Proud Panthers for Pride

Panther Daze Designs promotes body positivity, diversity, open and honest conversations, but most importantly, we encourage and aim to inspire others to love themselves inside and out. We teamed up with five fierce panthers and issue a Pride series that we are particularly proud of, and got to talk about a whole array of topics pertaining to this month, what it stands for and what Pride means to them. 

We carried out the shoot over two separate days, and kicked things off with Midnight Wolverine. Midnight, who’s nearly 24, and identifies as Two Spirit and Queer.

Midnight Wolverine has been performing burlesque for a few months now, and is kicking off their drag career during Pride. At the time we had our shoot, their only experience in drag was at home, where they’d play around with makeup, throw on their drag king attire, and cook dinner.

“As I was cooking dinner my drag king attire, I took a photo of it,” said Midnight. “So I created Kings Who Cook. I thought that this was kinda funny.”

Midnight Wolverine is a name that encompasses both their drag and burlesque personas on stage. They wanted to come up with something that was fluid, strong, and “bad ass”, in order to reflect their onstage persona.

“When I started doing burlesque I was torn with having two names for my burlesque and drag personas,” said Midnight. “Then I decided I wanted to have one name that could work for everything, which is reflective of that Two Spirit identity - that I am one person yet have multiple spirits within me. I’m on person with one name, but fluid in my expression.”

The wolverine in many First Nation cultures is known as a trickster and a shapeshifter, which is something that they want to embody in their performances. Recently, they performed at the Fierce International Queer Burlesque Festival, in which they were able to showcase the persona of the ‘Indigiqueer Devil’, which is two-spirit devil.

“It’s political. The reason for the act is, as an indigenous person, there’s the colonized belief of indigenous people of being heathens, going to hell, or being savages,” said Midnight. “Then, on the queer side, if you’re gay you’re also going to hell. It’s that rhetoric and combining them - the intersection of being queer and indigenous - essentially means you’re going to hell. So, I take that thing that everybody calls us and own it.”

We asked Midnight Wolverine to define in their own words what it means to be Two Spirit, for it is not something that is commonly heard within the LGBTQ+ community.

“The term Two Spirit was started because Indigenous folks didn’t feel like the LGBTQ+ terms section fit with their cultural identity,” said Midnight. “For me, Two Spirit is more than gender and sexuality. It’s rooted within spirituality and culture, and so that’s what the Two Spirit term encompasses. It’s moving beyond gender and sexuality, and it [focuses on] us as spirit beings.”

Midnight shared with us that the reclamation of the two spirit identity is more visible, and that more and more young indigenous folks are starting to be more open about their identity. For Midnight, burlesque is dear to their heart and something that helps with that reclamation as an indigenous two spirit womxn.

“When you think of an indigenous woman, you think of Missing and Murdered women, you think of abuse, you think of stereotypes and exotification, and all of these really shitty things,” said Midnight. “That’s how they’re perceived. For me, it’s taking back that control and saying ‘I am an Indigenous womxn but I am allowed to be sexual.’”

This coming Toronto Pride is the second time Midnight will be going to. But not only will they just be an attendee, they will be a performer! You can catch their first drag performance at Yonge and Dundas square on June 23rd at 5:00 p.m., and they will also be performing a burlesque number the following day at Pride Toronto’s North Stage at 3:00 p.m.

 

For James McVicar, 24, Toronto Pride is a time for meeting people, getting yourself out there, and celebrating those who are queer in this city. James is looking forward to a lot for this year’s Pride, but he is mostly looking forward to seeing all of his friends in the same place.

“It’s not so often that we get together as a big group anymore,” said James. “Pride definitely brings everyone out and into the streets. It’s great to not actually have to make plans to where you’re going, to just show up knowing that you’re going to run into people you know or haven’t seen in a while, and want to interact with.”

There are lots of events that James is looking forward to, that it is hard to keep track of. There’s the ROM’s Pride-themed Friday Night Live, there’s the Night at the Aqueerium, the Green Space Festival, and so many more that it’s impossible to list them all (or you can just check out what’s up right here: click .)

Last year was the first time James felt like he truly celebrated Pride, as opposed to “just being present."

“I spent a lot of time out there, meeting new people, having a lot of fun, checking out all the events where as before I just watched it happen,” said James. “That was a really nice change and I’m looking forward to doing that again this year.”

For James, Toronto has been helpful with the inclusivity aspect, which is something that he didn’t feel back when he lived in Calgary. Back then, he kept his identity hidden and unknown to those around him because he felt like he couldn’t show his true self and express himself the way that he wanted to. 

“Even though half of the time everyone’s walking around wondering: ‘Oh, I wonder when he’s going to come out’,” said James. “It takes a while to get over that because when you associate with queer people, everyone will know I’m queer. Once you come out, that goes away to some extent, but it still takes a while to accept the fact that you’re out to some people. Then yeah, it becomes way, way easier to make friends in the queer community.”

Living in Toronto has made James feel more comfortable about being open about his sexuality, and has boosted his confidence in being his true self.

“Coming to a place in your life where you suddenly feel more like yourself is extremely interesting and fun. I think that is slowly happening with me,” said James. “Your interests are exaggerated because you’re no longer ashamed for what or who you’re interested in… I’d say that’s something I struggled with for quite some time, but I think the more you are yourself the better chance you have at happiness and that is what I’m figuring out.”

James jokingly adds that the amount of times he says “dick in a week now is outrageous” (but who cares, keep dicking around! I’ll stop with the puns, but it really is hard.)

All jokes aside though, to celebrate Toronto Pride to its fullest, James encourages everyone to just go out on the street and put yourself out there - whether you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community or not.

“Get out there, do everything you think you shouldn’t, have a lot of fun, meet a lot of people, and most importantly don’t be judgemental and be nice,” said James. “Be open to meeting new people, being out there and being part of it! I think that’s the best way to have the most fun.”

 

When we got to talk to Yolanda Bonnell, 36, on the day of the shoot, we started off by talking about her profession as a playwright and a performer. Her solo show, bug, had just toured the West Coast, and is about to showcase at the Luminato Festival here in the city.

Yolanda wrote this play about five years ago, and it’s about a young, indigenous girl struggling with addictions that stem from intergenerational trauma, which is something that gets passed down through bloodlines “from back before residential schools were even a thing.”

“Seeds of colonialism were planted with assimilation,” said Yolanda. “It travels through our bloodlines and creates this ongoing cycle of addictions, and having to find ways of coping and numbing a lot of the pain.”

With this particular show, Yolanda runs an outreach program to Indigenous youth where they can participate in a storytelling workshop that gives them a platform to explore different ways in telling a story through the creation story that was gifted to them from an elder. bug is currently performing at the Luminato Festival until June 24th, at the Theatre Centre nearby the Distillery District here in the city.

Since these performances take place throughout Toronto’s Pride week, Yolanda is unsure of how many events she will be able to attend this year - though she certainly hopes that she can! When asked what her favourite or most memorable Pride moment was, Yolanda said without any hesitation: “When Black Lives Matter stopped the parade.”

Two years ago, during the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade, the Black Lives Matter movement halted the parade to shed light on the lack of representation and the marginalization of black queers and black trans people at this LGBTQ+ event.

“I was standing right beside them when they walked in,” said Yolanda. “I was like ‘What’s happening?’ It was a really charged moment, and it was a really special moment for me because I had the moment that everybody had that was like: ‘It’s hot out here, what’s going on?’ When I realized what they were doing, what they were saying, and the demands that they were making, I was on board immediately. Like, im-me-di-ate-ly.”

But unfortunately, not everyone was on the same page.

“It was a little disheartening to look around and hear people booing, and hear people yelling ‘Move that truck! Move that truck!’” said Yolanda. “Why are you here then? Pay attention, know your history! Pride started because of a riot.”

Yolanda threw her fist in the air, to show her support for BLM. When she looked around, she saw that other fists were raised too, and Yolanda said that the sight was “really beautiful.”

“That moment was one of the most amazing moments that I’ve had at any Pride event,” said Yolanda.

Right before Yolanda went off to the park to get her photos taken for the Pride series, we got onto the topic of bi visibility.

“Bisexuality is real, and Bi Visibility is really important,” said Yolanda. “Bi-erasure continues to happen in this community and it needs to stop.”

Bi erasure is an ongoing and pervasive issue for bisexuals, for the legitimacy of their sexuality is constantly questioned or stripped away from them based on who they are dating, married to, or interested in.

“I always encourage people to educate themselves,” said Yolanda. “Understand that it’s a spectrum, and it’s fluid. Who cares what people are doing - let people live their lives.”

Love is love.

 

William Lavinia, 24, makes “fancy coffee” during the day, but mostly he’s at “drag shows or is naked on the internet.” His journey of identifying as a trans masc femme has been a long time coming. 

“I was gender queer for most of my time in Toronto. I started exploring it when I got here basically, through kink and other things. Because I’m a femme and I really like feminine clothing, drag, and getting fucked, I was like ‘I must not be a trans man,’” said William. “Then I learned more about my place in the community as a queer man, and I’ve been able to parse out where I fit within it - but I have had to unravel a lot of layers of personality and orientation before I could to trans masc femme.” 

We got to talking about how the transitioning process has been going so far for him, and William gracefully and patiently answered all my questions about it. William has been going through his transition for the past year, and though it’s been a great and positive experience for him, it’s still a process and “there’s been a lot of puberty.” 

“That’s what happens when you start HRT of whatever hormone you don’t already produce, you go through the opposite puberty,” said William. “It’s draining, it’s why my skin is worse. I get all the changes that teen cis boys get too.”

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) affects every part of the body differently, where some changes happen within the first three shots, while other parts develop and settle within the first year. 

“I’m on steroids and I have muscles, but I haven’t been working out,” said William. “My skin is more oily - like teen boy skin - but mine will stay this way until it turns into man skin, which is pretty chill, just not chill right now. Eventually there’s facial structure changes, where the fat redistributes and I will get more jaw and lose the softness in my cheeks. I’ll look a lot spookier.”

HRT also affects emotions, so you truly relive every aspect of puberty that you wouldn’t think you would revisit as an adult. 

“It’s hard for some folks when you do this and you’re not a very self-aware person,” said William. “I could imagine it’d be very similar to the first time [of going through puberty.]”
William has a complicated relationship when it comes to Pride, because it hasn’t always been the best at serving our communities (which the Black Lives Matter movement brought to attention, amongst other QTBIPOC advocates.) 

“They represent the establishment, corporations, capitalism, and are tied to a lot of wealth,” said William. “It’s not actually a grassroots, political event anymore. It’s definitely a rainbow bank time.” 

Ultimately speaking though, William loves Pride because it offers a lot of events for everyone in all communities, and it also puts forward “lots of incredible art.” It’s just a matter of supporting the right events, shares William, because “there are events everywhere at Pride that are rad.”

Some events that William was excited for this month included Screen Queens at The Royal with Allysin Chaynes, and Amateur Strip Night at The Round (which also happens every month!) 

“It’s an amateur strip night judged by drag queens,” said William. “It’s very fun. It’s really weird queer-dos just taking off their clothes. It’s art, it’s not actually strip-club stripping.” 

The thought of doing drag has been “percolating” in the back of William’s mind for the past year, but admittedly, it is an expensive undertaking. All he needs to do is just “get the things”, because he already has the performance background. 

For now, William is focussing on modelling and his newly found career in the porn industry - which he is enjoying so far!

“It’s been a very, very brief stint but it seems natural,” said William. “I’m a performer and I like having sex. A lot of my fetishes are in alignment with exhibitionism and I’ve always enjoyed being seen, watched and enjoyed in that way. The porn industry is no longer spooky, and there’s so many different ways to do porn.” 

You can follow William and his modelling career on his Instagram page @william.lavinia. 

“If people want to see me even more naked, they can follow my Twitter account @crewfoxxx or on Instagram @ftmcrewfox.”

 

A few days before we met up at the shoot, Sze-Yang Ade-Lam, 33, had just performed at the AGO’s Pride-themed First Thursday with ILL NANA/DiverseCity Dance Company.

Sze-Yang co-founded ILL NANA/DCDC out of the need for fun and a safety away from the “High Art” dance world. What started out as fun, has now become a QTBIPOC dance company that represents QTBIPOC stories on stage and creates affirming dance education for black, indigenous, people of colour & LGBTQ communities for the past ten years.

ILL NANA/DCDC will be performing at the Transfest on the Pride Sunday just outside of Buddies In Bad Times at 3:30 p.m, and also at the Grand Valley Institution for Women, a women’s prison in Kitchener, Ont, for the 2nd time.

Pride at Grand Valley Institute is run by the women currently incarcerated. “Everything that happens is done via the people. They’re not given a budget for it,  so every streamer or rainbow decoration, had work involved to make it happen,” said Sze-Yang. “The folks at Grand Valley are inspiring to me. They have fought really hard for basic rights, to wear certain clothes, to have specific undergarments, to have makeup, and to express themselves in any way, and beyond… that is amazing.”

On his own Sze-Yang performed for New Ho Queen, a Queer-Asian event that took place at FridayNight Live: Colour ROM Proud (which made it the second Pride performance that involved queer people of colour “taking up space in an institutional art setting”) and Les Femmes Fatales- a BIPOC women, trans, and nonbinary femme burlesque troupes show;  Resistance & Lipstick.

Sze-Yang hopes, however, that these performances that take place in these commercialized institutions go beyond “these one offs” “We can exist in artistic collaboration with these institutions outside of being a Pride show,” said Sze-Yang. “I hope this is a start that opens up a dialogue. We are entertaining, but we are not just the entertainment, we are art and creation that is invaluable all year round!”

Sze-Yang feels a push-and-pull with Pride due to corporatization, increased security, and the lack of support for local artists. When they think of what Pride is truly about, they feel like the Trans March is one of the best representations of that movement (which is why it’s one of their favourite things about Pride!)

For Sze-Yang, the Trans March is more reflective of a political movement for the people, that is focussing on celebrating its people. The focus is more so on who they are marching for, rather than the corporations that are sponsoring them.

“The Trans March really reminds me of that because you don’t really see a whole bunch of corporate organizations that have hired models, you see people taking up space as they are - however they want to be - walking with pride,” said Sze-Yang. “It makes me feel lovely. I love to see that, and be around that energy.”

Pride began with people fighting for their equal human rights, so that they can be recognized and accepted for who they truly are without any fear.

“People stood up to the police,” said Sze-Yang. “People of colour, trans, and non binary people took to the streets and fought for their rights and that’s why we have Pride.”

 

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We had such an incredible time collaborating with these wonderful humans. They all shared their individual ways of how they love to express themselves, and what Pride means to them - both the good and the bad. We are so thankful that we were able to showcase their unique identities through the photoshoot and through this article, and we hope we that you fall in love with each and every one of them - just like we have!