Monthly Archives: February 2015

Social Justice Synonyms #17: “Dyke” and “Fag”

The words “fag” and “dyke” are both words that carry a history of violence – emotional, verbal, and physical – against folks perceived as QUILTBAG. They’re words that have been, and continue to be used to remind people when they are enacting gender or sexuality in ways seen as ‘deviant’ according to social norms, which are shaped by histories of power and violence. “Fag” and “dyke” are both gendered slurs, in the sense that they are intended to cause harm and violence in ways that tell the target that they are performing the gender the user is perceiving them as ‘wrong’ — too ‘feminine,’ too ‘masculine’, not ‘straight’ enough, not ‘straight acting’ enough. These are harmful ideas that contribute to the reproduction of only certain ways of inhabiting bodies, gender, and attraction are good and worthy. It’s also important to know that people of any gender and gender expression can be targeted by these words, as they are linked to this policing of bodies and expression in relationship to gender and sexuality.

“Fag” is a word that tends to be used to insult, mock, or otherwise harm people who are being perceived as ‘men’ who are acting in ways that people want to punish, call out, or stop. The use of “fag” today has come a long way from its original meaning. Fag, short for faggot, originally meant “a bundle of sticks”, and stems from the practice of burning alive folks who did not conform to Catholic practice. Those who retracted their beliefs and pledged to conform were not killed but forced to wear the sign of a “faggot” on their sleeves as a reminder. From that point on, “faggots” became linked with the history and realities of being burned alive. It became a term signifying unwanted burden, tied to this practice of murder. For a while it was also used as a derogatory term for women, based on the idea of women as inherently tiresome and a burden for others.

In a more contemporary form, the definition and use of “faggot” is debated/contestable. Some believe that it comes from the burning of folks who were perceived as QUILTBAG as part of the same practice of burning folks who did not conform to the Catholic church. Others say that it became an insult for those who are labeled as queer men because of the link with sexism and it being a call out of the stereotyped femininity of queer men. Regardless of the ways in which “fag” or “faggot” is used, the word is rooted in histories and intentions of oppression and pain. Based on assumptions of gender, sexuality, and sexual behaviour, “fag” is used to limit people’s identities and abilities in ways that are tied to these legacies of harm.

Similarly, “dyke” is a word that, for the most part, is used to hurt and harm those who are perceived as ‘women’ who behaves or exist in ways that people want to stop or punish in some way. Specifically, it carries the targeting of those who are labelled as masculine women or those identified as not conforming to traditional women’s roles, regardless of sexuality. However, there are also intrinsic ties to attacking sexuality, as the use of dyke presumes that a refusal to follow gender roles is always out of a desire to be men, and hence be attracted to women as per the heteronormative narrative. “Dyke” is used to attack those who are not performing gender appropriately according to cisnormative and heteronormative notions of being.

Additionally, the use of “dyke” also paints the stereotype of all queer women as masculine presenting, which is not true. Queer women, like all people, express themselves in many different ways that are and are not tied to sexuality. Part of the use of dyke against those perceived as “masculine women” creates this policing of sexuality, that all masculine women must be queer and all queer women must be masculine, and that both are bad things to be. “Dyke” as an attack creates boundaries of who can or cannot be visibly queer. Of course, this is all based by its contrast to cis-heteronormative norms of presentation and gender.

When we use these words to describe the actions, appearance, or other aspects of folks, we then are contributing to policing how people act in the world in ways that are connected to the systemic violence experienced by QUILTBAG folks and privilege those who align with cisgender and heterosexual cultural norms.

QUILTBAG spaces do have an ongoing history of reclaiming these words, much like the word “queer”. Reclaiming refers to the act by a group of peoples of taking something (in this case a word) that has been used in a way that is oppressive or otherwise damaging towards them and taking it as a neutral or positive self and/or group identifier. This can be a powerful, healing, affirming and/or strategic act, but it also is a complex process in which different people have different relationships to the reclamation of certain words. Sometimes, that reclamation can involve people using that identity term for themselves or for groups, like the organization, Dykes on Bikes. However, even if we disagree with a particular reclamation, people ultimately should have autonomy on the words they use to describe and name themselves. Autonomy and agency are some of the aspects of self that are stripped by violence including the violence of these words.

Given those histories and their link to creating, enforcing and policing the idea that there are correct ways to enact a gender, a sexuality, attraction or expression (which happens to be cisgender, heterosexual and gender normative ways (that also align with other systems of power)) and also implicitly awards those who aren’t ‘straying’ or seeming to ‘stray’ from these ideas, we should avoid them and seek different language, and more widely, seek to avoid attacking how people move through the world with our language and actions.

A few questions to ask yourself when thinking about using the word fag/dyke:

-am I using this word to describe someone without their consent?

-am I judging or perhaps participating in shaming someone for their actions, appearance and identity?

-am I a QUILTBAG identified person using this word in a strategic, neutral, or positive light?

Alternatives

Remember to never assume people’s identities. Never label anyone without them claiming that identity for themselves.

USE ALTERNATIVE

Look at that outfit. Only a fag/dyke would wear that! Those people are so cool! We are totally not assuming anybody’s gender or sexuality in this moment! Their style is on point!
Those fags/dykes must be going to the OUTweek dance! They look so ridiculous! Those folks who are going to the super awesome OUTweek dance have rad outfits!
These fags/dykes are flaunting all over the place. Get a room! Aw! They must be having such a great night, enjoying each other’s company.
You’re turning ME down? You must be a fag/dyke! I completely respect your decision and am going to leave you alone now. I hope you have a good night and I will work to be a better person.
What are you doing in this bathroom? Get out, fag/dyke! Hi! I hope your night is going well!

Femconcept

Over the Christmas holidays I spent most of my time catching up with folks in my hometown. After the “how’s school?” spiel, most of these conversations eventually curved toward the subject of my radio show on CiTR.

To provide detail as well as to propagate ourselves, myself and long time pal and CiTR Student Executive President, Eleanor Wearing, do a weekly radio show on CiTR 101.9 FM on Fridays from 1-2. Our show is called Femconcept, and we play entirely female content. Each week we search the caverns of the Internet to fulfill this requirement. At CiTR, “FemCon” is one of the designations used to organize and promote music at the station: it’s a way to make sure that under-represented voices (female, in this case) are heard. Two of four categories must be fulfilled in order for it to be considered FemCon: the lyrics must be written by a female, composed by a female, produced by a female, or a female performs in the band. Note: In this article, “female” refers to those who identify as woman-identified females. From this excavation it has come to our attention that female content is not as readily available as male content.

Femconcept’s mission is spearheaded by feminism. I would like to borrow bell hooks’ definition of feminism from feminism is for everybody: “[it] is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” The intersectionality of race, class, and gender and the lived experiences and challenges derived from this analysis are important to recognize.

A woman’s experience in the music industry is not universal but dependent on subject position and on racist, classicist, heteronormative structures of dominance. Through the medium of our show, we seek to give a one-hour time-slot of inclusive recognition of women’s underrepresented voice in music, radio and media in general.

When I explain the concept of the show to people back home, respondents seemed to make this weird, uncomfortable face like maybe they just smelled something unpleasant or perhaps that they’d like to refill their glass. Maybe they had heard their phone and needed to jet, or they didn’t hear me or are genuinely confused as to why we’d play only female content.

Shortly thereafter they ask, “why?” or jump to their own conclusion that I am a lesbian feminist (which presumably are symbiotic identities undoubtedly bound together) and wow, that must be a lot for my parents to swallow.

Now, I am not saying I grew up in a town of completely misogynistic people, but it is evident that there is a stigma surrounding the fact that I have a radio show, with my female friend, focused on playing solely female content.

What surprises me quite a bit was that it seems that among my parent’s friends, whom are educated individuals gearing up for their retirement, that there is an assumption that this is the twenty-first century and that it isn’t really necessary to have a show with entirely female content. I offer two reasons that could explain this: 1) they suppose that gender equality has been “solved” and that playing female content is just some granola-wannabe-hippie-1960s self-actualizing dream or 2) we’re seeking to fulfill our unconsciously-lesbian-feminist prophecies by way of an all FemCon show.

While this was assumption was prevalent in my hometown discussions, they also resonate in the music industry more generally.

If one listens to big-hit radio, which is nearly impossible not to as it’s ubiquitous as heck, the presence of women is evident. Many lead vocalists of pop hits are females. This is absolutely fantastic, but the way these women are represented by the media is problematic. Often female pop stars are sexualized to the point that to a young and vulnerable audience, their agency may get lost in the makeup and glitter. This creates a challenge for women and girls who do not fulfill this image. It disseminates an altered perception of beauty which in turn, poisons the minds of women and girls of all ages.

Another generality made about women in the music industry is that their experience is treated as “unique.” This is especially true for all-girl bands: because their experience is treated as out of the ordinary, the exclusion of female musicians in the industry is reinforced. This manifests itself in that tired line of questioning used by music journalists: “What is it like being in an all-girl band?” and “How does it feel to be a woman on tour?” as well as the general tendency to label any all-female rock bands “girl bands.”

And if the situation was reversed? All-male bands are not asked what it’s like to be in an all-male band, because this is the framework in which the music industry is built upon; it is the supremacist, patriarchal standard.

Female musicians are often judged in relation to male talent and do not receive credit for her own talent in of itself. Even if the words are not said aloud, it is common for a listener, regardless of gender, to evaluate the female musician through the lens of, “she’s really good… for a girl.” If you have somehow evaded this lens and instead approach your evaluation of music and art without an institutionalized gender bias, please let me know where/when/how I can get one.

It’s challenging for a woman to exist as an entity within the ‘musical realm,’ even before you factor in the disproportionate tendency of women to act as primary caregivers to children. This would potentially further inhibit the flourishment of a woman’s creative endeavours.

It is important to acknowledge that playing and having access to musical instruments and training is primarily available to those whom are privileged. This includes those that are in an economic position which allows them for leisure time to explore creative avenues such as messing around on a guitar for hours and/or recording themselves on Garageband and the like.

Women and humans everywhere regardless of class, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, and age it can be agreed upon that when a good beat drops, a folk song strikes a chord in your heart, a punk song provides camaraderie in the struggles of life, you hear that song you fell in love to, that song you fell out of love to, music that you grew up with, music that provides religious solidarity and faith or the feeling you get after you’ve created a song, depending on what speaks to you, music is an art that holds no biases and connects us all. Whatever it may be, as Ruth Saxelby writes in the Fader magazine, “beats aren’t gendered. We don’t listen with our genitals. So why are we still in the dark ages when it comes to gender equality in the music studio?”

I hope you all ask yourself the same question the next time you’re tapping your toe. And for those women out there who are interested in learning an instrument and creating music, let this question resonate in your mind and use it to propel you.

Femconcept airs from 1-2pm every Friday. To support Femconcept you can donate to CiTR’s annual Fundrive (taking place from February 26-March 6) by coming into the station, calling in, or donating here.

 

In Defence of “Native”

Speaking as someone who is one-fourth Northern Tutchone and three-fourths settler European (German, mostly, and about six other things), I have always had something of an identity crisis when it comes to my Native heritage. My dad was half Northern Tutchone, from the Yukon, my place of birth. He was visible to me, in his ‘Nativeness,’ with his dark(er) skin and black hair, his reluctance to miss an episode of North of 60, and his penchant for dried moose meat (what I wouldn’t give for some of that right now!). But aside from a few visual markers and minor culture clashes, we lived like any middle-class family in Victoria, BC. I have never set foot on a reserve, save for when my dad wanted to buy cheap smokes. I scarcely saw his side of the family until they came down for his funeral. Many of my close friends would routinely ‘forget’ that I’m something other than white at all. My point is, I can’t claim to have truly felt the racism and oppression that lurks in daily life for visible Indigenous people in Canada.

That being said, I have proudly attained my Indian Status this past August, and have been in touch with my Yukon family frequently over the last three years (sadly, it was another funeral that reunited us). I have begun to actively identify as ‘Native’ and have taken a much greater interest in seeking out and supporting Native arts, literature, and activism. And as you can see, I typically refer to myself and other First Nations people as “Native.” Until coming to UBC, this was not much of a question for me. My dad always said Native, my family has always said Native, my Native friends at school said it, and so do I. Now, I rotate through terms, as much for the sake of variety as anything. When writing, if I’ve said Indigenous recently, I’ll opt for Aboriginal in the next line, and so on. In my daily life, though, it’s always Native.

Given this, I felt a little sad to see how quickly S.M. dismissed the term and its usage in “Social Justice Synonyms #12: Indigenous Identity and Terminology.” I understand that S.M.’s article clarifies the term should be avoided by settlers, and is not speaking for Indigenous people. And yes, in an academic context, “native” can be both confusing and vague—evoking racial slurs, and ugly colonial anthropological texts or journals.

However, Native is still actively being used by many Aboriginal people, young and old, and this shows that it’s being reclaimed. Outside academia—a place reserved for a very privileged few, of which Natives make up only a tiny fraction—terms like Indigenous and Aboriginal can sound clinical and distant. ‘First Nations’ especially irks me, as it implies an inevitable, pre-destined timeline that resulted in the ‘second’ or ‘next’ nations setting up shop. It is better left to describe formally-organized groups within the Canadian political arena, rather than individual people.

The idea of referring to a Native person by their specific tribe, as S.M. posits, is a good one. It simultaneously asserts the individual’s Indigeneity while acknowledging the cultural specificities between tribes. It also gives back a name to cultures that were victim to (attempted) cultural genocide, keeping that culture alive. However, this presents a problem for displaced Aboriginal people, specifically those who do not know of, or identify with their tribe or nation. Take, for example, those who grew up in adoptive or foster homes, and who may have little to no knowledge of their particular tribe. Shouldn’t there still be a term that situates them alongside others who are of Native heritage—those who have experienced similar oppression and racism, regardless of what tribe they belong to?

This brings me to my main point about ‘Native’: it’s a really good mobilizing term. It’s short, it’s effective, and it includes a large number of people. It sidesteps the distancing effect that ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Aboriginal’ can have, by being simple and immediate. Particularly, it seems to work well for younger generations, and has carved out a niche for itself on social media.

Aside from festivals and organizations such as imagineNATIVE, I’ve seen, among my own Facebook and Twitter friends, hashtags like: #nativepride, #nativeart, #nativeyouth, #nativebeauties, and even #nativebabies. These posts and tweets trumpet Native heritage in a proud, cheekily boastful way that the more academic-sounding terms just can’t seem to. It cultivates a community that feels more shared and inclusive than the other options—something that is vital for a people still struggling to be recognized as actual human beings who exist in the present, modern world. In fact, the notion that “Native” is too closely associated with ‘Native American,’ and thus the United States, doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. After all, borders and the nation-states of Canada and the USA came with colonization. Eliminating the term Native (or anything else) because it is ‘too American’ seems pointless, and strangely nationalistic.

Again, I applaud and thank S.M., and any other settlers/allies who are making an effort to engage in supportive, sensitive dialogue. If in doubt, Indigenous and Aboriginal are most likely not going to offend anyone—whereas, who knows, Native might. I just want us to keep in mind that context is everything: ‘Indigenous’ said with a sneer can be as racist and hurtful as any term. ‘Native’ should not necessarily be avoided for settlers, so long as it’s used with understanding, respect, and self-awareness. The word has power and potential, and seeing it wither away would be a true shame.

Special thanks to Matt Ward and K. Ho for the encouragement, and S.M. for writing the article that prompted these thoughts.

Teresa is a fourth-year GRSJ major at UBC.

Navigating Beyond the Gender Binary

By

When I was a young child, I thought my parents wanted me to be a girl so badly that they secretly surgically altered my body so I’d be a girl (i.e. have a vulva). I never brought it up with my parents, I just frustratingly accepted it. I was taught gender and sex were synonymous, and that I am female, even if my body was an artificial one.

I left it at that for most of my life, and as I grew up I realized that scenario was highly unlikely (my dad wanted a boy, after all). When we were given sex-ed in high school, sexuality and gender identity was brushed over quickly, taught for a dyadic and binary audience. When we are not given the option or knowledge or freedom to explore our gender identity, how are we to know if what we are is not an arbitrary assignment based on nothing but a doctor’s assessment of our genitals at birth? While I didn’t exactly feel like a girl growing up, from what I knew about the gender binary, I knew I wasn’t a boy, either, or at least not completely. So I stuck with what was familiar, no biggie.

While some people may have known their gender since the moment they recognized their own identity as an individual, others can’t realize because they aren’t given the option of something else until late adulthood. When I found out about nonbinary genders around two years ago, I didn’t understand them at first. Gender as a spectrum? No gender? Multiple genders? It seemed like a minefield. Even though I’m confident in my gender identity now, there are still days where it looks like a navigational nightmare.

Just like with compulsory heterosexuality, most people in our cisnormative society argue that if a person never questioned their gender, then they’re probably cis. The idea that cis is default, and one isn’t trans or gender variant unless it’s constantly on their mind is harmful to and debilitates individuals, and as a result, entire LGBTQIA2+ communities.

So, I suggest everyone to ask themselves the questions I’ve asked myself:

  • Am I happy with my assigned gender?
  • What if I were assigned a different gender?
  • What if I weren’t assigned a gender?
  • Which parts of whom I am makes up my gender?
  • Do I want to be this gender?

Some of these questions might be difficult to answer. Sometimes it’s just a feeling that’s difficult to explain. And if after exploring your gender identity, you find you’re cis, then excellent! You’ll know yourself better by analyzing parts of your person and being confident in the identity you claim.

I happened to find that I was not exactly happy with my assigned gender. And something happens when you realize who you are, and realize others don’t see you the way you see yourself. That’s when you start thinking about coming out; sharing with the world, or a slice of the world, who you are. I was lucky that the slice I’ve chosen to share it with were accepting enough of it.

So here are a handful of things I’m thankful for in my coming out process, and I’m sure others will be in their own coming out process.

Respect

Throughout the process, there will be questions. Ranging from “what pronouns do you use?” to “is this just a phase?” and the inevitable “aren’t ‘they’ plural?” I’m lucky enough that I didn’t have to deal with the more aggressive variations.

Relationship Maintenance

I’ve been fortunate to not have lost any friendships after coming out. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept the friend you had is no longer the person they used to be, or the person you thought they were, especially if they choose to transition.

Support

Perceived gender plays a large part in social dysphoria for trans and gender variant folks. Sometimes, it gets difficult when people get my pronouns wrong, or when people stubbornly refuse to use gender neutral language. While I’ve accepted that, for the meanwhile, gender variance is not widespread knowledge, it helps to have a safe space to be able to just be.

Acceptance

Coming out was exciting and a bit nerve wracking, each and every time, and almost every person I came out to had not heard of nonbinary genders until my introduction to them. Sometimes it was difficult to explain, and I could tell that some didn’t really understand the concept. However, they were all accepting, all willing to learn and put in the effort to adjust to my new identity.

And the chance to write for The Talon and share my ongoing experience. Thank you.


This article was submitted in response to The Talon’s call for submissions related to the Pride Collective’s Outweek. 

Rule Out Racism Week at UBC: Call for Submissions

Rule Out Racism is a week-long series of events focused on the need for greater literacy and conversation about race and racism within the UBC community. Rule Out Racism week is hosted by UBC Equity and Inclusion Office and is held in recognition of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.

Goals of Rule Out Racism:

  • Grow UBC’s literacy around race and racism
  • Provide a safe space to have difficult/courageous conversations around systemic racism
  • Connecting with the latest research around race and racism
  • Facilitating reflection on the actual effectiveness of current anti-racism practices
  • Contribute to social sustainability at UBC

At The Talon we strongly support initiatives that work within an anti-oppressive and anti-racist framework and as such, will be publishing a series of articles around the theme of eliminating racism, particularly in relation to UBC. We are seeking submissions from UBC students, faculty and staff that pertain to the theme and goals of this week.

Deadline for Submissions: March 5th

Please read our submission guidelines before submitting.

I Am Still Here: Reflections on #AmINext

A while back there was a social media campaign called “Am I Next?” which aimed to raise  awareness about the numerous murdered and missing Native women in Canada. In solidarity with the campaign, many people changed their Facebook profile picture to a silhouette of a Native woman with a feather in her hair with the words, “am I next?” included in the image. I did not change my profile picture because it was too close to home for me.

I belong to the Kanien’kehá:ka, People of the Flint (Mohawk) Nation of the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian Reservation, Southern Ontario – Turtle Clan. I have lived in Vancouver for just over two decades, moving here just after I turned 20 years old. When I first arrived in this city, I was very young and naive. I was very trusting – too trusting. Because of the nature of my innocence, I had a steep learning curve of the cruel ways of the world outside where I grew up. I had no idea how much danger I was in all the time, how risky it was to go to bars alone and be so accepting of new people. I just loved meeting all types of people. Above all, I believe I was seeking to share a sense of acceptance and understanding.

News coverage named the places serial killer Robert Pickton frequented. Then I realized some of the places I went where right around the corner. One night, I distinctly remember considering going into one of the places he habitually visited. I stood at the door against the wafting smell of stale beer and funk, and got a really bad feeling. I did not step one foot in that place.

It’s funny to think that some places I went weren’t much better. During this period of time, I had close calls with danger, and was the subject of violence by strangers and people I knew. I had to run away from ‘perps’, and was protected by good people that chased away men who were looking to grab or harm me. I was on welfare and lived in one of the hooker hoods in East Vancouver. For the life of me, I couldn’t walk to the bus stop without a “date” trying to get me into his car. Creeping up and pulling over… trying desperately to make eye contact. Those four blocks were long indeed.

Many times, these altercations were aggressive and unrelenting. One day, I snapped. A man in a blue Honda was driving his car behind me slowly as I walked down the sidewalk and harassing me. This was the first time I kicked a car. I raged against the machine! I quickly realized this was effective in deterring men from continuing to elicit sex from me after I had repeatedly refused. From then on, the practice of kicking cars with my ‘gently used’ military boots became a weapon in my arsenal to protect the only thing of value I had: my dignity.

I had no phone of my own at the time because BC Tel required a $200 deposit to open a landline and coming up with that kind of money all at once was an impossible feat. However, there was a pay phone (that’s right we used to have pay phones) at the Mac’s on Dundas and Lakewood St. I couldn’t use the pay phone without men trying to get me to drink or use drugs. “Anything I wanted,” and “come with me…” they would say. Of course there was always a line up for the phone, so I had to endure these advances, while being polite and amiable to the men who sought to destroy me.

One day, I received a neighbourhood newsletter in the mail. In the newsletter, an article warned the community about men preying on young Native girls with the intent of inducing them into sex trade. I thought to myself, ‘no kidding!’ My neighbourhood had a lot of Native families and I worried about other young girls in the area.

Over time, I began to feel that these experiences had degraded my sense of self-sacredness. Every time these things happened, it chipped away the foundation of the good upbringing my mom had provided, and my sacredness as Onkwehonwe woman. Painful experiences are enduring when they alienate you from your understanding of yourself and your place in the world. This is the nature of colonization. Over time, I became more angry and resentful.

Every month I would walk to pick up my welfare cheque in the Hastings and Boundary area. One of those days, I noticed there was a poster with missing women on it. It was one of the first posters produced by the women who started the campaign to find their loved ones. I studied the faces on the poster. Each time I went, I stared at their faces for a long time. As I lingered in front of their images, I felt empathy coupled with loneliness. The poster was a grid of faces, mostly mug shots, of women. As time went on, the faces got smaller as the pictures on the grid increased. I studied the faces and looked out for the women – there were so many. For some reason I didn’t make the connection of danger to myself, but the picture is very clear now.

The very first friend I made in Vancouver was murdered. Her body was dumped North of here, and discovered in a lonely lake. Her name was Kari Ann. She was a very strong young woman, both physically and in determination. What she taught me was how to stand up against our enemies. She showed me by doing it even though it took me a while to employ this lesson.  I can still see her standing up abruptly and getting right into a big man’s face yelling, “SHE TOLD YOU NO!” chest out, shoulders back, with fisted hands. It was awesome.

Kari Ann defended me against jerks who refused to leave me alone.  I never knew she was Native until after she was gone. She never told me. We never talked about being Native. It makes sense now why she was so protective and showed me around Vancouver. I still can’t believe she’s gone. Kari Ann’s murder remains unsolved. When the ones who protect you are murdered – how does this world make any sense?

In later years, I went to my home territory and participated in an assertion of sovereignty event  regarding the Jay Treaty where our people walked from Niagara Falls NY, to Niagara Falls Canada unimpeded. We walked like a parade to Canada and ended up at a park where further cultural festivities unfolded. I came up to a stand with a big poster on it. It was a poster to raise awareness of the missing and murdered women. This poster was even bigger than the last and the images of the women were smaller. So I did what I always do when the poster showed itself to me. I began to study the faces. When I saw Kari Ann’s face I began to cry. I was disturbed. All the memories of her kindness and smiling face flooded in along with harsher memories, all mixed and overwhelming.  She is counted among the murdered and missing ‘Aboriginal’ women. Kari Ann is not just a number to me. She would never have asked, “am I next?”. Kari Ann would have asked “who’s ass can I kick for you?”

A couple years ago, I met a young woman who said her aunt told her she had a Mohawk ancestor when she was a teen. She went on to say how disgruntled she feels because other Native academics won’t even consider her as Native. This also disturbed me. All at once my lived experiences came into my throat and I felt like throwing up (and telling her off!).  You see, being Native is not all feathers and beads, drums and singing. It’s riddled with injustice and lost loved ones. Part of me feels like these kinds of people want to take all the good parts of my culture and identity and wear it like a cloak to further their privilege. It makes me angry and my stomach turns. There are layers and layers of hurt and disempowerment laced into living a Native life in Vancouver and colonial Canada. But there is also so much love and fulfilment too. It was clear that we had very different reference points in regard to identity, but what struck me most was sense of entitlement to the identity. This is one of many interactions I’ve had of this nature and for me, what’s left from these is a deep humiliation I’ve yet to un-pack. Identity appropriation is also colonizing and harmful.

As an Onkwehonwe woman, I was taught not to say or think things that are negative or morbid – it’s not of a Good Mind. This adds another dimension to my weariness about asking the question, “am I next?”.  We never say, especially out loud, things we never want to happen. I won’t ask if I am next, but I will share these experiences to raise awareness. You see…I can’t ask this question because I understand the realities of what ‘Am I next’ are for myself and other Indigenous women. Today, I have three teenage daughters of my own.  Being their mother is the greatest thing in the world. I would have them understand these experiences are attributed to colonization. Racism, sexism and femicide are by-products of systematic disempowerment and dispossession and should not be treated as isolated crimes, as Harper suggests. These are just a few stories. They are real. They are in my heart. These experiences have degraded me on all levels. I have rebuilt myself as many times as I needed to in order to survive – sometimes daily. Academia can’t account for any of this. You can count and you can ask these questions but you can never FEEL what I have shared – only a sense of it.

I would like to end by saying this: I am still here. I will celebrate by thanking my mom for life. I will write “I am still here” on a piece of joss paper and burn it as a letter to my ancestors. It would also say, “I am scared but also brave. I am sacred but vulnerable. I thank you for your continued protection. I trust in you, just tell me what to do next.”

Special thanks to the organizers of the annual memorial march for the murdered and missing native women in Canada, to the creators of the “Am I Next” social media campaign, to the women and girls who have survived such encounters with colonialism and to the ones who are no longer with us.

Francine Burning is a student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program in the Faculty of Arts At UBC.  Her research focuses on performance’s role in Indigenous knowledge production, and the continuity of First Nations as a people.

Reconciling Whom I Love with Where I Love

This piece originally appeared in the recent (and first ever) “Sowing Seeds and Setting Roots: An Outweek 2015 Zine.” Outweek is a series of events hosted annually by the Pride Collective at UBC. For “Sowing Seeds and Setting Roots,” they encouraged submissions that took intersectional approaches to queer identity. We encourage you to check out the zine online, or to pick up a print copy at any of the upcoming Outweek events or the Pride Collective’s office (SUB 245C).

My name is Matthew Ward and I’m a nêhiyaw napew from Driftpile Cree Nation in northern Alberta. I identify as a queer Indigenous cisgender man that prefers ‘he’, ‘his’, and ‘him’ pronouns. I am currently studying at UBC in the First Nations Studies Program with a minor in Political Science. When I first heard about this zine coming out I knew that I wanted to be involved. Being familiar with a number of people involved in the collective, and attending events such as the Transgender Day of Remembrance and Harlan Pruden’s presentation on Two Spirit people, I felt that their contributions to the community I have been witness too should be reciprocated in the best way I know how. This is what I’ve decided to write.

I thought I would take this opportunity to speak about intersectionality in the context of being Indigenous, queer, of mixed identity, and living away from my community. More specifically I want to look at how these challenges have made me have to think critically about the ways in which I see my relationship to myself, my family, my community, and my work. This should be prefaced with an acknowledgement of the multiple privileges I hold in this conversation. My family’s support of how I choose to live my life and the work I do is something I do not take for granted. I have the opportunity to live, learn, and play on the beautiful territory of the Coast Salish peoples. I also have the opportunity to receive an education from one of the best Indigenous studies programs on the planet with some of the most brilliant minds in the world. I am so thankful for all of these things in my life that have brought me here with my understandings.

A lot of the work I do has been dealing with identity politics. As an Indigenous person who grew up near their territory but without much context, culture, or language, I spent a large portion of my life trying to prove I wasn’t like other Indigenous people. I wanted to do well in school, go to college, get a good job, and have a beautiful family. For some reason I grew up thinking that if I was ‘too native’ that these things couldn’t be a reality for me. The older I got and as my struggles with my sexuality came to the forefront of my life at school, I decided that I needed to move to the big city, Edmonton in this case. While there I was able to deal with a lot of my struggles around being a young gay person in a mostly conservative province. I met other LGBTQIA2+ people. I learned about the struggles they faced in Canada and around the world. I learned about love. By the time I graduated, I felt I was ready for another adventure, cue UBC.

While at UBC, my father encouraged me to take an Indigenous studies course. I was hesitant. I felt I knew what I needed to know. I thought it might be depressing and truthfully I was scared. My good friend and writer, Samantha Nock, mirrored many of these feelings on her university experience. “I wasn’t going to major in Native Studies because I didn’t want to be that Native kid”[1]. Little did I know that taking that course would put me on a path of self-discovery, self-love, anti-oppression, and decolonization and that this would significantly change the way I saw and continue to see the world. While I won’t go into the details of the coursework per say (GO TAKE A FIRST NATIONS STUDIES PROGRAM COURSE! IT WILL CHANGE YOU!), I will say that I’ve had the opportunity to think about the world with an understanding that has taught me not only why I felt the shame I did growing up (hint: its called internalized racism, and its often experienced by Indigenous people!), but also that I am part of a strong, resilient, and beautiful community among hundreds of other distinct, beautiful, resilient nations that have been fighting for Indigenous rights and sovereignty on this territory, and across the globe since colonization began.

Now that I am coming to the end of my time at UBC for now, I’ve had to have that dreadful conversation one does in their last semester where for the first time ever, you really have to answer that question, “So what are you gunna do with your degree?” Only this time it’s a whole lot scarier because it’s coming from inside your head and not from across the dinner table over the holidays.

My first instinct was to find ways to reconnect with my community. A small community of roughly 1200 members, most of which do not live on our reserve. While in theory, I should be acknowledged and accepted as a member and feel safe being on my territory with my people, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t necessarily the case. Despite my membership and ties to my community, as a gay man, it turns out the coming from an urban space and into a small, tight-knit community with familial tensions and, I would argue fairly conservative values, isn’t that easy. I don’t know if I can say for sure that living there at this point is a reality for me. An Indian with a community he can’t visit. Of course this isn’t uncommon (hell, it was written into legislation for native women who married white men until the 1980’s in the Indian Act), but what does this mean for other LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit people?

By having the opportunity to acknowledge all parts of myself, I’ve found myself trapped with the call to my territory, and simultaneously the fear of violence in those spaces. How do I reconcile whom I love with the place I want to learn to love again? Of course many people will tell you that Two-Spirit people were always revered, respected, and held power within Indigenous communities, but many of these stories, teachings, and traditions have been lost over the years of colonization and residential schools.

This piece isn’t meant to invoke pity for me. It also isn’t necessarily meant to provide answers to these difficult questions. I’m a happy guy, learning every day and trying my best to decolonize the places I call home. I instead want to problematize the ‘pan-indigenous’ experience that settlers often cast on Indigenous peoples. The intersections of our identities through race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, etc. all hold real implications in our lives outside the Indigenous vs. non-Indigenous binary. I’m not interested in oppression Olympics, but instead creating spaces that acknowledge the diverse experiences within marginalized communities. It is through this acknowledgement that we are going to create real spaces of decolonization that challenge the racist settler-colonial heteropatriarchal state and all its manifestations.

[1]: Samantha Nock. “Garbage Baggage”, A Halfbreed’s Reasoning. April 30th, 2014. https://halfbreedsreasoning.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/garbage-baggage

I’d like to thank the Pride Collective at UBC for continuing to create spaces for Indigenous voices within their critical discourse, and for making my experiences with them engaging, safe, and fun. I’d also like to thank the readers who have allowed me to be vulnerable in this space. Its appreciated so much!

Matt is a humble queer nêhiyaw navigating complex identity politics in First Nations Studies on unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territory. He works with the First Nations Studies Student Association and is coincidentally a collective member with The Talon.

Event Preview: ISIS and the New Middle East

Feeling uninformed about the rapidly unfolding situations in Syria and Iraq? Want to share your thoughts? This Thursday, February 12, attend the #15 BARtalk, hosted by the Terry Project, from 6:00- 7:30 to learn more and engage with informed speakers. The event, “ISIS and The New Middle East,” will be an informal panel discussion style event held at the Gallery Lounge in the Student Union Building. Please note that this venue is wheelchair accessible, offers a gender-neutral washroom, serves alcohol, and is not scent-free.

This event aims to clear up and address any misconceptions and misunderstandings that many may have regarding ISIS. One of the panelists is Syrian journalist & LGBT activist Ahmed Danny Ramadan, who will speak about how the conflict is impacting already marginalized groups in the country and discuss the growing Syrian refugee crisis. Any UBC students or staffs are welcome to attend. Student and community groups are also welcomed.

Panelists include:

Arjun Chowdhury is a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. His ongoing research focuses on autocratic regimes and the transition to democracy, effect of counter-insurgency campaigns and the transition from imperial to the international system.

Ahmed Danny Ramadan is a Syrian journalist and activist who has written for the Washington Post, Foreign Policy and The Guardian. He has reported and provided analysis on the situation in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, both in Arabic and English. For the past two years, he covered the conflict in Syria and Iraq as the Washington Post’s Beirut correspondent.

Jenny Peterson is a lecturer in the department of Political Science at the University of British Colombia. Before joining UBC, she worked as a lecturer at the Humanitarian and Crisis Response Institute at the University of Manchester from 2009-2013. Her teaching and research interests include international relations, comparative politics, humanitarian studies and peace studies.

Click attending on the Facebook event here to stay informed: https://www.facebook.com/events/806849542698029/?notif_t=plan_user_associated

For further reading on the panel discussion topics, please follow these links:

http://america.aljazeera.com/topics/topic/organization/ISIS.html
http://www.choices.edu/resources/twtn/twtn-isis.php
http://washingtonspectator.org/primer-isis-iraq-syria/

Social Justice Synonyms #16: “Illegal Immigrant”

Welcome to the sixteenth segment of Social Justice Synonyms, a column at The Talon that discusses harmful and oppressive language embedded in our culture and provides ways to unlearn this language.

This week’s term is illegal immigrant.

This piece pulls from the work of Harsha Walia, a local South Asian activist, whose book Undoing Border Imperialism talks about immigrant rights from within the transnational analysis of  “capitalism, labour exploitation, settler colonialism, state-building and racialized empire” [1].


“No one is illegal! Canada is illegal!” the crowd chanted in unison, voices reverberating from under a phalanx of umbrellas, as the rain accompanied those who had gathered to demonstrate at the 7th Annual March Against Racism that took place in Vancouver last year. In these seven words lie the essence of why the term “illegal immigrant” is all of harmful, dehumanizing and deeply flawed.

Here on Turtle Island (or North America, as it’s largely known), some people use the phrase “illegal immigrants” to refer to those who have crossed the (colonial) borders of the American and Canadian states in a way that violates the immigration laws of these settler colonial states. On lands that were settled through European colonialism, where land was taken away from Indigenous peoples by any means necessary, and where the result of this history still affects Indigenous people today, why aren’t white settlers on Turtle Island ever called ‘illegal immigrants’?

This discrepancy reveals that the term is racializing at its core, as it is levied largely against racialized people. More specifically, it has become synonymous with “Mexican” or “Latino”, as evidenced by its everyday colloquial use, as well as its use in pop culture, such as in (the irrevocably irritable) show South Park, or the Republican favourite, They Come to America.

Harsha Walia argues that what actually occurs in relation to borders is ‘border imperialism’, defined as the following:

“Border imperialism encapsulates four overlapping and concurrent structurings: first, the mass displacement of impoverished and colonized communities resulting from asymmetrical relations of global power, and the simultaneous securitization of the border against those migrants capitalism and empire have displaced; second, the criminalization of migration with severe punishment and discipline of those deemed “alien” or “illegal”; third, the entrenchment of a racialized hierarchy of citizenship by arbitrating who legitimately constitutes the nation state; and fourth, state-mediated exploitation of migrant labour, akin to conditions of slavery and servitude, by capitalist interests.” [2]

The most prevalent understanding is that Western generosity is extended towards displaced migrants; however, the root causes of such displacement are never discussed [3]. This narrative of benevolence can be further trumped when one considers how there are certain immigrants that are “the celebrated multiculturalism of Western governments’ carefully hand-picked (professional elite or investor class) diaspora” [4] that exist alongside the “deportspora”, a much larger and more diverse group of migrants [5].

When individuals are classified as “illegal immigrants” and are deported from either Canada or the United States as “criminals”, there is a larger system of domination at work. Borders are seen as needing protection, and as such, “by invoking the state itself as a victim, migrants themselves are cast as illegals and criminals who are committing an act of assault on the state” [6]. Under this logic, those innately constructed as being illegals, deviants, criminals, terrorists, or threats must be incarcerated, which is why many migrants are often detained [7]. As Walia argues, these migrant detention regimes constitute a large part of Western state-building and are an integral assertion of its border controls [8].

There’s also the notion that those who migrate ‘illegally’ “take advantage of the system.” This again speaks to a lack of understanding of the state and its colonial history. This framing also relies on the same state-perpetuated myths of tolerance and benevolence, such as the oft-repeated “Canadians are so nice and polite!” rhetoric.

What the discourse around “illegal immigration” obscures is the root causes of migration, or as I will explain, displacement. In an unequal global economic order, many are forced to move in order to seek better economic opportunities. Often they then find themselves working in precarious labour conditions as a result of state illegalization and therefore become even more vulnerable in the country they migrate to. Capitalism should therefore be understood as a major cause of mass displacement and migrations.

For example, the heavily surveillanced and securitized border between the U.S. and Mexico, where thousands of Mexican migrants have died while attempting to cross it, is a result of the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994. Under NAFTA, millions of Mexicans were forced into poverty and therefore forced to migrate to the U.S. to work in low-wage sectors [9]. Walia cites Professor William Robinson to summarize this dynamic:

“The transnational circulation of capital and the disruption and deprivation it causes, in turn, generates the transnational circulation of labour. […] In a sense this must be seen as coerced or forced migration, as global capitalism exerts a structural violence over whole populations and makes it impossible to survive in their homeland.” [10]

Operation Gatekeeper, the system of border patrols and surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border, was implemented the same year as NAFTA [11].

The term “illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing and destructive, obscuring so many systems of domination and power and placing blame squarely on those individuals that are the most marginalized and vulnerable–before, during, and after they migrate.

Many immigration activists point out that even the casual use of this term means that one is effectively saying that individuals themselves are unlawful, and thus have been long calling for the end of its use.

Below are some alternatives to the use of this term:

*Note: it is equally problematic to use the terms “alien”, “illegals”, “illegal alien”, etc.

Use / Context Alternatives
“The U.S. has so many illegal immigrants.” “The U.S. has so many undocumented/non-status immigrants.”
“She’s Mexican? Is she an illegal immigrant?” “She’s Mexican?”**Coupled with the refusal to make an assumption of someone’s status based on tired and offensive stereotypes.
“Ugh! All these illegal immigrants are here to steal jobs!” “Wow, it’s so sad how many migrants are forced into precarious labour and bad working conditions because of their marginalized status when they come here as a result of displacement caused by global capitalism.”

Sources:

[1] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia, back cover

[2] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 5

[3] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 4

[4, 5] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 53

[6] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 54

[7] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 61

[8] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 54

[9, 10, 11] Undoing Border Imperialism, by Harsha Walia,  pg. 43

Pride Collective’s Outweek: Call for Submissions

Outweek is an annual, week-long series of events focused on “laughing, (un)learning, and love” in the queer and trans communities on campus. The Pride Collective puts a lot of work into making Outweek thrive each year, hosting everything from discussions and workshops to performances and dances.

This year, Outweek runs from February 6-14, and The Talon is encouraging submissions from the community that connect to the spirit of Outweek and to Outweek 2015’s theme “sowing seeds and setting roots.” If you have related thoughts, we want to hear from you! We welcome submissions about any of the Outweek events, ideas presented at the events, and/or any other opinions, comments, or thoughts you may have.

The Talon especially encourages submissions from queer and trans Indigenous people, people of colour, neurodiverse and/or disabled folks. Borrowing from Queer U’s call for abstracts, we also encourage submissions related to the following topics during Outweek:

  • Queer/trans* diasporas
  • Temporalities of queer/trans* spaces
  • Innovative looks at the relationships between community and identity
  • Relationships between community and wellness
  • Intersections of queer/trans* communities with systems of power
  • Other related topics with anti-racist, anti-colonial, and/or intersectional feminist approaches

We hope to publish several of these submissions during Outweek, but we are also happy to feature related submissions throughout February. We hope that The Talon can be an avenue for sharing many of the critical reflections that develop during Outweek.

If you would like to submit, please review our submissions page and get in touch!