An Interview by Lucia Stephen
Meet Courtney Toderash, artist, writer and maker of God’s Vagina, a zine dedicated to exploring the relationships between women and weed through a series of thoughtful interviews with women.
We recently convened on a wintry afternoon to eat chocolate-dipped strawberries and discuss the origins, impact and future of Courtney’s prolific work, and how it’s contextualized within the ever-evolving cannabis industry.
To start, let’s begin with a familiar question of yours from God’s Vagina: tell me about an impactful early memory of your relationship with cannabis:
I was 15 when I first tried smoking weed. I tended to hang with older boys when I was a teenager and they were always trying to get me high – not quite sure why, maybe for the social recognition that came with them being the ones that ‘converted’ me to weed. I don’t know, the motives were unclear to me.
I had tried to avoid it for a long time…..rather ironically, when I was young, I used to rent Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue on VHS over and over again. I think that television special really impacted me as I actively avoided cannabis for a while.
But then one night, I gave in – I was hanging with the crew of older guys in a parking lot, ahead of a Planet Smashers (a Canadian ska band) show. I smoked quite a bit and ended up getting very, very high before heading into the show and dancing all night. It was great. Everything changed from that point on!
Do you think any of that encouragement was specifically because you are a woman, or just because you hadn’t smoked weed yet?
I think there are really strong narratives related to ‘coming of age’ and particularly so for young girls. As a culture we are fascinated by the navigation between youth and adulthood, particularly instances of when those narratives are coloured by reckless or what could be considered ‘deviant’ behaviour. That coupled with a still-present emphasis on virginity and purity in young women makes it a loaded landscape for exploration. I believe this all informed my social group's push to have me smoke weed.
So, upon that first time of trying weed at the ska show, how did your relationship with cannabis evolve from there?
Keeping in mind that only until recently weed was considered ‘illicit,’ my earlier experiences were associated with acts of rebellion - I’d head out with these older guys and it just felt like something cool and ‘bad’ to do! And that association remained for a very long time.
My framework has changed quite drastically now. Back then, I think it was more about exercising my agency and exploring the beginnings of adult-life, whereas now, my relationship with cannabis is very self-oriented and is more associated with intentional practice related to self-care and creativity.
From a social perspective, things have changed quite drastically too – while I used to consume in pretty male-heavy groups, now, I predominantly consume with women, and that’s such a nice exchange in and of itself, particularly when sharing our own experiences of weed culture.
Do you think weed still has mystique?
I guess it depends on how you’re using it and what kind of person you are. With interest in normalizing cannabis use for more people, legalization has undoubtedly shifted the stigma of weed being unfairly associated with reckless or irresponsible behaviour.
The spectrum seems to be two rather polarizing differences; there's a culture focused on over-explanation of everything related to the plant and plant compounds, to a culture that engages with the plant, but prioritizes the spiritual or creative effects of consumption, with less knowledge or emphasis on the scientific or physiological aspects; for many of these people, there's contentment in this ambiguity, this ‘mystique’– whether in using for medical or recreational purposes.
What does your Laundry Day look like?
There are two primary ways I use cannabis now, one is for a solo night in, focused on total self-care…and ambiance! Dim lights, good records, slathering your body with nice smelling oils, having a bath, reading a book or maybe stimulating some writing or another creative endeavour – overall? Very peaceful.
On the other hand, if I’ve had a really anxious day at work, I use it more with an intentional medical or therapeutic purpose, where consumption helps to settle my nerves and shift my perspective into a calmer state.
As I am also working towards becoming a sex therapist, I’m quite fascinated with how cannabis factors into sex lives (and my own, included!). From both personal experience and stories from others, I think it can really make a difference in terms of enhancing pleasure, and for women, in particular.
What would you say have been your most valuable resources in learning about cannabis?
It’s really community and the people you connect with! Really, those are the most trustworthy resources, people purporting their own personal experiences–especially women–has taught me so much! And that’s why having spaces for people to discuss their experiences with cannabis is so helpful – long-lasting connections are often initiated from those gatherings!
What do you think are common misconceptions of cannabis, or what has shifted even in what was misconceived before and after legalization?
The first issue of God’s Vagina was really exploring these questions and in particular, unpacking the “stoner” stereotype - I was asking myself, "why are men dominating and dictating cannabis representation?" and “what exciting and unexpected ways are women using cannabis that we are not seeing represented?" - I wanted to connect with other women and women-identifying people to see how my personal experience contrasted with theirs.
For women, a common misconception that has consistently emerged is the idea that weed consumption hinders their capacity to be mothers or caretakers in some way. That is simply not the case, women can be responsible cannabis consumers, just like anyone else. And thankfully, with the wave of women-run cannabis brands, like Laundry Day or Broccoli Magazine, a shift is happening in that there appears to be more space for women to comfortably consume cannabis without judgment or stigma.
However, it’s worth noting that just like in other instances where women are brought into the fold, this most often means white women, and so it’s important to consider which other voices are not at the table and how we can change that for the better by demonstrating the critical importance of intersectional feminism. This involves acknowledging a more appropriately representative community of cannabis advocates and engaging the perspectives of a wide range of individuality, in gender, race, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender or sexual identity, age and spiritual practice.
With these values in mind, what inspired you to create God’s Vagina a couple years ago?
Well yes, it was definitely wrapped up in this hope for a better and more inclusive future for weed lovers!
The actual origin story is kind of silly - I work in a corporate office and a couple years ago, had this exchange with a flirtatious male co-worker towards the end of the day, who offered me weed for free, but that gesture came with the expectation of me needing to offer my time and attention to him, which was then quickly directed into a more sexualized relationship by him.
So, I took it, went home and smoked it and started thinking about how crazy it is that, even as an adult, my experience with weed is still wrapped up with these pseudo-sexual male exchanges, i.e. being focused or intrigued in my weed usage as if it were a fetish of some kind of gateway to a sexual encounter or relationship with me. And naturally, I assumed that other women must have similar experiences, and if not, they must have weed experiences that are directly connected to their gender identity.
What I’ve realized is that the art that I tend to both gravitate towards, as well as create, is really oriented to these undercurrents – these lesser-known stories that women have to tell that may not seem overly significant at first glance, but undoubtedly contribute to a bigger paradigm shift catered to the support and acceptance of other women of cannabis.
The process of actually conceiving and developing God’s Vagina to printing and offering the publication forward took some time and a LOT of thought and discussion. Developing publications wasn’t entirely new to me though, as I’ve been a zine-maker since I was 15, and for this ‘round’ shall we say, I just knew that this content would be filling a void and would stimulate a conversation that women were searching for.
I had anticipated doing everything from layout and interviews to design but knew I had no talent or skill in regards to photography– so I sent a message to a friend (Chelsea, the photographer for God’s Vagina) to explain the idea, and with Chelsea’s support, we reached out to various women in our lives to see who would be open to discussing their relationship with weed for the publication. It was extremely DIY and we would travel around the city we live in, show up to the participants home and document them getting high in their personal space. Almost every time it turned into a lovely night in and we walked away with deeper bonds and a broadened community of fellow cannabis advocates.
And with such a diverse network of female cannabis users out there, was it easy to snowball from that initial call out? Were you flooded with responses?
No, not entirely – mostly because I don’t want to create a specific sort of stereotype for the female cannabis user - in fact, I want to challenge that and expose the vast range of women of all ages and cultural backgrounds that have positive and healthy relationships with weed and celebrate this diversity of experience and connection.
Simply based on the fact that this project originated within my personal sphere, you’ll notice that the predominant demographic in these texts are millennials. I am hoping to evolve this and remain arms wide open to showcase a wider range of narratives, and particularly those of women of more senior demographics. However, it’s been difficult to find women willing to be profiled and I think it speaks to a generational difference in attitude, and for older women, one that may still be bound with the stigma associated to the prohibition era, where weed consumption was by no means normalized or acceptable.
What will come next?
Public talks – I like the idea of coordinating gatherings where stories can be exposed and still serve as spaces to promote and sell these printed issues for people to take home and absorb. Mainly, just creating an opportunity to facilitate more ongoing dialogue is so important because the thing that I miss when people read the physical copies of God’s Vagina is their reactions, which hinders the opportunity to actually engage and build various discussions about cannabis and determine what has particular resonance for people - that's really what I want to explore. The topics are endless and so is the range of people with something useful to share!
By Lucia Stephen