I deal with all of the hate, everything that you can imagine.
Digital hate, harassment, and violence hurts so many women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people. Content creators who address gender justice like Kairyn Potts have a lot to teach us about it.
I’m Andrea Gunraj from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What? a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder, “why is this still happening?” We explore systemic routes and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
Whether you’re on social media, streaming platforms, dating, messaging and meeting apps, or on game sites, if you’re a woman, girl, or Two Spirit, trans, or non-binary person, you’re at greater risk of hate, harassment, and violence.
Indigenous, Black, and racialized women and 2SLGBTQIA+ people are amongst those who face higher risks. 30% of Indigenous women experience unwanted behaviour online. While 8% of cisgender and heterosexual students are targeted for online bullying, harassment, and hate, 27% of LGBQ female students, 39% of transgender students, and 19% of LGBQ male students are targeted for the same.
Canada’s rising rate hate crimes is in large part due to increased hate in digital spaces against women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and targeted ethnic and religious groups.
Over coming months, we’re delving into this with leading experts and content creators, releasing in-depth episodes every single week. We talk about the problem and what we can do to change it. We offer practical tips to help you in your digital life, and we talk about what it means to “take back the tech” for all of us.
We’re joined by Kairyn Potts, proudly Nakota Sioux from Treaty 6 Territory, Paul First Nation, and the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. He’s a proud Two Spirit person and sits as the National Youth Board Representative for the 2 Spirits in Motion Society. As a former Indigenous Youth Suicide Prevention Team representative, he’s a passionate advocate to improve Indigenous young peoples’ lives – especially queer youth and youth in the child and family services system.
Kairyn is a writer, actor, model, and TV host, and continues advocacy through content creation, workshops and community events. He’s host of Snapchat Canada’s Reclaimed series and has appeared in the APTN series 7th GEN. Kairyn co-founded the Indigenous gaming organization Neechi Clan and is an avid gamer and streamer on Twitch and TikTok. He uses his platforms to share his culture, makeup, and fashion, his passions like gaming and acting, and laughs with other people.
A note about content: this episode addresses gender-based violence and suicide.
I am an experience, first and foremost… I like to introduce myself in both of my languages just cause. I just, I have to. It’s truly the best way I think to introduce who I am. I am Kairyn Potts. He/him pronouns. I come from Treaty 6 territory, humbly, from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and also from Paul First Nation. I was born and raised in Edmonton, and currently am making my home for the last three years in beautiful Tkaronto, Dish With One Spoon treaty territory over here. I’m a guest in these lands and I am a full-time content creator, I am a writer, I am a TV host, a model and Twitch streamer – live streamer for video games. I kind of do it all, you know, I’m a youth advocate social worker as well.
How do you personally deal with gendered hate, harassment, and abuse as a person of influence?
I deal with all of the hate, everything that you can imagine. Everything from the really ugly comments on my videos to straight up just physical violence in the real world based on who I am and pretty much for no other reason than just existing as a queer person, as a gender-diverse person, as somebody that doesn’t really ascribe to the gender binary or somebody who exists kind of in this in-between space that really makes a lot of people uncomfortable. So yeah, I deal with it on a near day-to-day, not even near, an absolutely day-to-day basis.
In fact, this is a great opportunity to talk about what happened yesterday. I had this man who has just been bombarding my videos with just the most hate speech that’s just vitriol, just venom, left me probably 20 different comments telling me, you know, everything from, you know, I’m gonna burn in hell and my ancestors are embarrassed of me and I don’t speak for all native people – granted this was a cisgender, heterosexual native man, older who works in the community.
And it’s really important to bring this up because it goes to show you that, like violence and hatred and harm doesn’t just come from people outside of our communities, it comes from our own, our own people all the time. And this lateral violence is happening so, so often from people that you’re not expecting it from. And I think that that’s when it starts to hurt a little bit more is when it comes from people who you’re not used to defending yourself from, people that you think understand you, and that you think are your community. At a certain point you know you have to block them and delete them and do all those things necessary.
Here’s one thing about me though. And not everybody agrees with this, and that’s totally fine. But I am a Double Gemini Two Spirit Troublemaker. For the longest time, since I was four years old and was even old enough to be able to like choose how I dress and what I want to do, I have been this person – the cool hair and the jewelry and the makeup and the clothes and the… Never once have I ever not been that person, and so you can imagine growing up there was a lot of bullying, and I am no stranger to defending myself against the harshness of the world. I learned that right out the womb. You know what I mean?
So now that I’m 30 and I’m not a child anymore, I’m so healed in so many areas of my life when it comes to my identity. I no longer feel the need to just get by. I’m not trying to just survive anymore. I am at a place where I’m so secure in my identity that I’m trying to create space. It’s not about me just getting by day-to-day and looking out for #1. It’s about me realizing I’m totally secure in who I am and none of these comments are hurting me. Now I’m looking out for the younger generation. I’m looking out for my nieces and my nephews. I’m looking out for the people who don’t have the same level of spiritual fortitude and protection and barriers and supports in place. When I have hard days, I have six people off the top of my head who I can go to, that I do go to constantly, to help me with this level of violence that I receive.
And I regulate all of it by leaning on people that support me, and there are so many young people who don’t have that, that’s where my head is at. But to answer the question, I respond sometimes with the same energy, and whether that’s right or wrong, it just happens. And I want to talk about it because it’s a real thing that happens. It’s the truth and it’s human.
Nobody gets to tell me how I get to respond to people telling me to die. Nobody gets to police my responses to extreme violence, hatred, for nothing else than me just existing. We’re all on this rock together, floating through space. I’m just trying to breathe, eat and have fun in the meantime. And be myself. And that’s all I’m asking. I’m not going after people’s kids and telling them to be gay, I’m not going after children and telling them to be transgender. I am existing. That’s all I’m doing. I’m existing in a place where there’s not a lot of room for me.
If that is enough for me to be the target of so much hatred, then I’m sorry, but I’m not the kind of person to take it lying down a lot. I do have the time every once in a while in my day to give people a little taste of their own medicine. And I’m not talking about just arguing with them online. I’m talking about – I’m calling people’s jobs sometimes. I’m filing grievances with human resources and I’m letting people know that the stuff that they do online has real consequences in real life. And I’m not just talking about them maybe getting a slap on the wrist or getting a suspension or losing their job or whatever. I’m talking about their comments will kill somebody. If they’re telling me I should get scalped because I’m gay. If they’re telling me I should hang myself with my sweater. If they’re telling me all of these things. They don’t know what kind of situation I’m in mentally. Those comments could 100% be the nail in my coffin. And for many young people it is.
If you’re proudly promoting that you’re the head of, you know, marketing for this big corporation and you spend your free time bullying and spreading hatred and hate speech, cyberbullying young kids into committing suicide, you need to have consequences for that kind of behavior. That shows like a character flaw in your person. So in any space that you go in, no one is going to be safe, whether it’s in your job or whether it’s on the sidewalk or whatever. And so I’m gonna take it a step further and I’m going to call it out and let them know: “Hey, this has to stop. What you’re doing is not OK, and then I call in the allies. I call on the non queer people who work with them, who are like they also agree ‘hey, this isn’t OK’.” And so I feel like if in situations like that, if enough people come around them and are kind of like letting them know this is unacceptable, maybe they’ll change their mind. Maybe it might make them think twice. Probably not. In my experience, people like that don’t just change overnight, but hey. It’s 5 minutes of my time to make a quick phone call or an e-mail, and if it leads to something happening in their organization where maybe they’ll think twice about giving people access to the Internet or whatever, then it’s worth it.
But for the most part, I have to just block and move on to preserve not only my mental health, but like I said, it’s those young people who follow me and who are always in my comment section cheering me on. I don’t want them to see random adults telling me to kill myself because they see a lot of themselves in me. If they’re reading those comments and seeing that a lot of people are, you know, hating on me or whatever, calling for my downfall, that’s going to harm them. It’s not going to harm me, it’s going to harm them – babies. So that’s what I’m always thinking about is them kids.
I want to circle back to the issue of lateral violence you spoke to. I don’t think we talk about this nearly enough when we talk about issues of digital abuse. Can you share what that means to you and how you see it in your experiences?
Lateral violence happens when there are a group of marginalized, oppressed people, they’re so beaten down and brainwashed and hurt that they no longer remember who’s hurting them. And they stop trying to fight the enemy above them, and they start looking side to side and hurting the people next to them. And it’s just collateral damage.
That’s inherently what colonization and what the structure of colonization has really done to so many people around the world, so many Indigenous people around the world. But speaking specifically to my community in North America, and specifically in like, even in my nation in Treaty 6 territory, growing up there my whole life and seeing firsthand. Walking through these communities as somebody who looks, sounds and moves like I do, I was at the forefront of so much of the symptoms of colonization that manifested into extreme lateral violence in so many different ways.
A lot of it comes from misogyny, patriarchy, toxic masculinity. Really, truly it comes from a place of the church and of western ideals of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what gender is, what sex is, what it isn’t, and what it can’t be. These beliefs from the Catholic Church and from white supremacy that have been literally forced into our communities via a vehicle of genocide and murder, and of raping and of pillaging and of all of these things, what it has done to our beliefs has completely changed it. And colonization is such a structure and not just a singular event that now it’s so deep-rooted into our people. And it went after a lot of our men. So many of our men have subscribed to this idea of what it means to be a man at the expense of women and gender-diverse people. I don’t think that many of them understand that they can still be warriors. They can still be powerful and brave and strong, and that they don’t need to step on the heads of women and of gender-diverse people in order to raise themselves up to feel that sense of identity.
You need to look no further than all of the teachings we have about our women and about our Two Spirit people and our queer, gender-diverse relatives in history and look at the teachings that they have there about so many different nations and tribes and communities who celebrated women as leaders – many women were chiefs, celebrating Two Spirit people as healers and mediators and of child rearers and of really important ceremonial people in the community. Where did that all go? It died with many of their identity and their self-love.
I don’t blame them. I don’t blame, for example Native men, for the harm that they’ve perpetrated against, not only just myself and other Indigiqueer people, but to women as well. I see it all the time in our communities. In fact, it’s become a meme.
Where it comes from is these men see somebody like me living my entire truth, living in my power and in living free of shackles of expectation of what I need to be, and they look at me and it’s a direct attack on them because they don’t love themselves and they’re not honest with themselves and they live every single day wasting and utilizing energy on what they think they have to be. And for many of them, it’s be strong, don’t show any emotions, don’t cry, you’re not allowed to like pink because it’s for girls, you have to do… like so many rules and so many barriers and chains and shackles.
I’m asking them to free themselves too. I’m saying, look, I exist. This is what the possibility could be for you, and it doesn’t need to look like me. You don’t need to look like me. You be you. You do you the way you want to do you. And don’t let anybody tell you how to be you.
Lateral violence really comes from there. It really stems from all of these teachings that are foreign. They do not belong at all to our communities. Homophobia has absolutely no place in Indigenous culture and actively goes against the teachings of so many of our elders.
That’s what I have to say about lateral violence. It’s just such a multifaceted, multi-layered problem and there is no right answer or no overnight solution. It’s so, like I said, layered and complex and it involves so much of the work that people like me and people like you do in our communities to be talking about this and raising awareness and coming up with solutions, but it really involves a lot of the men too who perpetrate a lot of this lateral violence and this hatred against us. It involves them, and it involves bringing them in in a good way that I think isn’t aggressive. And we need to lead with what we’re good at, which is being gentle and being those in-between people, being people who can mediate really complex ideas and giving them a safe place to be like: “You know what? I love you. You’re beautiful. Your masculinity is beautiful.” Because masculinity is beautiful. I’m saying toxic masculinity, I do not like. I didn’t say anything about regular, healthy masculinity.
You’re making me wonder about what it would mean to decolonize our digital spaces – just like we have to take decolonizing action in other spaces. What does decolonizing our online spaces mean to you?
Being a full-time content creator now for, going on three years, I’ve had so much experience watching many of my things go viral and then many of my content reach like two people. So I’ve seen everything and in between and watched many of my friends and close relatives have their content do what it needs to do. What I’ve really taken from it is that I really believe that these online spaces, although they are all online and they’re different inherently, I find that they mirror society so much, and that many of the things that I try to teach allies about in real life it completely makes sense and applies to digital spaces as well.
One of the biggest ways that I think we can decolonize being online is putting an end to so many of our narratives and our truths being hijacked and being taken from us and being told without us. For profit, a lot of the time. And that many of our voices and our storytellers and our leaders and our artists, who are the keepers of these stories and all of this beautiful expression, they’re the ones being railroaded, and they’re not being given credit.
I’m seeing so many accounts pop up just blatantly stealing content so that they can sell crappy, made overseas, random merchandise with Eagles and slogans on it for ridiculous prices, cashing in on Every Child Matters, Orange Shirt Day, MMIW2SG – like Red Hand logo merchandise… Just disgusting, you know, and as if Indigenous people haven’t dealt with enough, but now we can’t even, like, bring up anything without just wicked, non-Indigenous corporations coming in and making a quick penny off of the trauma of Indigenous people. So one great way to decolonize these spaces is to call out that injustice when it happens to put an end to it, to be mass reporting these accounts.
I love when allies, who are non-Indigenous, create posts of their own, taking what they’ve learned from creators like myself. I give a ton of who I am, but I give a ton of what I’ve learned from my community and my worldview to my followers for free all the time, constantly, and they learn a lot from me. And I get tagged in the cutest post, where it’s like, “hey today I went out and visited my local reserve and I made a donation of 25 ribbon skirts to this organization because @ohkairyn told me that many people don’t have access to that and so I used my privilege to go and do this”.
I think decolonizing starts really in our own backyards. I don’t like when people try to make these really grand gestures of systemic change overnight. It’s not realistic. Do the most with what you have and never, ever underestimate the power of planting that little seed and watching that grow into something.
Are you even following any Indigenous people? Where are you getting your news sources from? Whose voices are you prioritizing and uplifting? Because if you’re interacting on these algorithms, looking for Indigenous content and none of the content that you’re consuming or liking or sharing or commenting on or reposting is by Indigenous people, then you are a part of the problem and you are contributing to this system that has continuously stolen and appropriated.
Even for like Two Spirit people, there’s just like this wave of like non-Indigenous people appropriating this Two Spirit identity and coming up with this whole new identity and you know what? It makes it so much more difficult for somebody like me to be like, “Hi everyone, I’m a Two Spirit person”. People are like, “Well Two Spirit is a brand-new thing that you guys just created last year and…”. It’s because that term is being railroaded and taken from us, and they’re running off with it and doing whatever they want with it.
And so I always tell people, if we’re going to decolonize, let’s center, create space, and hold space for women, for femme people, for queer identifying people. And let’s make space for our Native men in a good way and let their truths and their stories be heard too. I think that’s a great way to decolonize.
Any tips or advice you would share with our listeners worried about unsafe digital spaces and not quite sure about how to make things better?
There are people who are even afraid to post good things, much less, come at somebody and confront them for injustice. They’re scared to share a picture of their brand-new puppy that they got because they’re scared of being perceived in any kind of way, whether it’s good or bad.
It’s tough for me to put myself in their shoes because I live my life so much online and I just really don’t care what people think, but it took a long time for me to get to the place where I’m like, “Say what you want to say about me, perceive me however you want, I’m still going to live my life”.
I think one kind of interesting sort of mechanism that they can use is just thinking – and this coming kind of goes back to decolonizing a little bit, but like seeing these spaces as community spaces. Like when you look at one of your, one of the people who you’ve been following for four years on the Internet, who you love all of their posts, you interact with them a lot, kind of see them as like your next-door neighbour and if you see someone coming onto their lawn and shooting their house up with a gun, you’re going to call the police. You’re going to want to help them. You don’t need to go out there and tackle the gunman. Your courage could be hiding in your room, making a phone call to the police or whoever, to try to get this person to stop.
Whether you whisper or whether you yell, speaking up against these kinds of things doesn’t need to be always a massive, courageous event. And think about some ways that you can help, even little things like reporting comments – those do help. People don’t think that they do, but there are systems in place where like certain keywords can get deleted if they’re hate messages, and now even like apps like Instagram and Facebook, they give you a notification when your report has led to some type of action against that account that’s being, you know, really awful.
It kind of reminds me of this, this story that I learned from an elder, and it’s such a cute story. Basically, there was this forest fire. It was raging and burning, and everyone’s homes were lighting up in flames and all the animals were running out of the forest frantically trying to escape these flames. All of them finally made it to the end of the forest and they went out into the clearing and turned around and watched their home just burning. And they felt so helpless. And as they’re all running out, they see a little hummingbird, a little tiny hummingbird come flying the opposite direction, flying right into the flames. And they’re wondering, like, “What are you doing? You’re going to get killed.”
The hummingbird stops right at the edge of the fire and spits the tiniest little water out of her beak, and they go, “What are you doing?” And she goes, “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but this is what I can do and I’m doing it.” She can only carry so much water. But that’s what she can do. That’s the capacity that she’s showing up with. And she’s making a difference in the way that she can. And that’s totally how I feel about, you know, people who are online in these communities. It’s like, you don’t need to be everything. Your support can be whatever you can do and that’s important and it’s worth it and it’s, yeah, it’s valid.
Any other tips you would share with people at high risk of harm in digital spaces from your perspective as a content creator?
The biggest thing that I try to tell people is recognize that when you wake up in the morning, people aren’t going to like you. They’re going to hate you. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. That frees you from so many expectations of yourself right off the bat.
The second thing I tell people is to take so many breaks. Even somebody like me, who makes a living online, I try to tell my friends. They’re like constantly on their phone too, and they’re like, “How can I do more? How can I do more?” I’m like, “You need to recognize you have a nine to five job. You need to dedicate your life to your career and to taking care of yourself.”
I am online all the time because this is literally my 9 to 5 job. We ‘re not online in the same way, so don’t expect yourself to be doing Internet and doing social media the same way that all of these influencers that you follow are doing the Internet. The difference is they’re making a living doing it. It’s not your job. You use it for the ways that empower you- connect with people, learn art, make yourself laugh, make yourself cry, give yourself support, like all of the things that you want to use social media for – connecting with your friends, planning things, whatever, do that and enjoy it. And make sure that you’re enjoying your time on social media.
And when it starts becoming a lot and it starts being hurtful and you start logging in and your stomach drops and you feel sad and you feel angry and you’re feeling all these frustrations and this general body chaos just from looking at your phone and interacting with social media, it’s time to just stop interacting with social media. You have so much power to just not engage. No one’s holding a gun to your head to go and read all of these awful, awful headlines. We exist in this age now, where young people have been exposed so much to so much tragedy and heartbreak at any given moment, more than any other generation in the entire history of the world.
We never have had this much access to tragedy, to all of the terrible things that are happening in the world. So imagine our brain chemistry, how much it’s changed as young people being able to, at a fingers touch, know about, you know, 6 million people dying on the other side of the world. This is just so overwhelming sometimes.
My phone will die on a trip, and I have no charger anywhere. We’re kind of out in the bush, and I’m supposed to be filming content. After like two hours of not having my phone even turn on, I realize, I’m like, that was a really good two hours. How de-stressed and relieved I felt. I’m like, damn, I got to do this more often, I need to schedule “turn off my phone time” you know. The world is still going to exist. When you turn social media back on, guess what? Nothing’s going to change. It’s going to be the same thing that it was last month and the month before and the month before. You may feel like you’re missing out on stuff, but you’re really not, and it’s not worth going into a spiral.
Let’s just, [exhales], take it step by step and like I said start in your own backyard. We’re doing the most that we can with what we have got and it’s OK to turn it off and take breaks.
And also, just honestly surround yourself with good people. You’re literally – you are who you surround yourself with. If you know that you don’t like somebody and you follow them, just unfollow them. It’s not even more complex than that. If you’re scared that you unfollowing them is gonna make that person dislike you or cause confrontation, that’s not a really good relationship anyway. Let’s start being more honest with who we keep in our safe spaces.
Alright, Now What?
Check out Kairyn Potts on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitch, and more at @ohkairyn.
Get the facts on gendered digital hate, harassment, and abuse by visiting our fact page on canadianwomen.org. While you’re there, read about our new Feminist Creator Prize to uplift feminist digital creators advocating for gender justice, safety, and freedom from harm.
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