As a mixed-race child growing up in a “white supremacist household,” Tomee Sojourner turned to writing early on to validate her existence.
“I started writing when I was 10 as a way to express the disconnection to my life,” says Sojourner, who was born in Ottawa and raised overseas. “Poetry… some journalling, though I was always afraid someone would find it.
“As a child, as an adolescent, I might have spoken but I wasn’t heard. [With writing] even if I was the only one who heard, I would know I was alive and not disembodied anymore. It’s been a 34-year journey, which is not over.”
It wasn’t until she was chosen to present her work at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore reading series When The Rainbow Isn’t Enough that Sojourner was finally able to share her story with an audience.
“That day I came home early from work and danced around in my undershirt and my boxers and was listening to Bob Marley’s ‘Revolution,'” tells Sojourner. “I kissed [a picture of herself as a child] and I said, ‘This is for you.’ It was for that child, that black child who wasn’t allowed to speak, who was told black folks are stupid. I needed to do this for me and all elements of me.”
When The Rainbow Isn’t Enough is a reading series specifically for queer and trans writers of colour. The series is curated by Dianah Smith, founder of the queer Caribbean reading series A Is For Orange (Aisfororange.org).
“It’s about building community,” says Smith, “having your life experiences reflected back to you, having an audience that understands where your stories are coming from.”
Launched in September, the series received funding from the Lesbian And Gay Community Appeal for three monthly events. The last installment takes place Fri, Nov 24, although Smith is hoping to rustle up enough donations to allow the series to continue into the new year.
“If there are any rich lesbians out there, we’re still looking for funding,” says Smith.
The name for the series was inspired by Ntozake Shange’s book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.
“I was trying to brainstorm something that would be catchy but would also reflect our need for having more than just the queer community,” explains Smith.
Emerging writer Anu Verma says the title speaks to the complexity of being both queer and a person of colour, “whether it’s the rainbow in the queer community, which hasn’t always taken in to account people of colour, or if it’s in terms of multicultural policy — [a rainbow of] different skin colours — which hasn’t taken into account different sexualities and different genders.”
An undergraduate student at the university of Trent taking environmental research studies and women’s studies, Verma says the opportunity to participate in the When The Rainbow Isn’t Enough let her put a lot of the theory she’s learned into practice.
“I’ve been studying critical race theory and post-colonial theory and it’s frustrating sometimes to have all this academic stuff and not be able to go anywhere with it in my life,” says Verma. “It’s good to have an outlet that isn’t a 15-page paper.”
Verma speaks to the universality of its appeal as an audience member.
“I can’t always relate to some of the specifics,” says Verma, “but I can still relate to the experience of being confused and not feeling like you’re enough or feeling like you’re too much, [of wanting] to have some of that messiness come out and not have to be contained.”