Pink Ink Youth Interviews – Karine Silverwoman and Pink Ink Youth

by Chelsey Lichtawoman

Pink Ink is an informal, creative writing drop-in for queer, trans, two spirit and questioning youth ages 14-29, and is a program of Supporting Our Youth (SOY) and Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto. As someone who failed or skipped most of high school, I have always been a big advocate of demystifying the concepts of who is a writer and what constitutes good writing, after being bound by the confines of spelling, grammar, and rigid school standards. Pink Ink youth are encouraged to “write down the bones,” using stream of consciousness writing and by participating in writing activities to express their own multi-layered experiences and those of the people around them. At a time when projects like the “It Gets Better,” campaign are the main focus in the fight against homophobia and transphobia, Pink Ink and other collectively-based initiatives can draw attention to the importance of community-engaged and politically-charged arts projects as a means of affecting change. The interview that follows was done as a collective effort. As a group we wrote out the interview questions and the youth responded to them as a part of a writing exercise. We are currently working on our annual zine, No One Can Tell Your Story But You, which launched at the Art Gallery Of Ontario on June 15, 2011, and featured several arts-based initiatives that run out of SOY.

Karine Silverwoman: How did you hear about Pink Ink?

Blaze: I initially heard about Pink Ink over 5 years ago and spent a really long time avoiding it. Eventually after at least a dozen people told me to go, I went. It just took me 6 years to get myself out of the house on a Saturday afternoon.

KS: What first got you into writing?

Portia: I was a painfully shy kid. I spent most of my time in my room reading, sometimes getting lost in the story. I wasn’t very social, I didn’t go out and play all that much. When I was young there was a lot of turmoil in my house but I never talked about it. I never really expressed my emotions. And when I was 11, my mom sent me to a shrink. Her advice was, if you can’t speak about it, write about it. Because if you don’t get it out it’ll explode and that won’t be safe for anybody, and that’s what I kind of started to do. So I just started journaling and it grew from there.

KS: How do you see yourself as a writer?

Alex: I am foremost a female writer but black queer female is more truthful. I write to process events and emotion and yes, to rebel. To challenge. Some are never meant to be read by another soul but mine. And some, it’s like dropping a bomb and leaving people to deal with the aftermath.

Blaze: I have this really warped sense of Identity, it never stays the same for more than a few years. Which can be really interesting, but also feel really shallow. The one thing that ‘s stayed the same is the kind of stuff I write about. People I know and things I’ve done. I draw from that stuff like crazy. Looking back on my journals from 5 years ago, the style is exactly the same.

KS: What kind of writing do you do? Why?

Feste Epkwose: I write almost exclusively about myself – about my life, my experiences, and my heritage. I enjoy retelling the stories my father told me about life on the island, old family legends, as well as my own adventures. I feel like it helps me to remember who I am. I feel that people tell stories to remind one another of who we are as human beings, that we have a common history, that there are things we have in common as human beings, like the ability to feel pain or the ability to laugh. I come from a long tradition of storytellers. I think that storytelling, the sharing of an experience – art, really, in all its forms – is the basis of our identities, both as individuals and as members of our various communities and cultures. I also write for pure cathartic value. Most of the time I come to Pink Ink and just let myself vomit all over the page. Sometimes I make new discoveries or plunge deeper into an experience or emotion. Sometimes I get a good story out of it. Mostly, it just feels good to rant, get things off my chest, and I’ll probably never look at it again.

KS: What has the Pink Ink experience been like for you?

Luka: Winter 2005. My first time at the 519, first queer group ever. Obviously, I ended up with a crush on the facilitator (what? Queer women of colour do exist? Woah!). But, I also wrote. I went places I didn’t want to go: gender, body, home. And I edited and re-wrote – texts and myself. My ‘voice’ became stronger, my story did matter after all. And, really, just having a free space, full of other queer and trans people, to do what I like – (writing) isn’t that amazing?

Alex: Pink Ink represents the few weeks in the year where I have an allocated time just for writing, whether I feel like it or not, whether something brilliant or mediocre comes out. It is a space where I get to take care of myself as a writer, and when the opportunity arises, face my demons. It’s cheaper than therapy!

Blaze: Pink Ink has been amazing, the group and the energy has been really beneficial. It’s really welcoming and has brought out a lot of great stuff. The exercises have helped me write about stuff I haven’t had a chance to think about. I’m insanely happy I finally came to Pink Ink.

KS: What does Pink Ink bring to you?

Alex: I get to be exposed to queer literature writers that I did not know, and to appreciate and get inspired whether it is though the content or the style.

KS: Has being queer or trans influenced your writing? If so, how?

Morgan: I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve known how to put words to paper and I’ve been queer that long, too. I can’t separate either of them, or my Trans identity, from any other part of me, so it’s all tied up together.

Blaze: It’s not so much being queer that has influenced my writing but being around other queer/trans people. When I find myself alone for a long period of time I tend to lose my enthusiasm for writing things down. Being around other people brings that enthusiasm back in this really strong kind of way. I think it’s the attitude of “our stories are fucking important,” and the energy that brings when people get together. I kind of feed off it.

Alex: No, not particularly. I was writing about queer material before I identified as queer. I was not limited. I do not censor.

KS: Do you think writing spaces are important to queer and trans youth?

Portia: Hell yes. Growing up in a suburban, white, middle class society, I would never have shared any of my writing with anyone and would’ve therefore never grown as an artist. No matter how much people say they don’t want to be labelled as a queer writer, it definitely leaks out; if it doesn’t, you’re censoring yourself and not totally creating, which is crap, a waste. Most art comes from that scared, dark part of yourself, like that quote about how all the great artists were fucked up, drugged, drunk or depressed. You’re not going to express that and get the proper understanding or feedback from people that have no fucking clue about your life experience.

KS: Do you think that writing can affect change? How?

Luka: Yup. Writing is a process: even if/when it doesn’t change anything else, the writer itself changes. Writing is committing ideas to paper, so other people can access them. It is spreading ideas, and ideas change things.

KS: Can you talk about your experience with the zine launch?

Blaze: The zine launch has been a sort of adrenaline boost. I’ve been writing more and editing less. Feeling like I need to produce as much as I can so I’ll have more stuff to pick from. In a way it’s almost therapeutic. Not nit-picking over everything I get down on paper.

Alex: I enjoyed the collaborative effort in making the zine. The more people provide their input/vision, the richer is the experience. Last year, at the zine launch was the first time I performed spoken word. Despite the initial anxiety, it was an exhilarating and vulnerable experience. Those are instances of feeling alive, empowered, an experience cerebrally orgasmic (that is if it goes well…)

Karine Silverwoman is an artist, counsellor and personal trainer. She is almost done her Master’s of Social work at Ryerson University. Her art focuses on poetry, video-making and dance.

Morgan Page is a feminist activist, writer, artist, and Santera.
Feste Epkwose is an autistic transexual Metis from Nova Scotia. He is socially inept and likes Lebanese food and folk-punk music.

Alex Looky is an African feminist writer with interests not limited to portrait photography, gender issues, queer issues and sex education.

Blaze spends most of her time thinking about and writing down all the crazy stuff she did at 17. Sometimes these thoughts turn into performance pieces. She also makes really good vegan food.

Luka B. Vicious: Genderqueer transguy. Brazilian. (Not an) Artist. Likes pirates, zombies and vampires. Reluctant community organizer.

Portia is a writer, a poet , a free verse lyricist who is determined to make words her subordinate, a shade of distinct dyke feminist equalist fluid colour

Pink Ink is a creative writing group for queer/trans, questioning and two-spirited youth aged 14-29 in Toronto. It is a program run out of Supporting Our Youth featuring workshops by emerging and established guest writers, and culminating in a published zine and launch party entitled, “No One Can Tell Your Story But You.”
http://www.soytoronto.org/current/pinkink.html