Why this Akwesasne two-spirit teen is normalizing wearing ribbon skirts
‘I shouldn't care, and neither should anyone else care what I wear,’ says Tekaronhiokewe Talon Jacobs
When Tekaronhiokewe Talon Jacobs was asked to model a ribbon skirt for a local designer, he jumped at the chance to use it as an opportunity to normalize wearing ribbon skirts.
"As a gender non-conforming person, I kind of want to prove that it doesn't really matter," said Tekaronhiokewe.
"I shouldn't care, and neither should anyone else care what I wear."
The 16-year-old from Akwesasne, a Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on the Quebec, Ontario and New York state borders, was among a group of community members who modelled a collection of ribbon skirts made by designer Cheyenne Lazore.
"Me wearing that isn't inherently saying that I like to wear feminine things, it was more of 'This is what I like to wear,'" he said.
The collection, released last week, was dedicated to Akwesasne's community members who identify as LGBTQ as a way to promote inclusivity and acceptance.
"I always hear these stories about how people are ostracized from their families for being different, so I think it's important to show appreciation and love to those who identify as LGBTQ because we really are inclusive here," said Lazore.
"We have so much love for our people."
Tekaronhiokewe's mom Chrissy Jacobs was one of the other models. Lazore said it was important to include her, as she's been supportive of her children and community.
Chrissy said the experience was emotional. Watching her son model reminded her of the time when he finished his first fast in Ohero:kon, a four-year rites of passage ceremony offered to youth in Akwesasne as they transition to adulthood.
"You want your children in a safe space and you want them in a room where they're just themselves," said Chrissy.
"It's a thing where a mother is watching her son walk into his power, him as a person, as a being, all that they are supposed to be."
Tekaronhiokewe came out as two-spirit and gay shortly after that first fast when he was 13. He said it was a "nonchalant" conversation on a drive home with his mom.
"She just kind of asked the question. 'Are you gay?' And I'm like, 'Yeah.' She's like, 'Cool, I knew it,'" said Tekaronhiokewe.
"I do feel a lot better about myself. I do feel a lot more free. And, I feel a lot more like myself."
He struggled with depression and anxiety prior, something Chrissy said was difficult to watch her son go through.
"A child could be in the most loving, accepting environment and they're still going to be afraid to lose love," she said.
"I was just glad when he finally was true to himself and came out, because that's when you really start living."
She hopes the photos of Tekaronhiokewe expressing self-confidence will send a message to others in Akwesasne that it's OK to be themselves and they will be supported.
"[It's] really important for these kids that are growing up to know the people they look up to as role models and leaders aren't going to turn their back on them for their identity," she said.
"We don't see enough of that. Not just here, but in Indian country in general."
This story is a part of a CBC Indigenous series celebrating gender and sexual diversity in Indigenous communities.