Imagining the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folks

Imagining the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folks

Image description: A cup that says “be strong”. Text block reads: What does strength look like for women, femmes, and non-binary folk when it is not centered on the endurance of pain?

This document is also available as a PDF, which can be downloaded and freely shared. This PDF will be updated with stories that are shared in response, and will eventually be available as a printed zine.


What does strength look like for women, femmes, and non-binary folk when it is not centered on the endurance of pain?

This question is not meant to erase the strength that is so heavily present in our need to endure, to survive, and to carry on from the violences in our lives, but it is meant to ask what else is there? What else do we have to offer? What forms of strength go unnoticed even to ourselves?

Strength

by Andrea Oakunsheyld

While processing a very impactful breakup, I talked to myself a lot. I listed all the things that I have already been through and come out the other side. I talked to myself about the things that I have already managed to endure because enduring those meant that, in my mind, I should be able to endure this.

I was so lucky to be thoroughly caught by my communities in this time, and to have many conversations about myself and my broken relationship. These conversations were centered largely on endurance and the ways in which my communities perceived me to be a strong individual.

After weeks of contemplation and conversations, I came to the realization that I was only seeing my strength through taking stock of past endurance of pain.

It occurred to me that this was a very feminized account of strength, and one that I was sure many women, femmes, and non-binary folk could identify with. It’s certainly not the definition of strength that I would instinctively ascribe to men or the masculine-identified, and I became distressed that I had such a narrow conception of my own strength, and by extension, the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folk in my communities.

It makes sense for endurance and the endurance of pain to be an indicator of strength, but not the only indicator of strength that feminized folks perform. So, I was left to ask myself – what does strength look like for women, femmes, and non-binary folk when it is not centered on the endurance of pain?

This question is not meant to erase the strength that is so heavily present in our need to endure, to survive, and to carry on from the violences in our lives, but it is meant to ask what else is there? What else do we have to offer? What forms of strength go unnoticed even to ourselves?

My percolations on feminized or non-binary strength have led me to reassess many aspects of social life that I had already valued but never seemed to internalize as strength.

When interrogating this topic for myself, I found that strength comes in the very ordinary navigation of every day. It is in the empathy that we offer long before we are coerced. It is in the emotional labour that we offer up to ourselves to heal our traumas, and to our communities to create a network of support. It is in sensitivity. It is in community care because we know that to alienate one another is to bring destruction. It is in self-care, the other side of the coin, in which we offer ourselves the same care we offer to others. It is in caring for our bodies, minds, and spirits in the most intimate way because they are ours. It is in the contract with our network that states that we will give what we have to offer and will respect each other enough to say when we need recovery of our own. It is in boundary setting because setting our own boundaries better equips us to recognize and honour the boundaries of others.

Strength is in the feminized labour of the hearth and home. Maintaining basic needs and basic comforts. It is in the nurturing of the family that some of us provide (chosen and blood family alike). It is in activism where we rally around those in the margins and we demand better. It is in questioning of the fundamental systems of our everyday life and choosing an alternative path. It is in our differences. It is in the bravery we show when we must face the danger of being our non-normative selves and practicing our non-normative lives.

Strength is in every heart learning its own worth and it is also in those who are still discovering it. Strength is in the ability to be humbled and to admit to wrongdoing. It is in the commitment to do and be better. It is in the accountability we have to those around us. It is in being grounded in the earth and in community. It is in making a proper home in our own skin and being in our own bodies, in the ownership of our bodies and our sexuality. It is in sexual healing, however that looks. It is in showing ourselves self-compassion when we can’t quite manage self-love. It is in going out into the world every day to face down the very violences that have so far defined our strength.

Our strength is in the queer, the disabled, the racialized, the poor, and the further marginalized, but not merely because of what they, and we, have endured. Our strength is in us because of the unique things that we have to offer parallel to enduring pain and violence, the things that bring their own virtues.

After percolating on all of these things it seems a grim shame to me that these were not included in my original conceptualization of my strength. These other indicators of strength are important to conceptualize, at least in part, outside of the endurance of pain.


Stories of our strength: women, femmes, and non-binary folks respond to the question

Kassandra:

Your question reminded me a story from my family. The period of Junta in Greece, my mom and her brothers were chased and some of them exiled for their left-wing political action. In her 20’s my mom was the only woman in the family who decided to escape to another country in response to the daily interrogation and police abuse. Although she was coming from a working-class family with no educational background, while she was in a foreign country, being a woman and not being able to speak the language, she decided to be the first in the family who will try to study. However, she faced lots of racist attacks both for her race, her class and her gender. She was scared, and lonely, and in pain. One day after an incident when someone mocked her for being Greek, poor, incapable woman, she got truly devastated and she went to meet one of her brothers who was also staying in the country. Her brother told her a phrase that I’ve seen my mother return to whenever she is looking for her place of strengths to stand on. He said “whenever someone mocks you for your class or your race or your gender, remind yourself of Lernaean Hydra (from the Greek mythology). They might think that you are beheaded, but like Lernaean Hydra once a head is off, another one will grow and then you will still have voice to protest. Take your time to let your next head to grow and then protest!’ I don’t know if that answers your question, but I guess what I have learnt about what strengths look like for my mum is that it’s related to protest in its own pace and as an ongoing life process. I hope that make sense.

Anita:

I really love Kassandra’s contribution. It connects to how I relate to the idea of strength being social more than individual. There is a lot of pain and difficulties for marginalised peoples and the dominant discourse is to endure and especially endure alone. I take a different stance. Sometimes we have to find someone else we can share with. Even when family lets you down, work colleagues or fellow activists disappoint us there is someone, an exception who we can connect with, even if only in memory. Sharing strengthens us and undermines isolation. Sharing can promote organisation and often brings along laughter and solace. In my group of sisterfriends we practice sharing and thinking through actions, consequences etc. In other words, we get practical.

Laura:

For me strength can be a metaphor of structure (this could be organic and growing or built of materials or simply a metaphor of posture and position which allows us to hold ourselves strong) which makes other things possible – connection with others in the present, a centring of the ways we prefer to be ourselves, enough places to hold hope and joy, connection with our important histories, enough stability to be open to experience and change, creating spaces for others to grow, quiet places to reflect and reconsider, as well as endurance.

Marta:

Strength can be seen as not giving up on dreams. A metaphor can be like the little green plant raising from the snow and with time becoming a bush, a tree a flower. Follow our heart´s call. Birds gathering branches and things for a nest where they are going to put their eggs that will support babies someday.

Jessica:

My ability to set my ego / self aside to become wholly present to the experience of other life; my plants and heir happiness in new soil, my friend as they live their lives. It requires strength from me emotionally and psychologically to take a time out and allow myself to connect fully to another reality, immerse in it, ask myself IF in ways that aren’t about psyching myself out, but are about connecting within equally without. Also, physically, finding joy in the added effort of another 5lbs more. Am I understanding and getting it, or did I miss something?

Jacie:

Ease to explore & realize your priorities OR in other words, liberty of determination

My daughters would say it’s in my smile–perhaps it’s in acceptance?

Juliana:

Knowing your truth and priorities and being able to hold on to them even in the face of lies and distractions that society aims at you.

A Conversation

Shannon: It seems tied to power a lot in jobs and social power too. It’s not an easy question to answer though. The main places my brain is jumping to are enduring pain or else just professional type athletes. It’s like a brain-teaser. At first, I thought maybe there was a trick to it. Maybe there still is.

Tank: Challenging the status quo. Challenging dichotomy. Challenging the notion that we are not part of nature. Nurturing power-with instead of power-over/challenging hierarchies. Loving self, despite patriarchies constant attempts to tell us that we have no value.

Shannon: I interpreted this so differently than you and I’m pretty sure it’s because I feel completely powerless the vast majority of the time

Tiffany: That’s so valid, Shan. It kind of IS a trick question, except the trick isn’t in the question, it’s in the way so many of us have learned to view our strength only in terms of endurance and pain.

Tank: Well that is an important finding! Power is very relational, for example my white or class privilege makes it safer for me to challenge. The question helped me realize that I mostly frame this idea of ‘strength’ as endurance of pain. All interpretations help to understand a concept this big.

Shannon: Tiffany, no but it was that I didn’t think of it in terms of *my own* strength at all OR what *I* think of as being strong. Just other people. I missed the point so much that I didn’t even get tricked by the trick. I wasn’t even on the same page.

Shannon: Tank, yeah it was just surprising to me and everything makes me cry so that was not surprising to me at all.

Tank: Shannon, you pointed out how power works systemically = very useful. It is revolutionary to have this conversation about how we have noticed that pain endurance is the main definition of strength for non-men in this society. I found your thoughts very useful.

Tiffany: You noodles are making me tear up right now. I would add this moment of compassion and collaboration as one definition of strength – the strength we find together and share with each other.

Shannon: Tank, thank you

Tank: Oooooo it all makes me cry as well. Probably a strength, ha!

Shannon: Must be

Michelle:

i offer resistance in hope

i offer resistance in losing hope

i offer resistance through words

i offer resistance through silence

i offer resistance in my presence

i offer resistance in my absence

you can offer all your hate,

and still i will offer you my resistance

I don’t think I’ve ever really intentionally examined the multiple meanings of strength, particularly outside the idea of enduring pain. But of course, there are other definitions. This reflection has me thinking about ‘giving up’ and resignations as strength. I wrote this poem during a difficult time where I made the decision to resign from an organisation I had dedicated so much time and energy to. At the time, I felt like resigning meant that I was giving up on the struggle, abandoning the women and non-binary folk I was in solidarity with.

I stayed for so long because I felt that surely my cis-gendered, professional privilege and 9 years experience in the sector and dogged determination to create change would help transform the institution. Staying and therefore enduring pain was in part an act of bearing witness, part stubbornness, part hope for change, and part inflated responsibility.

Feminist work within institutions demands ongoing resistance and endurance, but as Sara Ahmed asks: ‘But what if we do this work and the walls stay up? What if we do this work and the same things keep coming up? What if our own work of exposing a problem is used as evidence there is no problem? Then you have to ask yourself: can I keep working here? What if staying employed by an institution means you have to agree to remain silent about what might damage its reputation?’

Staying was strength, but it also became complicity. My position as a woman of colour and public support for the gender diverse community was being used as evidence that there was no problem with racism or transphobia. In the final months of my employment, it had dawned on me that my presence was inadvertently upholding the walls of Colonial Patriarchal Feminism2 and trans exclusive radical feminism. The ongoing denial, gaslighting and attacks made me realise that I was being played.

So I quit, I resigned.

A couple of months later, I held a retirement party and invited all my friends join me in quitting with giving any more time and energy into systems that sustain the white cis-heteropatriarchy. So, with a baseball bat and some unwanted fruit, we took to the field and smashed all the symbolically toxic fruits from our lives. It was the best. I have since come to appreciate that resistance and strength comes in many forms, both in staying and leaving. But for now, I feel a great sense of freedom and pride that I can still do feminist work, and I would say more effectively and joyfully, outside of those systems.

[1] https://feministkilljoys.com/2016/08/27/resignation-is-a-feminist-issue/

2 Cheree Moreton coined the term Colonial Patriarchal Feminism or Colonial Patri-Fem for short, to describe how white feminists stigmatises and silences the one black voice in the organisation/environment

Miri:

Strength looks like self care, caring for friends and lovers, building family, resisting heteronormativity/racism/ableism/colonialism. Being out, embracing your identity whatever that may look like for you <3 <3 It doesn’t always have to look like enduring pain.

Suzanne:

I think strength for femmes is in prioritizing yourself and how much of your time and energy you offer to the outside world and why you offer it. So many femme folks feel like they can’t say no, or offer their time and energy to everyone who asks without prioritizing their own needs first, or evaluating whether they actually want to participate. The times I feel like I really identify strength in femmes is when I see someone identify an unreasonable ask and stand their ground, or prioritize their own well being over someone else’s. I think what makes it so magical when femme folks do this is that it usually isn’t done in an aggressive way, it’s the way many femmes can express themselves empathetically and not need to sacrifice vulnerability and emotionality in the process.

I can relate almost anything back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she has a line where she tells the other slayer Kendra that her emotions are what give her strength and that she is lucky to have them. For me, as someone who has struggled with mood issues and is definitely pretty sensitive and empathic, I totally identify with this. I feel EVERYTHING so deeply, and I have been told for so long that this is wrong or a burden to others, and frankly that’s BS. My emotions are a huge factor as to why I’m a bad ass and why I see myself as strong. Not just in enduring pain, but in being aware of how every little thing affects me, so I have learned to use this in the way that I take in new information and learn, and the ways I interact with the world. Masculine strength always seems to be tied to suppressing and ignoring emotions, and femme strength is emotional intelligence and awareness. Strength is seeing how emotionality and “rationality” are woven together, and using that intelligence to make the tough calls. It’s seeing the entire picture when the world tells you it’s not there.

Wow that all just came out of my head all at once, so thank you for that prompt and I hope it’s helpful!

Candice:

When I was first given this question, it was very difficult for me to think of feminine strength that didn’t involve any pain at all. After talking with my family, I realized one of the main strengths of a woman is their amazing willpower. It is one of the things that allows us to be able to function through unimaginable pain and discomfort.

I believe most of our best qualities comes from our ability to be resolute once we’ve made up our minds to do something.

The strength to be able to create art, relationships and solutions out of little to nothing.

The strength required to bear the worries and problems of those around us when we choose to take on a nurturing role.

The strength to persevere through mentally and emotionally challenging spots in our lives.

The strength it takes to search for who you are and to give yourself space for mistakes as well as growth.

I find often times we discredit some of our strength and power because we aren’t functioning at the levels we expect of ourselves. But I have discovered that sometimes our strength can come from saying no, or from recognizing our limitations and allowing ourselves to exist in respect to that limit instead of overdoing it.

Like with any strength, it takes time to mould and develop a strength of mind. I think that’s why some of the most admired women have had decades to grow in their wisdom and willpower. However, unlike other strengths, the power of our minds deepen with time and experience.

Kalista:

Strength is existence. Existing as ourselves, fully and completely, without being property or object. Strength exists in the wholeness of true friendships and loving relationships that create space for us to be unabashedly ourselves. Strength exists in every pore of our body when we defy societal expectations, when we research our issues, when we change patriarchal policies, and when we find ways to keep on existing even when the world tells us not to or that we can but just not here. Strength is existence.

Erin:

When I think of female* strength I think of the strengths and characteristics that distinguish females from males traditionally. I think of traits that if they were more celebrated in leadership roles and sought after we may have a world with less war and conflict. Obviously there are always exceptions to these norms.

The traits of female strength I think of are compassion and patience. An often natural nurturing ability that sympathizes and allows women to be great listeners. The ability to multi-task and compartmentalize. The tendency to be able to see the bigger picture, see a situation from another perspective or see the effects of a decision much later down the line.

I think these are the core ones at least!

* Traditional definitions of “female” and “male” often include cisnormative understandings of sex and gender. Talking about these traditional roles can be important, especially when we understand that these understandings are not situated in any objective reality. This resource is intentionally trans and non-binary inclusive.

Tiffany

Sometimes I know that I am strong. But so many times, I do think of this strength in terms of what I have endured. I think about it in terms of pain, and struggle, in terms of what I have survived. I think about making it out alive, through multiple serious depressions. I think about the hostile voice that I lived with for a period of time, and that occasionally returns. I think about my history of self-harm, and I think that I am so strong to have found ways to alchemize all of that into the work that I do now as a narrative therapist and community organizer. I think, good job, me.

But when Andrea shared this question with me, it resonated somewhere deep in my heart. I wanted to find answers for my own strength, beyond these ideas of pain, struggle, endurance, survival. I wondered if there was anyway to understand my relationship to strength outside of these ideas.

And when I sent the first draft of this project to Andrea, she said, “Are you not doing your own entry in the project though, dear?”

It was hard to find these stories in my own internal library. They were quiet.

I thought about when I have felt my strength come close to me while I am joyful. I thought – sometimes strength is laughter. A good strong laugh is something I have had since I was a child! That’s strength, too.

And I thought about strength in hope. I thought about spending time with small children. My niephlings, and other children in my life. I thought about the strength of holding space for their joy, and for their learning. The strength of imagining a world with space for them despite my own fears for the future. I thought – sometimes strength is choosing hope when despair is equally close at hand.

I also thought about how sometimes strength is easier to access when I’m rested, peaceful, and at ease. At first, this thought made me uncomfortable. I thought, does this mean that I’m not really strong when I’m struggling? Does this mean I’ve been wrong about everything about myself? But I don’t think that’s the case.

I think that there are many different ways to be strong, and that one way of being strong is by allowing myself some ease. Sometimes when I feel rested and supported and cared for, that’s when I feel strongest.

And then there’s that little piece. “When I feel supported and cared for.” That part challenges the internalizing narratives, the individualizing narratives about strength. What might happen if I didn’t need to be strong on my own? What if I could imagine strength in community, strength in connection?

It’s not always about what I endure alone. Sometimes it’s about what I co-create with my communities.


Exploring your own strength

These are some questions to help you explore your own ideas about strength beyond metaphors of enduring pain.

  • What does it mean to be strong? Are there definitions of strength accessible to you that go beyond enduring pain?
  • Can you share a story of a time when you been strong in these ways? What allowed you to access this strength?
  • Are there other ways to be strong?
  • Who taught you about strength?
  • Can you remember seeing strength in a woman, femme, or non-binary person in your life?
  • Do any of these women, femmes, or non-binary folks know that you see strength in them? What has seeing this strength in their lives made possible in your own life?
  • Who in your life, living or no longer living, real or fictional, knows that you are strong?
  • What would you want women, femmes, and non-binary folks to understand about strength? Are there insider knowledges that you would want to share?

We (Andrea and Tiffany) would love to hear your stories of strength, and to keep this conversation about the strength of women, femmes, and non-binary folks going.

We would also love to hear any response that you might have to the stories shared in this document.

If you would like to share your response, please email it to Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.


Andrea Oakunsheyld is a student at UBC in a Masters of Community and Regional Planning with a concentration in Indigenous Community Planning, a Fieldworker with Amnesty International Canada, aspiring theorist, community organizer and activist, bigender pagan witch, and nerd living and learning on the traditional and ancestral territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Her work includes grassroots activism, particularly in queer, women’s, and queer contexts; “calling in”; queer children’s literature and subversive literature; subversive cities; and community planning.

Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist, community organizer, writer, workshop facilitator, and tarot reader living and working on Treaty 7 land (Calgary, Alberta) where the traditional custodians are Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuut’ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearpaw, and Wesley First Nations, as well as the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III. They work primarily with queer, trans, disabled, neuroqueer, polyamorous, and other marginalized communities. If you would like to work with Tiffany, you can find them at:

www.tiffanysostar.com | sostarselfcare@gmail.com | @sostarselfcare

You can support more of this kind of community-led, collective narrative practice work by backing Tiffany’s Patreon at www.patreon.com/sostarselfcare


This project was initiated by Andrea Oakunsheyld in late July, and is now ready to share! These kinds of collaborative, community-led projects are among my favourite parts of my narrative work, and although they often take months or years to complete, it is always incredibly rewarding. If there’s a topic like this that you want to talk about turning into a project like this, get in touch with me!

International Men’s Day 2018

International Men’s Day 2018

Image description: a wooden heart among greenery. Text reads, “celebrating international men’s day”

International Men’s Day is celebrated every year on November 19. That’s today! (In my part of the world, at least. Belated greetings to my colleagues across the international date line!)

Image description: Twitter user @Erinkyan “happy international mens day, especially to trans men, disabled men, men of colour, queer men, mentally ill men, feminine men, elderly men, poor men, male survivors, and other vulnerable men. and a big fuck you to MRAs that further isolate and harm men in the name of misogyny.”

This post a celebration of this day, and also the official launch of a new project! Keep reading to find information about the new project at the end of this post.

There are so many ways that men are harmed and vulnerable under patriarchy. Because it’s not just patriarchy. It’s also ableism. Transantagonism. Racism and white supremacy. Colonialism. Ageism. Heterosexism. Patriarchy is a critical hub in this web of oppressions and privileges, but it is not the only hub, and it is not the only intersection that we need to address.

Men are differentially vulnerable.

They become more vulnerable the more they deviate from the ideal of white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, English-speaking, educated, middle-and-upper class, young, fit, neurotypical manhood.

Men are vulnerable in different ways.

Black men and boys face police violence at disproportionately high rates in both the United States and in Canada. Indigenous men and boys also face disproportionately high rates of police violence and incarceration. (This post at The Conversation examines Canada’s shameful treatment of Indigenous folks within the ‘justice’ system.)

Men are more likely to die of suicide (as this British Columbia Medical Journal discusses), and men who are victims of domestic violence (regardless of the gender of their abuser) are less likely to find support either socially or structurally (as this article by the BBC discusses).

Men who are victims of sexual assault, either as youths or as adults, also face a lack of social and structural support. Although there have been important shifts in this cultural landscape, particularly by men responding to #MeToo (Terry Crews most publicly), there is still a significant cultural pressure to maintain an idea of masculinity as impervious to harm (as this Atlantic article discusses). This pressure comes both from proponents of patriarchal masculinity who are invested in maintaining these rigid gender systems, and from some advocates who are invested in the idea of men-as-perpetrators. Acknowledging the vulnerability of men is destabilizing to patriarchy, but it is also destabilizing to some of the gendered ways of understanding violence that have helped women and feminists frame the issue of violence against women. As this article by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism notes, “The domestic violence movement historically framed its work on a gender binary of men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims.” (link is to a PDF)

This article by Scientific American also talks about violence by women, and makes the important point that, “To thoroughly dismantle sexual victimization, we must grapple with its many complexities, which requires attention to all victims and perpetrators, regardless of their sex. This inclusive framing need not and should not come at the expense of gender-sensitive approaches, which take into account the ways in which gender norms influence women and men in different or disproportionate ways.”

And it is important to also recognize that there are men who have been both victims of violence and have also used violence against others. These men are often unable to access any supports that recognize and respond to both sides of their story, since many services for survivors of sexual or domestic violence do not work with people who have used violence against others, and services for men who have used violence against others often do not include support for survivors.

Toxic masculinity invites men into violence and dominance, which means that men are often cut off from emotional supports and connections, and it also means that people around men are vulnerable to violence and dominance. Not all men accept this invitation into a specific kind of masculinity, but all men receive the invitation – patriarchy is the air we breathe.

And, just like it is men, women, and people of all genders who are harmed by these norms of masculinity, it is also true that men, women, and people of all genders uphold and support these norms of masculinity.

As Vivek Shraya writes in her fantastic book, I’m Afraid of Men:

“And so, I’m also afraid of women. I’m afraid of women who’ve either emboldened or defended the men who have harmed me, or have watched in silence. I’m afraid of women who adopt masculine traits and then feel compelled to dominate or silence me at dinner parties. I’m afraid of women who see me as a predator and whose comfort I consequently put before my own by using male locker rooms. I’m afraid of women who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag. I’m afraid of the women who, like men, reject my pronouns and refuse to see my femininity, or who comment on or criticize my appearance, down to my chipped nail polish, to reiterate that I am not one of them. I’m afraid of women who, when I share my experiences of being trans, try to console me by announcing “welcome to being a woman,” refusing to recognize the ways in which our experiences fundamentally differ. But I’m especially afraid of women because my history has taught me that I can’t fully rely upon other women for sisterhood, or allyship, or protection from men.”

That’s important to note, too. (Vivek’s book also speaks about the problem with the idea of the “good man,” and makes a strong argument for not using the term “toxic masculinity.” You can read more about that in this article by Vice. I highly recommend reading her book.)

But this is International Men’s Day, so let’s turn the focus back to men. And to a definition of men that is much more broad and expansive than the thin description of dominant masculinity, with its demands of ability and class and race and the tight confines of The Man Box (this page offers an overview of “The Man Box” study in Australia, which looked at men’s views and experiences of masculinity, and also includes a link to the full report).

There is no single truth about masculinity. (I am thankful for narrative therapy and its focus on multistoried lives and experiences. And I am thankful for Chimamanda Adichie and this TEDtalk about the dangers of a single story!)

Gendered assumptions about emotions mean that men, regardless of any other intersection of identity, are often not supported in their emotional lives. This leaves men at risk in their own lives, and less equipped to support their community members.

These issues are complex, and talking about them requires care and a willingness to invite complexity to the table.

If I’m honest, I found this post challenging to write.

This is partly because I am not a man. I have never experienced being read as a man in this patriarchal world. When I try to empathize with the experiences of men, I do so from my position as a non-binary individual who was assigned female at birth, as someone who is read as a “woman” by anyone who doesn’t know me.

But there are men in my life who have helped me begin to understand the complexities of being a man under patriarchy.

I am thankful for these men, who advocate for men’s issues and also support social justice. They challenge toxic masculinity (by which I mean, the gendered assumptions that invite men into performances of gender that are hostile to other genders, that coerce men into rejecting anything deemed “feminine”, that limit the range of emotions and emotional responses available to men, that locate successful masculinity in a specific performance of heterosexuality, ability, and capitalist productivity), and they look at this issue with nuance – toxic masculinity harms men, and it also harms everyone else.

So, how do men unlearn these hostile lessons of patriarchy? How do they learn other ways of being men?

I’m in the early stages of a collaborative project exploring how men have discovered feminism and learned about social justice. My goal is to speak with a wide range of men about their experiences, and create a collective document and resource that other men can learn from. If you would like to be part of this project, get in touch!

Image description: two books stacked with purple flowers on top. Text reads: “Men! Let’s talk about how you learned about feminism and social justice. A collective documentation project. Contact sostarselfcare@gmail.com”


If you appreciate this work, you can support me on Patreon!

Collective letter to Dr. Ford

Collective letter to Dr. Ford

Image description: An addressed envelope to Dr. Ford, c/o Palo Alto University.

The following is the collective letter to Dr. Ford, the result of October’s Witness and Respond event in Calgary, Alberta, and the contributions of people elsewhere. It has been mailed to Dr. Ford, who is, as of yesterday, still receiving threats. We hope that she will also continue receiving support.


Dear Dr. Ford,

This letter is the collective work of a group of people who met in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in October to watch your testimony and talk about what it meant to us and made possible in our lives. It also includes the contributions of people in Calgary and in Adelaide, Australia who watched your testimony on their own and sent in their thoughts. This letter represents the responses of almost a dozen people, each of whom was moved by your actions.

We want to express our appreciation for your actions. We were inspired to do this by Anita Hill’s sharing that receiving support was helpful to her following her own experience, and also by the work of narrative therapists at the Dulwich Centre using letter-writing as a way of showing support.

As we watched your testimony, we were curious about what it was that allowed you to take these actions; to say the name of your assaulter after so many years, to write the letter to your representative, to meet with political aides, to describe the assault again and again despite the fact that it was so difficult for you, to come forward publicly with your story, and to stand in front of a Senate committee and, as you said it, “relive this trauma in front of the world.”

We saw each of these actions as a choice that you made, and we wondered, how did you make those choices? What values were you holding onto? Who supported you in these actions?

We heard you say that “sexual assault victims should be able to decide when and where their private details are shared”, and that it was important to you to describe the assault in your own words. It was clear to us watching that you have held this value close, and that despite the intrusion of reporters into your life, forcing you to tell the story in ways you may not have chosen otherwise, you kept this value centered in your opening statements. For those of us watching who have felt pressured into disclosure or ashamed of our stories, your strong assertion of our right to tell our story in our own time, in our own way, in our own words, was powerful.

Witnessing you tell your story allowed one person in our group to identify an incident from her own high school years and enabled her to speak about this incident with people in her life.

Another person said, “The courage to speak up is significant to me, when so many people don’t. When I myself have not. At the time it was a fear of the mocking, and the being pulled apart and condemned. I did not have the strength to endure that process at the time on top of what I experienced. Now I would maybe feel differently. Maybe because I am stronger now and maybe because of these stories. Dr Ford’s testimony in shaking voice made me want to cry with pride that she did speak up.”

Your shaky voice was something that many of us noted. Some of us also speak with a shaky voice, and have felt worried that we will be dismissed because of it. Hearing you speak in a voice that shakes like our own was a moment of validation that some of us had never experienced before. We saw that it is possible to speak in a shaking voice and still speak with confidence and calmness. Some of us also recognized within ourselves that hearing your shaking voice did not make us doubt you or dismiss you. We had feared that if we spoke in a shaky voice, nobody would hear us or believe us. But you did, and we did hear you, and we do believe you. Rather than seeing weakness, we saw the strength it took for you to speak. We feel closer to our own shaky-voice strength, having witnessed yours.

We also saw you adding to the community knowledge of what trauma is, and how it can operate in the brain. Your references to norepinephrine, to the hypocampus and amygdala, and to other scientific knowledge was validating for some of us. We wondered if this indicated a way that you were “re-valuing” yourself, and claiming space for science as a celebration. One of us wanted you to know that she, too, is a scientist and that seeing you use “science as a safe place” was validating for her.

We also saw that you spoke even though you didn’t know what the outcome of your speaking would be, and this is important. One of us said, “Just because you’re good, doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded. But she did whatever she could to stop [the confirmation] from happening.” This makes it possible for us to also take action even when we may not see the outcome that we want.

We also heard you say, “It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. It is my responsibility to tell the truth.” In this, we saw you valuing integrity over outcome, and as we each move into what promises to be a difficult time for marginalized communities in the United States, in Canada, in Australia, and elsewhere, we are better able to hold onto our own integrity even when it seems that we might not get the result we are looking for.

We saw you acknowledge your fear without expressing any shame for it. Throughout the testimony, we saw you declining to engage with any invitations to shame. So many of us have felt afraid to share our own stories, and have felt ashamed of that fear. Your actions make it possible for us to shift our relationship to fear, and to see it as something that we do not need to be ashamed of. It is okay for us to be afraid, just like it is okay for you to be afraid. You described your fear so clearly, and also described the very real outcomes of your actions – even worse than you had feared! In your testimony, some of us felt for the first time that fear does not have to be accompanied by shame.

We also saw that your actions are part of a collective, and you are part of a community of women speaking up. Anita Hill also spoke despite not knowing the outcome of her speaking, and although it took many years, her actions are part of the legacy of speaking that you are now part of, and that we are invited to join. Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement a decade ago, and we see her as another part of this long legacy of speaking the truth even without knowing the outcome. This helps us locate ourselves within a collective, and as part of a long history of resisting injustice. Your actions have helped us find each other, to find the history of this resistance, and have helped us open up conversations that otherwise might not have occurred.

We are actively searching for each other now, looking for other people who want to take similar actions, who want to speak out. As one person put it, we hope that “speaking the truth will be contagious over time.”

Dr. Ford, we watched your testimony together after your assaulter had been confirmed to the Supreme Court, and so we knew what the outcome of your actions would be.

Rather than diminishing the impact of your work, this allowed us to see that what you have made possible through your actions extends far beyond one unsuitable man’s appointment to a position of power. You have mapped out actions that will allow more of us to speak, and to keep acting in alignment with integrity despite the actions of people in power.

With warmth, respect, and appreciation,

Tiffany and many others

(Although there were many names signed to the physical letter, I didn’t want to expose anyone online, even by first name.)

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.

Witness, Respond, Resist handout

Witness, Respond, Resist handout

On Friday, I hosted the Witness, Respond, and Continue to Resist event. At this event, we watched Dr. Ford’s opening statements, as well as an interview with Ana Maria Archila and Tarana Burke, and the video of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher confronting Jeff Flake. We had dinner together, and talked about what watching these powerful statements meant for us, and is making possible in our lives.
I will be turning the notes from that event into collective letters that we will send to Dr. Ford, Ms. Archila, and Ms. Gallagher, and that will also be shared publicly. I will also be writing up a reflection on the event and sharing it here.
If you would like to contribute to this project, or if you are interested in how to write acknowledging witness letters to other people, you can download the handout here. Although the handout was created for this event, the information about how to be an “acknowledging witness” (meaning, someone who sees and validates both the hardship and the response to hardship in someone’s story, and who goes beyond simple praise and appreciation), can be used in other situations as well.
If you would like your responses included in the collective letter, please get them to me as soon as possible, ideally by Friday, October 19.
If you would like to send your own letter, I have included addresses in the handout.

Narrative Practices: Therapeutic Letters

(This is an expansion of a post that was shared with my Patreon patrons earlier this month.)

I am learning how to do narrative therapy, how to be a narrative therapist, how to engage with my clients in ways that are narratively-informed. But what does that mean? What is narrative therapy? What does a narrative therapist do? What benefit does narrative therapy offer?

In this series of posts, I’m inviting readers to join me in the learning process. The first of these posts was shared in April, and was about using narrative practices of collective documentation as it was used in a group exercise of Connecting To Our Skills. This post is also about documentation! (I really love generating documents, in case you couldn’t tell!)

This post is about therapeutic narrative letters.

Narrative letters are an important part of narrative practice, and have been part of the field for years (and therapeutic letter writing is also present in other disciplines). I had written some letters to community members who consulted with me, but my recent trip to Sacramento to learn from the therapists at the Gender Health Center really encouraged me to explore this practice further. The therapists there, particularly David Nylund, use narrative letters regularly – both with community members and also between therapists and supervisors. I was able to hear some of those letters, and it was a moving experience.

Shortly after I returned from Sacramento, I ran a two-hour narrative group therapy session at Camp Fyrefly, and I wrote narrative letters to the participants. Each of the participants gave me permission to share these letters.

I learned a lot through this process of writing, and one thing I learned is that it takes a long time to write a narrative letter! I knew this from my earlier efforts, but writing to a group like this really brought home for me how challenging this practice is. And yet, despite that challenge, it is a practice I will be incorporating more regularly into my narrative work. This is not only because I value opportunities to create documents, but also because I think a letter can be a powerful thing and I want to offer something back to the community members who consult me. Something that, hopefully, offers them a tangible reminder of the ways in which they are responding to the problems in their lives, and that connects them with the stories of their lives.

This isn’t just my own gut feeling, though. Other narrative therapists have written about the power of therapeutic letter writing.

In a 2010 paper, published in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Susan Stevens wrote:

Letter writing has been a wonderful way to assist my growing understanding of narrative practices, particularly in learning the various maps. Crafting a letter has required me to carefully reflect on conversations in a similar way to reviewing recorded sessions. I have found it has given me some space to really examine my practice and facilitate further learning. I have discovered opportunities that I have missed that I can then pursue in the letter, as well as positive moments that can be developed further.

Letter writing following counselling sessions has created many more possibilities for working together than I initially envisaged. It has been a great privilege to work alongside people as they revise their relationships with significant problems in their lives. Hearing how the letters have supported people to construct preferred storylines of identity and celebrating their achievements toward this has been incredibly exciting.

In 2016, also in the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, Renee Butler wrote:

Letter writing in a counselling context has a long history (Watts, 2000) and in particular, the use of narrative documents has been heavily influenced by the field of anthropology (Myerhoff, 1992). Myerhoff talks about how we can be ‘nourished by our stories being fed back to ourselves’ (Myerhoff, 2007, p. 25), and one of the ways in which this can be done richly in practice is through offering documents that honour and acknowledge the stories we hear from the people who consult with us. In a narrative context, these types of therapeutic documents have been used with the purpose of creating double-story development, where the listener provides an acknowledgement of the problem as well as a rich description of an alternative story that was hidden within the dominant ‘problem’ story (White & Epston, 1990). White and Epston were interested in the value of therapeutic documents and because of this they undertook some informal research into the usefulness of this practice. They established that a good therapeutic document (or letter) was worth 4.5 sessions of good therapy (White, 1995) and concluded that engaging in this process was worth the time and energy needed by the therapist.

David Nylund (at the Gender Health Center, which I visited last month) has participated in research into the therapeutic efficacy of narrative letters. From a 2015 paper:

At the present time, there is not much evidence for the effectiveness of therapeutic letters in narrative therapy. However, both David Epston and Michael White (Freeman, Epston and Lobovits, 1997) have conducted informal clinical research, asking clients questions such as these:

1. In your opinion, how many sessions do you consider a letter such as the ones that you have received is worth?

2. If you assigned 100 per cent to whatever positive outcomes resulted from our conversations together, what percentage of that would you contribute to the letters you have received?

The average response to Question 1 was that the letter had the equivalent value of 4.5 sessions. In response to Question 2, letters were rated in the range of 40% to 90% for total positive outcome of therapy.

Such findings were replicated in a small-scale study performed at a large medical facility in California. Nylund and Thomas (1994) reported that their respondents rated the average worth of a letter to be 3.2 face-to-face interviews (the range was 2.5–10) and 52.8% of positive outcome of therapy was attributed to the letters alone. As supported by this research, the amount of time it takes to write letters seems worth the effort.

So a narrative letter can be the therapeutic equivalent of 3.2-4.5 narrative therapy sessions. And it can assist in my own development as a narrative therapist, and enrich the experience of the community members who consult me. That seems like a really important practice to develop, especially since a lot of the folks consulting me do not have the finances to sustain frequent or extended therapeutic work.

But it’s hard work! And it takes a long time. For me, as a newbie to the practice, these four letters took me almost 12 hours, and many drafts.

I’m not sure exactly how this practice will develop in my work, since I won’t be able to write a narrative letter for every session. But it’s certainly something that I am considering, and if you are interested in working with me and are particularly keen on letters being part of our therapeutic relationship, let me know!

I’m sharing these four letters for two reasons.

First, because I think that the insider knowledge shared during our group conversation was valuable and might help other folks. Sharing these letters means that you have an opportunity to read and respond, and if anything particularly resonates for you, you can send me your response and I can share it back with the community members.

And second, because I’m “showing my work” and inviting you to see what happens behind the scenes as I learn.

Anyway! Here they are!

The letter to the group:

Dear A., E., and J.,

It has taken me a while to get these letters written.

Every time I sat down to write, I got lost in the wealth of information and insight that was shared during our conversation. I could write you each a whole novel! But that wouldn’t be a very good narrative letter.

Each draft of the letter that I wrote just didn’t seem to work. I couldn’t figure out how to make it coherent, how to shape it into something meaningful. I wanted to answer some critical questions:

What stands out the most to me when I think about our conversation?

What moved me in our conversation?

What do I want to note, and hopefully in a way that offers something meaningful back to you?

You were each so generous with your time, your energy, and your stories.

After many attempts, I realized that the problem was in trying to write a single letter to the group, rather than specific letters to each of you. Although there was so much resonance between your stories, you each brought something unique to the conversation. In trying to compress my response into a single letter, I kept losing the richness of the diversity in your contributions and your shared stories. And, since camp is so much about honouring and holding space for diversity, I finally realized what I needed to do! So, four letters. This one, and one to each of you.

As I mentioned during our conversation, this practice of writing narrative letters is new to me – I have done a lot more work in collective documentation. In collective documentation, I take a group conversation, and then generate a document or resource that shares the insights and stories with a broader audience. In those documents, I am sharing outward from the group, and a single document makes sense!

What I found as I tried to write this letter (now ‘these letters’) was that it is a bit of a different thing when I am writing inward, to the group, rather than outward, from the group.

One of the things that everyone in the conversation shared was the commitment to holding space for complexity, and for valuing the well-being of the people around us.

This was true for each of you, and it belongs here, in the group letter.

There was an ethic of care that extended in multiple directions – from the counsellors to the campers, from the campers to each other, from the campers to the counsellors, and from the counsellors to each other. This multi-directional, complex, compassionate care was beautiful to see.

My favourite quote from our conversation, and the one that has stuck with me, was this – “Giving up hope on a solution by generating hope for a process.”

I think that throughout our conversation, we found very few solutions. We talked about problems that are ongoing, that are supported and strengthened by the oppressive and marginalizing systems around us. Problems with deep roots and wide-ranging impacts. We did not solve these problems in our conversation – Imposter Syndrome (supported as it is by capitalism, by individualist culture, by hierarchies of knowledge, by a culture that values “expertise” and “productivity” in very specific ways); Guilt (supported internally and externally, by our desire to take care of each other, and also by social contexts that leave very little room for imperfection, failure, and growth); Comparison; and others.

So, no solutions.

But so many steps towards process, and so much hope for process.

These processes include harm reduction, disconnecting from value-judgements, holding and curating space for ourselves and each other, imagining ourselves and each other with complexity and compassion, naming our memories, seeking external validation and choosing to receive it, recognizing the potential for growth in failure, and so much more.

These processes, informed by your insider knowledge into navigating the problems in your lives, are full of hope.

I feel fortunate to have been able to particulate in such a rich and hope-filled conversation.

And I appreciate your patience with how long it has taken me to work my way through this process. I am incredibly thankful for this learning opportunity.

Warmly,

Tiffany

The letter to A.

Dear A.,

Thank you for being part of the narrative therapy conversation. I know that you said there are not many places where you’re able to talk about your feelings openly, because you’re worried about how that might impact the people around you.

As I worked on this letter, I kept thinking about what it means that you have maintained a connection to your desire to share, which you said is healthy for you, despite the fact that you have fewer spaces for that sharing.

What has allowed you to stay aligned with that desire to seek out safe spaces to share your feelings, while also looking out for the people around you?

I also wonder if you were able to find more of those spaces for sharing while you were at camp, and how you navigated those opportunities and conversations.

One of the stories that you shared, that has really stuck with me, had to do with how you’ve responded to and resisted one of the problems in your life. This problem is related to Comparison. There are moments when you witness friends laughing together and you might get thinking, “I should have been the one to make them laugh.”

A., you mentioned that sometimes you really get in your head about it, and even when it starts as a small thought, this feeling of Comparison can get pretty big and loud. In navigating these hard situations, you’ve developed a skill of Naming Memories, to quiet the mean voice that tries to convince you your friends might not care about you if you aren’t the one who always makes them laugh, or if you aren’t always their first choice for an activity.

This skill of Naming Memories lets you stay connected to your knowledge that you’re still important even when someone else is busy.

I wonder if there are any people in your life, either now or in the past, and either real or fictional heroes and inspirations, who might support you in this skill of Naming Memories? Do you have cherished memories that you return to more often when you are resisting Comparison and Fear?

In all of your stories there were so many references to caring for the people around you, even when expressing that care meant making hard choices; giving space to a friend even when it’s the hardest thing, and reaching out to other friends even when you might want to keep just one person close.

Your hard work is paying off, and I wonder what else might become possible as you continue to do the hard thing in order to care for yourself and the people around you.

I also wonder, do you think there might be a time when the “hard thing” becomes less hard? What might that look like?

It was really inspiring to hear about how you have taken action to respond to the problems that show up in your life.

You shared the story of going to an event, and chatting with a totally new person, despite the fact that you have a hard time talking with new folks! Your friends were enthusiastic and proud of you. J. also shared a story of receiving validation from her community, and how helpful that was. E. pointed out what an active process it is to receive validation, and to choose to believe that what someone says is true. When you shared this story of attending the conference and reaching out to a new person, it touched on a shared experience in the group of reaching for and finding validation in the people around us.

One other thing jumps out at me when I remember our conversation – you mentioned a few times that you are learning to “stop thinking in black and white”, and we talked a bit about what that means, and how there is now more range of colour in your life, and more possibilities.

What does it look like, when you can see your life in this expanded range of colours?

It was an honour to share narrative space with you, and I hope that camp offered you a rich range of experiences and possibilities.

Warmly,

Tiffany

The letter to J.

Dear J.,

First, it was such a pleasure to meet you, and a gift to have you endorse my work to A. and E. When you mentioned that my work has been helpful for you, it meant so much to me. Thank you.

I so appreciated your willingness to open up our conversation by sharing about how Imposter Syndrome has sometimes got you thinking that you aren’t worthy of taking up space, that you don’t belong, and that you aren’t qualified.

This Imposter Syndrome has shown up for you at various times in your life, and this resonated for all of us in the conversation.

You had really noticed it showing up for you at camp.

You’d seen other counsellors making connections and demonstrating how attuned they are to their campers, and you’d felt that as a gap in your own experience so far. You hadn’t had that chance for a one-on-one sit-down with a camper, and that had been hard. It was discouraging.

I wonder if you did get that chance to have a one-on-one sit down with a camper before camp ended?

I also wonder what it might mean to the campers, if they knew that you were paying such close attention to their needs, and so committed to making sure that campers who needed a one-on-one chat were able to access it?

I saw this awareness and commitment to community care put into action when you witnessed E.’s story and immediately responded by sharing that you had heard from campers that E. offered “the queer space to feel safe in.”

When you were talking about the effects of this Imposter Syndrome and the dreams you had of showing up for your campers and connecting on a personal level, I heard a strong commitment to community care, and an awareness of the people around you and what they might need. I heard you wanting to be part of creating safer spaces, and offering campers the opportunity to have their experiences even when those experiences might be uncomfortable or challenging. Rather than simply looking for solutions, you were, as E. framed it, “generating hope for the process.”

I also want to honour that you had experienced some disappointment, and even some guilt, about not having had those opportunities for one-on-one connection yet. In those moments when Guilt shows up, sometimes it has you wanting to disappear in order to make things better, because you are valuing other people’s experiences and their well-being.

This really seemed to resonate with what A. said about sometimes feeling like a downer, and Guilt showing up in those moments. E. also seemed to connect with this idea.

I was really interested in the story that you shared about receiving validation from your coworkers, and how this was a bit of an antidote to the Imposter Syndrome.

You actually went into social work (amazing!) because of the feedback that you got from your coworkers – they saw something in you, and encouraged you in this direction. You actively sought out that feedback, and chose to accept it. As E. pointed out, receiving validation is an active process of choosing to believe that what someone says is true.

I wonder what it means to your coworkers that you valued their opinion so much?

And I wonder if it makes it possible for them to feel connected to your work in the world, knowing that they were part of that process?

What might you say to Imposter Syndrome if it shows up for you again?

Do you have any ideas for how you can resist Guilt when it makes you want to disappear?

Are there ways that you can strengthen your relationship with Trusting Validation?

I would love to hear how things go for you as you continue to resist and respond to these problems, and cultivate your values of community care, connection with others, and doing justice in the world.

I hope that the rest of your camp experience was rich and rewarding.

Warmly,

Tiffany

The letter to E. 

Dear E.,

Thank you for being part of the narrative conversation at Camp fYrefly.

I really appreciated your contributions to the conversation, and some of what you said about holding complexity has really stuck with me and informed some of the narrative sessions I’ve facilitated in the last week.

I’m new to the process of narrative letters, and still trying to figure out where my voice is. I’ve left your letter to last, because I want to respond with my Big Feelings, and I’ve been worried about whether that’s how I’m “supposed” to do narrative letters. But I’m taking some advice from you, and removing my value judgement from these Big Feelings.

E., when you spoke about feeling like you were not able to be fully present because some of your own big stories had been brought up at camp, that really hit me. I struggle with this myself, and with the guilt over it. I want to make a difference in the world, and I want to create spaces and facilitate conversations that open up a wider range of possible responses for people who are responding to the problems in their lives. Michael White, who was a founder of narrative therapy, said that “deficit-focused stories present a narrow range of potential responses” and I really agree with this. But it can be so difficult to move away from a deficit-centered story when painful history intrudes into the present.

It was so encouraging and inspiring for me to see you show up, be present, despite the stories that had come forward for you. Even though you said that you were struggling with being present, your contributions were still so compassionate, insightful, and resonant.

This made me think about whether we make a difference even when we feel ourselves to be at a distance. It got me thinking about the value of my own work, even in the moments when I feel so far away from the self and the work that I most want to be and do. Thank you.

During the conversation, you shared your insider knowledge into what an active process it is to receive validation, and to choose to believe that what someone says is true.

This is a valuable insight, and I became curious about how you came to this knowledge. Have there been people in your life who made this work, which is often so overlooked, visible? How have you learned to see and validate this work in your own life, and in others’ lives?

You also shared that you have worked hard to value your big feelings, which happen in lots of directions. You’ve had some help in this work from skills like Introspection and Challenging Ideas, but you’ve also worked on holding space for feelings even when they are “bad” ones. You talked about how much growth and opportunity exists in failure, and how failure makes things possible but it still sucks.

I really appreciated how each of your comments demonstrated your close relationship with complexity and space-holding.

I also appreciated what you said about how you’ve worked with reimagining yourself as the villain. I’m really interested in this idea.

What villains have inspired you? Which villains have offered you insights into holding space for your own complex story?

It was a pleasure to meet you, and I hope that camp offered you a rich, and deliciously complex, set of experiences.

Warmly,

Tiffany