Queeny Ives

Conversations on Trauma and Awakening: Queeny Ives

Interviewed by Gabriella Evans
"It takes time for all of us to figure out who we are, let alone when parts of ourselves are largely not accepted by the world. I am grateful that I have been able to come to trust that I am not a burden and that those who love me want to listen to me and know my truths."

Queeny Ives (they/them) is an award-winning Montreal-based burlesque performer known for their delightfully debaucherous portfolio of neo, gore and drag-lesque acts. As a proudly queer, non-binary and POC artist, Queeny strives to tickle your inner freak while smashing social boundaries through art. In their muggle life, Queeny has been working as a public health practitioner, promoting and advocating for the mental health of BIPOC, LGBTQI2S+ and migrant youth and communities for over 10 years.

Portrait taken by Villaine.Photo

Who are you, in three words?

Inquisitive, contemplative and passionate.

How would those close to you describe you?

I think it is a really interesting to ask someone how they see themselves and then to ask how they perceive others to perceive them. It’s almost like we are exploring the inner self versus the projected self, which I think for me are aligned but can also look quite different at times.

Others would describe me as fun-loving, a bit of a jokester and quite confident. They would probably also say I am caring, respectful, maybe a little bit reserved, observant and definitely quirky or weird. I think I have a quieter sense of who I am compared to the higher energy that I project in social settings.

On the introvert-extrovert spectrum, where would you place yourself?

I think I am equal parts each. Right in the middle. 50-50.

What helps you feel safe and grounded?

Small but meaningful rituals like having a cup of tea or spending time with my cat. I find being out in nature and away from the city also allows me feel centered and connected. I feel lucky that I am able to access nature on a daily basis. I also do a lot of writing. I tend to jot down little notes throughout the day as thoughts, emotions or reflections come to me. Another thing that helps me feel centered is doing very discreet and focused creative projects, like creating costumes, knitting something or a DIY project around the house, and then tangibly having the results of my labour at the end of the project.

How would you define trauma?

Trauma is such a big term to define. It is multi-dimensional. The first thing that comes to mind is the actual initial experience of a trauma. An event that is experienced as traumatic can rock you to your core and leave you feeling completely unsafe and ungrounded. It’s shocking, surprising and unexpected in a deeply painful way. Tied to that, there is the whole-of-personhood response to the initial in-the-moment reaction, which can affect mind, body, spirit and parts we may not even be aware could be affected. I believe that with trauma there is a fracturing of who we are or who we think we are, along with an unravelling of our sense of safety. Another component of trauma as I see it is who we become after the fracturing of self. Trauma does not leave us, but rather becomes integrated into who we are as it hopefully eventually gets reprocessed and reconceptulaized. It can be an incredibly difficult thing to incorporate. I also believe if we can process trauma in a healthy way it can lead to new levels of joy.

How would you define the integration or reprocessing of trauma?

I think it is related to acceptance. Maybe this is just my perception, but it seems there is a misconception in society that we experience trauma and then we move past it and it is simply in the past. I get where that comes from, but I think the assumption is unhelpful. I don’t think anyone can separate themselves completely from a trauma. When it comes to integration, I would say it involves accepting that a painful event has happened to us and then finding ways to understand what happened. Not thinking that what happened was okay, but validating our own experience of the pain we felt in the situation and accepting that it is now part of who we are. Within the pain of trauma, I believe there is some personal agency to build and to grow within and through the pain. But, of course this ability is dependent upon the supports, resources and privilege we have available to us as well as whether we have the strength to embark on this process. To try and bracket it off completely can be an important and healthy coping strategy initially and at times when it is too painful to be with and I think it is important to not force or rush this process. I also think that bracketing off and compartmentalising pain may be less healthy as a long term way of coping. So, integration involves a coming to terms with our experience of trauma, so that we can create new space and new energy.

How has trauma impacted you?

My personal experience of trauma has definitely informed my definition of trauma. Without going into detail or grit about past events, I can share that I experience a great deal of anxiety. It is something I face on a daily basis. I have come to accept this as part of who I am. I actually see this as one of my strengths also; there are some beautiful and surprising things that have come through past painful experiences that have shaped who I am.

Tell me about the hard parts and the beautiful parts of anxiety for you?

The hard parts of anxiety for me are dealing with ruminating thoughts and self-doubt. I can at times question my personal choices and actions. There are times when I feel a lot of guilt for the anxiety occupying so much space in my mind and for not being able to simply turn it off. The beauty of my anxiety though is that it forces me to think deeply and to spend a lot of time in contemplation. We often hear about the concept of over-thinking. I don’t like that term as I believe our human brains are made for thinking. I own my deep thinking at this point in my life, but it took time to get here. I now have a much greater capacity to sit with my thoughts, including the darker, grittier thoughts. This has allowed me to come to creative concepts and truths I don’t think I may have had the ability to access. I very much see my anxiety as two sides of the same coin… or maybe more as a multi-layered or multi-dimensional coin.

This theme has frequently come up in this interview series: The seeming dual or paradoxical nature of trauma and of each of our qualities. Inquisitiveness, for example, can be thought of as a great quality, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. I am interested also in exploring the grey area between the two opposites.

I believe that polarity of experience is simply the definition of human existence. I like how you mention the grey area. I think that is the space from which creativity is born. When we become comfortable with the middle ground and when we are able to step away from the polarity of things (which doesn’t make the opposites go away), novelty, innovation and nuance can come forth. If we have the ability, the resources and the privilege to be able to be in that grey space, that is where a lot of unexpected joy can come from.

Is there anything else you would like to share related to your own integration-of-suffering process?

Another thing I have had to come to terms with is the importance of social support. I am someone who is quite comfortable listening to others, I enjoy holding space for others and offering advice when it is wanted. As someone who likes to be that resource for other people, I found it very difficult for a very long time to allow myself to seek that same support. There was a lot of guilt and I had to do a lot of work unpacking why I was so hesitant to reach out and talk about my own trauma and suffering. I discovered that this piece was related to my own vulnerability and fear around that. For so long I tried to go it alone. I learned a lot about my own strengths and capacities, and also learned that there was a limit to what I could hold by myself. I found myself hitting a wall and burning out. At that point I realized I did need to reach out to trusted others. I was able to receive some social support finally, which allowed my own strength and resilience to re-appear and grow even stronger and also led to even deeper connections with others. That whole process, though reinforcing, was a difficult and long one.

You said you did a lot of work unpacking your own vulnerability. What did that work look like?

I sought the support of a therapist, which helped the process. I also did a lot of looking within on my own. I came to see that a lot of why I found myself stuck was related to my minority identities – being a person of colour and being queer and non-binary. For the longest time, I had to hold a lot of that pain in to protect myself from discrimination. I also feared that other people would not understand me or reject me if I opened up to them. This has start to change and I do reach out more to the close people in my life. Also, it has only been recently that I have found communities to whom I feel a strong sense of connection. This might be partly because I have been quite nomadic so I did not necessarily have the space or time to find minority communities or build communities. When I started finding different communities and spaces in which I saw myself reflected, there was a huge shift.

Another important piece in being vulnerable and visible, or being active in my minority identities, is the internal struggle around self-actualization and being ready to reach out to people about those aspects of self. There are beautiful communities out there, but we have to be ready to be part of those communities and ready to be open and visible about who we are.

I think that the world is changing also. There are definitely parts of society that are stuck, but I think in the past few years there has been more of an active movement towards amplifying minority voices: the voices of people of colour, queer voices and trans voices. Maybe this is in part due to more social media engagement, but increasingly more parts of society seem to be visibly trying to fight for representation and basic human rights. Seeing these things creates confidence and hope in me. I see that there are people out there who are supportive and empathetic. I wonder if my journey is a bit of a combination of where we are in society and also thankfully having found spaces in which I was able to make safe connections.

I don't think that we are ever fully actualized. The only timestamp is our immortality. I think we are all just slowly revealing the parts of who we are, and we embrace our existing identities and take on new identities all the time. There are parts that are inherent to who we are, and then there are the pieces we each take on up until the time we leave this life/world/dimension. I don’t know if the goal is to be fully evolved, but I think part of the goal is to keep learning, staying open and trying to connect.

There are so many dimensions to the process. It takes time for all of us to figure out who we are, let alone when parts of ourselves are largely not accepted by the world. I am grateful that I have been able to come to trust that I am not a burden and that those who love me want to listen to me and know my truths.

How do you see creativity as being connected to this process of becoming?

There are so many different experiences of trauma over a lifetime, and they all contribute differently to who we are. Something that resonates across the processing and integrating of traumatic experiences that I have been through is the reinforcing of my core values and beliefs, or the core of who I am. When I was forced to fragment and my sense of safety unravelled, it revealed to me the foundation or core of who I am. For me, that was key to being able to access my creativity. The fracturing forced me to look at myself and it was reaffirming. It was like looking in a mirror. I was able to ask: Who am I? What is my truth?

Who are you? What is your truth?

There is a deep-seated urge for social justice within me. That is what drives my passion in life, across everything I do. It drives my creativity 100%. Every creative outlet that I engage in is connected to this, and I think under it is the pain I felt from not being afforded fairness or equality myself. I want to create that space and opportunity for others. I want to create dialogue and engagement around social justice themes.

How is your gift being engaged right now?

I stumbled upon burlesque at a time that was perfectly aligned with when I needed it most. It became a huge creative resource for me. The act of burlesque is a social and political statement. It is inherently anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory. It pushes the boundaries of what society imposes on us as “right” and “wrong”, and pushes the scope of our imagination; through the narratives that can be shared, and in how subversive and transgressive and simultaneously uplifting and engaging it is, both for the performer and the audience. It a special art form in the way it engages people in a very novel, intriguing, delightful but also absurd manner. Burlesque provided me with a platform and a community through which to empower myself, embrace my queerness, and own my body and how I represent myself in the world. The art form is so holistically expressive and lends itself to being very healing.

When you think of the younger version of you who had not come to terms with the self, what words of wisdom would you like to offer to that person?

I’d like to start with a quote from artist Wednesday Holmes: “What if I told you that there is a future version looking in on you? You in ten years, smiling, proud of you? This version of you has been through this hell and knows you survive.”

There is a future and the future you is flourishing, joyful, strong, patient and gentle with themselves. They know how to hold pain and sit with that pain, even if you don’t know how to right now. That person survives… actually more than survives I think. That person has a lot to offer the world. When you are ready, start paying attention to the small things in your world that spark a gentle smile or a laugh. These are the things that will lead you to finding your passions, your values and your unique offerings to the world.