It’s complicated: Languages and/of Love and/of Loneliness

It’s complicated: Languages and/of Love and/of Loneliness

Image description: On the left a paper heart hanging among many hearts, on the right a single torn paper heart. Text in the centre reads “it’s complicated.”

There is already so much good writing available on the topic of love, and I find myself hesitant and slow to write this post, which feels so important but feels so superfluous, redundant, pretentious. What can I say that hasn’t been said better by others?

I think that this, the stumble at the beginning of this post, is part of what and why I kept coming back to this text file again and again over the last month. Can anything new be said about love? Does it matter? Is what we want to say valuable even if it is not new? There are questions here about authenticity, originality, value and voice. Discourses of love.

So, first, I want to share some of the great writing that has inspired and moved me on the topic of love. I’m sharing these at the beginning of the post rather than the end, because within those questions of value and voice there is also the question of privilege. Whose voice am I lifting up? And many of these pieces of writing come from people who are more or differently marginalized than I am, whose voices need to be heard.

The entire seventh issue of Guts Magazine, on the topic of Love. Every piece of writing in this issue has something to offer, something liberatory and complicated. Read all of them, if you have the time. It’s worth it. From the editorial:

“Why look for The One, when what we want, what we need, is the many? The multiple? Not partners, but practices of love. Why is single (singular, alone) the opposite of the couple? Why is the alternative not an even greater plurality? Again, not only of lovers, but of life-sustaining arrangements of relations that we navigate without containment?

This issue is an attempt to locate and articulate ways of shoring up against the hurtful shape of love we’ve been handed by the state, by colonialism, by the family, by patriarchy. The artists and writers featured here are seeking a less deadly sort of love—forms of love that are not so easily weaponized against one another.

It’s about clearing and defending ground for new shapes to emerge when we see them struggling into life. This issue is looking for those nascent configurations about to come into view.”

Caleb Luna’s article, “Romantic love is killing us: Who takes care of us when we are single?” at The Body is Not An Apology.

“I don’t want to be loved. I want to be cared for and prioritized, and I want to build a world where romantic love is not a prerequisite for these investments—especially not under a current regime with such a limited potential for which bodies are lovable. Which bodies can be loved, cared for, and invested in.

It does not have to be this way. We can commit to keeping each other alive despite our sexual capital. We need to care for each other to keep each other alive. The myth of self-assurance is neoliberal victim-blaming in an attempt to obscure, neutralize and depoliticize our actions in the name of independent thoughts and actions and to skirt accountability.

Can we care for each other outside of love? Can we commit to keeping the unloved and unlovable alive? Is this a world that we have the potential to build?”

Shivani Seth’s article, “What’s next in the culture of care?” at Rest for Resistance.

“When we see our interactions and our strengths as ways to give to each other, as a flow back and forth, it’s easier to see how self-care and community care are naturally intertwined. We move the nexus of self-care to the community and spread our relative wealth out. Like a microloan or a community bank, we can take what is too small to support one individual and enlarge the potential impact by pooling our collective resources. We begin to work on trusting each other in slow, small ways.”

Samantha Marie Nock’s article, “Decrying desirability, demanding care” at Guts Magazine.

“This brings us back to the beginning: my anxiety about being abandoned. In reality, I should be calling this, my anxiety that all my friends are going to find romantic partners and leave me behind and I’m going to lose the world I’ve learned to live in. I cried recently, in a cab at 5am, because I had an anxiety attack at a party sparked by my friend showing interest in someone. I know this isn’t normal; I’m well aware, delete your comment right now. This was super embarrassing but my friend and I talked about it and I admitted why I had a melty. It has been a good and ongoing discussion and a growing opportunity. But it was the first time in my entire life that I have ever expressed this fear to someone, especially a close friend who is implicated in this anxiety. My friend is really supportive and didn’t run when I unloaded years of hurt and trauma onto the living room floor. Living in my body also means being terrified of telling anyone anything that might scare them because you don’t want to be “crazy” and fat. You already feel like you’re too difficult to love. So laying out my vulnerabilities shook me. I’m still shaken, and I’m still processing. It’s scary to straight up tell someone: “I’m scared that one day you’re not going to care for me like you do now because you’re going to do something that is completely normal and expected in our society that I can’t participate in on an equal level.” It’s scary to ask someone to rip apart the world we live in and help you create a new one where you feel safe.”

And there’s more. There’s so much amazing work being done on the topic of loving, and liberating love from oppressive discourses, demands, expectations, entitlements. People are telling their stories, and their stories are incredibly moving.

Non-orgasmic love.

Unexpectedly persistent queer love.

Decolonial love.

Please share your favourite links in the comments – I would love to read more.


Languages and/of Love and/of Loneliness

I’ve been thinking about love languages a lot lately. And I’m always thinking about stories – the stories we tell and are told, about ourselves, about each other, about what’s real, what’s valid, what’s worthy. I’ve been thinking about loneliness and the language of loneliness, lately. I’ve been thinking about connection, and collective action. Community, and communities of care.

I’ve been thinking about silence and silencing and quietness.

I’ve been thinking about love.

(I’ve been thinking about leaving Facebook and starting an email newsletter.)

I’ve been thinking about the apocalypse, and about neo-liberal fatalism. (Articulated by Paolo Freire, this is “an almost casual acceptance of ongoing social inequalities as inevitable,” and a sense that just because the solution has not been discovered, it does not exist. This is particularly prevalent among privileged progressives, and I am absolutely guilty of it, of not seeing a way forward and feeling deeply fatalistic about this. Powerful antidotes exist within Indigenous feminism, Black feminism and Afrofuturism, and in the insider knowledges and transgenerational survivance of so many oppressed peoples.)

I have been thinking, especially, about how we speak our love, hear our love, receive and transmit our love within scarcity.

I have been thinking about the loneliness of “burn-out.” I agree entirely with Vikki Reynolds critiques of the discourse of burn-out (link is to a PDF of her article, “Resisting burnout with justice-doing”). Reynolds calls out the discourse that frames burnout as an internal rather than contextual problem, and suggests that one way to resist burnout is through solidarity and collective care.

I think, yes!

And I think, how?

How?!

From October 2017 to October 2018, I participated in the Tender Year project with two of my dearest loves. We each engaged with the project in our own ways, and our ability to participate actively ebbed and flowed over the course of the year, but in that year, I felt myself to be actively in solidarity with community. The project has been over for months now, and I still miss it. I have not managed to maintain that feeling of connection.

I am lonely.

I struggle to do the work of connection and cultivating community in ways that feel nurturing to me. I do the work. I can even say, and believe, that I do the work well (sometimes, in some ways). But do I do it in ways that feel nurturing to me? That is an important question. It feels critical, actually. How do we tell stories about ourselves in loving relationship, in community, in connection, in ways that honour the prickly static that surrounds so many of us who are living in pain and under financial pressure?

How do we tell stories that honour the complexities of our experiences, that resist reducing our experiences down to totalizing narratives of connection or disconnection, love or lovelessness, hope or hopelessness? How do we hold space for this complexity? How do we find language for these contradictory and still concurrently true stories?

Because it is true that I am lonely these days. I feel this truth so often, particularly in weeks (and there are many of them) when all of my interactions are somehow related to my work.

And it is also true that I am blessed with an abundance of love in my life.

I know that I am not the only person experiencing this complexity, and feeling guilty and overwhelmed at my own emotional responses.

I feel that if it is true that I am surrounded by loving community, including: loving partnerships, some of which have survived multiple major relationship structure transitions, one of which includes co-parenting, all of which are deliciously and actively and intentionally anti-oppressive; loving platonic friendships; loving family-of-origin relationships (shout out to my amazing sister, one of the foundational relationships in my life); loving chosen family relationships; and loving extended community relationships – if this is all true, and it is, then what right do I have to feel lonely? To feel isolated? To feel stretched too thin and with support that does not meet my needs? What kind of ungrateful, entitled wretch am I?!

And the companion narrative to this self-flagellation – when will everyone realize how ungrateful I am, and abandon me? And, even more profoundly present in my life – when will everyone in my life become tired of subsisting on the little I have to offer, and abandon me?

So I feel simultaneously overwhelmed with gratitude when I think about the people and the relationships in my life, and overwhelmed with guilt for the fact that I am still struggling and the fact that I feel I often have so little to offer outside of (and even sometimes within) my work.

I rarely see my people outside of work contexts, except the ones I live with. (And even there, do I do enough work around the house? Do I tidy up enough, do I cook enough, do I do enough childcare? The uncharitable answer I provide myself is no. Absolutely not.)

I am too busy, all the time. I am achy. I am tired. I am always, always (almost always) feeling overwhelmed. I don’t get enough done. I’m barely keeping up. Yesterday, I forgot to call someone who wanted to talk about working together. A referral! Of all the things to forget. I forgot to email someone potential dates for our next narrative session. I’m behind on everything, constantly. My editing work. My freelance writing work. My own writing work, which is precious to me, and yet constantly falls away. The blog posts and zines that seem to constantly be “getting there” but never actually get there.

There is a pervasive feeling of chaos in my life, and this feeling can obscure the concurrent truth that I do actually get a lot done.

When I reread Shivani Seth’s piece before writing this post, I felt the sharpness of my longing for just a little more time, more rest. More ease. More space for more care.

My pain has been unreal this last month. Every day, it hurts. My body hurts. My head hurts. This means my heart hurts. And I question myself constantly – who am I kidding, thinking I can be a narrative therapist, thinking I can make this my life? When that means that I need it to be financially sustainable… I can’t even finish these thoughts. They trail off into the abyss.

This impacts the experience and the language of love.

When I send a message to a partner or a beloved friend or to my sister or someone else, and I say, “I love you,” I mean this with such intensity and intentionality. And when they say it back, I believe it. And also, I struggle with it.

One of my community members recently described an experience of being “immune to niceness” and another described a type of “dissociating from affection.” These descriptions resonate for me. It’s like stress and contextual pressure and fear of failure and fear of abandonment create a buffer of static around me, and the feeling of being solid in the love ends up dissipated and repelled.

But this is complicated. This story of static and fear is not a true story that exists in an absence of other true stories. There is also the true story of receiving and knowing love. I am thankful for this complexity. I am thankful for stories that do not ouroboros into a tidy bow, stories that contradict themselves. Like this story of scarcity and fear, which contradicts itself constantly.

Earlier this week, I shared the following:

I often have considerable anxieties about my narrative therapy practice.

Like, I’m not accredited as a counselling therapist and I probably won’t be unless I do another degree.

And I don’t work with an organization.

And I have a ton of community organizing experience but does that count *really*?

And I have some pretty strong political views and they absolutely are present in my narrative sessions.

And sometimes I’m a bit of a “down the rabbit hole” kind of person, and often it works out but every so often it doesn’t.

Like, these concerns come up really often for me. There have been so many times when I’ve sat in front of my computer, or stood in the shower, or been driving, and my head is just *full* of thoughts like, “what do I think I’m doing? why should anyone trust me?”

Do I actually know what I’m doing?

Am I actually making a difference?

And the stresses of living under capitalism also come into play – am I ever going to have enough business to make this sustainable? How will I develop this business without cooperating with the overwhelming whiteness of the wellness industry (because I am not willing to do that)? A lot of folks have said that I need to find the folks who can pay my full rate to subsidize the folks who can’t, and I need to aim my marketing towards that, but… that implies I know anything about how to do marketing in the first place?

And I know that narrative therapy, narrative practice, explicitly and intentionally welcomes people like me – outside of institutions and organizations, working in community, noodling along without as much formal training (or the kind of training) that is expected. But still. That anxieties are there. A lot.

But!

Anyway!

What I’m saying is!

I have these concerns pretty often and then other times I just feel so good about my practice, and I love what I do, and I love joining with my community members to co-research the problems in their lives. I just love it. And it feels like home for me. And there are times when I have a narrative conversation and I’m like, “damn. this is exactly what I want to do with my life. I am going to keep doing this, and just have some faith that it will work out.

My community showed up for me with such incredible words. Here is some of what they shared:

“As someone you have helped I want to say that you have made a difference in my life, and that what you do matters, and that you’re very good at it, and that I hope you continue doing what you do. Also, thank you.”

And someone else responded, “I couldn’t have said it better. Ditto!”

“I keep meaning to tell you that I got one of your fridge magnet in one of my event bags like last year and it’s still on my fridge so I can remind myself of the advice on it. In case you ever wonder if you are making a difference.”

“Our medical system is incredibly broken, especially when it comes to mental health and wellness. To do the amazing work you are doing, and want to keep doing, it’s probably actually part of your incredible strength and versatility that you _don’t_ go through the systems of control and conformity that characterize “accredited” mental health care. <3″

“You are a true gift to me and so many others like us.”

“Tiffany, I can confidently say that you have opened windows in my heart that I didn’t know were closed. I have referred many friends to your blog writing and Facebook page because what you say and how you say it is profoundly validating and stimulating. Keep going, you must!”

“Could some of what you frame as anxiety or self-doubts be part of your own process of self reflection? Is it a way of exploring your space/faith in yourself and shaping the balance between the more rigid spaces in healthcare and capitalism? I’m a part of the mainstream healthcare system, and I intentionally try to point out how little capitalism and the way it shapes the societal rituals and beliefs has anything to do with humanity and wellness. And part of how I measure success has to do with feeling uncomfortable in the space I’m in, and knowing that I simultaneously want to be of service to my community and also stay aware of the fundamental flaws in the system I’m a part of. When I read your words I feel like there’s a lot of similarities. I feel like your niche and your place of belonging is more focused than mine, and we’ve touched on the difference between narrative therapy and OT. I pretty much just want to give you a big hug and remind you that marketing is the word capitalism uses to frame networking and connection and building community capacity and recognizing skill and ability and specialization that doesn’t make someone better than another person. I love the scope and heart of what you do. I love your bravery and not compromising your ideals and values in order to ease your path.”

“I definitely see value in your narrative therapy practice! I could choose to go to a counselor who’s accreditation is acknowledged in Alberta and have part of the fee reimbursed by my insurance provider… But I find way more value in meeting with you. Your political stances create a space where I feel safer, as I know I am unlikely to experience queerphobia or fatphobia in that space. I could be wrong, but I’m also guessing that working outside of an organization might mean you are more accessible to people who are typically oppressed by organizations (especially health and mental health organizations). The sustainability piece I’m totally feeling right now. That might be the toughest one to figure out, but that also has little to do with your skills as a narrative therapist (cause you are amazing with that), and everything to do with capitalism and gatekeeping of access to mental health care.”

“I’ve often had these ideas and fears along the way…especially when starting out….it gets pretty scary at times…but not as scary as some other places I’ve been. There is a real accountability with the folks we meet when doing this work in these ways….not just accountability as an abstract idea. Keep going till you can’t I say!!”

“All of those concerns are exactly why you are going to be & are great… its the self awareness … please remember to use a great narrative mentor of your own … I’d certainly pay for your services as one.”

“I don’t have any words of wisdom, but want to say that I also experience these feels and impostor syndrome likes to push me around. I’m only just starting to get to know the way that ideas in social work/counselling like “competence” and “credibility” and “professionalism” bully me into thinking that I don’t know enough and don’t deserve to be paid the “big bucks” unless I meet the “qualifications” and become “registered”. (oh man, just putting all those words into quotations felt good and took some of their oppressive power away for a moment!) Anyway, from not knowing you very long and having never met in real life, you’ve already offered me emotional support and been thoughtful and kind when you witnessed something happening that you felt wasn’t right. You reaching out to me at that time was exactly what I needed. I am thankful that you exist and that you are able to be there for your community members.”

I’m going to put these into a book of reassurance for myself, and keep it in my office.

I’m going to keep doing my work.

I’m going to keep cultivating my loving relationships, across the wide range of their expression, and I’m going to continue to speak the language of scarcity and fear while I’m doing it.

I’m going to let this be complex.

I think that’s my primary love language – if I love you, I will step into complexity with you and for you. And that’s also how I want to be loved, with contradictions and complications.

That’s what I have to offer, and what I hope to receive.

(Maybe with a little bit of ease in there, too, sometimes. Just a bit. A bit more. More. A little more than that. Okay… maybe a lot. Someday, a lot.)

Invitation to Celebrate: a shareable resource

Invitation to Celebrate: a shareable resource

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

What is this document all about?

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

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

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

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

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

This project is informed by narrative therapy practices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 5 – Everyone has the right for their responses to trauma to be acknowledged. No one is a passive recipient of trauma. People always respond. People always protest injustice.

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

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

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

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

Access the full 58-page PDF here.

#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!