Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 14, 2016

'Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things'
'Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things'  

Documentary filmmakers Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa turn their camera to the problems encountered by GLBT Inuits in their movie "Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things."

The title pretty much means what you think it does, and refers to a euphemism that tribal elders use to talk about lesbians and gays. The thing is, as the film makes clear, colonization and Christian missionaries destroyed the Inuits' age-old ways of life, including their nomadic existence. Also lost was the way that native people cherished each other without regard to differences of gender identity or sexuality.

The cultural richness of interpersonal and family relationships suffered in other ways, as well; we hear about traditional family arrangements that included two wives for some men -- or two husbands for some women. One of the people interviewed is an Inuit filmmaker who set out to recapture some of the traditions lost to her people, and ended up making a movie about two women in love -- one of whom is married to a man they prevail upon to take the other as a wife, as well, so that the women can remain together.

Others interviewed for the project include a history scholar, GLBT youths, community activists, and tribal leaders, as well as a former resident of Iqaluit, the capitol of Nunavut. This is an area in Canada that had long been set aside for the Inuit people. As long as their nomadic traditional life ways flourished, the Inuit thrived, but after the Second World War, due to Cold War national security concerns, the Canadian government forced the Inuit to settle in houses, shot their sled dogs, took their children away from them in some cases, and broke up plural marriages.

Commentators in the film describe this wave of cultural aggression as a trauma to the Inuit as whole, and it's a blow they struggle with to this day: Their culture is afflicted with crime, drug use, and suicide among the young. Homophobia is one more toxic result of the way the Inuit have been disempowered and dispirited. But glimmers of hope have found their way back to the Inuit, partly due to widespread acceptance of GLBTs in places South of Nunavut.

Within the culture, traditional voices of respect and acceptance still speak out. One of them, a political leader Jack Anawack, describes how the tribal government considered a human rights bill that was in danger of having pro-GLBT language stripped away. Anawack argued against the anti-gay amendment, and the resolution passed unchanged, protections for GLBTs intact.

It's instructive to hear about the arguments used in that attempt to deny LGBT Inuit legal protections. One interviewee recalls that opponents of civil protections for gays and lesbians evoked "three Ps: Privilege, polygamy, and pedophilia." In other words, the colonizers' demagoguery contaminated the debate with baseless claims that "child molesting gays" were trying to grab special rights.

Anawack wrote a book on the subject, in which he pondered questions like, "How do we get to choose who is equal?"

The filmmaker sums it up differently: "These choices were made on our behalf... there were so many, so many decisions taken away from us." As LGBTs become empowered, so to will the Inuit -- that is the hope of those whose voices are recorded here. The film's high point is a Pride event that brings tribal members together from near and far.

The film's hopeful message: The struggle for the kind of equality and acceptance that once was normal for the Inuit is far from over, but it's well and truly begun.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.