“Two Soft things, Two Hard Things”
Colonialism, Christianity and Queer
We do not really hear anything about queer Inuits. I am not sure why this is true but we know that there must be some. This is what we see in the new documentary “Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things”. The influence of the church and of capitalism has changed family structures and sexual dynamics in Nunavut and this dates back to the 1700’s. Before that , queer individuals would’ve been viewed as completely acceptable in the past however today many Inuit elders and youth look down on these gender and sexual nonconformists.
We meet some of them here and it is not surprising that some talk about a sense of alienation. This is quite worrisome because Nunavut presently has a high suicide rate and experts believe those numbers represent more LGBT youth than are accounted for. However, we also learn that things are changing.
The territory of Nunavut was built upon decades of relocation, re-education, and Christianization of nomadic Inuit people. Colonization and shame have shadowed the community, hitting LGBTQ people especially hard, as the systematic destruction of native culture has driven the Inuit’s original complex, inclusive sense of sexual orientation and family structure underground. Directors Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa trace colonization from the 1950s, through the a gradual thaw that has led to LGBTQ protections in the Nunavut human rights act in 2003. We see members of the LGBT community who bring life to the story here—gay Inuit adults and the youth; tribal elders reviving ancient inclusiveness. There are those who want the world to know what is going on there. As indigenous values and contemporary mores come together, a door opens for Inuit people to experience a continuing and exciting journey.
This is the story of LGBTQ Inuit folks on their journey to acceptance as they struggle to grasp their identity and reclaim their roots amidst societal, religious and racist pressure in Nunavut. As they work to honor and celebrate who they are against the backdrop of the LGBTQ Pride celebration in Nunavut, the film documents it. The tone is established right from the beginning, with an elder who shares wisdom from the Inuit that speaks to the LGBTQ struggle. The film is, therefore, a haunting narrative of how LGBTQ rights have been shaped in Nunavut through the pervasive effects of colonialism and Christianity. We hear recollections about the devastating ways in which these structures were enforced upon the Inuit people and these are seen against the stark contrast of the harshness of the land and extreme weather. We go into the hearts and homes of those who courageously deal with the complexity of their identity every day. They tell their stories with a vulnerability that can only emerge from incredible strength. The film throws out the homophobic myths and stereotypes about “gay Eskimos” and replaces them with images of LGBTQ Inuit who not only survive but have fun doing so.
The word “inuit” means “the people” in the Inuktitut language. It is commonly believed that homosexuality does not exist in Inuit society, but documentary filmmakers Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa set out to prove this is not true. The title of the film comes from the Inuit word for homosexuals—the word for lesbians means “two soft things rubbing against each other” and the word for gay men means “two hard things rubbing against each other.”
When a rainbow flag was flown outside of the city hall in Iqaluit in 2014, a debate ensued in the Inuit community about whether or not homosexuality was a part of their society and if should be accepted.
Pride picnics have been held in Iqaluit from 2000 to 2006, and a larger Pride event was held in 2014, yet the subject of homosexuality is still taboo among the Inuit people.