The Ally Bill of Responsibilities #1

(Cross-posting from Facebook – I’m going to be posting over the next couple weeks as I work through Dr. Lynn Gehl’s Ally Bill of Responsibilities.)

If you are non-Indigenous and feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do as you watch the ongoing colonial violence committed on Wet’suwet’en lands, consider this an invitation to find one specific and tangible action to take.

You can start with the Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit 2020, which is full of resources and ideas. There are places to donate, articles to read, historical and contemporary information to learn.

If that feels daunting for you, and you’d like a single specific task, you can join me in spending some time with Dr. Lynn Gehl’s Ally Bill of Responsibilities.

There are 16 responsibilities listed in this bill, and I’m going to be working my way through these, focusing on one per day, for the next two weeks.

The first responsibility is –

“Do not act out of guilt, but rather out of a genuine interest in challenging the larger oppressive power structures.”

This requires us to examine our own hearts and find where guilt is our motivation. This is hard work, but it’s important.

What do you feel when you read stories and articles about what is happening on Wet’suwet’en land? When you read the racist and anti-Indigenous comments on articles and scattered throughout social media?

I think that many white settlers, like myself, are feeling guilt in these situations, and we know that we are implicated in the violence because we are part of the dominant group.

How can we recognize and validate those feelings of guilt, but NOT keep those as our motivation for being in solidarity with Indigenous communities?

Acting from guilt positions us as the ones with agency, the ones who can take actions to make things right. Acting from guilt can lead us to think that we’re the ones with the power to harm, and therefore the power to heal. It can lead us to think that our job is to “help” Indigenous communities. But this isn’t right. These larger oppressive power structures harm everyone, and challenging them is not an act of charity towards Indigenous communities, it is an act of mutual aid towards our mutual survival.

How can we shift our motivation so that we are acting from an awareness that these larger oppressive power structures must be challenged?

What will help us stay connected to an awareness of moving towards justice, rather than simply moving away from guilt?

Acting from guilt can also lead us into trying to gain absolution from our Indigenous friends and community members. Trying to be reassured that we’re not “bad”. Seeking out comfort for the uncomfortable feelings of guilt.

But acting from genuine interest in challenging oppressive power structures means that we can just do that work, without asking for reassurance and comfort from the people we are trying to be in solidarity with.

For myself, this responsibility feels more possible when I have other white settlers to discuss my feelings of guilt with, so that I’m not just ignoring or dismissing those feelings, but I’m also not allowing them to be the motivator of my actions. Accountability companions who share my white settler privilege and won’t be harmed when I talk about my guilt are important.

What helps you with this responsibility?

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.

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.

Download the Letters of Support for the Trans Community Vol. 1.

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.

Intimate partner violence and the 10 of Swords

Intimate partner violence and the 10 of Swords

(This post was originally written for my tarot blog.)

I am tired of watching the people in my life suffer at the hands and words of people who claim to love them.

And it does not escape my notice that it is more often the femmes, the women, the disabled, the neurodivergent, the vulnerable who are experiencing violence and abuse from their partners.

I am overwhelmed with listening to people who consult me for narrative therapy, and who consult me as a friend, talk about what has been done to them, talk about what has been said to them, talk about what has been said about them, and to hear them questioning themselves with the oppressive voices of our culture.

Was it really so bad?
He didn’t mean it.
Am I too needy?
He was drinking.
They were having a panic attack.
Everything I say makes her angry.
He really tries.
Maybe it’s not so bad.

Maybe it’s not so bad.

Of course they doubt themselves! Our culture chronically gaslights marginalized communities. Marginalized communities are often operating within transgenerational trauma, poverty, scarcity (if not in our families, then in our communities). Marginalized communities may also have to contend with other structural and systemic issues that make naming abuse and violence more challenging – Black and Indigenous communities are at such increased risk of violence from any system. Seeking help often means finding more violence.

There is so much normalization of violence in our culture. And although it is not an issue that only impacts women, or is only perpetuated by men, there are patterns. They are painful patterns to witness.

One of my friends recently posted this open letter to men:

Dear men,

Just wanted to let you know I am so over it. I talk to your partners every day. I see their tears and listen to their self flagellation in the effort to make you happy. I watch them cram themselves in tiny boxes so they don’t threaten you. I fume as they suggest, gently, kindly, if it’s not too much trouble, that you consider their needs, but your wants are more important. Men, I watch you casually ask for sacrifice as if it were your due. I seethe as your partners ask for the simplest things of you, and you just don’t even bother. I see you go through the motions and call it love, when it doesn’t even pass the bar for respect. And then, as it all falls apart you claim you need a chance, as if you haven’t been given dozens, that you didn’t know, as if you hadn’t been told relentlessly, and that you can change, as long as you won’t be held accountable.

Men, I am so over watching your partners unilaterally trying to fix relationship problems that are yours. I am tired of knowing your partners better than you. I am exhausted having to buoy them through the hard times because you cannot be bothered. I am tired of you cheapening what love means by buying the first box of chocolates you see (not even their favourite) and calling it an apology but changing nothing.

Don’t hurt my people. Men, do better or go home.

And still, the questioning. Maybe it wasn’t so bad? Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Because each incident on its own might not be so bad. Might be a bad day, a bad choice. Might be a bad moment. It’s not the whole story. Maybe it’s not so bad.

And on its own, maybe it isn’t.

Image description: The Ten of Swords from the Next World Tarot.

From the guidebook by Cristy C. Road:

This is the final straw, and the 10 of Swords is exhausted from counting. They have lost themselves, over and over, in the name of love, self-worth, trauma, post-traumatic stress, healing the body from abuse, healing the mind from manipulation, and unwarranted, non-stop loss. The 10 knows healing, they studies it and have been offered power, candles, bracelets, and messages from their ancestors through local prophets who run their favorite Botanica. They are listening, but they are stuck. Proving to their community that while they have known power, they have known pain they don’t deserve.

The 10 of Swords asks you to trust your pain, own your suffering, and don’t deny yourself of the care you deserve from self, and the validation from your community. That validation is the root of safety. The 10 of Swords believes now is the time to ask your people for safety.

I pulled this card after another conversation with a beloved member of my community about an incident of misogyny in an intimate relationship.

I had brought this question to the deck – “How do we invite accountability into our intimate relationships?”

I wanted to know –

How do we create the context for change without putting the burden of emotional labour onto the person already experiencing trauma from the choices and behaviours of their partner?

How do we deepen the connection to values of justice, compassion, and ethical action, for people who have been recruited into acts of violence and abuse?

How do we resist creating totalizing narratives about people who use violence and abuse? How do we resist casting them as monsters? How do we invite accountability while also sustaining dignity?

How do we, to use a quote by one of my fellow narrative therapists, “thwart shame”? (Go watch Kylie Dowse’s video here!)

In moments of distress, I often turn to the tarot. When I don’t know how to ask the right questions, and I don’t know what to say or do, I turn to the tarot. Tarot cards are excellent narrative therapists.

I flipped this card over and the image moved me immediately. These acts of intimate partner violence and abuse do not occur in a vacuum. It is not just one sword in the back.

A misogynist comment from a partner, directed towards a woman or femme, joins the crowd of similar comments she, they, or he has received their entire life.

A racist comment from a partner, directed towards a racialized person, joins the pain of living an entire life surrounded by white supremacy and racism.

An ableist comment from a partner, a transantagonistic comment, a sanist or healthist or fatphobic or classist comment – these comments join the crowd.

And so, how do we invite accountability while preserving dignity? How do we resist totalizing narratives of either victims or perpetrators, resist recreating systems of harm in our responses to harm?

See the whole picture.

Even though it is so painful to look at, see the whole thing.

Rather than locating violence and abuse as problems that are localized to a relationship, individualized and internalized to a single person making choices, recognize that these things happen in context. And for many folks, these contexts are incredibly painful.

It will take time, and patience, and compassion, and gentleness, and a willingness to do the hard work of both validation and accountability. It will take community to find safety.

We need each other to say, “it is that bad, even if this incident might not be.”

When the victim-blaming, isolating, individualizing voices start clamoring, we need each other to say, “this is not your fault.”

We need something more nuanced than “leave,” “report.”

We need to show up for each other, with each other. We need safety. We need validation.

Can we do this by asking questions like:

How did you learn what it means to be in relationship?

What examples of making choices in relationships have you seen around you? What was being valued in those choices?

Does what you’ve learned about being in relationship align with what you want for yourself, and what you value for yourself?

Do the actions you’re choosing in your own relationship align with your values or hopes?

Who has supported you in your values and hopes?

Do you share any hopes or values with your partner(s)?

What have you learned about violence and abuse in relationships? About who experiences violence and abuse? About who enacts violence and abuse?

When did you learn this?

Does this learning align with what you’ve experienced in your own relationship?

What insider knowledges would you add to this learning, from your own experience?

Have you ever taken a stand against violence and abuse in your relationship?

What enabled you to take this stand?

When violence or abuse shows up in your relationship, are you able to name it? Have you ever been able to name it? What supports this ability?

What have you learned about what it means to be accountable in relationship?

Do you have supports available to you that invite accountability while sustaining dignity?

Who can support you in being accountable for the actions you’ve taken when you’ve been recruited into violence or abuse? Who can support you in asking for accountability from a partner who has been recruited into violence or abuse?

Here are some resources if you’re looking for ways to respond to intimate partner violence:

The Stop Violence Everyday project.

Critical Resistance’s The Revolution Starts at Home zine.

The Creative Interventions toolkit.

(This post was originally posted on my tarot blog. You can find it here.)

#readharder2019: Washington Black

#readharder2019: Washington Black

This is an expanded version of the review I posted to Patreon earlier this month. If you want to support my work and read early versions of many of my projects, you can join the community here!

Content note: talking about racism and white supremacy

For the first time in… I don’t even know how long!… I finished a substantial novel in a week. That novel was Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.

There were a few factors that made it possible, and I want to acknowledge that this isn’t always possible (for me or for anyone else dealing with a notable lack of time). The most important factor was that I spent a lot of time in the passenger seats of cars, so I had a solid 10 hours to read. I also decided to devote some time on the weekend to reading, so I spent a few hours in coffee shops reading when I could have been working instead.

It meant the next week was a bit stressful, and now two weeks out from it I’m still trying to get caught up on some of the work I put off, but it was worth it.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan was so very worth it.

If you have the chance to read this book, take it. And be prepared to be pulled into this world, which contains so much nuance and life and depth and joy and pain.

I’m working through Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy workbook this month, and reading Esi Edugyan’s novel, which holds a mirror up to slavery-era white supremacy, and to the white supremacy that remains in our current culture.

In this mirror, I saw my own complicity with, and cooperation with, ongoing patterns of privilege and domination. I see in myself Christopher Wilde’s self-serving white savior thoughts and actions. I see in myself, and in the context around me, so many of the harms perpetuated by well-meaning white people in the book. And I see the blatant and violence racism of the book still present in the world around me, even the world very close to me.

Washington says, “How could he have treated me so, he who congratulated himself on his belief that I was his equal? I had never been his equal. To him, perhaps, any deep acceptance of equality was impossible. He saw only those who were there to be saved, and those who did the saving.”

This is deep and relevant and contemporary knowledge. In the last two weeks I have watched a community that I was part of absolutely combust in white backlash, and I have been so moved by the discourse that invites to consider not how we can be inclusive but rather how we can challenge and stand against exclusion.

“Being inclusive” puts us in Christopher Wilde’s well-heeled shoes. It puts us on the side of “those who do the saving.” We share our spaces. We “pass the mic” (because we maintain control of the mic).

Instead, we have to accept the invitation that Black and Indigenous theorists have been saying for generations. We have to recognize that there is not “those who are there to be saved, and those who do the saving.” These hierarchies are hierarchies of harm.

The book was beautifully written, with rich and evocative metaphors. The characters were written with such care and generosity. Washington’s experiences, and his reflections on the world around him and his own place in the world, are so carefully and skillfully shared with the reader. It’s heartbreaking and heartening and absolutely gorgeous.

I was especially moved by how compassionately Edugyan treated each of the characters, no matter how misguided or actively harmful their actions may have been. There are monsters in the book, absolutely. There is no doubt that many of the white characters are deeply influenced by and actively complicit in genocidal white supremacy. But even the most monstrous of these characters is also a human, a person who has hopes, who feels love and gentleness, full of complexity and a desire to find happiness, to be seen as a good and worthy person. This makes the book infinitely more powerful, because it resists creating a simple (and therefore easily dismissed) stereotype of racist villainy. Instead, the violence and inexcusable harm is committed by people who are so much like me.

Esi Edugyan is masterful in her storytelling, and she is part of a long lineage of masterful storytelling by Black women.

I am so thankful for the generous work of Black women. For the visionary work of Afrofuturists and Black feminists. I am so thankful for the invitation to see the world with the clarity and the active hope of writers like Esi Edugyan, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, adrienne maree brown, and so many others.

This is the book I read for the category of “A book by a woman and/or author of colour that won a literary award in 2018.” Washington Black won the 2018 Giller Prize (a second Giller win for her!). It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize.

You can find it here at Shelf Life Books.


You can read my other reviews for the Read Harder 2019 challenge here!

My review of Binti for “a book by a woman and/or an author of colour set in or about space.”
My review of When They Call You A Terrorist for “a book of nonviolent true crime.”