“LGBTQ Inuit exist and some don’t feel comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender identity. We hope the film encourages dialogue and resources.”
Michael Yerxa, co-director of "Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things"
"Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things" is a new documentary that explores what it is like being LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) in Inuit culture. The film investigates the implications that residential schooling, rapid modernization, colonization, and Christianity have had on the way LGBTQ Inuit are viewed within their own culture and society.
The film also delves into the small town experience (Iqaluit the capital of Nunavut and the largest town in the territory is only approximately 7,000 people) that shades the relationship that many LGBTQ have in the north.
What is the Film Truly About?
The film examines what it means being LGBTQ up north. It critically looks at what traditional Inuit culture felt about homosexuality, as well as the implications that Christianity have had to this belief. The film gives a platform to both Inuit and non-Indigenous peoples who have successfully come to terms with their own sexuality in the north, but also to youth who have moved away from the north, unable to reconcile who they are with their communities. The film interviews, among others, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril a prominent Inuit filmmaker, who recently released a short on plural marriages, specifically looking at two lesbians who are struggling to stay together in a world run by outsiders.
Some of more heartfelt moments, in a film full of emotional interviews, include when Ms. Arnaquq-Baril opens up about her experiences becoming aware of loved ones who are LGBTQ. In the film she says, “I realized that if [my LGTBQ friends] can't tell even people who they love, and people that love them unconditionally, how afraid and terrible they must feel in their own communities and their own families and their own circle of friends.”
Another emotional moment is when Jesse Mike, an openly lesbian Inuit, speaks about her relationship with her mother. During the film Jesse Mike comments that, ”It has been ten years now and [my mother] is still not very accepting about it [...] We still have a very difficult relationship.” And the third is when Nuka Fennell comments that after a trip to Ottawa, he realized that if he returned home he would die, either because another kid would hit him just one too many times or because he would lose the will to get up in the morning. He instead chooses to stay in Ottawa, even though this choice leads to uncertainty and homelessness.
Being Outsiders Looking In
The directors, Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa, although both from southern Canada, decided to explore the intricate topic after reading an article in Nunatsiaq News about the pride event that was held in Iqaluit in 2014.
Michael Yerxa, in an interview with HNN emphasized that they, “saw this as a perfect opportunity for learning, growth and documenting one of the most unique pride celebrations on earth.” They both acknowledge the challenges that came with telling this story as outsiders to Inuit culture. Mark Kenneth Woods, said to HNN, “We were concerned and very self-aware of our outsider status and privilege throughout the making of this documentary which is why we really just wanted to go to Iqaluit and listen.”
But the two are not complete outsiders to the subject. “We are LGBTQ filmmakers and felt that this story was too important to not explore and document.” While recognizing the implications of being southerners coming up north to tell the story of LGBTQ Inuit, they truly believed that this story was one that needed to be told. And above all, as Mark Kenneth said, “We weren’t there to ‘save’ anyone or tell anyone how to be LGBTQ2. We really wanted to let the LGBTQ2 community in Iqaluit tell their own story in their own words. “
What is Next For the Film?
The film, which premiered this summer, has become a huge hit already. The directors have received numerous e-mails from across the north from LGBTQ youth and they are screening/ have screened the film in many different countries. Mark Kenneth Woods commented that, “We’ve had sold out festival screenings from Iqaluit to San Francisco to Mexico City to South Africa. We’re heading to our UK premiere this week and hope to sell the film rights for TV/Streaming in the coming months.”
But for him, one of the great successes of the film comes from showing youth across the north that they are not alone. He says, “I think seeing a strong Inuk woman like Jesse Mike openly talk about her partner, her daughter, her struggles and her discussion with elders can bring a lot of hope to Inuit from these smaller communities because they really aren’t alone and never were. To me that is ultimate success.”
The film had its UK premier last weekend at the Screening RIghts Film Festival in Birmingham as well as its Northwest Territory premiere at the end of the month at the YK International Film Festival in Yellowknife. For a complete list of the upcoming screening see the film’s website.