Invitation to Celebrate: a shareable resource

Invitation to Celebrate: a shareable resource

Image description: On a deep blue cosmos background. Text reads: Surviving Creating Contributing Connecting Sharing Building Healing Growing Learning Unlearning Resisting Persisting

What is this document all about?

This document is the result of a ten-day narrative therapy group project that ran from December 21 to the end of the year in 2018. The purpose of this group was to counteract the pressure of New Year’s resolutions and shift the focus onto celebrating the many actions, choices, skills, values, and hopes that we had kept close in the last year, and to connect ourselves to legacies of action in our communities.

Celebrating our values, actions, and choices may seem trivial, but we consider it part of our deep commitment to anti-oppressive work and to justice.

We hope that this project will stand against the idea that only certain kinds of “progress” or “accomplishment” are worth celebrating.

We want to invite you to join us in celebrating all of the ways in which you have stayed connected to your values, joined together with your communities, stood against injustice and harm. We want to celebrate all of the actions that you have taken in the last year that were rooted in love and justice.

Although this project was focused on the end of the calendar year, we hope that you find this helpful at any time when you are invited to compare your “progress” to other people or to some societal expectation. We think this might be particularly helpful around birthdays, anniversaries, major life transitions like graduations, relocations, retirements, gender or sexuality journeys, new experiences of diagnosis, and, of course, if you’re feeling the pressure that often comes with New Year celebrations!

This project is informed by narrative therapy practices.

Narrative therapy holds a core belief that people are not problems, problems are problems, and solutions are rarely individual. This means that although we experience problems, the problems are not internal to us. We are not bad or broken people; we are people existing in challenging and sometimes actively hostile contexts. We recognize capitalism, ableism, racism, transantagonism, classism, heterosexism, and other systems of harm and injustice, and we locate problems in these and other contexts. We recognize that people are always resisting the hardships in their lives. This project is meant to invite stories of resistance and stories of celebration.

Narrative therapy also holds a core belief that lives are multi-storied. What this means is that even when capitalism, white supremacy, and other systems of oppression are present in a person’s life, that life also has many other stories which are equally true. A person’s story is never just one thing; never just the struggle, never just the problems. This project hopes to invite a multi-storied telling of the year – one that honours hardship and resistance but recognizes that there are also stories of joy, companionship, connection, and play. We know that you are more than your problems.

When we are reflecting on our past year, shame and a sense of personal failing can be invited in – we might feel like we haven’t done enough, and that our reasons for this “not enoughness” are internal. This project hopes to stand against these hurtful ideas, and instead offer an invitation to tell the stories of your year in ways that are complex and compassionate.

Perfectionism and comparison can show up at the New Year, at birthdays, at anniversaries and graduations. But you are already skilled in responding to and resisting hardships. We know that you can respond to any hurtful narratives that show up and try to push you around. We are standing with you as you find the storylines in your year that are worth celebrating.

We know that it is a radical act of resistance to celebrate your life when the culture around you says you are not worth celebrating. If you are fat, poor, queer, Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, disabled, neurodivergent, a sex worker, homeless, living with addiction, or in any other way pushed to the margins and rarely celebrated, this project is especially for you. Your life is worth celebrating.

David Denborough and the Dulwich Centre have outlined a Narrative Justice Charter of Storytelling Rights and this charter guides this project.

My hope is that each of you feels able to tell your stories in ways that feel strong. I hope that you each feel like you have storytelling rights in your own life.

Here is the charter (link is to the Dulwich Centre post):

Article 1 – Everyone has the right to define their experiences and problems in their own words and terms.

Article 2 – Everyone has the right for their life to be understood in the context of what they have been through and in the context of their relationships with others.

Article 3 – Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma.

Article 4 – Everyone has the right to be free from having problems caused by trauma and injustice located inside them, internally, as if there is some deficit in them. The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem.

Article 5 – 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.

Article 6 – Everyone has the right to have their skills and knowledges of survival respected, honoured and acknowledged.

Article 7 – Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.

However you end up using this resource, we would love to hear about it.

You can send your responses to Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com, and Tiffany will forward these responses on as appropriate.

Access the full 58-page PDF here.

Madness, Violence, and the Patriarchy: guest post

Madness, Violence, and the Patriarchy: guest post

Image description: A colorized hallway in what might be a hospital. Text reads:
Madness, Violence, and the Patriarchy
(or, When My Favorite South Park Episode Changed from “Reverse Cowgirl” to “Breast Cancer Show Ever”)
guest post by Emily S. Cutler


This is a guest post by Emily Sheera Cutler. Emily is a Mad Pride activist, a movement that celebrates and finds value in the states, traits, and characteristics typically categorized as mental illness. She is passionate about providing and teaching non-coercive, context-informed approaches to suicide prevention and mental health crisis. Emily blogs about Mad culture and disability justice at www.radicalabolitionist.org, and you can find out more about her at www.emilyscutler.com.

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.

Content note on this post for discussion of self-harm, suicidality, involuntary psychiatric institutionalization


My Mad Pride activism began as a civil libertarian cause. I firmly believed that every individual deserved the inalienable right to bodily autonomy – full control over what to do with their own bodies and minds. I knew from day one of my activism that universal bodily autonomy meant bodily autonomy for individuals designated as Mad or mentally ill – those who were hearing voices, who were suicidal, who wanted to cut, burn, or injure themselves, etc. “Give me liberty or give me death” became a favorite quote of mine, and “People should have the right to do whatever they want as long as they are not violating another person’s bodily autonomy” became a line I often repeated.

A few days after I was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward after expressing passive suicidal thoughts, a group of my friends happened to be watching an episode of South Park entitled “Reverse Cowgirl.” In the episode, the South Park police department enforces a strict requirement of wearing seatbelts while using the bathroom after a character dies by almost falling into the toilet. The episode resonated so deeply with me that I was almost in tears. This, to me, is what being involuntarily committed had felt like: a profound invasion and intrusion upon my body, personhood, and dignity, a violent assault upon my autonomy, all in the name of public safety and security – all when I had not done anything to violate anyone else’s bodily autonomy.

It was shortly after my involuntary commitment that I launched my activism career. The central focus of my activism was the rejection of involuntary commitment for those who had not harmed or threatened to harm any other person’s bodily autonomy. Like many feminist efforts, my activism revolved around the personal liberties and rights of Mad people. Along with my efforts came my striving to promote the message that Mad people are not usually violent or abusive – that being a danger to oneself and a danger to others should not be conflated. “People diagnosed with mental illness are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence,” I would often say.

At that point the line felt clear. I was innocent. A victim. I hadn’t done anything wrong and yet I had been locked up, strip searched, forcibly drugged, and restrained.

But life happened and things got more nebulous. My fiancé came home one day and said he wanted to break up, and I sliced my arm, threatening suicide if he left. Suddenly I was no longer an innocent victim quietly expressing passively suicidal thoughts in an emergency room. I was a full blown crazy woman, using tears, manipulation, self-harm, and suicide threats to keep my partner in our relationship. While I hadn’t violated my fiancé’s bodily autonomy, I had certainly made the shift from “harm to self” to “harm to others.”

The events caused me to carefully re-examine my activism. So many of my arguments had hinged on the notion that madness is not inherently harmful to others, that individuals should have the right to experience and engage in madness that does not hurt other people. But here I was, Mad as hell, terrified of abandonment, engaging in actions that would be considered abusive or even violent by most. Who had I become? Was I one of the violent, dangerous Mad people I had so frequently otherized? “Those Mads” – the ones who deserved to be locked up, separated from society, forcibly drugged even? Was I not even Mad – just bad? Just plain abusive?

A few months later, I found myself rewatching Gone Girl, a film I’d hated when it first came out. What a stereotyping, misogynistic film, I had thought! It makes all women, and especially Mad women, look violent. For context, the film is about a woman named Amy who frames her husband for murder after he cheats on her with a younger, hotter woman. In many ways, Amy is the classic and stereotypical portrayal of the Madwoman: she is manipulative, jealous, possessive, violent, and does everything she can to ensure her husband will never leave her. “When I tell people I’m Mad, they’re going to think I’m violent and manipulative just like Amy,” I had thought.

This time, I felt completely differently about the film. All of the sudden, I could relate to Amy. When she delivered Gone Girl’s “Cool Girl” monologue, a lightbulb went off. I got it.

Below is the famous “Cool Girl” monologue:

“Nick never loved me. He loved a girl who doesn’t exist. A girl I was pretending to be. The Cool Girl. Men always use that as the defining compliment, right? She’s a cool girl. Being Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker and dirty jokes, who plays videogames and chugs beer, loves threesomes and anal sex and jams chilidogs into my mouth like I’m hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang-bang–while remaining a size 2, because cool girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool girls never get angry at their men, they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner. Go ahead! Shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the cool girl.

I waited patiently-years-for the pendulum to swing the other way, for men to start reading Jane Austen, organize scrapbook parties and make out with each other while we leer. And then we’d say, yeah, he’s a cool guy. Instead, women across the nation colluded in our degradation! Pretty soon every girl was Cool Girl, and if you weren’t, then there was something wrong with you.

But it’s tempting, to be Cool Girl. For someone like me, who likes to win, it’s tempting to be the girl every guy wants. When I met Nick I knew that’s what he wanted. For him, I was willing to try. I couldn’t have been Cool Girl with anyone else. I wouldn’t have wanted to. Nick teased things out in me I didn’t know existed: A lightness, a humor, an ease. And I made him smarter, sharper. I forced him to rise to my level. I was happier for those few years, pretending to be someone else, than I ever have been before or after.

But then it had to stop, because it wasn’t me! I hated Nick for being surprised when I became me. He couldn’t believe I didn’t love wax-stripping my pussy raw and blowing him on request. That my fantasy baseball team was not a labor of love. It had to stop. Committing to Nick, feeling safe with Nick, being happy with Nick, made me realize that there was a Real Amy in there, and she was so much better, more interesting and complicated and challenging, than Cool Girl. But Nick wanted Cool Girl anyway. Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your soulmate, and having him not like you?”

The “Cool Girl” monologue describes many of the insidious, subtle, overlooked forms of violence that the patriarchy has subjected people to for decades. It lists all of the ways that women are quietly coerced to conform to patriarchal standards of beauty and femininity to be loved and valued: maintaining thinness, engaging in unwanted sexual experiences, feigning interest in hobbies and interests that are constructed as masculine, and performing a sense of nonchalance and detachment toward romantic relationships. These are violences that affect us all but that are felt differentially and responded to differentially by people. While Amy is a white, thin, relatively privileged woman, it is often the most marginalized groups of women – women of color, queer women, neurodivergent women, trans women, and fat women – who experience the highest degree of pressure to make drastic alterations to their bodyminds in order to conform to these standards. For the most marginalized groups, these violences may result in coercion to disguise or kill off entire parts of one’s identity; failure to do so may result in more explicit forms of violence such as hate crimes, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or police brutality.

It was at this moment that it struck me that Amy was describing violence in the “Cool Girl” monologue. Being coerced to make painful, humiliating alterations to one’s bodymind in order to be valued is violence. “Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed,” Amy says. In some ways, it is murder.

But the patriarchy is hardly ever recognized as violent or murderous. Instead, it is seen as the norm, as acceptable. So Amy seeks to change that. She frames her husband for murder. She stages a violent, manipulative, crazy rebellion to the patriarchy. What other option did she have?

I had also attempted to be the “Cool Girl” in my relationship with my (now ex) fiancé. I had worked 80 hour weeks to perform capitalist ideals of success that he so admired, while still making sure to have enough time to spend with him every day. I had maintained thinness, forced myself to engage in strenuous exercise, participated in sexual acts I found degrading. I had given up real, important parts of myself – my Mad Pride, my Autistic identity, my outward disabledness. And here I was, being told that still wasn’t good enough. I had given up so much, and I was being pushed beyond a limit.

Slowly but surely, I started to get radicalized. I started to learn more about the systemic factors impacting not only suicide and self-harm but also violence. I began to think about the role that powerlessness and systemic devaluation play in driving people to extremes. I started to think about the ways people might feel trapped in situations and dynamics, and how sometimes they might see violence as the only or most feasible way to regain control or escape.

I still see Mad Pride partially as a civil libertarian movement. My belief that every person deserves bodily autonomy, including those who are hearing voices and those who are suicidal, has not changed. But Mad Pride is about so much more than that. I see it as a movement fundamentally about pain, and largely about the pain inflicted by systemic and structural forms of violence. I believe Mad Pride is about recognizing the validity and legitimacy of people’s reactions to this pain.

Like my earlier version of Mad Pride, I believe that feminism often attempts to distance itself from stereotypes. Many feminists have worked to reject the notion that women are more emotional, manipulative, hysterical, or crazy. They have fought to defend the fact that women are just as rational, intelligent, and sane as men. I recently saw a book entitled, “Strong is the New Pretty.” This echoes a sentiment I have often heard in feminist circles: women are not weak like men think we are. We are strong enough to rise above our impulses, to maintain a cool rationality and sense of logic, and to exercise our bodies to meet standards of physical able-bodiedness and athleticism. Of course, I am very grateful for these feminist efforts and lines of thinking; stereotypes are harmful to everyone.

However, I often wonder if, in working to reject these stereotypes, feminists disavow madness – particularly reactions to the patriarchy that may involve violence, manipulation, and strong emotions. What if sometimes our response to the patriarchy – to all of the violence that has been committed against us for thousands of years – involves being weak, being emotional, giving into our impulses to scream, to shout, to self-injure, to threaten suicide, to exact revenge? Is there space for this within feminism? Is there space to at least acknowledge the validity and legitimacy of these responses, even if they aren’t always the most ethically correct or appropriate course of action?

A few weeks ago, I watched the episode of South Park entitled “Breast Cancer Show Ever.” In the episode, Eric Cartman ruthlessly mocks Wendy Testaburger’s presentation on breast cancer awareness, with other students and teachers doing little to stop him. When Wendy threatens to fight him physically to stop him, she is disciplined by her parents. Cartman’s verbal abuse continues, and finally, the school principal, a woman, encourages Wendy to fight him physically. Explaining that she is a breast cancer survivor herself, the principal tells her that “cancer does not play by the rules” and that since cancer will not stop of its own volition, it is sometimes necessary to resort to extreme measures to defeat it.

The patriarchy will not stop of its own volition. It is relentless, demanding, and abusive, and although it does not always result in overt attacks of life-threatening or bodily autonomy-threatening force, it is violent and coercive, emotionally and psychologically. It is extreme, though it is not recognized as such. Sometimes such extremity merits extreme responses. Perhaps madness and particularly Mad women are sometimes violent, and perhaps that is exactly what is needed.

Instead of shaming women for having extreme responses to the extremity and violence of patriarchy, I believe that it is important to engage in practices of community care and accountability that seek to explore what overlooked kinds of violence may have led to these responses. I do not have an answer as to how survivors of trauma and ongoing structural violence can best be held accountable to their responses that may include violence or harm. However, I think it is critical that we begin by taking a closer look at what we define as violence or harm and what we define as acceptable or typical, and what types of actions do or do not merit an accountability process. As our justice system currently stands, a great deal of retribution is carried out against individuals who have committed violence or harm; almost no efforts are made to address systemic or structural violence. Similarly, physical violence – breaking the skin – is seen as the ultimate, most severe and punishable form of violence, while the pervasive psychological and emotional violence that coerces people to make alterations to their own bodyminds remains unaddressed. How can we begin to shift this dynamic? How can we create a system that focuses on addressing systemic and structural violence while still allowing for individual accountability?


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!

Letter of support to the trans community

Letter of support to the trans community

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
Ivy
Chrysta
Crystal
Tiffany
Domini
Elliot

(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.)

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!

Bisexual Visibility Day 2018

Bisexual Visibility Day 2018

As part of the research for this blog post, I spoke with a few different people about their experiences of asexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality. I’ve included those interviews in whole. I highly recommend reading these interviews – there was a lot there that I didn’t include in this post.

I also want to take this opportunity to highlight that Possibilities Youth is open to registrations! If you are, or know, a non-monosexual young person who would be interested in a six-week facilitated group, head over to the post and register!


It’s September 23. 2018. As I write this, I’m sitting at the kitchen table. Outside, the sky is still dark. The two dogs I’m looking after are snoozing, the furnace is on, the house is quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator and the warm air pushing up from the vents.

When I first started looking for bisexual community in Calgary, almost ten years ago, I couldn’t find what I needed. There were “LGBT” spaces (then, even more than now, Intersex, Asexual, Two spirit, and other queer identities were rarely acknowledged actively or meaningfully), but, as so many other bisexual folks have found, these tended to be “GL” spaces in practice. And even so, there weren’t many of those. A club. Some campus communities (which felt impossible to access as an adult who had never attended post-secondary at that point). Community discussion groups, but nothing that felt like it would be for me.

This is still the case for so many people in so many spaces.

The Bisexual Invisibility Report came out in the United States in 2011, and it was groundbreaking. Shiri Eisner, one of my bisexual heroes and someone I have learned a lot from (their book, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, changed my life. This is not hyperbole.), noted that the report should have been called The Bisexual Erasure Report. I agree. It’s not that our community is invisible, a framing that consistently leads to hostile demands that we all “just come out and be open” as though that will solve everything. No, it’s not that we’re invisible. It’s that we are erased. Again and again. In so many ways and in so many contexts. And this erasure has real impacts on our lives. The bisexual community, and I include all non-monosexual folks in this umbrella even though we do not have real data on how this works out, is at risk, and our needs are not being met.

To quote Shiri Eisner in their post from earlier today, “We are literally dying. We are the largest group within the LGBT community, and the most vulnerable one among LGBs, with the highest rates of exposure to violence, sexual violence, bullying, poor health and mental health, suicidality, and poverty. We are the also the least talked about and the group most perceived as privileged dispite being at the top of every depressing statistic.”

This is important. Visibility is important! And not just visibility, but also action. We need help. We need community. Dulcinea, a bisexual trans woman, said, “[We need to listen] to people who are excluded – trans people, people of colour, disabled people, both visibly and invisibly – we have to listen, and then we have to figure out a path to more forward together and then we have to be willing to stick to our guns. Because queer communities, just like any community, are willing to cut people off and we need to stop. The world is aligning more and more against us, and we need to become a community. An actual community. Not just a space where we get to feel good about ourselves, but a space that includes everyone. That means we have to change things. We have to be willing to. That sucks and it’s hard, but I don’t think being on the queer spectrum has ever been easy, so we just have to do it.”

We need to center the vulnerable and the marginalized. The non-monosexual community is vulnerable, and is marginalized, in both gay/lesbian and straight spaces. And within our community there are others who are multiply marginalized. Our responses to these challenges need to be robust, meaningful, intentional. Visibility is one part of the solution.

The Bisexual Report came out in the UK in 2012, and was similarly important to understanding issues of bisexuality (and included discussion of the intersections with bisexual community, including race, gender, class, relationship status, ability, and others.

Despite these two critical reports, and Eisner’s phenomenal book, and so many other powerful works of visibility, celebration, resistance, and advocacy from within the bisexual community, we remain marginalized even in many queer spaces. When we are visible, when there is queer representation, it often comes with a “but we don’t need a label” overlay, which serves to further invisibilize and marginalize us.

A glossary-of-terms post on Bisexual.org has this to say about “Anything But Bisexual”:

The ABB phenomenon is problematic for the bisexual community because its use creates a vicious cycle that makes bisexuality invisible, which leads to few role models, which leads to mental health problems, and in turn fewer people willing to embrace a bisexual identity. At the same time though, it is recognized that everyone has the right to self-identify, and the bisexual community, while recognizing that ABB terms are problematic, finds it abhorrent to shame or “police” others for their self-identification. The consensus is mainly to work hard to fight biphobia and promote bi-pride, so it’s easier for more people to embrace the term bisexual.

Stereotypes about the non-monosexual community are still prevalent, and many of these stereotypes have to do with our supposed confusion, or our predatory sexualities, or our untrustworthiness and unreliability.

Linds, a Chinese American/femme/bisexual, said, “I wish people knew that being bisexual means you get stereotyped a lot as being some deviant overly sexual creature.”

Dulcinea said, “I feel like any sort of non-monosexual identity isn’t something to be ashamed of, it isn’t a threat to anyone, it’s not dangerous or predatory, I think it’s really important that we, as hard as it is, continue to strive for visibility and acknowledgement.”

These stereotypes are painful, and they also invite the community into a kind of self-policing that can throw so many of us under the bus. The stereotype that all bisexual folks are “deviant” and “overly sexual” or “predatory” harms a lot of folks, but there are slutty bisexual folks, too! And that’s great! Being sexual is okay. The slut-shaming that can happen when we try to distance ourselves from harmful stereotypes is just passing the harm on down the line, and it often lands on people who are already more marginalized. For example, accessing a “sexually pure” image is something that has been denied to Black and Indigenous women for generations, and when this racist hypersexualization is compounded with biphobic views, it can leave queer Black and Indigenous women with no space to breathe, to just be themselves, to be sexual in the ways that feel right for them. And the image of the predatory bisexual compounds with racist stereotypes about the predatory sexuality of Black and Indigenous men, meaning that they, also, are at greater risk when bisexual communities try to distance ourselves from harmful stereotypes by disavowing the behaviour rather than challenging the belief. (What I mean by that is, when we try to be “pure” rather than challenging the idea of “purity” itself.)

There are kinky bisexuals, and vanilla ones. Bisexual folks who have a lot of sex, and those who don’t. When stereotypes are used to invalidate or marginalize us, it can be tempting to try and distance ourselves from any behaviour that fits within the stereotype, but that means cutting off so many parts of our communities. We need to do better than that.

The UK’s Bisexual Index offers this poem about bisexuality:

Some people say we are confused

Some people say we are confused, because they don’t understand us
But we’re not confused
Or confusing
Some people are only attracted to one gender, and assume everyone else is just like them. That’s a mistake – a lot of people may be like that
But not bisexuals!
We’re attracted to more than one gender
It doesn’t matter how attracted
It doesn’t matter how many more genders
It doesn’t matter who we’ve dated
Bisexuality isn’t about being indecisive, or cool, or greedy. It’s simply this: attraction to more than one gender

BISEXUALITY

This fits with the framing used by one of my role models for bisexual advocacy, Patrick Richards Fink, writer at Eponymous Fliponymous. He speaks about the label “Bisexuality” as a broad umbrella term for people who are attracted to multiple genders. Within this broad label of bisexuality there are infinite variations on what that attraction to multiple genders might mean. Bi is the umbrella, and all the other non-monosexual identities can be sheltered under it. This is similar to what happens with Gay as an umbrella term that includes Bears, for example. This makes sense to me, but because the sharp division between bisexuality and pansexuality has been enforced by so many people for so long, I use “Bi+.” I also use “Bi+” because I think that asexuality, since it is not about attraction to multiple genders, but rather attraction to no genders, is different enough to warrant noting, but similar enough (because they also do not fit the monosexual norm) to warrant including.

I launched Possibilities Calgary in 2010. It was the term project in a feminist praxis course in my undergrad (I did finally make it to post-secondary!), and I was so thankful to have the support of my professor in choosing that project. My goal was to create for myself and others what I had been searching for an not found previously. I wanted a space that could act as a small antidote to the poisonous self-doubt that can creep in over time for those of us who are constantly erased in other contexts.

Now, eight years later, Possibilities is still here, and still trying to accomplish this goal.

I am conscious now of other erasures.

I see how Indigenous queerness is also erased, ignored, dismissed. Black and brown queerness, too. Immigrant queerness. These erasures all intersect with racism and xenophobia, both of which are rampant in queer spaces. So is ableism. Transantagonism. Classism and sizeism. Ageism (where are our elders? Why don’t we see them at events?)

I see the way that the asexual community is erased, dismissed, their self-knowledge invalidated by hostile suggestions that they “just haven’t found the right person yet.”

I see the way the pansexual community is also both erased under monosexual normativity (that idea that attraction to a single gender is the norm and is preferred) and also how pansexuality is used to further erase bisexuality by promoting the idea that bisexuality is inherently trans-exclusionary. This wedge, constantly driven between two parts of our non-monosexual community, is painful to watch and to experience.

Speaking about this split, Dulcinea, a bisexual trans woman said:

I find the bisexual vs. pansexual debates incredibly alienating and very unsettling. Because fundamentally, I do not see what the problem is with someone choosing any of the labels within the subgroup. It doesn’t take away from anyone else, as long as we’re not trying to force anyone else to identify this way. My being bi doesn’t take away from my partner’s pansexuality. I love and celebrate him for all the ways he feels. It feels like nonsensical fighting… The metaphor I use when I am asked why I don’t identify as pan or what-have-you, is that it’s like trying on clothes, and you have a bunch of things that fit, but then you find the right pair of jeans for your body, and it’s like, I could wear these other ones and it’d been fine, but I’d just rather wear the pair of jeans that feel comfortable, and I know I’m going to wear them in really easy, and they make my butt look good.

Rhiannon, a pansexual trans woman, said:

I was struggling as a transgender woman in the bi community. I found a lot of bisexual people that I encountered preferred binary gendered people. I was feeling very frustrated so a friend told me about Pansexuality and how pansexual people are open to all gender varieties. There seems to be this misconception that Pansexual people are against the Bisexual community for not being open to non-binary genders. I obviously can’t speak for everyone but this is not the case with the Pansexual people that I know. I acknowledge that there are many Bisexual people who are attracted to Non-Binary or Transgender people, like myself, but I felt it removed any confusion if I identified as Pan rather than Bi. To me that is what is at the core of Pansexual Identity, it is a way of letting people know immediately that you are open to all Gender Variations. We love our Bisexual Brethren, we just choose a different identify for ourselves.

And it’s important to keep in mind that just because bisexuality doesn’t inherently erase non-binary folks, or imply a lack of interest in trans folks, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific bisexual people who do. I was speaking with someone recently about bisexuality, and that person’s definition of bisexuality does not include attraction to transgender people. There are also lots of folks who do still speak about “both” genders, and bisexuality as an experience of attraction to “same and opposite” genders, language that erases non-binary identities (like my own!)

That’s not how I experience my own bisexuality, and that’s not inherent to bisexuality as an identity, but it hightlights how Rhiannon’s experience is valid and real. The “jeans” that fit Rhiannon are not the same “jeans” that fit Dulcinea or myself, and that’s informed by her lived experiences. There has to be space for that within our community, or else we will just perpetuate more harm.

We can (and should) talk about how the idea that you can just “have a preference not to date trans people” is inherently transantagonistic, just like having racial dating preferences is inherently racist, and we also need to validate the experiences of folks who have been excluded in these ways. We can talk about the problem, but we need to make sure that we are centring the experiences of folks who are actually suffering because of it. As Latin-Australian sociologist Dr Zuleyka Zevallos says in the second link, says, “[T]he fact is, as soon as you start to exclude people, then you’re participating in the broader pattern of exclusion that people from minority backgrounds face. That’s what people from White backgrounds don’t understand – that “I don’t have a preference towards X, Y, and Z groups,” they are contributing to the daily experiences of racism that those groups already face at work, at school, when they’re walking down the street. So this is just another form of discrimination that minorities are facing that White people don’t have to deal with.” The same is true regarding cis and transgender experiences.

One thing I really appreciated about both of the comments from Rhiannon and Dulcinea is the intentional inclusion of other identities even while strongly identifying with a specific label.

I want more of that – inclusion that holds space for difference. And in order to get that, we need visibility. We need to be able to see ourselves and to see each other.

Rachel,  a cis biromantic asexual, speaking about ace-inclusion, highlighted that difference. She said:

Other than just the basic awareness that asexual people exist, the biggest mistake I encounter among people who are trying but not necessarily succeeding to be ace-friendly is that they don’t translate that into awareness that ace people’s experiences of attraction and romance are actually meaningfully different than non-ace people’s. Which sometimes leads to this usually well-intentioned but kind of awkward and inaccurate perception that aces are just their romantic orientation, but G-rated…  I find that people attempting to be welcoming of ace identities tend to over-emphasize language, while I’d rather people put their effort into not assuming that allosexual (non-asexual) experiences are universal. Ace experiences aren’t intuitive to most non-ace people, and I understand that – there’s plenty of non-ace experiences I find extremely counter-intuitive – so not making those assumptions takes a lot of work, and I understand that and it’s okay to be confused by things that are confusing. But I’ve had several experiences in spaces that claimed to be (and seemed to be making a good faith effort to be) ace-friendly where they’d use all the laboriously correct language and then have discussions where it was assumed that all primary relationships were inevitably sexual, or that consent to sex that isn’t driven by sexual attraction/desire in the moment couldn’t be genuine, because they were so focused on inclusive language they just hadn’t thought about anything else.

What Rachel highlights is how we need to think broadly about our efforts towards visibility. It can’t just be language. And it can’t just be “coming out”, either.  We need the kind of visibility that challenges systems of exclusion and marginalization, and we also need this visibility to happen in ways that don’t shame folks for “not being visible” – we need to take away this pressure that currently exists towards the non-monosexual community to “come out for the good of the community.”

I am not entirely sure how we will do this. I know that my own efforts exist within a rich history of bisexual activism and advocacy, and I hope that in this coming year, I can learn more about how to do this work.

Today, I’m hosting the Bi+ Visibility Event and putting up this blog post. Next year, who knows?! I have big dreams, and now that I’m dipping my toe back into event organizing (once I hit publish on this, I’m flying out the door to do final prep for the Bi+ Visibility Day panel, open-mic, and info-session today!), maybe we’ll come up with something spectacular.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your stories.

And if you’re struggling and need professional support, I would love to work with you in either my role as a narrative therapist, or as a community organizer.


Asexuality. (This interview was over email.)

There is so much variety within the non-monosexual community. How do you identify?

I identify as a cis biromantic asexual, but day-to-day I usually just say ace, because it’s the thing that comes up the most, and I very rarely see the need to give the full explanation. Usually I only bother to clarify my romantic orientation when I have a specific reason to. This is mostly internally driven, I’m fairly private by nature, it’s not that I’ve felt external pressure to do that.

How did you learn about your identity? Did you see representations of people like you?

This is a tremendously embarrassing story because I found a link to AVEN from TVtropes, and that was the first time I encountered asexuality as an identity term, which was in my early twenties. Prior to that there were a handful of characters I found which seemed to share the experiences of romance, and of lack of sexual interest that I had, but none of them were described specifically as asexual.

What do you wish more people knew about people who share your identity?

Other than just the basic awareness that asexual people exist, the biggest mistake I encounter among people who are trying but not necessarily succeeding to be ace-friendly is that they don’t translate that into awareness that ace people’s experiences of attraction and romance are actually meaningfully different than non-ace people’s. Which sometimes leads to this usually well-intentioned but kind of awkward and inaccurate perception that aces are just their romantic orientation, but G-rated. And there are people who identify strongly with their romantic orientations, but they’re a distinct minority. Romantic orientations are not even universally used.

What misconceptions do you encounter from people?

Mostly I encounter people who just have no idea that being asexual is even a possibility. Beyond that there’s also a degree of conflation of asexuality and aromanticism, which are of course, separate and orthogonal. And again there is a massive overemphasis on romantic orientation by non-ace people talking about ace people, as compared to how ace people, in my experience, talk about it, as more of a handy point of reference.

What can people do to be more inclusive of non-monosexual folks in general, and of people of your specific identity?

I find that people attempting to be welcoming of ace identities tend to over-emphasize language, while I’d rather people put their effort into not assuming that allosexual (non-asexual) experiences are universal. Ace experiences aren’t intuitive to most non-ace people, and I understand that – there’s plenty of non-ace experiences I find extremely counter-intuitive – so not making those assumptions takes a lot of work, and I understand that and it’s okay to be confused by things that are confusing. But I’ve had several experiences in spaces that claimed to be (and seemed to be making a good faith effort to be) ace-friendly where they’d use all the laboriously correct language and then have discussions where it was assumed that all primary relationships were inevitably sexual, or that consent to sex that isn’t driven by sexual attraction/desire in the moment couldn’t be genuine, because they were so focused on inclusive language they just hadn’t thought about anything else. And, also, being scrupulous about ace friendly language requires a lot of both moment to moment self-correction, and often longer more complex sentences, and that can be an accessibility issue for some disabilities or for people speaking in a second language. It’s nice when people remember to verbally acknowledge ace people (by saying for instance, things like “sexual attraction is important to those who experience it”, rather than just “sexual attraction is important”), but it’s much easier to correct and just be understanding of the occasional language slip-up, than it is to try and decide if it’s worth the energy to redirect a whole line of thought.

Are there any resources, books, articles, tv shows, movies, video games, or other pieces of representation that you would like to recommend?

If you’re looking for 101 level resources about asexuality the AVEN FAQs remain a good place to start. The online ace community has got a lot more distributed but if you’re looking for more complexity and detail than the basics I like the blog The Asexual Agenda. The book Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is probably my go-to for being a nuanced, but also accessible, representation of an asexual character.

Is there anything else you want included in the blog post?

Not that I’ve been able to think of, although, knowing me, I’ll come up with something just after the post is published.

You were involved with Possibilities from very early on, and you brought a new perspective to the conversations. I really appreciated that, and I wonder what that experience was like for you, to be in a bisexual and pansexual space, bringing something else to the table?

Possibilities was one of the first specifically queer spaces I ever spent time in, which has now given me irreversibly high standards, because it was a fantastically well-moderated space. And at the time I’d only just come out to anyone about anything, and it meant a lot at the time to have that space. My experience of being in Possibilities was that I sort of brought my community-member hat and my ally hat and switched them out at high speeds, depending on the topic, and the direction of the conversation. At the time that took some doing, but I really think it’s a key skill for interacting well in queer spaces, especially when, like me, you’re fairly privileged, and in retrospect, Possibilities was a great place to learn it. Because it was very well managed, so people weren’t just allowed to go on making mistakes, but it was also forgiving enough, I wasn’t worried about being instantly banished when I put my foot in my mouth.

You were one of the volunteers who really headed up the original FAQ handout project. What is important to you about sharing good information about non-monosexual identities?

The unfortunate fact of the world we live in right now, is that you can’t necessarily assume most people know anything about non-monosexual identities. And its fundamentally not reasonable to expect people to spontaneously research and learn about identities that they may not even have heard of. But on the other hand doing the sort of basic 101 level education that the pamphlets were supposed to be able to sum up is just terrible. It’s boring, repetitive and emotionally fraught if not out right dangerous in some situations. But I’m also simultaneously aware that the people who do the educating set the curriculum, and there is a risk that if you decide that teaching someone the basics of what it means to be bi or ace or trans is just too much for you, the person who does do it might not have your best interests at heart. Which is a hard set of problems to balance.

So, the basic idea of the pamphlets was an attempt to separate the basic education process from the coming out process, something you could give to someone who needed educating and then just walk away. They’re short and their intended audience is someone who has basically no knowledge, so they’re not hugely nuanced. They were only ever going to be a starting point for people to either go and do their own follow up research, or to ask a slightly more informed class of question. But if they can at least remove having to do that initial hurdle of “before we continue I need to stop and give you a lot of basic information about myself and then hope you take it well” then they’ve done a pretty good job.

I’d happily come back to them and do more, or update them with a slightly wider contributor base at some point if there was interest.

What does your orientation mean to you? (This is intentionally vague, and you can answer however you want – what’s important to you about it? How did you discover it? What does it look like in your daily life? However you want to answer this is great.)

I think the most key part of my orientation to me is just, the way I perceive things. I might feel very different about this if I was actively dating, but because I’m not most of the ways I really experience being ace day to day in that I don’t default to thinking about things as sexual. I don’t necessarily notice sexual subtext. Things like that.


Bisexuality

Dulcinea, a bisexual trans woman with settler and educated privilege. She also deals with mental health issues and invisible disability. (This interview was in person, and these are my notes. Most of the quotes are direct quotes, but there is some paraphrasing.)

Why do you identify as bisexual?

Because I feel attraction to my gender, and other genders, and that is the term that feels right. And for a very long time, I didn’t have a term that felt like it fit.

Why is bisexuality important to you?

There are a few things, like just because I’m married to a woman doesn’t mean I’m not bisexual, or just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I don’t have need for women only spaces.

What’s important to you about your bisexual identity?

I feel like, in contrast to trying to live up to a monosexual ideal, which I have done for most of my life, I just like being free to feel attraction and feel how good that feels. Just how good it feels to be attracted to someone, and connect with that honestly and authentically rather than questioning it.

I came to bisexuality as an understanding of who I am and how I was already operating, rather than through seeking an identity or a marker.

The metaphor I use when I am asked why I don’t identify as pan or what-have-you, is that it’s like trying on clothes, and you have a bunch of things that fit, but then you find the right pair of jeans for your body, and it’s like, I could wear these other ones and it’d been fine, but I’d just rather wear the pair of jeans that feel comfortable, and I know I’m going to wear them in really easy, and they make my butt look good.

How do you feel about the perception that bisexuality enforces a gender binary of “man and woman”, and the debate about “bi vs. pan”? 

I think it really shows just how lacking education is, and how people just aren’t willing to listen. If anyone spends any time talking to bisexual people, or accessing any kind of resources, you’ll realize that this isn’t the definition used by the community, but people just don’t listen. And it’s exhausting.

It’s an added layer on top of a marginalized marginalized identity (trans and bisexual).

I find the bisexual vs. pansexual debates incredibly alienating and very unsettling. Because fundamentally, I do not see what the problem is with someone choosing any of the labels within the subgroup. It doesn’t take away from anyone else, as long as we’re not trying to force anyone else to identify this way.

My being bi doesn’t take away from my partner’s pansexuality. I love and celebrate him for all the ways he feels. It feels like nonsensical fighting. It feels illogical and petty, and it doesn’t make sense to be having this fight. Especially because all of these communities are marginalized as non-monosexual people.

I have seen it happen within communities, and I think it’s also egged on sometimes by people who are not in the communities. For example, there seems to be a trend of homosexual men sometimes really investing in these debates. The egging on ends up looking like soft critiques or questions, things like, “oh, so do you believe gender is binary then?”

In in-person spaces people seem more willing to listen and hear, and in online spaces people seem more willing to jump in and ignore what anyone else says.

There is also a kind of rejecting the elders that happens, seeing bisexuality as an older and outdated way of seeing or doing. It’s often not malicious, and part of it is just not having the tools to have that discussion effectively because they haven’t had to develop them in the same way.

Having queer spaces is so rewarding and affirming, which means that confronting the antagonism in those spaces is hard because it’s a space you love and care about and you get some kind of affirmation in, and having to be critical you love is something human beings aren’t good at. It’s easier to pick on a marginalized group, you just want an easy fight and you want a fight that you can win. I think that’s why we fight each other so often.

I feel like the most valuable thing I’ve learned throughout my entire life is a willingness to be wrong.

I think learning how to be in community together is a process, you have to listen and then follow up that listening with action.

Listening to people who are excluded – trans people, people of colour, disabled people, both visibly and invisibly – we have to listen, and then we have to figure out a path to more forward together and then we have to be willing to stick to our guns. Because queer communities, just like any community, are willing to cut people off and we need to stop. The world is aligning more and more against us, and we need to become a community. An actual community. Not just a space where we get to feel good about ourselves, but a space that includes everyone. That means we have to change things. We have to be willing to. That sucks and it’s hard, but I don’t think being on the queer spectrum has ever been easy, so we just have to do it.

I feel like any sort of non-monosexual identity isn’t something to be ashamed of, it isn’t a threat to anyone, it’s not dangerous or predatory, I think it’s really important that we, as hard as it is, continue to strive for visibility and acknowledgement.

***

Linds. This interview was over email.

First, how would you like to be identified in the blog post? 

I am a Chinese American/femme/bisexual

There is so much variety within the non-monosexual community. How do you identify? 

I identify as bisexual.

How did you learn about your identity? Did you see representations of people like you? 

I am still learning about bi-erasure from straight allies and the transgender community, to be honest I haven’t fully affirmed myself yet in regards to sexual orientation due to my emphasis on community for helping gay people (in formal and informal ways such as Gay-Straight Alliance leadership and my very best friend is a gay man), and supporting other cisgender women through their #Metoo experiences via emotional labor (friendship support).

What do you wish more people knew about people who share your identity? 

I wish people knew that being bisexual means you get stereotyped a lot as being some deviant overly sexual creature when you’re really just a person who has the capacity to love people of both genders.

What misconceptions do you encounter from people? 

People think I must have had a lot of sexual encounters and am lying when I tell them I’ve hardly dated.

What can people do to be more inclusive of non-monosexual folks in general, and of people of your specific identity? 

Please treat us as equals within the queer community.

Are there any resources, books, articles, tv shows, movies, video games, or other pieces of representation that you would like to recommend? 

Steven Universe 🙂


Pansexuality. (This email was over email.)

First, how do you identify? 

I’m Rhiannon, a Transgender Polyamorous Woman with Female Pronouns, I am also a proud Immigrant to Canada (twice now).

There is so much variety within the non-monosexual community. How do you identify?

I identify as Pansexual.

What does visibility mean to you?

Being open and honest with people about my identity and seeing myself represented in the media.

How did you learn about your identity? Did you see representations of people like you?

I was struggling as a Transgender Woman in the Bi community. I found a lot of Bisexual people that I encountered preferred Binary Gendered people. I was feeling very frustrated so a friend told me about Pansexuality and how Pansexual people are open to all gender varieties.

What do you wish more people knew about people who share your identity?

There seems to be this misconception that Pansexual people are against the Bisexual community for not being open to non-binary genders. I obviously can’t speak for everyone but this is not the case with the Pansexual people that I know. I acknowledge that there are many Bisexual people who are attracted to Non-Binary or Transgender people, like myself, but I felt it removed any confusion if I identified as Pan rather than Bi. To me that is what is at the core of Pansexual Identity, it is a way of letting people know immediately that you are open to all Gender Variations. We love our Bisexual Brethren, we just choose a different identify for ourselves.

What misconceptions do you encounter from people?

That Pansexual people have a fetish for Kitchen-ware. I cannot count the amount of times I have been asked that. Also, as mentioned above, we get a lot of anger from Bisexual people because they think that by choosing a new identity we are in some way saying that the Bi identity was not enough for us, when it is merely a different way for us to identify.

What can people do to be more inclusive of non-monosexual folks in general, and of people of your specific identity?

To not make rash judgments. Everyone is walking their own path and what is right for you, on your path, may not be what is right for me, on mine.

Is there anything else you want included in the blog post?

I’d like to thank the author for all of their hard work they have put into this blog and the Bi Visibility Day. (Noted, and appreciated!! <3)