I recently attended the Naked Heart Festival hosted by Glad Day Bookshop, as both a student and panel speaker/reader. So blessed was I to be amongst us LGBTQ folks fresh from being the co-winner of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop’s Emerging Writers’ Award for my new novel, Scarborough Stories, and fresh with industry know-how thanks to workshops by Farzana Doctor and Jeffrey Round. It was a glorious gathering of storytellers.
The entire time I was present I kept discussing with my hubs, Nazbah Tom, about how remarkable it is that our community possesses so many talented writers. I had always known us to be magical beings and that our choice to walk the world the way we do, fucking with gender with such bravery and flare, is in part a celestial pull. The stars and our ancestors have placed us here in the shape we are in (or the shape we will become) in order to challenge society on the daily.
“Before colonization, it makes sense that Two-Spirit People were revered because they were privy to a lot of people’s emotional processes and probably dreams as healers and counselors. If someone is holding that part of you, it would make sense to honour, take care of and protect them. Also, for queer people, especially in same-sex partnerships, it would be difficult to make babies, but one way we contributed and grew the culture is that we learned cultural traditions and would keep the culture alive by ‘giving birth’ to stories or a ceremony. In the same way, we were held with a lot of respect for that because we had the time and energy to learn those things and pass it on. Everyone was valued,” says Nazbah who is Dinè.
But in this colonized world, we are far from being protected nor honoured. I could pull statistics about how many of our trans kin have been murdered just this past year. I could write about the rampant unease and mental illness in our community that is ignored and stigmatized. But we know this in our bone-tired bones.
That’s why I wanted to dedicate this blog post specifically to self-care. Self-care in a world that seeks to shut us down. Self-care in the face of unemployment, religious excommunication, severed family ties, and daily micro-aggressions. Radical, dangerous, delicious self-care.
I am going to warn you now: If you are not prepared to lose superficial friends, if you are not ready to sleep well, to leave activities that drain you, then read no further. Self-care is the sieve, it is the filter in which no one who is willing to hurt you will pass. Let me explain.
This past Pride, I was asked by my chosen sister, Kim Katrin Milan, to do a speech at her Cipher Cabaret about survival. I told everyone how almost a decade ago, I was embodying a lot of my trauma as a new single mama with no blood family love thanks to being the newest queer on the block. I was involved in a string of abusive queer relationships. While working several jobs at once to heal from years of financial abuse from a past partner, I remember scrambling to find enough change to buy one dozen eggs. That was my life. I was treading water and my body showed the signs of it all. Asthma. Extreme acne. Eczema. Allergies. Chronic Fatigue.
My politics began to change when I began to keep company with other queer femmes of colour who encouraged each other to take time to give no fucks as a form of self-care. No fucks given if there is underwear on the floor. No fucks given if emails have not been returned. Do not give a fuck for all the fucking time you need to feel good.
I decided to give it a try. I would give myself five minutes each day in which I would not give a fuck. At first it was just enough time to massage some oil into my feet before heading to bed. Soon enough, I began giving myself pedicures once every few weeks, then facials every week, naps during the weekend, yoga a few times a week and eating meals that nourished me.
One of the first things I realized was that friends who relied on my selflessness began to lose touch with me. I became better at not maintaining relationships with people who felt entitled to my time. I found that people became more apt to give back to me the more I gave them the example that I too was entitled to care. Lovers who were selfish, lovers who were destructive and abusive came and went and my mourning of such people lasted but a moment. I enjoyed solitude suddenly.
I noticed that my work as an artist changed. The honesty from which my writing grew from sprouted theatre and fiction that resonated with me and the audiences I cared about. In turn, my work attracted artistic communities that honoured me and my other-ness rather than seeing me as a box to tick in their funding applications.
Most importantly, my relationship to my daughter changed. I realized that self-caring was giving my daughter the example that as a brown woman, despite what media and the world told her, her body, heart, and mind matters.
I am still working on it all. I am still getting used to telling people, “not now,” or “I can’t help you” but I am getting better every day. I am more skilled at holding my heath challenges in my hand and mindfully rocking it with loving affection thanks to being surrounded by chosen family and a partner who loves this self-caring version of myself.
So right now, I am going to tell you this: Take your time. Take your time. Don’t just slow down. Take your time. Even if it is five minutes. Remember that in another world, which we are moving towards each day with radical action, you were honoured and held.
Five minutes to drink water.
Ten minutes to sip some tea.
Fifteen minutes to masturbate.
A few hours to take yourself on a romantic alone date.
Two minutes to put on your favourite lipstick.
Half an hour to make yourself the most delicious dinner.
So honour and hold yourself now. You are the keeper of a story. Your story.