New documentary explores complexities of being LGBT in Inuit communities

The film is set against the backdrop of an LGBT Pride celebration in Iqaluit, Nunavut, which has less than 7,000 permanent residents.

The film is centred around a seminal Pride celebration in Iqaluit, Nunavut

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things (Inside Out)

Here's a fun language lesson: the literal translation of an Inuktitut term for lesbian relationships is "two soft things rubbing against each other," while for gay men it's "two hard things rubbing against each other." Hence the title of Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa's Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things, a new documentary world premiering at Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival this weekend.

The film is set against the backdrop of an LGBT Pride celebration in Iqaluit, Nunavut, which despite being the most populous community in the territory has less than 7,000 permanent residents. Woods and Yerxa heard about the festivities via this 2014 article in Daily Xtra, which detailed how it was actually the city's response to the anti-gay laws in Russia during the 2014 Winter Olympics that led to the idea to throw the first Iqaluit Pride. 

"We thought, isn't this unbelievably cool that a Pride event is happening in this part of the world in this community of 7,000 people where you wouldn't necessarily expect it?" Yerxa told CBC Arts. "When we read the article we knew that there must be something more to investigate and a lot more stories that will come out of it."

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things (Inside Out)

"The more we dug, the more complicated and layered it got," added Woods. "You can't have Pride in Nunavut without really retracing the history of colonization, residential schools and Inuit being taken off land and put into settled communities. And then there's Christianization and the writing system being created to teach people the Bible. There's all sorts of things that really lead up to how and why that celebration is happening there now."

The filmmakers don't shy away from any of these issues, and moreover show how the growing embrace of LGBT Inuit is helping the community heal the past. It was colonization and religion that shamed and erased traditional Inuit beliefs about sexuality and family structure, and Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things helps show how a new generation of Inuit are actively "unshaming" their past.

"There's still a lot of thoughts tied to Christianity and traditional marriage," Yerxa said. "That all came on the heels of being colonized. It's nice to see the people actively trying to change their community and that's really what the film is about: their stories."

For Woods and Yerxa, the biggest thing they took away from the experience of making the film is how little is known in the rest of Canada about Nunavut and its people and history.

"We as Southern Canadians aren't learning about this in school," Woods said. "I was really embarrassed about how little I knew and was really blown away by what had happened to that area and its people."

Yerxa added that he hopes the film starts a longer conversation about the history of Inuit, particularly their family structures and sexual identities.

"I hope it's a tipping point for that to be talked about in a much bigger way," he said.

After it premieres at Inside Out, Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things is already set to screen in Sudbury, Ont. and have its international premiere at San Francisco's Frameline Film Festival later this month. But the filmmakers want to make sure that's only the beginning and that the film reaches the many people its story represents.

"We want to make it available free of charge for Inuit communities and it's already starting to happen," Woods said. "People in various communities are reaching out to me asking for copy. The answer's always going to be yes."

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things. Directed by Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa. 71min. Fri, June 3, 5:30pm. TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto. Q&A with filmmakers and subjects following the movie.