Me: Okay, let’s set realistic goals for 2019.
Also me: Yes! Fully agreed. Okay. Let’s say… A zine every month, two blog posts every month, start an email list and send out an email every week, complete one collective document every month, write a book, 10 narrative sessions every week, revamp and run all the online courses, and take one day off every week. And present at some conferences and publish some papers. And get healthy! And keep the house clean. And get back to Stick Figure Sundays! And maybe start another year-long project. This is going to be great. Keep it realistic.
Me: … wait …
Also me: You’re right. Also read a book EVERY WEEK!!!!!!!!
There’s a running list, in a little cream-coloured notebook, of all the projects I hope to complete. Sometimes I read through the list, see the checkmarks and the projects still coming up or in progress, and I feel excited and accomplished. This is how I like to engage with my goals – always a longer list than I can finish, because it is joyful to do the work that I love.
But many times, and especially at the end of the month and the end of the year when I assess what I accomplished in comparison to what I hoped to accomplish. In those moments, I see everything outstanding and I feel a sharp mix of shame for being so ambitious and shame for not getting enough done. Shame squared. This is nothow I like to engage with my goals, but so often, that’s what ends up happening.
A couple weeks ago, I posted an invitation to contribute to a conversation on this topic.
The new year is coming!!
Some of us (I absolutely do speak of myself here) end up being aggressively recruited into the whole “New Years Resolution” thing, with all the pressure and guilt and shame and excitement and joy and enthusiasm that entails.
I sat down with my journal for a couple hours this afternoon and spent some time starting to plan out my year, and I was so conscious of the pressures of capitalism, ableism, and individualism in my thinking.
At this time of year, we can be influenced by discourses that say all we have to do is “dream it,” and when that doesn’t work, we can end up feeling like we’ve failed. And! At the same time! We can end up feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of dreams that feel entirely unattainable.
If you are a goal setter and year planner, how do you navigate that process?
I want to put together a small collective document to bring some community care to this process that often ends up feeling so individual.
Send me your thoughts about surviving the goal setting season! Comment, send a message, or email me at email@example.com. Send your comments in by December 19, so I can have the post ready to go by December 21!
Image description: A to-do list with a pen. (Surviving) 2019 Goal Setting. What we want to accomplish and how we handle the pressure. A little collective document project.
I loved the responses.
Lindsay’s comment echoed my own experiences. She shared, “I find this so challenging. Knowing how much I did not get done has started to push me to stop setting goals, because it is starting to feel futile and like the goals just create undue pressure and guilt – SO not the effect I’m seeking! But I love goal setting and when it feels positive, it’s SO good! I am trying to shift my perspective by tracking “achievements” daily. Some days this might be “took a rest day” or “cooked a healthy meal.” And then there are times where it’ll be “ran in a 10K race” or “presented at my first conference.” I think I need to look back and see that I’ve made positive movements, even if they didn’t always match or meet my goals.”
How do we balance the joy and motivation that can come from recognizing the positive effects of our actions, and the progress in our lives, with the invitations to failure that can come with certain practices of goal-setting?
Or do we even need to “balance” these, which might imply that the preferred state would be to have both in some kind of equilibrium. Is there a way that we can decline to participate in the comparisons and expectations?
Can we find a new way to talk about goals, accomplishments, success and failure?
Some folks had ideas!
Emma shared, “I’m planning on levelling up in a few areas and gaining a new skill or 3 or 5 💗 I’ve got some talent points to carefully spend this year. Increase my damage against the patriarchy. Day to day stuff ya know. This way of looking at it helps me hide my terror at another year of gardening and canning but this year with a 6-month-old! This isn’t just a new year thing, it’s been a way of looking at my overall healing as well.”
The idea of approaching healing as a game, particularly as a roleplaying game that gives you the opportunity to put your “skill points” into areas that you choose, is so delightful and interesting.
It has me wondering about things like what might become possible if we imagined our goal setting projects as quests in a game? Would might shift in our sense of “self” if we imagined ourselves as characters, with skillsets that we could increase through experience points and choice?
If you were playing a game of your life, what class of character would you be? A ranger, a paladin, a rogue, a healer, a warrior? Would you be multi-classed?
(Because my little cream-coloured notebook needs more projects, a thought occurs to me: If I put together a collective document or project on the topic of roleplaying games and their role in our lives, would you want to participate? Let me know!)
Rachel also had an idea about the format of goal-setting. She shared:
Just the act of listing goals in a bullet point list (how most people do it) leads to a total and complete loss of proportion.
Here’s one goal I have for next year next to my major focus goal from this past year:
- Learn to cook squid
- Find a post-doctoral job
Those are not the same size at all. The time/number of steps/degree of complexity/degree of that being under my actual control at all are entirely different. But they are the exact same amount of space on a list. So that’s something I will be being careful of in the New Year.
This has me curious – have you found ways to format your documentation of goals so that it’s more representative than a bullet-point list? How do you create the document of your goals?
A couple folks said that reflecting on accomplishments rather than setting new goals was helpful for them.
Dottie shared, “I never know what my life is gonna be like that far in advance so I never know what a realistic goal even looks like lol I am queen of the short term goals. ‘Gonna put my laundry away.’ ‘I hope I can make a pear crisp before these pears go bad but who knows!’ ‘Gonna look back in awe at everything I’ve managed to accomplish.’ ‘Gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish.’”
This last piece – “gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish” – feels so important.
Have you ever been able to set something aside because you don’t have spoons to finish? How did you learn to do that?
Richelle also uses reflection as a tool. And her idea turned into the ten-day group that has been running since the 21st! (You can find more information in this facebook album, and you can still join by sending me an email.)
Richelle shared, “I want to do a New Years count down – my top 10 things I’m proud of this year. The pressure to look forward can be overwhelming and I think I want to celebrate what I already am. If media gets to fill time to let staff chill by repeating the awesome that’s happened this year, why can’t I?”
Speaking of chilling…
Shawny shared, “I like to keep it silly/small. Two years ago my resolution was “wear a bra as little as possible.” I met it! It worked great! I’m back to bras, but it was a wonderful year. This year my resolution is “wash my hands more.” It’s also a nice subversion tactic when people ask, especially as a person in a fat body who gets bombarded with extra toxic weight loss goals.”
Rei shared the role of Hygge in helping them work through the process of 2019 goal-planning:
I had a bit of a “lightbulb” moment the other night and a lot of my goal planning for 2019 kind of all fell into place, and along with it, coherent enough thoughts to send something in to you about the goal setting collective document!
I’ll say that I don’t like the idea of “new year’s resolutions” because they tend to set up extremely specific and often unattainable goals that we’ll feel incredibly guilty over when we inevitably fall short. But I do like to pick a couple of key things or areas of my life that I really want to focus on throughout the coming months (I can always adjust course whenever I need to, and I often do reevaluate my goals throughout the year).
My lightbulb moment started with Hygge. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Danish concept of Hygge (could be roughly translated to coziness, comfort, connection, safety, warmth, and a lot of other related and much more nuanced concepts if you’re not familiar with the term). I really enjoy the idea of exploring Hygge as a way to connect in a spiritual sort of way with my Scandinavian roots and so I know that’s something I want to focus on as one of my goals for 2019. My next step after the main goal is to brainstorm and list a few ways in which to accomplish that goal. I always keep these things as flexible items I can work on over time rather than hard and fast things that NEED to get done so as to realistically honor what my chronically ill self is capable of. While I was listing things to work on to incorporate Hygge into my 2019, I started to think more about what I wanted my life to look like all around, and settled on a couple more areas I want to focus on, mainly Art & Writing, certain organizational/responsibilities based things, and a general sense of self projected through activities and aesthetics. I won’t get into all the details, but I planned out those areas briefly using the same steps as above.
I like to keep my lists, main goals, and sub goals, in a planner or journal to refer back to throughout the year. I can then make more specific goals that are relevant to my schedule and energy needs each day/week/month and so on.
I know that this kind of planning and goal setting probably won’t appeal to everyone, but I very much like the idea of goal setting as a way to try and create a life I love in realistic ways. Ways that honor my capabilities and acknowledge my chronic illness and limitations. It gives me a sense of control when so much of my life is outside of my control, while being realistic about it all so as not to slip into the victim blaming mindset of “if only I come up with the exact right systems and exact right steps and goals I can accomplish anything DESPITE my illness, and if I haven’t then I must not be trying hard enough.” As anyone with chronic illness will know, there are a lot of things I wish I could do that are just not doable in my life as it is, so this method helps me focus on what IS doable to try and create more happiness in my life. A rejection of toxic positivity, and a focus on the realistic and what actually works.
I’ll also mention that I find it very helpful to use the “Life Pie” system from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” in order to assess various areas of my life and figure out what kind of goals might be helpful to focus on. Though I tweak the categories she uses as “work” in the traditional sense doesn’t apply to my circumstances, and so on.
I appreciate both Rei and Dottie for disability and chronic illness into the conversation, and Shawny for bringing the specific concerns facing folks in larger bodies. Each of the contributors to this small projects bring their own intersections – racialized, queer, trans, disabled, fat, poor. I’m so thankful for that diversity. I am so thankful for my communities.
I’m ending this post with the work of a fellow narrative practitioner, Daria Kutuzova.
In her phenomenal work on “Hijacking the New Year and Other Practices of Anti-Depression,” Daria describes how depression uses “celebration” as triggers, and offers suggestions for an alternate approach. You can find her slideshow here. This section is paraphrased from her work.
Some of her observations about how Depression sneaks in:
– “Taking stock” of the past year (practices of comparison)
– Anticipated lack of the “miracle of renewal”
– Anticipation of things getting worse in the coming year
One of her suggestions is a Tree of the Year exercise as an antidote to these triggers. Here are the questions associated with the Tree of the Year.
– What did you come into the past year with? What was the focus of your attention then?
– Which of your skills and character strengths supported you most through the last year? What new skills have you learned this year?
– Into which projects and relationships have you been putting your time, energy and heart during the last year?
– What were the most magical, sparkling and meaningful moments of the last year?
– What were your successes in the last year, however small or big? What are you proud of?
– What did you pleasantly surprise yourself with in the last year? What good things didn’t you expect, but they happened anyway?
– What gifts have you received in the last year – from people and from life in general?
– What have you lost, had to let go of or had to put on pause in the last year?
– Who has been a really good friend to you in the last year? With whom would you like to celebrate?
– What are your dreams for the coming year? What are your wishes for yourself?
– What were the good habits that you tried to learn/create in your life during the last year, that did not fully “stick”, but while you were doing the routines, it was good?
If we abandon the idea of writing grand, “all or nothing” New Year resolutions, if we decide not to force ourselves into committing fully to doing something for the whole year, but instead look for shorter time increments (a week, a month at the most), which good routines would you like to try in the coming year?
If you find any of these suggestions, reflections, or exercises helpful, I would love to hear about it, and would be happy to pass your reflections on to the contributors.
Image description: A blue and pink image of a gem. Text reads, “No matter where you are in your journey, no matter how you feel about yourself, we support you.”
Dearest tender trans friend,
This letter is the collective effort of part of the Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Community, who met on November 20, 2018, Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience. Some of us are transgender and some of us are cisgender. We met on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta (Calgary), which includes the Siksika, the Piikuni, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III.
We recognize and honour the Indigenous people whose land we live and work and organize on, and we are interested in knowing what land you are on, too.
We don’t know who you are, but we do know that we care about you. We know that the world is hard and scary, especially for trans women, and especially for trans women of colour. We know that it can be hard and scary for anyone who is trans or gender non-conforming.
We care about you, whoever you are.
We care about you, no matter what your gender is.
We care about you, even if the only place you’re “out” is in the mirror.
We know that you are responding with skill and resourcefulness to the problems and hardships that you face.
We wonder, what kinds of problems are you facing? We’re curious about this, because we know that sometimes people assume that the only problems trans folks have are to do with gender. But we have some experience with being queer and/or trans, and we realize that sometimes the problems in our lives have nothing to do with that! We are more than just our gender. We know that some trans folks are disabled, some are neurodivergent, some are Black or brown or Indigenous, some are poor, or unhomed, or working through school. We support trans folks no matter what else is going on in your life! And we know that sometimes problems have nothing to do with identity. Sometimes it’s about our jobs, or our art, or a fight with our best friend. Whatever is happening in your life, we know that it’s probably a lot more rich and nuanced than trans stereotypes.
We know that you are the expert in your own life; you know more than anyone else who you are and what you need. We also know that sometimes that means all you know is that you’re searching for answers. That’s okay, too! You still know more than anyone else about your own experience and your own values, hopes, and dreams. It’s still your story even if you don’t know who you are.
We trust you.
You are bringing skill and insider knowledge to your life, and you are getting through. The reason we know this is because you’re reading this letter!
We wonder, how did you get here? What would you call the skills and insider knowledges that allowed you to get to this point, to where you are reading a letter from a small group of strangers? Were you looking for support? Did someone send this to you?
We all, regardless of our own gender and journey, love you. We want you to know that.
We wonder, is there anyone else in your life who loves and supports you in your journey? This person, or people, could be either living or no longer living, or fictional, imaginary, or pop culture figures that you feel supported and encouraged by. Who is on your team?
If you feel alone, we would like to let you know that we would like to be on your team.
Ivy shared that for her, the biggest obstacle has been the experience of being rejected by family members that she thought would welcome her, particularly family members she had welcomed when they came out as gay, but who rejected her when she came out as trans. Sometimes finding your team can be challenging.
This kind of rejection can happen in communities, as well as families. There can be heteronormativity even within the trans community, and if you are visibly queer and also visibly trans, this can be hard. But it’s okay. As one of us said, “You don’t have to fit into a box! It’s fluid and a spectrum and that’s a beautiful thing.”
It’s also okay to set boundaries within the queer community, within your friend community, or within your family. If a space doesn’t feel welcoming to you because of one or more parts of your identity, it’s okay to decide that’s not the space for you or to decide you’re going to advocate for that space to become more inclusive. It’s also okay to decide that you’re still going to be in that space despite its flaws. It is never your job to make those spaces welcoming, but it is always okay if you want to take on that work. You can make the choices that are best for you. It’s okay to fight, and it’s also okay to rest.
As a group, we came up with this list of skills and strategies, in case you find yourself in a situations of rejection or isolation:
- Remember that you can make your own family. Quite a few of us shared experiences of defining family in creative and preferred ways.
- There is no obligation to keep in contact with people who do not accept you.
- It can help to find a community of people who have shared similar experiences.
- Community can be in person, but it can also be online. This is especially true if you, like some of us, experience a lot of anxiety or if you’re in a more rural location.
Are there skills or strategies that you would add to this list? We would love to hear about them.
Another thing we talked about was how finding representation can be challenging, but when you find it, it makes a huge difference. This is especially true for identities that are on the margins of the margins; non-binary folks, like some of us, and also asexual folks and folks who don’t fit into recognizable boxes. One of us is on the screening committee for the Fairytales Queer Film Festival, and last year (2017) she watched 100s of hours of content with no asexual representation. We know that asexual trans folks exist! Possibilities is an explicitly ace-inclusive (and trans inclusive) space.
Not seeing representation can make you feel so alone. Where have you found representation? Do you imagine yourself into your favourite books and shows, even when the creators haven’t explicitly written characters like you? Who is your favourite character, or instance of representation?
Representation is important because of how it shows us possible stories, or maps, for our own lives. And the lack of trans representation hurts because it offers so few maps. We wanted to offer you some affirmation when it comes to your trans journey. There is often just a single story of trans realization, and it includes a specific experience of dysphoria. This does not reflect the diversity of experiences in the trans community, or even in the small group of us who met to write this letter! If you have not yet seen representation of a journey like yours, know that your journey is still valid. The problem is in the lack of available stories, not in your own story.
We want to validate that gender euphoria exists, just like gender dysphoria does, and that sometimes we come to our trans identities through an experience of validation rather than through an experience of pain. We also recognize that sometimes dysphoria doesn’t feel like dysphoria – sometimes it feels like depression, sometimes it feels like being flat for a long time – and that sometimes we only recognize that we were feeling dysphoria when we start to feel something different.
There are many paths available, even though there’s not a lot of representation of this diversity yet. Each of these paths are valid! Some folks transition medically, others socially, others surgically, others only internally – these are all valid paths.
We also wanted to share a bit about internalized transphobia, because this experience has been so challenging for some of us, and we want you to know that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing this.
One of us shared that internalized transphobia is not about hating trans people. It’s about being surrounded by negative stories about trans people and not having other stories to counter them with.
The shame you might be feeling if you are experiencing internalized transphobia is not because you are bad, it is because you’ve been surrounded by bad ideas. So many of our cultural contexts – in our families, our friend groups, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques, in the media and in books and movies and even music – so many of these contexts are full of dominant stories that are not kind or just in their representation of trans people. These stories are not the truth about transness. There is so much more complexity, nuance, and richness to transness. Transness is so much more than the thin and dehumanizing stereotypes available to us.
But those stereotypes are powerful. Sometimes trans folks have to pretend to conform to stereotypes in order to access necessary medical care. This is gatekeeping, and, as one of us said, “gatekeeping is garbage!”
It is not right that you have to jump through so many hoops in order to get gender affirming healthcare, and it’s also not right that so many medical professionals (even when they aren’t directly dealing with anything to do with transness!) are not aware or accepting. That’s an injustice.
How have you been getting through those experiences so far? How did you learn the skills that are helping you get through?
We wanted to make sure you know that just because someone has been labeled an “expert” does not mean they know better than you. You might find yourself having to educate healthcare providers, or searching for non-judgmental and appropriate healthcare. We want to name this an injustice. And it’s okay if you need help navigating this!
We also recognize that so many queer and trans folks have been told that our identities are mental illnesses. We have been pathologized and medicalized, and this can make it challenging to trust or feel safe accessing therapy. We want to let you know that this fear is valid, and also that it’s okay if you want to work with a therapist. We know that you are already skillfully navigating your care needs, and we want to validate that working with a therapist does not mean you are “broken” or any of the other hostile narratives that are told about people like you. Also, if you do work with a therapist, you are still the expert in your own experience! You know more than your therapist about what you need and who you are, and it’s okay for you to be choosy about the therapist you work with.
Not all of us at this event are trans. Some of us are cis allies. Those of us who are allies want you to know that we recognize our role is to listen, not to talk over or speak for you.
All of us have different privileges and marginalizations, and we are committed to using the privilege that we have (any money, influence, or power available to us) to create space for you in the queer community and elsewhere. Some of us are white settlers, some of us are employed, some of us are neurotypical or abled. Others are not. We are a group that bridges many privileges and experiences, and we are each committed to making space for each other and for you.
Some of us didn’t say much at the event. For some us, there are no words available that can overcome the great horribleness of the current political climate and the ongoing violence against transgender communities and individuals. This event was part of a larger project collecting letters of support for the transgender community, and some of us at the event were there because we wanted to write a letter but we didn’t know how to do it on our own.
It’s okay to not know how to do something on your own. Maybe you feel that way sometimes, too. If you do, we want you to know – it’s okay. Sometimes we can be part of a community even when we don’t have many words or much energy. You do not need to earn a place in the community.
There are two final things we want to share.
The first is that we write this letter as a group of people who love, and are friends with, and work with, and are partners and lovers with, trans people. We know, because we have insider knowledge into this, that trans people are loveable and desirable in all the ways that a person can be loved and desired. There are not a lot of stories of these friendships, partnerships, and other relationships, and so it can be hard to know that it’s possible.
We want you to know that it’s possible.
And lastly, this:
Even if you’re feeling completely alone, there is a small group of people in Calgary who know you are complete, and worthy of love. You don’t have to feel complete, and we have no expectations of you. Our hopes for you, and our acceptance of you, does not require that you also feel hope or acceptance. No matter where you are in your journey, and no matter how you feel about yourself, we support you.
With so much warmth and respect,
The Possibilities Group, including
(This letter is part of an ongoing collective project of support. You can find the album of letters on Facebook here, and I am working on migrating it into an album on my website. There are also physical letters available – if you are a trans person, or know a trans person, who is struggling, get in touch and I will mail out a letter of support. You can also contribute to the project by sending either email or physical letters.)
Join us for a ten-day celebration of the last year!
2018 was really hard, for so many reasons, for so many people. But you made it! This is an invitation to celebrate the top ten things that you’re proud of this year.
Each day, I’ll send out an email with a few narrative questions and some reflections on the theme for the day. Each day’s email will focus on a theme of potential celebration: surviving, creating, contributing, connecting, sharing, building, healing, growing, learning/unlearning, and resisting and persisting.
We’ll be starting December 21, and running until New Year’s Eve.
I am also sharing abbreviated sets of prompts on both Facebook and Instagram, so you can follow along on social media, as well!
This group is open to folks who are feeling sad or discouraged, who do not feel they have accomplished much, and who do not feel like celebrating. The goal is to strengthen our connections to stories of our skills, values, and acts of choice from the last year, but you do not need to come into this group feeling great. All emotions are welcome!
If you’d like to participate, send me a message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This project is an offshoot of the “Goal-setting Season Collective Resource” that will be shared later this week! So even if you don’t want to participate in this group, keep an eye out for that resource coming soon!)
Image description: A screenshot of the front cover of the PDF. Orange text reads “GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS: PLANNING, COPING, RECOVERING, AND GRIEF” Smaller text reads “An updated-for-2018 version of the document generated following the December 2017 Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Discussion Group. This document is meant to extend the conversations that we have at Possibilities, and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at email@example.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.” There is a decorative red line down the right side of the image.
“What Holidays Are We Talking About?
All of them!
This conversation happened around the Winter Holidays – that stretch of time that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, Midwinter, Christmas, New Year’s, and Chinese New Year. But these strategies, suggestions, and situations are relevant to any holiday that includes social pressure to perform joyfulness, to spend time with extended social networks, and to perform a certain type of gender, orientation, or other identity. These pressures can be exacerbated by trauma, grief, or identity shifts. Other holidays that can be challenging in this way are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, the Spring Holidays, and any personally meaningful anniversary.
When and Why We Need Holiday Care
There can be shame attached to needing care around the holidays. It can be particularly difficult to manage the work of care networks around the holidays, when everyone seems over-extended and when there is significant pressure to look after ourselves so that our “issues” don’t “burden” the people around us. Inviting community care can be difficult. It can be difficult to ask for help, and to look for collaborative responses to challenging situations. The holidays are “supposed” to be cheerful times, where we connect with our families and communities, give and receive gifts and support, remind ourselves of the goodness of humanity, feel loved and loving.
There is so much pressure to conform to these ideas of appropriate holiday cheer, and although we might understand that the holidays can be challenging, it’s often difficult to extend compassion to ourselves when we are struggling. It’s sometimes hard to ask other people to understand when we’re struggling, because they may be invested in having a “good holiday” that doesn’t have space for our struggle.
Depression spikes at the holidays, and we do not have robust “practices of anti-depression” (to borrow a term from Daria Kutuzova, whose work is linked in the resources section). These practices include things like mindfulness, self-care and community care, compassion, creating and encouraging unique outcomes (meaning, outcomes that counter our internal expectation of despair and the external expectation of a certain performance of joy – unique outcomes are outcomes that allow us strong, hopeful, and resilient stories without denying our struggle, pain, trauma, and fear). Other practices of anti-depression include creating inclusive spaces and a sense of belonging, and encouraging pleasure, fun, hope, anticipation, and resilience without pasting on a smile that hides our true feelings. This path is much more complicated and challenging, but also much more rewarding.
When and Why We Need Holiday Care. 3
Planning for Holiday Care. 6
Coping Strategies. 8
If Your Family Invalidates Your Identity. 9
If You Can Get Away. 10
If You Can’t Get Away. 10
If You Start to Dissociate. 10
If You Feel Suicidal. 11
Recovery Strategies 13
If You’re Grieving. 14
Exercises and Printables. 18
The Reflection of the Year (exercise used with permission from Daria Kutuzova). 18
Documents of Authority. 18
Ally-Gathering Scripts and Card. 20
Letters of Support for the Trans Community. 22
Letter from Rosie. 22
Letter from Freya. 23
Collective Letter from the Possibilities Community, written at the November 20, 2018 Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience event. 24
Read the rest of the resource in the PDF.
The monthly Possibilities discussions are full of rich insights, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration from within our bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans-inclusive community.
One of my goals is to create resources that grow out of these generous and creative conversations, so that the work we do in those moments can extend out to join larger conversations about queerness and community care, collaboration, and collective action. One reason for this is because when we are struggling, we have valuable insider knowledge that can help other people who are also struggling – it’s not true that the only people with answers are the “experts” or the ones who have it all figured out. To the contrary – it is often those of us who are actively grappling with an issue who have more direct insight and knowledge to share. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for experts or guides, but part of what I hope to accomplish with my work is consistently and intentionally centering the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, and creating resources that honour hard-won knowledge and skills.
In an effort to share these moments of community-generated wisdom from the Possibilities discussions, I’ll be creating a resource most months that documents and shares our collective insights. Anonymity, or naming, is at each participant’s discretion, and at the beginning of the discussion we talk about why I’m taking notes, what I’m planning to do with them, and how people can access the document before it goes public. Any participants who want to look over the document before it’s made public have that opportunity, and there’s a second check-in at the end of the discussion to make sure everyone is aware of what might be shared and has a chance to opt in or out. Confidentiality within supportive community spaces is so critical, and these documents will not contain identifying details (unless participants want to be named or identified).
This document is meant to extend the conversation and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.
This document was created following our December 19, 2017 meeting, and has been updated in December 2018 to include some expansion, some new language, and, most notable, the Letters of Support for the Trans Community project. It is meant to be a resource for the queer community that validates the challenges of holiday care as a queer person. There are a ton of coping strategies, resources, validations, and suggestions in here, and I hope they can help you.
Please feel free to share this resource widely.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series. Normally, these are guest posts. This month, this is a post by Tiffany Sostar. Tiffany is a settler on Treaty 7 land, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.
This post is an expansion of a social media post I wrote on December 6. December 6 is National Day of Action and Remembrance on Violence Against Women, and the anniversary of the école Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.
Here is the post from December 6:
29 years ago was the école Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.
I am remembering the women who were killed 29 years ago for being in “men’s” educational spaces.
Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), mechanical engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
I’m thinking about all the women who face misogyny and violence in their places of work or learning or living.
And I’m thinking about how heightened that threat is for women who are further marginalized.
My work over the last few months has focused on responding to the fear, despair, and grief over the state of political, economic, and environmental climate shifts.
Today, I am sharply reminded that what so much of what we see in in the news is not new. Some of us, who have been sheltered by our privilege, are in a new experience of apocalyptic fear and violence but for many Indigenous and Black and trans and refugee and queer communities, this is not new. Seeing these names, and grieving for them, I am also thinking about all the trans women who are never memorialized in this way because their womanness is erased in media coverage of their deaths, and about all the Indigenous women whose disappearances are not properly investigated, and about Black women who are also targeted and killed.
It’s harder to memorialize the slow massacres. That’s further injustice.
Other parts of this current context are new. The state of the environment, the wealth gaps that are widening and contributing to harm, the complex crush of late-stage capitalism adds complexity to the old issues of oppressive violence. This makes me think about the increasing rates of violence that marginalized communities face and are likely to face in the coming future.
It’s a heavy day.
Resist and respond to misogyny wherever you find it.
Stand up for women, femmes, and non-binary folks.
Stand up for women in spaces they aren’t “supposed” to be – for marginalized professional women, for women in STEAM, for women in sports.
Stand up for women who aren’t white or straight or cisgender or abled or neurotypical.
Be kind to the women, femmes, and non-binary folks in your life. It’s ugly out here.
After writing the post, I was reflecting on anti-feminism, and on white feminism and other mainstream feminisms that end up doing violence, especially Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) and Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). I was thinking about how challenging it is to respond to injustices within the community while also responding to injustice directed at the community.
The Feminism from the Margins series of posts has, so far, focused on responding to injustices within the community, and this is a critical and necessary focus. Harms and injustices are perpetuated within feminism by feminists who do not actively respond to their own privilege and dominance. We see this over and over again, notably this week from Lena Dunham who has spoken at length about her feminism and yet lied in order to discredit a Black women who came forward about her sexual assault by a white man who was a friend of Dunham’s. (This article from Wear Your Voice magazine goes into detail and history about this specific issue and the long pattern of white feminist erasure and violence.)
I’m also thinking about the fact that the école Polytechnique massacre was specifically anti-feminist. It was not just anti-woman, it was anti-feminist.
This is important. Anti-feminist violence is something that our community is facing, even as we are struggling to address and redress the harms done by feminists to other women and marginalized community members. This month, thinking about this project, thinking about feminism from the margins – feminism that happens on the margins, where we are more at risk, more vulnerable, more likely to face the kinds of slow and unmemorialized massacres of structural and systemic violence – I am wondering how to talk about violence within the community and also acknowledge violence directed at the community.
How do we respond in ways that invite community care, collaboration, and collective action?
The reason it feels important to talk about the anti-feminist violence is because 29 years ago the anti-feminist nature of the violence was erased, and it often continues to be erased today.
Melissa Gismondi at the Washington Post writes:
In the days, weeks and years following the attack, the question of whether it was anti-feminist became a point of contention.
Feminists pointed to some important evidence suggesting it was. They stressed that Lépine explicitly targeted women by segregating them from their male peers. Before he started shooting, he shouted, “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”
Lépine also left a suicide note that listed an additional 19 women he wanted to murder, including Francine Pelletier (a prominent feminist activist and journalist), a Quebec cabinet minister and some female police officers who’d angered Lépine by playing in a work volleyball league.
And yet a range of people from pundits to physicians saw the shooting in a different light. They denied the “political reasons” of the crime that Lépine himself espoused, arguing that the shooting was about the psychological collapse of one man who couldn’t find his place within society. For instance, a Montreal psychiatrist proclaimed in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper that Lépine was “as innocent as his victims, and himself a victim of an increasingly merciless society.” According to Pelletier, a Quebec City columnist also alleged that “the truth was that the crime had nothing to do with women.”
The brilliant Anne Thériault writes at Flare:
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we can’t fight against violence that we can’t name. So this year I’m saying what I’ve been too afraid to articulate until now: Marc Lépine was hunting feminists on December 6, 1989. His followers are still hunting feminists, and they don’t care what labels those feminists use. We can’t save ourselves by trying to appease men who see us as less than human. All we can do is keep rattling the cage until it finally breaks.
I suspect that we can work to resist violence both within our communities and directed at our communities by naming what is happening. And we can trust people to be able to name the problems that they are facing – we can listen to sex workers rather than naming their problem for them and then trying to “rescue” them from a problem we have misnamed and misunderstood; we can listen to Black women and Indigenous women and other women of colour rather than naming their problems for them and demanding that they wait their turn until “women” are “equal” before they can also demand justice; we can listen to disabled communities, neurodivergent communities, mad and neuroqueer communities, queer communities. It’s not just about naming, it’s also about who is allowed to give the name, who is treated as the expert in their own experience.
The reason this project feels important to me, and the reason I am so thankful for other projects that are intentionally bringing marginalized voices to the center (projects like Cheryl White’s Feminisms, Narrative Practice & Intersectionality series), is because there is so much violence and threat right now. And it is coming from so many directions.
There is so much fear. There is so much fragility. There are so many invitations to feel like a failure, and to give up. There is so much perfectionism, so much anxiety about saying the wrong thing (and a lot of this anxiety is warranted!)
So many of us are so afraid.
So many marginalized communities have been silenced for so long.
It feels important to make space for many voices. To hold each other accountable. To care for our communities in ways that are both robustly justice-oriented and that also maintain the dignity of our community members.
That’s the goal of the Feminism from the Margins series, and it feels important this month, as I think about violence, and fear, and how we remember.
In another post Anne Thériault gives necessary context and humanizing personal details to the list of names, “trying desperately to remember them as bright, lively young women instead of statistics.”
It’s worth reading, and it’s worth thinking about in terms of how we engage with each other, as well. When someone is sharing their pain, how do we respond? When someone is angry, how do we hear it?
The silencing that feminists experienced after the Montreal massacre is something that is still happening, both within feminisms and directed at feminists.
We can practice community care by learning from how we have been hurt, and by not silencing marginalized communities who are trying to tell us how they have been hurt and what they need in order to find justice.
We can listen to the margins.
We can do better.
Stasha, writing about the massacre, said:
1989 was probably the first time that I wondered why men hate us enough to kill us. I was nine. I think of the daily fear that Indigenous, Black and trans women face. I think of the next generation growing up with knees-together judges and pussy-grabbing presidents.
And I cry with frustration that I can’t offer anything better to the next generation. It makes me furious to watch them feeling hunted, and to only be able to support in the aftermath, with no ability to prevent. It hurts me so much that this is seen as a women’s issue, how fucking absurd.
On this day, I think about strangers trying to kill us for living fully, but I always return to the attacks from people who say they love us, because I can’t get over that there are no safe places.
We have to be part of the work of creating safe places.
It’s not good enough the way it is now.
This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!
Also check out the other posts in the series:
- All The Places You’ll Never Go, by Dulcinea Lapis
- An Open Love Letter to My Friends, by Michelle Dang
- Prioritizing, by Mel Vee
- Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health, by Mel Vee
- Living in the Age of White Male Terror, by Mel Vee
- I Will Not Be Thrown Away, by Mel Vee
- Selling Out the Sex Workers, by X
- Holding Hope for Indigenous Girls, by Michelle Robinson
- Three Variations on a Conversation: cis- and heteronormativity in medical settings, by Beatrice Aucoin
- Lies, Damn Lies, and White Feminism by anonymous
- Responding to the Comments, by Nathan Fawaz
Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!