Holiday Care Resource 2018

Holiday Care Resource 2018

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 sostarselfcare@gmail.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.

Contents

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

Resources. 31″

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 sostarselfcare@gmail.com 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.

Remembering and responding

Remembering and responding

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:


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!

Submissions open for Restraint zine

Submissions open for Restraint zine

Image description: A rusty lock and chain on a wooden door. Text reads “Restraint: A zine about small, silent, and subversive methods of responding to injustice. Send submissions or questions to sostarselfcare@gmail.com. Submission deadline January 31, 2019.”
Restraint –
1. a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits.
2. self-control.
 
How do we experience restraint?
 
How do we resist injustice?
 
How do we break free, break open, break stigma, break barriers?
 
How do we speak?
 
Many of us are resisting injustice from a place of external or internal restraint. Either being controlled or controlling ourselves, or both.
 
We may not “come out” because it wouldn’t be safe, or because it isn’t the way we want to move through our world, or because it would jeopardize our relationships or our work.
 
We may not “speak up” to bullying, abuse, or injustice because it would put our career in danger, or it would put people we love in harm’s way, or because other people have power over us and we can’t afford to antagonize them, or because we have other ways of resisting those injustices.
 
(Disabled folks who can’t speak up to injustices committed by their carers because of the power differential, racialized folks who can’t speak up to injustices in the office because they’ll be labelled “angry”, trans folks who can’t speak up to injustices in the medical community because it would put their access to transition support in jeopardy – there are so many of these situations!)
 
But despite these restraints, people are never passive recipients of trauma or injustice. As David Denborough says in the Charter of Storytelling Rights, “Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.”
 
There are many ways to resist, challenge, and respond to injustice.
 
This zine celebrates and recognizes the small, silent, and subversive responses to injustice.
 
It is inspired by the April Possibilities bi+ community discussion of “the closet”, and by the March Self-Care Salon discussion about being a professional on the margins, as well as other conversations and experiences of restraint (both restraint that is painful and externally imposed, and restraint that is joyful and internally chosen).
 
Do you have a story of restraint?
 
Send your submissions of art, comics, short fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or essay to sostarselfcare@gmail.com before January 31, 2019. You can also send your questions.
 
(Depending on the number, size, and content of submissions, some may be edited. Nothing will be put into the final zine altered without the author’s consent.)

The holiday season means that a lot of folks are operating under imposed restraints – “don’t talk about politics” / “don’t bring your other partner” / “don’t talk about your sexuality” / “don’t make a fuss”.

This zine got slipped over to the backburner while I was working on my masters degree, but it’s the season for small, silent, and subversive methods of resisting injustice, so let’s do this!!!

I want to hear your stories.

They don’t have to be related to the holiday season (this zine won’t be complete this month either way).

If you want help telling your story, I can interview you!

I find myself very conscious of Unspeakable Things right now – the things that we are not allowed to talk about because other people have imposed restrictions on our speech. Seemed like a good time to share this again and invite your participation. 

Imagining the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folks

Imagining the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folks

Image description: A cup that says “be strong”. Text block reads: What does strength look like for women, femmes, and non-binary folk when it is not centered on the endurance of pain?

This document is also available as a PDF, which can be downloaded and freely shared. This PDF will be updated with stories that are shared in response, and will eventually be available as a printed zine.


What does strength look like for women, femmes, and non-binary folk when it is not centered on the endurance of pain?

This question is not meant to erase the strength that is so heavily present in our need to endure, to survive, and to carry on from the violences in our lives, but it is meant to ask what else is there? What else do we have to offer? What forms of strength go unnoticed even to ourselves?

Strength

by Andrea Oakunsheyld

While processing a very impactful breakup, I talked to myself a lot. I listed all the things that I have already been through and come out the other side. I talked to myself about the things that I have already managed to endure because enduring those meant that, in my mind, I should be able to endure this.

I was so lucky to be thoroughly caught by my communities in this time, and to have many conversations about myself and my broken relationship. These conversations were centered largely on endurance and the ways in which my communities perceived me to be a strong individual.

After weeks of contemplation and conversations, I came to the realization that I was only seeing my strength through taking stock of past endurance of pain.

It occurred to me that this was a very feminized account of strength, and one that I was sure many women, femmes, and non-binary folk could identify with. It’s certainly not the definition of strength that I would instinctively ascribe to men or the masculine-identified, and I became distressed that I had such a narrow conception of my own strength, and by extension, the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folk in my communities.

It makes sense for endurance and the endurance of pain to be an indicator of strength, but not the only indicator of strength that feminized folks perform. So, I was left to ask myself – what does strength look like for women, femmes, and non-binary folk when it is not centered on the endurance of pain?

This question is not meant to erase the strength that is so heavily present in our need to endure, to survive, and to carry on from the violences in our lives, but it is meant to ask what else is there? What else do we have to offer? What forms of strength go unnoticed even to ourselves?

My percolations on feminized or non-binary strength have led me to reassess many aspects of social life that I had already valued but never seemed to internalize as strength.

When interrogating this topic for myself, I found that strength comes in the very ordinary navigation of every day. It is in the empathy that we offer long before we are coerced. It is in the emotional labour that we offer up to ourselves to heal our traumas, and to our communities to create a network of support. It is in sensitivity. It is in community care because we know that to alienate one another is to bring destruction. It is in self-care, the other side of the coin, in which we offer ourselves the same care we offer to others. It is in caring for our bodies, minds, and spirits in the most intimate way because they are ours. It is in the contract with our network that states that we will give what we have to offer and will respect each other enough to say when we need recovery of our own. It is in boundary setting because setting our own boundaries better equips us to recognize and honour the boundaries of others.

Strength is in the feminized labour of the hearth and home. Maintaining basic needs and basic comforts. It is in the nurturing of the family that some of us provide (chosen and blood family alike). It is in activism where we rally around those in the margins and we demand better. It is in questioning of the fundamental systems of our everyday life and choosing an alternative path. It is in our differences. It is in the bravery we show when we must face the danger of being our non-normative selves and practicing our non-normative lives.

Strength is in every heart learning its own worth and it is also in those who are still discovering it. Strength is in the ability to be humbled and to admit to wrongdoing. It is in the commitment to do and be better. It is in the accountability we have to those around us. It is in being grounded in the earth and in community. It is in making a proper home in our own skin and being in our own bodies, in the ownership of our bodies and our sexuality. It is in sexual healing, however that looks. It is in showing ourselves self-compassion when we can’t quite manage self-love. It is in going out into the world every day to face down the very violences that have so far defined our strength.

Our strength is in the queer, the disabled, the racialized, the poor, and the further marginalized, but not merely because of what they, and we, have endured. Our strength is in us because of the unique things that we have to offer parallel to enduring pain and violence, the things that bring their own virtues.

After percolating on all of these things it seems a grim shame to me that these were not included in my original conceptualization of my strength. These other indicators of strength are important to conceptualize, at least in part, outside of the endurance of pain.


Stories of our strength: women, femmes, and non-binary folks respond to the question

Kassandra:

Your question reminded me a story from my family. The period of Junta in Greece, my mom and her brothers were chased and some of them exiled for their left-wing political action. In her 20’s my mom was the only woman in the family who decided to escape to another country in response to the daily interrogation and police abuse. Although she was coming from a working-class family with no educational background, while she was in a foreign country, being a woman and not being able to speak the language, she decided to be the first in the family who will try to study. However, she faced lots of racist attacks both for her race, her class and her gender. She was scared, and lonely, and in pain. One day after an incident when someone mocked her for being Greek, poor, incapable woman, she got truly devastated and she went to meet one of her brothers who was also staying in the country. Her brother told her a phrase that I’ve seen my mother return to whenever she is looking for her place of strengths to stand on. He said “whenever someone mocks you for your class or your race or your gender, remind yourself of Lernaean Hydra (from the Greek mythology). They might think that you are beheaded, but like Lernaean Hydra once a head is off, another one will grow and then you will still have voice to protest. Take your time to let your next head to grow and then protest!’ I don’t know if that answers your question, but I guess what I have learnt about what strengths look like for my mum is that it’s related to protest in its own pace and as an ongoing life process. I hope that make sense.

Anita:

I really love Kassandra’s contribution. It connects to how I relate to the idea of strength being social more than individual. There is a lot of pain and difficulties for marginalised peoples and the dominant discourse is to endure and especially endure alone. I take a different stance. Sometimes we have to find someone else we can share with. Even when family lets you down, work colleagues or fellow activists disappoint us there is someone, an exception who we can connect with, even if only in memory. Sharing strengthens us and undermines isolation. Sharing can promote organisation and often brings along laughter and solace. In my group of sisterfriends we practice sharing and thinking through actions, consequences etc. In other words, we get practical.

Laura:

For me strength can be a metaphor of structure (this could be organic and growing or built of materials or simply a metaphor of posture and position which allows us to hold ourselves strong) which makes other things possible – connection with others in the present, a centring of the ways we prefer to be ourselves, enough places to hold hope and joy, connection with our important histories, enough stability to be open to experience and change, creating spaces for others to grow, quiet places to reflect and reconsider, as well as endurance.

Marta:

Strength can be seen as not giving up on dreams. A metaphor can be like the little green plant raising from the snow and with time becoming a bush, a tree a flower. Follow our heart´s call. Birds gathering branches and things for a nest where they are going to put their eggs that will support babies someday.

Jessica:

My ability to set my ego / self aside to become wholly present to the experience of other life; my plants and heir happiness in new soil, my friend as they live their lives. It requires strength from me emotionally and psychologically to take a time out and allow myself to connect fully to another reality, immerse in it, ask myself IF in ways that aren’t about psyching myself out, but are about connecting within equally without. Also, physically, finding joy in the added effort of another 5lbs more. Am I understanding and getting it, or did I miss something?

Jacie:

Ease to explore & realize your priorities OR in other words, liberty of determination

My daughters would say it’s in my smile–perhaps it’s in acceptance?

Juliana:

Knowing your truth and priorities and being able to hold on to them even in the face of lies and distractions that society aims at you.

A Conversation

Shannon: It seems tied to power a lot in jobs and social power too. It’s not an easy question to answer though. The main places my brain is jumping to are enduring pain or else just professional type athletes. It’s like a brain-teaser. At first, I thought maybe there was a trick to it. Maybe there still is.

Tank: Challenging the status quo. Challenging dichotomy. Challenging the notion that we are not part of nature. Nurturing power-with instead of power-over/challenging hierarchies. Loving self, despite patriarchies constant attempts to tell us that we have no value.

Shannon: I interpreted this so differently than you and I’m pretty sure it’s because I feel completely powerless the vast majority of the time

Tiffany: That’s so valid, Shan. It kind of IS a trick question, except the trick isn’t in the question, it’s in the way so many of us have learned to view our strength only in terms of endurance and pain.

Tank: Well that is an important finding! Power is very relational, for example my white or class privilege makes it safer for me to challenge. The question helped me realize that I mostly frame this idea of ‘strength’ as endurance of pain. All interpretations help to understand a concept this big.

Shannon: Tiffany, no but it was that I didn’t think of it in terms of *my own* strength at all OR what *I* think of as being strong. Just other people. I missed the point so much that I didn’t even get tricked by the trick. I wasn’t even on the same page.

Shannon: Tank, yeah it was just surprising to me and everything makes me cry so that was not surprising to me at all.

Tank: Shannon, you pointed out how power works systemically = very useful. It is revolutionary to have this conversation about how we have noticed that pain endurance is the main definition of strength for non-men in this society. I found your thoughts very useful.

Tiffany: You noodles are making me tear up right now. I would add this moment of compassion and collaboration as one definition of strength – the strength we find together and share with each other.

Shannon: Tank, thank you

Tank: Oooooo it all makes me cry as well. Probably a strength, ha!

Shannon: Must be

Michelle:

i offer resistance in hope

i offer resistance in losing hope

i offer resistance through words

i offer resistance through silence

i offer resistance in my presence

i offer resistance in my absence

you can offer all your hate,

and still i will offer you my resistance

I don’t think I’ve ever really intentionally examined the multiple meanings of strength, particularly outside the idea of enduring pain. But of course, there are other definitions. This reflection has me thinking about ‘giving up’ and resignations as strength. I wrote this poem during a difficult time where I made the decision to resign from an organisation I had dedicated so much time and energy to. At the time, I felt like resigning meant that I was giving up on the struggle, abandoning the women and non-binary folk I was in solidarity with.

I stayed for so long because I felt that surely my cis-gendered, professional privilege and 9 years experience in the sector and dogged determination to create change would help transform the institution. Staying and therefore enduring pain was in part an act of bearing witness, part stubbornness, part hope for change, and part inflated responsibility.

Feminist work within institutions demands ongoing resistance and endurance, but as Sara Ahmed asks: ‘But what if we do this work and the walls stay up? What if we do this work and the same things keep coming up? What if our own work of exposing a problem is used as evidence there is no problem? Then you have to ask yourself: can I keep working here? What if staying employed by an institution means you have to agree to remain silent about what might damage its reputation?’

Staying was strength, but it also became complicity. My position as a woman of colour and public support for the gender diverse community was being used as evidence that there was no problem with racism or transphobia. In the final months of my employment, it had dawned on me that my presence was inadvertently upholding the walls of Colonial Patriarchal Feminism2 and trans exclusive radical feminism. The ongoing denial, gaslighting and attacks made me realise that I was being played.

So I quit, I resigned.

A couple of months later, I held a retirement party and invited all my friends join me in quitting with giving any more time and energy into systems that sustain the white cis-heteropatriarchy. So, with a baseball bat and some unwanted fruit, we took to the field and smashed all the symbolically toxic fruits from our lives. It was the best. I have since come to appreciate that resistance and strength comes in many forms, both in staying and leaving. But for now, I feel a great sense of freedom and pride that I can still do feminist work, and I would say more effectively and joyfully, outside of those systems.

[1] https://feministkilljoys.com/2016/08/27/resignation-is-a-feminist-issue/

2 Cheree Moreton coined the term Colonial Patriarchal Feminism or Colonial Patri-Fem for short, to describe how white feminists stigmatises and silences the one black voice in the organisation/environment

Miri:

Strength looks like self care, caring for friends and lovers, building family, resisting heteronormativity/racism/ableism/colonialism. Being out, embracing your identity whatever that may look like for you <3 <3 It doesn’t always have to look like enduring pain.

Suzanne:

I think strength for femmes is in prioritizing yourself and how much of your time and energy you offer to the outside world and why you offer it. So many femme folks feel like they can’t say no, or offer their time and energy to everyone who asks without prioritizing their own needs first, or evaluating whether they actually want to participate. The times I feel like I really identify strength in femmes is when I see someone identify an unreasonable ask and stand their ground, or prioritize their own well being over someone else’s. I think what makes it so magical when femme folks do this is that it usually isn’t done in an aggressive way, it’s the way many femmes can express themselves empathetically and not need to sacrifice vulnerability and emotionality in the process.

I can relate almost anything back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she has a line where she tells the other slayer Kendra that her emotions are what give her strength and that she is lucky to have them. For me, as someone who has struggled with mood issues and is definitely pretty sensitive and empathic, I totally identify with this. I feel EVERYTHING so deeply, and I have been told for so long that this is wrong or a burden to others, and frankly that’s BS. My emotions are a huge factor as to why I’m a bad ass and why I see myself as strong. Not just in enduring pain, but in being aware of how every little thing affects me, so I have learned to use this in the way that I take in new information and learn, and the ways I interact with the world. Masculine strength always seems to be tied to suppressing and ignoring emotions, and femme strength is emotional intelligence and awareness. Strength is seeing how emotionality and “rationality” are woven together, and using that intelligence to make the tough calls. It’s seeing the entire picture when the world tells you it’s not there.

Wow that all just came out of my head all at once, so thank you for that prompt and I hope it’s helpful!

Candice:

When I was first given this question, it was very difficult for me to think of feminine strength that didn’t involve any pain at all. After talking with my family, I realized one of the main strengths of a woman is their amazing willpower. It is one of the things that allows us to be able to function through unimaginable pain and discomfort.

I believe most of our best qualities comes from our ability to be resolute once we’ve made up our minds to do something.

The strength to be able to create art, relationships and solutions out of little to nothing.

The strength required to bear the worries and problems of those around us when we choose to take on a nurturing role.

The strength to persevere through mentally and emotionally challenging spots in our lives.

The strength it takes to search for who you are and to give yourself space for mistakes as well as growth.

I find often times we discredit some of our strength and power because we aren’t functioning at the levels we expect of ourselves. But I have discovered that sometimes our strength can come from saying no, or from recognizing our limitations and allowing ourselves to exist in respect to that limit instead of overdoing it.

Like with any strength, it takes time to mould and develop a strength of mind. I think that’s why some of the most admired women have had decades to grow in their wisdom and willpower. However, unlike other strengths, the power of our minds deepen with time and experience.

Kalista:

Strength is existence. Existing as ourselves, fully and completely, without being property or object. Strength exists in the wholeness of true friendships and loving relationships that create space for us to be unabashedly ourselves. Strength exists in every pore of our body when we defy societal expectations, when we research our issues, when we change patriarchal policies, and when we find ways to keep on existing even when the world tells us not to or that we can but just not here. Strength is existence.

Erin:

When I think of female* strength I think of the strengths and characteristics that distinguish females from males traditionally. I think of traits that if they were more celebrated in leadership roles and sought after we may have a world with less war and conflict. Obviously there are always exceptions to these norms.

The traits of female strength I think of are compassion and patience. An often natural nurturing ability that sympathizes and allows women to be great listeners. The ability to multi-task and compartmentalize. The tendency to be able to see the bigger picture, see a situation from another perspective or see the effects of a decision much later down the line.

I think these are the core ones at least!

* Traditional definitions of “female” and “male” often include cisnormative understandings of sex and gender. Talking about these traditional roles can be important, especially when we understand that these understandings are not situated in any objective reality. This resource is intentionally trans and non-binary inclusive.

Tiffany

Sometimes I know that I am strong. But so many times, I do think of this strength in terms of what I have endured. I think about it in terms of pain, and struggle, in terms of what I have survived. I think about making it out alive, through multiple serious depressions. I think about the hostile voice that I lived with for a period of time, and that occasionally returns. I think about my history of self-harm, and I think that I am so strong to have found ways to alchemize all of that into the work that I do now as a narrative therapist and community organizer. I think, good job, me.

But when Andrea shared this question with me, it resonated somewhere deep in my heart. I wanted to find answers for my own strength, beyond these ideas of pain, struggle, endurance, survival. I wondered if there was anyway to understand my relationship to strength outside of these ideas.

And when I sent the first draft of this project to Andrea, she said, “Are you not doing your own entry in the project though, dear?”

It was hard to find these stories in my own internal library. They were quiet.

I thought about when I have felt my strength come close to me while I am joyful. I thought – sometimes strength is laughter. A good strong laugh is something I have had since I was a child! That’s strength, too.

And I thought about strength in hope. I thought about spending time with small children. My niephlings, and other children in my life. I thought about the strength of holding space for their joy, and for their learning. The strength of imagining a world with space for them despite my own fears for the future. I thought – sometimes strength is choosing hope when despair is equally close at hand.

I also thought about how sometimes strength is easier to access when I’m rested, peaceful, and at ease. At first, this thought made me uncomfortable. I thought, does this mean that I’m not really strong when I’m struggling? Does this mean I’ve been wrong about everything about myself? But I don’t think that’s the case.

I think that there are many different ways to be strong, and that one way of being strong is by allowing myself some ease. Sometimes when I feel rested and supported and cared for, that’s when I feel strongest.

And then there’s that little piece. “When I feel supported and cared for.” That part challenges the internalizing narratives, the individualizing narratives about strength. What might happen if I didn’t need to be strong on my own? What if I could imagine strength in community, strength in connection?

It’s not always about what I endure alone. Sometimes it’s about what I co-create with my communities.


Exploring your own strength

These are some questions to help you explore your own ideas about strength beyond metaphors of enduring pain.

  • What does it mean to be strong? Are there definitions of strength accessible to you that go beyond enduring pain?
  • Can you share a story of a time when you been strong in these ways? What allowed you to access this strength?
  • Are there other ways to be strong?
  • Who taught you about strength?
  • Can you remember seeing strength in a woman, femme, or non-binary person in your life?
  • Do any of these women, femmes, or non-binary folks know that you see strength in them? What has seeing this strength in their lives made possible in your own life?
  • Who in your life, living or no longer living, real or fictional, knows that you are strong?
  • What would you want women, femmes, and non-binary folks to understand about strength? Are there insider knowledges that you would want to share?

We (Andrea and Tiffany) would love to hear your stories of strength, and to keep this conversation about the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folks going.

We would also love to hear any response that you might have to the stories shared in this document.

If you would like to share your response, please email it to Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.


Andrea Oakunsheyld is a student at UBC in a Masters of Community and Regional Planning with a concentration in Indigenous Community Planning, a Fieldworker with Amnesty International Canada, aspiring theorist, community organizer and activist, bigender pagan witch, and nerd living and learning on the traditional and ancestral territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Her work includes grassroots activism, particularly in queer, women’s, and queer contexts; “calling in”; queer children’s literature and subversive literature; subversive cities; and community planning.

Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist, community organizer, writer, workshop facilitator, and tarot reader living and working on Treaty 7 land (Calgary, Alberta) where the traditional custodians are Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuut’ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearpaw, and Wesley First Nations, as well as the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III. They work primarily with queer, trans, disabled, neuroqueer, polyamorous, and other marginalized communities. If you would like to work with Tiffany, you can find them at:

www.tiffanysostar.com | sostarselfcare@gmail.com | @sostarselfcare

You can support more of this kind of community-led, collective narrative practice work by backing Tiffany’s Patreon at www.patreon.com/sostarselfcare


This project was initiated by Andrea Oakunsheyld in late July, and is now ready to share! These kinds of collaborative, community-led projects are among my favourite parts of my narrative work, and although they often take months or years to complete, it is always incredibly rewarding. If there’s a topic like this that you want to talk about turning into a project like this, get in touch with me!

International Men’s Day 2018

International Men’s Day 2018

Image description: a wooden heart among greenery. Text reads, “celebrating international men’s day”

International Men’s Day is celebrated every year on November 19. That’s today! (In my part of the world, at least. Belated greetings to my colleagues across the international date line!)

Image description: Twitter user @Erinkyan “happy international mens day, especially to trans men, disabled men, men of colour, queer men, mentally ill men, feminine men, elderly men, poor men, male survivors, and other vulnerable men. and a big fuck you to MRAs that further isolate and harm men in the name of misogyny.”

This post a celebration of this day, and also the official launch of a new project! Keep reading to find information about the new project at the end of this post.

There are so many ways that men are harmed and vulnerable under patriarchy. Because it’s not just patriarchy. It’s also ableism. Transantagonism. Racism and white supremacy. Colonialism. Ageism. Heterosexism. Patriarchy is a critical hub in this web of oppressions and privileges, but it is not the only hub, and it is not the only intersection that we need to address.

Men are differentially vulnerable.

They become more vulnerable the more they deviate from the ideal of white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, English-speaking, educated, middle-and-upper class, young, fit, neurotypical manhood.

Men are vulnerable in different ways.

Black men and boys face police violence at disproportionately high rates in both the United States and in Canada. Indigenous men and boys also face disproportionately high rates of police violence and incarceration. (This post at The Conversation examines Canada’s shameful treatment of Indigenous folks within the ‘justice’ system.)

Men are more likely to die of suicide (as this British Columbia Medical Journal discusses), and men who are victims of domestic violence (regardless of the gender of their abuser) are less likely to find support either socially or structurally (as this article by the BBC discusses).

Men who are victims of sexual assault, either as youths or as adults, also face a lack of social and structural support. Although there have been important shifts in this cultural landscape, particularly by men responding to #MeToo (Terry Crews most publicly), there is still a significant cultural pressure to maintain an idea of masculinity as impervious to harm (as this Atlantic article discusses). This pressure comes both from proponents of patriarchal masculinity who are invested in maintaining these rigid gender systems, and from some advocates who are invested in the idea of men-as-perpetrators. Acknowledging the vulnerability of men is destabilizing to patriarchy, but it is also destabilizing to some of the gendered ways of understanding violence that have helped women and feminists frame the issue of violence against women. As this article by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism notes, “The domestic violence movement historically framed its work on a gender binary of men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims.” (link is to a PDF)

This article by Scientific American also talks about violence by women, and makes the important point that, “To thoroughly dismantle sexual victimization, we must grapple with its many complexities, which requires attention to all victims and perpetrators, regardless of their sex. This inclusive framing need not and should not come at the expense of gender-sensitive approaches, which take into account the ways in which gender norms influence women and men in different or disproportionate ways.”

And it is important to also recognize that there are men who have been both victims of violence and have also used violence against others. These men are often unable to access any supports that recognize and respond to both sides of their story, since many services for survivors of sexual or domestic violence do not work with people who have used violence against others, and services for men who have used violence against others often do not include support for survivors.

Toxic masculinity invites men into violence and dominance, which means that men are often cut off from emotional supports and connections, and it also means that people around men are vulnerable to violence and dominance. Not all men accept this invitation into a specific kind of masculinity, but all men receive the invitation – patriarchy is the air we breathe.

And, just like it is men, women, and people of all genders who are harmed by these norms of masculinity, it is also true that men, women, and people of all genders uphold and support these norms of masculinity.

As Vivek Shraya writes in her fantastic book, I’m Afraid of Men:

“And so, I’m also afraid of women. I’m afraid of women who’ve either emboldened or defended the men who have harmed me, or have watched in silence. I’m afraid of women who adopt masculine traits and then feel compelled to dominate or silence me at dinner parties. I’m afraid of women who see me as a predator and whose comfort I consequently put before my own by using male locker rooms. I’m afraid of women who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag. I’m afraid of the women who, like men, reject my pronouns and refuse to see my femininity, or who comment on or criticize my appearance, down to my chipped nail polish, to reiterate that I am not one of them. I’m afraid of women who, when I share my experiences of being trans, try to console me by announcing “welcome to being a woman,” refusing to recognize the ways in which our experiences fundamentally differ. But I’m especially afraid of women because my history has taught me that I can’t fully rely upon other women for sisterhood, or allyship, or protection from men.”

That’s important to note, too. (Vivek’s book also speaks about the problem with the idea of the “good man,” and makes a strong argument for not using the term “toxic masculinity.” You can read more about that in this article by Vice. I highly recommend reading her book.)

But this is International Men’s Day, so let’s turn the focus back to men. And to a definition of men that is much more broad and expansive than the thin description of dominant masculinity, with its demands of ability and class and race and the tight confines of The Man Box (this page offers an overview of “The Man Box” study in Australia, which looked at men’s views and experiences of masculinity, and also includes a link to the full report).

There is no single truth about masculinity. (I am thankful for narrative therapy and its focus on multistoried lives and experiences. And I am thankful for Chimamanda Adichie and this TEDtalk about the dangers of a single story!)

Gendered assumptions about emotions mean that men, regardless of any other intersection of identity, are often not supported in their emotional lives. This leaves men at risk in their own lives, and less equipped to support their community members.

These issues are complex, and talking about them requires care and a willingness to invite complexity to the table.

If I’m honest, I found this post challenging to write.

This is partly because I am not a man. I have never experienced being read as a man in this patriarchal world. When I try to empathize with the experiences of men, I do so from my position as a non-binary individual who was assigned female at birth, as someone who is read as a “woman” by anyone who doesn’t know me.

But there are men in my life who have helped me begin to understand the complexities of being a man under patriarchy.

I am thankful for these men, who advocate for men’s issues and also support social justice. They challenge toxic masculinity (by which I mean, the gendered assumptions that invite men into performances of gender that are hostile to other genders, that coerce men into rejecting anything deemed “feminine”, that limit the range of emotions and emotional responses available to men, that locate successful masculinity in a specific performance of heterosexuality, ability, and capitalist productivity), and they look at this issue with nuance – toxic masculinity harms men, and it also harms everyone else.

So, how do men unlearn these hostile lessons of patriarchy? How do they learn other ways of being men?

I’m in the early stages of a collaborative project exploring how men have discovered feminism and learned about social justice. My goal is to speak with a wide range of men about their experiences, and create a collective document and resource that other men can learn from. If you would like to be part of this project, get in touch!

Image description: two books stacked with purple flowers on top. Text reads: “Men! Let’s talk about how you learned about feminism and social justice. A collective documentation project. Contact sostarselfcare@gmail.com”


If you appreciate this work, you can support me on Patreon!