I’m Queer And Indigenous, NOT Two Spirit

*Disclaimer* This is my personal understanding and relationship with the term Two-Spirit as an Anishinaabe Kwe. This is not to negate anyones choice to use the term to reclaim identity NOR should it be used to invalidate, erase or shame Indigenous peoples use of the word.

I’m Queer and Indigenous. I write that and can already hear the whispers of “two spirit” from the non-Indigenous folks who have learned the word in their latest women and gender studies class. The ou’s and ah’s as white gays get ready to use my existence as justification for theirs. “See, WE’VE always been here on these lands!” Sorry white man who will surely get screams of “yaassss queen” from their fellow white gays, No, YOU haven’t always been here. And while we’re at it, your use of the resilience of Indigenous Queer communities through colonization is at the bare minimum insulting, and at its height, is the erasure of the continued genocide and colonization of these lands that you contribute to. Now that might seem harsh, but too often are Indigenous bodies, and more specifically with the rise of decolonizing everything, Queer Indigenous bodies have been used as talking points to get rights for literally everyone else but us. Adding 2S to the end or beginning of LGBTQ+ doesn’t erase your complacency in our oppression. But nonetheless here you are putting a label on me, that to be absolutely honest is not a label I personally want as an Anishinaabe Kwe, and I’m going to explain why.

art work by https://twitter.com/CitrusButch/status/1205221785014173701

The first time I heard the term “two spirit” was not while sitting cross-legged on the floor of a tipi in front of a fire as I’m sure many folks envisioned my welcoming into Indigenous Queerness looking like. I mean for one, Anishinaabeg didn’t and don’t use tipi’s (no matter how many of them pop up on our territories) and secondly sexuality and gender didn’t have the same significance in our communities as it does now. I actually heard it for the first time from a Jewish man sitting at a booth during Toronto pride when I was 21. I was walking around with a rainbow flag that had a pair of feathers in the centre, and he asked me if I was Native. When I replied yes he went “omg so you’re two spirit!” With it being more of a statement and less of a question and me not wanting to be embarrassed for not knowing a term from my own community I nodded, smiled and said “yes!” I really didn’t think of the term again until I was in university and started hearing it being used by non-Indigenous folks in my classes as they discussed Queer history, pre-colonization. I heard folks explain that the term referred to someone who held two spirits within them, both the masculine and the feminine. This of course confused me because from the teachings I had received from Elders, every single one of us carries both of these energies within. We can’t function without it, we need a balance of both. Or how it was once explained to me, was that we all are like the big drum, without the stand the drum will fall, without the drum the stand will fall. Thus making all of us “two spirit.” Then in another space I heard that it solely referred to Trans Indigenous folks. Since I didn’t and don’t identify as Trans, it really didn’t make sense for me to utilize the term. Later that year I had brought a Trans woman to a moon ceremony after she had asked if she could attend, she referred to herself as “two spirit” and so I asked my Elder what her role was in ceremony. It soon became clear that what the Elder understood as “two spirit” and what we understood as “two spirit” were two VERY different things. For the Trans woman I had brought to the ceremony, she wasn’t looking for a sacred role in the space, she just wanted to know if she could participate like any other woman would.

And this is where applying terms in a pan-Indigenous way can cause harm and confusion for those of us navigating the world as Queer Indigenous peoples. The term “two spirit” isn’t a traditional one. I’m sure you’ve seen it written in the Anishinaabemowin language, “Niizh Manidoo” which is the literal translation. But the term was created during the 3rd annual Gay and Lesbian Powwow that took place in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1990. Historically Queer Indigenous peoples were referred to as “berdaches” a term used by the Jesuits which loosely translates to “prostitute.” I get why the term needed to be created, there are various reasons as to why. I think for most of us searching for something to identify with, a term the encompasses all of who we are, terms like Queer, Lesbian and Gay don’t necessarily fit. They often times feel colonial and imposed on us. On top of that, a lot of us don’t know or have access to our languages to use the terms that were traditionally used for Queer folks in our communities. Colonization cut those ties, and if we’re being honest, erased a lot of the terms and teachings we had around those identities. I struggled and continue to struggle with this myself. It’s a double edged sword. The popularization of the word in academia and “woke” political circles has lead to false narratives around the role of Queer folks in Indigenous communities on a larger scale. White academics who don’t understand the numerous, distinct and complex differences between nations, cultures and languages, have painted communities with one Queer friendly brush. Not every community had a term for what we see now as “two-spirit” people, not all of them had sacred roles within communities and not all of them were healers or medicine people.

On a positive note, the term “two-spirit” has also made room for us to have these conversations in the first place. Its creating space and dialogue in academic settings and is allowing young Indigenous Queer youth a place to start when they don’t necessarily know where to go or begin. To me the term is powerful for those who identify with it, you can ask every single Queer and 2S person what the term means to them and we will all give you a different definition. The term was created by and for Indigenous Queer folks living on what as Anishinaabeg, we see as Turtle Island. And not one definition is more right than the other. I support those who wish to use the term and define it in which ever way make sense to them in their Indigenous world view.

When I realized 2S wasn’t the term for me and that Queer still felt like too tight of a box to squeeze me in, I turned to my friend and knowledge keeper Caleb Musgrave. Caleb is someone i’ve turned to many times for teachings and understandings of the language and I was hoping he would be able to help me locate the term that we as Anishnaabeg would have traditionally used for Queer people within community. He had no such term, Caleb explained to me that sexuality wasn’t of importance to us as Anishinaabeg, not like it is now or in colonial eurocentric societies. We had many discussions about how language wasn’t gendered, and he explained to me that terms that seemed binary like “kwe” or “nini” actually had to do more with one’s roles and characteristics then it did with what was between their legs. So it made sense that if gender didn’t matter then why would who I sleep with be of any importance to anyone. I also spoke with Anishinaabe Elder and language speaker, Mawla Shawana, looking for a term that may fit. The closest thing he could give me was “kwewan bashiigwaan” which essentially translates to “woman who bothers with other women,” I mean technically accurate but not exactly what I was going for. Needless to say there just wasn’t a word in the Anishinaabemowin language that could describe my sexual preference. And I realized the more I looked into the languages of other nations, neither really did they. Most of what I could find, were terms for Gender fluid and Trans folks, and that specifically, once again, is more about their roles within community then them actually being someone who has transitioned. Hence the confusion during the full moon ceremony I spoke of earlier.

I recently attended an event where I was invited to speak about language and gender and the way the colonial imposition of gender on my language has changed the way we understand ourselves. As I was waiting to go up and do my presentation I was introduced as “two-spirit,” and if im being honest, instantly felt my stomach sink. Not due to any internalized homophobia or disdain for the word, but for the simple fact that it feels wrong, that it feels like im being given a title and a role that I do not hold or deserve. In a video interview conducted by Centennial College, Oji-Cree and Two-Spirit Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby talks about the roles of 2S people in the Anishinaabeg community. To be 2S meant that you were not only a medicine person, but also a foster parent to any child who had lost their parents, you took care of and watched sacred fires, you decided which roles others in the community would take on, the list goes on and is endless. To me as an Anishnaabe Kwe, to be 2S is more of an honourable role within community than just a simple title referring to gender or sexual identity. It also doesn’t necessarily refer to Trans folks who wish to live as either a Kwe or Nini and take on those individual roles. There were terms, “ikwekanaazo, meaning ‘one who endeavors to be like a woman. Women who functioned as men were called ininiikaazo, meaning, one who endeavors to be like a man.” and even that has been translated through colonial understanding of language. But we had them, and they mattered because they were often roles gifted through dreams by creator. 

However, these terms don’t describe me. At least not right now, during this part of my life. I’m just a young Indigenous Queer woman. And I hope one day I can truly “decolonize” my identity and drop the Queer part because for my community and my people, that never mattered. One day I can just be Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele, To Carry The Ceremony. But for now I’ll settle for the word the feels closest to right. Which is Queer, it allows me to identify with a community I hold dear to my heart without limiting my sexuality in the way other terms might. And while Queer still feels a little off, I can keep searching for a term that fits, I just know “two-spirit” isn’t it. This doesn’t mean that we should get rid of the term, it doesn’t mean that its good or bad, and it doesn’t mean that how I feel about it is right or wrong. Like any term we create to define ourselves, it’s all about how you personally feel about it. What does “two-spirit” mean to you as an Indigenous person? So, for young, old and in between Indigenous folks navigating a colonial world that works to erase all that you are, whether you identify as Queer, Two-Spirit or just yourself, you are valid in all that you are.

So the next time you meet another Indigenous Queer person, ask them first if it’s a term that feels right to them before mislabelling them in an attempt to be an ally. Remember that their personal definition of what “two-spirit” means is what matters. And for Creators sake, stop using us as your stamp of gay approval to combat the bigotry that your community brought here.

When Daughters Have to Be Strong for Their Mothers.

*Disclaimer* This piece is not in relation to shouldering of responsibility by children nor toxic or abusive relationships between daughters and their mothers. 

I knew I had to write about this the second the idea popped into my head, and yet still it feels like a betrayal to write about it. I can start off by saying I love my mother. She is my whole world, and I legitimately don’t know how I would survive without her. I can’t even imagine a life without her in it. She’s funny, and kind and is the type of mom that will love you to the point of embarrassment. She can cook like nobody’s business and at times will ride for her children until the wheels fall off. And yet, over the last 3 or so years a part of me has come to resent her. It bubbles up in my chest and chokes me. It ties my hands behind my back and cages my empathy. And the more I think about it the angrier I get, and not at myself for feeling this way but at her. At her for being anything other than what my mind has built her up to be. A super mom.

As small children our parents seem larger than life to us. Superheroes that can do anything, with superhuman strength, speed and eyes in the back of their heads. They provide for us, hold us when we’re scared and fight off the villains, real and fake. Our mothers though, take on a role that our fathers can only aspire to be. They’re the backbone of the family, they’re the glue that keeps us together and the constant in our lives. We all lean on her, she’s the rock through a storm and the unwavering champion on our darkest days. And despite these being the thoughts and convictions of a child, the reality is, we never grow out of this. Society won’t allow us. Whether you have a mother in your life or not, society tells us over and over again, that a woman isn’t a good mother unless she perpetuates and lives up to all of the above mentioned characteristics. We’re shocked as a society and community when we hear about mother’s who have “failed” their children. Those not “strong” enough to be just that, strong. Those who choose to leave, who have addictions, who have traumas that they can’t hide. Men on the other hand, can stop being fathers at any moment, and we’ll shrug it off, chalk it up to men being men and move on. We expect the mother to stay when this happens. To be resolute in the face of abandonment, to pick up and continue on with life. A mother must be able to do it all. Raise children on their own, provide a roof over their head, work a full time job, keep the house clean and all while never taking a break. And let the father be in the child’s life, we’ll then there really is no excuse is there?

So what happens when the facade falls away? When a woman, is simply that, a woman. When the cracks begin to show? Is it really like a superhero movie. Superman takes off his suit, puts on some glasses and we realise its Clark Kent this whole time? Batman takes off his mask to reveal Bruce Wayne standing beneath it. The illusion breaking. We realise they’re people just like the rest of us. If only mothers were afforded that opportunity. But the reality is they are not. Being a mother is a 24/7 job they say. So what happens to the woman behind the title? Does she just cease to exist? And what if the weight of the world becomes too much to bare? Do we just stand by and watch as she becomes crushed beneath it? Sometimes I wonder if the story of Atlas was really about the story of a mother. Forced to hold the world on her shoulders for all of eternity without ever being able to take a break. Even if a woman is a “deadbeat mother,” She is still not able to move away from that ideology of motherhood. I don’t know how many times ive heard the comment “how can a mother give birth to a child and not want them?” I’ve often asked myself the same question, a question that’s rarely asked of men. And it’s because we expect men to be weak when it comes to any kind of human connection. Boys will be boys and men will be men. They need time to grow and change into the man we need them to be. And when they can’t, or when it takes longer than it should, well…. A woman will be there to hold things down until he can. 

It’s that similar way of thinking that then gets applied to daughters. And what are future daughters? Future mothers. This idea of a never ending supply of strength and endurance is applied to little girls and grown women alike. We oftentimes shoulder some of that weight. We help to raise younger siblings, we cook, we clean and sometimes we pay the bills. We’re the first ones to get kicked out and the last ones to receive understanding, empathy and second chances. Unlike our brothers who are given time to grow, learn and change. It is a never ending cycle of pain and endurance, passed down from mother to daughter through generations, across class and race lines. And at some point our mothers move the world off of one of their shoulders to make room for us to slide under and take the remaining weight onto one of ours. I hear it time and time again, from generations of women. This underlying resentment that they have towards their mothers for having to shoulder the world alongside them. And the resentment is even more present when they are forced to take the entire weight of the world themselves. 

I really started to think about this when I was watching Love & Hiphop LA the other night. One of the members of the cast had asked the question “why do I have to be strong for my mother? Isn’t it her responsibility to be strong for me?” I can tell you I don’t know how many times I had and have thought this myself. Since when did I become the shoulder to lean on? The arms to cry in with the strength to endure? 

My mom was always the strongest person to me. I aspired to be like her. If only I could become half the woman she was. I took pride in the fact that she had the strength to walk away from my father when she caught him cheating. That while 6 months pregnant, with a 4 year old and new house she packed his bags and ended a marriage to a man who did not and would not love her the way she deserved. I watched for years after that as she stayed the pillar in my life, always fighting and choosing her children when their father would not. Not backing down from her convictions and closing the door on any man who could not or would not meet her right where she wanted to be met at. Even now as I write this I get chills from knowing that my mother was this woman. The sense of pride that swells my heart. But then that resentment builds up. Knowing that as of late that is no longer the mother that is presented before me. Instead I am met with a woman who weeps over the loss of a man, who bends to his will, who is seeking out love, who breaks down when she is stressed and who seems so much smaller to me now. She’s no longer the giant she once was and instead is the fragile woman who looks as though she needs to be scooped up and held. And im angry at her for it. I resent her for becoming this person. It’s like a bitter taste in my mouth. The empathy I once had for her has disappeared and I can’t bear to hear her cry. And not because my heart aches at the thought and sound of it but because I can’t stand the weakness in it.

I disgust myself just writing that. Admitting that this is how I feel about the woman who birthed me, who has fought for me, who has loved me deeply, it makes me sick to my stomach that this is how I repay her. So I wanted to understand why I felt this way. What turned me into this person? The type of person who feels this way about their mother. And the more I thought about it the more I realized that what I was really mad about was that my mother was being a human being. Here this woman was, morning the loss of a love, who was learning how to compromise, a woman who was looking for what we all look for, intimacy, companionship and support, a woman who had shouldered the weight of the world for an eternity and had finally felt the weight in her bones, so much so that she has now is crying out in pain. The illusion wasn’t that she isn’t a real mother but that she isn’t only a mother. She is a person with feelings, who has struggled much more than she ever should of had to. She’s still the same woman who left a cheating husband with a toddler while pregnant, I just wasn’t privy to the tears. She didn’t weep in front of me because as a 4 year old watch my world explode, she couldn’t show how devastated she was. When she stood her ground with men, she couldn’t explain to a 9 or 11 year old that she wouldn’t budge because her heart couldn’t take the pain of another heartbreak. When she was worried about what bills to pay and how to feed her children, she couldn’t confide in a 14 year old. And when she needed to sob, when she needed a shoulder to cry on, how could she turn to the daughter who was running into her arms to do the same?

As children we don’t know who are parents are. We know nothing past the fact that they are our parents. And even as we grow older, begin to have a deeper understanding of the way the world works, we still look to them to be the parents they were when we were scared of the dark and believed in Santa Clause. In the movie “Otherhood” this was made extremely evident when Angela Bassett’s character asks her son to name 10 things he knows about her as a woman. He couldn’t name one. And even after, when the heart warming ending to the movie comes, when he is “finally” able to list 10 things. They are ALL in relation to her being his mother and his father’s wife. The whole premise of the movie itself is that these 3 older women can not function without being mothers. As if they have no identity outside of it. No hopes and dreams or even hobbies or passions.

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It continues the same narrative of women not existing outside of motherhood once they become a mother. When did we as a society decide that women cease to exist the second we add a title to them? When did we decide that even when their children are grown, when the facade of childhood whims and beliefs start to wash away that mother’s can’t also evolve. Can’t they break the illusion to? Can they take off the mask, get out of the suit and be the woman behind the title? Or is that only for men in comic books?

I asked myself, what are we to do when daughters have to be strong for our mothers? We do it. We do it without resentment, we do it with compassion and we do it with empathy. We all share memes that say “check on your strong friend,” and you have to ask yourself, is that just for online? Do you only apply it to the friendships you’ve made, or does your mother get to be checked up on to? I know my mom sure as hell does, and im sorry that I ever doubted that she did.

Not Beyoncé’s Version of Crazy In Love…

I recently was having a conversation with a friend about what it meant to date people with mental health issues. She disclosed to me that she wasn’t comfortable with dating someone who was dealing with mental health issues and mood swings. Now before you get upset and decide to jump down her throat she had very valid reasons as to why she didn’t have the capacity to date someone who had mental health issues. In her case it was a very real and valid possibility that emotional abuse could take place while someone was having an episode. And if I’m being honest, as someone who deals with mental health issues I really wish more people would be honest about their capacity when it comes to dating us. Now I’m sure you have watched the Silver Linings Playbook movie about how two people dealing with severe mental health issues somehow find a way to overcome it all and fall in love. Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful and wild and her mental illness is portrayed as something that is simply just a character flaw or an issue that the rest of the world has with her instead of something that she is dealing with internally. Bradley Cooper is just a man who has been cheated on by his wife and is now dealing with the mental break of what has transpired. Their mental illness is quirky, thought provoking and it causes its watchers to feel sympathy for these two people who are simply just trying to overcome all of the trauma that they’ve incurred and somehow come on top with love in tow.

I wish it was that easy. I wish I could tell you that my body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression are just cute little characteristics that I’ve acquired over the years that make me ever more so lovable. To be honest I wish my life was like Silver Linings Playbook. I wish someone was just waiting to look past my crippling anxiety around my rolls and my abandonment issues to see the deep and thoughtful  sexy young woman that I am. Unfortunately that’s not the case and it probably never will be. Instead of sleeping with every man in my office or creating a sexy burlesque choreography, my body dysmorphia and depression looks more like days without getting out of bed, staring at images of all the women that I can probably never be and convincing myself that I’m neither lovable or wanted no matter how many times people tell me otherwise.  For many of us dealing with mental health issues, relationships look more like navigating ways to quash insecurities while simultaneously trying to show up in healthy ways for our partners. And even when we have found ways to cope, put ourselves on medication, write think pieces, join help groups and go to therapy it still isn’t easy. Living and surviving with mental illness can sometimes feel like we are undeserving of love and this feeling is heightened even more so by people who are not honest about their capacity to love us through it all. 

Well-meaning people often times will approach us with the full intent to love us, support us and even build futures with us. They fill our heads with promises of loving us on the tough days and sticking around even when we can barely stick around for ourselves.  The problem with this is that these promises, commitments and assurances are usually made on days when we are quote on quote “normal.” It’s easy to love us, it’s easy to show up and it’s easy to be there when our depression is quiet, our anxiety is hidden and our body dysmorphia has decided to play hide and seek. What isn’t easy is sticking around for the days where tears make more sense than words and we need a little bit of extra convincing that we’re worth sticking around for. Loving us isn’t easy and trust me if it was we’d be doing a lot better of a job at it ourselves.  I’ve lost count over the years of how many partners have held me and reassured me that they’d stick it through, that no matter how scary or tough it gets that they’ll be there to hold my hand along the way. The problem is when you’re not honest about your own capacity and inevitably end up breaking promises to people like me, it does more harm than good. You instead become just another person making yet another promise that you are not able to keep and no matter how much you intended to, it doesn’t change the outcome.

There is also this misconception that if those of us with mental health issues just get enough therapy then we will be healthy enough partners, for what the rest of society sees as, normal people.  The problem with that, is that my depression has been and will probably be a life-long issue and will unfortunately probably be the third wheel in our relationship that we never asked for. Whether I date you today, tomorrow or ten years from now, you may come back and still find the same girl who’s loving her body and sometimes just not liking it. She’ll still need extra reassurances of love and your willingness to stay because her abandonment issues left lasting marks on her heart. And you may still need to work just a little extra harder to love her. Dating people with mental illness does not mean subjecting yourself to harm or abuse. It doesn’t mean ignoring red flags or sticking it out because you feel sorry for the person. It’s stopping and taking a second to ask yourself “do I love this person? Do I have the capacity to continue to love this person? And do I have  the capacity to stay even when it gets hard? Because it will.” What I can promise is that even though it won’t be easy, the person that you’re choosing to love with mental health issues is trying twice as hard and doing twice the work to make loving them just as easy as it was for Bradley Cooper to fall in love with Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

So what are some of the steps that you can take when choosing to date someone dealing with mental health issues. The first step is asking your partner what kind of support they need, particularly when they’re in a dark place or having an episode. These supports can look like anything from just running a bath, other times it’s holding them until they feel safe or maybe it looks like just listening to them rant while they try to work through their insecurities and feelings. It may also look like you helping them create a self care kit. Maybe it’s filled with bubbles, love letters you’ve written for them or even a list of other supports that they can call on when your capacity is low. The Next Step is having a conversation with them about where your capacity lies during these times of need and if you are able to openly and honestly support them in the ways that they need you to. It’s important to know what their love language is so that you can  be there for them in all of the ways that they need without adding additional pressure to an already difficult moment or situation. Something that is also equally as important is creating a self care plan for yourself for either before or after your partner has gone through a mental health episode. Relationships are never one-sided and they are especially not one-sided when it comes to dating people with mental health issues. You are not your partner’s therapist, psychiatrist or mental health doctor. You are their friend, their lover and their support person in a healthy and equal capacity. This means ensuring that your mental health well-being is also taken into consideration when loving someone that has mental health issues.

Loving us is not like loving everyone else and if we’re being honest you never loved someone the same way twice. Capacity and boundaries should always be an important part of every single relationship you enter into, this is particularly true when it comes to dating someone like me. Be honest, be open, be supportive and you and your partner should be able to navigate anything that comes your way, even depression.

Everybody hates fat women…. Or do they?

We constantly talk about what it’s like to date interracially. How to navigate the complexities of dating someone from a different religion. Or how to explain to our friends why we’re in a relationship with someone long distance. But what does it mean when we date some who is a different size than us? I’m not talking about in the cute way where you and your best friend have matching outfits but one is a size small and one is a size large. I’m talking about what it means to be a person who identifies as fat dating someone who is very clearly thin.

I ask this, because as a fat femme I recently found myself in this exact predicament. Throughout my life i’ve always dated people my own size. When I was thin, I dated other thin people and when I began to gain weight I found myself gravitating to dating people my own size as well. Whether it was when I was dating men, and when I finally gave that up, (honestly thank creator for that) the women I’ve dated have all been relatively close to my size. My last relationship was with a woman who had lost 300 pounds but was still a fat femme, so the conversations around weight were usually had between the two of us or between her and her friends and always concerning her own body. Lately however, how weight is discussed, and particularly my weight, has changed due to who I have now decided to love. I am, what those in the fat community would call, small fat. While I am considered “obese” by doctors standards, and my Trinidadian grandmother as well if i’m being honest, I am still seen as not “that fat.” My stomach is large and hangs but I have large breasts and an ass so people would commonly say that I’m fat, in the “right places.” I am also still considered desirable fat and couple that with my light skin privilege and you can see where I fall on the fat people have humanity spectrum. That being said I have faced my fair share of fatphobia. My grandmother continuously points out how big I am, and my weight is a topic for discussion almost every time we talk. I went clubbing 3 weeks ago and a man who was far from cute, even by cis hetero standards, decided to comment that I needed to step on a scale as I left the establishment. Of course there’s the casual “You’re a fat Black bitch anyways” that I receive when I turn men down. But for the first time in my life i’m experiencing a new kind of fatphobia and I don’t know how to feel about it.

My new partner is amazing. As someone who has dealt with abusive relationships, physical, verbal and emotional, has had her heart broken more times than I care to count and who has clear abandonment issues, she never makes me feel like i’m too much. She is supportive and loving, gentle and kind and she allows me to be me. No walls or facades, just me. I’ve waited my whole life for a love like this and now that I have it I have no idea how I could have confused anything else for it. We’re both Black women, her African-American and Bahamian, me Trinidadian and Grenadian. She lives in the United States and I live here in  Canada. She’s dark skin and i’m light skin, which means we understand that we both navigate this world differently. Our experiences as Black women are not the same. She’s masculine while I’m femme which means her hypervisibility is so much more than mine. If I could shield her from all of the people and things that would take my favourite parts of her and punish her for them, I would. With all of these intersectionalities you may be surprised to know that none of these seem to be the biggest worry for people. Its my weight. Or should I say my size. My very visible identity of being a fat woman seems to be the hottest topic for discussion and in a way that has me scratching my head and wondering why.

I’ll preface this by saying that my partner is a thin woman. Most would describe her physic as muscular slim. While I’m round and fluffy, she’s edges and angles. But not in a harsh way. They’re soft and catch the light in a way that causes me to lose my breath and just stare at how beautiful she is. That being said people have continuously been questioning her as to why she is with someone like me? And by someone like me they mean a fat femme. I’m sure you have heard the jokes before about why people date fat femmes. The seasonal meme’s appear about needing a fat body to keep you warm in the winter. And who can forget the tax season one? Black men dating fat women because her tax cheque has come in and he needs a place to stay. Images will flood your timeline of jokes about fat femmes giving the best head because we like to eat, but not being able to ride you because we’re too heavy. Most of these images and jokes are saved for fat white women. They’re still seen as desirable even in their fatness. Fat Black women aren’t afford the same luxury, even though fetishization isn’t actually a luxury. But nonetheless we’re not the fat bodies folks want to curl up next too, even if they’re too cold. We’re the mammies cooking fried chicken in the kitchen, loud and obnoxious. So it was important for me to showcase that we were more than that. So when my partner and I decided to become public with our relationship I chose to share that message. I talked about how she loved me for me and for all of the reasons that society deems as legitimate causes to date a fat woman. I wanted us to be visible. I wanted the world to see that fat, Black and queer women were out here being loved, and yes even by thin people.

It was overwhelming the amount of support we received. So many people were messaging us to tell us how our love touched them, how it gave them hope, how it was the representation they needed. Queer love. Black love. A fat woman being loved. My partner and I cried on several occasions because we were so moved. Yet there was something else that also came a long with that visibility. People started messaging her to discuss our relationship and also, my size. Folks wanted to know why she had chosen to date a fat woman. Would would make her, a thin woman, want to date someone of my size? We’re in an open relationship and even potential sexual partners questioned her for choice to be with me. It somehow became more of a mystery than how she started dating someone who lived all the way in Canada. And what was stranger is others began to congratulate her on dating a fat woman. As if she needed a round of an applause or a ribbon for choosing to date the fat girl. Now this is all new to me. In the past no one has ever questioned partners about my size and their choice to be with someone of it. It’s been unsettling to say the least and I haven’t necessarily been able to pinpoint how it makes me feel. I know that for someone they mean no harm. Society has conditioned people into believing that fat folks are undeserving of love and especially from what society deems as attractive people. TV shows and movies throw images of skinny ugly men with low levels of intelligence and living in poverty as being the ones who want us. Or Black men looking for a quick come up and easy woman to manipulate. And when they decide to show us actually and truly being loved, it’s always by another fat person, and always a man.

There are no positive images of fat Black women being loved by other woman on a large societal scale. Same sex love involving women identifying folks is saved for skinny “hot” white lesbians or goth chicks with a dangerous edge. And I’m tired of that image aren’t you? Show me the fat Black femme who’s being loved by another fat Black woman. Show me a disabled fat Black woman being loved by another Black body. And show me. Show me, a fat, Black queer woman being loved by another Black woman. And stop wondering why fat Black women are being loved, just know that we have been, we are and we will be.

  • Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele

Preferences

Preference. It’s peoples favourite word to use when they’re trying to explain why they won’t date someone of a certain race or gender. Most use it to explain away their transphobia or anti-Black racism. The dating world is full of preferences and the queer community is not exempt from this as in many ways we are a microcosm of the larger society. However, for many of us, the choice to date or not date someone based on their race is formed out of survival and not a predilection for one or the other.

Being a Black Indigenous woman living on stolen land in a colonial society means that dating is a lot more complicated than a simple right swipe on tinder or bumble. Add living in the colonial capital of Canada and dating in Ottawa seems dismal in comparison to other places. So where does preference come in for a Queer, fat, Afro-Indigenous woman like myself? Well it’s a simple question. Do I prefer to be with someone who could call me a Nigger the second things get rough OR do I prefer to be with someone who shares and understands my life experiences? Now that might seem a little extreme to an every day non-Black person, but as someone who has had that happen to them its more common than you think.

The internet is filled with videos of racialized partners facing racist vitriol from their significant others and while most of these videos involve white men, there are just as many including white women. I know what you’re thinking, “But those are cis- straight white women, Lesbians are intersectional.” Listen I wish you could see the eye roll I did just writing that. I’m going to write this in caps just so everyone can understand BEING A PART OF THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY DOES NOT ERASE YOU RACISM OR TRANSPHOBIA! Whew I’m glad we got that out of the way. So now that we’re on common ground I hope you can understand why for me personally, dating a white woman, and even sometimes a non-Black woman, just isn’t an option for me. This isn’t actually about preference, I don’t prefer Black or Indigenous women over white women, because I don’t want white women to begin with. 

Now I get it, you’re reading this thinking well, isn’t that exactly what a preference is. Wrong. A lot of folks these days don’t actually know what it means to have a preference. Instead of looking up some long winded dictionary definition of the term (lets be honest aint nobody trying to read that) i’ll just explain it in simpler terms. A preference is when you like two things but like one of the things a little bit more than the other. So I like both knuck if you buck and back that ass up (listen they’re both negro spirituals and equally as important to Black culture) but I like back that ass up a little bit more (its being played at my funeral). Which means I prefer Back that ass up over knuck if you buck. Saying you wont date dark skin Black women because you prefer white women isn’t a preference. That’s anti-Black racism and colourism. You just straight up don’t want to date someone dark skin (and FYI you’re a raging racist or have some internalized shit you need to work out). So I can comfortably sit here and say that not dating white women isn’t about preference.

Are you catching what I’m throwing out there? And before someone screams this is reverse racism (which say it with me, is not real) I’m going to explain why I feel this way. For me its more than just having someone who is of the same race as me, its deeper and more complex than that. As a Black woman there are things I’m going to face in my life that will be caused or upheld by white people, and thus white women. I need someone who understands that, who wont gaslight me, try to humanize my oppressors or to be frank, looks like my oppressors. I want someone who doesn’t equate feminism to the wage gap, hell I don’t want to be with someone who benefits from the wage gap. Yes, white women the wage gap war you fight so hard against leaves me out. I make less than cis white men and you. I want a partner my children can seem themselves in. I don’t want to have to explain why Back that ass up is a negro spiritual and should be played at my funeral and I don’t want to have to throw my seasoning away to cook Sheppard’s pie and casseroles for the rest of my life. And last but certainly not least I DON’T WANT THERE TO EVEN BE A SLIVER OF A CHANCE THAT MY PARTNER WILL FIX THEIR LIPS TO CALL ME A NIGGER. I want to feel safe in my home, in my bed and in someone’s arms. And for me white women do not and can not represent safety. And listen I have white women in my life that I love and respect, who have been there for me and held me down. But at the end of the day I know that can switch because of a factor that should be small but to society is big. I am an Afro-Indigenous woman. 

I’ve been in Ottawa for 4 months now. I love it here. There are so many job opportunities, its so much cheaper than Toronto, I have some amazing friends here and it gives me a real chance to re-learn French. But it also means that finding the person of my dreams looks slimmer then I would like. It means that it takes about 20 swipes on a dating app for me to come across a Black or Brown face. I’ve seen parts of the QBIPOC community here in Ottawa and they’re beautiful and thriving. But it’s small and isn’t always as accessible as it is in Toronto. So I’m taking it one day at time. And just like the wage gap, job opportunities, the ability to be seen as docile, and access to health care, white women just have more chances of finding love, and that’s why they’ll never be a part of my preference for dating. 

  • Shanese Indoowaaboo Steele