#readharder2019: A book of non-violent true crime

#readharder2019: A book of non-violent true crime

Image description: A screenshot of the Book Riot #ReadHarder Journal, with one category checked. The category is ‘A book of non-violent true crime’ and the title listed is ‘When They Call You A Terrorist.’

This is an expanded and updated version of a post that was available on my Patreon last week.

I’m participating in the Book Riot Read Harder 2019 challenge this year, which means I’m going to attempt to read books in 24 specific categories.

  • The categories are:
  • An epistolary novel or collection of letters
  • An alternate history novel
  • A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
  • A humor book
  • A book by a journalist or about journalism
  • A book by an AOC set in or about space
  • An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  • An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  • A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  • A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  • A book of manga
  • A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  • A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  • A cozy mystery
  • A book of mythology or folklore
  • An historical romance by an AOC
  • A business book
  • A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  • A book of nonviolent true crime
  • A book written in prison
  • A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  • A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  • A self-published book
  • A collection of poetry published since 2014

My motivation for joining the challenge is that I love books, especially science fiction and fantasy books, but for many years now I have been primarily engaging with academic texts and non-fiction. I’ve become quite disconnected from a habit of reading regularly, and reading for pleasure (as opposed to reading for a specific productivity and work-related purpose – to put together a workshop, complete a paper, or plan a project).

I miss the relationship that I used to have with books, and I’m hoping that this will invite me back into a practice that I used to cherish and that has been lost to brain fog, academics, over-scheduling, fibro pain (have you ever considered the weight of a paperback? Me neither, until fibro!), and the scattered attention that so many of us seem to experience when we’re operating under pressure.

One of the categories for the challenge is “non-violent true crime.”

For some reason, I decided to start with this category, and looked up recommended titles in the category. I’m not really a “true crime” sorta person. I much prefer… honestly, almost any other genre, with the possible exception of heterosexual romance novels. Most of the recommendations for non-violent true crime suggested “white collar” crimes. Financial crime.

I downloaded the audiobook for Billion Dollar Whale, which is the story of Jho Low.

According to The New Yorker:

If you like global intrigue, financial crime, wealth porn, and absurdity, “Billion Dollar Whale,” by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, is for you. It’s the story of Jho Low, an enterprising businessman from Malaysia who used his social connections to the country’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak to transform himself into an international financier. According to Wright and Hope’s account, Low persuaded Razak to create an investment fund, 1MDB, financed with government money, which Low managed behind the scenes. Goldman Sachs and other banks helped raise ten billion dollars for the fund. Then approximately five billion dollars of the money disappeared, prompting an international scandal.

I don’t particularly like any of those things, but anyway, that’s the book I picked. I thought this would be a throw-away category for me, since it’s not a category I was very interested or invested in. I planned to pick something with lots of recommendations, hope it’s decent, get it out of the way.

I made it five chapters in and couldn’t finish. I was frustrated by the way the authors described Low as “the Asian” and “the Malaysian” constantly, a casual linguistic othering that served as a constant reminder that the anticipated audience was neither Asian nor Malaysian. I was frustrated by the way they described women, particularly groups of women hired as entertainment, as “the girls,” casual misogyny to match the casual racism. And I was really frustrated at the use of racist phrases like describing a banker as “going off the reservation” when he operated outside of standard practice. These phrases are not neutral – they are part of, and contribute to, ongoing anti-Indigenous violence and they reference the genocidal practices of colonial governments creating reserves in ways that normalize rather than stand against this violence. This is not even remotely okay.

I gave up on the book, and started looking for an alternative.

I already knew that the blog posts were going to suggest more financial/white collar crime, and I knew I wasn’t interested. As I worked through my response to Billion Dollar Whale, I started thinking about the category itself, and after this reflection (which really should have happened before I picked a book), I think it’s worth challenging the idea of financial crime as “non-violent.” This is particularly true when it is theft by the wealthy, theft that doesn’t require breaking a door or making a threat. The only reason that this kind of “white collar” crime is labelled non-violent is because we, as a capitalist culture, have become adept at ignoring structural and systemic violence. (This echoes the insight that Emma McMurphy offered in her post for the Feminism from the Margins series, about how the structural and systemic violence of patriarchy is rarely recognized as violence.)

But despite our unwillingness to see it, capitalism is violent, the wealth gap is violent, and the ferrying back and forth of money between members of the ultra wealthy does have violent impacts on the poor and the marginalized. Nothing about capitalism is non-violent. Were the actions of the banks that led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis non-violent? The effects were certainly violent, but not a violence that we readily recognize.

I realized that within this “throw-away” category, there was a critical question that I needed to engage – what counts as violence? What counts as non-violence? And, most pressing, most political, most obvious – what counts as crime, and how does this intersect with justice?

So, what kinds of crimes are non-violent?

After thinking about it for a long time, I came to the conclusion that crimes of identity are truly non-violent. Existing while inhabiting a criminalized identity (at various times and in various places this might be as a trans person, a Black person, a biracial person, an Indigenous person, a queer person) or participating in a criminalized culture (Black cultures and Indigenous cultures, particularly, have been criminalized at various times and in various ways and still are, to varying degrees), are non-violent crimes.

They are only crimes because of violent laws.

So, I narrowed my potential reading list down to books about refusing to cooperate with violent laws. And, since the category was specifically “non-violent” true crime, I was looking for books about refusing to cooperate but not books about violent resistance. (Even though I do think that violent resistance is often not only valid but necessary – how do we define self-defense when the violence being faced is structural or systemic? More hard questions.)

I started looking for books about existing in criminalized identities, and resisting and surviving under violent conditions. I was (and am – please send recommendations!) interested in things like:

– Stories of being queer in places and at times when queerness was criminalized.

– Stories of being trans in places and at times when transness was criminalized.

– Stories of Indigenous and Black cultural preservation when this was criminalized.

– Stories of interracial, non-heterosexual, or otherwise consenting-but-criminalized relationships in places and at times when these were criminalized.

– Stories of women learning to read and write in places and at times when this was criminalized.

– Stories of civil disobedience in response to unjust laws.

And I was/am particularly interested in these stories within colonial contexts – one thing that really irked me in Billion Dollar Whale was that reading it felt like being complicit with xenophobic violence. Why was I reading about a Malaysian man who stole billions from governments, banks, and Hollywood? Why was this the story that I ended up with, when there are so many other stories that do not participate in the “nefarious foreigner” narrative? There’s no virtue in pretending that only white folks behave in horrible ways, but if I’m only going to read one true crime book, why is it this one? I didn’t want to end up there again, so in this category, I was looking for books that didn’t offload the horror of state-sanctioned homophobic, or transphobic, or misogynistic violence onto Black and Brown cultures and bodies.

Basically, I decided that the only true crime I want to read is the “Be Gay, Do Crimes” kind.

What I ended up with is a book that’s been on my shelf for almost a year now – When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele (link is to the title at Shelf Life Books). Khan-Cullors is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, and her description of the criminalization of Black bodies and the constant intrusion of violent policing into Black lives is both riveting and heartbreaking.

None of what she’s sharing in this book is new information – communities of colour, including Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, as well as trans communities, disabled communities, and so many other marginalized communities who face state violence, have been speaking about this violence for generations. She evokes the long history of criminalization, from the “war on drugs and gangs” (which was always, and was intentionally, a war on communities of colour), to the labeling of young Black men as “superpredators” and the fracturing of Black families that results from mass incarceration and welfare laws that penalize mothers for having a man present in the household even if together their income is still far below the poverty line. One of the incredible strengths of the book is how Khan-Cullors tells the deeply personal story of her own life, and the lives of her family members (both biological and chosen), and also ties this story into the broader story of the system within which they live and love and organize.

And the discussion of organizing is nuanced and multi-storied. She demonstrates how her communities are tied to long legacies of anti-oppressive action, and about the impact of under-funding and lack of structural support that is countered by an incredible wealth of community support and care. This book provides a glimpse into what collective action and a commitment to community care might mean, not only on a social level but also within intimate relationships. One of the most moving recurring themes in the book is the role of the extended community in supporting and caring for individuals within relationship, including restorative justice practices that allow relationships to transform and heal after a breakup, or following injustice within the relationship.

She also talks about the lasting impact of the Black Panthers and their community-focused actions, such as starting school breakfast programs. The Black Panthers were speaking out about racist police violence decades ago, and the work of Black Lives Matter builds on this legacy. It has been generations of work, collective action directed at addressing state violence, and the ongoing effects of slavery and racism in the lives of Black Americans (and, as she points out, Black Canadians also). Despite the fact that this isn’t new, it is necessary to pay attention to it. It’s easy for white folks (like me) to let it slip from sight, because our white supremacist and racist culture makes it so easy to look away. Khan-Cullors tells the story in a way that highlights the persistence of this state violence and the many ways in which Black bodies are policed and dehumanized, but that doesn’t contribute to thin stories of Black lives – the book tells the story of a long history of violence, but it also tells the story of a long history of resistance. The book is full of descriptions of her communities existing peacefully within their own contexts, building collaborative and restorative collectives and families, and having violence thrust into their lives. The violence is present throughout the book, but so are the stories of love, joy, companionship, and resourcefulness within her communities.

It is a book that is both joyful and angry.

I’m really glad I switched books, and I’m glad I made the original mistake because it forced me to seriously consider the boundaries and contours of what constitutes “non-violent true crime.”

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.)

Holiday Care Resource 2018

Holiday Care Resource 2018

Image description: A screenshot of the front cover of the PDF. Orange text reads “GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS: PLANNING, COPING, RECOVERING, AND GRIEF” Smaller text reads “An updated-for-2018 version of the document generated following the December 2017 Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Discussion Group. This document is meant to extend the conversations that we have at Possibilities, and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.” There is a decorative red line down the right side of the image.

“What Holidays Are We Talking About?

All of them!

This conversation happened around the Winter Holidays – that stretch of time that includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, Midwinter, Christmas, New Year’s, and Chinese New Year. But these strategies, suggestions, and situations are relevant to any holiday that includes social pressure to perform joyfulness, to spend time with extended social networks, and to perform a certain type of gender, orientation, or other identity. These pressures can be exacerbated by trauma, grief, or identity shifts. Other holidays that can be challenging in this way are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, the Spring Holidays, and any personally meaningful anniversary.

When and Why We Need Holiday Care

There can be shame attached to needing care around the holidays. It can be particularly difficult to manage the work of care networks around the holidays, when everyone seems over-extended and when there is significant pressure to look after ourselves so that our “issues” don’t “burden” the people around us. Inviting community care can be difficult. It can be difficult to ask for help, and to look for collaborative responses to challenging situations. The holidays are “supposed” to be cheerful times, where we connect with our families and communities, give and receive gifts and support, remind ourselves of the goodness of humanity, feel loved and loving.

There is so much pressure to conform to these ideas of appropriate holiday cheer, and although we might understand that the holidays can be challenging, it’s often difficult to extend compassion to ourselves when we are struggling. It’s sometimes hard to ask other people to understand when we’re struggling, because they may be invested in having a “good holiday” that doesn’t have space for our struggle.

Depression spikes at the holidays, and we do not have robust “practices of anti-depression” (to borrow a term from Daria Kutuzova, whose work is linked in the resources section). These practices include things like mindfulness, self-care and community care, compassion, creating and encouraging unique outcomes (meaning, outcomes that counter our internal expectation of despair and the external expectation of a certain performance of joy – unique outcomes are outcomes that allow us strong, hopeful, and resilient stories without denying our struggle, pain, trauma, and fear). Other practices of anti-depression include creating inclusive spaces and a sense of belonging, and encouraging pleasure, fun, hope, anticipation, and resilience without pasting on a smile that hides our true feelings. This path is much more complicated and challenging, but also much more rewarding.

Contents

When and Why We Need Holiday Care. 3

Planning for Holiday Care. 6

Coping Strategies. 8

If Your Family Invalidates Your Identity. 9

If You Can Get Away. 10

If You Can’t Get Away. 10

If You Start to Dissociate. 10

If You Feel Suicidal. 11

Recovery Strategies 13

If You’re Grieving. 14

Exercises and Printables. 18

The Reflection of the Year (exercise used with permission from Daria Kutuzova). 18

Documents of Authority. 18

Ally-Gathering Scripts and Card. 20

Letters of Support for the Trans Community. 22

Letter from Rosie. 22

Letter from Freya. 23

Collective Letter from the Possibilities Community, written at the November 20, 2018 Trans Day of Remembrance and Resilience event. 24

Resources. 31″

Read the rest of the resource in the PDF.

The monthly Possibilities discussions are full of rich insights, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration from within our bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans-inclusive community.

One of my goals is to create resources that grow out of these generous and creative conversations, so that the work we do in those moments can extend out to join larger conversations about queerness and community care, collaboration, and collective action. One reason for this is because when we are struggling, we have valuable insider knowledge that can help other people who are also struggling – it’s not true that the only people with answers are the “experts” or the ones who have it all figured out. To the contrary – it is often those of us who are actively grappling with an issue who have more direct insight and knowledge to share. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for experts or guides, but part of what I hope to accomplish with my work is consistently and intentionally centering the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, and creating resources that honour hard-won knowledge and skills.

In an effort to share these moments of community-generated wisdom from the Possibilities discussions, I’ll be creating a resource most months that documents and shares our collective insights. Anonymity, or naming, is at each participant’s discretion, and at the beginning of the discussion we talk about why I’m taking notes, what I’m planning to do with them, and how people can access the document before it goes public. Any participants who want to look over the document before it’s made public have that opportunity, and there’s a second check-in at the end of the discussion to make sure everyone is aware of what might be shared and has a chance to opt in or out. Confidentiality within supportive community spaces is so critical, and these documents will not contain identifying details (unless participants want to be named or identified).

This document is meant to extend the conversation and also to invite further conversation. Please email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com if you have any questions, or would like to add to this discussion.

This document was created following our December 19, 2017 meeting, and has been updated in December 2018 to include some expansion, some new language, and, most notable, the Letters of Support for the Trans Community project. It is meant to be a resource for the queer community that validates the challenges of holiday care as a queer person. There are a ton of coping strategies, resources, validations, and suggestions in here, and I hope they can help you.

Please feel free to share this resource widely.

Remembering and responding

Remembering and responding

This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series. Normally, these are guest posts. This month, this is a post by Tiffany Sostar. Tiffany is a settler on Treaty 7 land, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.


This post is an expansion of a social media post I wrote on December 6. December 6 is National Day of Action and Remembrance on Violence Against Women, and the anniversary of the école Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

Here is the post from December 6:

29 years ago was the école Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

I am remembering the women who were killed 29 years ago for being in “men’s” educational spaces.

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), mechanical engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

 

I’m thinking about all the women who face misogyny and violence in their places of work or learning or living.

 

And I’m thinking about how heightened that threat is for women who are further marginalized.

 

My work over the last few months has focused on responding to the fear, despair, and grief over the state of political, economic, and environmental climate shifts.

 

Today, I am sharply reminded that what so much of what we see in in the news is not new. Some of us, who have been sheltered by our privilege, are in a new experience of apocalyptic fear and violence but for many Indigenous and Black and trans and refugee and queer communities, this is not new. Seeing these names, and grieving for them, I am also thinking about all the trans women who are never memorialized in this way because their womanness is erased in media coverage of their deaths, and about all the Indigenous women whose disappearances are not properly investigated, and about Black women who are also targeted and killed.

 

It’s harder to memorialize the slow massacres. That’s further injustice.

 

Other parts of this current context are new. The state of the environment, the wealth gaps that are widening and contributing to harm, the complex crush of late-stage capitalism adds complexity to the old issues of oppressive violence. This makes me think about the increasing rates of violence that marginalized communities face and are likely to face in the coming future.

 

It’s a heavy day.

 

Resist and respond to misogyny wherever you find it.

 

Stand up for women, femmes, and non-binary folks.

 

Stand up for women in spaces they aren’t “supposed” to be – for marginalized professional women, for women in STEAM, for women in sports.

 

Stand up for women who aren’t white or straight or cisgender or abled or neurotypical.

 

Be kind to the women, femmes, and non-binary folks in your life. It’s ugly out here.

After writing the post, I was reflecting on anti-feminism, and on white feminism and other mainstream feminisms that end up doing violence, especially Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists (SWERFs) and Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). I was thinking about how challenging it is to respond to injustices within the community while also responding to injustice directed at the community.

The Feminism from the Margins series of posts has, so far, focused on responding to injustices within the community, and this is a critical and necessary focus. Harms and injustices are perpetuated within feminism by feminists who do not actively respond to their own privilege and dominance. We see this over and over again, notably this week from Lena Dunham who has spoken at length about her feminism and yet lied in order to discredit a Black women who came forward about her sexual assault by a white man who was a friend of Dunham’s. (This article from Wear Your Voice magazine goes into detail and history about this specific issue and the long pattern of white feminist erasure and violence.)

I’m also thinking about the fact that the école Polytechnique massacre was specifically anti-feminist. It was not just anti-woman, it was anti-feminist.

This is important. Anti-feminist violence is something that our community is facing, even as we are struggling to address and redress the harms done by feminists to other women and marginalized community members. This month, thinking about this project, thinking about feminism from the margins – feminism that happens on the margins, where we are more at risk, more vulnerable, more likely to face the kinds of slow and unmemorialized massacres of structural and systemic violence – I am wondering how to talk about violence within the community and also acknowledge violence directed at the community.

How do we respond in ways that invite community care, collaboration, and collective action?

The reason it feels important to talk about the anti-feminist violence is because 29 years ago the anti-feminist nature of the violence was erased, and it often continues to be erased today.

Melissa Gismondi at the Washington Post writes:

In the days, weeks and years following the attack, the question of whether it was anti-feminist became a point of contention.

Feminists pointed to some important evidence suggesting it was. They stressed that Lépine explicitly targeted women by segregating them from their male peers. Before he started shooting, he shouted, “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”

Lépine also left a suicide note that listed an additional 19 women he wanted to murder, including Francine Pelletier (a prominent feminist activist and journalist), a Quebec cabinet minister and some female police officers who’d angered Lépine by playing in a work volleyball league.

And yet a range of people from pundits to physicians saw the shooting in a different light. They denied the “political reasons” of the crime that Lépine himself espoused, arguing that the shooting was about the psychological collapse of one man who couldn’t find his place within society. For instance, a Montreal psychiatrist proclaimed in Montreal’s La Presse newspaper that Lépine was “as innocent as his victims, and himself a victim of an increasingly merciless society.” According to Pelletier, a Quebec City columnist also alleged that “the truth was that the crime had nothing to do with women.”

The brilliant Anne Thériault writes at Flare:

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we can’t fight against violence that we can’t name. So this year I’m saying what I’ve been too afraid to articulate until now: Marc Lépine was hunting feminists on December 6, 1989. His followers are still hunting feminists, and they don’t care what labels those feminists use. We can’t save ourselves by trying to appease men who see us as less than human. All we can do is keep rattling the cage until it finally breaks.

I suspect that we can work to resist violence both within our communities and directed at our communities by naming what is happening. And we can trust people to be able to name the problems that they are facing – we can listen to sex workers rather than naming their problem for them and then trying to “rescue” them from a problem we have misnamed and misunderstood; we can listen to Black women and Indigenous women and other women of colour rather than naming their problems for them and demanding that they wait their turn until “women” are “equal” before they can also demand justice; we can listen to disabled communities, neurodivergent communities, mad and neuroqueer communities, queer communities. It’s not just about naming, it’s also about who is allowed to give the name, who is treated as the expert in their own experience.

The reason this project feels important to me, and the reason I am so thankful for other projects that are intentionally bringing marginalized voices to the center (projects like Cheryl White’s Feminisms, Narrative Practice & Intersectionality series), is because there is so much violence and threat right now. And it is coming from so many directions.

There is so much fear. There is so much fragility. There are so many invitations to feel like a failure, and to give up. There is so much perfectionism, so much anxiety about saying the wrong thing (and a lot of this anxiety is warranted!)

So many of us are so afraid.

So many marginalized communities have been silenced for so long.

It feels important to make space for many voices. To hold each other accountable. To care for our communities in ways that are both robustly justice-oriented and that also maintain the dignity of our community members.

That’s the goal of the Feminism from the Margins series, and it feels important this month, as I think about violence, and fear, and how we remember.

In another post Anne Thériault gives necessary context and humanizing personal details to the list of names, “trying desperately to remember them as bright, lively young women instead of statistics.”

It’s worth reading, and it’s worth thinking about in terms of how we engage with each other, as well. When someone is sharing their pain, how do we respond? When someone is angry, how do we hear it?

The silencing that feminists experienced after the Montreal massacre is something that is still happening, both within feminisms and directed at feminists.

We can practice community care by learning from how we have been hurt, and by not silencing marginalized communities who are trying to tell us how they have been hurt and what they need in order to find justice.

We can listen to the margins.

We can do better.

Stasha, writing about the massacre, said:

1989 was probably the first time that I wondered why men hate us enough to kill us. I was nine. I think of the daily fear that Indigenous, Black and trans women face. I think of the next generation growing up with knees-together judges and pussy-grabbing presidents.

And I cry with frustration that I can’t offer anything better to the next generation. It makes me furious to watch them feeling hunted, and to only be able to support in the aftermath, with no ability to prevent. It hurts me so much that this is seen as a women’s issue, how fucking absurd.

On this day, I think about strangers trying to kill us for living fully, but I always return to the attacks from people who say they love us, because I can’t get over that there are no safe places.

We have to be part of the work of creating safe places.

It’s not good enough the way it is now.


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!

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!

Solidarity: A Possibilities event for TDoR

Solidarity: A Possibilities event for TDoR

Image description: An ornate pink, blue, and white background. Text reads – Solidarity : a Possibilities Calgary event in solidarity with the trans community : Nov 20, 2018 | Loft 112 | Writing a collective letter in support of the trans community on Trans Day of Remembrance

November’s Possibilities event falls on Nov. 20, Trans Day of Remembrance. (The official Transgender Day of Remembrance event happens in Calgary on November 18 at 1:30 pm at CommunityWise.)

Possibilities, although we are a group for and by the non-monosexual communities (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and otherwise non-monosexual), has always been trans-inclusive, and many of our founding members are trans. This year, we will host a conversation with the goal of writing a collective letter of support from our community to the transgender community.

This is particularly important this year because transgender rights are under increased threat, very actively in the United States and looming on the horizon if conservatives gain power in Alberta and in Canada. This is a hard time to be a trans person looking to the future, and the goal of this event is to document our collective support for our trans community members and for trans folks beyond our bi+ community.

This event is open to transgender and cisgender members – we will be expressing our support both for and as transgender folks, and support from many parts of the community is important.

This collective letter will be part of the ongoing Letters of Support for the Trans Community project.

Notes about Possibilities:

There is a small fee associated with renting the space, and you can support the event by either donating at the event or becoming a Patreon supporter.

We have a focus on self-care and self-storying for the bi+ community (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, two spirit, with an intentional focus on trans inclusion), and a new framework for sustainability (you can now support this work by backing the Patreon).

There is no cost to attend.

This is an intentionally queer, feminist, anti-oppressive space. The discussion will be open, as they always were, to all genders and orientations, as well as all abilities, educational levels, classes, body types, ethnicities – basically, if you’re a person, you’re welcome!

These discussions take place on Treaty 7 land, and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

It is important to note that Possibilities Calgary is a community discussion group and not a dating group.