Writing is how I make a difference
Illustration: Beena Mistry
For our fifteenth anniversary we’ve reached out to the Shameless community and asked what the magazine has meant to them. What has Shameless meant to you? Talk back to us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Read past entries in this series: Melinda Mattos, Marta Balcewicz, Manisha Claire, Jessica Balmer, and Kaleigh Trace.
I first wrote for Shameless in 2015, a blog post about the shame that women and girls face on public transit in Toronto. It was a highlight of my writing career because it was the first time I had ever been published on a website (that didn’t suddenly cease to exist). Beyond the material accomplishment, it was the writing process – thinking deeply about my experience, revising the work and polishing it – that taught me that writing is how I make a difference. In some ways, I’ve always known that; but it was Shameless that validated it for me.
It’s easy to believe that you aren’t a writer if you’ve written “only” blog posts. I thought that I had to have special credentials – bylines, press and a fancy website – to be allowed to call myself a writer. There’s an elitism around it, especially when you see social media profiles that feature the names of big-name publications. It’s why I was aggressively pitching articles shortly after the blog post; I was certain that a longer article would change my life.
For Issue 33, the Music Issue, I got the honour of writing a feature article about how women and gender non-conforming folks are unfairly treated in the world of music journalism. I interviewed six people and revised the piece several times. I felt like a real professional with a foot in the door. One thing that struck me deeply this time around was the editing process. It was powerful, to say the least. Julia, my editor, demonstrated to me the power of keeping the writer’s voice as opposed to trying to correct it. If you’re a recovering perfectionist like me, you know that this is a big deal.
But, it’s not just the editors that make a world of difference in the lives of writers. It’s the entire structure of Shameless, which is modeled after practices of community care. For example, the Youth Advisory Board is a group of 15 youth that meets to advise the Shameless team of what themes and topics should be explored (I’m one of three facilitators). The youth are all paid for their work and given experiences that can serve them in the future. Together, they make space for themselves and each other to cry, disagree, create awareness and share their knowledge, all in the name of youth leadership. There are no strings attached – no grades, prerequisites or unrealistic expectations for youth to automatically feel safe. The work is done through careful planning of activities, input from other youth and responsible facilitating that gives room for discomfort.
Shameless sets itself up for greatness because it doesn’t dismiss its past. Oftentimes, when major projects start out on rocky road (and continue on that path for a while), that road is hidden for the sake of a better one that reveals only small hiccups and obscures any progress. How do you practice new things when old things haven’t been addressed? When I learned about the history of Shameless and how it didn’t always reflect our politics, the perfectionist in me jumped out. The perfectionist would have downplayed the importance of the past because only the results matter. The danger in doing this is having the past creep into the future, hindering the possibility of newness and change. For this magazine to reach 15 years of shameless (pun intended) service to young, marginalized folks, in a space that was not designed for them, is an enormous feat.
In the next 15 years, I hope that Shameless extends its wings and flies above and beyond what we think is possible today. I’m confident that the young people that contribute to the magazine now and will do so in the future will come up with something. They are the future, after all.