“The problem with revolutions, of course, is that people die to give them way.”
-Kai Cheng Thom, #NotYet
Much like Ariana Grande’s iconic moment of vulnerability when accepting the Billboard Woman of the Year award, 2018 had been the best year for my career and the worst for my life. In fact it’s been my work and art that allowed for numerous cis Indigenous folks to create devastating rippling impacts on my life. Through networks of whispers and kinship, I realized I couldn’t publicly name my Indigenous abusers.
2018 saw me spend over three months on frontlines protesting pipelines, where I came directly in contact with violent transmisogyny from Indigenous men. I allowed my body to come under scrutiny, but made it clear we were all there to stop the exploitative nature of Corporate monsters. I allowed my body to be cratered by slurs and misinformation, and when I finally decided to say something I was punished.
According to these powerful Indigenous men, by asking someone to be aware the joke they made was homophobic and transphobic, I was being disrespectful to a Powerful Indigenous Man on his “Healing Journey.” I had simply stated that the string of words that left his lips caused harm and that I experienced this harm. But as I would come to realize, an Indigenous Man’s healing takes precedence over an Indigenous Woman’s safety.
I left the frontlines soon after, when a môniyâw man told me I would be the next Colten Boushie, that I would end up dead in a ditch with a hole in my head, and finished off his death threat by calling me a squaw. When I asked the môniyâw man to leave the same Indigenous man from before berated me for not offering a meal and a seat beside me. For three hours, me and six other femmes were scolded by Indigenous men for defending our safety and supposed sovereignty as women.
When I began to talk about my feelings as a trans woman in environmental activism and my experience with Indigenous men, I was surprised at how often cisgender Indigenous women became hostile to me. According to them, I was going after their men when as a Two Spirit person it was my duty to help them grow.
What does it mean when someone else’s growth could kill me? What happens when I reject the idea of forever being a tool for someone else’s progression and education?
What happened was social death.
“Trans women, though, literally derive life support from our social networks. We access shelter, care, jobs, even food through word of mouth and communal knowledge. We aren’t protected by law or social institutions, for the most part. We can’t just pick up and start over.
For us, social death is real death.”
-Kai Cheng Thom, 4 Ways That Call-Out Culture Fails Trans Women
In the following months, I removed another Indigenous man from my life for emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse. His actions were transmisogynistic and aggressive and he weaponized “woke” articles to gaslight me into educating him.
I was ultimately okay with taking the brunt of the abuse until I found out he was going through my friend list for other Indigenous non-binary and femme folks and using my name and my work as a tool to gain entry into their lives.
I had completely removed him from my life and I began to feel further and further isolated from our shared community in the spoken word and literature scene. Instead of having my boundaries and needs respected, I found I was being spoken of quite poorly, especially in the Indigenous arts scene in Vancouver. I heard whisperings of me falsely claiming Indigeneity, some calling me a white man posing as an Indigenous woman.
I think speaking with friends and community is important. I do not fault this man for having conversations about this situation with friends and community especially in times of harm and hurt, and especially when people with marginalized identities are in conflict with each other. But when those conversations shift into publicly calling an Indigenous Trans woman a white man, I take issue. You can have your issues with me, you can critique me all you want, but do not make commentary on my Indigeneity and my gender in such violent manners. Respect my pronouns. Respect my self actualization and discovery of my body and identity. I don’t care if you hate me, I care about the language you use to hate me.
When I spoke out about this too I was shamed into silence, a ploy to make me seem like the unreasonable one, the controlling one. I was silencing his “dialogue” (one I was never a part of but always the subject of), by asking him to remove the violent language being used to talk about me. I removed myself from publications I was accepted in after I found out he was also going to be in them. Many of the publishers asked me to stay on and removed his name and work, often without consulting me. This happened with shows as well. I was silently removing myself to shake off the impact and presence of my abuser, I wasn’t intending to have him removed.
Time and time again, I was asked to help him heal and grow. Time and time again, I declined. Yet again, my body, mind, and well-being were asked to take a back seat to the growth of an Indigenous man.
Why not just name these men and women and state publicly how they harmed me? Simply, because they are Indigenous. More complicatedly, because the justice system would misgender me and I was threatened with court if I did. More seriously, because one of us would end up dead.
Kai Cheng Thom poignantly conveys this in her article #NotYet, “It is not the job of survivors to protect their abusers. But nor do survivors deserve to live with the consequences of a social system based on carceral punishment, in which we have absolutely no control over what happens after we disclose the identities of those who have hurt us.”
I am not willing to provide a blade for non-Indigenous people to use to cut us. I know how quickly our own words can be weaponized to harm us. I refuse to publicly name the ones who have harmed me. This is a recent decision. There was a point late last year, when a sibling of an Indigenous man named me as a bully, as someone who was directly attacking her brother and taking away gigs and publishing opportunities.
I found out from a text from my Auntie asking if anything had come back to me. In the moment of reading the post, I was devastated. The language was transmisogynistic and opened the floodgates to many others getting publicly involved. I wanted to respond and make my own public post. In fact I wrote one, five thousand words, with screenshots of texts, tweets, and direct messages.
Several of my friends warned me not to because call-out posts never work in anyone’s favour. I began to reflect, how would this work for me as an Indigenous trans woman? Probably the same way it went down several months ago on the frontlines, with me disappearing. I was already becoming a social recluse, only leaving the house for work or to spend time with my Indigiqueer kin. I asked myself, what was I really doing this for? I had previously asked him to be accountable to his actions and to educate himself, but he often just parroted select Everyday Feminism articles back at me with no practice. I get it, accountability can be terrifying.
I realized accountability wasn’t my end goal; it was the larger picture truth that key information was missing from his call out post and I wanted to get the whole story told. But I couldn’t get that. Instead, I would probably be slapped with a lawsuit, drowned in paperwork, and further become a pariah. I was less travelled than him, with less National connections, and already I was hearing my name being spoken ill of in Halifax, Winnipeg, and Calgary. So why bury myself more? I would be the one publicly destroyed in very transmisogynistic ways.
I have come to the realization that naming my abusers and those who have caused deep harm would not allow them the space for growth, healing, and accountability, but that doesn’t mean I want to exist in that space with them. I have to find a balance, and choosing to exist publicly, unfortunately for me, means having to share space.
I have found ways around publicly naming. So many forget the ways our Ancestors communicated: word of mouth. Our whisper networks are loud, vast, and expansive; we warn each other, support each other, and care take. It is through a group of other Indigiqueers in the realm of CanLit that I discover ways I can be safer, how we all are watching each other, listening always. We aren’t on the hunt for slip-ups from abusers, but for a network of supports for survivors.
Until I can publicly name my abusers and have all parties survive, I will refuse to go public. That is my choice, my truth, and my power. This revolution will not take me.
“One shouldn’t try aim for forgiveness when holding oneself accountable. Rather, self-accountability is about learning how we have harmed others, why we have harmed others, and how we can stop.”
-Kai Cheng Thom, 9 Ways to Be Accountable When You’ve Been Abusive