Arts·Point of View

'All we have is each other': Fighting for love in dangerous times as an Indigenous trans woman

Writer Arielle Twist: "I am afraid of not surviving. But I am not afraid of admitting to the fact that I ache for a love that can defy that reality of violence."

In the face of violence and ignorance, writer Arielle Twist holds hope in the strength of her communities

Crop of the cover of Arielle Twist's poetry collection Disintegrate/Dissociate. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

In this moment, love feels like an impossible feat. My sisters are dying, and our existence and inherently politicized bodies are being erased from this world through the weaponizing of media, politics and the ever-devastating brutality of murder. It's not hard to see that we are, and have been, in the midst of an epidemic of violence against Indigenous and trans women in North America. But how do we, as Indigenous and trans women, still love when our own personal apocalypse is always on the horizon?

As someone who holds both of these realities, I am afraid of a lot of things. I am afraid to make phone calls because of the constant worry that the person on the other side will hear the rasp in my voice and call me "sir." I am afraid of walking alone at night because of the many times I have been followed and harassed by men when leaving one of the bars that inhabit downtown Halifax. I am afraid to date and hook up freely because, statistically, it is one of those men who will murder me before I have the chance to turn 35. And I am afraid of the thought that I could find a love which has the ability to wrap its edges around my complex body, but that I may fall short of it because I was too afraid of not surviving.

And I am afraid of not surviving. But I am not afraid of admitting to the fact that I ache for a love that can defy that reality of violence. Or that I have this hope that, maybe one day, someone can love the screeching void that is the unlovable, savage and monstrous body I am told I possess. I am not afraid to admit that I, like most women my age, dream of a love that is forgiving, kind and soft. And I am not ignorant to the fact that this love I am wishing for will most likely be my undoing — nor am I afraid of becoming undone for the right reasons.

But love, in this moment, feels impossible, because I know love alone can't save us from the violent realities of the world. Love alongside community and kinship, though, has possibility.

Indigenous and trans women have been at the forefront of Indigenous and queer issues since we have had to fight to exist. Since colonization, we have survived through the genocide of both of these worlds — and we will survive this. Through community and kinship, we will create new possibilities for love. During times of grief and fear, we will have siblings who will listen and work to mend to our broken hearts. And when we don't have the ability to focus or refocus ourselves on one of our never-ending tasks, we will have friends who will visit and take our mind off of the rage and sadness, even for a moment. The ways in which our communities hold us in these times of hardness is a reminder that love isn't only for our "intimate partners," but that love looks and feels different in each relationship, and intimacy does not equal sexual relations.

Arielle Twist. (Alex Van Helvoort)

In this moment, I am reminding myself that I can access admiration and touch through kinship, and that I am always at the centre of decolonizing how I view desire and love with every friendship I cultivate. I am reminding myself that Indigenous and trans women have a high capacity to love and care, because it's in our blood as caregivers and community holders.

As an Indigenous trans woman, I believe that we love ferociously, even though we are often discarded by our families, who choose not to respect our pronouns, and we are seen as disposable because we are so easily displaced. We lose everything just to exist in this world, so when we find or create a community that makes space for these multiplicities, we fight to protect them. I know that this sisterhood/kinship will keep me safe in turbulent love — that I was loved before and will be loved after, unconditionally, by my chosen families.

Still, I know it all feels impossible to reconcile. The fact that the loves in our lives can kill us at any moment; that we can access love and intimacy through kinship yet be called monstrous; and that, yes, our sisters are still dying and this kind of love alone can't save them/us — that reality is deafening.

But in this moment, all we have is each other. All we have is the possibility of love and survival. And I hope that is enough.

Find out more about Arielle Twist's work on her website.


Arielle Twist is a writer and sex educator from George Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a Cree, Two-Spirit, trans femme supernova writing to reclaim and harness ancestral magic and memories. Her debut collection of poetry Disintegrate/Dissociate was released in 2019 with Arsenal Pulp Press.