The BPD Superpowers group has set our sights on an important new project, and we’re launching it in May for BPD Awareness Month!
We want to create an accessible DBT resource that is informed by our deeply held values of disability justice rather than ableism, decolonization rather than colonialism, collective action rather than individualism, and neurodiversity rather than pathology.
We recognize that DBT has been an incredibly helpful framework and set of skills for so many folks, many of whom identify with borderline personality disorder (and many who don’t!). We also recognize that many of the existing resources and many of the established ways of teaching the skills are ableist, individualist, and expensive, which means it has often been most accessible to white folks with financial privilege. In this project, we hope to honour what is valuable about this set of skills, and stand against what has been harmful.
Does this sound like a project you would like to be involved in?
Have you had experience with DBT resources, either through group or individual therapy, or self-directed using books or other resources?
We would love to hear from you!
Please note: Although this project is going ahead, the scheduled community conversations are going to be postponed. Individual conversations can still be arranged, and community conversations will be rescheduled.
We will be hosting two facilitated community conversations, through Zoom, in May.
Register to attend below:
Register for May 15, 1-2:30 pm Mountain time.
Register for May 18, 5-6:30 pm Mountain time.
If neither of these times work for you and you would like to be involved, email Tiffany to set up an individual conversation.
If you do not have lived experience with accessing DBT resources, but you do want to be involved in our BPD Awareness Month events, you can join us for a webinar on the topic of Distress Tolerance: Stories, Skills, and Strategies for Hard Times on May 22 from 1-2:30 pm Mountain time. Register for the zoom link, or read more about the webinar here.
Find more from the BPD Superpowers group
It’s Autism Acceptance Month, and this month matters a lot to me! There are a few things happening this month that you might be interested in.
First, to frame my own approach to this month:
I do my best to be actively inclusive of autism in my life and my work, not only because I love autistic people (and am neurodivergent myself), but also because I work in queer and trans community as a queer and trans person, and there is significant overlap between gender and sexuality diversity and neurodiversity, including autism (see this post at Spectrum on the topic).
Being ‘actively inclusive’ means listening to autistic voices. This means using identity-first language, not using the puzzle piece or ‘light it up blue’ images, not linking to or taking any guidance from Autism Speaks, rejecting ABA and all forms of coercive ‘behavioural’ therapy for autistic kids, honouring that the spectrum of autism includes folks who have a wide range of support needs and that people at every point on the spectrum deserve dignity and agency, and really considering how we can challenge ableism and neuronormativity in how we speak about and understand autism and autistic ways of being.
So, with that intro, here’s what’s happening this month!
Maybe the most exciting is that An Unexpected Light will be reading and talking about three pieces of short writing by autistic writer Ada Hoffmann this month. If you’re part of that course, you can join us for the chat on April 18! But I’m also including the study guide here, so that anybody can participate. It’s down below.
Shiny! a speculative writing group continues to meet every month. This offshoot from An Unexpected Light is open to anyone, and is free of charge. This month, our writing prompts will be drawn from the three pieces of writing featured in An Unexpected Light (and later in this post). We’re meeting on April 13 from 6-7:30 pm mountain time. We write together, with the opportunity (but not the obligation) to share and respond to each other’s just written work. It is a lovely time! Register for the zoom link and find more information here.
Possibilities: Bi+ Community Group will be talking about autism and/in the bi+ community on April 15 from 6:30-8 pm mountain time. You can find more information and register for the zoom link here.
And I’ll be talking about autism and narrative therapy with the narrative practitioner peer consultation group tomorrow!
Here’s the study guide, if you’d like to read some excellent pieces of writing along with me.
A small study guide for three pieces of writing by Ada Hoffmann
The first is her essay, ‘Towards a neurodiverse future: Writing an autistic heroine‘ at Tor.com.
The second, which I would consider a companion piece, is this twitter thread on writing worlds inhabited by autistic people.
(The essay primarily addresses character, and the thread primarily addresses setting – both are important!)
And finally, not story about autism but a story by an autistic author, her short story, ‘A spell to retrieve your lover from the bottom of the sea‘ at Strange Horizons.
Before reading, consider these ‘deconstructing discourse’ questions:
- What commonly accepted ‘truths’ or ideas about autism have you encountered?
- Do these commonly accepted ideas match your own experience with autism, or with community members who are autistic?
- Where have these ideas come from? Who determines which stories about autism become accepted and which stories are dismissed? Whose voices are heard, and whose are missing?
- Based on these ideas, what kind of person do you think might be autistic? Who might have an easier or harder time accessing a diagnosis? Which autistic experiences might be more or less visible?
- Who is impacted by these ideas about autism? Do you think the impact of these ideas might be helpful, harmful, or both?
- What do these ideas about autism make possible in terms of available actions, ways of speaking about experience, or understanding ourselves and each other? What might become possible if these ideas changed, or if more nuance was added?
- Are these ideas about autism in line with your values, or what you believe about how we should speak about and treat each other?
The goal of these questions is to really examine what we “know” about autism, because for many of us, unless we are autistic or have intentionally sought out autistic voices, so much of what we learn about autism comes through poor representation in media, or through highly pathologized and medicalized models of neurodiversity. Ideas about autistic folks “lacking empathy”, or stereotypes of autism as an issue for young, white, middle-class boys, or stories of autism that centre the experiences and voices of neurotypical parents and professionals rather than centering the voices of autistic folks themselves – these are all incredibly common, and cause real harm.
‘Deconstructing discourse’ questions is a practice I learned from both queer, trans, and feminist spaces, and also from narrative practice spaces. These specific questions were adapted from the series of questions offered in the BPD Superpowers document.
While reading the essay and twitter thread, consider:
- What stands out to you in Ada Hoffmann’s essay or twitter thread about who might populate a neurodiverse world, and what their lives might be like?
- Is there anything that surprises you in the essay or the twitter thread, or that you hadn’t thought of previously?
- In the essay, she writes, “I also know the peculiar pain of stories that seem to betray an author’s contempt for autistic people, their belief that we’re emotionless or wretchedly irritating or just not quite human.” To me, this is the most critical reason we must examine what we’ve been taught and what we think we know about people who are pushed to the margins and subjected to medicalizing and pathologizing discourses (including ourselves, in some instances!) But particularly for neurotypical writers of autistic characters, there is the risk that in an effort to write someone unlike us in ways that will be legible, sometimes we write in ways that are incredibly painful and harmful – leaning on stereotypes that we don’t realize are wrong, or representing people in ways that are hurtful.
- In the twitter thread, Hoffmann talks about how to include high-support people in an autistic world while maintaining their dignity and agency. This seems so important to me, because writing a truly neurodiverse world means more than just highlighting the easy and pleasant aspects of neurodivergence. Acknowledging challenges with executive function, and including people who have higher support needs, but doing this in dignifying and honouring ways feels like one of the most important aspects of writing visionary fiction.
- In the essay, she writes about autistic villains. I love this part! I appreciate the care she brings to this, recognizing how autistic villains can work in harmful ways and align with stereotypes that vilify autistic people, but also recognizing that well-written autistic villains can work really well. What is your initial reaction to this idea? (My own reaction was that I would love to see more of these characters written by autistic authors, but not by neurotypical authors. When I examine this reaction, it’s related to how I don’t want to see queer or trans villains written by cis or straight authors because that aligns too easily with the ways in which trans and queer folks are vilified in dominant culture. And, of course, this desire to see only #ownvoices villains is problematic, because it demands that authors always be ‘out’. Layers and layers!)
While reading the short story, consider:
- What stands out to you in this story? What particular images or phrases stick with you?
- What do you think of the three possible futures?
- How does Hoffmann maintain hope in this story, if you think that she does?
- Is there anything about this story that changes how you think about your own life?
For me, the idea of respecting when someone says no to help was really powerful, and deepened my thinking about autonomy.
In a recent training with Vikki Reynolds, she said something like, “autonomy and paternalism are always in conflict, and many helping agencies are deeply paternalistic.” During Autism Acceptance Month especially, questioning whether the help we are offering or the help being offered to the autistic folks in our lives, aligns with autonomy or paternalism feels critically important.
In the story, Hoffmann writes, “When he says “don’t,” you must stop. That sounds obvious, but it will not be. It is such a small step from helping someone to hurting them, against their will, for what you think is their good. You have been hurt like that before. Take that step even once and he will be lost to you.”
I read this, and thought about ABA, and about all of the coercive therapies offered to autistic kids. “It is such a small step from helping someone to hurting them, against their will, for what you think is their good.”
I want to scream this from the rooftops all through Autism Acceptance Month. All through every month. Until every person who holds the power to help and forgets that it is also the power to hurt hears it, knows it, acts on it.
What are you doing to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month? Who are you listening to, learning from, and being influenced by?
Today is Trans Day of Visibility! Visibility is so important and so complex.
(I wrote about self-care and visibility / invisibility / hypervisibility in this 2017 blog post. And you can see me being visible today as part of Skipping Stone’s ’24 Stories in 24 Hours’ event. I’ll be interviewed at 1:30 pm mountain time, and you can watch here.)
No matter how visible you are or are not today, trans friend, know that you are loved.
Trans Day of Visibility can be hard for folks who are not ‘out’, for whom visibility is either undesirable or unattainable. It can also be hard for folks who are hypervisible, who never have the option to not be visible.
Visibility is so important, but when the focus is placed on individuals to ‘be visible’, rather than on everyone to learn how to see more clearly the diversity of the world around us, it can be a further injustice. And when visibility is the goal we’re supposed to achieve, but we are also punished if we’re too visible, this is also an injustice.
It is not the job of any individual to change the social context that pushes us away from visibility or that turns a hostile constant gaze on us.
It is our collective job to do the work of seeing more clearly, more richly, more fully, more kindly.
Ask yourself today:
- Who am I seeing?
- Have I always seen these people?
- How have I learned to see the people that I see?
- Do I see these people with kindness and care?
- How have I learned to see people kindly?
- Who has supported me in this learning?
- Who sees me with kindness and care?
- Who might I not be seeing?
- How can I learn to see more fully?
These questions matter. Do you see trans people of colour? Do you see non-binary people? Do you see disabled trans people? Do you see homeless trans people? Do you see trans kids? Trans parents? Trans grandparents? Trans doctors and academics and car mechanics and dentists and therapists and teachers and nurses and students and professors and politicians and activists and librarians and video gamers and athletes? Do you know, with the kind of knowing that becomes second nature, that we have always been here, that we are part of the rich fabric of every society?
Who is within your frame?
How can you widen your frame?
And if you are a trans person and you don’t feel yourself to be richly and meaningfully seen, just know that it’s not your fault. It’s not on you. It’s on all of us to widen our frame enough to include you in it. That’s our job. That’s what we owe each other.
One way you can widen your frame is to learn how to imagine different worlds, and more just futures. If you’d like to do that, you might like An Unexpected Light, the online course in narrative therapy and speculative fiction that I facilitate. You can find more information here and you can use code TDoV for 25% off the cost.
On Trans Day of Remembrance in 2018, today’s grief-focused parallel event, Possibilities got together to write a letter of support to the trans community. You can find that letter, along with many others, in the Letters of Support to the Trans Community zine, which you can download here.
I’m sharing that letter again here.
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