For Writer Arielle Twist, Eyeliner is a Source of Strength and Expression

Photograph by Tenille Campbell. Design by Danielle Campbell.

Welcome to My Story, our series dedicated to creative people of color and their paths to success. By standing up for these diverse histories and origins, we hope that our understanding of cultural conversations around beauty and fashion will expand and respect for our differences will flourish.

Arielle Twist is a big connoisseur of cat eyes. The Halifax-based transgender poet, sex educator and visual artist has been wearing black feline films ever since she started experimenting with makeup. “I’ve always been drawn to a cat’s eye and a red or nude lip; I haven’t strayed from that shot, ”she says, adding that what has evolved is a punctuation of her exaggerated winged liner with rich, vibrant shadows.

For Twist, it’s a way of accentuating his Aboriginal identity. “The features I choose to enhance are often what I find most beautiful in Cree women: the shape of our eyes and our mouth, the way our cheeks are prominent. My eyes and lips are my two favorite features on my face, so why not highlight them? ” she expresses. Achieving her basic eyeliner and lipstick also connects Twist to her mom and grandmothers, or kokums as she says in cry. “I can see the divine femininity that my mother and kokums are transmitted to me, ”she explains. “It will always be the first thing I see when I put on makeup. I’m really lucky to have been lucky enough to have a canvas that sings for all the women who came before me.

This deep connection to her makeup dates back to 2013, when Twist began her transition. “Makeup allowed me to make my features more feminine,” she explains. “It was like a way to challenge my own gender dysphoria.”

Since then, cosmetics have been powerful tools in helping Twist travel the world as a transgender woman. “Makeup gives me confidence to be there,” she says. “It’s the kindling of fire in everything I want to do as an artist.”

Last year, Twist gained national notoriety with the release of their first book, Disintegrate / Dissociate, a collection of 38 poems that talk about some of her most intimate lived experiences: transition, sex, love, violence, displacement and more. The paperback is filled with heartbreak and resilience, but also offers a space for joy and community. “I believe my work is honest,” she explains. “Even if it sounds brutal at times, it’s just the reality. I exist as an indigenous brunette trans woman in a world doomed to debate and question my humanity, so it’s often painful but also a source of hope, deep love and kinship. People describe it as confessional poetry.

Born in George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, Twist spent most of her time as a young child in the city of Regina before her family moved to Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia. It was a movement motivated by sectarianism, she believes. “I feel like the Prairies have a kind of gratuitous racism towards Indigenous people that played a part in why we left. My mother wanted to get us out of there.

Saskatchewan will always be a place Twist cherishes, she says – “The George Gordon First Nation is my homeland, the homeland of my ancestors” – but she knows she wouldn’t be the woman she is today if she had stayed. “When I think about it, I think about how precarious it would have been for me to be a trans aboriginal woman in Regina. I don’t know if I would have made the transition. I don’t know if I would be alive now. Growing up, I remember Saskatchewan was a difficult place to be an aboriginal person.

From Sipekne’katik First Nation, Twist eventually made it to Halifax and in 2017 his life and career changed.

While working as a sex educator at Venus Envy, an award-winning LGBTQ + sex shop and health information bookstore in downtown Halifax, Twist bonded with a trans-Canadian author who was visiting for a book launch, which led to the mentorship. “We started talking, and she asked me if I had ever thought about writing, which I had not done,” she reveals. What happened next looked like a whirlwind.

That same summer, Twist’s former mentor invited her to Toronto – a visit that prompted Twist to participate in Naked Heart, Toronto’s annual LGBTQ + literary festival, this fall. Less than a year later, she had a book deal with Vancouver publisher Arsenal Pulp Press.

Twist considers his 2019 book tour to be his proudest moment in his short writing career so far. The opportunity allowed her to travel across Canada, and the young poet was amazed at the audiences she was able to reach through her lyrics – trans native youth in particular. “It was the most eye-opening experience,” she says. “I got to go to Saskatchewan and talk to some kids back home – kids who looked like me, spoke like me. Young people doing what I never thought I could do: they are making the transition in Saskatchewan. I always thought it was impossible. They were talking about my job and about me.

And you can be sure that at every step of his book tour, Twist rocked his signature eyeliner flick. Because just as much as makeup is about celebrating a strong self-image, Twist believes it also makes it easier for her to fit into long-held stereotypical norms around female beauty. “I can definitely see how makeup affects the way people talk to me, approach me and see me, especially in a professional way. I think it makes people take me more seriously.

In his kit

These are the essentials of Arielle Twist’s makeup bag.

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