This new project, which will become a zine or a collective document of some sort, is inspired by a community member who wanted to create a “map” of all the women and non-binary folks who have managed to live a life they want despite not having family support, and despite dealing with the fear and uncertainty that can come with acute illness and chronic pain.
This project reflects our collaborative desire to make this “map” possible – to bring together stories that will show some of the many ways forward through the compounded hardships of unsupportive family and what we might call “body problems” – illness and pain, but also the problems that can be invited into someone’s life by having a body that is deemed unacceptable in our ableist, fatphobic, transantagonistic, white supremacist culture.
We are looking at these factors together because there is often an expectation of family support in many of our cultures. When we fall on hard times, we are often advised turn to family. When we get sick, family is often expected to be there for us. Although we recognize that family is not always there, there’s still this dominant narrative that they will be, or at least that they should be. And when they aren’t, it can leave us feeling isolated, vulnerable, questioning our own value and our place in the world. Experiences of rejection, dismissal, or an absence of support can stay with us for a long time.
We are looking for stories from trans and cis women, non-binary folks, intersex folks, and trans men who have experienced an unsupportive family of origin paired with body problems, and who have continued to live a badass life despite these compounding factors.
(Although cis men also experience these compounding factors, and their experiences are valid and worth listening to, in this project we are also interested in the particular ways in which misogyny and sexism, which are experienced by anyone who is not a cis man, intersect with these experiences. If you are a cis man and want to share your story of experiencing these compounding hardships of unsupportive family and body problems, please reach out to me – I am happy to create a supplementary zine, or a section within this project! But the initial project is focused on non-men because this is an important part of the original context.)
These stories will be collected and turned into a small zine or collective document, and we hope that this resource will offer some hope for folks in this position, including the community member who inspired this project!
When we then also experience body problems, particularly body problems that impact our ability to find employment, to engage in cherished hobbies or activities, or to access social spaces and support, the lack of family support can become even more difficult to deal with. This is particularly true in contexts where the social support net is being eroded – where welfare, assisted living, disability pensions, income support, housing support, and other supports are difficult to access or not adequate to support our lives.
And yet, we know that people get through these hardships.
We know that there are disabled folks with no family support who are living rich and precious lives.
We know that there are so many people who have experienced these hardships and gone on to be successful on their own terms.
We want to collect those stories.
We want to pull those threads of hope together, and weave a safety net of stories for people who don’t yet see the way through to a life that feels possible.
You are welcome to write whatever feels right for you, and we welcome poetry, essays, art, creative non-fiction, or whatever format works for you. The length of the piece can be flexible, but ideally not more than 750-ish words.
If you would like help with the writing, get in touch with me and we can arrange an interview and I can help write up your story.
We hope to make this project available in early 2020, so please send in your contributions by mid-December.
If you would like some prompts to guide your writing, consider:
What does your culture tell you about how families should treat each other?
What had you hoped to receive in terms of support from your family?
What do you think that families should offer to each other?
What does this say about what you value in family relationships? (Care, support, being there for each other, etc.)
How did you learn to value this, and how have you held onto this value despite hard times?
Is there anyone in your life, past or present, who knows that you value this kind of supportive relationship?
Have you been able to find this kind of support in other relationships?
What have you held onto as you get through the times of feeling unsupported by family?
How have you navigated the body problems that have been present in your life?
Is there anyone in your life who has supported you in getting through these body problems?
What do you cherish about your life now?
What has made it possible for you to get to a life that you want to live?
Is there anything that you would want other people who are dealing with unsupportive families and body problems to know?
The other day I responded to a post about politics and said:
I feel like the last couple years have really pushed me away from the faith I had in electoral politics, and there are times when I feel so much grief for losing that thread of hope. Most of the time I am thankful, because letting go of that opens up space to do other things and to imagine other ways of making change, but sometimes it does feel like a loss, and it is a feeling of grief.
Maybe there needs to be a little collective narrative projects for newly disillusioned folks to talk about this grief, which really doesn’t have a lot of space for expression.
Well, here is that little collective narrative project!
Over the next few weeks (until November 8), I’ll be collecting stories about our feelings about politics in 2019.
Submit your piece of poetry, art, or non-fiction by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions will ideally not be more than 1000 words, but, as with all of these projects, I’m flexible.
If you are struggling with how to express your feelings or what to write, there are a few options. You can get in touch with me and we can have a chat that will hopefully help you clarify what you want to express, or you can use the following narrative questions to guide your writing:
When you think about the current state of electoral politics, what are the feelings that are evoked?
Are these feelings the same, similar, or not at all similar to feelings that you used to have about electoral politics?
If your feelings have changed, do you remember a specific experience or story that contributed to this change?
What do you miss about your earlier feelings, if there has been a change?
Do you have a sense of grief or disillusionment?
What are you grieving?
What feels like it is lost or more distant?
Do you have a sense of what you wish or hope that electoral politics could be like?
What does this hope say about what you value?
Where does this hope come from – are there particular political histories or thinkers who have inspired and nurtured this hope?
What do you hold onto when difficult feelings about politics arise for you? What, or who, keeps you going?
What are the actions that you are taking in your life that align with your hopes and values?
Have you ever had a moment of realizing the elected officials or the institutions of power were not responding in alignment with your values, and taking some kind of action? This action may be as small as reaching out to an LGBTQIA2+ friend when legislation threatens our safety, or it may be something like reading the 291 Calls to Justice in the MMIWG Final Report, or getting involved in community organizing and protests. People are never passive recipients of harm and trauma, and I would like to include stories of response in this zine!
My hope is that, regardless of the outcome of the Canadian federal election that is happening today, this zine will bring together stories of how we are continuing to do work in our communities, how we are continuing to hold onto our values despite our feelings of disillusionment and grief over the state of politics. I hope that it will bring our voices together, and give us a sense of how we can move forward together, organizing together, supporting each other, doing the work of responding to the problems in our lives regardless of the politicians who hold so much power (and the corporations who hold even more).
I’m looking forward to your contribution!
(Although this zine is inspired by the Canadian federal election, contributions are welcome from anyone. These feelings about politics span so many spaces.)
You may have noticed a new addition to the top menu, a link to the page for An Unexpected Light, the speculative fiction and narrative therapy course that will be launching on October 1. As of August 15, all of the scholarship spaces are filled, but there are still 11 paid spaces available and negotiating an extended or alternative payment plan is totally possible.
This post is a copy of the email sent out to people who have either enrolled in An Unexpected Light, or who have signed up to my Thinkific site. You can do either of those things here!
Phototropism, first defined in 1899, is the mechanism that causes plants to orient towards light. (I anticipate that our journey together will include both the phototropism of turning towards the light of hopeful stories, and also the bioluminescence of creating our own hopeful stories.)
First, a little teaser of some of our content (which I’m hoping will inspire you to enroll, if you haven’t yet, or to let your friends know about this course!)
In the lead-up to the course starting on October 1, I’m going to share some of the great writing that didn’t make it into the syllabus, and some writing about texts that are in the syllabus.
First, Susan Jane Bigelow’s story A Memory of Wind, in Glittership (so you can listen to the audio or read the text).
I didn’t include this story, although it would be a great fit for when we’re working on memory in month 4. But I loved it, so I’m including it here.
Second, this video about Janelle Monae’s science fiction. Although this video was made before Dirty Computer (which we’ll be watching as one of our texts), the points about how she uses music, dance, and costume are all super relevant to the later video. I didn’t include this in the course, but it’s also worth a watch!
And now, the question.
The first two of the textbooks have arrived, and I am thrilled! Octavia’s Brood and Funambulist no. 24: Futurisms are in my hot little hands, and Witchbody is waiting for me at Shelf Life Books. The only one we’re waiting on is Variations on Your Body, which I anticipate receiving within a week or two.
This means, of course, that folks who have signed up early can get their textbooks early, too! As soon as all four are here, I’ll start mailing them out.
So, if you have already enrolled in the course, let me know, dearest phototropic readers and bioluminescent writers, whether you would prefer to receive your textbooks in physical or digital format. If you would prefer your books in physical form, please also send me your address.
Lastly, if you have any questions, especially if you’re on the fence about whether to enroll, please let me know!
And if you can think of anywhere that I should send information about the course, or if you know anyone who might be interested, I would love to hear that, too.
I’ll be sending out a few of these messages with teaser content as we approach the course starting on Oct. 1.
One goal is to generate excitement for the course, another is to share some of the delicious content that didn’t fit into the course, and the last is to start getting some feedback from you about what kind of content most resonates, so that I can tweak the course before it starts.
Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable.
This is an invitation to join me in writing 100 love letters to this world. An invitation to spend 100 intentional moments loving this world, and documenting this love. Finding 100 things to love in this world, or loving one thing in this world 100 times. Being present in this world, and seeing its complexities, holding space for what is terrible and for what is beautiful.
This world, which I propose we love with intention and with tangible actions, is full of grief and suffering and injustice, and many of us are resisting, responding. That core of recognizing and responding to injustice is central to this project.
Why speak of thriving and love when there are so many massive, urgent problems that need to be confronted? To write about the potential or trust and care, at this time in history, could seem like grasping optimistically at straws as the world burns. But durable bonds and new complicities are not a reprieve or an escape; they are the very means of undoing Empire.
Nick Montgomery and carla bergman, Joyful Militancy
Loving this world in a time of compounding crisis and active, necessary response can be challenging and it can feel counter-intuitive. But as I move through this difficult time in my own life, and as I witness community members similarly moving through fear, and grief, and anger, and despair… I find love and connection more and more critical.
Community care, connection, and the ability to recognize and express love; these are not just a reprieve or an escape, as Montgomery and bergman point out. They are the means by which we can respond to injustice.
And so, 100 love letters to this world.
To this world. And to those of us who are in this world, fighting for this world, fighting for each other within this world.
To all survivors today: your time is precious, your energy is precious, you are precious. Your love is precious, your relationships are precious. And I don’t mean precious like cute. I mean precious like invaluable like massive like power like transcendent.
The goal of this project is not to stifle resistance or to turn our focus away from injustice. But rather to find a way to be in relationship with this world – this world that we have, the physical world, the social world, the emotional world that we find ourselves in right now, unique to each of us – that allows for love and struggle. I am not looking for a quick fix or a cure for the problems that we are facing; the idea of a “cure” for trauma is fundamentally ableist, and I reject it.
The idea that survivorhood is a thing to “fix” or “cure,” to get over, and that the cure is not only possible and easy but the only desirable option, is as common as breath. It’s a concept that has deep roots in ableist ideas that when there’s something wrong, there’s either cured or broken and nothing in between, and certainly nothing valuable in inhabiting a bodymind that’s disabled in any way.”
Leah Lakshmi Piepza-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
We are facing climate crisis, and seeing the effects more and more clearly. Time is short. We are at, and passed, many critical tipping points.
We are also facing an emboldened and increasingly powerful right wing, fueled by capitalism, climate denial, white supremacy, and cis hetero patriarchy.
Within my own heart, and within my communities, there is despair, hopelessness, existential dread. How do we move forward? How do we continue breathing, living, loving, in this context? How do we stay connected when we are in such pain, and when we are anticipating so much more pain?
It is easier to scroll the newsfeed endlessly, to think about collapsing insect populations and melting glaciers and rolled back rights and ongoing colonial violence, to think about these things rather than engaging with them. To grieve in an abstract and disconnected way. It is harder, and I am less likely, to go outside, to attend a rally, to have coffee with a friend, to breathe the air that I still can breathe, to see the moon in the sky, to feel the ground under my feet, to hear water moving through rivers and streams and in raindrops.
Moving from the abstract to the material is difficult, because it means facing what is at stake. Feeling my own body on the line with this world.
Underpinning so much of the despair is the sense of impending and worsening scarcity. Many of us have been so deeply steeped in capitalism and capitalism’s story about humans as inherently greedy, as hoarders and accumulators, that it is hard for some of us, for me, to think about scarcity without wanting to retreat. To turn inward, to accept the neoliberal premise of individualization, to become ever more an island.
Disconnection is a coping strategy. There is value in disconnection, in avoidance, in the inward turn. There are times when it is just what we need in order to continue on. But for myself, and for some of my community members, there is a way in which disconnection has stopped being supportive of my life and has become too heavy. I want to change it.
When I notice how much easier it is to access feelings and stories that close off acts of living and resistance, that’s when I know I need to interrupt the disconnection and find a way back. That’s where I’m at now. And that’s why this project exists.
Whatever comes next will be hard, and it will leave most of us hurting. We can learn from disability justice work, from racial justice work, from queer and trans justice work, from all the community workers who have come before us into apocalyptic trauma and have found a way to stay connected. We can take their wisdom and ask: How will we love this world? How will we love ourselves in this world? How will we love each other in this world?
Those are the questions I hope to ask with this project. And I hope that by bringing our love to this world, we can start co-creating possible futures together, or even just co-creating the possibility of imagining a possible future.
Your love letters can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like. A single word or a ten-page billet-doux. A photograph, a drawing, a poem, a deep inhale. A conversation with a friend about what there is to love in this world, a moment in the mirror, a short story, a long story, a postcard. Love letters can take so many forms, and all of them are welcome.
All that is required is that you do this intentionally, that you find some way to connect with love for this world.
And your love, just like your love letters, can take many forms. Love can coexist with despair. Love can fuel anger. Love and grief know each other well. This project is not a demand for “positivity.” It is, instead, an invitation to connection.
This project will run from the New Moon on June 3 2019, to the Full Moon on September 14 2019.
Following the project, I will be collecting the love letters into a zine.
You can participate on social media by tagging your posts #100loveletters. If you’d like to receive my love letters in your email, you can sign up for the 100 Love Letters to This World email list. I’ll be sending out my own love letters throughout the project, and also sending out any letters that you submit to be included. You can submit those letters by emailing them to me at email@example.com.
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!
(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!)