2 Canes 2 Crips 6 Legs

An editorial essay on Disability art, healing justice, the hustle of the emerging marginalized artist.

by jes sachse

“We begin by listening. We are People of Colour, Indigenous people, disabled people, and survivors of trauma, many genders, ages and classes of people. We centre the genius and leadership of disabled and chronically ill communities, for what we know about surviving and resisting the medical industrial complex and living with fierce beauty in our sick and disabled bodies. We say no to the medical industrial complex’s model of “cure or be useless,” instead working from a place of belief in the wholeness of disability, interdependence and disabled people as inherently good as we are.”

– Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles, US Social Forum Detroit 2010

‘I have great immunities! I think it’s because I was born in a hospital,’ I say as you unlock the door of the apartment where your cat eagerly awaits our return.

‘What??’ you laugh in confusion.

 It was not what I meant. I remember fumbling with my words and eventually discarding them and hopping on your bed in playful distraction, hopelessly smitten in my first SDQ (sick and disabled queer) relationship.

I meant I was raised in a hospital. The mothership. Among others of my kind. Paranoid of cops and public transit officials trying to return me. One time wheeltrans slowly followed me for a whole block down Sorauren Avenue and I was like ‘aw shit! It’s happening!’ Turns out they were just looking for an address.

When I moved to Toronto with them big city dreams, it was from a smaller town nearby. Disability art was a new and burgeoning thing to me then, and to the Canadian scene, and I was eager to explore it. I resolved that in order to do that I needed to be around people that could grow me. I needed to know what was out there and I figured Toronto could tell me, with its rumours of other disabled queers.

This cold shoulder of a city has fulfilled its promise and then some. I’ve learned the art hustle of the emerging marginalized artist. Connection across disciplines, politics, and identities. Negotiations between steep rent and steeper poverty transformed into sweet poetry on the social media surface of me. I have made a home and it only took five years to get here.

Here for me is more literally the city’s southwest neighbourhood of Parkdale. I suppose Parkdale is as good a place as any to think about being disabled. Poverty and gentrification coming in from all sides. A place where scrappy meets yuppie in an elbow of streets just before the lake. Years learning the sidewalk dance of dodging the wheelie cart bubbies of a still very Polish Roncesvalles Village cuz no they don’t see your shared crip identities and they will RUN YOU DOWN.

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons(1.) low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.

1. Spoon Theory

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons2 low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.

We’d gone shopping for art materials. We were both running creative writing workshops around that time and were looking for ways to stretch our modest budgets into the nicest supplies. One hour in a stair filled supply store later and all 2 canes 2 crips 6 legs of us were TIRED. Like, need to sit down somewhere on a ticking clock kind of tired. Initially, I had offered that we go to The Rex after, due to its close crip proximity. I know the area like the back of my claw hand. Filed under: ‘A place to sit and jazz.’

Wheeltrans had messed up and wouldn’t be arriving till 10:30pm. But when we reached the bottom of the ramp Lynx, in their Capricorn rising steadfast charm, stopped and announced ‘Nope.’ Which is how we found ourselves camped in the university’s lobby instead.

‘Do you have a [phone]charger?’ they ask, a chuckling metaphor of our current energy levels.

Surprisingly I did. We find a nearby bench and corner with an outlet.

With hours to go before their ride, we seize the opportunity to hang out. Scatter their new supplies on the well-lit concrete floor for a future social media post to promote #BlackSpoonieSpeak, a workshop by Lynx Sainte-Marie, trying to sculpt the aesthetic jusssst right for Insta.

The hustle.

(It feels like this great secret that when two or more spoonies who centre care with each other come together, access needs don’t actually double but decrease, because bodies inform each other. A deep balance of limits & desired outcomes.) 

At 9:30pm, after twenty different conversations & a relocation to the black pleather couch, Lynx insists that I start home. My body has begun its nightly shut down. I’ve taken to referring to it as ‘kitten hour.’ If I don’t get on transit within kitten hour I will be too sleepy. Falling asleep in public is an unsafe thing in the world.

At the stop, it starts to rain. Streetcars crawl toward me in the great damp distance of Queen Street, their green-lit antennae making a Gatsby out of me. It aches of unfulfilled promise. As access wages, the same ancient stress on my bones so begins again the calculation of steps to home. The wince of what happens when home was other people. The funerals step onto the streetcar with you, sidle into front seat to rest; blue, sideways, a marker of loss incomplete. Pain, but also Love.

jes sachse
jes sachse is a Toronto-based poet, artist & curator obsessed with disability culture. Living across the blurred lines of whiteness, poverty, lifelong disability, genderfluidity and madness, they are currently working on their first illustrated novel, Gutter, which will portray these dilemmas through a multi-modal narrative form, reflecting at once on both a crip navigation of contemporary culture, and the permeation of traumas in spaces of invisibilized violence.

The Damages of Microagressions: How to Prevent and Heal

by Tina Zafreen Alam

While most of the literature on microaggressions discusses how to manage them in the moment, and what kinds of responses might communicate the inappropriateness of the behavior, few are devoted to the question of reversing the damage from stress that results from them. Chronic (ongoing) stress devastates wellness. It’s also cumulative in that the damage worsens with every microaggressive blow. Constant put downs, ridicule and denigrations, intended or not, have measurable adverse effects on your body, mind and self-definition.

Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions1 as the “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Microaggressions can be racial, gender-based, hetero-patriarchal, religious, fat phobic, ageist, ableist or any other dynamic that marginalizes.

Microaggressions can invoke the stress reaction for those of us on the butt end of them. Hence I approach the question of healing and preventing them as primarily a matter of building resiliency. That is what this short article will focus on as I share some key ideas from my self-healing workshops.

In my framework of knowing, social justice and equity struggles benefit when every one of us is well, although not in the sense of some static state of perfect health where you can live forever. Healing is about the capacity to adjust, learn and grow in response to the ebb and flow of your dynamic relationships with the world. Your body, for example, is never static. If it were you’d be dead. In a healthy (or even unhealthy) body there are ongoing activities of self-regulation and self-repair in a process called homeostasis, which is the body’s tendency to maintain optimal functioning. Healing and wellness in this article are essentially about self-love, self-compassion, and cultivating meaningful, fulfilling relationships rather than obtaining perfection in any form. From this perspective acceptance, inner peace, fulfillment and a sense of purpose are intrinsic to wellbeing.

Most folks know from high school science or popular culture that stress is at the root of many illnesses. Instead of glossing over the impact of microaggressive stress, here are some facts you might like to be aware of:

  • When you are upset by a microaggression, high levels of cortisol and adrenaline flood your bloodstream, increasing your respiration and blood pressure.
  • Oxygen and blood are directed to your large muscles and physical senses (sight, hearing, etc.).
  • Digestive organs slow down their activities. Nutrients don’t get into the bloodstream and toxins don’t get out of the body at optimum speeds.
  • The immune reaction is put on hold.
  • Your cells and the DNA within them contract, making them less able to absorb nutrients and perform all their functions.
  • Your blood flow is diverted to the limbic/instinctive brain. The brain areas responsible for higher thinking get less blood, oxygen and nutrients. Your body does this as part of a stress reaction because you don’t need to be philosophizing or contemplating your next art project when you’re in a crisis or life-threatening situation.

This fight or flight state is exactly what you need if you’re in a situation where your life or the wellbeing of a loved one is at risk. You don’t, however, want to live in this state. Here are some other effects of chronic (long term) stress, which repeated exposure to microaggressions provokes:

  • Your body doesn’t care whether the experience is life-threatening or mildly annoying. Whether you have a gun pointed at you or your coworker uttered a careless remark, your body reacts the same way.
  • Furthermore, your body doesn’t care whether your stress is life-threatening at that moment, you are remembering stressful events from the past or imagining them in the future.
  • The more often or more prolonged the microaggression, the more your brain will physically restructure itself to accommodate the biochemistry and neural activity of chronic stress. For example, blood vessels, cellular growth and synaptic (communication) pathways in the brain will develop in ways that help you shift into the stress reaction quicker and allow you to stay there longer.
  • High levels of cortisol will dissolve connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Cortisol will also contribute to the accumulation of belly fat.
  • The adrenal gland will get tired of pumping adrenaline into your system. Adrenal exhaustion will set in and you will likely feel a sense of numbness and resignation to stressful events because you won’t have enough adrenaline in your system to generate useful responses. So when you’re faced with a real crisis you won’t have the juice to react appropriately.
  • Over the long term, stress makes you more sensitive to physical pain.
  • Your mental capacities will be compromised – particularly memory, learning, creativity and problem solving. Anyone who spends a lot of time in a context where microaggressions are rampant will have a brain that is very good at directing the biochemistry of stress; your thoughts become distrustful, self-involved, fearful, anxious and intolerant.
  • Your brain changes even further to accommodate what you think, say and do. If your attention remains on the multitude of microaggressions to which you are daily exposed your brain will accommodate and heighten the stress they cause.

The long-term effects of chronic and cumulative stress are not pretty. The Institute of HeartMath finds that a mere five minutes of being in a stressful state catalyzes six hours of depressed immunity, impaired healing and constrained mental capacity.

Microaggressions are potentially life-threatening because they produce the stress that causes illness and shortens lifespans.This is why educational and awareness-raising strategies are important to prevent them. However, these are not the only strategies that contribute to prevention.

The literature on countering or preventing harmful stress often focuses on how individuals can build resiliency to offset the negative health effects. Most of this is aimed at helping you transform your behaviours and thinking patterns; modifying your reaction to stressful events in a process of building resiliency. This works because it reshapes your body into a more expansive state (literally).

While social justice emphasizes working collectively to promote social change, there is still a role for building individual (and group) resilience. In fact, they are interdependent. Building resiliency is personally empowering, is the most effective method for transforming the impact of stress on your body, and enhances your capacity to sustain your participation in social change activities.

Resilient people are less likely to experience burnout, compassion fatigue or chronic stress symptoms. Obviously, social justice movements can benefit from resilient activists. That’s why I emphasize building resiliency in my work.

Briefly, here’s what happens to your body when you’re resilient; when you’re enjoying expansive states of love, compassion, generosity, gratitude and optimism.

  • The higher thinking parts of your brain get an optimal amount of blood supply, oxygen and nutrients. There are more cell growth and synaptic activity. Consequently, your memory, learning, problem-solving and creative abilities expand.
  • Biochemicals like DHEA, serotonin, oxytocin and nitrous oxide pour into your bloodstream. Combined these biochemicals promote feelings of connection, joy, openness, optimism, empathy, compassion, gratitude, generosity and a sense of peace. At their height, you experience wonder and awe.
  • These expansive states promote pro-social behaviours like cooperation, sharing, kindness, volunteering, giving and uplifting others. They fuel a thirst for social justice and equity.
  • The longer you’re in an expansive state, the more you produce biochemicals that heighten the effect and you can go into an upward spiral.
  • As an added bonus, some of the biochemicals produced in expansive states lower cortisol levels, reversing the stress reaction.
  • Your immune response becomes more efficient and tissue repair is accelerated. You also experience less physical pain.
  • Organs, cells and DNA expand and become optimized for their functions, including taking in and metabolizing nutrients.

The HeartMath on expansive states? Five minutes buys you five hours of all these positive mental and physical benefits. When you cultivate expansive feelings you take advantage of your body’s ability to restructure itself in the direction of building resiliency. This means you are less likely to be impacted by stressful events like microaggressions and, when you are, you can bounce back quicker.

Building resilience involves developing a daily practice of cultivating expansive mind, body and emotional states. This involves deliberately allocating time to focus on whatever puts you into an expansive mindset. Fortunately, as noted before your body doesn’t care whether you’re actually lying on that beach, remembering or fantasizing about it. The benefits are the same.

The most effective way to build resilience is to strengthen your internal resources. While there’s nothing wrong with experiencing pleasure from external sources, and these activities can definitely be fun, research increasingly shows they are not the most effective forms of building resiliency. Activities that help us feel connected, or provide opportunities to nurture life have deeper more lasting benefits than spa days, shopping sprees or getting that promotion. Do you want your happiness to depend on weather conditions, other people’s moods or stuff you can’t control? For Tips on Building Resiliency check out my website.

A note of caution on building resiliency to heal and prevent the stress of microaggressions: expecting to remain in a blissful state 24/7 is neither possible nor desirable. Anger, fear and grief, for instance, are appropriate responses to some life events. Ignoring, denying or suppressing them is as stressful as the event itself. Feel your feelings, explore and let them go. It’s a refusal to process uncomfortable emotions that contribute to illness and mental contractiveness. When you notice, accept and explore your feelings they eventually fade and you can shift your attention to something more expansive. Yes, contractive feelings will return because you’re interacting with life and challenge is part of the deal. However, resiliency will allow you to manage life’s challenges in a way that doesn’t compromise your wellness.

Since community wellness and social justice depend on the contributions of resilient individuals, it’s really about time that our movements, organizations and communities recognized resiliency-building as socially significant work. You might start out building resiliency for the sake of your own wellbeing but it will be the collective “us” that benefits.

Zainab Amadahy
Based in peri-apocalyptic Toronto, Zainab Amadahy is an author, screenwriter, self-empowerment facilitator, professional development consultant, researcher and educator. Her background in medical and photovoltaic technologies, as well as community service in the areas of Indigenous knowledge reclamation, curanderismo, non-profit housing, women’s services, migrant settlement and community arts, inform her work. Links to Zainab’s articles, essays and other literary work can be found on her website: www.swallowsongs.com.


selfie of michael with his son smiling

by Michael Pyette

I really wanted to be a father. I was looking for somebody with a beautiful spirit, a beautiful home, smarts and strength. I had to feel she would look after our kid to the best of her ability. The only way I could really gage this is by how she treated me and those around her. I loved her for the way she treated my feelings and the way she lit up when I entertained her to the best of my ability. I fell in love with her and the forest she brought me to on one of our first meetings. I had my heart broken previously by a woman with kids. All of my stars were telling me that I needed to start my own family and she was where I wanted to. I was strangely really open and upfront about wanting babies.

We loved spending time in the woods. When we did find out we were pregnant, we both happily remembered the time we knew it happened. Women are beautiful because they let a man know how welcome he is. So I was very welcome that time. In my eyes, she is a home and when I deserve and need her I get to be near her.

My energy was hers to accept and grow. All I could do was feed her, keep her safe, well loved and entertained. The first baby was way easier. The second pregnancy while having our year and a half year old is one of the hardest things in my life yet.

As a pregnant woman, she has the right to eat whatever she wants, see whoever she wants and do whatever she wants. I look out for what I see as best for her, but what she does is a different story. Now that we have our son some of the best help I can give is looking after him. I am here to look after her while she is pregnant when she needs me. I won’t judge her if all she wants is pizza and chicken wings. I encourage her to eat the best ish around, and I rub her feet. I have also realized that alone time is sometimes the best gift you can give someone.

I am a protective man. I am a flawed man. Teachings from all over Turtle Island tell me that women are divine. They are in tune with the Earth and the Moon. She is in tune with the Sun and her Son. When I’m not in her orbit, I am learning to leave.. quickly.

She is creating, so I create too. She makes a baby, I make a tikanagan, a cradleboard. When she has rhythm, I sing. When she is loud, I dance. Maybe there are two spirits in us both. Whatever brings the best for everyone is what’s important. Our life is a fine balance and constant juggle. I am a hardworking clown.

I pray to the Thunderbirds. I pray to the Phoenixes. As a man, I fly. I zoom.. or I drive my car lots. Sometimes I land to lie near my nest. Sometimes I roam to provide. Sometimes I groom to heal. I hear and feel and I act. Sometimes I’m too quick, sometimes too slow.

I really feel the Sun. Lately, I wake up before sunrise because I feel him stir. It’s a good time to be creative or to get ready to hunt. It’s a good time for mischief. Some Haudenosaunnee teachings say a man isn’t supposed to hunt while the woman he accompanies is pregnant. I didn’t listen to that one.

I still got the deer. But she wouldn’t eat it. So began a whole bunch of other disagreements. Wise men say that the women are always right. It’s true. I was about to explain why, then I backspaced. Us men have to be magicians to survive. We need our darkness and mystery. That’s where we find the gifts that we bring back to those we love. And women need that too.

We gender our 18 month old son by calling him our son. But he wears all colours and has all kinds of dolls. He learns to wrestle, sing, draw, sweep the floor and clean up after himself. Attachment parenting is intense and rewarding. We both cuddle him in bed and change his diapers.

What we both agree is that we want to raise our kids close to the land. We want them to speak Kanien’ke:ha and Anishinaabemowin, languages that weren’t passed on to us. We spent a part of our summer up at Nimkii Aazhibikong, an Ojibwe immersion camp near Serpent River First Nation. Our baby lived in a tent with us while everything was being built. He watched us work and was spoken lovingly to by Elders. He sat by the fire and ate and laughed with us all. He even took his first step in a wigwam!

We pow wowed, listened to the wolves, watched the stars, made art, peeled logs, put a roof on a kitchen. We went swimming in a waterhole and explored sacred sites. It was ace. Sometime after we got home we found out there was another baby on the way. Yeah we kinda knew. And then the fun wound down for caretaking time.

As a mixed Dietsch and Michif man, I loved it in the North. There were lots of aunties to help with the babe and kitchen and I was there to work hard to set things up. My warrior spirit grew strong. I am glad our babies were there. She is Haudenosaunnee, and she wanted to go home. I had to follow my babies.

So we are in her territory now, where things began. It’s a place where I walk lightly as a guest. I can’t wait to build a tiny home and take whoever wants to come back up North. For now, I am within calling distance because I never know when they will need me. My kids deserve to have a dad when they need me. For now, I work and putter and play to keep myself calm as dads tend to.

I was given my teachings for how to be a father by my Dad. His low-Germanic nature is loyal, providing, stern and steadfast. Gently absent from work and available for what matters. My Métis Mother and Uncle are vivaciously entertaining, nurturing and playful. Spontaneous and sparky. I am really glad to be alive and looked after by both sides of my family. Raising kids is intergenerational work. Grandparents are an essential backbone to tiny lives.

What I’ve learned about Haudenosaunnee society is that women are amazingly powerful, and mothers especially so. I am glad for this. I put tobacco down and am glad my son has almost always been near his mother while he is young. Sometimes I was jealous that he loved her so much. But I realize that this leaves me free to wander, to build good things around them, and to bring comfort when they need it.

My son loves to swim with me, to wrestle, climb things. He loves to sing and he loves to drum because I take him out to do these things. He loves to visit our dog and sometimes he pulls us in the stroller or toboggan. He spends time with his uncles as well, who watch over and teach him. One day I will hunt with my son too. For now, we go on walks together. Good men are needed to help raise kids. It is everyone’s job and I’m glad I’m not the only one.

I’m glad for every minute I get to spend with him. Everyday is hard and I think about him and the next one to come. Having kids is like weights that tie us to this Earth and make us care. Everything I do they inherit. Almost everything we do he copies. He is a funny, smart kid. I am full of love and gratitude. I’d write more, but it’s getting hard. If you met him in person he’d make you laugh.

I wish you all happy babies, if you want them. Happy, healthy sex lives. Cuddles. Fertility if you need it. Deer in your freezers. Strength if you’ve already got kids. A clear head if you don’t have any. Laughter and song if you’re stressed. Kids are part of our struggles. Miigwech to everyone who has welcomed ours in unconventional community spaces, at rallies and in music making. So many smiles make him know he is loved. Babies are village medicine meant to be shared.

Micheal Pyette
Michael Pyette is Dietsch from Saskatchewan and Michif from Manitowaning, Manidominis. Born and raised in Tkaronto, Onta:rio, he roams around the countryside and urban ravines learning to rewild and resist. Art and ceremony are essential healers that teach us how to be in the world. He is thankful for all influences, teachers, family and friends.

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).


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.”


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

How Organizers Can, and Do, Make Conferences Accessible for Parents and Caregivers

by Vikki Law

Originally Published by www.Rewire.News


I still remember the first Allied Media Conference (AMC) that my daughter and I attended. It was June 2008; I was in the final editing stages of my first book and wanted to start talking about resistance and organizing among women behind bars. My daughter, who was 7 years old and already experienced in children’s programming at various political events, was eager to check out the conference’s newly established “Kids’ Track” that offered a handful of age-appropriate workshops about different types of media.

So I pulled her out of school and we headed for Detroit to spend three days among media makers from across the country. While I attended a training for women of colour, she and the other kids learned about the basics of block printing. While I participated in a panel discussion about incarcerated women’s voices, she learned how to design and cut out stencils, then spray paint them safely wearing a respirator and latex gloves. In between these workshops, she and the other kids (and adults) had a chance to play and have unstructured fun. She cried when it was time to leave; she had made new friends, learned new skills, and had an amazing time.

We returned the next year and were amazed to see that the Kids’ Track had ballooned from three children (and an occasional baby) to nearly two dozen. Since then, the Kids’ Track has grown even more into the “Kids’ Practice Space,” with several workshops specifically for children.

The AMC isn’t the only conference working to ensure that people with children can attend. Though conference policies—and the conversations around them—continue to evolve, many recognize the importance of ensuring accessibility for parents, caregivers, and children, especially when organizing for social change. When this happens, it not only enables caregivers and kids to attend a conference, but sends the message that they are valued members of and contributors to larger movements.

The annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, entitled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is in its 31st year and has always provided child care.

“It’s not any harder than any other aspect of event planning,” Lucy Trainor, CLPP’s associate director, told Rewire. “It takes time and money to plan catering, it takes time and money to plan events, and it takes time and money to plan child care.” CLPP views accessibility as integral to its mission to fight for reproductive justice; thus, the conference not only offers child care, but also pays for speakers to travel with their children and, if necessary, pay for another adult to attend and help care for those children. “For us, it’s part of a larger commitment to access,” said Trainor, noting that the conference also provides financial support for speakers with disabilities to travel with their personal care attendants and language interpretation.

CLPP’s conference costs $285,000 to plan and produce. It takes place each year at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, which provides in-kind support, such as classrooms and lecture halls for the conference, as well as year-round office space. The college also allows conference organizers to draw on students for child care, which limits those expenses to only a few hundred dollars for supplies. But, said Trainor, “even if you do have to pay for child care, you budget for it.”

Facing Race, a three-day biannual conference dedicated to racial justice, does just that. Organizers have made sure to include child care in their budget since the 2010 conference in Chicago.

“A huge number of people in Facing Race are parents and caregivers,” explained Rosana Cruz, the organization’s leadership action network director. As the conference grew from 1,000 attendees in 2010 to more than 2,000 in 2016 (plus a waiting list of 500), organizers have pondered how to grow to accommodate families and caregivers. “After each conference, we think, ‘That was great, but we can do better,’” reflected Cruz.

For instance, she recalled that the 2014 conference did not have a room for nursing or pumping. As any parent who has ever breastfed can tell you, nursing or pumping requires a space that is quiet; a refrigerator is needed to store breast milk. This year’s conference included a breastfeeding and pumping room. “We also bought screens for privacy and rented refrigerators,” added Cruz. For the 2018 conference, organizers are thinking about expanding to offer programming for children and youth similar to the AMC’s Kids’ Practice Space.

The challenge for Facing Race, which takes place at a hotel in a different city every two years, is ensuring that accommodations work for children and caregivers. “We need to secure a space in a hotel room that’s big enough,” explained Cruz. The size of that space dictates how many children can be in child care. Child-care costs also include paying licensed and insured child-care providers as well as renting cribs and a projector to screen movies when a quieter activity is needed. But organizers see these efforts as integral to building their movement: “What makes it accessible is what makes it a great conference,” Cruz said.

“It’s a little extra brainwork for people who have never had to think about this,” Cruz, who is the parent of a teenager, reflected. “But if you’re determined, this is just a given. Just like you’d value amplified sound or a keynote speaker.” Plus, when put into the context of the entire conference, child-care costs are negligible; for Facing Race, organizers say paying child-care workers and buying supplies makes up less than half of 1 percent of the total conference.

AMC, meanwhile, costs more than $400,000 each year. Child care and the Kids’ Practice Space are only a fraction of that price tag, costing $1,400 and $2,500, respectively. The value of not only accessibility, but creating relationships with future media makers and movement builders, goes far beyond that fraction, Morgan Willis, the conference’s program director, said.

“The money comes next,” said Willis. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then you figure out the money.”

The AMC has never encountered hesitation from funders about child care and kids’ programming costs, which are explicit budget lines. Willis noted that, when seeking funding, AMC organizers explicitly talk about how accessibility—whether for people with disabilities or people traveling with children—can be expensive. “We articulate to grant makers what we’re asking for and why,” she explained. “We’ve never had pushback around accessibility. Funders have responded extremely well to that.”

When the Allied Media Conference began, she said, “none of us had kids. We weren’t thinking of ways to include kids; we were in our 20s.” While the conference has always offered child care, she recalled that the parents and caregivers in attendance pushed them to do more to include the youngest attendees in conference goings-on.

As the years went on and the Kids’ Track evolved into the Kids’ Practice Space, conference organizers, in turn, challenged presenters to make their content more accessible. “What does it look like when someone with very little experience is in your space?” mused Willis. “That’s where we received the greatest amount of pushback, from people used to traditional forms of presentation.” The pushback didn’t last long; instead, what ended up happening is that considering the presence of younger attendees encouraged speakers to present information more clearly, making it more accessible to everyone who attended, regardless of age.

Unlike CLPP, the AMC is not connected to the university where it takes place each year. But, Willis said, Wayne State University has never balked at having child care or kids’ programming on site. Of course, there were questions and concerns about liability, reflecting what Willis described as “a conception of kids exclusively as a liability,” but the conference and university administrators worked through it.

It’s not just conferences centered on social justice that make accommodations for caregivers and children. When Natalie DeYoung Ricci was asked to read her essay about death at this year’s BlogHer, a conference for women in social media, she was pregnant and expecting her first baby to be born the day of the conference. Knowing that first babies often arrive later than expected, she said yes with the caveat that she might not be able to attend. Rather than write her off, the conference organizers agreed to include her. Furthermore, they offered to have her Skype in from the hospital if she gave birth earlier.

Ricci’s son was born a week early. She contacted the organizers and asked if she could bring him. Not only were organizers willing to accommodate the new mother and infant, but they encouraged her to take as many breaks as she needed, bring him on stage with her, and bring her husband to take the baby from her if needed.

Exhausted from giving birth four days earlier, Ricci only stayed for her session. She said that not only organizers, but attendees welcomed her and her young son. The experience inspired her. “This is my first baby,” she told Rewire. “To know that I could still have a professional life outside of being a mother meant a lot to me.”

The experience also set her expectation that other conferences will be as flexible. “It demonstrates goodwill towards inclusivity of families,” she said. “Many writers struggle. Child care is not always affordable, or even an option.”

BlogHer does offer child care for attendees. “It’s very key for us,” Jenni Ottum, the public relations director of BlogHer’s parent company SheKnows Media, wrote in an email to Rewire. “We actually have a digital storytelling and a media literacy program called Hatch that takes place live during our conferences so kids have a place to go where they learn while their moms do the same thing.”

Some conferences are already seeing children return as teens and young adults ready to participate in the larger conference goings-on. Trainor has seen people who initially came to CLPP as children with their caregivers returning to participate in the larger conference as adults.

About one-third of the children and youth who attend the AMC return the following years. And now, conference organizers are beginning to read workshop proposals from people who first came as young children.

“We reached an interesting challenge in 2015 where the content for the Kids’ Practice Space was so good that the adults were knocking down the door,” recalled Willis. The number of adults crowded out children from attending two of the kids’ sessions. Another conference organizer asked, “Can we ask some of the adults to leave so kids can get in?”

Recalling that particular scenario, Willis added, “With over 350 sessions, you’d think you’d find something that wasn’t for kids!” But the popularity of the workshops indicated the quality of the programming offered to children and youth.

“I’m sure that there will be a very short time before we’ll be seeing people say, ‘I was 12 at the conference in Baltimore or Dallas and now I want to present my own workshop,’” reflected Facing Race’s Cruz.

The organizers of Facing Race, AMC, and CLPP see accessibility for families with children not only as essential, but, as Cruz puts it, an act that “pushes back against the rugged individualism that is a hallmark of white supremacy. So it’s not, ‘I don’t have kids’ or ‘I don’t need translation,’ so why should I pay for this? It’s ‘I love this conference because people who are monolingual, people who are deaf, people who have kids can come here.’”

They also note that, while child care is offered, none of the conferences require children to stay sequestered in separate spaces. “We think children deserve to be in these [conference] spaces,” said Trainor. “It’s positive to have younger members participating in these discussions. Children are not a distraction.”


Vikki Law
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist focusing on intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Her next book, Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative solutions that truly end mass incarceration.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.

Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

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.

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.

Intoxication Spaces

illustration of a person holding their heart and thought bubble showing a GPS pointed location

Mental Maps of Substance Use

by Clementine Morrigan

      Space is not natural or neutral. It is designed and mapped in particular ways. These dominant maps are colonial, racist, ableist, queerphobic, (trans)misogynist and capitalist. These dominant maps attempt to shape and control the way that space is used and who can use it. Superimposed onto these dominant maps are the mental maps of people who use space. These mental maps can reinforce the dominant maps by re-inscribing the intended use of space. They can also resist, subvert or undermine the dominant map by creating new meanings and uses of spaces. Intoxication culture is a dominant culutre which produces a particular standard of substance use, social drinking, as a norm which people are then expected to live up to. Intoxication culture has its dominant maps which shape space in order to encourage social drinking, and exclude or punish non-normative relationships to substances such as active addiction, specific forms of drug use and sobriety. The dominant maps of intoxication culture have especially harmful consequences for Black, Indigenous and people of colour substance users. Reflecting on my own history of active addiction and current sobriety, from the position of a white settler, I note how two very different mental maps are produced, and how these maps differ from the dominant map of intoxication culture. The mental maps of non-normative substance users are superimposed over the dominant map of intoxication culture, revealing that our relationships to substance use shape our relationships to space.

     In the introduction to Race, Space and The Law, entitled “When Place Becomes Race” Sherene Razack (2002) suggests that we can  “reject the view that spaces simply evolve, are filled up with things, and exist either prior to or separate from the subjects who imagine and use them” (p. 8). Rather than understanding space as natural and neutral, which is a colonial imagining intended to justify violence, Razack (2002) suggests that space be understood, in Lefebvre’s terms, as “perceived, conceived and lived” (p. 9). Thinking of space as perceived allows us to consider the everyday uses and practices which shape space. Understanding space as conceived allows us to think of space as intentionally designed by planners, architects and governments. Reflecting on space as lived allows us to consider the ways that users of space interpret the perceived and conceived uses of space in order to create meanings of space. Razack’s (2002) analysis of space helps us to understand that space is not simply ‘there’ but is created through intentional design, everyday practice, interpretation and representation. Space is conceived in the interests of colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism and ableism. Users of space interact with the conceived or intended uses of space, perceiving space in their own ways and living their own meanings of space into being. These meanings can reinforce, undermine, resist or confirm the intended use of space as it was conceived.

     In “Narratives of Place: Subjective and Collective” Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthillette and Yolanda Retter (1997) suggest that “there are maps that report the physical geography of a landscape and more subjective maps that exist ‘in our heads’” (p. 55). Following Razack, I argue that the maps which report the physical geography are no more objective than the maps which exist ‘in our heads’. Physical geography, as Razack (2002) explains, is conceived in particular ways. It is useful, however, to note the differences between these dominant maps and the mental maps which exist ‘in our heads’. Mental maps map what Razack (2002) refers to as lived space. They are maps which vary from person to person, though members of particular communities and social locations will experience similarities in their mental maps. These maps lay out the ways in which users of space navigate and negotiate with the dominant maps. Ingram, Bouthillette and Retter (1997) write “Each person’s ‘map’ is usually part autobiography, part mythology, and part the embodiment of tensions concerning forms of marginality, such as sexual politics, gender, race, ethnicity, or culture” (p. 56). Mental maps allow us to understand how the same space may be experienced entirely differently by different people. They reveal “‘differential cognition’ of the same places and different ‘affinities’” (Ingram et al, 1997, p. 59).

     Dominant maps set out the conceived and intended uses of space. Within intoxication culture, space is conceived in particular ways with relation to substance use. In Towards A Less Fucked Up World: Sobriety and Anarchist Struggles Nikita Riotfag (2010) defines intoxication culture as “a set of institutions, behaviours, and mindsets centered around consumption of drugs and alcohol” (p. 4).  Intoxication culture is a culture in which people are expected to partake in a particular type of substance use, social drinking, and are excluded or punished for other relationships to substances such as active addiction, certain types of drugs use or sobriety. The standard of normative consumption, and the construction of non-normative consumption, will shift and change depending on context and social location. For example, drinking to the point of drunkenness is acceptable on a Friday or Saturday night but not on a Tuesday morning. Also, white youth drinking in a park might receive a warning from police while Black, Indigenous or otherwise racialized youth may experience criminal charges, incarceration or police violence for the same activity. A joint may be acceptable to pass around at a party and still be considered normative consumption, a crack pipe would not. The shifting construction of ‘normative consumption’ produces different mental maps of spaces of intoxication. The dominant map of intoxication culture is a map which privileges white settlers and criminalizes the same behavior for Black, Indigenous and other racialized people.

     In “It Can’t Be Fixed Because It’s Not Broken: Racism and Disability in the Prison Industrial Complex” Syrus Ware, Joan Ruzsa and Giselle Dias (2015) discuss the 2011 passing of Bill C10 also known as the “Safe Streets and Community Act” in Canada. This bill is made up of nine separate bills including the “Penalties for Organized Drug Crimes Act.” Ware, Ruzsa and Dias (2015) write “[f]or the first time ever, changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act included new mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking, import/export, and production” (p. 23). These laws illustrate the ways in which non-normative substance users, specifically Black, Indigenous and other racialized addicts and drug users are punished and harmed under intoxication culture. As Ware, Ruzca and Dias (2015) point out “these laws predominantly target people most marginalized, including those who are poor, Indigenous or racialized drug users” (p. 23). For these non-normative substance users who fall outside of intoxication culture’s standard of normative consumption, mental maps of intoxication often include targeting by the police, surveillance and incarceration within the Prison Industrial Complex. While all non-normative substance users experience some form of consequence under intoxication culture, the consequences are not the same and produce very different mental maps.

     While walking in the Queen Street West neighborhood and thinking through the intersections of space, mental mapping and intoxication culture, I am struck by my awareness of two overlapping mental maps. Currently, it is day time and I am using the space as it is designed to be used. I am running errands, shopping, engaging in capitalist consumption. I engage with the space as it is mapped. I hurry past crowds of window shoppers, moving from store to store to spend money. Yet, out of the corner of my eye, I am aware of another map. Years ago, I used this same space for very different purposes. During my years of active alcoholism, this space carried different meanings and had a different mental map. Markers on my alcoholic mental map of Queen Street West included: coffee shops that let me use the washroom without buying anything, alleyways I could get away with pissing in, good and contested spots for panhandling, likely places to pick up weed, parks where the police frequented, parks where the police were less likely to come by, places to pass out where I was more or less likely to be sexually assaulted, the ‘sally van’ spot where we could access free food, bars I was banned from though I didn’t usually drink in bars, and of course, the Wine Rack, the Beer Store and the nearest LCBO.

     This mental map of my alcoholic use of the space is not the intended or sanctioned map. At the same time, my alcoholic mental map is not the only mental map of non-normative substance use. My alcoholic mental map is shaped by my social locations: my whiteness and my position as a settler mean that my experience of policing was extremely minimal compared to Black, Indigenous and people of colour substance users, my experience of being read as a woman means that my alcoholic mental map includes consideration of sexual violence, my position as a street involved alcoholic with mental health issues produces a different alcoholic mental map than that of an alcoholic who drinks in the clubs or bars of the area. Now that I am three and a half years sober, I no longer use my alcoholic mental map, but it remains in my mind, superimposed over this sanctioned map of capitalist consumption.

    My sobriety does not mean, however, that I have come into alignment with the dominant maps of intoxication culture. As it gets later in the evening, Queen Street West ceases to be a space of shopping and transforms into a space of drinking. The bars which line the streets become the only sanctioned spaces to socialize. Social drinking, meaning controlled drinking under socially sanctioned circumstances, becomes the expected and demanded activity. As a sober alcoholic, the space becomes a mental map of exclusion. I cannot partake in the activities which the space is designed for. The coffee shops close early and if you aren’t drinking or comfortable being around large amounts of drinking, there are few places to go. My mental map of sobriety is entirely different from my alcoholic mental map. It includes: bars I don’t feel safe or welcome in, events consistently including drinking resulting in my leaving early or not going at all, finding the few coffee shops which are open later, an awareness of the 12 step meetings happening in the area and a recognition of other people in 12 step recovery programs who I see on the street, share knowing looks with and pass in respect for anonymity. Again, my mental map of sobriety is different from the mental maps of other sober people due to a number of factors including the reasons for our sobriety, whether or not we attend 12 step meetings, practice another form of recovery, or remain sober in other ways, and how comfortable we feel around drinking. My mental map of sobriety, while strikingly different from my alcoholic mental map, is simultaneously quite similar. Both maps are superimposed on the dominant map of intoxication culture. Both maps require navigating and negotiating with space that was mapped to exclude me.

     Space is not simply ‘there’, organically evolving into what it happens to be. Space is conceived of and produced in particular ways in service of colonialism, racism, ableism, queerphobia, (trans)misogyny and capitalism. As Razack (2002) explains, space is conceived with intended purpose, perceived through daily experience and lived as a negotiation with and interpretation of conceived and perceived uses of space. As Ingram, Bouthillette and Retter (1997) point out, mental maps map subjective experience of space based on social location and lived experience. These mental maps can affirm, resist, undermine or re-inscribe the dominant maps. Intoxication culture has its own dominant maps. Non-normative substance users who are excluded or punished by intoxication culture have mental maps which do not align with the dominant maps of intoxication spaces. For Black, Indigenous and other racialized non-normative substance users the consequences are most severe and the mental maps of intoxication spaces may include the Prison Industrial Complex. I have reflected on my own experience as a white settler non-normative substance user, first as an active alcoholic, then as a sober alcoholic. My experiences reveal two very different mental maps, neither of which aligns with the dominant map of intoxication culture. These maps are only two examples of the vast number of mental maps which are produced through normative and non-normative relationships to substances. Thinking through substance use in terms of mental mapping reveals that our relationships to substances shape our relationships to space.




  1. Ingram, G.B., Bouthillette, A., & Retter, Y. (1997). Narratives of place: Subjective and collective. Queers in space: Communities, public places, sites of resistance (55-61). Bay Press.
  2. Morrigan, C. & geoff (2015).  Deconstructing intoxication culture: Community, accessibility and sober spaces. Retrieved from http://clementinemorrigan.com/deconstructing-intoxication-culture-community-accessibility-and-sober-spaces/
  3. Razack, S. (2002). When place becomes race. Race, space and the law: Unmapping a white settler society (1-20). Toronto: Between the Lines.
  4. Riotfag, N. (2010). Towards A Less Fucked Up World: Sobriety and Anarchist Struggle. Self-published.
  5. Ware, S, Ruzsa, J. & Dias, G. It can’t be fixed because it’s not broken: Racism and disability in the prison industrial complex. Captive genders: Trans embodiment and the prison industrial complex (1-42). AK Press.


Clementine Morrigan
Clementine Morrigan is a queer femme sober-addict witch, writer and artist. They are a white settler living on colonized land known as Toronto, Turtle Island. Clementine’s work spans genres and mediums, including essays, poetry, creative non-fiction, zines, illustration, short film, self-portraiture and sculpture. All of their work aims to undermine hierarchies of knowledge production by blurring distinctions between art, academia and DIY culture making. More can be found at www.clementinemorrigan.com

Creative Resistance: A Healer’s Guide to the Next Four Years

illustration of mason jar

By Karen L. Culpepper

Greetings and much love coming to you from the Washington, DC metropolitan area (also known as the DMV). As you may have heard, we have a new president in town and my, my, my what a time it is to be a healer. At Freed Bodyworks, a space committed to radical inclusion for every body, my schedule is usually fully committed and I am holding space for more and more folks these days as both an herbalist and a bodyworker. On the one hand, there is a general sense of clarity and solidarity amongst communities that I am affiliated with as a healer. However, from the practitioner perspective, I am witnessing a great deal of grief, anxiety and uncertainty as I continue to do my work in the world.

Here are a few pearls and concepts that I have harvested from holding space for folks since the election in November and how I plan on tending to myself as a heart centered healer.

Tend to all of your bodies

In my role as a bodyworker, I am very appreciative that I am able to take my time and have a conversation with each client about how they are feeling in their bodies. Yes, that’s correct. We have multiple bodies, which include: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual body. In my observation, what shows up in the physical body is usually the result of an upset in one of the other bodies.

For example, the other day I worked with a client that came in with discomfort in their shoulder, which had shown up previously from overuse. When they came in, they were guarding the shoulder to prevent further injury by limiting the range of motion. Towards the end of our intake, they casually mentioned that they had a heated discussion with a family member that had created some upset mentally and emotionally. I decided to include cupping during the session, specifically on the back and around both shoulders. At the end of the session, they felt very relaxed and I mentioned that the gallbladder can have referred pain around the shoulder and part of the gall bladder meridian runs near the shoulder. The next day upon check in, they felt better in their body, their shoulder felt relief with less discomfort upon movement and they had a larger than normal bowel movement that morning. I was impressed at the results of the cupping and thankful that their body decided to let some things go.

How do you tend to all of your bodies? Here are a few ideas on how to tend to each essential layer.

Physical body: Mineral dense food to feed your cells and higher self. Schedule a massage. Try energy work. Sensual touch. Hydrate with clean water, fresh juices and mineral rich teas like nettles and red raspberry leaf.

Mental body: Unplug from the electronics. Sit in silence. Create healthy boundaries. Schedule a talk therapy session, if it serves. Purchase a coloring book and a nice set of markers and embrace your inner child. Perform self scalp massage with warm sesame oil.

Emotional body: Laugh until your belly shakes. Design your mood every day by choosing it. Ask for help and check in with folks if you are in breakdown. Dance. Connect with plants and nature. Breathe deeply. Purchase a few essential oils that resonate with you to reset your mood and clear the energy in your spaces.

Spiritual body: Design and practice self care rituals. Remove yourself from the presence of toxic people, places and things. Discover crystals that resonate with you and have them on you for protection or rejuvenation. Soak in healing spiritual baths.

Do YOUR work

I am blessed to work with an amazing team of activists and practitioners. I also have the honor of holding space for clients in the social justice realm, which includes: artists, activists, educators and healers, who are actively and tirelessly showing up in their prospective movements. I am saddened when I hear about a lack of vitality and the health breakdowns in this population as a result of not putting their own oxygen masks on first. Some folks are so invested in the movement, yet are emotionally unavailable for their loved ones or can brilliantly strategize a plan of action, yet cannot work through personal issues. Liberate yourself FIRST. Take the time to work through those unresolved challenges at home and in the personal realm. Trust and believe, it will rear its head. I have a wonderful colleague who held space as a facilitator for a group to work through their organizational challenges. The main source of the upset: personal matters were showing up and getting in the way of an entire local movement. Get off the ego stuff and do the shadow work for the sake of those closest to you and your movement.

The mind creates the clutter

Be aware of your thoughts and words. In graduate school I learned the following two concepts, which I still use with clients today: “we word our worlds into being” and “there is what is so, and the story you make up around what is so.” When we speak into someone’s listening, we are creating our reality. Be mindful of statements such as “this headache is killing me” and the infamous “I can’t” because my response is usually “ok you just decided you won’t, now what?” With your speaking, are you choosing to design a small world with limitations or a large world full of possibility? What is so is this: in November 2016, a new president was elected into office in the United States. Now you pick a story about what is so because there are so many to choose from at this point. My request is to use your word medicine wisely.

Note to Self: stay in formation

In the words of Erykah Badu “who gave you permission to rearrange me? Certainly not me.” Do NOT join in on the suffering of others. That is not your game plan and that is not your battle to fight. As a practitioner, I will not create the capacity to join in on the suffering of others. As a bodyworker, I trust my guides to lead me to the places in the body where there is holding and resistance and create space for the client to just be; perfect, whole and complete as they are. As an herbalist, my intention is for spirit to guide me to the plants that will best serve in the moment and create ease and transformation for the client. My gifting is to hold space for your highest self to come through and express itself in the biggest way possible.

Pleasure and self care as acts of resistance

Guess what I did for the first time ever this year? I created the fiercest, juiciest sex goals with sex educator Lisa Swinney of Afrosexual. She introduced a concept that blew my mind away: pleasure as an act of resistance. Many of our ancestors did not have a say about aspects of their bodies, specifically in the realm of reproduction. As a result, I am choosing to invite more fun into my life (and bedroom). My high school sweetheart and I have 24 years of beautiful partnership and the thought of creating space for higher vibrations, more spontaneity, healing and deeper connection in the form of sex majick brings healing, joy and pleasure into all of my bodies.

Self care is an integral part of my practice. When I neglect self care, I do not feel well in my bodies at all. I created a clearing spray and a protection spray for use on clients and in between each session to shift the energy in the treatment room. I have personal clearing rituals at the beginning and end of my work shifts. I create boundaries and cutoff times for communication with the outside world once I get home. I do head to toe spiritual baths, which include salts, herbs and my home made florida water. Please take any of these sacred steps (and create your own) and apply them to protect and preserve your energy so that you may come to the table more fully.

My movement is in mason jars

The two things that have never let me down are my spirit guides and plant spirit medicine. I set the intention to drink quarts of herbal tea every day because it literally sustains my vitality. Tea is an ancient and very simple ritual. It helps create pause and invites patience and beauty into the day. I currently have two different tea blends in rotation. First is my heart space tea, which is a combination of organic red rose petals, holy basil, hawthorn leaf and flowers and damiana and it helps me stay grounded in and connected to compassion. My other favorite blend is my holy basil chai, which is a combination of holy basil, cinnamon chips, dried ginger root, cardamom pods and ground cloves and is a source of wonderful, warm aromatics that help me stay focused on the tasks for the day.

In the face of change and uncertainty, let us not forget the sacrifices of our ancestors, the strength of community and the wisdom and resilience of the spirit. Right after the election I got so clear and connected with my work in the world: I am space holder for healers to heal and do their work in the world. That is my offering, medicine and movement. What is your medicine? What is your balm that will bring soothing and healing to your communities? Create space to figure it out and do it with all your heart. We need you. Right now. In this moment.

Karen L. Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist and licensed massage therapist in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.  She can be reached at embracingrhythm27@gmail.com.