environment and/or by controlling other people and their actions.  Our survival thinking becomes: “if this person wasn’t allowed to be in this space then I would feel/be safe”, or “if that person would act in this particular way then I would feel/be safe”.  As real as this might feel and as true as it might actually be, the problem is that we don’t actually have control over other people and what they ultimately choose to do, or control over the external environment outside of our own homes (and often we don’t even have complete control over our homes, especially if we live with other people). We can make requests, and sadly those that have been abusive/violent and/or the broader community may ignore or say no to those requests. Unfortunately people that have been abusive/violent to us may continue to be in the same spaces we frequent, and may also continue to behave in ways that make us feel (and actually are) unsafe. Especially if they denied what happened, are still engaging in abusive/violent behavior, and refuse to engage in accountability. If we tie our own safety to other people and external factors that we have no real control over we may never feel and/or actually be safe. Thus we have to build and cultivate the capacity to generate safety for ourselves, or as Somatics would say we have to become “self-responsive”.

This does not in any way mean that victims/survivors are responsible or to blame for the trauma/violence they experienced. Whatever happened is not their fault, and it is crucial that we always understand that fact. Victim/survivor blaming does nothing to ensure future safety, and in fact actually detracts from it making us potentially less safe. If we focus on blaming the victim/survivor we don’t have to think about the very real issue of safety because our thinking becomes: “if the victim/survivor caused or is in some way to blame for their experience of abuse/violence, then as long as I don’t do/say/wear/act like that it can’t/won’t happen to me. Therefore I am safe”.  This type of reaction is completely normal because it provides a protective mechanism that shields us from feeling the fear, uncertainty, and lack of control that trauma and violence bring. It keeps us from having to confront, feel and acknowledge that absolute safety cannot be guaranteed, and may not even exist. Additionally it keeps us from having to accept and be with the fact that no matter what we do or how hard we try to create safety, the very real possibility of trauma and violence still exists.

So then what does it mean to be self-responsive and self-generate safety? It means building the capacity to make centered decisions and take centered actions that are aligned with and promote our own safety on all levels (physical, sexual, emotional, economic, political). It means building the capacity to make centered choices about who and what we allow and bring into in our lives towards creating the safety that we want and need. This of course means that first we have to know what it is we want and need for our own safety. It is this process of self-reflection that brings us deeply in touch with ourselves, which is the core of being self-responsive. Secondly, we have to have the capacity to make decisions, and to take actions that are aligned with our own safety. That capacity is both internal and impacted by the conditions in which we exist, and are making decisions and taking actions within. For example, a person may know that their safety would be best served by leaving an abusive/violent situation whether it is a living, employment, or other situation. However, if they do not have the resources necessary (financial, emotional, legal, etc) to leave or sustain themselves in a safe way once they do, it becomes difficult to actually take that action towards safety. Thus an important part of our Transformative Justice work is to support and increase the capacity of victims/survivors to be able to take actions towards safety, because self-responsive and self-generated doesn’t mean alone. Similarly to accountability, real safety is rarely possible outside of relationship and connection.

So that brings me back to the original question; what does safety look like in a Transformative Justice context? Well, there is no set or single answer because the circumstances and conditions of every situation are different, and every victim/survivor has different wants, needs, and capacities around safety. Instead of focusing on a static destination or single vision TJ works to develop a set of practices that are relevant to the situation (and conditions), and that align with our principle of safety; “liberation from violence, exploitation, and the threat of further acts of violence”. As we develop these practices we prioritize both the immediate and long-term safety of victims/survivors. What safety looks like for me as a part of a TJ intervention or response is supporting the capacity of victims/survivors to end immediate abuse/violence, and live free from the threat of future abuse/violence, always taking my lead from them and what they want and need. It looks like holding the complexity of creating short-term and long-term safety without needed resources (including alternatives to prisons), inside of shifting conditions, and often without accountability from the perpetrator of the abuse/violence. It looks like holding the belief that accountability and transformation of perpetrators is possible, while still being with what is currently happening, real, and true. And it also looks like holding safety in ways that don’t sacrifice connection, while also holding that it is not the victim/survivor’s role or responsibility to do that work (unless they want to). As a survivor of violence safety looks like and means always making decisions and choices, and taking actions that support, create and maintain whatever it is I want and need for my safety. It looks like being supported in those choices, decisions, and actions by people that I am in relationship with and connected to, and choosing to only be in relationship and connection with those that will support my safety. And it looks like accepting that my safety might not always look how I want it to because I can’t control other people. Ultimately it looks like and means remembering that even though others may not respect or agree with what I want and need for my safety, that I still have the right and the capacity to be safe and liberated from abuse, trauma, and violence. For me, that’s what safety looks like.

Black and white portrait of Micha

Micah Hobbes Frazier is a Black queer mixed-gendered facilitator, coach, healer, doula, dj, and magic maker; living, loving, laughing, and building community in Oakland, CA. In June 2012 he founded the living room project, an accessible healing justice & community space serving black & brown queer and trans communities. Micah is a talented and experienced somatic coach/bodyworker working primarily with queer and trans people of color (qtpoc) wanting to heal and transform their histories of trauma/violence. He is a commitment to creating spaces where healing and transformation are possible, and to using his magic to help interrupt, heal, and transform the cycles of trauma and violence in our families and communities.

Beyond Body, Words and Time

Reviews of Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World and Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer

by Kai Cheng Thom

How does a settler of colour like me – a third generation, ripped from homeland, utterly cityfied trans girl – learn real love for the land? How do diasporic people of colour learn to become responsible, to have integrity, in our relationships to Indigeneity, to Indigenous people, to the stories that bind us all? These are the questions that surface in my mind as I read the poetry collections: This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt and Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead – two recently released debut collections of poetry by queer Indigenous authors that have lit up the queer poetry scene this year.

Whitehead and Belcourt, along with writers such as Gwen Benaway and Arielle Twist, are among an emerging generation of Indigenous queer and Two-Spirit poets who follow in the lineage of groundbreakers such as Chrystos and Qwo-Li Driskill. In the tradition of anti-colonial poetry, their work – in each of their unique voices and styles – interrogates the violence of European colonization and genocide on Turtle Island though the lenses of intimacy, sexuality, and gender. In so doing, each poet also breathes new vision, affirmation, and possibility into the conceptualization of Indigenous queer identity.

In This Wound is a World, Belcourt pulls the reader into a searingly intimate examination of what it means to live in the world with an Indigenous, queer body – the narrator of the opening poem, “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak”, introduces himself in the opening poem as “a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans.” Simultaneously, Belcourt troubles the notion of what it means to “have” or to “be” a body at all, perhaps most explicitly in the piece “If I Have A Body, Let it Be A Book Of Sad Poems” and in the Epilogue, in which Belcourt reflects on love as “a process of becoming unbodied.”

Tender yet fierce, vulnerable yet unrelentingly powerful, Belcourt’s poetic voice skillfully uses the confessional register in order to evoke an emotional landscape of love, loss, heartbreak, grief, and hope. Over and over again, in myriad ways, Belcourt asks the question: What is Indigenous queer love in a colonized world? Each piece in This Wound is a World offers part of the answer.

Poems such as “I Am Hoping to Help this City Heal From Its Trauma,” “The Back Alley of the World,” “Native Too,” “OKCUPID” and “There Is No BeautifuL Left” explores the potential and power of sexuality in an Indigenous queer context. Here, Belcourt does not shy away from the impact of trauma on the body. “i am the monster in the closet / your bedtime stories prepared you for / you want a man / whose body doesn’t whisper / horror stories / each time you touch him,” he writes in “OKCUPID.”

Yet there is possibility as pain in sex, for Belcourt, as the title of his collection suggests. In wounds, there is sometimes wisdom, and through the abject, there is sometimes absolution. In the gorgeously written “Native Too,” he writes:

“he was native too

so i slept with him.

i wanted to taste

a history of violence

caught in the roof of his mouth.

i wanted our saliva to mix

and create new bacterial ecologies;

contagions that could infect the trauma away

[…]

i wanted him to fuck me,

so i could finally begin

to heal”

Interspersed with the first-person confessional poems that comprise the majority of This Wound is a World is a series of third-person meditations on moments in history and current events that reflect on the collective trauma of colonial genocide and violence. These pieces, such “A History of the Present,” “God’s River,” and “Wapekeka,” ground the intimacy and emotional authenticity of the rest of the book by placing it within a historical frame. Like the shape-shifting trickster of “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak,” Belcourt weaves himself in and out of this frame, using his words to reach into and through the notions of body and time toward decolonial love.

Where This Wound is a World is an intimate close-up, Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer is an explosive panoramic that shatters the frame: inspired by anime and sci-fi archetypes, the collection follows the journey of Zoa, a cybernetic trickster virus that infects, transforms, and rebirths everything that it touches – which is to say, pretty much every colonial literary and cultural trope – in order to re-member and re-centre Two-Spirit stories. Whitehead’s conceptual genius and technical brilliance come to the fore in Full-Metal Indigiqueer as he takes Zoa and the reader on an expansive revolutionary tour of the English literary canon and contemporary Western pop culture.

Full-Metal Indigiqueer is at once trenchant in depth and breathtaking in scope: Like Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, Zoa manifests itself from everything and anything around it, all the while remaining fixedly devoted to its mission of Indigiqueer vivification. Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, RuPaul, Mean Girls, Harry Potter – if it is in the zeitgeist, Zoa can and does subvert it with almost ecstatic zeal. Yet the human(e) aspect of Zoa remains apparent throughout; Whitehead balances meta-human nature of his protagonist with haunting emotional clarity:

“there is no safety word here,” Zoa proclaims,

“you’re on the precipice of sex;

i am unas lion; i am sansjoysanslovesansboy

i am the real fairy queene

femme-boy-fatal[e]

thegreenbladeofgrass

that castrates Whitman endlessly

do you still want to dream of me [questionmark]

tell me: “i didn’t think gay natives still exist”

The intensity continues to build as Zoa grows through the narrative, becoming at once more human and more powerful in its otherworldliness. In, “MIHKOKWANIY,” a poem dedicated to Whitehead’s kokum, or grandmother, Zoa states “to be honest / I’m im just a little brown boy / obsessed with mutants & robots / queered by his colour / queered beyond his tradition / the saving grace of ceremony / writing for a kokum he’s hes never met.” This tender, vulnerable piece is immediately followed by the “THE EXORCISM OF COLONIALISM,” in which Zoa breaks the code of colonialism and digitally resurrects a host of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The piece serves as both a heartbreaking testimony and an unrelenting challenge to the ongoing violence of the colonial legacy.

Among Whitehead’s many achievements in Full-Metal Indigiqueer is his resounding success in the creation of a map for an Indigenous futurism that breaks the colonial boundaries of English language and literature. In giving birth to Zoa, a consciousness that transcends words and time, Whitehead offers readers a new way of conceiving queer Indigeneity – or rather, Indigiqueerness.

Whitehead and Belcourt have given great gifts to the world this past year with the publication of their debut collections. As I read their words, I am reminded that stories are a pathway into the heart – into a place beyond body, words and time. In order to reach that place, we must be open to stories that destabilize us, that centre others, that push the boundaries of our sense of self. As Belcourt implies in his Epilogue, decolonial love is non-sovereignty. As a trans girl of colour far from a homeland of my own, reading Indigenous poetry on Turtle Island, I am trying to learn what that means: For me, it begins with gratitude. Gratitude for the land, for Indigenous queerpoetry, and for Indigenous poets.

I read these books, and I am grateful.


 

Kai Cheng Thom
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, healer, lasagna lover and wicked witch based in Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, and the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea.

At the End of a Beginning

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Mina Ramos

Content Warning: Abortions 

For the last year, most conversations with my friends have been about babies. I mean let’s be real, we spend our fair share of time talking about dismantling white supremacy, the dreams we have for the future and making a ton of jokes no one else thinks is funny. In between though, it always comes back to babies. Who is having them, who we are having them with, when we are having them, and how we will raise them.

 Up until pretty recently, anytime the conversation turned to baby talk I would shut off. Even though I loved to play with kids, the thought of having a child made me feel sick; uneasy. I remember when I was dating someone who wanted to be a doula. I wanted to be supportive, but when she would talk about how excited she was, I would change the subject. I felt bad, but the thought of her helping deliver a baby made me panic. Any talk about childbirth made me panic. I was set on the idea that I would never give birth. Instead, I would be everyone’s favourite Auntie and I was okay with that.

I had been pregnant once. When I was 19 years-old. I got an abortion only days before the average cut off point which is twelve weeks in Canada (some clinics will perform abortions up to twenty-two weeks though). Although at the time, I knew it was okay to have an abortion and had the support of my immediate family; it was an experience that haunted me for several years.

I will always vividly remember the night I found out I was pregnant. It was my first year of university and I was living in residence. My boyfriend was still living in the town we grew up in. The night I found out, I had only been in school for three weeks. Our residence was small; three floors to be exact. I lived in a “Living Learning Centre” called International House. You had to apply to get in and it was supposed to be a house of “diverse cultures.” It ended up being mainly white students studying International Development or what I call “white people wanting to save People of Colour.” It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The night I found out, someone on the first floor was having an, “I wear my sunglasses at night” dance party in their room. I was sitting on a toilet, in the washroom on the second floor. I could hear and feel the music from the party. I held the little plastic stick in my hands and stared at the two blue lines.

|| = Positive.

The stick in my hand made it that much more real. I remember crawling into bed, not bothering to turn on the light and starting to cry. Someone knocking on the door and asking why I wasn’t downstairs. I tried to make my voice sound as natural as possible and told them that I was just tired. The reality is that I had already known the moment my boyfriend pulled his dick out from inside of me and realized that the condom had broke. We had spent the whole day drinking and I remember laughing and saying; “Well, let’s hope it’s too drunk to know it’s way.” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew. As if the statement had started the process.

|| = Positive.

The plan had been to take the morning after pill but when I woke up the next morning I remembered it was a holiday and the pharmacy in my neighbourhood was closed and the busses were not running. We lived in a suburb outside of town and my mom didn’t understand why I needed the car. I was too ashamed to tell her why.

|| = Positive.

I started to notice pregnant women everywhere I went. Pregnant bellies in the foods that I ate; pregnant bellies as shapes in buildings. I remember my dad, who has an incredible gift of knowing when things are awry in my family asked if everything was okay. I told him things were fine. He said he had awoken from a dream that morning and knew something was wrong with one of our family members. He wondered if it was me. I told him not to worry.

For the first time I felt anxiety. Like a pile of bricks had fallen on my chest and I didn’t know how to take them off.

|| = Positive.

The next few weeks were a mixture of ups and downs. At the time, I was so excited to be in university; something that hadn’t felt real to me at the height of my drug use in high school. I wanted so badly to fit in. I was used to being around drug users and dealers. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who had never thought about using drugs. People who talked real nice, wore Birkenstocks, were vegetarian and wanted to “change” things. I had this warped thing going on where I wanted to be like them but already felt like I was different and had this big secret I didn’t think they would approve of.

|| = Positive.

When I told my parents they were surprisingly supportive but told me to keep it a secret until I made a concrete decision. They were still ashamed. I told them that I would be keeping the baby. My boyfriend and I had quit using hard drugs together and I felt that our bond was strong enough to raise a child together. Although I was scared, I felt a weird exhilaration. I would smoke weed and lie in bed and talk to my baby. I couldn’t believe I had a little human growing inside of me.

|| = Positive.

I started to go home for appointments. Started getting morning sickness. My new friends wondered why I was going home so often. I told them I had an ulcer to explain why I couldn’t party and why I was sick so often. My boyfriend couldn’t handle the stress of it all and started using again. The day he took oxycontin with my brother after we went for my ultrasound, I started to feel small. He would show up drunk on weekends and wanted to have sex. I would push him away. Told him that I needed him to be sober. That only made things worse.

|| = Positive.

One morning I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t picture myself in my 600 student classes with a pregnant belly. Couldn’t picture myself having a child with someone who was still a child. To be real, I still felt like a child too. I didn’t know myself yet. As much as I had grown to love the being inside of me, I wanted to know how to teach it about the world. I didn’t think this was possible when I didn’t even understand myself, let alone everything else.

|| = Positive.

The day before my abortion, my boyfriend’s mom called me and begged me not to go through with it. She said my boyfriend loved me and wanted to have the child with me. She said that she would help us raise it. That was the day I stopped loving him. I couldn’t love someone who didn’t understand where I was coming from.

|| = Positive.

At the clinic, the nurse asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to go ahead with the abortion. I wanted to slap her. As if I hadn’t thought about it thoroughly. Waves of sadness swept over me as I layed on the operating table. Faces with eyes poking out from behind surgical masks stared down at me. I didn’t know these people. The room was too white, too sterile; devoid of emotions. Didn’t my baby and I deserve a better ceremony to say goodbye?

[DEATH]

As soon as they took my baby out of me I felt empty. Like the shell of a human. I went home and smoked with a friend who didn’t have a clue. When he left I curled into the fetal position and whimpered, alone.

I couldn’t sleep. When I did, I had nightmares. I was anxious all the time. I felt like I had to confess something to the universe but I was choked for words. I thought I felt this way because of what I had done. That I had selfishly killed something I loved. I dreaded my boyfriends visits. Made excuses not to see him. Got closer with the girls on my floor. Started to talk a bit about my abortion. Always in a veil of secrecy. One friend who was particularly close suggested I sleep beside her. That it might help with the nightmares. She would leave the door of her dorm unlocked and I would stay with her. I always felt safe in her arms. I broke up with my boyfriend and my abortion became a distant memory.

[HEALING]

Years passed, and I thought I was fine but something nagged at me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. My life had changed drastically. I came out as queer. My “close” friend from residence had awoken something inside of me that had always been there but had been dormant. I began to surround myself with queer people and started to explore my relationship to being racialized. Made more friends of colour. Friends who had beliefs I had always felt at the core of my heart but never had the words or the space to express what I felt.

[HEALING]

I started to talk about my abortion. Realized that some of these friends had also had abortions. It dawned on me that if I respected these people so much who had gone through the experience of abortion I might not be the monster I thought that I was. I also noticed that some people were not traumatized by their experience like I was. Our conversations helped me to understand that so many things impact the way that you feel about your experience with pregnancy and abortion. My experience had been one filled with stigma and a fear of judgement. Even when I told people it was always in secret. I realized my experience at the clinic was radically different than clinics like Planned Parenthood. Although they offered the service, they were not trained to support someone emotionally, through an abortion. Because of this, my procedure had been one of anxiety and stress. I also learned that there were other ways of undergoing abortions that didn’t involve a clinic at all. That herbal abortions were a very real option that some friends had either done by themselves or with the support of a herbalist.

[HEALING]

One day I was sitting in a workshop by Robin Rose Bennett, a white herbalist from New Jersey. The workshop was focused on the plant commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot. Queen Anne’s Lace is an incredible plant because it can act as a contraceptive but can also help with getting pregnant depending on how it’s used. During that workshop she said something that I will never forget. She was talking about abortions and said that they are always difficult for the body because bodies that have vaginas are still biologically geared to have babies. That it is a shock to the system when we are forcing our bodies to do the opposite of what it was intended to do and that we need to soothe our bodies so we can trust ourselves to open up to an invasive procedure like an abortion.

She also talked about unborn babies in a way I had never heard of before. Bennett explained that all souls in the universe exist indefinitely; because they are souls. If you choose not to birth that soul into the human world that soul does not die. However, for some who create a connection with that soul it can cause trauma because there is no process of grieving to acknowledge the connection that was lost through the abortion. I had never thought about it that way. Immediately a weight had been lifted. My baby was being held by the universe; waiting for the right time to be born on earth by whomever it was actually destined to be born by. The conversation I had felt choked for words was one I was supposed to have with that soul. To say goodbye on my own terms.

[HEALING]

A year later I had the opportunity of also hearing Loretta Ross speak, an incredible Black woman who lead the reproductive justice movement in the 2000s. In 2004, Loretta held the largest march in US history with over one million people called the March for Women’s Lives.

Hearing her talk about openly about her abortion and her experience organizing had an indescribable effect on me. Her presence was one of strength and confidence; she was unashamed. In fact she was proud that she had been able to make a choice over her own body. It dawned on me that her abortion had paved the way for her destiny to speak publically about women’s rights to having supportive bodily autonomy. I started to think about my own abortion. How differently my life would have been if I had proceeded with the pregnancy. Although it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through, I realized my experience with pregnancy and abortion had actually been a blessing. A blessing. Through my abortion a different life path was created that actually brought me closer to myself. Brought me closer to my ideas, values beliefs. To a friend group I consider family and a community where I am daily inspired amidst the struggles.

Sometimes I wonder if my baby who knew I loved it from the very beginning brought that path to me knowing that if I did choose to have a child in the future I would be ready.

After Loretta’s talk, I started to have the ability of talking publicly about my abortion in conversation. I started to warm up to the idea of parenting although I did not want to have a child. It was an interesting experience as I sat in a queer parenting planning class with a former partner as we watched a home birth video. As I heard her half joke that she was re-thinking the whole pregnancy thing I had a strange thing hit me. I realized I did still want to give birth. That almost eight years later, my body is starting to feel ready; that I am starting to feel ready. I’m not entirely sure when this will happen, who it will happen with or how it will happen. I know that I am still growing, that I still have a lot to learn. That so far this experience has brought me closer to faith, to truly believing in higher powers and the ability to heal in ways I had never imagined were possible. Amidst my little doubts and fears that linger in my insecurities, when I am the most grounded I have a deeper sense of excitement for what is to come.


Mina Ramos
Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina based out of Guelph, Ontratio. She is a radio broadcaster and is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that center on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

LGBTQI Family Planning 101

By Annonymous

I am currently working as a facilitator for the Sherbourne Family Planning Network, which is a network for 2SLGBTQI* and questioning people who are thinking about starting a family or figuring out ways to bring little or young people into their lives. It is important for resources to be available to us to create families for a variety of reasons, the biggest reason being that we deserve it.

Illustration by Eli WiPe 

Many of us go to western medicalized spaces where you should be able to go to a doctor and talk to them about their options of having a family, but this is not an option because of how homophobic and transphobic these spaces can be. It is hard for our communities to access not only good medical services but also supportive medical services.

That then leads us to not actually having the information we need to make really good choices about our own physical health and what is possible for us to start a family. When I say family, I don’t mean just the process of making and having a baby. I also mean the complex and complicated paths to parenthood around adoption and fostering or co-parenting, or supporting a young person that already exists in the world through all of the different ways that families come together. Families for queer people and trans people have always been different. And for myself anyways, I have always looked at how traditionally our communities (BIPOC communities in particular) have always been creating families in different ways that are not based in heteronormative, white-supremacist, nuclear family ways.

The conversation for queer and trans people around what it looks like to bring a baby into their community is a very different conversation than a heterosexual couple that sometimes have accidental pregnancies.   That’s really nice if that’s an option for you, but that’s not always the case for us. Even though many medical spaces say that they are queer and trans positive, that stops at a certain point and does not always include us starting a family. Places like the Sherbourne are important for knowing whatever our path looks like, whether that’s making a baby or supporting a child that’s already in our life.

Start with big questions

First of all, ask yourself: “How do I want to bring parenthood into my life? What does that look like?” think about what your family looks like, ideas about what it means to create a family and also think about your (our) trauma around parenthood and family. There are so many pathways to parenthood for us and with that comes more questions that you should ask yourself. Things like, “How do I wanna have kids?” “Do I wanna have a kid through my body?” “Do I want to support my partner to do that?” “What does this look like in a poly or open relationship?” “Are there are multiple people in my family right now with whom I want to raise a child with?” “Do we want to ask somebody else to carry a child?” “Are there people I am not in an intimate relationship with that I would want to co-parent with?” “Is there a child in my life that I would like to take a more serious role with?”

Get ready for the feels

Family is such a huge trigger point for so many of us because of how complicated our paths have been to becoming who we are. Think through the things you need to work on for yourself, what family brings up for you and how to support and love up yourself in the process.

It can get us thinking about how we weren’t parented or how we lacked parenting. How we wished for some other kind of parenting, or wish that we had more supportive parenting. Maybe we don’t have parents in our lives anymore in the same way that we would have wanted and starting a family is going to bring up all your shit. Prepare yourself! Even though there are so many decisions to make, the thing that I love about our community and about this process is that it is so different than a heteronormative couples; we get to choose how and what and when and why and we get to think through these things in a different way. We get to work through and process these things in ways that the rest of the world doesn’t get to unfortunately because they don’t have to (or think they should).

Co-Parenting

A co-parent is someone who you’re choosing to share parenting responsibilities with; so that can mean that this person is on the birth certificate of the child and maybe not. Now on birth certificates, we have things called “intending parents”. What that means is that if you have someone who maybe you’re partnering with in terms of raising a child whether it be your best friend, cousin, sister or whatever; basically a person in your community this is someone that you would consider to be a “co-parent”. By writing that they are an “intending parent” on the birth certificate you are formalizing that process. This provides us the opportunity to have it reflect what happens in a lot of communities, especially BIPOC communities. BIPOC communities have given us many examples of co-parenting before the term “co-parenting” even existed. A village raising our children is a great example of how co-parenting is a beautiful option!

Have an agreement

Having a formal agreement helps define who is going to be part of a kids life, why for how long and what it is going to look like. It can also set out what will happen if a relationship between you and other parent(s) breaks down. A lot of co-parents will make co-parenting agreements before they take on a child/baby so the terms in a co-parenting relationship are laid out. There can also be an agreement between a donor and the co-parents. It can be as long or short as you all collectively want but it is very important to make sure to develop an understanding of what you want this to look like. There is this great example of a co-parenting family where it was two couples; two gender-queer folks and two gay, cis men who came together to parent a child and so far it has been great for them but they had to set out what this would look like before they embarked on this journey together. You can find their story if you google it, it was featured in Toronto newspapers.

Parenting Collectives

Sometimes instead of co-parenting, parents will create “parenting collectives”. It is the same type of concept, where you’re sharing responsibility for littles with other people (in intimate relationships or not). Sometimes it could mean that you’re bringing in a group of people from the community. We see this in Toronto a lot. There is also different ways to create parenting collectives that are really manageable and amazing and because of the magic of queerness where we have tons of people in the community who we share time with once in a while. It means that this kid gets to grow up with so many different aunties and uncles. To make this work means having a really organized and structured way of getting everybody on the same page about the whole responsibility chart. It really depends again on what kind of situation you’re getting into and why. If you want more information about contracts and what they look like there are lots of drafts online as well as more details on collectives and co-parenting.

If someone in your family is going to have a baby:

Let’s say you have decided that someone in your family wants to make a baby through yours or their bodies. You need: an egg, sperm and a place to grow. There are so many different combinations of what you might need and how you might get them if you don’t have one or more of these ingredients. You need to figure out which one you need and what route you want to go.

Things to point out: There is a huge lack of donors in Canada, especially BIPOC donors. Think about cost (how much money are you willing to put into this process) , consider trauma and how it will impact your body and mental health as it can be a very intense physical process (make sure you have lots of support if possible). If you are finding yourself needing one or more of these things (eggs, sperm or place to grow), there are known and unknown donor options. Surrogacy is an option, as is sperm donors and egg donors. If you are BIPOC and are looking for a non-white donor it’s important to think about the community you are in and how you would want to approach someone in acquiring sperm from. This is an option as well as buying sperm from a cryobank, which costs a lot more than a known donor. There is a significant lack of donor sperm that is BIPOC, which is a huge issue for those looking for BIPOC sperm.   If you are unaware about your own fertility, it may be useful to go to your family doctor and ask if they can refer you to a fertility clinic or get blood and other tests done. There are a few really great LGBTQ positive and supportive fertility clinics in the GTA or Toronto. If you want to look into some of these there are links on the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting website.

How will the Law impact our families?

There is actually some pretty important legislation that was recently passed that relates to co-parenting that I wanted to mention. As of January 1st 2017, the All Families Are Equal Act was passed which basically reduces the distinction between types of parents. A parent who gives birth will not have more legal rights than a parent who does not give birth and sperm donors are recognized as donors not as parents. A legal case has already been decided where a donor was recognized as a donor and not held responsible for child support. Multi-parent families no longer need to go to court in order to recognize that there can be many parents involved in a child’s life. The legislation is written in language that recognizes the range of gender identities in our communities. It is no longer necessary to go to court to recognize parents through surrogacy in most cases. When there is a surrogacy agreement in place, and all parents and the gestational carrier or surrogate agree, the parents and the carrier or surrogate can sign affidavits after the baby is at least 7 days old and the parent or parents will be able to register the birth. Additionally, adoptive parents now have inclusive titles to choose from including “Mother”, “Father” and “Parent.”

Adoption/Fostering:

Lastly, there is also the option of adoption and fostering. When thinking about adoption and fostering it is important to remember that the systems that you have to go through in that process are complex and have a long history of being a mechanism of colonialism, genocide and anti-Black racism in this country. Although services carrying out these options have acknowledged this history, there are still disproportionately more Indigenous and Black young people in foster care and in CAS care. If you are going through this route it is important to think about how you are going to honour and not continue to be part of damage and harm to Black and Indigenous communities if you are not connected/from those communities. It’s important to think through what it means spiritually, emotional, mentally for a child to be literally taken away from their loved ones which then leads to you having a child in your life. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an option, but I do think it’s important to understand the current implications of this system. Perhaps that means asking yourself, how do you instead support Indigenous and Black families that are asking for support, transforming the system instead of taking kids away as well as thinking of ways to support families that already exist.

This is just an overview of all of the pathways to parenthood and options that are available.

I would like to remind the reader that the ways that we imagine and can think of family is infinite. If you can imagine it, it can happen, and so remembering to not feel boxed in by how we understand family but knowing that family is whatever we create it to be. And that is the magic and brilliance of our communities; all things are possible because we’re not boxed-in, we don’t have to be boxed in, we get to choose who we want and how it happens. So, if you can imagine it, you can make it happen; and it does not have to be any other way than what you want it to be.

If you are reading this article and are looking for more resources the best place to go would be the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting network, their website has so much information on it! They have lots of videos and info sheets that outline different pathways to parenthood.


Eli WiPe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

A Single Question

by Najla Nubyanluv

About 8 or 9 years ago, Yvette* arrived at a hospital to support Miranda*, a doula client who had given birth earlier that day. When Yvette knocked on Miranda’s hospital room door, Miranda called for Yvette to enter. A nurse was in the room questioning Miranda about the absence of their partner throughout the birth and postpartum. What the nurse did not know, was that Miranda was a newcomer refugee, who had fled to Canada from her partner due to domestic violence. She had arrived pregnant during the winter. It was her first time outside of a tropical climate and she did not have friends or family in the country. The conversation was triggering and Miranda was in shock. In that moment, Yvette was glad that she had arrived in time to support Miranda in advocating for her own care and respect. What in the world was going on?

Illustration above: Guiding by Mia Ohki

 

I wanted it to be the first and last experience of that sort that I had heard of but it was not. I had supported many single people and partnered people choosing to birth without their partners, who had faced some form of dismissive or disrespectful behaviour from institutions that were supposed to offer quality prenatal services to ALL people and family structures.

I wanted it to be the first and last experience of that sort that I had heard of but it was not. I had supported many single people and partnered people choosing to birth without their partners, who had faced some form of dismissive or disrespectful behaviour from institutions that were supposed to offer quality prenatal services to ALL people and family structures.

Fast forward to 2018. In some ways, many things have changed. In other ways, we are still dropping the ball on supports for single parents. Are we going to play this game of hetero-2.5 kids-with-a-dog-and-a-picket-fence forever? Unfortunately, at the rate that Toronto is going, many millennials will only be able to afford 2.5% of a picket fence from the money they save from their second job as a nanny to someone’s dog, so let us get right into this brief discussion on some of the experiences of single parents in Toronto.

Single parents are not new to our communities. Many of us grew up with friends or in families where parents were remarried, single or separated. There are many, many family structures and somehow our society is not as inclusive as it could, and should be. With people having children later in life, and opting more and more for fertility options that do not require a partner, there will be many more single biological and adoptive parents to come. Yesterday, I filled out an intake form at a medical appointment that asked if my mother and father lived together while I was growing up. Who promised them that I had two parents? How were they sure that having two parents meant that one of them identified as a mother, while the other identified as a father? This is basic. Regardless of the reason for lone parenthood, these parents are real and should not be treated as an afterthought and family services should consistently be provided to address their family needs.

Many families choose to hire a doula to support their family through a pregnancy transition. A doula is a birth companion who is skilled in offering support to birthing parents before (prenatal), during and/or after birth (perinatal). Doulas are amazing resources and support systems. They can soothe concerns and support in birth preparation, and provide a care after baby arrive. Families of all structures choose to use doula services. Doulas have been proven to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, while also reducing the rates of emergency cesareans. While many single parents hire doulas and there has been an increase in programs that offer free or affordable doulas, cost is still a barrier. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan does not cover doulas and prices can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands, depending on the nature of the individual services. Increased access to doulas provide a more companion style support with phone calls and appointments leading up to birth but what about more intimate companion supports?

My initial searches for single parent services brought up a lot of dating sites. I rejigged my search and I could not quite find what I was looking for. I was searching for professional prenatal intimacy or cuddle support. Doulas are reliable companions but cuddlers are a completely different service. I am a snuggler. Not professionally yet. I am snuggler because it makes me feel warm and comfortable. I love tucking my feet under thighs for warmth when I sit next to someone on a couch (beware!) and my favorite time of day is snuggle o’clock. Are you seeing the pattern here? Research has proven that cuddling releases oxytocin, resulting in a lower risk of postpartum depression. People who live with depression before pregnancy may experience ongoing calming support that can intervene in their elevated risk of postpartum depression. Cuddling can significantly decrease stress levels and it can help to abate anxiety around birthing and rearing a child alone. Where the cuddle supports for expectant parents?

I have been researching professional cuddlers for a couple of years now, diversity in body types and races is lacking, and the ones that exist do not focus specifically on prenatal care. Many single parents would benefit from intermittent non-sexual intimacy options. These services can provide those soothing intimate moments like an arm over a belly, or someone to lay next to when discomfort wards off sleep. That relaxation can be helpful with preparing the body for birth. Hiring a cuddler is an opportunity a professional intimate relationship that completely respects the client’s boundaries. There is a lot of stigma around single pregnant people dating, but pregnant people are still people with desires, so why not? Some expectant people would prefer not to engage in negotiating romantic relationships or are the risk of recovering from a potential breakup while they are pregnant. Either way, lone pregnancy does not result in an immediate loss of romantic or sexual desire. For those who are looking for more than a non-sexual intimate option,  People can/should still educate themselves about sex workers’ services and other sex positive services. Sex during pregnancy may provide a number of health benefits such as stress reduction, release of oxytocin and pleasure. Therefore, I will still mention sexual intimate options even though it is not the focus of this article.

Toronto Public Health offers a wide range of prenatal and parenting services but many of them can definitely more inclusive program. Check their resources. The information provided can be useful, but they continue to refer to a partner or a support person. Ask for referrals and resources from community health centres, midwifery practices, doulas, friends and family members. Advocacy is such a key part of supporting single parent families. Offer feedback about programs and services that are needed at your local community health centre. Services are continuing to try to be inclusive but single parents already exist now. The experiences of single parenthood are vast and diverse and the programs to support them should be too.

*Names changed for privacy


Najla Nubyanluv
Najla Nubyanluv is a queer black playwright, actor, author and doula who loves belly laughter. She is the author & illustrator of “I Love Being Black”, a clay illustrated children’s book published by Sorplusi Press. Most recently, her afrofuturistic shero drama about black women’s magic and mental health entitled I Cannot Lose My Mind saw its World Premiere at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, On, Canada.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however, her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

Supporting pregnancy within Queer BIPOC Communites

Portrait of Kyisha in a headwrap holding her pregnant belly

By Kyisha Williams

The task of creating a just world involves many moving parts including us deciding when and how we bring life into this world. For queer people this is often a process that involves a lot of planning and support because the possibility of it happening ‘by accident’ is far less than in heterosexual communities. In racialized communities, specifically Black and Indigenous communities childbearing holds unique challenges because the way we parent and bring life into this world is heavily scrutinized and due to racism our processes are often interrupted, intervened in, etc. This limits the ability of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to seek professional and medical supports during their pregnancies, such as mental health supports for fear that the state may get involved/come into conflict with their lives.

In this context it becomes extremely important to be able to support individuals and families, (especially Black and/or Indigenous Queer people) who take on the hard work (full of physical, emotional and spiritual labour) of bearing children. Children themselves are important teachers in our movements that can push us forward with new ideas and methods to achieve the just world we dream of. We need them to survive! I’ve compiled a short list of things I have found helpful in my pregnancy and that others have shared was helpful in theirs in hopes that we can build strong communities of support for parents in our movements.

Although pregnancy is a common process in our world and not an illness or disability, as a chronically ill person I have noticed that many disability justice principles apply. Much of the support I have needed throughout my life when I’m ill and ‘lower functioning’ is quite similar to the kinds of support I’ve needed within pregnancy so keep this in mind – chances are if you’ve supported someone with disabilities, you’re familiar with these points.


  1. Offer support – don’t wait to be asked to support if you know that you have particular kinds of support you can provide.
  2. Be specific – Don’t worry that you’ll offend someone by assuming what people need. Instead offer support with a couple of specific examples of the kind of support you can provide
  3.  Try not to ask big blanket questions, like “what kind of support do you need” – brains of pregnant people at this time are pretty single focused and it can be hard to ask for support. It really helps if suggestions are made so that the person doesn’t have to think too much/deeply.
  4. Don’t make decisions for people – Often times we have a tendency to make subtle decisions for pregnant people such as “Oh, that person is probably too tired to go out to this event with us” and thus decide not to invite them. Pregnancy can be an isolating time where lots of fear come up about the radical changes coming up in the pregnant person’s life (especially if they are a new parent). These kinds of scenarios can heighten anxiety and triggers (such as abandonment) which can affect pregnant people’s emotional states so try to avoid this. Invite them to things you would otherwise invite them to and let them make the call on whether or not they’d like to go. They are the best judge of what they can and can’t do at this time. Also be flexible if they are late or need to cancel.
  5. Don’t assume support is already present. It’s easy to assume that people have support especially if they have an online presence and are sharing their story – don’t assume they don’t need anymore help because of this – if you can support it doesn’t hurt to check in.
  6.  Ask for consent before sharing stories – the pregnant person in your life might not want to hear your mom’s horrific pregnancy or labour story in which she almost died or if they are having a lot of nausea it might not feel great to hear about how your friend had none for 3 pregnancies straight. Everyone has different experiences (even the same person can have multiple radically different pregnancies) and unless they are asking they might not want to think about others experiences that are radically different from the experience they are having or they may not be ready to speak about certain things (for example: labour, c-section, etc.).
  7. When someone asks for something acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask (at the very least) especially if you can’t provide the support they are asking for. If this is the case; offer an alternative person or alternative task that might be able to meet a similar or different identified need. Many kinds of support are needed including Practical, Emotional and Spiritual (see below for specific examples). You should also ask if you can suggest other ways you might be able to support instead of just volunteering the other things.
  8. Don’t question or interrogate people’s experiences when they share them. For example “Why do you feel isolated?” – believe them, take a moment to think about how or why that may be true for them and then ask questions (preferably to other people) if you still have questions or are unclear.
  9.  Visit, check in, be present – This helps with or prevents potential isolation, loneliness, anxiety etc. that may be present.
  10. Don’t take things personally – If someone doesn’t want you to come by that day or to be in the delivery or birth room don’t take it personal – it’s their process to navigate and they deserve to be able to do that without having to navigate other people’s emotions

Don’t know what kind of support might be needed? Support can include (but is by no means limited to): Practical- Physical and Financial such as cooking, driving or getting something off the baby registry, babysitting, gifting a grocery gift card, household tasks, organization (meal delivery, care team, furniture, etc.) Emotional- talking, visiting, listening. Spiritual- lighting a candle for safe pregnancy and birth, sharing a ritual or meditation practice.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! Happy supporting!


Kyisha Williams
Kyisha Williams is a magical, Black, Queer, high femme, sex positive, artist and health promoter. working mainly in filmmaking and performing. They work around health within Black/queer/trans/racialized/criminalized/HIV positive/HCV positive communities. She is also a soon to be mom. For more information on Kyisha’s work visit kyishawilliams.com

Bringing Birth Full Circle

by Cassandra Thompson

Our collaboration is our survival. It always has been. We are beings that require community and it’s support, to do all that we seek to achieve and create; from the seemingly minor tasks to major life-changing events. Turtle Island continues to be plagued by colonial oppression and conquest, the divisive techniques and tactics that our colonists have used to perpetuate a false survival structure of ‘individualism’, attempt to root themselves deeper in this land’s soil and in its peoples consciousness. We remember, however, in our soul memory, the need for a loved ones touch, the necessity for another’s helping hand and the urge for a compassionate vibration from folx in search of togetherness.

Illustration by Amir Khadar

We see the support of the community centered concept of ‘togetherness’ evidenced in the birthing structures that predated European settler regulations of midwifery in the 19th Century. We see it in the Grand “Granny” Midwives who used the resources they had been given access to, to create a safe, clean and relaxed birthing environment for whoever they were working with, black and white. These remarkable black womyn of the rural southern United States, would deliver the majority of the babies in their communities, many having delivered almost 90% of the babies in their communities before the regulation of midwifery, and subsequent erasure of the Granny Midwife tradition. These old-knowledge midwives took great pride in being able to support folx thru the process of carrying their children’s spirits through the veil to this life, otherwise known as, birth.

Birth was a process that rarely had access to a hospital in the rural South, so these black womyn who dedicated a major chunk of their lives to this work, had intervention and prevention techniques that consulted earth medicine for support, and trusted spirit to guide their hands. They respected the body’s inherent ability to give birth and knew the pregnant person would be more connected to that birth, if their agency and self-directed needs were respected and met. Doula work, or birth companion work, seeks to carry on this same tradition that our grandmothers laid out for our inheritance; including community in the birthing process.

The word ‘doula’ is a difficult word to claim, as it derives from a Greek word meaning ‘female slave,’ but is the most common term used for a ‘birth companion;’ a title that many more are claiming, who feel called to the work of supporting folx through birth. Trained in offering prenatal, birth and postpartum care, full circle birth companions are there to support you where a midwife is not able or allowed. Midwives are extensively trained to support all types of births, and see the pregnant person’s physical health & safety, and that of their baby, as the main priority. Though many IBPOC midwives recognize that emotional, mental and spiritual health will impact the physical state of a pregnant person, many are stretched too thin to be the sole resource for up to 40 pregnant individuals per year. That’s where birth companions come in. Guided strongly by intuition, spirit, earth medicine and compassion, birth companions can act as a support resource, not only for the pregnant person, but for the midwife, as well.

A birth companion’s main priority is creating a relaxed and affirming experience of birth and early parenting, for the pregnant person and their baby. This will often include discussion around spiritual experience, because birth is one of the biggest ones! As resistance to the currently regulated and colonial institution of birth that encourages ‘being told how to birth’ as opposed to ‘allowing the body to birth,’ birth companions will act as a support for basic needs that can lead to a more satisfied mental and emotional state for the pregnant person; for a lot of folx in Indigenous and black communities, we have an array of social impacts that are proven to decrease our access to safe, healthy and culturally relevant birth, in addition to shorter life expectancies after birth than non-black or non-Indigenous folx. These pieces, and the ways in which to mitigate them, need to be considered and acknowledged when supporting IBPOC folx at this right of passage. Birth companion’s of colour are often trained to do just that; bringing ancestral or old knowledge; evidence based, scientific information; an advocate’s voice and an intuitive sense that has been long respected by the teachings in our lineages as IBPOC folx.

Birth companion’s hold to the traditional experience of birthing, that included our family’s generations, our sistren, our closest friends and our community. Recognizing that although one’s body inherently knows how to birth, birth is not solely about birth. It is about death. It is about change. It is about confrontation of one’s Self. It is about the continuation of an ancestral herstory. It is about joy. It is about understanding pain. It is about healing. We cannot heal in isolation and we should not have to birth alone. We deserve to uphold the rituals of our ancestors and evolve them for our communities today. A major part of reproductive justice is having a birthing experience that self-directed, culturally relevant and inclusive of the community that will be present in the raising of that child.

Here are some supports that community can offer to support a pregnant individual who may not have access to a birth companion:

  • A healthy blood pressure level is considered less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic; many black folx are reported as having a high blood pressure due to the systemic, institutional and individual effects of racism, therefore a blood pressure cuff is key in monitoring blood pressure to reduce chance of miscarriage, heart attack and stroke
  • A fetoscope is key in the late 1st and subsequent trimesters to monitor the heart rate of the baby when access to an ultrasound is limited

Prenatal vitamins can be accessed over-the-counter, but here are some ways to incorporate into your diet:

  • Protein: beans, legumes, lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, nuts and tempeh
  • Carbs: rice, whole grain breads, vegetables, potatoes
  • Calcium: salmon or sardines with the bones, sorrel, okra, onion leaves, spinach, yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Iron: mustard greens, moringa, kale, spinach, lean red meat, blue green algaes
  • Vit A: carrots, butternut squash, yam, cod liver oil, sweet potatoe.
  • Vit C: citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, green peppers
  • Vit B6: bananas, whole grains, chicken and nutritional yeast
  • Vit B12: nutritional yeast, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, meat, fish and poultry
  • Vit D: sunshine, dairy, whole grains, cereals
  • Folic acid: collards, swiss chard, callaloo, dark yellow fruits, beans, peas and nuts
  • Fat: olive oil, coconut oil, whole-milk products, nuts, meats

When supporting someone with plant based remedies, it is necessary to have a non-judgemental perspective of an individual’s medicinal care choices to support their body. Included in this, is ensuring that the medicines you are offering do not interfere negatively with their established medicinal care routine and their body’s needs. If you wish to offer these medicines forward, be sure you are someone who has been offered this individual’s care and medicine routine.

Brew Instructions for teas:

  • steep ½ tsp of each medicine, per 1 cup serving, in boiling water for 15 mins and serve
  • Bay leaf is an ideal support medicine for those who have diabetes; use as seasoning in cooking.
  • Ginger, chamomile and peppermint tea will help reduce nausea, while the anti-inflammatory properties in ginger will reduce cramping; use ginger in cooking, as well as tea.
  • Lemon Balm tea will help to calm the nervous system and mind.
  • Blessed thistle, fennel seed, red clover and borage tea will aid in milk production for those who wish to chestfeed.
  • Red raspberry, cerasee vine leaf and nettle tea will help clear and tone the uterus, allowing for more ease with contractions and a less painful labor and help the uterus cleanse after birth. This are also useful in clearing the body after a miscarriage or the birth of a sleeping baby.
  • Blue cohosh tea can stimulate contractions and can clear the uterus when combined with burdock, after a miscarriage or the birth of a sleeping baby.
  • Lemon balm tea with rose, lavender, motherwort, verain, kava kava and st. john’s wort can help support someone experiencing postpartum depression; st. john’s wort is a contraindication for someone taking antidepressants and someone who is on T; for these folx, passionflower is a lovely alternative to offer.
  • Isolation is a major influencing factor on folx experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, postpartum depression; be present with the parents of the newborn – hang out, help out, ki-ki, and get on! Community is care.
  • If a sleeping baby is born, erecting an ancestor altar for them is a way for the family to continue recognizing and showing appreciation for their entrance into the parent(s) life, even if momentarily.
  • Calendula, shepherd’s purse (stops hemorrhaging), plantain leaf (all suitable for wound care), st. john’s wort and comfrey leaf ( both suitable for joint pains, external uterine massage, and in a hot, 6-weeks-postpartum bath) are key topical poultices, teas or oils to use for healing the perineum; shepherd’s purse, nettle and cerasee vine leaf teas are also key for decreasing postpartum bleeding.
  • Epazote or wormseed oil is wonderful for postpartum, full body massage on the person who just gave birth, while an olive oil infused with calendula, safflower or lavender can be ideal for maintaining the healthy vermix on baby’s newborn skin, while ensuring they can get clean. This can be combined with castile soap or black soap at 48 hours postpartum.
  • Keep sitting postures with the back straight, legs widened and on firm surfaces, to reduce back labor; if back labor occurs, having the pregnant person get on four legs and pressing in and down on the space where the tailbone is found, can assist with reducing pain
  • Dancing through birth can help reduce pain; bust a wine or work a twerk to bring baby into this world with less pain and definitely more fun
  • When baby starts to crown, if the pregnant person would like, guide their hand to their perineum to touch baby’s head, this way they can see just how close they are to meeting the new human they brought into this life!

 

Cassandra Thompson
Cassandra is a queer medicine womxn & full circle birth companion/doula, and the founder of Crystal Root & Conjure. Her writing has been published in Illustrated Impact, Briarpatch Magazine and The Peak’s Medicine Issue, along with being a regular contributor to Wear Your Voice Magazine’s ‘Healing & Magick’ column.

Amir Khadar
Amir Khadar is a non-binary West African multidisciplinary artist from Minneapolis Minnesota. For them, art is a space to rationalize their feelings as a marginalized individual, and ultimately facilitate healing from systematic oppression. Their artwork examines historical and contemporary issues facing the black community, as well as the nuances and beauty inside of being black.

Community Spaces

A Conversation with LAL

By Adabu Brownhill

     As a Queer black gender bending person, I live for spaces that center Queer and trans racialized people. Living in Canada those types of spaces are hard to find, sometimes impossible to find, unless you live in a bigger city with a diverse population. I actually moved from Guelph to Toronto just to be able to have access to spaces that are primarily for folks of colour and Queer and Trans people. Unit 2, a well-known community space in Toronto, run by two radical artists, specifically changed my entire perspective on safe and inclusive spaces. My introduction to Rose and Nic/LAL was life changing as they have an incredibly beautiful concept of community and hold their community down in ways I’ve never seen before. I interviewed rose about Unit 2, which is her loft apartment where she lives with her partner Nic. They live there, make music there and open their home to an entire community of Indigenous, Black, POC and Queer and Trans folks. They’re two of the most amazing, badass people I’ve ever met and they’re a huge inspiration for me and many other folks.

First off, the word ‘community’ is really trendy these days. what does community mean to you?

Hmmmm that’s hard.

      I mean our community (Nic and mine aka LAL), is pretty interesting and diverse so it’s kind of all over the place from queer/trans folks to straight folks (and in between) from BIPOC to allies, artists to academics…so my sense of community is always changing or I’m always learning how to make community more meaningful and how to support it.

    Community to me means treating people like family or chosen family. sometimes you don’t like them or they piss you off but you find ways to love, and forgive them (or not), or you love them just cuz.

     I think community means to forgive each other, have compassion and try our best not to come at each other but i to understand if we do from time to time, cuz we are all dealing with so much shit and pain and trauma.

     I believe community means to have each others you back, so if you need something then I’m there for you and I will drop what I got going to support. If you need food or cash or housing then we are here to support, and vice versa.I think lot of people talk about community, but really they are looking out for themselves, this annoys the crap of me but I have to learn not to get upset and allow people their own path.

What are ways that you build community?

    I build community mostly through word of mouth, through other relationships and also just being open to the universe (you def have to pay attention when you do this as well!). I def build through our arts/community space, like Unit 2. A lot of folks contact us and find out about what we are doing through friends and such We end up building community through the space, both performers and community members. We def build through music as well and art and social justice. I mean def have an online community but the community is very much connected to our ‘in life’ community, it’s just a continuation of how we work in the ‘non virtual world’.

    I think I also support a lot of folks, either with their art or lately been trying to be supportive one on one with folks who need some support and help. This is a very different way to build community cuz it’s one relationship at  a time but it’s also super important. I don’t want my job or my arts practice to get so busy that I don’t have room for folks nor do I want my art to be the only thing i really focus on. Life is my Art so community building is def part of this.

You’ve turned your home into a community space. How did that start?

Well, I got tired of the scene in Toronto, not being able to do what we wanted, always bowing down to corporate types (not always of course!) but just wanting to something different. It started off as just us trying to run some parties and provide space, and we slowly realized how there wasn’t enough safer space for Q/BIPOC folks and accessible space in terms of economics, and ability. Again we hadn’t really thought of any of this when we started and luckily (well it’s not really luck!), we got a space that was pretty accessible (the main space), and as we learned more about what folks needed, Unit 2 just began to shape itself. It’s been six years! and we’ve learned a lot and continue to learn and share space. The hope is to make it a full time community/arts space and get more people involved who want to create a DIT (Do It Together) vision. Big ups to Toyin Coker, Ange Loft, Kevin Jones, Juli(e), Ki, Cherish Blood, all the volunteers, and other folks who have lived at Unit 2 and supported and helped shape the vision of Unit 2!

 What do you find challenging when it comes to community/community spaces?

      It’s a lot of work. Wow so much work (laughing) and though we love it we def need some help for sure. We are reaching out more and more cuz we are burning out and we got a new album coming out so we can’t always run things for like nine hours plus set up and cleanup!

     It’s also a lot of energy work, cuz I’m basically keeping track of the room and the energy and vibes. From the outside it may look like we are (Nic, the volunteers, promoters and I) partying but really we are very much aware of what’s going on, in order to keep things safer.

     I used to be worried about all different communities coming together but now I’m feeling like this a great way to build trust, eat, dance, smoke, whatever before we start to do political-based work. 

    It’s also challenging to get folks to believe in DIT spaces, but people are craving for it. Just getting people to work together can be challenging but thus far it’s been pretty easy, just a lot of time and energy goes into this shit.

What are some cool QPOC (queer people of colour) community spaces that you know of in Toronto? Can you mention some outside of Toronto?

Blocko for sure, not a physical space but def Block (Black contingent of Pride) have been creating space for years!

There’s Double Double land for concerts, though I’m not that familiar with them and are building with them slowly now, but April is mad cool. 88 days has been building space/shows for years within Black queer shit. Outside of Toronto there’s loads, QPOC in Winnipeg, who we just connected with are doing amazing things and we are just beginning to find more Q/BIPOC space throughout Canada. Yes Yes Y’all has been doing parties for a while and d’bi young’s Watah school as well. In the US there’s tonnes from Allied Media conference in Detroit to DIY spaces in Oakland. we are planning a tour in the US are reaching out to folks. In Seattle there’s folks like Moni Tep and Black Constellation folks and My Parade has a DIY Q/BIPOC concert space in their home. There’s a lot in the US for sure and we are just beginning to build with folks. Brooklyn boihood in NY as well have been doing some wicked things. Just found out about Boys of Bangladesh but haven’t been able to connect yet (out of Dhaka). Black Lives Matter is doing a whole lot and in Toronto is working on a Freedom school for Black youth. Il nana is creating dance spaces for QBIPOC folks in Toronto, Crafty Queers is also doing some amazing work. The Drag musical creates space for BIPOC youth create Drag performances, and Native Youth Sexual Health Network is doing some amazing work, oh there’s also Children’s Peace Theatre! Gosh, there’s a bunch!

What advice can you give to people who are interested in organizing some sort of community space ?

Be patient, work with people who you trust and want to build with. Don’t get too ego’d out and allow things to unfold and build organically.Get people involved to support and do what you love. If you don’t love it, then don’t do it cuz it will burn you out. Ask for help when you need it and be open to feedback and making changes! don’t get into this power ego shit. work from a place of community and try your best not to let personal biases get in the way. Listen to people and don’t be afraid to try new shit. Try to make stuff accessible in all ways and reach out to communities, build bridges not walls! Take breaks when you need and be honest about what you can and cannot do! Be transparent or learn to be transparent, and share information and money!


Adabu Brownhill
Adabu Brownhill (DurtyDabz) is a Black/Mixed, Queer, FemmeBro dedicated to fighting for Mother Earth and the Liberation of Black & Indigenous Peoples and All People Of Colour. She is a badass DJ as well as a passionate gardener. She strives to decolonize agriculture in Ontario and create farming/gardening spaces that are fun and kool for racialized folks. She dreams of a farm where People Of Colour be chillin’, bumpin hella beats, planting seeds, harvesting herbs and eating gourmet meals while making jokes and enjoying each others company. She draws inspiration from radical underground artists such as Junglepussy, Destiny Frasqueri (Princess Nokia), Jay Boogie and Le1f. Her favorite foods are spicy meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

LAL
In the late 1990s, LAL introduced a political edge to the electronic underground, bridging the gap between art and social justice. They have carved out a strong diasporavoice in the Canadian music scene, which remains largely unexplored by mainstream media. They are queer / straight, black / brown, Asian and West-Indian and they are a mix of hiphop, techno, downtempo and international sounds. Unit 2 is their home and DIT (do it together) art and community space they run out of Toronto with friends. The space is mandated to support Q/BIPOC communities and our allies.

Dear Sambong

Rice Moon Sorcerer

By: shaina agbayani

I keep looking for confirmation of my ancestry in books, and then realize my body, vessel of earth&ancestors&spirit, is the first & most truthful book.

chapter 1

**I have no book to tell me my an-sisters are queer

**my body is the first(last) and most truthful book

**I am the queer an-sister

**heirloom seeds of rice are to be hidden(planted-saved) deep in earth, harvest always latent(ready to bloom)

**i am the first(last) seed

**i am siya who binds – plants(hides-saves) – the last(first) sheaf

chapter 2

**i have no book to tell me my an-sisters fast in kinship with earth&spirit (full moon ritual)

**my body is the first(last) and most truthful book

**i am the queer an-sister, fasting in kinship with earth&spirit(full moon ritual)

**heirloom seeds, buried deep in earth, are to be collected(preserved-offered) for future an-sisters

**i am the first(last) seed-saver

**i am siya who binds – preserves-offers(collects) – the last(first) sheaf

chapter 3

**one book(thickspine) tells me my an-sisters offer woodwind hymns to spirit world(new moon ritual)

**my body is the last(first) and most truthful chapter

**i am the queer an-sister, fasting in kinship with earth&spirit (full moon ritual), offering woodwind hymns to spirit world (new moon ritual)

**an-sisters(past&future), buried deep in earth(growing amongst us) are to be summoned(sung&watered) through butterfly songs

**i am the first(last) seed-singer

**i am siya who binds – summons(water-sings) – the last(first) sheaf

chapter 4

*i once had a vivid dream that ancestral alphabets can be danced

**one elder(longspine) tells me (deep inky voice, azul blood written on tree) baybayin can be danced in pangalay

**my body is the last(first) and most truthful chapter

**i am the queer dream of my an-sisters, elder dancing ancestral alphabets, singing(watering-summoning) new moon hymns, saving(preserving-offering) full moon seeds, planting(hiding-saving) heirloom harvests

**butterfly songs, vibrating deep in earth(resonating high above us) are to be danced(dreamt) in prayer

**i am the first(last) seed-dancer

**i am siya who binds – dances(dreams-prays) – the last(first) sheaf

Chapter 6

dear rice-moon sorcerer(sambong)

you have already sung your dreams

into

our bodies

queer earth

ancestral temples

they lay ready

awaiting

on sheaves of rice(heirloom harvest)

hymns around which we dance(ancestral alphabets)

dreaming(praying-dancing)

summoning(watering-singing)

collecting(preserving-offering)

planting(hiding-saving)

binding

the first, last sheaf

v


Sha
Sha is a femme fermentation fairy & singer of Moon Karaoke gi ed to be living in Tkaronto by way of Ilocus Sur, Mindoro, Quezon, Batangas, Romblon, and many other lands eluding/defying categorization that have nurtured her an-sisters&ancestors. Sha invites you to reach out & connect if you feel called at sha.sambong@gmail.com

How Deaf & Queer Communities are Tackling Oppression Together

black and white photo of various queer deaf folks signing

By Alex Lu

        If you frequent queer spaces in certain cities, you may have noticed social media posts and flyers advertising American Sign Language (ASL) classes targeted towards queer and trans people. The casual observer may write these classes off as a curious but incidental pairing of two communities. Yet, these classes are independently popping up all over North America, from Vancouver to Chicago to Toronto to Washington, D.C. It is apparent that queer ASL classes are not an isolated trend. But what draws Deaf and queer communities together so consistently?   There are a surprising number of parallels in the narratives of being Deaf and being queer. Just like how queer people are for the most part raised by straight-identifying parents, most deaf children are born to hearing parents. These parents are frequently unable to provide a framework for understanding the experiences of oppression that their children will have. Consequently, many of these children will grow up to seek shared experience later in life, forming rich communities that become sources of culture, connection, identity, and pride. However, as both Deaf and queer communities stand outside able-bodied and straight standards of acceptability, both communities have to fight against politics that push them towards invisibility and conformance as opposed to visible identity.

Zoée Montpetit, founder of Queer ASL in Vancouver and the president of the British Columbia Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf, thinks that these parallels may be why queer people are drawn to her classes. “Before I got involved in the hearing queer community,” says Montpetit, “I struggled to expand my signing community. But queer people understand how it is to be marginalized. Once they start to learn about ASL and Deaf culture, I think they start to recognize aspects that they relate to.” Montpetit says that her queer and trans students are motivated by a sense of solidarity with Deaf communities. “There is a real sense of kinship, a desire to increase access, and an ability to understand how hearing people can oppress Deaf people, just like how straight people can oppress queer people.”

Michelle Bourgeois, founder of Hands on ASL! and ASL literacy teacher in the Toronto elementary school system, echoes Montpetit’s statements. “Queer communities in Toronto are more connected,” she says. “I’ve taught classes for both queer communities and the general community. After students graduate from general community classes, I rarely ever see them again. Whereas with graduates from my queer ASL classes, I will bump into them time after time at queer community events.” Bourgeois notes that Deaf-queer people are more inclined to be involved in hearing queer communities, given the wealth of queer-specific resources these communities provide. As a result, she says that queer people are often inclined to learn ASL for concrete, communal reasons. “Queer people will often be motivated because they see a community member or have a friend who they want to communicate with better. With the general population, it may be more of an abstract, individual interest.”

This outpouring of solidarity and interest from queer communities has led Montpetit and Bourgeois to respond by adapting the curriculum and learning environments to better serve marginalized groups. For instance, both Montpetit and Bourgeois use the standardized curriculum taught in post-secondary institutions, the “Vista Signing Naturally ASL Curriculum”. However, Signing Naturally has a number of aspects that are unsuited for queer learners. For instance, some activities involve the instructor splitting the class into groups of male and female students, which Montpetit describes as particularly unsafe for trans people. The material itself can be hetero- and cis-normative: to teach vocabulary about family, most instructors use an archetypal heterosexual family as an example, complete with gender roles (the mother works in the kitchen; the father goes to work.) Montpetit and Bourgeois have worked to modify these aspects so that they better reflect queer and trans identities. “When teaching in the general community, I was limited in what I could teach as I had to follow a set outline by the college,” says Bourgeois. “With queer ASL classes, I incorporate social justice concepts and discussion of identity and oppression.”

Furthermore, understanding that queer identities are often intersectional, both teaching organizations operate to be as inclusive as possible. Classes are financially accessible, offering affordable fees with a sliding scale option; a course at Queer ASL has a suggested donation of $60 to $90, whereas introductory community college classes can cost upwards of $500. The spaces are physically accessible and scent-reduced, and Hands on ASL! also offers classes for free to hard-of-hearing and deaf people. “It is not fair that hard-of-hearing and deaf people who didn’t have the opportunity to pick up ASL as children have to pay later in life to acquire these skills,” explains Bourgeois. In addition, both classes work to ensure that PoC (People of Colour) identities are represented in the curriculum.

Montpetit estimates that Queer ASL has taught over 250 different students in the past seven years. While the majority of her students may only learn ASL at a basic conversational level, the collective exposure of so many queer people to ASL and Deaf culture has led to a tremendous increase in accessibility within queer spaces. “I started teaching ASL because I felt isolated and wanted more people to sign with. Over time, I started to see the community become more understanding of the need for interpreters and communication access,” says Montpetit. “I see folks with various levels of sign language skills at almost every event I go to now.”

The efforts of Deaf-queer people to make sign languages classes queer-friendly is also slowly making waves in the Deaf community at large. Exposure to ASL and Deaf culture is encouraging a growing number of queer and trans people to apply to ASL-English interpretation programs. Sara Gold, a white queer interpreter with over 20 years of experience working in Toronto, notes that this trend challenges traditional conceptions of ASL-English interpretation. “Interpreters are generally thought of as neutral facilitators of communication,” says Gold. Because society codes white, straight, cisgender, non-disabled people as more “neutral” or “default,” she says, this has led to a disproportionate number of interpreters who come from privileged demographics. “However, current interpreting theory confirms what we know intuitively: the identity, life experiences, and values of the interpreter will unavoidably influence the way they perceive and relay other’s communication. No communication can be neutral.” The influx of queer interpreters means that queer Deaf people have interpreters who reflect their own experience.

Gold notes that the conception of interpreters as neutral has reinforced institutionalized privilege and respectability politics in many ASL-English interpretation programs. “Because interpreter identities are currently so homogenous, it can be hard for our trainers, leaders, and colleagues to even recognize that we have a problem,” she says. “I am hopeful that our field will be changed by the innovative practices happening at the grassroots.” In the meantime, Gold believes that queer ASL classes provide interpreters from marginalized backgrounds with a sense of community as they go on to work through these programs.

While the movement towards increased interpreter diversity is challenging, it is extraordinarily important for Deaf people who stand at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. As a Deaf-queer PoC myself, I once attended a Black Lives Matter panel. It was incredibly uncomfortable to watch the experiences, language, and righteous anger of the Black women panelists being articulated through white interpreters. In a similar vein, I once wanted to participate in a discussion group that was restricted to Black and Indigenous people of color. However, as the interpreters for the event were white, they were initially asked to stand outside of the room. I sat in nervous silence with two other Deaf people, a Black trans man and an Aboriginal elder, entirely oblivious to what was being said about us as the rest of the room voted on whether they would admit the white interpreters in the space. Yet, neither situation was easily avoidable — even in a city as large and diverse as Toronto, there are only a handful of PoC interpreters, and not all are available or specialized to interpret events such as these.

Queer ASL classes can therefore be regarded as a form of resistance, reclaiming spaces by building interdependent connections between communities. The labor that Deaf-queer people put into sharing their language and culture with hearing queer communities carves out spaces for marginalized people to learn ASL. The graduates of these courses use their newfound cultural awareness and communication skills to transform the accessibility of queer spaces, such that they are more accessible to Deaf people. Some will go on to further pursue their passion for ASL and Deaf culture, supported by Deaf-queer communities as they work through interpreting programs that may be hostile to their identities. When they graduate, their status as interpreters who have experienced marginalization will position them to support marginalized Deaf people.

While queer and trans ASL teaching organizations are still small and independently-organized, it is impressive how these initiatives ripple out to enact social change. By bridging together two communities, these classes empower both communities to mutually work to uplift and support each other.


Alex Lu
Computer science graduate student and OPIRG-Toronto director. I organize around disability justice, queer issues, and intersectionality when I’m not being a tedious academic.