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?
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
These prompts, which expand on our jellyfish theme, might be helpful.
If you’re having trouble getting started, I would suggest reading through these questions and prompts and picking the one that brings a thought to mind most easily. Then set a timer for 15 minutes and write. Try not to edit yourself as you go, just let the words flow! You can edit afterwards.
If you love what you’ve written, awesome! Keep going on that track.
If you don’t love it, that’s okay! Pick another question or prompt, or take another crack at the one that first drew your attention.
(Keep in mind that you do not need to stick to a jellyfish or ocean theme – this was just a fun theme I went with this year. The zine will include all kinds of writing and themes.)
Jellies have been around since before the dinosaurs, and our communities have also always been around.
What community do you identify as belonging to, or being part of?
Do you know the history of that community?
When did you first learn that there was a community that shared your bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or otherwise non-monosexual orientation?
What experiences have you had in these communities?
Have you felt welcome in queer communities, either communities of shared orientation or other queer communities? What has contributed or stood in the way of feeling welcome in these communities?
Write a story about a bi+ person in history. (This could be in any genre.)
Jellies are found in every ocean, and in every part of the ocean, and our communities are also found everywhere.
Our bi+ communities overlap with trans communities, fat communities, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, disabled communities, poor communities, substance using communities, sex working communities, and every other community. What overlaps exist in your bi+ experience?
Are there places you didn’t expect to find bi+ community, but then they were there?
Write a story about a bi+ person in an unexpected location, such as the moon, the bottom of the ocean, or a space station. (This could be in any genre, but my love of speculative fiction is certainly present in this prompt!)
Jellies can be hard to see because they blend in, and our communities can be hard to see, too.
Have you experienced a sense of invisibility, or erasure when it comes to your bi+ identity? What was the effect of this?
Have you experienced being seen in your bi+ identity? What did that visibility make possible?
What do you wish people knew about bi+ experience, that tends to get lost when we are blended into our contexts (such as the discourses that flatten us down to “spicy straight” or “gay/lesbian lite”)?
Where would you like to see more bi+ representation?
Write a story about blending in. (This could be in any genre.)
Write a story about not blending in. (This could also be in any genre!)
Jellies are resilient and they survive in so many different contexts, and our communities are also resilient, and survive in many different contexts.
What skills of survival have you learned as a bi+ person, and in bi+ communities?
What are some of the obstacles that you have faced?
What are some of the skills of resilience that you have developed as a bi+ person, and in bi+ communities?
What is the history of your skills of resilience and survival – where did you learn them, and who supports you in them?
Write about your “care toolkit” – the skills and resources you use to care for yourself and others.
Write a story about bi+ survival. (This could be in any genre.)
Some jellies are bioluminscent, creating their own light, and so do our communities – bi+ communities have been creating queer-inclusive spaces for generations, including Brenda Howard and the first Pride March!
Has there been a time when you’ve “created your own light” for yourself or others – a time when you have held out against the gloom, or when you have offered hope to someone else?
Has there been a time when another member of a bi+ community offered light and hope to you?
Who in your life, now or in the future or in the past, would you want to create light and hope for?
Who in your life knows that you are holding onto hope or possibility?
What allows you to be bioluminescent?
Write a story about being a light in the gloom. (This could be in any genre.)
Write a story about finding a light in the gloom. (This could be in any genre.)
And 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.
The zine is only the first of the Bi+ Visibility Week events!
There is also a virtual video dance party on Friday Sept 18 from 8-10 pm MDT (please RSVP for details – we’re still figuring out exactly how it will work but it’s going to be super fun). RSVP at the FB event – https://www.facebook.com/events/313322403260174 or send me a message.
And a panel on visibility and care on Saturday Sept 19 from 1-2:30 pm MDT. Watch for a blog post coming this weekend with full details.
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.
Bi Visibility Week is coming up from September 16-23 and plans are coming together!
One small project is a little zine about our queer experiences, open to contributions from anyone who identifies as somehow non-monosexual (not gay or straight, attracted to something other than a single gender). This includes bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and a whole range of other queer folks.
Since all of the Possibilities Bi Visibility Week events have a bit of a jellyfish/ocean theme going on, consider the following possible prompts for your writing:
Jellies have been around since before the dinosaurs, and our communities have also always been around! Not like The Bis Before Time, but, you know.
Jellies are found in every ocean, and in every part of the ocean, and our communities are also found everywhere!
Jellies can be hard to see because they blend in, and our communities can be hard to see, too!
Jellies are resilient and they survive in so many different contexts, and our communities are also resilient, and survive in many different contexts!
Some jellies are bioluminscent, creating their own light, and so do our communities – bi+ communities have been creating queer-inclusive spaces for generations, including Brenda Howard and the first Pride March!
Although I am quite excited about the vast ocean of possibilities presented by this marine theme, that doesn’t mean you need to stick to the jelly theme at all. You can write about anything related to your bi+ experience. About presence and visibility and resilience. About connections and community (blooms of jellies, schools of fish). Write a short story, a poem, an essay. Draw a picture. Make a collage. Whatever you’d like!
Anything that is about non-monosexual experience is welcome, and I am especially interested in writing with some kind of focus on visibility (and all the pieces around it – invisibility, hypervisibility, conditional visibility).
Submissions must be received by September 13, 2020.
All contributors will receive a printed copy of the zine, and the zine will be available for free download on my website, with physical copies available for purchase (to cover the costs of printing and shipping). Submissions can emailed.
If you want support in the writing, you can attend the Warm Water Write-Along on Thursday, Sept 10 from 6-7:30 pm Mountain time. Message me to RSVP!
THE SUPERPOWERS o The Superpower of Community (and community care) o The Superpower of Showing Up o Resilience o Endurance o Dialectics as a Superpower (holding multiple true stories) o Empathy and Compassion o The Superpower of Quick Turnaround of Emotions o The Superpower of Being Able to Get Out of a Bad Situation o The Ability to ‘Chameleon’
From the document:
This document follows a conversation, facilitated by Osden Nault and Tiffany Sostar, whose goal was to center the voices of folks who identify with BPD (either diagnosed by a professional or self-claimed), and to shift the dominant narrative about Borderline Personality Disorder. This document includes quotes from participants as well as quotes from BPD folks who were not at the event itself.
This event was the result of both Osden and Tiffany noting the lack of BPD voices in the resources available about, and especially for, the BPD community. So much of what is available includes harmful stories about what kind of people have BPD, and how difficult and even dangerous it is to be in relationship with them. These stories obscure the complex lived experiences of BPD individuals who have valuable insider knowledges into how to navigate big emotions and the ongoing effects of complex trauma.
Because we live in such a complex, overwhelming, and traumatizing social context, we hope that this resource might also provide help and insight for folks who do not identify with BPD but who have experienced complex trauma or are living with overwhelming Feels.
We also hope that this resource will help folks who are facing the injustice of inaccessible mental health supports. We recognize that the BPD community faces intense stigma and is also significantly underserved by medical and mental health professionals. If you have found this resource because you haven’t found anything else, we hope that it helps. You are valid, your experiences are valid, and no matter how much you may struggle with your big feelings at times, we know that you also have skills, strategies, superpowers.
There’s so much more that we could have put into this document, and we hope to continue this work both within the BPD Superpowers group and through engagement with other folks who identify with borderline personality disorder (either through self-identification or through a formal diagnosis). Maybe there will even be a book!
Acknowledging the political climate in which we are releasing this work and the intersections of oppression and mental illness / neurodivergence.
At this moment, Black people in the USA and marginalized groups worldwide are mobilizing against white supremacist, racist, and anti-Black violent systemic oppression. We are unequivocally in support of this ongoing struggle for more just futures. In releasing this document at this time, we wish to acknowledge the compounded effects of anti-Black racism, white supremacy, colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and many more forms of violent oppression and marginalization on individual mental health and neurotypes.
An Indigenous participant has shared:
One of the first definitions of BPD I saw described it as resulting from a “genetic predisposition” and trauma. I immediately thought about my own family’s intergenerational trauma. At a point in time when we know ancestral trauma affects us to a genetic level, I wondered how the history of colonial violence plays a role in my present day neurodivergent experience.
We see the effects of violent oppression on physical and mental health, spanning generations and present today. In what Angela Davis has referred to as a “very exciting moment,” and about which she says, “I don’t know if we have ever experienced this kind of a global challenge to racism and to the consequences of slavery and colonialism,” we acknowledge that there is a great deal of ongoing work and healing to be done. We release this collective document with free access and the hope that it will aid in the future and ongoing well being of oppressed individuals and communities.
With love and solidarity, The BPD Superpowers group
This will be another incomplete, last minute, hastily written letter. Still shiny, I would like to think, but shiny like the rainbow slick on a puddle – a brief glimmer in a storm.And wow, are we in a storm.
The Shiny! Speculative Writing Group will be meeting tomorrow, June 7, from 4-6 pm mountain time. Email me for the link.
There is never a cost to attend the Shiny! writing group, but I would like to invite any participants at tomorrow’s event to make a donation of whatever amount you feel the writing group is worth towards supporting a Black creative, or towards one of the organizations supporting protesters right now.
I recognize that this group includes a lot of folks who are living with financial precarity, made worse for the folks in Alberta by the UCP attacking AISH. If making a donation is not possible, I would invite us each to find some other way of offering support. Supporting the work of standing against anti-Blackness and police violence is so necessary. Being part of that work is so necessary.
I would also like to invite the non-Black members of this group to engage meaningfully with the work of Black writers this month. Not just the critical and necessary non-fiction writing about this current political moment, but also the writing of Black romance writers, humour writers, and, of course, speculative fiction writers. Check out the Spring book list at Well Read Black Girl for some ideas.
Have you heard about the Heavy Hitters Poetry Festival? Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not An Apology, is performing on June 9th! You can get tickets here – https://awfulgoodwriters.com/
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, whose short story Evidence is featured in An Unexpected Light, and was the very first prompt we used in this group, has a book called M: Archive that follows that trajectory and imagines Black ongoingness after a worldwide cataclysm. Relevant! https://www.alexispauline.com/
We are collectively witnessing a phenomenal volume of Black pain in the news, and it is so critical that we do witness this, that we see it, recognize it, understand that it is not ‘shocking’ or new. That we recognize how anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence are two strong threads in the rope of capitalist colonialism, and that we work to fray and unravel and dismantle that rope.
But we also have to recognize, and have to actively seek out, the other stories. Black lives matter all the time, not just when they are suffering. Black joy matters. Black imagination matters. If you are invested in supporting a movement for change, I really believe that you must also be invested in seeking out more than just the trauma.
So, you may have guessed that tomorrow’s writing group will focus on what is happening politically right now.
It’s going to be a bit of a different session, more reflective writing than fantastical writing, though I think that reflection can also be speculative in nature. At its best, reflective writing invites us to speculate about our own preferred selves and lives, and can be incredibly future-enabling work.
My goal in writing these prompts was to find ways that we could engage as a group with what is happening culturally and politically in ways that generate and sustain hope without turning away from pain and struggle, and in ways that invite a variety of voices without appropriating stories or experiences that are not our own.
I wanted to invite us to step more meaningfully into our own story, rather than taking the too-frequent path of stepping into the story of someone who is marginalized in ways we are not. I didn’t want to set us up to “imagine what it’s like for someone facing this injustice” because, although I think it is absolutely critical that we read the first hand accounts of people who are facing hardship, and we believe them, that is different than trying to speak in their voices.
It is sometimes easier to imagine ourselves into a life that seems like it is harder than our own, easier to cast ourselves out into that other voice and experience, than to really sit with our own experience, and with the ways in which our own lives are entangled in systems of oppression and harm, the ways in which our own stories are shaped and constrained by colonialism and capitalism, the ways in which we have been invited to be complicit and the values we hold that do not align with these systems of harm. I hope that this event can help us polish off some of those shiny values.
So these prompts are meant to invite reflection on our own experience of this time, on the stories we are being told of this time, and what we can contribute at this time.
My hope is that this event tomorrow will leave participants feeling that their critical eye on the stories we’re being shared has been sharpened, and that their hope for the future and energy to take action in support of justice have been strengthened.
Here are our writing prompts for tomorrow:
What is the story of this time, right now?
This may not seem like a speculative writing prompt, but “the story” of any time is always an act of imagination. There is no single true story of any event. In this prompt, I want to invite us to consider what we are being told about the nature of this current political and cultural moment. Who is telling us this story? What is being valued in this story? Who does this story serve? Does this story align with our own experience or understanding of this time? What is the story we are telling of this time? What is the story we want to tell?
What is the story of this time, 50 years from now?
This is a more directly speculative prompt. What is the mythology of 2020 that evolves over the next half century? How do you imagine the grandchildren of this generation will speak about this time?
What is being asked of you at this time?
This is an invitation to use our speculative writing powers to imagine what we might have to offer, and what might be asked of us or needed from us at this time. What do we have to offer? What do we wish we had to offer?
If you plan to attend tomorrow, please let me know! If there are less than four confirmed attendees, I will be cancelling the event.
I love the comic about how we are basically houseplants with complicated feelings, and it got me thinking about how isolation means we need to be succulents, able to survive and thrive in conditions of scarcity and intensity, and how fear also turns out lives into deserts, and how precarity does the same.
So, I thought we could use that metaphor, and make a little zine about what gets us through, and how we get each other through.
What are our skills of survival?
What are our strategies of mutual aid and collective action and care?
How are we keeping ourselves going, and what can we teach each other?
Many of us are in communities with generations-long histories of succulent lives in deserts of ableism, transantagonism, queerphobia, colonialism, white supremacy. Oppressed and targeted communities know the way forward.
So many folks responded to this invitation,
and what I imagined as a “little zine about what gets us through” is actually
over 90 pages of poetry, art, essays, and narrative projects. I am incredibly thankful
for these contributions, and honoured to have been able to bring them together
in this work.
Each contributor took the time and energy to create something that they shared with this project. This time and energy is precious, especially right now as we all deal with scarcity, precarity, uncertainty, and rapidly changing expectations and pressures.
There is abundance in these pages. Richness despite scarcity.
If you would like a printed copy of the zine, please get in touch for pricing. The PDF is available at no charge, and can be shared.
Tiffany Sostar. Canada. Finding Succulence and When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing (contributor) Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist, writer, editor, community organizer, and workshop facilitator. They collected and formatted the zine. This is their webpage! (My webpage? What even is authorial point of view in collective documents?!?!)
Brianna Sharpe. Canada. Neverlings Brianna Sharpe is a writer and parent. She writes beautiful, moving, well-researched articles for The Sprawl, among other places. Find her website here.
Kalina Wolska-Chaney. Canada. Little Rock and cat art. Kalina is a young writer and artist.
Sophie Cao. China. How a Wandering Cat Survived During the Coronavirus Outbreak and Dear World, Dear Friends. Sophie is a narrative practitioner in mainland China, and has been involved in projects for the Dulwich Centre. Dear World, Dear Friends formed the basis of the Exchanging messages with Chinese narrative practitioners, which can be found here.
Lyn Janelle. Canada. Cat art. Lyn is a seamstress, artist, and crafter-of-all-sorts.
Neko. Canada. Huohuo and Momo Neko is a young writer and artist.
Agnieszka Wolska. Canada. A Pandemic Correspondence with a Challenging Presence and I am Tired of Sitting and When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing (contributor) Agnieszka Wolska is a narrative therapist and parent in Calgary, Alberta. You can find her therapy work, Calm at the Centre Therapy, here.
Bryan J. McLean. Canada [ Lights in a Dark Landscape ] Bryan McLean is a poet, musician, writer, and artist. You can find his website here.
Anupa Mehta. India. Toolkits For Trying Times. Anupa Mehta is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in India. Her website is here.
Josiah Ditoro. Canada. Become the Borg of Your Favourite Things Josiah is a writer, disability justice advocate, and one of the engines behind the Calgary Wrimotaurs, Calgary’s NaNoWriMo group. You can find the Calgary NaNo site here.
Rei. Canada. Allow Yourself to Start Again and Cheerio Upside Down Rei is a writer, artist, and disability justice advocate in Calgary.
Lori Helfenbaum. Canada. A Pandemic Passover Haggadah and When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing (contributor) Lori is a narrative therapist in Calgary. You can find her website here.
Nicole Marie Burton and Hugh Goldring. Canada. Take Care: A Community Response to Covid-19. Nicole and Hugh run Ad Astra Comix and publish smart, funny, political comics. You can find their website here.
Hugh D.A. Goldring. Canada. Anarchism and Pandemics
Kay Fidler. Canada. Sober in Isolation and Novel: A Pandemic Love Poem Kay is a Metis writer and perfumer in Calgary. They are working on a graphic novel, and it’s going to be amazing!
Beatrice Aucoin. Canada. Good Leadership in the Time of Corona Beatrice is a writer and cat sitter in Calgary. You can find her site, Cat Mom Calgary, here.
Callan Field. Canada. Mixed media pair Callan is a visual artist in Calgary. Callan’s website is here.
Anisha Uppal-Sullivan. UAE. Cat art Anisha is an artist in the UAE.
And the narrative practitioners group! We each contributed to the conversations that formed the basis of When Everyone is Flailing, It Kind of Looks Like Dancing Tiffany Sostar Agnieszka Wolska Lori Helfenbaum Joel Glenn Wixson (see his website here) Amy Druker (see her website here) Mim Kempson (see her website here) Sonia Hoffman Rosie Maeder Julia Scharinger Marisa Barnhart J. L.