CHAPTER 7: Intra-Community Strengths
Benefits and strengths group members noted in their local trans communities were coded in this study as Intra-Community Strengths. This theme group came up the most often of all the theme groups in this study. Some participants explained that minority stress, mental health concerns, and division within the community could make it difficult for people to access the community for these benefits. So Intra-Community Strengths and Challenges affected one another. The strengths are described below, and fell into the following subthemes:
- Informal Socialization and Leisure
- Knowledge Resource
- Diversity and Inclusivity
- Trans Sovereignty
- Mental Health Support
- Safety Net
- Evolving Community
- Shared Experience
- Individual Strengths and Positives
- Community Positives
Trans communities can offer leisure, engagement, and social opportunities.
Some group members discussed the importance of both formal and informal social opportunities between trans people. For example, group members mentioned that many people form friendships and intimate relationships within trans communities. As one Calgary member put it:
“I think the trans community to me can be support groups and formalized things. But it can also be someone who I, like, have a friendship with outside of the fact that we may both be transgender. But when something comes up. . . there’s a resource there.”
Many participants indicated they were accessing the research group for personal interest and socialization as well. For example, a Calgary participant shared she had joined the research in part because she “thought it’d be pretty cool to meet some new people.” Note that participants were given information about permanent supports in both Edmonton and Calgary at intake and were informed the study was temporary (see also Anti-Oppression, Chapter 2).
As mentioned before, participants in both groups discussed how the medium of communication—in-person or online—could impact the quality of interaction (see also Chapter 8). Overall, more members in both groups said they preferred in-person trans groups over online ones.
Self-care might seem like an indulgence. But especially in marginalized communities and helping professions, it can be imperative to maintaining your own vitality. How do you practice self-care? How do you think your community practices self-care?
Trans communities can offer knowledge and learning.
Many participants said they accessed trans communities to find local, relevant, up-to-date knowledge about trans issues. Some participants even said they had accessed The TCS Project in part for knowledge gain. “I’m mostly just here for learning as much as I can,” one participant explained. “Just like to get as much knowledge as possible.” Again here Calgary members said knowledge-seeking tied into the problem that there tends to be a lack of information for trans people and trans care (see Inaccessible Knowledge, Chapter 4).
In both groups, mentorship relationships were discussed as a key component of how trans knowledge is shared (see Mentorship, Chapter 8). Participants also discussed the importance of deep cultural knowledge coming from trans communities and tailored for trans consumption. A Calgary participant put it this way:
“I think the idea that trans people have communities and have like intra-community. . . politics and strong suits and back and forth and that they evolve is super important in being able to connect people and document those things.”
Another Calgarian said this deeper knowledge was important for trans people to access.
“[Trans issues can be] difficult to deconstruct for lots of other people. . . because they don’t have the issue of transitioning and having to change how your mindset works.”
What knowledge do you look for in your communities? What wisdom do you hold by virtue of your own experiences?
Trans communities are made up of people from diverse backgrounds, belief systems, and demographics. Communities show openness to this diversity.
Edmonton participants noted that their community had taken action to welcome diverse genders and create spaces where “everybody plays nice.” Both groups touched on the idea of inclusivity being a motivator to create space and resources relevant to specific subgroups in trans communities. They described their communities as being diverse in ages, education levels, (dis)abilities, ethnocultural/racial groups, genders, and beliefs/attitudes.
The Calgary group discussed the balance between inclusivity and division, and how this balance might be skewed across different groups (see also Chapter 8). For example, one member noted the online community felt more inclusive than in-person groups to them.
“You can have an opinion, somebody respects that opinion but gives their own opinion, but doesn’t degrade your own opinion.”
All life’s a stage.
If you were to write a play about your local community, what characters would be in it?
Trans communities are separate from other groups and have their own norms.
“If you take the whole LGBQ. . . And then we take the T out. . . We become a subgroup.” – Calgary participant
Participants in both cities described how their local trans communities act separately from other groups and communities. This, they said, helped keep trans communities as safe havens (see Safety Net below). But this sovereignty could also be unhelpful when it made trans communities hard to find, or when limited capacities within the community hindered self-sufficiency (see also Inaccessible Community, Chapter 4; Needs Outstrip Resources, Chapter 6). Many spoke of their communities in relation to queer and cisgender societies, and even made light of the difference between cisgender and transgender people. This quote from the Edmonton group exemplifies such humour:
Participant 1: “They call it deviant because it deviates from the norm. Quick! Everybody say what’s normal.”
Participant 2: “A dryer setting!”
One Calgary member said that trans communities have “our own normal.” Another explained the challenges he finds in relating trans issues to the public as an advocate for his community.
“You have to attach the experience to something that is familiar to them in an unfamiliar context.”
Coat of arms.
Some of the signs of sovereignty for many nations, cultures, and groups of people are flags, banners, and coats of arms. If you were to make a coat of arms for the identities and groups that contribute to who you are, what would it look like?
Some trans people take action to address community challenges and needs.
Participants noted both the prevalence of advocacy in their communities and the ways in which it might be undertaken for the benefit of these communities. Some participants self-identified as advocates, and some said they had joined the research project as a form of advocacy. Tied into this last point was the repeated mantra in both groups that the transfer and accessibility of trans knowledge was important.
“I know it’s not like anything new whatsoever for any kind of queer people to be existing, and to build communities. But I think it’s really important that we get that kind of information out there and accessible.” –Calgary participant
Group members said social justice initiatives could focus on improving the accessibility of adequate trans knowledge, resources, and services. They could also aim to improve attitudes about trans people, community wellness, and relations with cisgender people. Though advocacy was tied to the betterment of trans lives in both conversations, the Edmonton group delineated advocacy in their city as consisting of two streams. The first stream aimed at changing dominant attitudes about trans people. The other aimed at directly impacting the available resources within trans communities. “There seem to be a lot of initiatives starting to pop up,” said one participant.
A Calgary member summarized the idea that being an advocate requires action.
“There’s passive acceptance and there’s active, working with.”
Advocacy has many forms, which can be anywhere from marching on the streets to helping empower people and situations in person-to-person interactions. If you were to write a short slogan for an issue you care deeply about, what would the slogan be? Where would you want the slogan to be read or heard?
Trans people and communities can be accessed for mental health and wellness support.
Participants across both groups described how community members can help offer others a sense of safety, normalization, comfort, support, confidence-building, self-understanding, and self-acceptance. Some Calgary members conceded that the intent of being a supportive safe space might be why trans communities could seem closed off (see Guardedness and Self-Seclusion, Chapter 6). Said one Calgary member:
“With [trans] people you can have more deep conversations. . . You can discuss these more tricky issues that you might face. And they might not be relatable but at least you can get it across, have somebody listening to what you’re experiencing. I’ve listened to a few of my friends’ complex experiences that not too many other people that they know would. . . have the right context for it.”
Mental health support was described as intentionally given in response to needs, mental health challenges, and minority stress. This type of support, as you’ll see in the Social Discourses section of Chapter 8, might be expected between trans people. Two Edmonton members noted that simply being a part of a trans group could be an indirect aid.
Participant 1: “Sometimes it’s nice just knowing, you know, you’re not the only one that has anxieties and we get it. You can do however much or however little you’re comfortable with, that’s perfectly okay. . . ‘Cause you’re not the only one that’s going through it.”
Participant 2: “Yea it’s true ‘cause like being here is even helping me to calm down.”
Another, however, described the conundrum of meeting external barriers to finding such support.
“You almost need that community to be able to be comfortable enough to go out in public to access that community.”
A Calgary member noted a similar dilemma in meeting Intra-Community Challenges when trying to support other trans people.
“I find it frustrating. Like I’m not competing with you, I genuinely just want to help you. And I want you to be happy, and feel supported, and have resources, and feel like you can… you know, live your life.”
Some participants said accessing The TCS Project helped them. What is this e-book doing or not doing for you so far? Why do you think that is?
Trans communities can offer a safe base to come to or return to from outside these communities.
Trans-inclusive spaces were referred to as “safe spaces” in the Edmonton focus group, and a “safety net” in the Calgary group. Members in both groups pointed out that using the trans community as a safe haven might especially be the case for those who have unsupportive families or social networks. Calgary members described the use of community for comfort: “Giving you the space and the time to discover yourself and meet people who will help you through that process.” Edmonton participants discussed how one might seek the company of community members for “safety in numbers” when feeling unsafe or low in confidence. One member gave an example:
“I found that when shopping in the women’s department. . . if there’s another feminine person with you there’s strength in numbers. And it seems to be that when I’ve escorted. . . another trans woman, they feel more comfortable.”
When I’m facilitating any group, we usually start with a brainstorming session about group rules. The first phrase on the whiteboard is often “be respectful” or “let everyone have a turn.” If you had to brainstorm what you need from a safe space, what would you add to this list?
Trans communities are adapting to changes in larger society, as well as evolving to accommodate their own members.
“I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s just the culture is evolving and it’s being reflected in the community as well.” –Edmonton participant
Both the Edmonton and Calgary groups noted several changes in recent years. First, communities seem to be using more online mediums to convene. Second, they said “language evolves” within trans communities and has changed drastically in a few years. They also noted that attitudes were opening up in their communities towards a diversity of experiences. And they described how their communities were creating resources for trans people and contributing to sociopolitical successes.
Two Calgary participants opined that documenting and honouring the journey of trans community evolution was important as well.
“I think it’s still important to respect what we have had happen in the past and how things have been.”
One of these participants argued evolution was a core trait of community.
“I genuinely believe like a community that ceases to evolve—so ceases to have all of the problems and fractures and arguments that we are always having—becomes a dictatorship. If you all believe the same thing and there’s no evolution, then you’re not a community anymore.”
Imagine you were to make a time capsule right now about your community. What would go into it that best defines your community, as you experience it today?
Meeting other trans people and stories offers normalization or a sense of shared experience for trans people.
A majority of members in both groups expressed the opinion that in-person interaction, as well as general trans visibility, helps support trans people (see also Increased Visibility, Chapter 5). For example, one Edmonton member said:
“I think we need the interaction in person, like we’re having here. I think it will confirm more and uh, give us more confidence in our own journeys.”
Later, another agreed with this sentiment, stating:
“It just makes it seem that much more real.”
A Calgary member pointed out the impact of trans people in the media.
“As a trans person listening to another trans person it reaffirms that I’m okay.”
Members in both groups described how even when others have a different background from them, those people have a foundation of trans knowledge to help guide, support, or understand another trans person. One Calgary participant described the importance of trans community because “having that connection and community is super important. And we’re social animals and we require that.”
Two Calgary group members demonstrated what meeting other trans people felt like in the following exchange.
Participant 1: “You don’t know the outcome when you’re coming in, right, so.”
Participant 2: “Yea but kind of that reassurance that. . . what you’re going through is—”
Participant 1: “Is okay.”
Participant 2: “Yea it’s okay.”
If you think about the person(s) you get along with best, there are often traits that help you “click” with them. It might be shared hobbies, ways of thinking, or a common goal. What helps you feel okay with that person?
Trans people bring individual fortitudes and successes to their lives separate from the help that communities offer them.
“Your own personal strength will carry you through.” – Edmonton participant
Some trans people mentioned personal strengths that helped them navigate Extra-Community and Intra-Community Challenges. Many described how personal resources helped members strengthen their local communities through advocacy or helping others. One Edmonton participant pointed out the impact of personal resources and supports in his survey.
“I’ve had a lot of support outside of the community. Which means I haven’t felt as urgent a need to meet groups in person.”
Another even pointed out the strength participants showed in joining The TCS Project.
“We are all motivated in this room, right? Because otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
What personal strength, resource, or talent do you have that could help you? Could help others?
Trans communities have facilitated positive change and successes in recent years.
Some community members pointed out successful initiatives both within the community and between the trans community and queer or cisgender communities. This related heavily to the theme that the community is evolving (above). A Calgary participant offered an example:
“The Trans and Dyke March integrated. Which actually has been really successful.”
Two Edmonton participants noted the diversification of community initiatives and a felt sense that the community was “getting stronger.” One member in each of the Calgary and Edmonton groups noted they felt their trans communities were becoming more inclusive to gender diversity and less divided (see Diversity and Inclusivity above). The Calgary member noted an unexpected success in setting up an internet space for trans masculine discussions.
“When you’re just trans guys talking to other trans guys about a whole variety of topics, it seems to work really well.”
Keep it going!
Maybe you’ve heard of a transgender success story, or maybe you’ve been part of one. What made this success happen? How can a similar win be supported in the future?