This Toronto-Based Web Series is Talking About Virginity, But Not in the Way You Expect

This is Worldtown sat down with Aden Abebe, creator of virgins! a new comedy web series about four 20-something year-old women stumbling through adulthood as millennials and love as virgins.

virgins! the series, Aby the analytical intellectual virgin, is looking concerned at an email that she opened from her boss

Can you talk about how you came up with the idea to write a series about four virgins, all from East African backgrounds living in Toronto?

I have chosen to write this story because it is a story I know very well. Set in Toronto, these women are of varying East African descents: Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Sudanese. Inspired by my own experiences, those of my friends and anecdotes from our communities, our stories are unimaginably layered, uncomfortably awkward and so very funny.

More specifically, the subject of virginity was chosen because it’s a perfect example of something that has two different meanings based on the community you’re speaking to. In Toronto, and the Western world at large, when you come out (as a virgin) to folks who are not of your community, they try to put you in a box of what it means to be a virgin. They assume you must be  “really religious,” or, that it comes from some issue, be-it trust or intimacy issues. That’s really annoying and I think that’s a reason why a lot of virgins stay quiet about it. At least from what I understand, growing up in the Ethiopian community with my peers, from neighbouring communities; Somalis, Sudanese and Eritrean; virginity is not something that’s shameful or embarrassing, it just is. It’s only embarrassing in the context of the broader North America and European life.

The show is called virgins! with an exclamation point so that people really have to say the name all the time and it’s not weird anymore.

Why did you choose film as a medium to tell this story?

I’ve always been a visual person which is why I was drawn to photography. First, I thought of creating it as a photo series but I knew that it wouldn’t work. The medium just didn’t offer enough for the full story to be told. In my mind, I saw it as pictures in motion and characters speaking.

Delina, the bride of christ virgin, has a surprised/dumfounded facial expression while talking to her neighbour Jamal

Since you have a grounding in TV and media as well as enjoy consuming visual arts in the ways that you do, what were your main inspirations for creating the series?

Definitely, the biggest inspiration was The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. That was the first web series I ever watched religiously. It was just such a special experience to see a regular looking black woman who wasn’t trying to look like a Hollywood starlet, just living life and talking about the micro-moments that caused anxiety.

The first episode I saw was the one where she was walking down the hallway, and there’s someone else at the other end of the very long hallway. What do you do when you see someone that you know in a hallway? When do you make eye contact? When do you let go of eye contact? When do you say hello? Do you say, “Hey, how’s it going”? If you say, “How is it going?” that’s an open-ended question and they pass you how are they going to answer? *laughs* It was such a perfect depiction of real-life experiences.

She’s a black woman who just felt relatable to me. She wore glasses, she wasn’t glamorous, she was talking about being awkward and I just felt like that was me on-screen, like I’m that awkward black girl too. That was the first web series I ever really watched and it definitely inspired me the most, just to see someone make a story and post it like, “Why not”?!

virgins! the series character, Sara the family honour virgin, is on the phone angry with her friend

Each of the characters in the show represents a different aspect of womanhood and sexuality. What went into thinking about each character? What does each character signify?

To me, it was really important to showcase the diversity in thought and decision-making when it comes to why these women are virgins. There are obvious tropes that have been overplayed and lack nuance – I’m not here for it. These women are dynamic and outgoing, fun and sexy, without the sex, and I’m proud of that.

I wanted to create images of different characters which were more realistic to what I knew and what I’ve seen. It was also important to me that they themselves were not virgins for the same reasons, but that they were all empowered in their decisions. That was what was most important to me.

We have four virgins.

Sara, she is Sudanese. She is our Family-Honour Virgin, which means her decision is based more in culture and in keeping honor in her family.

We have Delina, who is Eritrean. She is the Bride-of-Christ Virgin. She doesn’t know anybody but Jesus. That’s the only man in her life. She always runs after His face. Every other man is her brother. She’s so blinded by this brotherhood-sisterhood relationship. She doesn’t know when someone’s hitting on her.

The third is Amina. She’s Somali. She is the Apprehensive-Queer Virgin. Apprehensive, meaning it’s a part of her identity that she hasn’t yet fully actualized. It’s like a lingering question in her life.

Lastly, we have Aby, the name is short for Abyssinia. She is Ethiopian. She is the Analytical-Intellectual Virgin. She’s someone who just overthinks things so much. She also has a very high self-worth. She sees herself as a queen. She just is not impressed by these regular dudes and is waiting for her Idris to enter her life.

TIWT: Like Idris Elba?

Aden: Yes.

TIWT: Wow.


Aden: Yes, her King Idris.

Do you have a character that speaks to your personality the most?

Not at all. They all are reflections of me, I would say if I was being honest. They’re also based on people that I know. I think naturally, in our relationships with our closest friends, we’re connected to them because of the areas that we have in common. The Bride-of-Christ Virgin is based on one of my closest friends. The thing that we have in common is that we are both Christian. I do relate to her extreme love of Christ.

Amina, she works in the not-for-profit sector. My career has actually been in the not-for-profit sector so I relate to her in that sense, and especially how she’s reacts when she doesn’t get this grant. There are so many little moments.

Aby is a queen. I am quite known for calling myself a queen as well. There are lots of commonalities with many of the characters.

virgins! the series, Amina the apprehensive queer virgin, is looking at a rejection letter for a grant in a bus shelter

The show really tries to complicate ideas about virginity in East African women in particular, which is relatable to so many women across the board. What do you think is the biggest misconception about sexuality in the community?

The biggest misconception in the community about sexuality, is that queer people of East African descent do not exist. That’s a big one.

I think a lot of the older generation believes that queerness is a Western ideology that young people have adopted. That they are lost because they come from kings and queens that never knew this way of living before. It’s not right. That is why it was so important to have a queer character.

Outside of that, with the history of hypersexualization of black female bodies in the media and beyond, I am proud to that our show tells the story of four funny sexless Black women navigating the struggles of millennial adulthood whilst searching for love.

Do you think there’s a broader movement of folks reclaiming virginity in a more positive way than it’s being framed?

Most definitely. A 2017 study from the Journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that millennials are the most sexless generation in 60 years and are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive in their early 20s as previous generations (Bahrampour, The Washington Post).

Women I meet now, when I tell them about the show, just want to tell me, “I’m a virgin, too, and I’m this age or that age.” I find that women are less insecure about it than I was when I was their age growing up. They’re just proud of their life decisions and they’re just like, “No, why would I [have sex]? I’m not interested. I have this going on and that going on and whenever it happens, it happens. I’m in no rush.”

That makes me really happy, to know that women are feeling empowered in their decisions in owning their sexuality.

What’s next for virgins!? What are the goals for the future?

We’re working on producing more content, producing more episodes, but also getting a wider audience to watch us and partnering with existing organizations to expand our reach to a global scale. This is a show that prioritizes the stories of young East African women, but its specific story is more than relatable to women navigating life and sex in go-go-go cities across the world. We’re excited to build communities both online and offline around the topics and themes we share in virgins! So keep an eye out for our summer launch, which will give the people an opportunity to get to know the team and creative process behind virgins!

The Gaze S3 E1 :: Making Change

The Gaze is back for a third season! This season hosts Aisha and Maya wants to turn the boat around. They are focusing on solutions to the glaring gender and race parity issues in Canadian film and TV.  They’re asking how can we address some of these serious representation problems in Canadian media? Who’s working to introduce proactive initiatives? What are some of the success stories so far?

In the first episode of this season, Aisha and Maya speak to three Canadians tackling the issue of gender and race parity in their own distinct ways. The conversation begins with Cameron Bailey (TIFF’s Artistic Director) and his view on what kinds of Canadian films could help shift the fiction film landscape. Rina Fraticelli (Executive Director of Women in View) talks about the launch of her organization’s new diversity toolkit called “Media Plus” and Rad Simonpillai (Film Critic for Now Magazine) speaks candidly about being a writer and ally with an ongoing interest in gender parity.

About the Gaze: The show is now a monthly podcast available for download on iTunes, Soundcloud andGoogle Play. Check out This is Worldtown’s interview with hosts Aisha and Maya and stay tuned for future episodes.


View the MediaPLUS+ Trailer below

Conversations: How Food and Storytelling Can Bring You Home

By Soko Negash

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the first in the series.

I first connected with Lily Hu by way of Angry Asian Feminist Gang, a Facebook group created by Amy Wong for self-identifying Asian Feminists with an interest in art and cultural production. We later discovered that both of our families (her parents, my mother’s side) are from Taishan, a small-ish city in southwestern China. We also unknowingly grew up on the same street, and even shared some of the same childhood friends, but we had somehow never really met — until very recently.

About a month ago, she invited me over for dinner. Before I even saw her for the first time, I smelled her cooking. “I hope you like trotters,” she yelled from the kitchen stove. I didn’t know then that trotters are the culinary term for pig’s feet. She moved seamlessly through the kitchen, tasting and adding things in between talks we had about intergenerational traumas, the ways we connect and don’t connect to aspects of our culture, and forgiveness. I left that night with a full heart and stomach.

When Lily was young, her parents opened the doors to a family-run Chinese restaurant. Her dad handled all the cooking and her mom managed the front-of-house. As a child, Lily found herself fascinated with her dad’s methodical routine and would peer over his shoulder, constantly; observing and studying the craft.

Now, at 26, Lily freelances as a chef and has worked at some of Toronto’s top restaurants, like Scaramouche and Momofuku. When she’s not thriving in the heat of high-end kitchens, she runs Cook ‘n Grow, a kids community program based in Regent Park, which she created with her friends Natalie and Karrin, in collaboration with Green Thumbs. Lily has also started sharing her stories through writing. She recently penned a piece for Cherry Bombe about her experience with sexual harassment and Stockholm syndrome while working in the industry.

Today, she cooked something new and we discussed authenticity, storytelling through food, and what home tastes like – amongst other truths.

The menu: Homemade ricotta-stuffed ravioli, tossed in brown butter sauce, served on a bed of roasted sweet potato, arugula, and radicchio.

Lily described the flavour as agrodolce, an Italian word meaning the application of sweet and sour. For the dessert, she made her own take on soot lai tong – a soup traditionally made with asian pear. Her instincts told her to add cinnamon and vanilla as she poached the pears, and the addition of sweet rice balls with black sesame filling. The rice balls, more accurately known as tang yuan, are generally eaten around Chinese New Year to signify the celebration of ‘something special’.


Soko Negash: Food can mean such different things to different people, from survival to self-care and healing to memory… What does food represent to you?

Lily Hu: I like the idea that it’s this challenge of finding new ways to use ingredients. Maybe it stems from using up what is in the fridge, as a means of survival to some degree. Not having the luxury of buying things all the time forces you to be creative with what you already have. That is a good way to describe what I like about food. I think learning to cook from a young age instilled a sense of independence and an ability to take care of myself. If I were to ever move somewhere else, I could be self-sufficient because I can cook for myself. That’s a big part of having that skill.

Soko Negash: I think there’s a real strength in that.

Lily Hu: Yeah. My parents used to work a lot so me and my sisters would be at home. My parents did not always have the ability to cook something before they went to work, and if they ended work late, then, it’s like, what do we know how to do? What do I know how to make? It started with my parents assigning us the task of cooking the rice for dinner, even if it was just a basic lesson. Then, you can add a plate of eggs to sit in the rice cooker and it steams while the rice cooks. It started with the basics, and then building on top of that.

When people talk about “Chinese food” as a blanket statement, it is over-generalizing because, in reality, it is so regional and there are so many different types of Chinese food. That is a thing I try to educate people about.

SN: Were there any specific challenges that you or your family faced while running the family restaurant?

LH: I think there were a few instances when people would call on the phone and mock a Chinese accent, and I remember, feeling really bad if my mom was the one who picked up the phone and had to hear that. In a way, me and my sisters were some sort of buffer for them because we’ve always had to be their translator with lots of things, whether it’s just documents or while shopping, or things like that. I think I just felt an obligation to take care of them in a way. I didn’t want them to have to face people who were discriminatory because they didn’t speak English. I was always there to ask “Is there a problem?” or “Can I clear this up?” if someone was being disrespectful, so I always feel like I have that on my shoulders to just protect them.

The most dominating thing is that it’s emotional cooking for me. It’s a reflection of where I am, who I am at that time, what I’ve learned, and how I’m feeling.

SN: I think that’s something a lot of children of immigrants can relate to.

LH: Some people who don’t grow up with a second language don’t understand that it just takes patience to figure out what the message is that’s being communicated. It just takes time and a different way of talking to someone, and it doesn’t mean that people are stupid, it just means that they don’t have that access or channel to use.

SN: English is the assumed language, but that’s only because of colonization.

LH: And that’s oppressive.

SN: People can say oh, go back to your country or you need to learn the language, but the real question is, do you speak Cree?

LH: Right.

SN: What does it mean for you to be authentic in your approach to cooking?

LH: I think authenticity is something I’m always trying to tie into my identity because I think we are always changing as people and trying to figure out who we are, what our background is, and what being genuine means. But authenticity and food is interesting because I have a Chinese background, but I am also moving through new spaces as a Canadian and as a young person working in the industry. The kitchens I am in are often very eurocentric, so the idea of coping and trying to assimilate with the dominant culture is a tricky game because it means survival as well. It doesn’t really limit the type of cooking I do, but I just have a deeper understanding of Chinese food that I can pull from.

When people talk about “Chinese food” as a blanket statement, it is over-generalizing because, in reality, it is so regional and there are so many different types of Chinese food. That is a thing I try to educate people about.

SN: Can you tell me a little about the program you run in Regent?

LH: The program is called Cook ‘n Grow. It’s an after-school program for kids aged ten to eleven. We collaborate with the kids and talk to them about what they want to eat, and what they want to make, and discuss their cultural backgrounds so it can be shared amongst the other kids who have maybe never had that type of food before. Last week, we made Vietnamese banh mi. Part of the reason why I started the program was because I wanted to feel more connected to my community through food. And I love kids, so just talking to friends who do or don’t know how to cook for themselves made me realize that not everyone has the food literacy or skills to be independent. With many parents working full-time, it doesn’t give them the luxury of having somebody to cook for them at home all the time. So, they have to take care of themselves.

SN: How would you describe your cooking style?

LH: The most dominating thing is that it’s emotional cooking for me. It’s a reflection of where I am, who I am at that time, what I’ve learned, and how I’m feeling.

If I’m feeling really energetic, I would lean towards some bright, acidic, fun flavors. If I’m feeling down, I’m going to cater to that emotional need. I think I do a lot of emotional eating in the sense that I eat what would make me feel good and what matches my energy levels… and what’s available depending on the season. If it’s winter, then we’re going to have rootier, richer things. Because I’m always learning and experimenting and looking for new ingredients to try and incorporate, then the constant theme is: how do I feel?

SN: Do you see it as a form of storytelling?

LH: I sometimes get strokes of inspiration from people that I’ve come into contact with. For example, if a past lover inspired me to use saffron and coffee together, I would think about how I would use that in a dessert. I think it’s a memory of them in some way. That’s almost how I like to tell stories because they are often inspired by people and places. And you can always tell the story about it after you make it because the idea still lives on and you can share that [story and food] with other people.

SN: What does home taste like to you?

LH: I remember growing up and eating a lot of steamed meatballs and steamed dumplings. The memories of making dumplings with a bowl of ground meat and cilantro with other ingredients is a very vivid memory of what feeling loved tastes like and looks like. I will eat dumplings forever because it’s just a comfort thing. It’s so embedded in an act of love.

SN: The fact that you are a woman working in a high-end kitchen, but then also adding the layer of being Chinese-Canadian… what does that mean to you?

LH: I always try to prove people wrong because I am aware of my physical perceptions. Oh, she’s a Chinese girl coming into this very macho kitchen, so they think you will be subservient and soft. I kind of enjoy sussing out the space and seeing if they feel comfortable saying some crazy s***  in front of me because they think that I don’t speak up for myself, and they think they can take advantage of me because of my stature or whatever. A lot of the time, it’s like, well, I’ll just do that thing that I do best… but I don’t know what the alternative is because I can never walk through that space being a white man to know the comparison.

SN: I think a lot about the ways that women’s work has gone undervalued for centuries and how now it’s a lot of men that get a certain type of praise for their cooking and their work in the food industry, in particularly white men –

LH: It almost feels like until a white man came along and gave the other guy a pat on the back, it wasn’t validated as ‘good work’. Whereas women have been labourers and caretakers all along and they were never validated for this type of work. It never got the accolades.

SN: And it’s praised as genius only when certain people do it.


I want it to be this empowering, team-focused, collaborative idea rather than just me being the person standing on that podium.

LH: They bring each other up as powerful men. When it was just things that had to be done, it was never looked at as something remarkable. I always think about the things I’m doing and the type of attention or validation that I get, compared to if a white dude did that thing. Now, it’s nice enough just to have my own community… a circle of friends full of mostly strong women who appreciate me and my work and that’s the audience that I tend to care more about. But that’s also hard because then it means I’m not climbing up that ladder and fighting to represent myself. That’s really never been my game though. I don’t really play this game of competition, of trying to be the best “whatever” because for the kitchens at the top, you work, like, 18-hour days and then you are burnt out and that’s the end game. And I don’t want that to be my end game. I want it to be this empowering, team-focused, collaborative idea rather than just me being the person standing on that podium.

That doesn’t really appeal to me. How did it impact the people around me? How did I create a better community? How do I step aside and make people care about something?

Soko: Those are the things that are important to you.

Lily: Yup.

Soko Negash is one of the artists from our Behind the Dust series, a year-long mentorship project for emerging visual storytellers. Soko is a Toronto-born artist of Chinese-Eritrean descent, who grew up making things on the floor of her parents’ arts studio. Soko currently divides her time between working as a Talent Producer at a documentary production company and working on her own personal photo projects. Her focus is telling stories of under- or misrepresented communities in all parts of the world through a lens of authenticity and truth.