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  • Song for the Ancestors

    By: Tiera Sandiford I have seen how a mother knows endless love For the child she has held only once The way she is spellbound by someone so new yet primally familiar I admire the beauty of this love And have found it for the people who made their homes in the heavens long ago They are the ones who have given me their broad nose and soulful eyes As a most precious parting gift Those who fought for scraps of liberty While whole nations pinned their arms behind their backs So I could know the freedom to dream a thousand dreams And write my name in the constellations Like a mother My love for my ancestors is infinite It is the power I need to heal my sisters and brothers Of the traumas that follow us from the womb like birthmarks A promise of the most unbreakable sort To write the stories my grandmothers kept hidden Beneath pillowcases and in gardens and tightly woven hair I will sing them from the mountaintops with each rising sun And let the winds carry the sweet songs of my ancestors Forevermore

  • song of worship

    By: Julia McGolrick let me worship you he whispers ever so gently get on your knees, then i reply, the flames igniting in my pupils he drops to the floor his skin graces the ground and it sounds like a plea, like submission his gaze holding mine the entire time a doe-eyed supplicant he kisses prayers across my feet, continuing the holy utterances up my legs and finally, he sings the most sacred song into the tomb that rests between my thighs as i arch backwards and turn my neck skyward i gasp, uttering an invocation to god and silently ask myself if this heaven or the most sublime depths of hell

  • Nobody told me

    By: Aru Kaul Nobody told me that this is how it would be That I’d live each minute comparing you to me. You’re stronger, they say. You make a mistake, they look away. “Boys will be boys” is an excuse they consider good. Yet why does no one understand that it denies girls of their girlhood? Nobody told me that this is how it’s done That I’m supposed to be number two, while you're number one. Men are rational, they say. Men are more intelligent, they say. Portraying men as emotionless robots can sway. Up until they argue, “What was she wearing anyway?” Nobody told me that this is how it works That you are the shovel, and I am the dirt. You mock me because you believe I am trash you can throw. But what you don’t realize is that seeds need dirt, not shovels, to grow.

  • Lost In Translation

    By Amara Tasnim There’s a dead language between my lips, tucked behind my teeth. I chew on the vowels, the syntaxes, the alliteration Before I volley it across from me —It falls at my feet. Staring back at me are eyes hardened by endless toil, A grave face of lines etched from working two jobs And a back like Atlas, burdened by bills. We speak on different radio frequencies, Lost in translation, the dial always a notch off. She in a mother tongue my mouth feels foreign to form, And I, an anachronism of split cultures; a displacement of land. The marvels of my archaic words, my preserved discretions Are lost in the wind, lying limp on the concrete. There’s a dead language between my lips, I dug it out from underground, Like a forgotten artifact, I dust it off and adorned it. And the people around me looked at me funny; Tilted their heads and furrowed their brows And no Rosetta Stone could decode my meaning. Is this how Sappho feels? Her lyrics so delicately crafted But erased by time and weathered by history, The articulations of her heavy heart’s yearning, Of her discreet desires, decayed by the will of eternity. And all that is left is a fragment of two, A glimpse into the dead language she spoke. And we will never know the gravity of what she truly wrote.

  • Pick A Side

    By: Aru Kaul I was 14 when I first kissed a girl. I was dared to do it. It took me over two years after that to come to terms with my bisexuality. I continuously told myself that the dare I did at 14 was just that; a dare. I spoke it into existence. I was straight. I was as straight as an arrow - never mind that I was attracted to both boys AND girls. It didn’t mean anything. I just thought girls were pretty. I was straight. At 16, I was still trying to shove a straight agenda down my own throat. It was around this time when I learned about heteronormativity, and realized that was exactly what was happening to me. I guess I should have known something was up when I was deliberately picking boys in my classes to have crushes on. Even with the music I consumed, so many love songs were men singing about their admiration of women or their bodies; usually just their bodies. This led me to believe that my ultimate goal in life was to be loved by a man. I dressed for the male gaze. I suppressed my loud, talkative, confident personality because boys like shy girls. I pretended to be someone I was not. I eventually came to accept that I identified as a queer woman. A queer South-Asian woman, to be exact. Though I didn’t really know how to feel about that second part. Queer South-Asians experience an erasure of their culture and this is exactly how I felt coming into the community. How could I be queer, South-Asian and a woman when I had never seen those things belonging together? As a brown girl, I came to Canada when I was very young and Bollywood was a huge part of my childhood. I enjoyed dressing up, singing, dancing; I was a very dramatic kid. Bollywood movies and songs allowed me to express myself. By the time I was 7, I had already memorized every single line to what is still my favourite movie to this day! However, I never grew up seeing queer brown representation in the media that I consumed. Queer people or queerness are almost never central to the plot of a Bollywood film, Any representation they do get is almost always as the butt of a joke, although that has been changing. I didn’t know anyone else who was like me. So, I asked myself, was I just doing all this for attention? But, how could it be for attention if hardly anybody knew I was bi? I didn’t always understand references to queer pop culture either. Imposter syndrome would always take over me and make me feel like a fraud. Not straight enough to be accepted in society, but also not queer enough to feel like I belonged in the LGBTQ+ community. Often, both in and out of the community, I would have people ask me about my “straight-to-gay percentage.” I wasn’t sure if my percentage was 50/50. I wasn’t sure if I even had a percentage. When I found out I was bisexual, to me, it just meant that I loved everyone. Could it be that I was just a really good ally? The straight-to-gay percentage concept really got in my head. I decided that if I wasn’t going to be 50/50 or have a preference then I needed to pick a side once and for all. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my internalized biphobia coming out because I just wanted to fit in. This is one of the most common myths that contribute to the erasure of bisexuality. The assumption that bisexual people are 50 per cent straight exacerbates the myth that we, “don’t have it as bad.” We absolutely do. We literally get stereotyped as greedy, promiscuous, unfaithful, incapable of monogamy - because we are bisexual. To me, my percentage was, and still is, just a number that I spat out on the spot for the purpose of answering the question. All I know is that I am 100 per cent bisexual. In 2019, I created an Instagram account, @youreveryday.tea, to be a voice for marginalized communities. This began as an outlet for my thoughts, but I continue to work towards turning it into a safe space for all marginalized people. I have become a lot more open about my sexuality and can say without hesitation that I am a woman of colour in the LGBTQ+ community. I used to think that picking a side would be the solution to my problems. Since then, I have learned not only to accept, but also to embrace who I am. I wish the same for everyone who sees themselves in this story - because queer people deserve a much better life than one spent sacrificing their true selves for the comfort of society. And just so it’s clear, I still haven’t picked a side!

  • What’s so great about sex?

    Being comfortable with yourself and your partner is key to a sexual connection By Omar Taleb On New Year’s Day, Oliver woke up and decided that the only way he could get out of having sex with his girlfriend was to tell her that his co-worker had gotten into a car accident. Oliver, 26, can’t ejaculate from sex in the morning. He gets hard, but never horny enough to orgasm. He’d be surprised to learn that Alisa, his 19-year-old girlfriend, doesn’t get horny either. While Alisa also hates morning sex, she remembered something her friend told her when they were out for drinks. “Not having sex with your boyfriend on New Year’s Day sets a terrible precedent,” the friend had said. “It sets you guys up for failure.” Liking or disliking morning sex didn’t matter to her anymore. It was the precedent that was on Alisa’s mind as her boyfriend jumped out of bed, phone in hand, and ran to the bathroom. He came out a few minutes later, boner non-existent. “Jessica’s okay, it wasn’t too bad. From the way she put it in the text, I thought she was in the hospital.” Wrapped in the bedsheets and unsure of what to say, she realized his underwear was already back on. If not having sex on New Year’s sets the relationship up for failure, Alisa didn’t want to think about what comes after getting cock-blocked by a car crash. ** For something so universal, the concept of pleasure is not the easiest topic to bring up to partners. “It takes practice to get comfortable expressing your needs,” says Toronto-based relationship therapist Carlyle Jansen. Young people tend to be more comfortable telling their friends about what’s working in the bedroom and what isn’t. It can be a bonding tool composed of envious tales of sexual exploits and embarrassing sexual failures, but talking to a group of friends isn’t the same as talking to a romantic partner. “There’s a fear of rejection,” Jansen says. “We’re a little bit more vulnerable, and the acceptance and the judgement cuts a lot deeper.” According to a Mic article, sexual compatibility can be the deciding factor for a successful relationship among young couples. For Alisa, an age gap of seven years between her and Oliver has made it feel as though she needs to play catch-up. “I feel like I need to grow with him sexually,” she says. “It could be easier with someone else.” If the sex isn’t going so well, she fears, does it mean they need to break up? “When sex is bad, it actually accounts for quite a bit of the dissatisfaction in what could otherwise be a pretty good relationship,” says sex therapist Kat Kova. “But when sex is good, it only makes up about 15-20 per cent of the overall satisfaction in the relationship.” Kova says that people often think about sex as a performance. This can often lead to unrealistic expectations, pressure, anxiety and feeling disconnected from the experience; which naturally leads to problems with arousal and desire. Relationship writer and intimacy coach Kyle Benson points out that the pressures of having a perfect sex life can feed into sexual dissatisfaction. He says a lack of desire or general frustration is a signal for both partners to grow. “It’s not the time for sex pressure.” ** In a 2018 article from InsideHook on unsatisfying sex, therapist Jacqueline Mendez points out that the lack of communication between partners can slowly chip away at physical chemistry. When it feels as though sexual compatibility has been compromised, it can hang like a cloud, becoming an uncomfortable mixture of shame and confusion. Healthy communication between partners is key, and self-awareness is a way to get there. If satisfying sex means pleasure over performance, as Kova says, then having a deeper and more intimate understanding of personal desire is the first step to being intimate with a partner. For Alisa, personal desire means exploring what excites her, and only then can she share these desires with Oliver. Sexual exploration can involve watching porn, having sex with her partner or simply using her index and middle fingers. It can even mean keeping a sex journal. “When you read articles about how to have great sex, it doesn’t say much about [how to] tune into yourself and what feels good,” Jansen says. Kova says that being aware of a partner’s sensitivities is also a gesture that makes a big impact on the sexual dynamic. The reassurance that comes with supporting a partner’s wants and needs goes both ways. Unpacking insecurities around not being able to orgasm in the morning is Oliver’s next step in understanding his sexual desires on his terms and on his schedule. It’s a total misconception that men should always want or be ready for sex, explains psychotherapist and sex specialist Vanessa Marin in a 2017 Bustle article. “Most women feel their own arousal ebb and flow throughout an interaction,” Marin says, “but it’s important to recognize that that happens for our partners too.” ** Kova talks about sexual desire as something to develop before sharing with a partner. She described it as something otherworldly, “a life force within that drives you, that drives movement, action and a sense of aliveness.” What makes for great sex is what individuals in the relationship bring to the table. For couples, it’s whether they take risks or if they’re able to be vulnerable, Jansen says. Exploring and taking ownership of one’s sexual desire without embarrassment makes it easier to talk about feeling sexually dissatisfied. What comes after this varies by person and by relationship, but the first step is having the vocabulary and the confidence to be open about dissatisfaction. Kova maintains that giving permission to desire from the very beginning comes before any conversation on sexual compatibility and physical chemistry. “We’re very much wired to connect,” she says. Cock-blocks and car crashes aside, the best precedent for great sex is one built on connection.

  • The human connection of virtual therapy

    Loss, isolation and fear are impacting mental health conditions during COVID-19 By Megan Camlasaran The stranger on my laptop asks why I chose to start therapy. I’m fidgeting in my seat, trying to find a definite answer, but I am also distracted, hoping no one in my family comes home and overhears my session. I try to steady my voice, all the while hoping the internet connection stays strong so I won’t have to repeat myself again. Before I know it, 30 minutes have passed and my therapist says she’s looking forward to seeing me next week. Acknowledging mental health and searching for support is a lot to handle alone, especially when facing the added difficulties of the pandemic, like isolation, a loss of motivation, and the infamous Zoom fatigue. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 50 per cent of Candians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began. Sitting down at my desk and staring at screens all day was not how I envisioned my second year of university. Instead of paying attention to dreadful three-hour zoom lectures, I daydream about chasing stories around the city for the journalism lab that I would’ve seen all my friends in, where we’d be laughing and stressing to meet our deadlines together. The loss of human connection and non-stop screen time is what gradually diminished the last shred of motivation I had left. I felt my personal well-being take a turn for the worse and I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Stephanie Charitar, an analyst for inclusion and diversity at CPP Investments, decided to seek treatment for her depression and anxiety in 2019. She was referred to a cognitive behavioural therapy program called Bounce Back, a national self-led program which provides skills and techniques that help people in coping with low mood and worry, free of cost. Charitar would make sure no one else was home, settle into her room on her bed, pull out the workbooks the program mailed to her and dial in to her phone therapy session. With her therapist on speaker, she would take notes in her little book. She describes her anxiety levels as always being high, and her thoughts being “all over the place.” It always felt like she was having mini panic attacks. Once she started therapy and taking anti-anxiety medication, she felt a little more at peace. “It was weird but nice. My mind was quiet for once. It didn’t have those constant self-doubts, overthinking thoughts, my mind wasn’t racing 24/7 anymore and it was nice.” As psychiatric care becomes widely available online, services like Inkblot, Talkspace, and Betterhelp are getting more recognition and attention for their commitment to ensuring people have access to affordable and readily available therapy. After Charitar finished the Bounce Back program, she decided to try Inkblot, where there are options to call, text or video call with therapists. While she was uncomfortable at first, Charitar says that feeling eased gradually. “It was like stepping stones, getting to know them and them getting to know me helped.” As social beings who thrive off making connections with other humans, the fear is not being able to connect to a therapist the same way online. However, what matters most to people is that the human element remains the same, according to Dr. Bruce Fage, a psychiatrist at CAMH. As stated by CAMH, 30 per cent of Canadians did not seek help for their mental health pre-pandemic because of barriers like cost, language, and transportation. Virtual therapy provides solutions to many of these barriers and allows more Canadians access to the psychiatric care they need. Fage believes that the convenience of virtual therapy will encourage more to seek treatment and will become part of a normalized routine, even after patients have the option to return to in-person visits. Charitar doesn't see herself ever doing in-person therapy sessions, as she now prefers the flexibility and accessibility of online. She is able to schedule sessions in between work or after a long day — whatever works best for her. Much like patients, therapists are also trying to navigate their way through these changes. Fage did a phone session with a patient for the first time, and it went well. They were able to talk as freely as they would have in-person. “We want to keep people comfortable and we work really hard to do that.” In May 2020, the federal government promised $240 million toward mental health resources and better e-therapy options. CAMH noticed video therapy sessions growing from around 300 per month to more than 8000 by December 2020. Ziyad Patail, a digital producer at Markets.to, has been doing in-person therapy since 2016, and has since had to attend virtual sessions. At first, Patail didn’t think the sessions would go well — as someone who believes in the human, in-person element of healing — but he is now appreciative of being able to access any care at all. Patail says therapy is a “sounding board” for his mind and emotions, “an accountability partner for life.” For me, therapy provides much needed perspective and clarity when my mind is overwhelmed. At times, I feel like I’m running a constant marathon, trying to catch up with the endless to-do lists that seem near impossible to achieve from the one corner of my home that has now also become my workspace. Struggling with mental health, especially in a pandemic, can be a very lonely thing. I feel human connection becoming a faded memory in my mind. I miss seeing a friend across the street and running up to them to embrace them in a long-overdue hug. I miss seeing the unintentional smiles on people’s faces when they see something that makes them happy, the smiles between strangers who walk past each other and the smiles that let you know you’re not alone. I discovered that virtual therapy can be a solid source of support for some. It is guiding people to take care of their own well-being, while also maintaining connections with others no matter the distance between. Patail describes how, in the midst of uncertainty, he finds solace in knowing that people are experiencing similar emotions. I didn’t realize how much losing that human element in life has impacted my own well-being until I was able to speak about it in virtual therapy. This serves as both a reminder of the many losses caused by COVID-19, but also as an anchor that keeps me connected and mentally sound.

  • The Hats I keep

    In a world with gender normalities and sexual entitlements, my choice is not to rotate them frequently, but to coexist within them all together By Mia Maaytah I felt confused when I entered my third year of university. My approach to sexuality and gender changed depending on class or work or through exhausting conversations with the same mundane types of people. My demeanor corresponded with my desire to match my surroundings. It was not until COVID-19 that I realized I had been yearning for extravagant fluidity in clothing and sexuality while searching for some title to encompass it all. After moving to Toronto in 2017, I spent the following years crafting my identity. I wore multiple hats, catered to the environments they suited. During the weekdays, I was a journalism student — a woman with a loud mouth and a limited circle of friends. On the weeknights I worked long shifts in the service industry, allowing the objectification of my short dress and low neckline. Still, I prioritized the heaps of money over the hair stuck in my lipgloss and the unnecessary commentary from guests. I’d spend the weekends with my close friends, sipping wine and nursing heartbreaks, or shooting tequila and trying new positions. While wearing spaghetti-straps and no bra, highlight and red lips, we frequented clubs where I kissed girls in the bathrooms and kissed boys at the bar. Online, my social media profiles quite literally painted me colourfully — a feed full of art and highly saturated photographs. I’d contend that it didn’t scream heterosexuality, though the pictures of my current boyfriend would argue otherwise. Rarely did I feel like the same person all of the time. I chalked this up to late stages of adolescence and the coming-of-age movies that told me I was still finding myself. I rationalized all of my experimentation, and decided that it was nothing permanent, but rather a fleeting moment of curiosity. As if those hats I often wore were just as quick to go out of style — I had to try them all. Once quarantine began, I felt utterly stripped of the identity I had so carefully built. I was no longer a loud-mouth student, the brunette with the bottles, the bisexual in the bars — I was a person left alone in her apartment, with nothing but a reminiscent camera-roll and all my hats stacked away in my closet. I went through the stages of grief. I watched as the world’s expectations for normalcy arose and then burned and burned again. I wound up back in my childhood home, finding safety in my teenage routines. Though through this routine, my weekly rotation of attitudes suddenly garnered a need to stabilize. I felt as though all of my differing representations now clashed, and I had to pick just one. Hesitantly, I approached my femininity first — though I felt an uproar of internalized misogyny as I blow-dried my hair and painted my nails. It’s something I’m still working on. I attempted masculinity-femininity, a mix of gender stereotypes which in my head was a mantra of lesbian porn and unshaven legs. Finally, I attempted masculinity entirely, a love affair of pay-per-view fights and celibacy stemming from sexual confusion. In the summer, I landed somewhere in the middle — in a land I like to call androgynous and elegant. I think I feared, and still do fear, this obsession we all seem to have with titles. Perhaps this is why in the past I opted for alternating personas fluidly as opposed to possessing all of them at once. I think before COVID-19, I built myself not to appease my own comfortability, but to appeal to the eyes that stood before me. This past fall, I checked back in with the hats now dusty in my closet. I stood there, reminiscing on my grievance and interpersonal reflection. I finally felt free from the bullshit that resided inside my brain, an achievement I didn’t know I wanted. I’ve reached a place where I don’t care to identify as just one thing, which I think is what my collection of characters were all about. I don’t care to be intelligent on Mondays, scandalous on Thursdays, and slutty on the weekends. I don’t care to justify my behaviour with women, or my behaviour with men, and convince myself I’m on some experimental journey that comes to an end. If the question is if I got more gay, more straight, more femme, or more masculine during the pandemic, then the answer is yes. I’ve become them all at the same time without reservation or concern. I am all of the above. I am androgynous and absolutely elegant in it.

  • The Skin I'm in

    The ugly side effects of European beauty standards By Sonia Bermas When I was a child, my mother would make me a sandwich every day for lunch. More often than not, it would end up in the trash. I hated the plain food and was tired of the same ham sandwich, wondering why she didn’t make me the dishes we usually had at home, like the chicken biryani, butter chicken, roti and curry. I told my sister how I felt and she sat me down in our small shared room that was so cramped it felt hard to breathe. She told me how she brought my mother’s cooking of traditional Indian food to her elementary school for lunch every day, and how her classmates would make fun of her by calling the food smelly. She broke down one day crying, begging our mom to make her something else so she wouldn’t be made fun of. Our mom listened and gave plain sandwiches for lunch instead. My mom had to give away a piece of her culture for her children to be safe. When my sister told me this, I realized how much of ourselves we lost to assimilate to Canadian life. My parents immigrated to Canada — one from Persia and the other from India — in the hopes of a better life. I was never taught the languages my parents spoke in their homeland, and as I grew older, I’ve regretted not learning how to. I now wish that I was more connected to the beautiful lands my parents came from. The mountain ranges and lush forests, lands filled with rich vegetation and exotic fruits, streets filled with rich flavours and the smell of strong spices. My desire to be more attached to my roots wasn’t always the case. There was once a time where I wished I could be something I was not. I wanted to be white. I hated my skin. I hated how I never saw someone that looked like me in magazines and movies. My mom would try to make me see my beauty, and constantly remind me that brown skin is beautiful. I never listened. I wish I was happy with who I was, but I kept denying myself that opportunity because I was trying to be the person I saw in the media. I never felt represented. When I did see someone like myself, often when I watched Bollywood movies as a child, I felt like an outsider — so disconnected from my Indian roots because I could not understand a word of what was said. Growing up, only a small group of my peers looked like me. I remember the girls who were paler than me and had lighter hair. They were always happier than me, living in a big house surrounded by a white picket fence. They were always favoured by other students — the popular kids with many friends and the types of girls that boys liked, while I felt invisible. I downloaded Instagram when I was a teenager, which made me realize that Eurocentric features were the beauty standard as I scrolled through my feed of popular celebrities — all white or lighter-skinned. I saw what my people were called on social media based on our skin colour: terrorists, cow worshippers or smelly. There was always an underlying tone to these so-called jokes, as if they truly perceived my people to be like that. These “jokes” left deep-rooted scars. In a world plagued by patriarchy and misogyny, women are often valued by their appearance. It is no surprise that young girls are brought up to aspire to fit society’s standards of beauty — a white standard of beauty. We idolize characters like Barbie who construct this idea that we need to be skinny, have fair skin and straight hair. I owned two Barbie dolls as a child — one white-skinned and the other brown. I would get mad and pick fights with my sister when she left me to play with the brown doll. When I look back on that memory, I feel disgusted. I am ashamed of myself for the thoughts I had. I looked like that doll, and yet, the doll was ugly to me. I was a child no older than six, and I already felt like my appearance had no worth. I was taught by society that I needed white beauty to have worth, and for a long time, I was so focused on trying to achieve that goal. I would dwell on things I could never change about myself. I would compare myself to every girl who looked nothing like me. I hated that my skin was brown instead of white, and my eyes were brown instead of blue. Looking back, it breaks my heart to see how I strongly believed I wasn’t beautiful, to remember how I cried myself to sleep every night. As I grew older, I finally started to see my mother’s beauty. How she gave everything up just to protect her children and how she was still true to herself through it all. I wanted to be strong like her. I forced myself to stop caring about beauty standards because they don’t determine my worth. It was hard at first to give up a version of myself I carried around for so long. I was saying goodbye to a piece of myself. Even now, there are still days where I am consumed by my thoughts and fall back into destructive habits. When I look in the mirror, I see the face of my mother. My mother, who did everything she could for her children in order for them to have a better life. She endured every rude remark, every judgemental stare and every scar. Yet she faced it all and it somehow made her stronger. She put on a brave face for her children's sake. I see the golden eyes, the raven hair, I see the beauty I deprived myself of for so many years.

  • the attic

    By Arianna Kyriacou you always expected me to immediately get on my knees for you you are not something to be worshipped you are not a god i am not below you yet i know you are not capable of loving me without making me feel so small so i tuck the way i feel about you into tattered cardboard boxes that sit thick with dust above the bed we spend far too much time on it lies dead, enclosed around brown walls and it’s damp & leaking onto the floor, through the muddy print you left from your size twelve shoe sometimes it drips onto my torso while you are bruising my jaw and strangling my neck for fun

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