Mo Springer reviews A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer

A Two-Spirit Journey by Ma-Nee Chacaby

Trigger Warning: This book graphic depictions of physical and sexual assault

My kokum explained that two-spirit people were once loved and respected within our communities, but times had changed and they were no longer understood or valued in the same way. When I got older, she said, I would have to figure out how to live with two spirits as an adult. She warned me I probably would experience many hard times along the way. I remember her rubbing my head and shoulders, saying, ‘I feel for you. You’re not going to have an easy life when you get older.’

Chacaby, Ma-Nee (Kindle Locations 1170-1173)

Ma-Nee was born in 1950 in Thunder Bay, Ontario in a tuberculosis sanitorium. Shortly after this she was adopted by a French couple, but she was soon found by her grandmother who acquired custody and raised her in Ombabika amongst an Ojibwa and Cree community. Growing up in Ombabika, Ma-Nee learned a great deal of her heritage and traditions from her grandmother and describes many happy memories of her time her. However, at the same time, her childhood was also characterized by the physical abuse of her mother, sexual abuse from family and strangers alike, growing up in a community plagued by alcoholism, and racism from the Canadian government.

When she was a teenager, Ma-Nee was married to an older man who abused her. She experienced alcoholism herself, homophobia, visual impairment, and many more obstacles and struggles. Through her ongoing struggles, Ma-Nee persevered and found strength in herself and her community. She became a mother not only to her own children and those in her family, but to many in the foster system. She becomes an AA sponsor, an elder of her people, and a leader in the LGBTQ+ community. This is a story that outlines the racism and prejudice experienced by a Two-Spirit Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder, and how she survived it all to then lead others through the same struggles.

I’ll be honest, this is a hard book to read, but an important one. The afterword describes how the book came to be, with Ma-Nee telling her story and Mary Louisa Plummer transcribing it. The end-result feels like a story that is being told you, as if Ma-Nee was in the room with you recounting her life. I found it very hard to put the book down, no matter how brutal the subject matter. The text comes alive through photographs of and paintings by Ma-Nee, giving us more of an immersive perspective into her life.

If you wish to learn more about two-spirit people, the experiences of Indigenous women, and the hardships faced by queer women of color, I highly recommend this book.

Sheila reviews Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

I wanted to read something shorter, that I could put down and come back to as my attention comes and goes these days. I was very happy to pick up (or download, whatever) this work of poetry, Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist.

This isn’t to say that these poems are of a lighter subject manner. Many of the poems deal with sexual trauma and the ramifications of racism, so readers should be aware of that. But Arielle’s words are so impactful that there doesn’t need to be many of them to be moving. I also don’t mind reading about the hardships of others, especially when I myself am going through a harder time. It was comforting to read these poems, which reflected upon themes of grief, trauma, identity and metamorphosis. I understand that many readers won’t find these appealing during a global pandemic, and ultimately what is happening in the world right now is probably shaping the way that I am reading Arielle’s writing as well.

Particularly, her poems “The Girls,” “In Dying I Become” and “Who Will Save You Now?” really stood out to me as gripping and emotional. Of course, “Who will save you now?” is a question that may have crossed many of our minds since the current pandemic started. That piece really got me to thinking about how our interpretations of events and art can change depending on where and who we are at the time. This collection of poetry has many themes of changing and rebirth, which I found very meaningful. If you can, I encourage you to not only read this work but to also consider purchasing her book, especially during this time.

Danika reviews The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana PorterThe Seep is a weird fiction novella (200 pages) exploring a “soft” alien invasion utopia. It begins with a section titled “Tips for Throwing a Dinner Party at the End of the World.” Earth is being invaded by a disembodied alien species–which turns out to be a good thing. The Seep forms a symbiotic relationship with humans. They get to experience linear time and human emotions, and in exchange, well, they solve basically every problem people have ever had. Illness, inequality, capitalism, pollution and climate change all disappear. People develop intense empathy for everyone and everything in the world. Everything and everyone is connected, anything imagined is possible, and everyone is immortal to boot.

A utopia may seem like a set up for a boring book: where’s the conflict? But although The Seep just wants everyone to be happy, it doesn’t understand human complexity and why we might like things that are bad for us. In fact, despite having every opportunity imaginable, Trina is miserable. She is grieving, and she’s tired of this new world: everyone is constantly emotionally processing and high on The Seep. She finds herself nostalgic for struggle and purpose. She’s trans, and after fighting for so long, she’s at home in her body and vaguely irritated at people who treat changing faces and growing wings as a whim.

Despite the big premise, the real story is about Trina’s journey through grief. Her relationship with her wife is over (I won’t spoil why), and no amount of The Seep wand-waving will fix it. This alien species of superior intellect, power, and empathy can’t grasp why she would choose to feel pain, to poison herself with alcohol, to neglect her home and relationships. This novella shows what being human really means, and how no world, no matter how idyllic, really can be without conflict–but that’s just part of the experience of being alive.

I loved how queer this is. From the beginning, Trina and Deeba are having a dinner party with two other queer couples. I liked the discussion of what race and gender and sex mean in a world where you can change your appearance effortlessly. Trina and Deeba are both racialized women. Trina is Jewish and indigenous, and other Jewish and racialized characters appear as side characters. I appreciated this focus, but I acknowledge that I am reading this from a white, non-Jewish, cis perspective, and although the author is bisexual, this is not as far as I know an own voices representation of any of the other marginalizations that Trina has. I would be interested to read reviews by trans, Jewish, and indigenous readers.

If you’re looking for a short, thoughtful, and weird read–definitely pick this up. I loved the writing and the characterizations (there are so few good bear characters in books, you know?), and I look forward to picking up anything this Chana Porter writes next!

Sheila Laroque reviews A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby

A Two-Spirit Journey by Ma-Nee Chacaby cover

I gravitate towards autobiography and memoir writing, so I was delighted to find this autobiography when I was browsing for something to read. This is the personal narrative of Ma-Nee’s life, and a great documentation about all of the changes that she has experienced. From living out on the land, to being closer with communities and navigating a journey into sobriety as well, there has been so much that Ma-Nee has experienced and gone through.

A lot of the details and traumatic events that Ma-Nee has gone through can be triggering for many readers. However, I do encourage people to read this and understand the significance of Ma-Nee’s writing of her life story that is accessible in this way. Written records of Elder’s stories are not usually published, so to be able to access the teachings that Ma-Nee is willing to share with us from her Oji-Cree community is important.

This work also gives us a chance to acknowledge that processes of coming out and pride festivities look very different in other parts of the world, especially in smaller and more rural locations. There is a great deal of strength that can come from community-building, and it is possible to grow and lead a good and fulfilling life after experiencing trauma. I encourage people to read this as an important record for future generations, as well to know more about what life is like in many LGTBQ contexts.

Sheila Laroque reviews Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

As I’ve said in previous reviews; I haven’t widely read a great deal of poetry. Nor do I have the lived experience of a trans person. However, reading this collection of poetry by Gwen Benaway I felt drawn into her world and stories, and I felt like I could understand a little bit better. The stories that are told within these poems are powerful and raw, and I felt like I was being taken on a journey with the author. Gwen is able to take her readers along for a ride, as she narrates her experiences as being both trans and Anishinaabe in these poems. The poems are at times grappling with difficult subject matters, but we are also left with the feeling of how difficult it must have been to live through these experiences from Gwen’s perspective.

There is an honesty within these poems that immediately draws in the reader, and while this is a relatively short book I found myself reading these quite quickly. Her discussions of the complexities that can arise when dating in a transphobic world; as well as what it is like to navigate the health care systems while being Indigenous gave me some more insight and understanding. I say ‘gave’ intentionally, because her writing is so illuminating and full of her own personal experiences and trauma that it is a gift to the reader.

Sheila Laroque reviews Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild

Calling Down the Sky by Rosanna Deerchild (affiliate link)

I’m not much of a poetry person. I never have been. I’m the type of librarian who only took the required English courses; and I definitely don’t have an English literature degree. However, I wanted to challenge myself to diversify my reading beyond what I usually go for. I admit that I avoid poetry because I often fear that I won’t understand what it’s about. Calling Down the Sky is a work that I was able to understand on a deeper level, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to read such poetry.

Rosanna Deerchild is a Cree broadcaster, who also identifies as Two-Spirit. Personally I’m most familiar with her work through the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)’s radio show Unreserved. It was an interesting experience to read the poetry of a writer whose voice I was already familiar with.I could hear her saying the words on the page to me. In that way, it made me relate to what was written had already meant; both because I was familiar with how she was saying the words, but also understanding the tone and experiences in the book.

The lasting impact of residential schools within Canada is ongoing, and all of the complexities that come with intergenerational trauma will still be worked out for years to come. Deerchild explores how her mother’s trauma has affected the relationship that they have; but also for other members of the family too. It is all of our complexities and traumas that can shape and create who we are, and that can be seen throughout this work.

This was a quick read for me, and I was surprised by how much of it allowed me to see my own family experiences within her poetry. The most powerful poem in the collection is the title poem, “Calling Down the Sky.” No spoilers, but the acts of resistance give moments of hope, which makes this a powerful poetry collection.

Sheila Laroque reviews Nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon

nîtisânak by Lindsay Nixon

Nîtisânak is the Cree word for family; and Linday’s non-fiction account of growing up punk, queer and Indigenous in smaller cities of the Canadian prairies will resonate with many folks from many walks of life. After all, the concept of a ‘chosen family’ has been discussed widely in queer writings before, but nîtisânak brings new perspectives and ways of writing that will appeal to a broader audience. The text is peppered with shorthand, acronyms, and other shorthand ways of writing that makes the text feel less formal. The way that Lindsay writes feels very organic to Internet message boards and a Twitter-savvy audience; without feeling forced. This makes sense, because part of their story discusses the importance of Internet messaging boards in the punk scene on the prairies to find the next shows and a sense of community.

Lindsay’s story takes place in many of the same cities as my own. Reading this book at times feels like it could have been written by myself, or any other of my friends from when I was younger. Their story takes place largely in Regina, Saskatchewan which is a rival city to where I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They then move to Edmonton, Alberta and have a tumultuous and in many aspects an abusive relationship with a girlfriend that is referred to as B2B. This acronym stands for ‘back to black’, in reference to the Amy Winehouse album of the same name. Nixon’s description of this relationship of being both something beautiful and something that was the source of a great deal of pain for them resonated a great deal for me. Romantic relationships blend into familial relationships; and Nixon highlights with great care some of the foundational ways that young queer friendships can also create the same family bond and structure in our lives.

Peppered throughout this work are different prayers that are numbered. Setting aside the text like this gives the sense that these parts are special and need to be paid attention to. They are different than prayers that many people would have likely encountered in other contexts. For example, prayer 3 states: “Thank you to all the trees who breathe in poison on the daily, who gift us the air that we breath and the wind that propels everything forward”. These moments stand out in the text, while other Cree words are used seamlessly, without definition or italics. In a way that makes the Cree language just as another part of the text, and another part of their story. Cree is spoken widely enough that the curious reader could easily look up the words in any online Cree dictionary to the definitions of a new word. By just leaving it as it is, Lindsay is inviting the reader into their reality and the worldview that they and their family hold. This choice of writing style also signals that the work is for an Indigenous audience; to whom might not have seen themselves reflected in other coming of age stories. Being queer, Indigenous and punk in a particular local prairie context is an important story that can reflect back pieces of our own realities to us; even if we ourselves are not necessarily those things.

This is an important piece of writing that will appeal to people from many different backgrounds and families. I would give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

Sheila is a queer Métis woman, living in her home territory of Edmonton, AB, Canada. She has worked in a number of libraries across Canada, but being back in the public library has given her the space to rekindle some love with books and reading. She also co-hosts a podcast about Indigenous publishing called masinahikan iskwêwak (which is Cree for Book Women) with two other Métis librarians. The podcast can be found at https://bookwomenpodcast.ca/; and Sheila tweets at @SheilaDianeL.

Sheila Laroque reviews Love Beyond Body Space and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson

Love Beyond Body Space and Time

For readers who are interested in having more Indigenous writers in their reading material, Love Beyond Body, Space & Time is a great entry point into Indigenous-centered science fiction. This collection of short stories seeks to showcase the ways that science fiction and aspects of Indigenity are not contradictions. In many science fiction tropes, the narrative of new planetary exploration or post-apocalyptic worlds can create a picture that reflects the harmful effects of colonialism. The possibilities that Indigenous peoples could be not only surviving, but thriving and loving in ways that affirm Indigenous notions of gender, sex and love is not something that is typically seen. This collection of short stories seeks to not only create space for these possibilities, but provides an introduction to what it means to be two-spirited, where the term comes from, and additional resources for further exploration. In “Returning to Ourselves: Two Spirit Futures and the now” Niigaan Sinclair outlines some of the histories that early colonists did not understand two-spirit people. In the early 1800s, the writings of more than one fur trader make note of the ways that they were perplexed by Ozawwendib, a two-spirit male who dressed “womanish”. Sinclair goes on to show the roles that two-spirit people had within different nations and communities, and how they were viewed by their own communities. The works cited for this short introduction piece is also an excellent resource to learn more about the roles of two-spirit people, queerness and Indigenous peoples before colonization.

The entire collection is an excellent guide into the writings and thoughts of other Indigenous writers. Included are stories by Richard Van Camp, Daniel Heath Justice, Cherie Dimaline and Cleo Keahna, to name a few. Each contributor has their own catalogue of materials that are well-worth the read on their own. As well, Grace L. Dillon in “Beyond the Grim Dust of what was to a radiant possibility of what could be: two-spirit survivance stories” gives an overview of the other writing that has been done within science fiction and queer writings, including two-spirit and where to get resources on other writing by Indigenous theorists.

One of my favourite stories is “Né łe!” by Darcie Little Badger. It is the story of a veterinarian, Dottie, who is Lipan Apache and on a nine month trip to Mars. The mission gets interrupted, and she gets woken up from her stasis sleep by another queer Navajo woman Cora when her vetrinary skills are needed. For me, the story had many unexpected elements that made it feel very surprising and charming. It is unexpected to see a queer Indigenous female doctor as a main character in a short story; just as much as it is to find love on a journey to Mars.

I also really enjoyed “Transitions” by Gwen Benaway. It is set in the near future, in Toronto, Ontario. It is the story of a two-spirited trans person who is near the beginning of their transition. As part of this, they enroll themselves in a new medication trial which is supposed to have better effects than hormones. However, they begin to have hallucinations and is encouraged by an Elder to use ceremony to come back to her spirit. This story is a beautiful reminder that Indigenous futurisms can be seen as the time that we are living in right now. The ancestors of our past can override what we hail as modern medical breakthroughs. As an Indigenous person who used to live in Toronto, I’m always excited when I can recognize different places and institutions that helped to shape my experience of the city.

Overall, “Love Beyond Body, Space and Time” is an accessible and thorough introduction to both science fiction and two-spirit realities for people who may not  have a great deal of experience with either. The short story formats offer a wide variety of interpretations of science fiction; as well as what it means to have experiences with both Indigenity and queerness. A short read that is well-worth checking out, I recommend this with 4 out of 5 interplanetary stars.

Sheila is a queer Métis woman, living in her home territory of Edmonton, AB, Canada. She has worked in a number of libraries across Canada, but being back in the public library has given her the space to rekindle some love with books and reading. She also co-hosts a podcast about Indigenous publishing called masinahikan iskwêwak (which is Cree for Book Women) with two other Métis librarians. The podcast can be found at https://bookwomenpodcast.ca/; and Sheila tweets at @SheilaDianeL.  

Shira Glassman reviews “Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger (from Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time)

If I told you there was a short story where two women of color fall in love in outer space, surrounded by puppies, you’d go out and buy it right away, right? No, you’d invent a time machine and go back in time and buy it five minutes before you started reading this review. That’s how badly you want cute f/f in space WITH PUPPIES.

“Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger was my favorite story in the Indigenous LGBT SFF anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time, which incidentally includes at least two other f/f pieces, so if you only read f/f it’s still very much worth it. Forty chihuahuas (and one husky!) need care when the dog stasis on the transport to Mars malfunctions and they all wake up, so the crew wakes one of the human passengers, an Apache veterinarian on her way to the Martian colony to start over after a breakup.
Since she needs to stay conscious and take care of the dogs, over the remaining months of  the voyage she grows closer with the pilot, who turns out to be not only Navajo but also another lesbian. They weather the ups and downs of space travel and astronomical doggie care together, and the protagonist has a decision to make once they reach Mars. It’s well-written and easy to follow, with–and you know this is always a priority with me with SFF–approachable worldbuilding.
The world needs truckloads more stories like this one, where not only folks in the LGBT umbrella but also marginalized ethnicities (or ability levels, or marginalized faiths) get to have fluffy and imaginative adventures in space, underwater, or in magical faraway kingdoms. Thank you for this one.