Celebrating Our Voices panel: “It’s our table!”

This year’s Celebrating our Voices panel shed light on women of colour and trans-feminine people of colour’s enormous contributions to various human rights movements.

Hosted by CESAR in collaboration with Feminist Canada, the event started off with keynote speaker Ravyn Wngz, a representative from Black Lives Matter Toronto. In an honest, open style, Wngz told her story from the beginning of her career in dance to where she is now with BLM-TO. Wngz spoke candidly of her experiences, and talked about how we’re living in a “sleeping generation,” where people are not fully grasping that others are suffering.

“There’s often a feeling of, ‘We support you because we know people are dying, but we don’t actually support you when you disrupt what is comfortable,’” Wngz said about members of the public disagreeing with a member of BLM-TO’s recent comments about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Nasim Asgari, a York University student and slam poetry writer and performer, followed Wngz’s remarks with three performances of her poetry. Each poem addressed different aspects of conversations that have been going on in her mind about her experiences as an immigrant in Canada.

An open conversation facilitated by CESAR board director Sara Asalya brought out the voices of Camryn Harlick, incoming vice president equity of the RSU, and Gilary Massa, labour and student movement activist. It was illuminating to hear not only the stories of how each panelist got to the positions of resistance and activism that they’re in today but also how their varying experiences relate and intersect.

When Asalya asked what drives them to continue with their activism, Massa answered “survival,” and the other three panelists nodded and laughed.

“I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she feels like she can take up space in different ways that aren’t expected of her. Sometimes I say that my self-care is being involved in activism work, as draining and exhausting as it can be…I think survival is really about being able to tell the Muslim women story on our terms and the trans story on their terms and the story of Black racialized Indigenous people on their terms.”

Marginalized people being able to tell their own stories and have their own voices was a common theme among all four panelists. Harlick said that in their activism work, they learned that you sometimes have to tokenize yourself to have your voice be heard.

“Sometimes, you have to reel in your identity a little bit so that you can be palatable for some of these people.”

With a panel focused around women and trans-feminine people, it seemed inevitable that the “feminism” question would come up.

Massa’s response was direct and honest: “Can I just say that the feminist movement sucks?” She said that white women in the movement often have one-dimensional ideas of what femininity and the experience of racialized women looks like, and don’t acknowledge that what white women need is not what everyone needs.

Wngz said she sees a lot of ego in allyship within the feminist movement. Wngz recommends self-reflection as a remedy that would help everyone develop compassion and remove that ego. “There’s all this talk about ‘inviting us to the table’, but it’s… it’s our table!”

Harlick said they tend to avoid feminist spaces because of biological-positive reasons (referring to the way feminism often centres around biologically female terminology—“pussy power,” vaginas, uteruses—and excludes trans women and non-binary folks in doing so) but also because of white feminist spaces that focus around a “crush the patriarchy” mentality, a patriarchy that Harlick says didn’t exist in Canada prior to colonization. “Canada was a matriarchy; Indigenous cultures are a matriarchy historically…So don’t pretend you’re so mad at it now when you were the ones that brought it here.”

The panelists’ advice for allies is to educate themselves about the community, look for good resources, and, most importantly, not to expect other people in the community to do the work for them.