(This post was originally written for my tarot blog.)
I am tired of watching the people in my life suffer at the hands and words of people who claim to love them.
And it does not escape my notice that it is more often the femmes, the women, the disabled, the neurodivergent, the vulnerable who are experiencing violence and abuse from their partners.
I am overwhelmed with listening to people who consult me for narrative therapy, and who consult me as a friend, talk about what has been done to them, talk about what has been said to them, talk about what has been said about them, and to hear them questioning themselves with the oppressive voices of our culture.
Was it really so bad?
He didn’t mean it.
Am I too needy?
He was drinking.
They were having a panic attack.
Everything I say makes her angry.
He really tries.
Maybe it’s not so bad.
Maybe it’s not so bad.
Of course they doubt themselves! Our culture chronically gaslights marginalized communities. Marginalized communities are often operating within transgenerational trauma, poverty, scarcity (if not in our families, then in our communities). Marginalized communities may also have to contend with other structural and systemic issues that make naming abuse and violence more challenging – Black and Indigenous communities are at such increased risk of violence from any system. Seeking help often means finding more violence.
There is so much normalization of violence in our culture. And although it is not an issue that only impacts women, or is only perpetuated by men, there are patterns. They are painful patterns to witness.
One of my friends recently posted this open letter to men:
Just wanted to let you know I am so over it. I talk to your partners every day. I see their tears and listen to their self flagellation in the effort to make you happy. I watch them cram themselves in tiny boxes so they don’t threaten you. I fume as they suggest, gently, kindly, if it’s not too much trouble, that you consider their needs, but your wants are more important. Men, I watch you casually ask for sacrifice as if it were your due. I seethe as your partners ask for the simplest things of you, and you just don’t even bother. I see you go through the motions and call it love, when it doesn’t even pass the bar for respect. And then, as it all falls apart you claim you need a chance, as if you haven’t been given dozens, that you didn’t know, as if you hadn’t been told relentlessly, and that you can change, as long as you won’t be held accountable.
Men, I am so over watching your partners unilaterally trying to fix relationship problems that are yours. I am tired of knowing your partners better than you. I am exhausted having to buoy them through the hard times because you cannot be bothered. I am tired of you cheapening what love means by buying the first box of chocolates you see (not even their favourite) and calling it an apology but changing nothing.
Don’t hurt my people. Men, do better or go home.
And still, the questioning. Maybe it wasn’t so bad? Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Because each incident on its own might not be so bad. Might be a bad day, a bad choice. Might be a bad moment. It’s not the whole story. Maybe it’s not so bad.
And on its own, maybe it isn’t.
Image description: The Ten of Swords from the Next World Tarot.
From the guidebook by Cristy C. Road:
This is the final straw, and the 10 of Swords is exhausted from counting. They have lost themselves, over and over, in the name of love, self-worth, trauma, post-traumatic stress, healing the body from abuse, healing the mind from manipulation, and unwarranted, non-stop loss. The 10 knows healing, they studies it and have been offered power, candles, bracelets, and messages from their ancestors through local prophets who run their favorite Botanica. They are listening, but they are stuck. Proving to their community that while they have known power, they have known pain they don’t deserve.
The 10 of Swords asks you to trust your pain, own your suffering, and don’t deny yourself of the care you deserve from self, and the validation from your community. That validation is the root of safety. The 10 of Swords believes now is the time to ask your people for safety.
I pulled this card after another conversation with a beloved member of my community about an incident of misogyny in an intimate relationship.
I had brought this question to the deck – “How do we invite accountability into our intimate relationships?”
I wanted to know –
How do we create the context for change without putting the burden of emotional labour onto the person already experiencing trauma from the choices and behaviours of their partner?
How do we deepen the connection to values of justice, compassion, and ethical action, for people who have been recruited into acts of violence and abuse?
How do we resist creating totalizing narratives about people who use violence and abuse? How do we resist casting them as monsters? How do we invite accountability while also sustaining dignity?
How do we, to use a quote by one of my fellow narrative therapists, “thwart shame”? (Go watch Kylie Dowse’s video here!)
In moments of distress, I often turn to the tarot. When I don’t know how to ask the right questions, and I don’t know what to say or do, I turn to the tarot. Tarot cards are excellent narrative therapists.
I flipped this card over and the image moved me immediately. These acts of intimate partner violence and abuse do not occur in a vacuum. It is not just one sword in the back.
A misogynist comment from a partner, directed towards a woman or femme, joins the crowd of similar comments she, they, or he has received their entire life.
A racist comment from a partner, directed towards a racialized person, joins the pain of living an entire life surrounded by white supremacy and racism.
An ableist comment from a partner, a transantagonistic comment, a sanist or healthist or fatphobic or classist comment – these comments join the crowd.
And so, how do we invite accountability while preserving dignity? How do we resist totalizing narratives of either victims or perpetrators, resist recreating systems of harm in our responses to harm?
See the whole picture.
Even though it is so painful to look at, see the whole thing.
Rather than locating violence and abuse as problems that are localized to a relationship, individualized and internalized to a single person making choices, recognize that these things happen in context. And for many folks, these contexts are incredibly painful.
It will take time, and patience, and compassion, and gentleness, and a willingness to do the hard work of both validation and accountability. It will take community to find safety.
We need each other to say, “it is that bad, even if this incident might not be.”
When the victim-blaming, isolating, individualizing voices start clamoring, we need each other to say, “this is not your fault.”
We need something more nuanced than “leave,” “report.”
We need to show up for each other, with each other. We need safety. We need validation.
Can we do this by asking questions like:
How did you learn what it means to be in relationship?
What examples of making choices in relationships have you seen around you? What was being valued in those choices?
Does what you’ve learned about being in relationship align with what you want for yourself, and what you value for yourself?
Do the actions you’re choosing in your own relationship align with your values or hopes?
Who has supported you in your values and hopes?
Do you share any hopes or values with your partner(s)?
What have you learned about violence and abuse in relationships? About who experiences violence and abuse? About who enacts violence and abuse?
When did you learn this?
Does this learning align with what you’ve experienced in your own relationship?
What insider knowledges would you add to this learning, from your own experience?
Have you ever taken a stand against violence and abuse in your relationship?
What enabled you to take this stand?
When violence or abuse shows up in your relationship, are you able to name it? Have you ever been able to name it? What supports this ability?
What have you learned about what it means to be accountable in relationship?
Do you have supports available to you that invite accountability while sustaining dignity?
Who can support you in being accountable for the actions you’ve taken when you’ve been recruited into violence or abuse? Who can support you in asking for accountability from a partner who has been recruited into violence or abuse?
Here are some resources if you’re looking for ways to respond to intimate partner violence:
The Stop Violence Everyday project.
Critical Resistance’s The Revolution Starts at Home zine.
The Creative Interventions toolkit.
(This post was originally posted on my tarot blog. You can find it here.)
Me: Okay, let’s set realistic goals for 2019.
Also me: Yes! Fully agreed. Okay. Let’s say… A zine every month, two blog posts every month, start an email list and send out an email every week, complete one collective document every month, write a book, 10 narrative sessions every week, revamp and run all the online courses, and take one day off every week. And present at some conferences and publish some papers. And get healthy! And keep the house clean. And get back to Stick Figure Sundays! And maybe start another year-long project. This is going to be great. Keep it realistic.
Me: … wait …
Also me: You’re right. Also read a book EVERY WEEK!!!!!!!!
There’s a running list, in a little cream-coloured notebook, of all the projects I hope to complete. Sometimes I read through the list, see the checkmarks and the projects still coming up or in progress, and I feel excited and accomplished. This is how I like to engage with my goals – always a longer list than I can finish, because it is joyful to do the work that I love.
But many times, and especially at the end of the month and the end of the year when I assess what I accomplished in comparison to what I hoped to accomplish. In those moments, I see everything outstanding and I feel a sharp mix of shame for being so ambitious and shame for not getting enough done. Shame squared. This is nothow I like to engage with my goals, but so often, that’s what ends up happening.
A couple weeks ago, I posted an invitation to contribute to a conversation on this topic.
The new year is coming!!
Some of us (I absolutely do speak of myself here) end up being aggressively recruited into the whole “New Years Resolution” thing, with all the pressure and guilt and shame and excitement and joy and enthusiasm that entails.
I sat down with my journal for a couple hours this afternoon and spent some time starting to plan out my year, and I was so conscious of the pressures of capitalism, ableism, and individualism in my thinking.
At this time of year, we can be influenced by discourses that say all we have to do is “dream it,” and when that doesn’t work, we can end up feeling like we’ve failed. And! At the same time! We can end up feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of dreams that feel entirely unattainable.
If you are a goal setter and year planner, how do you navigate that process?
I want to put together a small collective document to bring some community care to this process that often ends up feeling so individual.
Send me your thoughts about surviving the goal setting season! Comment, send a message, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your comments in by December 19, so I can have the post ready to go by December 21!
Image description: A to-do list with a pen. (Surviving) 2019 Goal Setting. What we want to accomplish and how we handle the pressure. A little collective document project.
I loved the responses.
Lindsay’s comment echoed my own experiences. She shared, “I find this so challenging. Knowing how much I did not get done has started to push me to stop setting goals, because it is starting to feel futile and like the goals just create undue pressure and guilt – SO not the effect I’m seeking! But I love goal setting and when it feels positive, it’s SO good! I am trying to shift my perspective by tracking “achievements” daily. Some days this might be “took a rest day” or “cooked a healthy meal.” And then there are times where it’ll be “ran in a 10K race” or “presented at my first conference.” I think I need to look back and see that I’ve made positive movements, even if they didn’t always match or meet my goals.”
How do we balance the joy and motivation that can come from recognizing the positive effects of our actions, and the progress in our lives, with the invitations to failure that can come with certain practices of goal-setting?
Or do we even need to “balance” these, which might imply that the preferred state would be to have both in some kind of equilibrium. Is there a way that we can decline to participate in the comparisons and expectations?
Can we find a new way to talk about goals, accomplishments, success and failure?
Some folks had ideas!
Emma shared, “I’m planning on levelling up in a few areas and gaining a new skill or 3 or 5 💗 I’ve got some talent points to carefully spend this year. Increase my damage against the patriarchy. Day to day stuff ya know. This way of looking at it helps me hide my terror at another year of gardening and canning but this year with a 6-month-old! This isn’t just a new year thing, it’s been a way of looking at my overall healing as well.”
The idea of approaching healing as a game, particularly as a roleplaying game that gives you the opportunity to put your “skill points” into areas that you choose, is so delightful and interesting.
It has me wondering about things like what might become possible if we imagined our goal setting projects as quests in a game? Would might shift in our sense of “self” if we imagined ourselves as characters, with skillsets that we could increase through experience points and choice?
If you were playing a game of your life, what class of character would you be? A ranger, a paladin, a rogue, a healer, a warrior? Would you be multi-classed?
(Because my little cream-coloured notebook needs more projects, a thought occurs to me: If I put together a collective document or project on the topic of roleplaying games and their role in our lives, would you want to participate? Let me know!)
Rachel also had an idea about the format of goal-setting. She shared:
Just the act of listing goals in a bullet point list (how most people do it) leads to a total and complete loss of proportion.
Here’s one goal I have for next year next to my major focus goal from this past year:
- Learn to cook squid
- Find a post-doctoral job
Those are not the same size at all. The time/number of steps/degree of complexity/degree of that being under my actual control at all are entirely different. But they are the exact same amount of space on a list. So that’s something I will be being careful of in the New Year.
This has me curious – have you found ways to format your documentation of goals so that it’s more representative than a bullet-point list? How do you create the document of your goals?
A couple folks said that reflecting on accomplishments rather than setting new goals was helpful for them.
Dottie shared, “I never know what my life is gonna be like that far in advance so I never know what a realistic goal even looks like lol I am queen of the short term goals. ‘Gonna put my laundry away.’ ‘I hope I can make a pear crisp before these pears go bad but who knows!’ ‘Gonna look back in awe at everything I’ve managed to accomplish.’ ‘Gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish.’”
This last piece – “gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish” – feels so important.
Have you ever been able to set something aside because you don’t have spoons to finish? How did you learn to do that?
Richelle also uses reflection as a tool. And her idea turned into the ten-day group that has been running since the 21st! (You can find more information in this facebook album, and you can still join by sending me an email.)
Richelle shared, “I want to do a New Years count down – my top 10 things I’m proud of this year. The pressure to look forward can be overwhelming and I think I want to celebrate what I already am. If media gets to fill time to let staff chill by repeating the awesome that’s happened this year, why can’t I?”
Speaking of chilling…
Shawny shared, “I like to keep it silly/small. Two years ago my resolution was “wear a bra as little as possible.” I met it! It worked great! I’m back to bras, but it was a wonderful year. This year my resolution is “wash my hands more.” It’s also a nice subversion tactic when people ask, especially as a person in a fat body who gets bombarded with extra toxic weight loss goals.”
Rei shared the role of Hygge in helping them work through the process of 2019 goal-planning:
I had a bit of a “lightbulb” moment the other night and a lot of my goal planning for 2019 kind of all fell into place, and along with it, coherent enough thoughts to send something in to you about the goal setting collective document!
I’ll say that I don’t like the idea of “new year’s resolutions” because they tend to set up extremely specific and often unattainable goals that we’ll feel incredibly guilty over when we inevitably fall short. But I do like to pick a couple of key things or areas of my life that I really want to focus on throughout the coming months (I can always adjust course whenever I need to, and I often do reevaluate my goals throughout the year).
My lightbulb moment started with Hygge. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Danish concept of Hygge (could be roughly translated to coziness, comfort, connection, safety, warmth, and a lot of other related and much more nuanced concepts if you’re not familiar with the term). I really enjoy the idea of exploring Hygge as a way to connect in a spiritual sort of way with my Scandinavian roots and so I know that’s something I want to focus on as one of my goals for 2019. My next step after the main goal is to brainstorm and list a few ways in which to accomplish that goal. I always keep these things as flexible items I can work on over time rather than hard and fast things that NEED to get done so as to realistically honor what my chronically ill self is capable of. While I was listing things to work on to incorporate Hygge into my 2019, I started to think more about what I wanted my life to look like all around, and settled on a couple more areas I want to focus on, mainly Art & Writing, certain organizational/responsibilities based things, and a general sense of self projected through activities and aesthetics. I won’t get into all the details, but I planned out those areas briefly using the same steps as above.
I like to keep my lists, main goals, and sub goals, in a planner or journal to refer back to throughout the year. I can then make more specific goals that are relevant to my schedule and energy needs each day/week/month and so on.
I know that this kind of planning and goal setting probably won’t appeal to everyone, but I very much like the idea of goal setting as a way to try and create a life I love in realistic ways. Ways that honor my capabilities and acknowledge my chronic illness and limitations. It gives me a sense of control when so much of my life is outside of my control, while being realistic about it all so as not to slip into the victim blaming mindset of “if only I come up with the exact right systems and exact right steps and goals I can accomplish anything DESPITE my illness, and if I haven’t then I must not be trying hard enough.” As anyone with chronic illness will know, there are a lot of things I wish I could do that are just not doable in my life as it is, so this method helps me focus on what IS doable to try and create more happiness in my life. A rejection of toxic positivity, and a focus on the realistic and what actually works.
I’ll also mention that I find it very helpful to use the “Life Pie” system from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” in order to assess various areas of my life and figure out what kind of goals might be helpful to focus on. Though I tweak the categories she uses as “work” in the traditional sense doesn’t apply to my circumstances, and so on.
I appreciate both Rei and Dottie for disability and chronic illness into the conversation, and Shawny for bringing the specific concerns facing folks in larger bodies. Each of the contributors to this small projects bring their own intersections – racialized, queer, trans, disabled, fat, poor. I’m so thankful for that diversity. I am so thankful for my communities.
I’m ending this post with the work of a fellow narrative practitioner, Daria Kutuzova.
In her phenomenal work on “Hijacking the New Year and Other Practices of Anti-Depression,” Daria describes how depression uses “celebration” as triggers, and offers suggestions for an alternate approach. You can find her slideshow here. This section is paraphrased from her work.
Some of her observations about how Depression sneaks in:
– “Taking stock” of the past year (practices of comparison)
– Anticipated lack of the “miracle of renewal”
– Anticipation of things getting worse in the coming year
One of her suggestions is a Tree of the Year exercise as an antidote to these triggers. Here are the questions associated with the Tree of the Year.
– What did you come into the past year with? What was the focus of your attention then?
– Which of your skills and character strengths supported you most through the last year? What new skills have you learned this year?
– Into which projects and relationships have you been putting your time, energy and heart during the last year?
– What were the most magical, sparkling and meaningful moments of the last year?
– What were your successes in the last year, however small or big? What are you proud of?
– What did you pleasantly surprise yourself with in the last year? What good things didn’t you expect, but they happened anyway?
– What gifts have you received in the last year – from people and from life in general?
– What have you lost, had to let go of or had to put on pause in the last year?
– Who has been a really good friend to you in the last year? With whom would you like to celebrate?
– What are your dreams for the coming year? What are your wishes for yourself?
– What were the good habits that you tried to learn/create in your life during the last year, that did not fully “stick”, but while you were doing the routines, it was good?
If we abandon the idea of writing grand, “all or nothing” New Year resolutions, if we decide not to force ourselves into committing fully to doing something for the whole year, but instead look for shorter time increments (a week, a month at the most), which good routines would you like to try in the coming year?
If you find any of these suggestions, reflections, or exercises helpful, I would love to hear about it, and would be happy to pass your reflections on to the contributors.
Image description: a 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 email@example.com”
If you appreciate this work, you can support me on Patreon!
Image description: A picture of a forest. Text below reads You Are Not Alone Stories, thoughts, and resources after the loss of a pregnancy or child.
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Last year, one of my friends noted that the available resources were incredibly gendered, heteronormative, cisnormative, and overwhelmingly white. This is still the case, although it is slowly getting better. There are still very few resources that feature people of colour, bisexual people, trans people, disabled or fat people. More work needs to be done.
Creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do, so we came up with a plan last year, reached out to contributors, and spent ten days pulling together something that I am really proud of.
This resource is not perfect. Although this is the second draft, the updates were minimal this year because of my Masters program, and it is still not as inclusive as it needs to be. Our goal is to reissue the resource each year with an expanded selection of personal stories, and a refined resources section. If you would like to have your story included in the next issue, let me know.
You Are Not Alone
Stories, thoughts, and resources after the loss of a pregnancy or child
Updated for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day | 2018
This document was first created in 2017 as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.
This is the second version, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources. The biggest change in this version is the inclusion of some of Sean Longcroft’s drawings, generously shared with this project by Petra Boynton, the author of Coping with Pregnancy Loss. Petra’s book is highly recommended as a compassionate, comprehensive, inclusive resource, filled with more of Sean’s drawings. You can also find an earlier project Petro Boynton undertook at the Miscarriage Association site, where she collected resources for partners.
Although this resource attempts to be intentionally inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach Tiffany at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This document is designed to be a grief and loss resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is possible to feel grief without feeling regret, and this is true for any pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.
We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought up for them.
We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information. Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.
Parents we want to honour:
- Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
- Those who have lost a child to abortion
- Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
- Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
- Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
- Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence
- People of any gender identity
- People of any sexual orientation
- People of any relationship status and structure
- People of any race or culture
- People of any state of mental or physical health
- People of any religious belief
- People of any socioeconomic status
Download the 64-page PDF here.
cw: discussion of suicide, suicidality
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
I have complicated feelings about how we discuss suicide.
We often talk about suicidality in terms of universals – suicide is always the wrong choice, staying is always the right choice.
We talk about suicide as passing the pain on to someone else. As a failure.
There are exceptions to this, of course, and I’m grateful for them.
This is so hard to talk about, to write about, to engage in meaningful conversation about. It is so hard to say, “I am passively suicidal a lot of the time,” because there is not often space for those conversations. This is something I hear from community members regularly. This is something I have experienced myself.
It’s hard to say, “I am actively suicidal but I don’t want to follow through on it, help me stay here,” because even though that is exactly what lots of folks want to say, we have not done a good job, as a culture, of setting up robust supports for people in that situation *or* for their supporters. We don’t talk about how to put a safety plan in place. We don’t have the supports in place to make those plans effective, a lot of the time! We don’t have support for the supporters, we don’t have support for people who have been down that hole and clawed their way back up. This is a common topic of discussion, but it’s worth saying again – we provide support only to those people who are exactly the right amount of suffering or vulnerable. Not before, not after, and often, not during. That’s bullshit.
And it is nearly impossible to say, “I am actively suicidal and I am ready to go, but I want to say goodbye and leave on my own terms,” because we have absolutely no available scripts for this. And because we do not hold any space for that to be a valid choice.
If you are suicidal and you want to stay, I want you to stay. And there are so many other folks who also want you to stay. There are distress lines, including text-based distress lines, and there is sliding scale counselling available, and even though our system is entirely lacking, you’re not completely alone. If you want to figure out how to make a safety plan, my own personal experience is that having someone to talk it through with is helpful. What are the signs that tell you it’s time to go to the hospital? When will you know it’s time to put the plan into action? Who is on your safety team, and what strategies are in place to make sure the whole team is supported? These are tough questions to answer in isolation.
If you are suicidal and it’s no big deal because it’s been that way for a long time, I see you and I see what you’re going through. You are getting through these days despite that little whisper in your ear, and that is amazing. If you want to talk about what that’s like, and strengthen your connection to the skills that are keeping you going despite it, I’m here.
I trust your judgement.
You know what you need, you know what you can handle. You know what you’ve been through, and what you want for yourself.
I trust you.
If you have friends or family who are suicidal, that can be so hard. If you’ve been asked to be part of someone’s safety plan, it can be difficult to know what that means, or how to act. If you want help figuring that out, let me know.
If you’ve lost someone to suicide, or if you’ve survived an attempt, that pain is so real. I’m sorry.
It’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and I wish we had more language to talk about this. I wish we had more space for people to talk about this. I wish we had better ways to engage with the topic, ways that are less blaming, less judging, less pathologizing, less silencing.
Until we have that, all we have is each other.
We can be gentle with each other.
We can be compassionate with each other.
We can hold space for each other.
We can trust each other.
(If you want to read more of my thoughts on this topic, this earlier post is available.)
A note on suicidality
Image description: A head-and-shoulders portrait of Beatrice in a formal dress with brunette hair in an up-do. The portrait is by Lorna Dancey photography.
This is a guest post by Beatrice Aucoin. Beatrice is a breast cancer survivor and queer writer originally from Cape Breton. She makes her home in downtown Calgary with her wife, Brett Bergie; their son, Sam; and their cat, Tom. You can find both Beatrice and Tom on instagram.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.
“And Brett, he works at?” the doctor asks.
I somehow don’t groan. Not this again, I think. It feels like every conversation I have with a new medical professional joining my breast cancer team reaches this same point. I’ve written on the intake forms who Brett is to me, but it’s always glossed over until I say it out loud. Maybe one day my life won’t feel like I’m always coming out against being assumed straight with a cis partner.
“She,” I say.
“Oh yes, I can see ‘chief’ as part of the job title–“ she begins, having misheard me.
“Brett’s a woman, my wife,” I blurt out. “She’s trans.”
The psychiatrist looks up at me from where he’s furiously scribbling notes.
He’s just asked me how long my husband and I have been married.
“My apologies,” he says.
There’s an awkward pause between us.
“It’s okay,” he says.
Why would I think it’s not okay? I don’t need anyone’s reassurance that my marriage is okay for existing.
“I’m gay and been with my husband for 20 years,” he continues.
Then why would he use a gendered term and assume my partner is of the opposite sex? The answer pops into my mind as quickly as I’ve thought of the question: paradigms of straightness and everyone being cis are so engrained in medical culture that even a gay psychiatrist assumes that my cis female self has a cis male partner.
“That’s awesome,” I tell him on his own marriage. It is awesome, and we LGBTQ2+ folx need to hear that being ourselves is awesome. We live in a world where so many people tell us we are wrong for existing. It was only a few months ago outside of our own home that someone told Brett and me, “That’s disgusting,” for holding hands.
“Brett and I have been married for 12 years,” I say proudly.
After I establish that Brett is a woman and my wife and the person I’m speaking to apologizes to me for getting Brett’s gender wrong, we come the second point in this conversation. I have a son named Sam, and medical professionals always seem to need to know how exactly he came to be in the world. Knowing whether or not I’ve had a biological child is important to discussing my overall health and does affect understanding what went into me ending up with breast cancer at 36. But except for genetics counselling, I don’t know the relevance of essentially being asked who my baby daddy is. Maybe during one of these appointments if I don’t feel too agitated at having to come out yet again, I’ll feel comfortable enough to ask.
The genetics counsellor is looking with confusion at me. She spends much of her working life putting people into family trees that are coded in strict cisgender binaries. Squares are for men; circles are for women. I have just listened to her give a cisnormative lecture with a bunch of other people who are here for breast cancer genetic testing. My skin crawled the whole time because I worried I wouldn’t be safe coming out, and I ended up being paired afterward for a private consultation with the genetics counsellor who gave the lecture. My family blows up the circles and squares of the family tree. The genetics counsellor’s frown tells me she thinks I’ve filled out my family tree chart incorrectly.
“So how…” she begins.
“Is Brett the other biological parent?” the psychiatrist asks. (I happily note that he doesn’t use a gendered term here.)
“Is Sam adopted, or did you give birth to him?” the doctor asks.
“Brett is Sam’s biological father,” I tell all three of them. “She goes by dad with Sam and uses feminine nouns and pronouns, otherwise.”
I would like to be able to tell you that this medical coming-out conversation gets easier with time, but it doesn’t. Nor are these the only times I’ve had this conversation; these are just three recent examples of it. I get asked over and over to explain me and my family.
One day, I hope medical professionals think to use gender neutral terms in discussing a patient’s family and let patients decide from there whether to use gendered language or not. But until then, I’ll be having variations on this conversation. The more I have to explain how my family doesn’t fit with someone else’s preconceived notions of how a family is, the more emotionally exhausted I am.
Beatrice and I both had trouble finding further reading on this topic, because although it is an issue that comes up more frequently than folks realize, it’s not yet one that been written about extensively. I hope that will change!
For now, here are some links:
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!