Feministing Five: Writer, artist, educator Kim Katrin Milan

When we connected with writer, artist, and educator Kim Katrin Milan on Halloween Eve, she was hard at work finishing up a TedX talk that she would be delivering in Vancouver next week. Kim is a well-respected and renowned speaker on issues of equity and justice, as well as the Executive Director of The People Project, an art space organization that works with queer and trans youth. 

unnamed (1)

Kim Katrin Milan

Kim has spoken widely on topics such as race, sexuality, gender, sexual assault and beyond. Check out Lori’s shout-out to her speech at the Amber Rose Slut Walk and find more of her work here!

 Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. To get us started, could you please describe your work? 

Kim Katrin Milan: I’ve always done a lot of different things, I’ve tried to have an embodied practice of intersectionality in that way. I’m the Executive Director of an art space organization called The People Project where I work with queer and trans youth. We’ve just finished advising for a health project for young people, where we have talked about racism, sexism, and homophobia for healthcare providers.

I’m also a speaker where I travel throughout North America talking about issues of equity and justice. I’m a writer for many different publications. I’m also a yoga teacher. I teach yoga particularly to folks who have had a marginalized experience of yoga. I’ve taught folks who have been previous incarcerated, young kids who are living with HIV, and young women of color. I try to work with people who haven’t gotten a lot of support in their healing journey and give them access and support.

SB: Your work seems to frequently touch on the theme of transnational. Could you share how this international perspective shapes your work? 

KKM: It’s important to be present in the fact that no one is objective. Everyone is subjective — we all have our subjective experience. In order to inspire others to name their own subjectivity, I want to lead with that. I never want to ask something of someone that I’m not willing to give. I lead with this understanding that so much of the work that I do is informed by how I have grown up, growing up in a mixed race household, growing up as an immigrant, growing up in Canada but going back to the Caribbean a lot, and I now I live in the United States.

I’ve gotten to see how interconnected the world is. I remember when I was backpacking through Nicaragua where all of these old men had pesticide sprayers attached to their back. I get to see it on one end, but also on the other when I’m in a store in the US and I have a choice to buy those bananas. Recognizing that I have a privilege to travel around the world where borders are determined by other people, I always want to make sure that I am giving that access to other people. All of these systems are made by people and they can and will be unmade by people.

We’ve seen that a lot of education can get hoarded in educational institutions and a lot of people don’t really have access to what’s going on. Now that we have the Internet, we can share that a little bit more and it’s important to really share and educate as many people as possible to share how much power we have and how interconnected we are.

SB: Who inspires you to do your work? 

KKM: My grandmother — she was someone who was so unbelievably kind and I watched her go through a lot of incredible difficulties in her life. I’ve always wanted to make the world as kind as she was. She really shows me the value of showing someone that kind of openness, kindness, and what justice looks like in our individual actions towards one another.

As someone who grew up in different kind of hoods in different places, I’ve always been inspired by the women around me. The women who look hella dope with gold door knocker earrings with a set of acrylics, working class women who make really hard situations really magical. I want to be accountable to those women who raised me and made it possible for me to be here even though the work that they do is so often invisiblized.

SB: If we could chat five years from now, how would things be going for you? 

KKM: I always think about Octavia’s Brood and how they talk about speculative fiction and social change as speculative fiction. We are really engaged in this world that we have never seen before. When you are engaged in doing justice work you are hopeful and you are engaged in a process and energy that will make the world more equitable than the one you were born into. I hope for that! I see people change their minds everyday in front of me.

I remember I was on this campus doing a workshop on consent and the politics of desire. This young boy came up to me and he said, “You know I realized that my dad has these really misogynist values. I really want to do something about it — it’s really embedded in my culture. I want to talk to men about it. Could you give me some information on how to start to do that?” I’ve been in touch with him since and he is really building that up — he’s talking to men about rape culture. Things like that inspire me — that people will keep wanting to do healing kind of work across generations. In five years, I would love to see more of that transformative community building work happening in the world.

I hope to have a bunch of babies at that point. I would love to keep doing the work with and for my community. I love the work that I get to do — it’s so diverse and interesting. I would love to expand as a writer and hopefully get a book out. I would like to make more art and creative opportunities for young folks to access possibilities for themselves.

SB: Art is a big part of your activism. Could you share how that became a part of your journey? 

KKM: One of the things that happens to marginalized folks is that we are discouraged from being creative or engaging in activities that are thought of as frivolous or care-free. In play, so much learning happens and it has the ability to break down boundaries between people. Art has a transformative power on the world. Whether you want to talk about hip hop or movies, creative expression of ideas has had a profound impact on human beings.

On a personal level, I grew up as a librarian’s daughter. My mother was a children’s librarian and I was in the library all the time. I spent so much time around books and imagination, and as a little girl who was in a really difficult situation in an abusive home, where I didn’t have the capacity to dream, I could find whole new worlds in these books.

There is a book called The Science of Social Change, where the author talks about how racism has a negative effect on the brain and one of the ways that we counter that is by imaging a positive future. Part of the way that we do that is through art and creative. Art gives us a place where we can dream and be hopeful, even if everything else is saying that we shouldn’t dream and everything is going to stay the same.

SB: Let’s pretend you are stranded on a desert island. You can take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you choose? 

KKM: I would take this light-pink rose, carbonated lemonade. This is my drink of choice — it’s super feminine, I love it. For food, there is this salted caramel coconut cream ice cream. It’s amazing. For a feminist, maybe Ashley Callingbull-Burnham, who was the first indigenous woman to win Mrs. Universe. I would really love more opportunities to learn more about and support indigenous women in Canada. I would also bring Vandana Shiva and Nawal El Saadawai

Images provided by Kim Katrin Milan. 

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

Read more about Suzanna

Join the Conversation