‘I came out because I saw you come out’: Two-Spirit artist builds safer spaces for queer youth

·7 min read

A Two-Spirit artist and storyteller is using stage performance and social media to inspire and create safer spaces for other queer people in syilx homelands (Okangan region).

Madeline Terbasket, who performs under the drag name Rez Daddy, said that since coming out as Two-Spirit in 2019, they have worked to pave the way so that others can also be themselves.

“I feel like I’ve really come to discover my responsibilites as a queer person. I just feel more free. I can be who I want,” said Terbasket, a syilx, Ho-Chunk, and Anishinaabe board member of the South Okanagan Similkameen Pride Society.

Growing up in “Cawston, B.C.,” Terbasket said that they never had the chance to openly express their queerness due to homophobic attitudes in the community.

“My whole life, I knew I was bisexual but I didn’t know much about my gender,” said Terbasket, who grew up and attended school in “Keremeos” in the sməlqmíx within syilx homelands. “I’m non-binary. Just learning, mostly through Instagram, seeing all my friends, I was like ‘I think that’s how I feel.’”

Terbasket made their Two-Spirit identity public in 2019 over Instagram. Since then, they said that they’ve felt safer about being open about their identity and being visibly queer.

“I was out partying one night, and this younger person from my community came up to me and said, ‘I came out because I saw you come out,’” said Terbasket. “I started crying in the car because that’s what I want. That’s the dream, that my community is safer for queer people.”

Last year, while serving as the artist in residence at University of British Columbia Okanagan, Terbasket wrote three creation stories – Welcome Home, The Lonely Sparrow and Pining – based off of the syilx nation’s ​​captikʷł that featured queer characters and narratives.

As Terbasket describes it, Welcome Home is about a young queer woman who wants to perform the Chicken Dance at a powwow, which is usually performed by men.

“So they came out to their mom and their mom told the organizers of the powwow, then they put on a Two-Spirit special for young Badger,” said Terbasket.

Terbasket said the stories came to them complete and required very few edits, which felt like a gift from Creator.

“For me, my responsibility that I’ve taken on is re-queering our traditional stories because our queer characters have been taken out due to shame,” they said.

Heather Adamson, the secretary/treasurer and member of the board of directors of the South Okanagan Similkameen Pride Society, said that the community is “so lucky on so many levels” to have a local figure like Terbasket.

“They care so much about their Two-Spirit community, that there’s more opportunities for Two-Spirit folks to be centred in the conversation, to have their voices heard. They’re such a strong advocate for Indigiqueer people, both within the Indigenous and non-Indigenous spaces. We’re beyond lucky to have them here in our community.”

A graduate of Capilano University’s acting for stage and screen program, Terbasket began performing in 2017 as a burlesque artist under the stage name Mother Girth. Two years later, the year that they publicly identified as Two-Spirit, their drag persona, Rez Daddy, was born.

The Rez Daddy character, Terbasket said, was created as a way to satirize and heal from how they were treated by certain “rez men” while growing up, specifically the toxic behaviours expressed towards them.

“I wanted a way to embody that and kind of show others [their behaviours],” they said.

Soon after, Rez Daddy – who Terbasket described as a high energy and flirtatious ladies-man – performed his first drag show in “Vancouver.” Despite doing only a handful of live drag performances since 2019, Rez Daddy won silver for the best drag performer in snpink’tn (Penticton) this year.

Tristan Joseph Boisvert, a multi-faceted artist and fellow board member of the South Okanagan Similkameen Pride Society, remembers growing up with Terbasket in the sməlqmíx. Not only was Terbasket creating spaces in the community, Boisvert said, but they were also creating disruption in the small white town of “Cawston.”

“They did a burlesque show at the Cawston Hall, and there were some people up in arms because they had stripped off,” said Boisvert.

“It gave me the courage to be more myself in this space. If Madeline can go and strip off at the Cawston Hall in front of a bunch of old whities, I can put on some longer earrings or I can wear some shorter shorts. So that disruption was so important for me, and they just continue to do it as well.”

Boisvert added that they’re proud to see how far Terbasket has come, highlighting that they are changing the world through their work, and acknowledging that what they do is far from easy. Having people like Terbasket in the community, Boisvert continued, is crucial if we’re going to get anywhere.

“It’s inspiring because we are getting places, I feel, thanks to people like Madeline, much quicker than if they didn’t exist. I think they’re just this catalyst for change,” they said.

However, there are also aspects of Rez Daddy that pay tribute to and honour Indigenous men, particularly Terbasket’s father, Forrest Funmaker.

“[With Rez Daddy] even though I’m portraying things I don’t like about Native men, sometimes I feel like it’s a love letter to Native men. My dad, when I was growing up, he did stripping as a comedy show with his friends,” said Terbasket.

“We were on tour with him in Saskatchewan, and they would [undress and] get down to little red thongs. The show didn’t go well because they were really conservative there. But I think I get my performing from my mom and dad. They’re just so funny.”

Rez Daddy’s outfit consists of underwear borrowed from Terbasket’s partner, as well as their grandpa’s watch and a chain gifted to them by their dad.

“I love that the things that I wear are from really important men in my life. I think of them when I’m on stage or when I’m getting ready,” they said. “I think of their love for me and it helps me get in the zone.”

Before drag, Terbasket said that there weren’t many opportunities for them to explore their masculine side. And while Rez Daddy has allowed them to do just that, the character has also given them the opportunity to poke fun at toxic masculinity on stage.

“I’d say my style is really high energy, really emotional — like if an uncle has too many drinks, “ they said.

Terbasket’s own masculinity, they said, is far more soft and respectful than that of their drag persona.

“Madeline is still pretty loud and obnoxious. But that’s only sometimes,” they said. “I’m probably not as confident as Rez Daddy. He really allows me to just do whatever I want because he’s a character.”

A big part of Terbasket’s performances – whether it be drag, burlesque, or live storytelling – is honouring their Indigenous identity.

“It’s a big part of everything that I do. I just want our people to feel proud of themselves and to see themselves on stage,” they said.

As for their performing aspirations, Terbasket said that they want to do drag performances in different cities and Indigenous communities. Their goal as a burlesque performer is to do more festivals. All-in-all, they said that they’ve really come into their own in the last three years.

“I’m imagining my life from this point, and it’s only going to get better and better. I just had a hard time in my 20s just getting by,” said Terbasket, who’s now 28. “I’m just so thankful and proud that I’m here. I’m just giving life my all.”

Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

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