The findings in this e-book represent trans cultural knowledge captured at a moment in time in Alberta. This knowledge can be used to better understand communities and person-to-person dynamics, to promote advocacy within larger social systems, and to inform further research. The information in this book can give you a window into people’s experiences of their communities, but not a definitive truth about what all community experiences would be like (see also Chapter 1).
Some of the findings in this e-book were more predictable than others. For example, the Extra-Community Challenges theme group largely replicated conclusions from previous studies regarding community needs and barriers to wellbeing (see for example Bauer et al., 2009; Heinz & Macfarlane, 2013; Grant et al., 2011; OPHA, 2003). Other authors have theorized trans communities might offer benefits to membership (Breslow et al., 2015; Riggle, Rostosky, McCants, & Pascale-Hague, 2011). The Intra-Community Strengths and Trans Culture theme groupings give a nuanced account of what functions within these communities to provide such beneficence.
What made this project unique was its existence in a world of largely cisgender-focused and cisgender-led research. Few projects have been undertaken to give trans people a lens into their own communities in Alberta, in Canada, in North America. Many of the subthemes in this book represent knowledge that to this point has rarely been asked about or shared in a systematic way. But for those looking to help trans communities from within or as allies, how can these findings be used?
Community Helpers: What Now?
This book represents a wealth of knowledge and learning activities meant to give readers the opportunity to internalize trans community wisdom. The way that this study impacts community helpers and their work with or within trans communities will vary. Some suggestions about mobilizing this knowledge are given below, and can broadly be categorized into what can be used for trans-affirmative attitudes, knowledge, and skills.
In this study, anti-oppression and trans feminism—considering how things would be read or critiqued from a trans perspective—were useful for assessing the project and the literature that informed it. Trans feminism and anti-oppression were bridged from theory to practice by the creation of an Advisory Panel made up of community members to oversee the project. The participation and input of trans people in the knowledge and services created about and for us is important. This participation and input can come from client feedback, community consultation, trans people placed in staff or leadership, or all three. Inviting minority input can help give communities some control and power where it’s been lost before, but this approach also requires reflexivity on the part of allies. It requires being responsive to power differentials and how you can minimize barriers and reimburse trans people for the time and energy input takes.
A trans feminist approach begins with the assumption that trans input is equally valid to other voices. No matter in what capacity one is helping, the social discourses, attitudes, values, and beliefs individuals bring into trans communities can impact people and subgroups in those communities (see also Social Discourses, Chapter 8). Allies and trans folk alike must be able to reflect on their own worldviews and how they might approach cross-cultural interactions (Chavez-Korell & Johnson, 2010; Travers et al., 2013).
Knowledge and Skills
Two things that were repeated by participants are that trans communities act as supports to their members and that they are striving for better futures (Chapter 7). However, participants (as mentioned in previous chapters) described a process by which challenges facing the community translate into negative wellness outcomes. The red arrows in Figure 9.1 provide a visual of this process. Note that the challenges to wellness include subthemes from the Extra-Community Challenges theme group, while the individual and community impacts include Intra-Community Challenges.
Figure 9.1. A depiction of the process by which both Calgary and Edmonton groups said personal and community wellness is impacted by its members and by cis society. *Starred items were not separate themes or subthemes in the data.
I mentioned in the Introduction, as well as in Chapter 6 Chicken or the egg?, that there is a history of oppression and challenges in the relationship between formal mental health care providers and trans communities. The community capacities in Chapter 7 would indicate that trans people may be aiming to mitigate barriers to mental and social wellness by creating and accessing community-led supports. But those communities in turn do not have the resources to meet the level of need presented (see Needs Outstrip Resources, Chapter 6). As participants pointed out, even the best initiatives are hindered by the negative impact of translated oppressions, trauma, and lateral violence in their communities (see Chapter 6). While this may seem like a disheartening finding, it highlights the importance of community to trans mental health and an opportunity for supporting work that is already underway.
For minorities, our cultural identities can be heavily implicated in what happens to us, the care we receive, and the ways in which we heal. So how we process mental health issues can be deeply intertwined with our relationship to culture and identity (Arthur & Collins, 2010). Given that the groups in this study did voice a sense of sovereignty and cohesion, what then might be done to help alleviate challenges in a respectful way? If some trans people have already begun the work of community-based mental health and social support, this might be where helpers, trans or ally, could offer their skills and energy.
The fact that many challenges to trans people come from larger queer and cisgender societies indicates an ongoing need for social justice work (Fassinger & Morrow, 2013). The first and most obvious suggestion given to us by participants was that positive change in any area may be affected by supporting accessible knowledge exchange and services by and for trans people (Chapter 4; Chapter 7). Social justice work can also be aimed at challenging discriminatory attitudes, policies, and practices, promoting inclusivity, and addressing community needs (Mule & Smith, 2014). It can be inferred from the Intra-Community Challenges that not only healing, but social justice work inside our communities might help alleviate some of our community difficulties.
Perhaps as important as helping address challenges is also recognizing the potentials trans communities have. Many authors before me have stressed the benefits of encouraging community capacities and sovereignty (Hale, 1997; Muñoz, 2012; Simeonov et al., 2015; Trans PULSE Project, n.d.; Travers et al., 2013). If trans communities have already been functioning on their own to develop a means to support our members and cultures, the gains already made should be sustained.
I provided some ideas in Chapter 2 about how to connect with trans communities in respectful ways. Because participants in this project stressed that these communities are both important and difficult to access, helpers might do well to pre-emptively form and maintain collaborative partnerships with community groups to address the needs of future clients and mentees (Benson, 2013; Bess & Stabb, 2009; Vance et al., 2010). One way to connect individuals to their communities may be to contact trans-serving agencies or mentors (see the Resources page). Another way to connect people to trans cultural wisdom would be to share resources with them, such as this e-book.
I mentioned in Chapter 1 that a lot of people have said community connection is important for helping trans people (Barr et al., 2016; Bockting et al., 2013; Breslow et al., 2015; Dargie et al., 2014; Pflum et al., 2014; Ross, 2014). Although participants reaffirmed this assertion, some said they relied on their community far more than others. This might depend on stage of life, personal resources, and other factors. So, although the existence of trans communities is indeed generally important as a stable source of support and culture, it is up to individuals how close they choose to be to those communities. For trans folk, hopefully this e-book gave some ideas about engagement with your local communities.
Where to Now?
This study was not a community needs assessment, and yet disparities, challenges, and injustices were a large part of the conversations. This speaks to the amount of work that still needs to be done towards having trans voices heard and addressing the challenges these communities face in Alberta.
Though this may be repetitive, I want to reiterate what I said in Chapter 2 that not all manner of voices were heard in the The TCS Project. The demographics suggest a largely White voice in this study, as well as a potentially binary gendered voice in the Calgary group. Though this e-book may be a great start to understanding our trans communities, it is still important to find ways to connect with diverse perspectives. These include the views of nonbinary folk in Calgary, as well as experiences at the intersection of being trans and an ethnic minority. To use myself as an example, it was interesting as a nonbinary person of colour to see that even when I had some shared identities with participants there were various points of difference between the experiences they shared and my own.
This book has provided an introduction to where we are now in Alberta’s trans communities. Hopefully it has also provided a roadmap towards the types of questions and initiatives that will be useful in future collaboration towards transgender community wellness. I leave you with one more reflection activity. Be sure to check out the Transgender Resources page for local transgender community supports and resources in Alberta.
Wish upon a star.
Now that you’ve come to the end of the book, I invite you to reflect on a hope you have for trans communities moving forward.