“Queer love reconfigures the way you move through the world when, at last, you are touched softly, gently and with such tenderness”
by MERCY FERRARS W. DEIRDRE OLSEN
Deidre Olsen is a queer award-nominated Canadian writer, journalist and editor. A gifted writer of both non-fiction and fiction, Deidre’s work has been featured in publications such as The Cut, Vice, Refinery29, Now Magazine and Fashion Magazine to name a few. Deidre’s social media reads like a beautiful love letter to lesbianism, and their personal work reflects their eventful life—from a case of sexual violence in Deidre’s childhood to marrying their platonic partner. Ferrars & Fields talks to Deidre about queer love and its part in the process of healing from sexual trauma.
FF: Deidre, your Twitter and Instagram read like a love letter to loving women. Encapsulating the spectrum from platonic marriage to healing relationships, what did it take to craft this life?
Deidre: For so long, I quantified my self-worth by the amount of attention boys and men paid to me. Growing up with compulsive heterosexuality, I was deluded into thinking I was straight and should appease their appetites, no matter the consequences.
At age 18, a girl’s arm brushed against mine in yearbook class. Shocks reverberated through my body. I returned to that moment over and over again, eventually realizing I am gay. For ten years, I have openly and unapologetically loved women. All the while, the journey to loving myself was far more tumultuous.
I have experienced harassment for holding women’s hands in public. Once, while walking down Vancouver’s Commercial Drive with my first girlfriend, a strange man appeared out of nowhere and draped his arm around our shoulders. “I would love to join you two wherever you’re headed.” I was shocked. On another occasion, as we left a queer night club, one that had been overrun with straight people, a group of large men encircled us, attempting to usher us into their cab. I was horrified. Other times, while in public spaces enjoying myself with a woman, I have been asked to join threesomes.
As a lesbian, your love of women is under constant attack. Men cannot conceive of desire that does not center them, especially the kind that expressly excludes them. These said experiences have been traumatizing. There have been moments when I have been afraid to enjoy public displays of affection. But the more I have stood my ground, the bolder and more unbothered I have become.
Now, loving women takes center stage in my life. I cherish and relish in my relationships with women in all forms, whether with my partner, best friend, mother, grandmother, sister or dog.
FF: In your work, you’ve told the story of marrying your platonic partner Chiderah, with whom you’ve moved to Berlin. What set this special kind of commitment apart from other relationships in your life?
Deidre: While we are no longer platonically married and are pursuing our separate paths, we will alway be soulmates. There is kinetic energy between us that allows us to move mountains together. Our next pursuit is to launch a social impact startup, providing better health outcomes for marginalized people. I think relationships of all kinds can be romantic. Sex needn’t be the bedrock. When you meet someone who changes your life forever and shows up for you in a meaningful way, this is worth celebrating and championing.
FF: The odds of meeting your soulmate in life are scarce, all the more during a global pandemic. Did the impact of meeting Chiderah change how you move through the world?
Deidre: Yes, definitely. It is rare to meet someone who understands you so deeply, champions you and believes in your capacity to grow and change for the better. Authentic love is uplifting, helps you heal and love yourself.
FF: On the nature of soulmates, do you believe them to be supratemporal outside of place or time? Or are they rather temporary companions, much like other social relations in our lives, except significantly more profound?
Deidre: I don’t think soulmates are temporary. I think, regardless of the outcome of a relationship, impact lasts forever. The impact of a soulmate on you is incomparable.
FF: If we take another look at your social media, it is easily perceptible that you have been on your healing journey for quite some time, and the energy you emit is almost infectious. To the outsider, your life seems almost like a film, or a dream perhaps. Do you have advice for those who are still struggling with their identity, their sexuality, or their mental health?
Deidre: As an artist, I am interested in ugliness, which is something most shy away from. We attach negativity to ugliness but it isn’t inherently evil. It is honest, raw and unfiltered. Human beings are complex. We are not just beautiful. We are ugly too, myself included. I enjoy being open and candid about the hard parts, the ones people are scared of. The more we can sit with, come to terms with and hold space for these aspects of ourselves, the more we can grow to love them, tend to them and heal them.
I never wanted to admit I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse, that I have struggled with mental illness, substance abuse and self-destruction my entire life or that I love women. But not doing so was the tougher choice. In speaking publicly about my experiences, I have freed myself from their hold over me. I have learned to accept and love myself wholly. I am not the sum of my trauma or identity. Rather, these are forces that have shaped my life and who I am.
My advice would be to offer yourself compassion, patience and understanding. The world responds harshly to those of us who are unruly, unsightly and unkempt. Choose to love yourself despite it all and show up in the world in the way that makes you feel happy and alive.
FF: In preparing for this interview, you confided in me that loving women has helped you in your process of healing from sexual abuse. What part does queer love play for you in this journey?
Deidre: My earliest memories are of sexual violence at the hands of a teenage girl—the babysitter who raped me when I was three-years-old—and the measures my mother took to hold her accountable. It took two decades for me to unravel my lesbian identity from this trauma, believing this experience made me gay. Loving women has been healing. First and foremost, I have learned to feel safe and comfortable in my body, a place that I previously wreaked havoc on. Self-destruction has been a constant. Before I knew what bodily autonomy was, it was robbed from me. So, to make sure no one could hurt me, I hurt myself the most, whether through substance abuse or self-neglect. Making my way back to myself has been possible through queer love. When others have hurt you and you have hurt yourself, it reconfigures the way you move through the world when, at last, you are touched softly, gently and with such tenderness. Another person’s care slowly becomes your own.
FF: Is writing another tool which aids in healing from trauma?
Deidre: Yes, most definitely. Writing is healing and cathartic. The process of writing my memoir is like performing an exorcism on myself. It empowers me to expel my demons.
FF: Would you share three works of fiction that have shaped how you conceptualize life?
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
FF: In just three words—what is queer love to you?
Freedom. Safety. Home.
EDITED BY Lara Helena. FOTO Lisa Vlasenko / @li_nenoli (Cover)
Mercy Ferrars is a MA graduate in philosophy and writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction essays. She is madly in love with Scotland, dogs and Bojack Horseman.