A fruit salad is a concoction of nourishing, sticky and sweet fruits, most of which traveled many miles to meet in a bowl of elaborate colours and flavours. The fall sunshine met Softieshan and I at CRAB Park on a lively Saturday, where we partook in a juicy and fruitful conversation, literally and figuratively.
Softieshan is a Vancouver DJ, event coordinator and a queer woman of colour. Her aura is fully charged and radiating, which is no surprise as it has recently become her job to create uplifting environments. As a DJ, Softieshan’s femme and queer-friendly, hip-hop and rap-infused sets challenge the male-dominated spaces that comprise Vancouver’s nightlife scene.
So that Saturday in CRAB Park, Softieshan and I made a fruit salad. We cut up apples, kiwis, dragon fruit, bananas, strawberries and a watermelon. Every fruit came with a question and Softieshan chose watermelon first. “My sister was talking about how when she was little, she felt like she couldn’t eat watermelon even though she really liked it, because people would make racist jokes about it. So I picked the watermelon first, because it’s fucking good and I’m not ashamed to eat it,” prided Softieshan.
People of colour are often conditioned to act or project in a certain way to avoid societal stigma. Through her own experiences, Softieshan acknowledges that being black in Vancouver can be very isolating and exhausting. One way she combats this reality is by altering the dominating elements that comprise these spaces.
As a queer woman of colour in a city with minimal diversity, Softieshan puts the safety and experiences of marginalized people first. “A safe space to me is a space where the people working in it have a zero tolerance policy for racism and sexism,” she says. Softieshan expresses the need for venues to be responsible for their own social infrastructure by requiring that they are safe and welcoming to diverse audiences.
“A couple parties that I play at use the “buddy system,” where there’s a team of people who are hired and trained in NARCAN, de-escalation,” advocates Softieshan. Her current position as a resident DJ at multiple venues around Vancouver has enabled her to create a community through knowing the venues safety policies and becoming friends with the staff. “I have the ability to shape spaces by the music that I play or by just being a black woman taking up space in a venue that is predominantly non-black,” expresses Softieshan,“making space is fucking showing up!”
Her creative capacity and “soft” presence foster a contagious comfortability and the best part about it is she shares it. Only starting to DJ two years ago, Softieshan has a hunger for advancement and innovation seen through her resident DJ positions and her leadership role in Intersessions. “Intersessions is an organization that was founded to teach women, people of colour and people in the queer community how to DJ. It was a response to DJ-ing being CIS, heterosexual, male-dominated,” explains Softieshan. Intersessions events are all accessible and by donation or free.
When Vancouver Intersessions coordinator and co-founder, Rhi Blossom moved to Montreal, Softie was offered the position as the Vancouver Coordinator. “I learned how to DJ at the very first Intersessions workshop that happened ever. Now, it’s my job to coordinate different workshops and find teachers for them,” and in doing so, Softieshan encourages others to reshape and manipulate space. “I feel like the only way to change the music scene in Vancouver is to give more people who normally wouldn’t have access to this equipment access to it and access to learning.”
Through finding connection in her own community, Softieshan is now embracing the act of saying “no,” which means letting go of people and environments which no longer serve her. “I think it’s really difficult, especially as women, to say no in situations even when I know saying yes doesn’t totally serve me. I’m trying really hard to do my own thing and to create and align with people whose values align with mine,” she admits. These communities exist within the interconnected space between individuals who have a similar experiences and a vision for change. As Softieshan traverses through what was once a barren land for folks like herself, she inspires those like her to see their own own potential through the abundance of her fruits.
Looking for a safe space? Follow @softieshan on Instagram and Facebook, and keep watch for Intersessions events in Vancouver.