Madness, Violence, and the Patriarchy: guest post

Madness, Violence, and the Patriarchy: guest post

Image description: A colorized hallway in what might be a hospital. Text reads:
Madness, Violence, and the Patriarchy
(or, When My Favorite South Park Episode Changed from “Reverse Cowgirl” to “Breast Cancer Show Ever”)
guest post by Emily S. Cutler


This is a guest post by Emily Sheera Cutler. Emily is a Mad Pride activist, a movement that celebrates and finds value in the states, traits, and characteristics typically categorized as mental illness. She is passionate about providing and teaching non-coercive, context-informed approaches to suicide prevention and mental health crisis. Emily blogs about Mad culture and disability justice at www.radicalabolitionist.org, and you can find out more about her at www.emilyscutler.com.

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note on this post for discussion of self-harm, suicidality, involuntary psychiatric institutionalization


My Mad Pride activism began as a civil libertarian cause. I firmly believed that every individual deserved the inalienable right to bodily autonomy – full control over what to do with their own bodies and minds. I knew from day one of my activism that universal bodily autonomy meant bodily autonomy for individuals designated as Mad or mentally ill – those who were hearing voices, who were suicidal, who wanted to cut, burn, or injure themselves, etc. “Give me liberty or give me death” became a favorite quote of mine, and “People should have the right to do whatever they want as long as they are not violating another person’s bodily autonomy” became a line I often repeated.

A few days after I was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward after expressing passive suicidal thoughts, a group of my friends happened to be watching an episode of South Park entitled “Reverse Cowgirl.” In the episode, the South Park police department enforces a strict requirement of wearing seatbelts while using the bathroom after a character dies by almost falling into the toilet. The episode resonated so deeply with me that I was almost in tears. This, to me, is what being involuntarily committed had felt like: a profound invasion and intrusion upon my body, personhood, and dignity, a violent assault upon my autonomy, all in the name of public safety and security – all when I had not done anything to violate anyone else’s bodily autonomy.

It was shortly after my involuntary commitment that I launched my activism career. The central focus of my activism was the rejection of involuntary commitment for those who had not harmed or threatened to harm any other person’s bodily autonomy. Like many feminist efforts, my activism revolved around the personal liberties and rights of Mad people. Along with my efforts came my striving to promote the message that Mad people are not usually violent or abusive – that being a danger to oneself and a danger to others should not be conflated. “People diagnosed with mental illness are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence,” I would often say.

At that point the line felt clear. I was innocent. A victim. I hadn’t done anything wrong and yet I had been locked up, strip searched, forcibly drugged, and restrained.

But life happened and things got more nebulous. My fiancé came home one day and said he wanted to break up, and I sliced my arm, threatening suicide if he left. Suddenly I was no longer an innocent victim quietly expressing passively suicidal thoughts in an emergency room. I was a full blown crazy woman, using tears, manipulation, self-harm, and suicide threats to keep my partner in our relationship. While I hadn’t violated my fiancé’s bodily autonomy, I had certainly made the shift from “harm to self” to “harm to others.”

The events caused me to carefully re-examine my activism. So many of my arguments had hinged on the notion that madness is not inherently harmful to others, that individuals should have the right to experience and engage in madness that does not hurt other people. But here I was, Mad as hell, terrified of abandonment, engaging in actions that would be considered abusive or even violent by most. Who had I become? Was I one of the violent, dangerous Mad people I had so frequently otherized? “Those Mads” – the ones who deserved to be locked up, separated from society, forcibly drugged even? Was I not even Mad – just bad? Just plain abusive?

A few months later, I found myself rewatching Gone Girl, a film I’d hated when it first came out. What a stereotyping, misogynistic film, I had thought! It makes all women, and especially Mad women, look violent. For context, the film is about a woman named Amy who frames her husband for murder after he cheats on her with a younger, hotter woman. In many ways, Amy is the classic and stereotypical portrayal of the Madwoman: she is manipulative, jealous, possessive, violent, and does everything she can to ensure her husband will never leave her. “When I tell people I’m Mad, they’re going to think I’m violent and manipulative just like Amy,” I had thought.

This time, I felt completely differently about the film. All of the sudden, I could relate to Amy. When she delivered Gone Girl’s “Cool Girl” monologue, a lightbulb went off. I got it.

Below is the famous “Cool Girl” monologue:

“Nick never loved me. He loved a girl who doesn’t exist. A girl I was pretending to be. The Cool Girl. Men always use that as the defining compliment, right? She’s a cool girl. Being Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker and dirty jokes, who plays videogames and chugs beer, loves threesomes and anal sex and jams chilidogs into my mouth like I’m hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang-bang–while remaining a size 2, because cool girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool girls never get angry at their men, they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner. Go ahead! Shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the cool girl.

I waited patiently-years-for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, organize scrapbook parties and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, yeah, he’s a cool guy. Instead, women across the nation colluded in our degradation! Pretty soon every girl was Cool Girl, and if you weren’t, then there was something wrong with you.

But it’s tempting, to be Cool Girl. For someone like me, who likes to win, it’s tempting to be the girl every guy wants. When I met Nick I knew that’s what he wanted. For him, I was willing to try. I couldn’t have been Cool Girl with anyone else. I wouldn’t have wanted to. Nick teased things out in me I didn’t know existed: A lightness, a humor, an ease. And I made him smarter, sharper. I forced him to rise to my level. I was happier for those few years, pretending to be someone else, than I ever have been before or after.

But then it had to stop, because it wasn’t me! I hated Nick for being surprised when I became me. He couldn’t believe I didn’t love wax-stripping my pussy raw and blowing him on request. That my fantasy baseball team was not a labor of love. It had to stop. Committing to Nick, feeling safe with Nick, being happy with Nick, made me realize that there was a Real Amy in there, and she was so much better, more interesting and complicated and challenging, than Cool Girl. But Nick wanted Cool Girl anyway. Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your soulmate, and having him not like you?”

The “Cool Girl” monologue describes many of the insidious, subtle, overlooked forms of violence that the patriarchy has subjected people to for decades. It lists all of the ways that women are quietly coerced to conform to patriarchal standards of beauty and femininity to be loved and valued: maintaining thinness, engaging in unwanted sexual experiences, feigning interest in hobbies and interests that are constructed as masculine, and performing a sense of nonchalance and detachment toward romantic relationships. These are violences that affect us all but that are felt differentially and responded to differentially by people. While Amy is a white, thin, relatively privileged woman, it is often the most marginalized groups of women – women of color, queer women, neurodivergent women, trans women, and fat women – who experience the highest degree of pressure to make drastic alterations to their bodyminds in order to conform to these standards. For the most marginalized groups, these violences may result in coercion to disguise or kill off entire parts of one’s identity; failure to do so may result in more explicit forms of violence such as hate crimes, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or police brutality.

It was at this moment that it struck me that Amy was describing violence in the “Cool Girl” monologue. Being coerced to make painful, humiliating alterations to one’s bodymind in order to be valued is violence. “Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed,” Amy says. In some ways, it is murder.

But the patriarchy is hardly ever recognized as violent or murderous. Instead, it is seen as the norm, as acceptable. So Amy seeks to change that. She frames her husband for murder. She stages a violent, manipulative, crazy rebellion to the patriarchy. What other option did she have?

I had also attempted to be the “Cool Girl” in my relationship with my (now ex) fiancé. I had worked 80 hour weeks to perform capitalist ideals of success that he so admired, while still making sure to have enough time to spend with him every day. I had maintained thinness, forced myself to engage in strenuous exercise, participated in sexual acts I found degrading. I had given up real, important parts of myself – my Mad Pride, my Autistic identity, my outward disabledness. And here I was, being told that still wasn’t good enough. I had given up so much, and I was being pushed beyond a limit.

Slowly but surely, I started to get radicalized. I started to learn more about the systemic factors impacting not only suicide and self-harm but also violence. I began to think about the role that powerlessness and systemic devaluation play in driving people to extremes. I started to think about the ways people might feel trapped in situations and dynamics, and how sometimes they might see violence as the only or most feasible way to regain control or escape.

I still see Mad Pride partially as a civil libertarian movement. My belief that every person deserves bodily autonomy, including those who are hearing voices and those who are suicidal, has not changed. But Mad Pride is about so much more than that. I see it as a movement fundamentally about pain, and largely about the pain inflicted by systemic and structural forms of violence. I believe Mad Pride is about recognizing the validity and legitimacy of people’s reactions to this pain.

Like my earlier version of Mad Pride, I believe that feminism often attempts to distance itself from stereotypes. Many feminists have worked to reject the notion that women are more emotional, manipulative, hysterical, or crazy. They have fought to defend the fact that women are just as rational, intelligent, and sane as men. I recently saw a book entitled, “Strong is the New Pretty.” This echoes a sentiment I have often heard in feminist circles: women are not weak like men think we are. We are strong enough to rise above our impulses, to maintain a cool rationality and sense of logic, and to exercise our bodies to meet standards of physical able-bodiedness and athleticism. Of course, I am very grateful for these feminist efforts and lines of thinking; stereotypes are harmful to everyone.

However, I often wonder if, in working to reject these stereotypes, feminists disavow madness – particularly reactions to the patriarchy that may involve violence, manipulation, and strong emotions. What if sometimes our response to the patriarchy – to all of the violence that has been committed against us for thousands of years – involves being weak, being emotional, giving into our impulses to scream, to shout, to self-injure, to threaten suicide, to exact revenge? Is there space for this within feminism? Is there space to at least acknowledge the validity and legitimacy of these responses, even if they aren’t always the most ethically correct or appropriate course of action?

A few weeks ago, I watched the episode of South Park entitled “Breast Cancer Show Ever.” In the episode, Eric Cartman ruthlessly mocks Wendy Testaburger’s presentation on breast cancer awareness, with other students and teachers doing little to stop him. When Wendy threatens to fight him physically to stop him, she is disciplined by her parents. Cartman’s verbal abuse continues, and finally, the school principal, a woman, encourages Wendy to fight him physically. Explaining that she is a breast cancer survivor herself, the principal tells her that “cancer does not play by the rules” and that since cancer will not stop of its own volition, it is sometimes necessary to resort to extreme measures to defeat it.

The patriarchy will not stop of its own volition. It is relentless, demanding, and abusive, and although it does not always result in overt attacks of life-threatening or bodily autonomy-threatening force, it is violent and coercive, emotionally and psychologically. It is extreme, though it is not recognized as such. Sometimes such extremity merits extreme responses. Perhaps madness and particularly Mad women are sometimes violent, and perhaps that is exactly what is needed.

Instead of shaming women for having extreme responses to the extremity and violence of patriarchy, I believe that it is important to engage in practices of community care and accountability that seek to explore what overlooked kinds of violence may have led to these responses. I do not have an answer as to how survivors of trauma and ongoing structural violence can best be held accountable to their responses that may include violence or harm. However, I think it is critical that we begin by taking a closer look at what we define as violence or harm and what we define as acceptable or typical, and what types of actions do or do not merit an accountability process. As our justice system currently stands, a great deal of retribution is carried out against individuals who have committed violence or harm; almost no efforts are made to address systemic or structural violence. Similarly, physical violence – breaking the skin – is seen as the ultimate, most severe and punishable form of violence, while the pervasive psychological and emotional violence that coerces people to make alterations to their own bodyminds remains unaddressed. How can we begin to shift this dynamic? How can we create a system that focuses on addressing systemic and structural violence while still allowing for individual accountability?


This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!

Remembering and responding

Remembering and responding

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series. Normally, these are guest posts. This month, this is a post by Tiffany Sostar. Tiffany is a settler on Treaty 7 land, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.


This post is an expansion of a social media post I wrote on December 6. December 6 is National Day of Action and Remembrance on Violence Against Women, and the anniversary of the école Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

Here is the post from December 6:

29 years ago was the école Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

I am remembering the women who were killed 29 years ago for being in “men’s” educational spaces.

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), mechanical engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

 

I’m thinking about all the women who face misogyny and violence in their places of work or learning or living.

 

And I’m thinking about how heightened that threat is for women who are further marginalized.

 

My work over the last few months has focused on responding to the fear, despair, and grief over the state of political, economic, and environmental climate shifts.

 

Today, I am sharply reminded that what so much of what we see in in the news is not new. Some of us, who have been sheltered by our privilege, are in a new experience of apocalyptic fear and violence but for many Indigenous and Black and trans and refugee and queer communities, this is not new. Seeing these names, and grieving for them, I am also thinking about all the trans women who are never memorialized in this way because their womanness is erased in media coverage of their deaths, and about all the Indigenous women whose disappearances are not properly investigated, and about Black women who are also targeted and killed.

 

It’s harder to memorialize the slow massacres. That’s further injustice.

 

Other parts of this current context are new. The state of the environment, the wealth gaps that are widening and contributing to harm, the complex crush of late-stage capitalism adds complexity to the old issues of oppressive violence. This makes me think about the increasing rates of violence that marginalized communities face and are likely to face in the coming future.

 

It’s a heavy day.

 

Resist and respond to misogyny wherever you find it.

 

Stand up for women, femmes, and non-binary folks.

 

Stand up for women in spaces they aren’t “supposed” to be – for marginalized professional women, for women in STEAM, for women in sports.

 

Stand up for women who aren’t white or straight or cisgender or abled or neurotypical.

 

Be kind to the women, femmes, and non-binary folks in your life. It’s ugly out here.

After writing the post, I was reflecting on anti-feminism, and on white feminism and other mainstream feminisms that end up doing violence, especially Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) and Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). I was thinking about how challenging it is to respond to injustices within the community while also responding to injustice directed at the community.

The Feminism from the Margins series of posts has, so far, focused on responding to injustices within the community, and this is a critical and necessary focus. Harms and injustices are perpetuated within feminism by feminists who do not actively respond to their own privilege and dominance. We see this over and over again, notably this week from Lena Dunham who has spoken at length about her feminism and yet lied in order to discredit a Black women who came forward about her sexual assault by a white man who was a friend of Dunham’s. (This article from Wear Your Voice magazine goes into detail and history about this specific issue and the long pattern of white feminist erasure and violence.)

I’m also thinking about the fact that the école Polytechnique massacre was specifically anti-feminist. It was not just anti-woman, it was anti-feminist.

This is important. Anti-feminist violence is something that our community is facing, even as we are struggling to address and redress the harms done by feminists to other women and marginalized community members. This month, thinking about this project, thinking about feminism from the margins – feminism that happens on the margins, where we are more at risk, more vulnerable, more likely to face the kinds of slow and unmemorialized massacres of structural and systemic violence – I am wondering how to talk about violence within the community and also acknowledge violence directed at the community.

How do we respond in ways that invite community care, collaboration, and collective action?

The reason it feels important to talk about the anti-feminist violence is because 29 years ago the anti-feminist nature of the violence was erased, and it often continues to be erased today.

Melissa Gismondi at the Washington Post writes:

In the days, weeks and years following the attack, the question of whether it was anti-feminist became a point of contention.

Feminists pointed to some important evidence suggesting it was. They stressed that Lépine explicitly targeted women by segregating them from their male peers. Before he started shooting, he shouted, “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”

Lépine also left a suicide note that listed an additional 19 women he wanted to murder, including Francine Pelletier (a prominent feminist activist and journalist), a Quebec cabinet minister and some female police officers who’d angered Lépine by playing in a work volleyball league.

And yet a range of people from pundits to physicians saw the shooting in a different light. They denied the “political reasons” of the crime that Lépine himself espoused, arguing that the shooting was about the psychological collapse of one man who couldn’t find his place within society. For instance, a Montreal psychiatrist proclaimed in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper that Lépine was “as innocent as his victims, and himself a victim of an increasingly merciless society.” According to Pelletier, a Quebec City columnist also alleged that “the truth was that the crime had nothing to do with women.”

The brilliant Anne Thériault writes at Flare:

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we can’t fight against violence that we can’t name. So this year I’m saying what I’ve been too afraid to articulate until now: Marc Lépine was hunting feminists on December 6, 1989. His followers are still hunting feminists, and they don’t care what labels those feminists use. We can’t save ourselves by trying to appease men who see us as less than human. All we can do is keep rattling the cage until it finally breaks.

I suspect that we can work to resist violence both within our communities and directed at our communities by naming what is happening. And we can trust people to be able to name the problems that they are facing – we can listen to sex workers rather than naming their problem for them and then trying to “rescue” them from a problem we have misnamed and misunderstood; we can listen to Black women and Indigenous women and other women of colour rather than naming their problems for them and demanding that they wait their turn until “women” are “equal” before they can also demand justice; we can listen to disabled communities, neurodivergent communities, mad and neuroqueer communities, queer communities. It’s not just about naming, it’s also about who is allowed to give the name, who is treated as the expert in their own experience.

The reason this project feels important to me, and the reason I am so thankful for other projects that are intentionally bringing marginalized voices to the center (projects like Cheryl White’s Feminisms, Narrative Practice & Intersectionality series), is because there is so much violence and threat right now. And it is coming from so many directions.

There is so much fear. There is so much fragility. There are so many invitations to feel like a failure, and to give up. There is so much perfectionism, so much anxiety about saying the wrong thing (and a lot of this anxiety is warranted!)

So many of us are so afraid.

So many marginalized communities have been silenced for so long.

It feels important to make space for many voices. To hold each other accountable. To care for our communities in ways that are both robustly justice-oriented and that also maintain the dignity of our community members.

That’s the goal of the Feminism from the Margins series, and it feels important this month, as I think about violence, and fear, and how we remember.

In another post Anne Thériault gives necessary context and humanizing personal details to the list of names, “trying desperately to remember them as bright, lively young women instead of statistics.”

It’s worth reading, and it’s worth thinking about in terms of how we engage with each other, as well. When someone is sharing their pain, how do we respond? When someone is angry, how do we hear it?

The silencing that feminists experienced after the Montreal massacre is something that is still happening, both within feminisms and directed at feminists.

We can practice community care by learning from how we have been hurt, and by not silencing marginalized communities who are trying to tell us how they have been hurt and what they need in order to find justice.

We can listen to the margins.

We can do better.

Stasha, writing about the massacre, said:

1989 was probably the first time that I wondered why men hate us enough to kill us. I was nine. I think of the daily fear that Indigenous, Black and trans women face. I think of the next generation growing up with knees-together judges and pussy-grabbing presidents.

And I cry with frustration that I can’t offer anything better to the next generation. It makes me furious to watch them feeling hunted, and to only be able to support in the aftermath, with no ability to prevent. It hurts me so much that this is seen as a women’s issue, how fucking absurd.

On this day, I think about strangers trying to kill us for living fully, but I always return to the attacks from people who say they love us, because I can’t get over that there are no safe places.

We have to be part of the work of creating safe places.

It’s not good enough the way it is now.


This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!

Responding to the Comments: guest post

Responding to the Comments: guest post

Image description: A tweet, retweeted by Red Thunder Woman (@N8V_Calgarian). 

Dear non-natives, dismissing Native voices fighting against the stereotypical racial imagery seen in things like mascots and Halloween costumes because you “don’t think it should be considered offensive” is ignoring the harm it does to us.


This is a guest post by Nathan Viktor Fawaz. Nathan is a settler on Treaty 7 land, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.


This post is an expansion of a comment that Nathan was going to share on this CBC article. In the article, Michelle Robinson said, “Our culture is not a costume. We are real people with a real culture and depicting it incorrectly just adds to negative stereotypes and adds to violence we face.”

The comment section on this article became full of comments that ranged from aggressively racist to casually ignorant.

Some of these comments included:

“As a doctor, ought I be offended at those who dress as doctors for halloween?”

“I’m pretty sure that most kids dress up like this or firemen or police men or… the list can go on an on… because it’s admirable, not because any racial or heritage put down. By this account even my 4 yr old son is being disrespectful?? Why is everyone quick to assume their a victim?”

“This is what causes magnified racism. There are cowboys, bakers, fat suits, etc. I could go on and on. Your indigenous clothing is chosen for its beauty. Be proud you have beautiful clothing to be replicated. I am fat and they are not wearing that fat suit because it is awesome.”

“Most cultures have costumes depicting them. Shouldn’t it be seen as celebrating the culture?”

Nathan did not share this comment, in part, because it is too long for a comments section, and in part because this is such a tricky topic to speak about as a settler. In many ways, this Feminism from the Margins post is different from others because it is the margins aligning with the margins to speak to the centre, it is an attempt at allyship and accompliceship from a position of different marginalization.

Nathan wrote:

I wanted to respond to these comments, because I am working on decolonizing practices and incorporating them into my everyday life. Using my privilege to comment, as a settler, on news articles and social media is one small way I am learning how to be clear and unapologetic about pointing out ways in which individuals are reinforcing the oppression of indigenous people while also trying to keep people (in this case settlers) engaged in thinking about how what they have said is out of line with how they might think of themselves as good people.

I do not do this often, because as someone experiencing disability, and as a non-binary transperson of mixed race, I do and have experienced an amount of violence on these threads, and I still struggle to read them.

I am writing about how, as settlers, we are expecting that Indigenous people, who are still in the same generation of people with direct experience of residential schools, let alone having descended from parents and grandparents who were in those schools — schools that were so harsh, in part, in order to make Indigenous people more like white people — we are expecting people who experienced abuse and torture to heal. I think we use the phrase: ‘get over it’.

And, I can see a good intention there. Trauma that isn’t transformed gets transmitted. But, being human, we all know how hard the work of transformation is.

Having never attended a residential school, nor having been raised in whole or part by someone who has, in a community of people who have, I can only think about this from an outside perspective and in terms of analogies.

It seems to me that for many years, Indigenous people have had their suffering denied, and in fact have been told that they should be grateful for their treatment, and this seems to me somehow related to the way that many marginalized people are denied self-knowledge and accurate medical care.

So, Indigenous people have worked to find language for a problem that was imposed on them and then denied by the people who imposed the problem.

When something similar happens to anyone, for example, a person seeking medical care for anything related to a brain (trauma, concussion, mental illness, injury), first we experience our health problem, and then we learn about it, and then we accept we have to do something to address it, then maybe we plan, and then we take a first action. And often, this first action is met with resistance by people in power. And sometimes also met with internal resistance, because we have not learned how to trust our own self-knowledge, and even our own dignity, or even our own integrity. I know many people who can attest to this. Many people’s experience of this is denied because doctors are supposed to be the experts, and people’s self-knowledge is often denied. As Indigenous self-knowledge has been repeatedly denied, and rendered invisible, both by people in power and people watching from the outside.

This can happen even with the best of intentions, and even by people who are well-trained in their fields. This can happen even with the best of intentions, and even within people who think of themselves as strong, who do not like to complain or raise a ruckus. The invisibilization of Indigenous experiences has been baked into our education systems, our political systems, our healthcare systems. I’m not making this analogy in an effort to devalue the knowledge of doctors, policy makers, and other authority figures, but rather to note that sometimes things are missed, and by things, I mean people and their experiences. These missing people and their experiences then become rendered as non-existent, non-compliant, or insignificant outlier rather than acknowledged as missing. Unacknowledged people and their experiences are being overwritten by what is often called the ‘common-sense’ understanding of how things are into the fabric of Hallowe’en costumes, postcards, snow globes, the names of roads, healthcare policy, access to housing and clean water.

It seems to me, that Indigenous people have a hundreds-year long history of being taken from, spoken for, and assimilated into settler culture and, it seems that Indigenous people are doing the work they need to in order to assess, make plans, and take action toward healing.

It seems to me that Indigenous people have a 112 year long wound that has been inflicted and re-inflicted on them, and that has been denied over and over, and that one part of this wound – the residential schools – only officially ended 22 years ago. Through this time, they have had the experience of being told their personal integrity is inferior to settler integrity, and that their dignity cannot be earned from us, no matter the effort.

If Indigenous people do have a history of experiencing undignified treatment and are taking collective and individual acts of integrity to reinforce the boundary of dignity, then, it seems to me, we are the people who can either acknowledge this fact or continue a history of denial.

I cannot undo hundreds of years of colonization. But I can do present day work to separate the past and present by taking a stand with my own integrity and saying: Indigenous people are calling for these costumes to be taken off store shelves, they are calling the their right to sacred practice, which is parodied in these costumes, to be restored to them.

I cannot change what a priest at St. Anne’s might have done, but I can choose to not buy a halloween headdress, or white sage, with almost no effort.

Like, I had to listen to someone explain why these costumes are a problem. Which took three minutes of time. And then simply not buy something.

This is much less dedication than it takes for me to make breakfast in the morning.

No one person can give another their dignity. But when someone, like Michelle is doing, stands up to claim it, I can certainly listen, consider the information, and support her in claiming it.

I can work to acknowledge and honour the history.

And I am delighted to do so.

I have noticed that many people do not share my delight or my perspective. And so I am wondering if you can help me understand the needs that are informing your frustration and anger and irritation.

I do not want to change your mind. And I do not want you to change mine. Because we could only ever both be defensive in that context, we could only ever fight: me to be heard, and you to be right, or vice versa. So, let us speak in the space between minds. In the pause that exits between attack and counter-attack. We just have a split-second, don’t you see?

Let’s pause it right here.

I would like to know more about your integrity. About what makes you the good person you are and how that lines up with what you have written here today.

I do not expect much in the way of exchange here. This is a comment section after all, but, I thought I would ask. Maybe there is some wounding in your world, maybe some healing transformation you are trying to make that I am not seeing.

Please help me understand.

Now. Don’t kid yourself. We cannot stay in this place of pause forever. At some point, we will each have to decide in thought, word, and action where we will land. What side we will end up on. But, for now, we have a moment, a breath, five minutes between meetings to ask ourselves if our thoughts, words, and actions are lining up with our intentions and our values.

People writing these comments wrote of Halloween as: fun, of costumes being celebrations of beauty. I agree. As we consider what Hallowe’en costumes we will and will not purchase, let them be fun, let them be beautiful, let them be celebrations of our intentions and values. Let them be on the right side of history.


Further reading:

  • From Michelle Robinson: ‪In light of the Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 Calls to Action; Business and Reconciliation, Call 92, Section iii, we the undersigned hereby demand Spirit Halloween LLC, End All Sales of Racist Indigenous Costumes #cdnpoli #IndigPoli‬ Sign the change.org petition.
  • Michelle Robinson’s podcast interview with Naomi Sayers of Kwe Today.
  • Native Appropriations by Adrienne Keene is an important blog about native representation and the appropriation of native cultures.
  • Âpihtawikosisân blog by Chelsea Vowel, particularly these posts on the topic of costumes.

This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!

Lies, Damn Lies and White Feminism: guest post

Lies, Damn Lies and White Feminism: guest post

Image description: A single sunflower growing against a concrete wall.

Editor’s note: As the co-curator of this series, one thing I’ve realized over the last seven months is that when space is held for the anger that marginalized folks feel towards mainstream white feminism, that anger flows and along with it comes critical, valuable insight into how to do better. Before this project, I knew that tone policing the anger of marginalized communities was a problem because of how it harmed those communities – being silenced is further violence. SINCE this project, I am realizing how tone policing that anger also harms privileged communities because it cuts us off from the wisdom that folks have to share. This post is angry, and the author worked for months to get it written because she has experienced so much harm when she’s tried to bring up these topics before. I am incredibly honoured to host this piece, despite – no, because! – I have been guilty of so many of the racist behaviours she calls out. If you’re a white feminist and you end up reading this and needing to process it, reach out to other white folks for that emotional labour. I’m available, and so are lots of other folks.

This is a guest post by an anonymous Black woman. She is writing anonymously because she has lived experience of the backlash that can result from speaking openly about these issues.

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.


Did you know Black women have superhuman strength? We feel neither fear nor pain and do not suffer (at least not to the same degree as you do), so we cannot be harmed as much as you. This makes us perfect warriors for causes that primarily benefit you. We are eager to give our labour to you without expecting or needing reciprocity. In fact, it’s an honour to do all the things for you. Our needs are always negotiable because we don’t really need things as much as you and it would be unfair to expect you to accommodate our needs or fight for our rights, especially if that interferes with your comfort because dammit, you’re marginalized too.

We don’t expect or need fairness from you because it’s not like we need that to the same extent you do. Your whiteness does not bestow any power or privilege on you that our being strong and sassy doesn’t more than make up for. We are totally okay with being your Black friend, to be trotted out as evidence that you are not racist. It’s not like we even notice you doing this and it has no effect on our ability to trust you. In fact, we don’t need you to be loyal or trustworthy because that would be demanding too much labour from you and dammit, you’re marginalized too.

It’s okay for our interactions and the division of labour between us to be decided by you or on your terms because you’re a natural leader, objective and fair. We don’t need the same rights you do – they can be substituted for nice gestures and we won’t even notice. We need you to teach us and rescue us from things, because you know better than we do, even when it is about our experiences and not yours. When you benefit, we all benefit. Your needs are representative of all women’s, because you’re marginalized too.

We will always be available when you need attention and validation. We conveniently don’t have needs that we should not be willing to sacrifice for your comfort, because solidarity. You are fragile and innocent, so it’s okay for your learning to cost us our safety and wellbeing. We have no problem with you taking out your petty jealousies and insecurities on us, because that’s not really what you’re doing. We are responsible for managing our emotions as well as yours. It’s okay for you to centre yourself and your needs in every space and situation at the expense of WOC because you can’t help it and anyway, you’re marginalized too.

It’s okay to want to smash the patriarchy and dismantle White Supremacy until those powerful White men act in ways that benefit you. It’s okay to throw the rest of us under the bus because we are too demanding anyway. We don’t mind when you point at us and cry because you’re just trying to be heard. You don’t intend for us to be brutalized or killed as a result. You’re not like those other White women who weaponize their tears because dammit, you’re marginalized too.

We will feel immediate kinship with you and trust you because you follow and repost Black people/pages on social media, are currently fucking a Black person, have Black children or just think Black people are cool and want one of your own. All of these things exempt any of your behaviour from being perceived as racist, because you’re woke as fuck and besides, you’re marginalized too.

We are not trying desperately to survive our marginalization; we also have the privilege of using the color of our skin to claim victimhood for the singular purpose of getting unfair advantages over you. We don’t mind your assumption that everyone has the luxury of doing that. The absence of Whiteness is just some minor inconvenience to us that doesn’t get us brutalized or killed. Don’t worry, we won’t upset, annoy or oppress you by calling you on your shitty, racist, exploitative, unjust behaviour because dammit, you’re marginalized too.

Hopefully by now you’ve caught the sarcasm and implication of bullshit-ery. Good.

So, you want to know how not to be a shitty, racist, fake-woke White person?

Well, brace yourself because here it comes. STOP. Do not pursue any kind of relationship with a POC until you are prepared to face some hard truths, and DO THE WORK to be less harmful and maybe even eventually truly inclusive. If you look around the room at any gathering of humans you’re enjoying yourself at and there are either no POC or only one, your group has a problem. No exceptions. I know your brain is starting to protest loudly along the lines of “But sometimes that happens without us planning it.” No, it doesn’t. Every racially homogenous group is the result of active or passive exclusion of others. If you were as uncomfortable in rooms with no POC in them as POC are, you would avoid being in them as studiously as we do.

Do not bombard a POC you’ve just met or barely know with your anti-racist/anti-oppression resume.

This includes plying us with ‘Gifts From A Woke White Person’ in exchange for being your ‘’POC friend, or worse, accommodating racist behaviour from you and your White friends and family, because gross. Gift those books written by POC to your White peeps. Better yet, read them yourself. We will figure out how to teach our children to love and value themselves. You go and teach yours how not to hate and devalue them. Deal? Gifts are not a substitute for rights or equity, and they never will be, so spare us the labour of having to smile and be polite about your patronizing, colonizing, benevolent racism. If the thought ever pops into your head to mention your POC friends, lover, children, etc. during a conversation with a POC you’ve just met, please just arrest that shit and do not allow it to escape through your mouth. We may react by smiling politely if you do any of the aforementioned, but we’re really imagining your head on a spike outside the tower of STOP YOUR NONSENSE. Not really, but my point is, it’s incredibly offensive.

If a POC can tolerate your presence long enough or trust you enough to risk calling you on any kind of shitty behaviour, understand that they are taking an enormous risk and have decided your clueless ass might actually be worth it. Don’t make them regret it by getting all ‘in your feels’ and defensive, and accusing them of not liking, or worse, oppressing you. Do not try to be in any POC’s space if you aren’t prepared to respect their boundaries or be called on your shitty, racist behaviour. If what you want is to be fed ally cookies and reassured that you’re not racist, that is racist AF. Smile, wave, and keep your oppressive ass moving in the direction of books, documentaries, artwork, etc. by POC or White Nonsense Roundup.

Never, ever use having challenges (disability, mental health, etc.) as an excuse for not being willing to do the work of confronting and addressing your racism. There are POC folks with visible and invisible disabilities dealing with the same shit PLUS racism. There are way too many POC folks living with serious mental health issues, many of which are exacerbated by our experience of racism, and with fewer resources because of systemic racism. Everything you are dealing with, valid as it is, we also deal with. And we deal with racism too.

If you ever find yourself throwing out a counter-accusation of harm when a POC is calling you on harmful behaviour towards them, just STOP. There are serious consequences for POC who dare to point out racist behaviour (right up to losing our lives) ESPECIALLY when we call out ‘progressive’ White people who consider themselves ‘woke’. Really, y’all are THE FUCKING WORST when it comes to dishing out counter-accusations and punishment in epic fits of fragility and saltiness. POC have highly developed bullshit-o-meters when it comes to detecting White nonsense. It’s how we survive living among you (those of us who manage to survive, anyway).

Expect us to call bullshit and shut all the way down if you frame resistance to harm as an attempt to harm you. Using accusations of ableism in a discussion about racism is racist as fuck. Just…NO. These may be important conversations, but when they are presented as: “I can’t do better because of X, Y, Z challenge and you expecting me to is ableist” we know you are refusing to acknowledge your own harmful behaviour and turning us into the aggressor. You’re asking us to make your challenge/s the most important one/s so that everyone else must prioritize accommodating it/them, even if that is harmful to someone else. Don’t bring your bullshit Oppression Olympics into a conversation about racism. White women are hands down the fucking worst for doing this, owing to the infusion of White womanhood with the expectation of automatic victimhood. If you are expecting any POC to accommodate your challenge/s at the expense of their safety or wellbeing, you are being racist AF. Stop it.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it is rarely the case that a POC in your life has fewer challenges than you do or that they struggle any less with their challenges than you do with yours. Not being whiny and entitled is not the same as not struggling or feeling intense pain. We manifest pain differently because society has taught us that our pain doesn’t matter. And being noisy about it results in reprimand because having to acknowledge our pain, and ultimately our equal humanity, makes White people uncomfortable. Learn to recognize those differences. It will help you be less harmful and maybe even earn the trust of a POC.

It is not my responsibility to accommodate harmful behaviour at the expense of my wellbeing. We just don’t care for measuring who is the biggest victim, or who gets to use their struggle as a shield against having to work on their shit. That is YOUR preoccupation. Stop projecting your shit on to us. There is no benefit to POC from engaging in Oppression Olympics. Our communities are extremely internally diverse in terms of needs and ability, and we mostly manage to figure it out without there needing to be any competition. Try to remember that being the biggest victim has no appeal to people who do not expect to be accommodated or have their needs considered, let alone prioritized. Trying to force a POC to justify their need for you to be less harmful by pointing out your challenges in an attempt to guilt them into silence and acceptance of that behaviour is entitled and abusive.

So, what can you say instead? Try: “Because of X, Y, Z, challenge/s it will be harder for me to make the changes necessary to be less harmful. But I am committed to making these changes and would appreciate an explanation of how my behaviour is harmful or guidance with developing and implementing a strategy for addressing it, would you be able to do that or recommend some resources?” We are fucking exhausted all the time but we will dig deep and find the energy to point you in the direction of ‘less harmful’ if that’s what you genuinely want to be. Being able to breathe a bit more freely around you is worth that to us. That being said, do not ever demand our labour or accommodation. You are not entitled to either. They may be freely given and received in reciprocal relationships – the kind you have been socialized not to have with POC but can happen if you are genuinely interested.

White women, do not call yourself an intersectional feminist if you expect WOC to devote an iota of our energy to doing anything that benefits you without first being prepared to address your racism. I, for one, am DONE listening to any White woman complain about how much you are struggling or what I can do to accommodate you without your active demonstration of willingness to address your racism, and White Supremacy’s thirst for hierarchy and dominance over POC bodies. I am tired of your lies and duplicity. I am uninterested in your empty promises that you will focus on addressing your racism just as soon I do what is necessary to make you more comfortable. You cannot be trusted to hold up your end of the bargain. I make that statement with the weight of a history behind it that names you a damned liar.

Own your white feminism, and be prepared to do the work to be truly intersectional in your practice, or stay the hell away from me. You are not my sister or my friend until you do what is necessary to earn my trust.


Further reading:


This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!

Three Variations on a Conversation: cis- and heteronormativity in medical settings – guest post

Three Variations on a Conversation: cis- and heteronormativity in medical settings – guest post

Image description: A head-and-shoulders portrait of Beatrice in a formal dress with brunette hair in an up-do. The portrait is by Lorna Dancey photography.

This is a guest post by Beatrice Aucoin. Beatrice is a breast cancer survivor and queer writer originally from Cape Breton. She makes her home in downtown Calgary with her wife, Brett Bergie; their son, Sam; and their cat, Tom. You can find both Beatrice and Tom on instagram.

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.


“And Brett, he works at?” the doctor asks.

I somehow don’t groan. Not this again, I think. It feels like every conversation I have with a new medical professional joining my breast cancer team reaches this same point. I’ve written on the intake forms who Brett is to me, but it’s always glossed over until I say it out loud. Maybe one day my life won’t feel like I’m always coming out against being assumed straight with a cis partner.

“She,” I say.

“Oh yes, I can see ‘chief’ as part of the job title–“ she begins, having misheard me.

“Brett’s a woman, my wife,” I blurt out. “She’s trans.”

The psychiatrist looks up at me from where he’s furiously scribbling notes.

He’s just asked me how long my husband and I have been married.

“My apologies,” he says.

There’s an awkward pause between us.

“It’s okay,” he says.

Why would I think it’s not okay? I don’t need anyone’s reassurance that my marriage is okay for existing.

“I’m gay and been with my husband for 20 years,” he continues.

Then why would he use a gendered term and assume my partner is of the opposite sex? The answer pops into my mind as quickly as I’ve thought of the question: paradigms of straightness and everyone being cis are so engrained in medical culture that even a gay psychiatrist assumes that my cis female self has a cis male partner.

“That’s awesome,” I tell him on his own marriage. It is awesome, and we LGBTQ2+ folx need to hear that being ourselves is awesome. We live in a world where so many people tell us we are wrong for existing. It was only a few months ago outside of our own home that someone told Brett and me, “That’s disgusting,” for holding hands.

“Brett and I have been married for 12 years,” I say proudly.

After I establish that Brett is a woman and my wife and the person I’m speaking to apologizes to me for getting Brett’s gender wrong, we come the second point in this conversation. I have a son named Sam, and medical professionals always seem to need to know how exactly he came to be in the world. Knowing whether or not I’ve had a biological child is important to discussing my overall health and does affect understanding what went into me ending up with breast cancer at 36. But except for genetics counselling, I don’t know the relevance of essentially being asked who my baby daddy is. Maybe during one of these appointments if I don’t feel too agitated at having to come out yet again, I’ll feel comfortable enough to ask.

The genetics counsellor is looking with confusion at me. She spends much of her working life putting people into family trees that are coded in strict cisgender binaries. Squares are for men; circles are for women. I have just listened to her give a cisnormative lecture with a bunch of other people who are here for breast cancer genetic testing. My skin crawled the whole time because I worried I wouldn’t be safe coming out, and I ended up being paired afterward for a private consultation with the genetics counsellor who gave the lecture. My family blows up the circles and squares of the family tree. The genetics counsellor’s frown tells me she thinks I’ve filled out my family tree chart incorrectly.

“So how…” she begins.

“Is Brett the other biological parent?” the psychiatrist asks. (I happily note that he doesn’t use a gendered term here.)

“Is Sam adopted, or did you give birth to him?” the doctor asks.

“Brett is Sam’s biological father,” I tell all three of them. “She goes by dad with Sam and uses feminine nouns and pronouns, otherwise.”

I would like to be able to tell you that this medical coming-out conversation gets easier with time, but it doesn’t. Nor are these the only times I’ve had this conversation; these are just three recent examples of it. I get asked over and over to explain me and my family.

One day, I hope medical professionals think to use gender neutral terms in discussing a patient’s family and let patients decide from there whether to use gendered language or not. But until then, I’ll be having variations on this conversation. The more I have to explain how my family doesn’t fit with someone else’s preconceived notions of how a family is, the more emotionally exhausted I am.


Further reading:

Beatrice and I both had trouble finding further reading on this topic, because although it is an issue that comes up more frequently than folks realize, it’s not yet one that been written about extensively. I hope that will change!

For now, here are some links:


This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!

Holding hope for Indigenous girls – guest post

Holding hope for Indigenous girls – guest post

Image description: An Indigenous woman with stars in her hair, carrying an upside-down Canadian flag that reads “151 years of resistance.” This amazing art was created by Chief Lady Bird (on Instagram @chiefladybird), and was donated for use in this project when Michelle Robinson requested this as the image for her post. I am constantly astonished at the talent, creativity, generosity, and ethic of community care present on the margins.

This is a guest post by Michelle Robinson, the first Indigenous woman to run for city council in Calgary.

I am Michelle Robinson, a proud mother, wife, owner of 2 dogs (3 in my heart,) a proud Dene, Flames fan, and Calgarian. I have lived, worked, and volunteered for over a decade in Ward 10. I chose to buy a home in Abbeydale, raise my daughter, and enjoy my life with my husband because of the great people, food, and businesses.

I was born, started elementary here in Calgary and have lived in Fort McMurray as well as Sylvan Lake, before returning to Calgary in 1995. My working class family raised me with pride and this foundation gave me the determination to work full time while attending night classes at SAIT to complete geomatics drafting. My background is in the oil and gas industry, geomatics, crime prevention, family violence prevention, poverty and harm reduction, and cultural diversity education with police inclusion.

My passion is in creating healthy and safe communities where all can thrive. I support families of missing and murdered Indigenous people here by volunteering with the Sisters in Spirit Committee. I volunteer with the LBGTQ2+ community by passing policies of inclusivity and continuing to advocate. I work on policy development on many issues at both federal and provincial levels. I advocate for human rights with a cultural lens, and volunteer occasionally at my daughter’s school.

I enjoy reading books, scuba diving, motorcycles, watching films, swimming, pow wows, exploring Alberta, walking my dogs and relearning my culture.

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note for references to anti-Indigenous violence, sexual abuse, domestic violence.


I am listening to my daughter having a sleep over with a friend and they are giggling away. My girl is 10 going on 30… I joke but not only does she seem wiser, she has grown in her 10 years with knowledge I didn’t have.

I watched my parents beat each other. My girl has heard snippets of my experience but has never seen that. She will never have that trauma of watching people who say they love each other, treat each other that way. There was no Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary then.

((giggling in the background))

By the time I was her age, my parents split but the visits were so hard on me, I had migraines at her age from the stress. They even had another fist fight on the visit, in public, in Rotary Park in Red Deer in front of tons of witnesses who did nothing. My daughter will never have that and thank gawd for that. I ran away from visits and resented so much.

((giggling in the background))

I think about the gap when I saw my mother for the last time my parents were together, how violent that was. I didn’t see either of my parents for months and was confused.

((giggling in the background))

I didn’t know if my mom was even alive for years. I cried every night thinking about her. I thought of her beautiful black hair and her unconditional love. I had to finally ask if she was even alive to find out she was. We lived and left the town of Ft. McMurray. This was before I was 10.

((giggling in the background))

The sad thing is, I know I’m so privileged. I stayed with grandparents. I had my father. Eventually I had my mother and her entire family every other Saturday for 2 hours. By this time I was taught how awful women and Indigenous people were and I was ashamed of my own Indigenous family. Of course I hated myself too but didn’t understand internalized racism at all.

((giggling in the background))

I NEVER want another Indigenous girl to feel self-hate. I don’t want another Indigenous girl to feel hurt. I want every Indigenous person to feel pride, self-love, healthy relationships, unconditional love from their family.

((giggling in the background))

I know in my first 10 years of my life there were things I didn’t know until later. Indian Residential Schools, incest, divorce, healthy relationships, internalized racism, structural racist policies, legislative racism, Indian Act, misogyny, colonialism, legal divorce proceedings, are just part of a dynamic it has taken me 41 years to get to and yet I keep learning new things everyday.

((girls come down for juice and snacks with fun joking and convos about youtube))

We didn’t have books about any of these topics. We had Little House on the Prairie, where natives weren’t human but savages. Settlers were brave, courageous and good Christians which was reinforced by the 7 Christian churches in Sylvan Lake in a town of only 3000-ish. The books I had access to didn’t reflect me, but I read Nancy Drew anyway.

((giggling in the background, acting out “refreshing” iced tea commercials straight from our fridge))

When I was 10, Lois was murdered in her bowling alley by gunshot in Sylvan Lake. Her husband Alex LaFramboise was charged and convicted, but the conviction was dismissed. I walked to and from school by the RCMP detachment that brought in a white trailer for her murder investigation. But one day that trailer left. Even when someone is found guilty of killing a woman, there is no guarantee that justice will be served.

((girls go upstairs giggling))

I already knew women didn’t matter to the law by then. This was without internet. I had internalized misogyny by then too.

((girls are watching an ipad together with giggling))

Last week, Samantha was given a cheque from her school to give to Awo Taan for a fundraiser she did on June 21. She walks up and down stairs that have #MMIWG2 signs, in a house with pictures of Colton Crowshoe, and Janel Squirrel on shelves or pinned to curtains.

((giggling))

Today my husband and I had an argument and Samantha cried. We all worked it out and went for a pancake breakie with friends.

((giggling))

So if that is my story, privilege and all, imagine how other stories of 10 year old Indigenous girls are today… in many ways, absolutely nothing has changed. In some ways, things are better. No matter if it’s better or not, their stories of their lives, matter. Their journeys matter to me.

((we get kisses good night))

I share on Twitter and Facebook a missing 10 year old girl from Vancouver – MaryJane Tom – and log off to do prayers for her and many others as they go on their journeys.

“‘Kay girls – time for lights out.”

((more giggles))


Update: MaryJane Tom was found safe.

Read about Colton Crowshoe.

Read about Janel Squirrel.

Read about #MMIWG2 (Missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirits) at the Families for Sisters in Spirit.

Donate to Awo Taan Healing Lodge.


This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!

Also check out the other posts in the series:


Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!