Cannabis + Transphobia: How One Trans Woman is Taking on Double Stigma
By Maia Leggott
Andrea Flowers is on a mission.
The 31-year-old trans woman from Toronto has always been ahead of the curve, working in the cannabis industry prior to legalization. During that time, she was affectionately dubbed Drea The Terpene Queen.
Scroll through her Instagram and you’ll find a compelling collection of cannabis content, including reviews, knowledge drops, and stunning selfies with rockin’ red lips. Woven throughout are vulnerable captions about putting your true self out into the world, even when it could be a matter of life and death.
These days, Drea lends her voice and endless knowledge to the regulated cannabis industry through advocacy, writing - including a column called Dear Drea : Like Dear Abby, but for Weed - and, as an educator in the recreational market.
We recently caught up with Drea in quarantine to learn more about how cannabis helped her grow into her identity, as well as the challenges of facing double stigma as a cannabis user and trans woman. The industry still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity, but this trailblazer is making real moves.
Andrea Flowers is an epic name. Where does it come from?
I mean, cannabis obviously played a part [laughs], but the real inspiration for the name Flowers came from my grandmother, Florence. She was the most elegant woman I’ve ever known; graceful and self-assured in a very old-world way. The name Florence means "to blossom, flower or flourish," and I think that perfectly embodies how I feel about myself now, and how I want to carry her enduring elegance with me in my life. Andrea Flowers wouldn’t exist without her influence or the life-changing influence of cannabis.
That is SO beautiful. Tell us about that life-changing influence.
Oh, where do I begin! There isn't a relationship with cannabis without my trans identity. I found cannabis when I was very young, and it quickly became an aid to forget the serious depression and anxiety I felt on a daily basis. I was very confused as a child, always knowing that something was "off"; I was stuck in a body that wasn't my own. I couldn’t quite describe it and there certainly wasn’t the same kind of language we hear today. Growing up in the 90's and early 2000s, the conversation around transgender issues was a lot less common, so there weren’t many resources to understand what I was going through. The mind takes you to some dark places when you believe you don’t belong. I think that’s part of why I was always drawn to the underground culture of cannabis. It seemed to attract the "misfits" who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else. I turned to alcohol and drugs, which were my way of renouncing who I really was. Nowadays, I don’t drink much because I put myself through a lot of pain. But throughout my life, cannabis helped me accept and connect to who I am, even though it took until I was 30-years-old to admit it to the world.
How did it feel to finally put yourself out there and own your identity?
Terrifying. And exhilarating. And a massive relief. Cannabis culture is still very heterocentric and my appearance as a straight white male afforded me a lot of privilege at the beginning of my career. It was a risk to the relationships and networks I’d built over the years - would people still respect me? Would I have to start over? I was terrified that coming out would bury me in stigma, an obstacle I didn’t need after years of hard work. But if my relationship with cannabis gave me anything, it was the power and self-confidence to be who I really am. It was easier to connect with Andrea Flowers (even before I knew her name) when I could channel that confidence into each day. It wasn't an easy journey by any means; like many trans people, I lost a lot. People treated me differently, and I was worried about my future in an industry that doesn’t have much trans representation. Fortunately, after I came out, I was offered a job at a recreational shop with a predominantly LGBTQ+ staff. I finally felt like I’d found my people. Though, that wasn't without its challenges.
What kind of challenges?
I see a lot of inclusivity towards LGBTQ+ consumers, but there isn't much representation from brands; it feels like a "We want you to buy it, but we don’t want you to sell it" kind of attitude. That way of thinking needs to go. Working with the public as a trans person is incredibly vulnerable. I would often get called "Dude" or "Sir", even when rocking winged liner and a red lip. It’s hard for people to see beyond what they want to see, but I try to take every opportunity to educate consumers if they seem receptive. I still have a lot of body image issues (doesn’t everyone?), so it means the world when people take the time to understand me. I love connecting with others over cannabis, and if I can raise visibility for the trans community while I do that, even better.
Absolutely! There’s an incredible strength in being openly vulnerable, as you've been. What’s it like living at the intersection of two of the most stigmatized topics out there?
I tackle transphobia the way I tackle cannabis education: with transparency, vulnerability and research. The justice system is disproportionately stacked against both trans women and cannabis users; and within the cannabis industry, trans women make one third less than the national average. As a trans woman within the cannabis space, I have a lot of impostor syndrome. I often ask myself if I'll ever be accepted in the #womenandweed movement. Though I feel more confident than ever, there’s still hesitation and fear of judgment. I remember my first Women & Weed event, it was sponsored by Van Der Pop and I nearly died when I met CEO April Pride. That being said, I’m constantly astonished by the opportunities for women in the industry; it means the world to be able to create a safe space for those who feel marginalized and alone like I did for so long.
You're a force to be reckoned with. How do you think the cannabis industry can be more inclusive?
I think one of the biggest things - and this doesn’t just apply to the cannabis community - is to keep talking about it. I believe in full transparency, and I try to be the person I needed growing up. Women still occupy less than 30% of executive roles in the industry, and only two of those are trans women. It’s wonderful to have equity and visibility at the executive level, but I believe true change happens on the ground. It happens when we share our stories and embrace vulnerability. It happens when we stop assuming anyone’s gender based on their appearance alone, when we make asking for pronouns standard practice and segregated washrooms a thing of the past. It happens when we acknowledge and abolish the rampant sexism and objectification of women to sell cannabis. It happens when women - all women - build each other up and create unstoppable brands that celebrate diversity.
It happens when people understand the incredible benefits of cannabis in coping with gender dysphoria, and slowly break down the stigmas surrounding both.
Follow Drea on Instagram @flowersforandrea.
Photos courtesy of Andrea Flowers.
Thank you for sharing your story! Be confident in your voice and perspective because people want to hear it. You deserve to be seen and heard! Great Work Maia and Andrea!
Andrea, there is bravery and poetry in your writing, as there always has been. Because I thought I knew you, I was shocked, not with horror, but with sadness for my unawareness. I missed my opportunity to support you and champion you and cheer for you, which I regret. You are one of the bravest people I know. Love is a given, but you have my admiration and support, in spades.
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