Two spirit & QPOC creatives write back

Survival, celebration, representation

Conference organizers Dr. Chantal Fiola and Dr. Sharanpal Ruprai

Photo by Naniece Ibrahim

On October 20-22, 2017, the University of Winnipeg hosted a weekend conference, “C2C: Two-Spirit (2S) & QPOC (queer People of Colour): A Call to Conversation with LGBT and Allies.” Organized by Drs. Chantal Fiola and Sharanpal Ruprai, the conference and offsite events saw over 200 local and out-of-town participants and speakers/performers.

On the final day of the conference, a room of engaged participants attended the Creative Practice panel moderated by Dr. Jenny Heijun Wills. Panellists Gwen Benaway, Rosanna Deerchild, Hiromi Goto, and Syrus Marcus Ware were asked to “share their dreams for their communities and strategies for engagement with art and writing to empower and center 2S people and QPOC,” the program states.

Visual artist Syrus Marcus Ware explained his portrait series as “activist aesthetics,” which is “fundamentally a work of love.” Through representation, large scale and thoughtful process, he subverts a traditional art form and interrupts the ways in which portraiture has been raced and classed. Both his portrait series and his Activist Love Letters project recognize organizing work to “promote the survival of people who put their lives on the line.”

Although other panellists spoke mainly about writing, several common themes emerged, such as survival, celebration and representation.

When Hiromi Goto described the resulting loss of power to violence, she said that she uses her creative practice “to write back” and transform shame.

“Writing back speaks to that moment when power was unvoiced to me,” she says. “I can reclaim that moment and shape that moment.”

Goto spoke to the importance of representation and stated that reading and writing have saved her life.

“When we see an image of ourself in stories, it’s a celebration,” she says. “You’re important, and there’s a place for you in this world. I will keep on peopling my stories until this balance is met.”

Dr. Wills pointed out that writing back affirms 2S people and QPOC as “subjects in their own narratives, rather than objects in others’ stories.”

2S people and QPOC are channelling their creativity for education, storytelling, coping, community building and intimacy.

These processes explore identity and fragmentation. They are an act of resistance, responding to and destabilizing oppression.

“Writing is extremely empowering, and it’s also a relationship to the past, which also moves forward into the future,” Goto says. “I think of writing and art as time-travel devices.”

Gwen Benaway spoke of her profound connection to writing and how it is a process of becoming.

“We show ourselves as whole, vibrant, beautiful and try to author – to create ourselves into being. When we create these stories of ourselves to be loved, that’s a prayer,” she says.

Benaway also spoke of the need to complicate the conversation on representation and “include more nuance.” Her experience as a Two-Spirit woman has meant mostly reading trans authors and Indigenous authors, but her goal is to push Indigeneity and transness/transfemininity together.

This challenge of being fragmented is a common one for 2S people and QPOC. Many people have found their POC families and communities to not be as accepting of their queerness, and yet many LGBTQ+ communities are overwhelmingly white-centric.

Rosanna Deerchild spoke about searching for community as she came into her sexuality and how her butch Indigenous peers opened the path of Two-Spiritedness. She explained the power of love in her creative process.

“The love of poetry is fed by love of the self. When you have that kind of community holding you up, you can’t fall.”

The panellists agreed that when channeling creativity, the form is derived by the content/goal of the work.

“Poetry is where I bring all of me and can be my most authentic self and give myself to … Poetry is ceremony. That’s my song. That’s my spirit. That is where I feel safest creating myself and dividing myself,” Deerchild says.

Benaway admitted that, while poetry is her first love, she has turned to essay writing to fill gaps of education about transmisogyny and violence, particularly around intimacy between trans girls and cis men.

Goto explained that different forms allow for different things. She lightheartedly said she has “recently turned to horror, which is probably a response to the times we find ourselves in.”

A creative practice is vital to processing and transforming injustice.

It is important for people to speak their truth and share it with others, like all the speakers of the Creative Practice panel and all the performers of the weekend’s QTPOC Drop the Mic on Oct. 20 and the Red Rising Magazine launch on Oct. 21.

When Deerchild spoke about how it is difficult to find representation in literature and art, she explained the vitality of having her bookshelves full of authors who are queer/trans and/or Indigenous/ People of Colour.

“When we trade stories, it’s like trading skin. I’m hungry for that, and I’m still looking to community to fill that empty place,” she says.

An important step for white and cisgender heterosexual allies is to continually read, show up and learn solidarity strategies, and to support and appreciate 2S and QPOC labours – creative, emotional and organizing – both seen and unseen.

Holding Benaway’s advice, it is also important to examine privilege within 2S and QPOC communities so that better solidarity can happen and so that love, humility and compassion are fostered in order to protect those who are made most vulnerable from systemic oppression.

Moving forward from a weekend of nourishment, passion, generosity and challenging new frameworks, let us continually rework our feminisms. We must carefully unpack the complexities of being and relating to one another. We must witness each other and hold space for one another.

Love, after all, is the cornerstone of the movement, connecting us, healing us, filling us. Alex Wilson, another conference speaker, made striking remarks that echo Goto’s statements about time travel.

“Love is the continuity of energy that connects the now to the past,” Wilson says.

Hold on to these sentiments. Keep time travelling. Keep loving and writing and reading and making art.

Footage from the Creative Practice panel and other panels has been recorded by Amanda Kindzierski and crew. It will be open to the public in the Two-Spirit Archives at the UWinnipeg Library.

Published in Volume 72, Number 8 of The Uniter (November 2, 2017)

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