‘How we are avoiding misgendering’ follow-up

The conversation on December 11 was so lovely. It felt good to be in community, speaking about how we try to take care of trans and non-binary people in our lives (for many of us, that includes our own selves). 

One participant wrote afterward and said, “it was the most generative convo I have had in such a while and felt so good to be apart of <3!!” 

I received the transcript back from Shara (they are always such an important part of this work!) and have started pulling out themes and quotes to get started on the collective document. 

The thing I’ve been thinking about most often since is how important relationships are in this work:

  • Our relationships with ourselves (our own experience of gender, our own learning and unlearning of gender expectations and the gender binary, our own safety as we decide whether to speak up or not in various contexts)
  • Our relationships with trans and non-binary community (our families, our partners, our friends, our communities, the people we don’t know but with whom we still want to be in solidarity, the safety of those people as we decide whether to speak up or not in various contexts and how we choose to speak when we do, the legacy of trans and non-binary advocacy we join when we act in solidarity)
  • Our relationships with people who may be acting in alignment with gender essentialism, cisnormativity, or even transphobia (these may also be our families, our partners, our friends and communities!)
  • And even our relationships with ideas and ideals, values and hopes, curiosities and possibilities.

The original topic was “how we avoid misgendering others”, and I had imagined a conversation about how we’ve unlearned our own cisnormative habits and the skills and strategies we’ve developed for our own internal relationship with gender and gendering. I’d like to talk more about that, still, but in the conversation on the 11th we ended up speaking more about how we respond when we witness misgendering, which is a related (but also very different) thing.

We talked quite a bit about the barriers that get in the way of acting in solidarity, and part of this conversation was bringing some nuance to the idea of what ‘acting in solidarity’ can mean. It is not a binary or a single correct answer – there are always a variety of actions available, and when we determine which action we take, there are many relevant factors. We are always responding based on our position in the specific context, which means thinking about things like – are we the person being misgendered, or are we witnessing someone else being misgendered? what is our relationship with the person engaged in misgendering? what do we know of their values and hopes – if they are someone who cares about not misgendering, then correcting them is almost always the right call, but if they are someone who will become angry, we have to consider what the fall-out or backlash will be, and whether that will compromise our or someone else’s safety. In those instances, other actions, like texting to check in with someone, or finding something affirming to do later, might be the better option. These can be uncomfortable calculations, because it can feel like failure, and I hope that one generative outcome of this work is that we find ways to speak about our desires to be in solidarity and to avoid misgendering and to respond to misgendering with compassion and rigor. 

I’m going to get started on the collective document soon, and will be sharing the draft here.

If you would like to contribute, there are many ways you can do this!

I’ve created a little google form for people to contribute asynchronously. You can find that here

We’re also going to have a follow-up conversation in January, and I’ll share that date once it’s set.

You can also email your thoughts to me, or comment here.

The questions in the form are:

  • Is there a particular person you are making this effort on behalf of?
  • What’s important about getting people’s pronouns, names, and gender right?
  • How did you learn to care about avoiding misgendering?
  • Who knows that you care about this? (Sometimes we can feel isolated in our efforts, and one goal of this project is to make visible the community around us and the legacy of solidarity that we are part of when we take care in this way.)
  • How do you practice getting people’s pronouns, names, and gender right? (This can include practices you use for yourself, too! When we avoid misgendering, that includes our own precious trans and non-binary selves.)
  • What practices do you have for when you get it wrong?
  • What difference have these acts of care (both for getting it right and responding when you get it wrong) made in your life or the lives of others?
  • What would you want others to know about avoiding misgendering?

You can respond by email or in the form. 

Autism Acceptance Month 2021

Autism Acceptance Month 2021

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?

Trans Day of Visibility 2021

Trans Day of Visibility 2021

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


Trans Day of Remembrance 2020

Trans Day of Remembrance 2020

It’s Trans Day of Remembrance.

This is for my trans siblings. The entire amazing spectrum of us. The way we are part of every community, the way we hold every possible intersecting identity. This is especially for my trans siblings who are on the margins, not because of anything internal but because of enforced marginality, the pushing out from the centre, the unnecessary creation of scarcity and risk. This is for my trans siblings who are Indigenous, Black, and brown, disabled, neurodivergent, young or old, fat, unhoused, sex working, un- or underemployed, who are in unsafe and hostile contexts.

I love us.

In this year of intense and layered grief, I love us with a love that comes from the root of anger – love that is also rage against injustice, love that is also a refusal to accept injustice as inevitable. It is *not* inevitable.

But, if it’s not inevitable, what else is possible?

What other worlds and ways might be possible?

On this day, I am reflecting on these questions, and I am inviting you to join me:

  • What are the stories that you were first told about trans lives and trans people? Do you remember the first time you learned that we exist?
  • If these first stories were hostile, skeptical, or degrading, how did you learn to resist them, refuse them, or re-author them? What has been the effect of these stories on your life? What has been the effect of your refusal?
  • If these first stories were welcoming, affirming, and honouring, what did this make possible in your life? What has been the effect of these stories on your life?
  • Who told you these first stories? What was their relationship to trans lives and trans people?
  • What was the first story you heard directly from a trans person about trans lives and trans people? What changed for you, what became possible, when you started hearing stories directly from trans people?
  • When did you first feel grief for how trans people are treated? What did this grief change in your life? What did it make possible?
  • When was the first time you learned that trans experience also includes joy and ease? What did this learning make possible in your life?
  • If you are a trans person, what has kept you connected to the possibility of your own life? What do you hold onto? What do you cherish? What do you know is true about you, even in moments when hostile contexts might seek to distance you from this self-knowledge?

Today, we honour our dead. There are too many. Too many of us track our lives against the average and know that we are in danger.

But also, today we fight for the living. Care for the living. Hold space – cis folks, especially, make sure you hold this space! – for what is vibrant and vital about trans lives, trans communities, trans people. Listen to stories from trans folks.

Read stories about our possible futures, not just our traumas or our pasts. If you need a book recommendation, pick up Love After the End, edited by Joshua Whitehead, full of Indigiqueer and Two Spirit speculative fiction.

In Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes, “Breathing in unbreathable circumstances is what we do every day in the chokehold of racial gendered ableist capitalism.”

It’s TDoR, and we are breathing in unbreathable circumstances. We are naming and honouring those who are no longer breathing with us. We are naming and knowing that access to breath is differential, even within the trans community. We are not each equally under threat, even though we are all under threat.

Hold the margins in the centre of this day. Gather them all in. Everything we are told is unloveable and unliveable, bring those threads in. Find their stories. Breathe.

(Maybe cry a bit, too. I know I am.)

An Ocean of Possibilities zine

An Ocean of Possibilities zine

The Ocean of Possibilities Zine is finished!

It was available to contributors and patrons a couple days early, and is now publicly available for today, Wednesday, September 23, Bi+ Visibility Day!!

The PDF is available for free, and you can download it here. If you’d like to purchase a copy they are $12 CAD, and you can order one by emailing me.

A line from Candice Robinson-Horejsi’s essay Living the Possibilities, “When nobody talks about bisexuality, how are you supposed to recognize it in yourself?”, overlaid on a pink jellyfish. Photo by Pan Da Chuan on Unsplash.

An Ocean of Possibilities is a zine by Tiffany Sostar, with contributions by:

Jocelyn LaVon
Candice Robinson-Horejsi
Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti
Aoife Byrne
Sheri Osden Nault
Marlena Chertock
Julene Tripp Weaver
Jan Steckel

I’m not sure how to introduce these essays, poems, comics, and fiction, and, like everyone else, I am swimming in the cold waters of exhaustion and overwhelm. Bi+ Visibility Day lands 6 months into the novel coronavirus pandemic. Every one of the contributors to this zine, from Aoife in Ireland to the folks in the US and those of us in Canada, are affected by the pandemic. 

Search for “bisexual health outcomes” and you’ll find years of studies that demonstrate that, as the HRC puts it, “bisexuals face striking rates of poor health outcomes” (you can read the Health Disparities Among Bisexual People brief here).

And we know that the pandemic has already highlighted multiple systemic health and social inequities. The economic impact, the differential access to health care – none of these fall equally on different communities. Fat folks have faced significant increase in fatphobic discourse during the pandemic. Women are bearing the majority of the increased burden of childcare and at-home education. Black, Indigenous, and brown communities are seeing the pre-existing unequal access to health care and social support escalate.

And it is not just the pandemic that impacts these (and so many other) communities. Overt acts of racist violence are more frequent – white supremacy and colonialism lashing back at those who are protesting. The pandemic arrived in Canada as the invasion of Wet’suwet’en was ongoing, and as the pandemic crosses the half year, more colonial violence is being enacted on Mi’kma’ki – coast to coast, Canada has escalated the violence against Indigenous communities. In the US, police violence (in response to protests against police violence!) has been going on for months.

In Alberta, where I live, Bi Visibility Day comes as disabled Albertans are under increasing and aggressive threat, as our government cuts funding from the most vulnerable.

These issues matter on Bi+ Visibility Day because the bi+ community includes fat folks, women, Black, Indigenous, and brown folks. The bi+ community includes parents, and folks who are living alone. This community includes trans and non-binary folks, disabled folks, poor folks, homeless folks. This community includes folks with difficult relationships to substances, and folks who have experienced trauma, and folks who are experiencing trauma right now. 

Every issue of justice is an issue that matters for this community, and when we ignore any part of this community – when we forget that this community includes all of these intersections, includes every intersection! – we just recreate the harms that are already happening.

So, how do I introduce a zine into this context that is so overwhelming?

A line from Osden Nault’s poem ‘habitat: Unravelling substrate-species relationships‘, “a soft and unshakeable belief that we could nourish one another”, overlaid on a photo of physarum polycephalum slime mold by Helen Ginger. CC BY-SA 3.0.

I think, first, by acknowledging that it is overwhelming.

And then, perhaps, by also acknowledging that despite these daunting realities, there is also a resilience, a persistence, a revolutionary ongoingness within this community.

It is worth celebrating our lives and our experiences.

It is worth being visible, today and every other day.

The pandemic, the colonial machine, the vice-grip of capitalism, the clenched fist of patriarchy – these things are not more meaningful than this community.

We exist within these hostile waters.

We exist, and we have always existed, and we will continue to exist. 

We are jellyfish – you can find us in every ocean, in every part of the ocean.

A line from Marlena Chertock’s poem Water bear body, “I can exist through anything” overlaid on a black and white image of jellyfish. Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash.

The pieces of writing in this zine touch on issues of aging, parenting, and navigating relationships (with others, with communities, and with selves). They include poetry, essays, fiction, and art. 

Multiple essays address the tensions between bisexual and lesbian spaces, and the questioning of “queer enoughness”. 

This zine is not representative of the entire bi+ community. There are so many intersections missing in these 32 pages, so if you read this zine and find it interesting or inspiring or encouraging, I hope that you go out and find more. 

We are here in every space. 

We are telling our stories. 

We are visible, not just today but everyday, if you know how to see us.

Download the 32-page PDF here.


By Marlena Chertock

Hebrew, it would have been enough

I say to
myself each
day you are

not enough. 
It is so

tearing my
own self down.
Not strong, not

queer enough,
not a real
writer. Still,

deep down, I
know the truth:
I’m enough.

Repeat this
Believe it.

“Contributors” on a jellyfish background. Photo by Octavian Rosca on Unsplash.

Jocelyn LaVon is an A++ parent, friend, and community member. (This bio was written by Tiffany, not Jocelyn.)

Candice Robinson-Horejsi (Calgary, Canada). Wife, mother, engineer, NaNoML, writer, runner, knitter, nerd. Candice wears many metaphorical hats. You can find out more here: candicerobinson.ca

Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti is a breast cancer survivor, public speaker, workshop leader, panelist, artist’s model, published poet and soon to be published memoirist. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram as GloriaJacksonNefertiti, and on Twitter as @gloriajn. She lives in Seattle, WA.

Aoife Byrne is an artist living in Dublin, with her Partner and two Pups. She focuses on illustration, photography, animation or a combination in her work. She loves cosplay, choirs and dancing.

Sheri Osden Nault is an artist of Michif and mixed European descent, whose art practice and research are grounded in queer, feminist, and Indigenous world-views. Osden lives in Tkaronto on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, under the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which precedes colonial treaties on this land. Through their work they strive to elicit a sense of social and ecological responsibility to one another on a damaged planet.

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized: Poems (Unnamed Press) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press). She uses her skeletal dysplasia as a bridge to scientific writing. Marlena is a bisexual writer and serves on the planning committee of OutWrite, Washington, D.C.’s annual LGBTQ literary festival. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, The Little Patuxent Review, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Paper Darts, Rogue Agent, Stoked Words, Wordgathering, and more. Find her at marlenachertock.com and @mchertock.

Julene Tripp Weaver, a native New Yorker, is a psychotherapist and writer in Seattle. Her book, truth be bold—Serenading Life & Death in the Age of AIDS, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and won the Bisexual Book Award. www.julenetrippweaver.com. Twitter: @trippweavepoet

Jan Steckel’s latest book Like Flesh Covers Bone (Zeitgeist Press, December 2018) won two Rainbow Awards (for LGBT Poetry and Best Bisexual Book). Her poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Steckel moderates the Facebook group Bi Poets and is an active member of the Bay Area Bi+ and Pan Network. She lives in Oakland, California, USA with her husband Hew Wolff, host of Berkeley BiFriendly.

This zine was initiated and formatted by Tiffany Sostar for Bi+ Visibility Week 2020. Tiffany is a writer, editor, community organizer, tarot reader, course instructor, and narrative therapist. They are bisexual, non-binary, and chronic-pain enhanced. You can find them online at tiffanysostar.com and foxandowltarot.com or email them at sostarselfcare@gmail.com. You can support their work by picking up this zine, enrolling in An Unexpected Light, booking a narrative therapy session or tarot reading, hiring them to facilitate a workshop for your group, or backing their Patreon at patreon.com/sostarselfcare.

Seeing and Being Seen: A Bi+ Visibility Week Panel on Visibility and Care

Seeing and Being Seen: A Bi+ Visibility Week Panel on Visibility and Care

Join Possibilities Calgary Bi+ Community for a panel discussion on visibility and care for Bi+ Visibility Week.

In this discussion, we’ll talk about what it means to be visible as bisexual/pansexual/asexual/queer folks, what makes it possible to feel seen, how we work at seeing each other, and how we care for ourselves and each other.

This panel will take place on September 19, 2020 from 1-2:30 pm mountain time. It will be hosted in GoToMeeting.

Register by emailing me for the link.

Our panelists are:

Sheri Osden Nault is an artist of Michif and mixed European descent, whose art practice and research are grounded in queer, feminist, and Indigenous world-views. Osden lives in Tkaronto on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, under the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which precedes colonial treaties on this land. Through their work they strive to elicit a sense of social and ecological responsibility to one another on a damaged planet. 

M. Jane Colette writes tragedy for those who like to laugh, comedy for the melancholy, and erotica for lovers who like their fantasies real. She believes rules and hearts were made to be broken—ditto the constraints of genres. Her flirty-funny-occasionally filthy novels include Tell Me, Consequences (of defensive adultery), Cherry Pie Cure, Text Me, Cupid, and the Cupid in Monte Carlo trilogy. She’s also the curator of the YYC Queer Writers’ fabulous anthologies Screw Chocolate, Screw Chocolate 2, Queer Christmas in Cowtown, and A Queer Summer Night in Cowtown. Ask her to send you love letters at mjanecolette.com/loveletters, talk to her in pictures at @mjanecolette, or tell her your story at TellMe@mjanecolette.com. Her alter-ego is a provocative legal affairs/business writer and journalism instructor.

Crystal (she/her) is a Queer, fat member of the community. By day, she is a nurse that works at the intersection of mental health and the law. In the evenings she is a yoga teacher certified in Trauma Sensitive Yoga from the Centre of Trauma and Embodiment. She also volunteers as a film programmer for the Fairytales Queer Film Festival, and loves to spend time playing with her niblings. Her partner Kalem (he/him) started decorating their yard for Pride in the early 2010s, and each year the decorations seem to get a little bit bigger! While at first glance, Crystal and Kalem might appear to be a cishet couple, they are both fiercely Queer and love queering their yard for Pride! Crystal is excited to share the story of how their “Pride Yard” came to be, and the positive responses they have received.

Pedrom Nasiri is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology, at the University of Calgary. Their doctoral research examines the increasing prevalence of multiple-partner families in Canada, and their intersections with ongoing racial, gender, and class formation projects. They are the co-founder of the organisation PolyamQ: Calgary’s Queer + Polyamorous Community, a published author on the intersections of race, gender, law, family, and sexuality, and a social justice advocate.

We will be asking questions like:

  • What is important to you about bi+ visibility? 
  • What do you want folks outside of bi+ communities to know about us; how do you want to be seen?
  • Visibility includes both seeing and being seen, and this means that in addition to working towards bi+ visibility in monosexual spaces, we also need to work on ‘seeing’ the members of our own communities who are at other intersections. What intersections feel important to you to highlight for within our bi+ communities? 
  • What might care, both for our communities and within our communities, look like?

There’s no cost to participate, and if you want to participate from outside of Calgary, you are welcome!

We have a focus on community care and narrative discussions for the bi+ community (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, two-spirit, with an intentional focus on trans inclusion).

This is an intentionally queer, feminist, anti-oppressive space. The discussion is open 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.

Bi+ Visibility Week is September 16-23!

There is also a virtual video dance party on Friday Sept 18 from 8-10 pm MDT. The Jellyfish Jam will be hosted in Zoom.

Register here: https://us04web.zoom.us/meeting/register/upUqcuqgqjIqGdUtCAPnVK0DgAqT0UjSuuVx

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

And lastly, a virtual paint night on Bi+ Visibility Day, Wednesday Sept 23 from 6-8 pm MDT. Anyone can participate, and for folks in Calgary, I’m putting together craft packs with a canvas board, paint brushes, and paint. You can find details and RSVP in the FB event – https://www.facebook.com/events/1175049712880550.

And, lastly, if the idea of finding light in the gloom appeals to you, you can use code ‘jellyfish’ from now until the end of September 2020 for 23% off An Unexpected Light, in celebration of Bi+ Visibility Day on September 23, 2020. An Unexpected Light is a course in speculative fiction and narrative therapy.