Light and the Long Night

Light and the Long Night

(An earlier draft of this post was available to Patreon supporters.)

cw: death

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice, and it was also three weeks since my dad died. 

It was a hard day. It has been a hard three weeks. It was a hard stretch before that. It has been a long night, and the night is not over. But the light returns. I know that the light returns. I know that even in the darkest night and the deepest gloom, there is light.

The stars exist. And some of the stars that light our night skies are many centuries dead – still, they glow. Legacies of light, a physics of remembrance. I think that there is something like this in grief, too. A way of light continuing.

And there are fireflies and other bioluminescent plants and animals. Lights in deep gloom. In the further depths of dark ocean, in the forests, in the wide open spaces that can feel like endless empty. There is something like this in grief, too.

There is always light, somewhere. There is always light returning eventually. Sometimes it just takes time to travel to us, for us to travel to the light, for us to find a way to glow, for the small and precious glowing thing to show itself. The long dark is hard, but it is not forever.

I’ve been reflecting on the legacies that my dad left me, the legacies that I want to continue. 

I wrote to my friend about the memories of my youth and my feelings about my dad. Hugh said that, in reading my letter about my dad, they could see that he gave me “part of the thing we need most in this world: a sense of urgent justice.”

And this is true. When I think about what my dad gave me, and what I cherish most in myself, it is that sense of urgent justice.  

This urgent justice was, in its best and most cherished expression, justice tied to love. Justice tied to acceptance. Justice tied to empathy. Justice tied to an awareness of power and privilege, and an intentional choice to side with the marginalized.

I saw my dad express this justice tied to empathy and awareness of power many times in my life. Those stories have been close to me these last few weeks, surfacing again and again. Luminescent.

In the week after his death, when I was updating An Invitation to Celebrate to include him, and to invite people to celebrate the life of a loved one, I wrote – 

“He taught me to always watch for the hurting people and to connect with and care for them. That’s still how I live my life, and it’s my favourite thing about myself. It comes from my dad.”

This is justice.

This is the urgency of justice – to watch for the people who are hurting, to connect with them and to care for them. Justice and love are tied together, braided into a strong triple-strand with the hope that justice and love can light the path to something better, something more possible.

My small Solstice ritual included writing my dad a letter – the first letter I’ve been able to write him since he died. I told him that I love him, that I will not forget him, that he was good and worthy and that I will hold onto many of the things he taught me. I named the threads I will hold onto:

  •  a sense of urgent justice
  •  a deep appreciation for the power of good story
  •  a commitment to compassion and acceptance

These are some of the lights my dad offered me. Lights that are still in my sky.

And every light casts a shadow, so along with these lights I acknowledge failures and complexities. Actions that align with injustice, stories that cause harm, cruelty and rejection instead of compassion and acceptance. These shadows were present in my own life, and in my dad’s life and in our relationship, but they do not cancel out the light. Part of how I will honour my dad is by holding the light, and not denying the shadow. 

What those failures and ruptures and omissions, those shadows, offer is the invitation to return to alignment with values of justice, good story, compassion, acceptance.

Fail, and return.

Fail, and choose to come back.

Fail, and then breathe, cry, grapple with guilt and shame, and return again, again, again.

I did not include this in my letter, but it is also true that another legacy I will carry forward from my dad is a deep value of connection. In this, too, we both failed and returned, failed and returned.

I wrote this two weeks ago –

One week since dad stepped out of this story and into another.

I woke up at 4:30. I set an alarm. I didn’t want to sleep through it, to sleep through the slipping from the first week to the second week, to sleep through marking and remembering those ten minutes between when Domini woke me up and when dad slipped away.

I had a plan for the day, to get through this day. It was a pretty good plan, I think.

But I got the wind knocked out of me before I could do it, knocked off the plan, smashed hard into a wall I saw coming but still somehow didn’t expect. Maybe just didn’t expect the timing of it. Didn’t expect it this morning, like that.

I went swimming instead.

Dad and I used to swim at the same pool – Vecova. Helped my fibro, helped his pain, too. We crossed paths a few times. Not enough.

I have spent the last hour reading old emails.

‘Hello my first born, you know, I hope, that I am proud of you. I miss you.’

‘Hi dad, haven’t heard from you in a while. I miss you.’

‘Good morning, Tiffany. I sometimes feel that you and I are growing further and further apart and I do not know how to counter that.’

‘Hey Dad, how are you? I miss you. I love you!’

‘You have no idea how much I miss talking to you; working on a treasure hunt for you; and just being able to connect with you. Even though you are a fully realized adult and are demonstrably moving forward I still think of you as someone who, at one time, counted on me to help you work through some of your issues. I wish that were still the case.’

‘Hi dad, I know you’re probably busy but I thought I’d try again. How are you doing?’

We both tried so hard, for so long.

We both wanted something different.

We were both reaching and reaching and reaching and not quite getting there.

It is hard to read these emails, each of us repeatedly reaching out, somehow not able to get past the missing and find connection.

There is a deep ocean of grief in me, for what we had and have lost, for what we wanted and were not able to find, for what was painful between us, for what was precious between us.

It is a very hard day, today.

Despite how hard it was, we kept trying. We valued connection – we both valued connection with each other – enough to keep trying. To keep coming back.

And I will carry that with me, the knowledge that continuing to try holds value, and that even when it isn’t perfect, it is good and worthy.

I lit four candles for the Solstice.

A black candle for the grief, the loss, the long dark.

A green candle for justice, and for the growth that comes from aligning with justice.

A red candle for love and compassion and empathy and acceptance, the sparks that tell justice where to focus, how to grow.

A white candle for hope and renewal, for the willingness to fail and come back, for the light that we can turn to, phototropic, moving towards what is good and life-giving.

I put the letter to my dad in the center.

I let the light flicker into the long night.

***

Listen to Shelby Merry’s When The Night Is Long 

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day 2019

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day 2019

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is a topic that impacts so many different people, including trans and non-binary folks who experience gender erasure and harm in both medical contexts and support spaces around this loss; Black, Indigenous, and brown people who experience racism in medical contexts and support spaces; disabled folks; neurodivergent and mad folks; so many people who go through this experience (which can take so many different forms, and can be felt in so many different ways) undersupported, underserved, dismissed.

The You Are Not Alone project was first conceived in 2017 as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.

This resource is freely downloadable and shareable. You can find the 70-page PDF here.

From the Introduction

This is the third edition of You Are Not Alone, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources. In 2019, we have added Aditi Loveridge’s personal story, and expanded the section on handling racism in medical contexts with Aditi’s help. We have also expanded the resources section to include information about Aditi’s Calgary and online-based charity, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre.

Although this resource attempts to be intentionally inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.

This document is designed to be a grief and loss resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is possible to feel grief without feeling regret, and this is true for any pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.

We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought up for them.

We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information. Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.

Parents we want to honour:

  • Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
  • Those who have lost a child to abortion
  • Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence

This affects:

  • People of any gender identity
  • People of any sexual orientation
  • People of any relationship status and structure
  • People of any race or culture
  • People of any state of mental or physical health
  • People of any religious belief
  • People of any socioeconomic status

This kind of work – creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do. I am thankful to be invited into this kind of work by people in the community who recognize a gap and want help filling it, which is what happened in 2017 when this resource was first created. I will continue to do this kind of work. If you would like to support me, you can find my Patreon here.

NEW! Polyamory and non-monogamy workshop for support providers

NEW! Polyamory and non-monogamy workshop for support providers

Supporting non-monogamous and polyamorous community members: a workshop for therapists, social workers and other support providers.

When: July 25, 2019, 6 – 9 pm
Where: 2632 24 Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Cost: $60, with sliding scale available.
Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite and on the Facebook event.
Since space is limited, please do register ahead of time.

Do you work with polyamorous or non-monogamous community members? Do you want to? This workshop is for you!

In this workshop we’ll talk about what polyamorous and non-monogamous community members might need their providers to know, as well as some of the concerns that non-monogamous and polyamorous community members might bring into therapy sessions.

We’ll touch on:

  • Discourses of monogamy, some of the history of these discourses (including their link to colonialism and the suppression of Indigenous and other kinship structures) and how these discourses show up in people’s lives (including our own)
  • Marginalizing discourses within polycules (ableism, racism, sexism, cis- and hetero-normativity)
  • Beginning polyamory
  • Polyamorous families
  • Abuse within polycules

This workshop will also introduce some helpful narrative therapy practices, although it is open to practitioners from a wide range of therapeutic models.

The cost for this workshop is $60, with sliding scale available. If you would like to attend but the cost is an issue, please get in touch!

Accessibility:

This location is *not* wheelchair accessible – there are stairs to get to the boardroom. If you would like to attend but will not be able to access the physical space, please get in touch and I will try to arrange to have the workshop set up on Zoom so that you can log in. There are gender inclusive washrooms at the location.

This is part of an on-going project creating resources and supports for polyamorous and non-monogamous community members seeking therapeutic support, and for narrative therapists and other providers who are engaging with polyamorous and non-monogamous community members. Some of this work was presented at the Horizons: Polyamory, Non-monogamy, and the Future of Canadian Kinship conference last year.

Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and community organizer on Treaty 7 land. They are a white, non-binary, queer settler with eleven years of lived experience within the polyamorous community.

Tharseo Counselling is providing the space, and suggested this event. Thank you, Jill!

Letters of Support for the Trans Community Vol 1

Letters of Support for the Trans Community Vol 1

The Letters of Support for the Trans Community project has been running since October, and now we have the first volume of the zine complete! This volume includes letters from across Canada and Australia. The project is ongoing, so if you’d like to submit a letter either in physical or digital form, please let me know.

This link is freely shareable – there is no cost to download the PDF.

If you would like a physical copy of the zine, they are available for purchase directly from me, or from Shelf Life Books in Calgary, Alberta.

If you are a trans person wanting a letter of support, the zine, along with a physical card, will be mailed out to you at no charge. Just get in touch with me!

If you would like to support this project, consider backing my Patreon! You can also make a one-time donation by getting in touch with me.

Celebrating Transfeminist Activisms

Celebrating Transfeminist Activisms

Image text:

Celebrating Transfeminist Activisms

“My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.” ~ Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices)
With Tiffany Sostar and Kimberly Williams

Friday, March 15th 5-8pm
MRU Pride Centre
Wyckham House, Z211

Join us for part or all of this FREE event to celebrate the continuing contributions of trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people to Calgary’s feminist community.

5-6pm: Celebrating Resilience
A therapeutic conversation about the impact on trans folks of having our identities and safety considered debatable. We will center the insider knowledges and the lived experiences of trans, non-binary, and Two Spirit people.

6:30-8pm: Positive Impacts
We’ll identify and celebrate the numerous and necessary positive effects of trans visibility, trans theory, trans activism, and trans lives on our feminisms!

Dinner will be served!

Tiffany Sostar is a non-binary, bisexual, white settler living and working on Treaty 7 land. They work as a narrative therapist in individual, relationship, and group therapy, with a strong focus on working with
marginalized communities. Tiffany is the founder of Possibilities Calgary. Learn more: www.tiffanysostar.com.

Kimberly Williams is a queer, cisgender white settler. She directs MRU’s Women’s & Gender Studies
Program and is a long-time feminist theorist and activist. She tweets at @KWilliamsYYC.

Co-sponsored by: WGST: MRU and The Pride Centre

Here at Mount Royal University, we learn in Treaty 7 Territory, on the hereditary homelands of the Niitsitapi (the Blackfoot Confederacy: Siksika, Piikani, Kainai), the Îyârhe Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina Nations, and of the Métis Nation of Alberta.


Content note for referencing a transantagonistic event and rhetoric.

This event has been pulled together quite quickly, and I’m so proud to be involved.
It’s a two-part event celebrating transfeminist activisms, and it will be happening on March 15 from 5-8 at the SAMRU Pride Centre at Mount Royal University.
Although this event is a response to another event being hosted earlier in the day at MRU (which I’ll describe below), I think the event is important either way.
Trans lives, and the validity of trans existence, is considered a reasonable topic for debate. It’s considered reasonable and valid to debate whether trans folks are “really” their own gender, to debate whether trans kids exist and deserve gender affirming care, to medicalize, pathologize, and infantilize trans individuals, refusing to recognize our self-knowledge and the fact that we are experts in our own experiences.
There is also a dominant discourse that pits trans activism against feminist activism, ignoring and erasing the long history of trans activism that supports and has enhanced so much feminist activism!
In Transfeminist Persectives, author Anne Enke writes:

Just about everywhere, trans-literacy remains low. Transgender studies is all but absent in move university curricula, even in gender and women’s studies programs. For the most part, institutionalized versions of women’s and gender studies incorporate transgender as a shadowy interloper or as the most radical outlier within a constellation of identity categories (e.g., LGBT). Conversation is limited by a perception that transgender studies only or primarily concerns transgender-identified individuals – a small number of “marked” people whose gender navigations are magically believed to be separate from the cultural practices that constitute gender for everyone else. Such tokenizing invites the suggestion that too much time is spent on too few people; simultaneously it obscures or reinforces the possibility that transgender studies is about everyone in so far as it offers insight into and why we all “do” gender.

Bringing feminist studies and transgender studies into more explicit conversation pushes us toward better translation, better transliteracy, and deeper collaboration…

This event has a goal of inviting that explicit conversation from the foundational understanding that trans activism can enhance and support feminist goals, and that feminism can also enhance and support trans activism. This is a celebration of translation, transliteracy, and collaboration.
And it is in response to a debate.
As some folks in Calgary may have seen, on March 15 the Mount Royal University ‘Rational Space Network’ will be hosting a debate on the topic of “does trans activism negatively impact women’s rights.” Meghan Murphy, the founder of Feminist Current, will be arguing the “yes” side. For folks unfamiliar with Meghan Murphy, she is very vocal about her anti-trans, anti-sex worker views.
The fact that this debate is happening at all is part of the background radiation of trans lives – the knowledge that we are debatable. Our worth, our role, our nature – debatable.
This is actively harmful to the well-being of trans folks, especially trans women (who are Meghan Murphy and most TERFs preferred targets).
So, this event includes a one-hour therapeutic conversation where we can talk about these harms, followed by an hour-and-a-half conversation where we can celebrate the contributions of trans activism to our lives. Because, as Anne Enke notes, we all “do” gender, and trans folks have expanded what is possible for all of us, cisgender folks included.

As a note: I will also be attending the debate, which will be happening at 3 pm at Jenkins Theatre. I’ll be attending in support of the trans women arguing the “no” side of the debate. I’d love if anyone was able to join me for the debate, or for either part of the event following.

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.