[Author’s Note: You know what? Fuck it. i’m done apologizing for not keeping up with a schedule. i’m done making excuses, however valid and true they may be. i thought if i was able to keep myself to a writing schedule i would get more readers and deeper discussion and comment threads, but to hell with it. This is my blog, and i’m going to write what i can when i can. Now, on to the business at hand with this particular post…
This post has to do with a situation that some of my friends and i are having to deal with in the real world. i need to vent my feelings and frustrations on this situation. i need to write it out, and i need to write it in a way that won’t feel like i’m shouting into an empty wilderness. i am not doing this to “air dirty laundry,” and to that end, i will not be using any names in this entry. Those who are involved who may end up reading this will recognize themselves and others from their roles–and possibly pronouns–but no one else needs to, or will, know the specific individuals unless the individuals in question make themselves known.
Should this be done in a more personal manner in a one-on-one fashion in the real world? Possibly, but the systemic difficulty of actually accomplishing that in anything approaching a timely fashion will also be enumerated within this blog entry. Moreover, the problem is not solely confined to a single individual in this case, but at the moment appears to be endemic to the group almost as a whole as it is currently being run. i do not wish to burn any bridges with this, and i would like to see the situation resolved peacefully rather than having to turn my back on a group of people who i had spent close to the last year coming to value and respect. But the torch is standing by, should it prove necessary.
This is also probably the longest Author’s Note i’ve ever written. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming…]
[Author’s Note #2: In the time since my initial posting of this, i have located and identified three instances of wrong pronouns that got thrown in by my tired and emotional brain. i have fixed these incorrect pronouns, and the piece should now read as intended. However, this goes to show that everyone is imperfect, even we non-binary types mess up occasionally, but we own those mistakes, fix them, and continue to work toward improvement. We definitely do not act as if our mistakes are not our fault, or that it is the fault of the person who prefers certain pronouns that theirs are difficult or confusing. We apologize, we fix it, we improve, and that is what we expect from everyone else. We generally won’t hold a grudge as long as you’re trying…]
By what measure should we define the success of a support group? Is it the total number of members? Or is it perhaps the total number of members who report having found help and support within the group? i think it is something that is simultaneously more nuanced and more simple than either thing. To me, the success of a support group (much like the success of most social endeavors) should be measured by how the group treats those most in need of help. By that measure, i think that one group in particular has some work to be done.
Those of my readers who know me personally or follow me on other social media will already know that for a little less than a year i have been attending two different Transgender support groups in the city about 35-40 miles north of where i’m living. One of the groups is an open group to which anyone can walk in (within reason). The other is a closed group that actually has monthly meetings with a therapist, and membership takes time, interviews, and group consent to attain. It is, unfortunately, the closed group (arguably the one that should be the more supportive of the two) with which a few of my friends and i are taking issue.
The issue, in part, has to do with non-binary acceptance within the group. There are also issues with the way the group is run and the processes by which the group is currently operating in specific cases. Finally, the problem extends to the way the group has treated one member in particular. Between all of these issues, which will be illuminated in detail below, it doesn’t even take the noble (if only a minor character) guard Marcellus to tell us that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
My awareness of some of these issues goes back as far as a few months, but everything came to a head for me starting about three weeks ago. i had just gotten back from a trip to Boston with my family to see my sister get hooded with her Ph.D. in virology. We had literally just landed and i turned on my phone to check messages. Shortly thereafter, i received a message from a member of the group with whom i have a very close relationship (who shall henceforth be known as the Receiver for ease of expression), and who is also part of our small collection of non-binary people in the group. Xyr message essentially said that xe had not made it to group that evening, but that a member of the group had contacted xim and simply said that she needed to talk to xim about “group stuff” sometime soon. Knowing xim as i did (and knowing that we have a lot of things in common), i knew that a vague message like that would be totally freaking xim out as xe imagined all the possible worst-case scenarios that could play out from such a message. It also didn’t help that the person who sent the message (who, for ease of expression, we shall call the Sender for the remainder of this piece) is someone with whom xe has had issues and personality clashes previously. It also worried me a great deal, because i have been privy to the issues that xe has already previously experienced within the group. So i took it upon myself to do a little fact-finding.
i messaged several different people and got some very vague notions of what was going on. Essentially, the Receiver had come up (in xyr absence) during the group discussion, and a number of things were said that needed to be communicated to xim. i heard issues like money having been loaned to xim, but not used in a way the lender found to be the most responsible, the issues that xe tended to bring up in group during check-in were apparently too heavy, that the group was not a therapy group but a support group and xe made people in the group feel guilty, that there was concern on the part of the mandated reporters in the group about some of the things that xe shared, that there was confusion about xyr gender identity, that there were misunderstandings about xyr physical issues, and other somewhat vague concerns.
i was also informed that the Sender had volunteered to broach the subject with xim. This immediately set off massive warning bells in my mind. The Sender has not only been the source of a number of personal issues that the Receiver has experienced within the group, but she is also not the most diplomatic person in the group by a long shot, communicates bluntly regardless of the emotional effect she might have on people, communicates using an aggressively directive communication style, and has outright disrespected the Receiver on several occasions, included repeatedly and unapologetically misgendering and using the wrong pronouns with xim.
This combination of factors told me that i needed to take some kind of action. The way that the group was choosing to deal with this issue was not the best way to ensure healthy and productive communication. Instead of working toward a resolution, the Receiver would feel singled out and attacked if things continued along the course that they appeared to be moving. i communicated these concerns to one of the people with whom i was able to get into contact who had actually been present for the group discussion that evening. i expressed my extreme concern over the choice that was made for who was going to broach this subject, and posed an alternative proposal for how to handle this in a more full-group sort of setting, in which people who supported the Receiver would be able to be present as well as all those who had issues with xim. The one-on-one mediation approach was misguided for this situation, in my opinion, both because of the way the Receiver would likely respond to it and because it was clearly not a simple one-on-one issue at stake. The person who i was talking to that evening said that she would pass along my idea, but that it probably wouldn’t happen because “we have a way of doing things in these situations.”
Over the course of the next few days i received a number of messages and calls from the Sender. i was informed that i should not have gotten myself involved in this issue. i was told that i had overstepped my place as a group member in trying to advocate for the Receiver. i was told that i should never have even known that this issue was being brought up with the Receiver until after the situation had been resolved. i was also told that the alternative method i had proposed was not going to happen, because the way the group handles mediation is the only way it is allowed to, and that this method was part of the official way the group does business (more on this later). i was also told that such a group conversation couldn’t happen in a timely manner right now anyway, because the group has a bunch of potential new members who have been sitting in on meetings this whole month, and this wasn’t the sort of conversation that should be had in front of them (although at this point, i almost feel like such a conversation SHOULD be had in their presence so that they can see that this group is not always the accepting utopia the flowery language of the Covenant makes it out to be). i was then asked, since i had already become involved anyway, to help facilitate communication between the Sender and the Receiver.
The Sender assured me that she would be diplomatic in her communication, that she would give the Receiver time to speak xyr piece, and that the situation would be handled in a delicate and understanding manner. She promised me that she would make an effort to maintain this tone, and that she would handle the mediation in an even-handed and open-minded manner. This, combined with the utter lack of alternative options that had been presented and my general desire to see conflicts resolved in timely and mutually beneficial ways, convinced me to encourage the Receiver to have the conversation with the Sender. Since the Sender has a career in healthcare, i figured that this was likely an attitude that she could adopt, at least for limited times, so i went along with it. Eventually, that conversation was had, and it was none of the things the Sender assured me that it would be. Silly me for buying the bill of goods she sold me. Also, from a more professional perspective, the Sender must have a bedside manner comparable to that of an enraged white rhinoceros.
(Also of note, despite my repeated use of the Receiver’s preferred pronouns throughout each of these conversations, the Sender couldn’t seem to bring it upon herself to use the right pronouns a single, solitary time. That on its own should probably have told me all i needed to know about the sincerity of her assurances.)
After this conversation took place, the Receiver came to me, the other non-binary person in the group at the time, and hir girlfriend, and we had a long discussion about everything that had been said and done up to that point.
Before i get into the content of the discussion that was finally had between the Sender and the Receiver, i must speak a little on the nature of the Receiver’s situation. The Receiver identifies as a non-binary demiguy with a fixed identity of 80% male and 20% female. As such, xe considers ximself to be both part of the non-binary community and the Trans male community. Xe has chronic health issues, including chronic pain, that prevent xim from seeking conventional employment and receives government assistance. Xe also has two dependent children. Xe doesn’t drive, as xyr old van broke down and xe couldn’t afford to get it repaired, so xe essentially had to sell it as parts. As a result, xe gets most places in town by either walking or taking the dodgy city buses when xe is unable to find a ride with someone else (which seems to be most of the time). Xyr chronic illness means that xe must often walk with a cane, and that any extended walking takes a great deal of energy to accomplish. These are necessary background details to understand as i go into the details of the conversation as i have received them from xim, which i will deal with point by point.
Xe was told that xe made people in the group feel guilty because of some of the things that xe has shared. This is actually a somewhat reasonable reaction, at least to begin with. The Receiver comes to group with a number of unique issues, many of which are more extreme than those brought forth by almost every other member of group. A group so taken by surprise by the level of depression and hurt in a person may very well feel a sense of guilt that they are unable to do more to help that person. What is absolutely not justified in any way is turning those feelings of guilt back around on the person who is the source of them. Shaming a person because their problems make you feel guilty because you lack the time, energy, or other resources with which to help them more effectively is never right, and treating a person like the severity of their problems is entirely their fault, and they thus have no business even bringing them up is downright despicable. This is not an isolated case, either. The Receiver has felt this in a palpable way for a number of months that xe has been attending group, and eventually stopped sharing anything at all during check-in, allowing xyr feelings to fester and receive absolutely none of the support and attention that the group should have been providing.
Xe was told that the group was not equipped to deal with issues that should be worked through with an actual therapist. That’s well and good when you are speaking from a place of sufficient privilege that you would actually be able to afford regular sessions with a therapist. The Receiver is not, and is not likely to be in the foreseeable future. The only emotional support network xe has is xyr friends and the members of the support groups. The Sender essentially just told xim that xe was not welcome to seek help in this particular support group.
The Sender also mentioned that some of the things the Receiver shared in group were troubling to the mandated reporters in the group. As an example, saying things like “there isn’t any food in the house” could be taken as parental neglect. Well, two of our non-binary members (myself included) actually are mandated reporters, and we both agree that, for one thing, saying such a thing in a support group is not necessarily fodder for a mandated reporter hotline call, and for another thing, statements like that are hyperbole (that’s exaggeration for people like the Sender, who apparently don’t understand what that means) directed at making light of a situation. The Receiver has also personally assured us that xe was not speaking literally, and that there has never been absolutely no food in xyr apartment whatsoever. Only a literal genie or someone with a personal ax to grind would seriously consider that to be anything other than hyperbole.
Xe was told that a support group for Trans people was not the place to talk about financial difficulties or issues with xyr children. Well, excuse me, but where the fuck else should xe talk about such things? It’s not like the variegated troubles of xyr life fit into nice little boxes that can be compartmentalized and only aired in the “proper” environments. And this is to say nothing of the fact that financial difficulties and issues with children are ABSOLUTELY related to Trans issues, to the point that they are almost symbiotically linked in many cases. Not only that, but other members of the group bring up plenty of family and financial issues, and no one in the group bats an eye. Xe does not need to be shamed for the classification of issues that xe brings to talk about, and xe especially does not need to be singled out as the only one receiving such shaming when others bring similar topics and issues in with them. Xe needs to be supported. It’s a fucking SUPPORT GROUP, right? Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be doing?
Xe was told that xyr presence was actively keeping a member of the group from attending. No explanation aside from that was provided… no reason why xyr presence was such a problem for this person, nor any clues as to whom this person might be. Apparently the Receiver’s mere existence and attendance at group has been chasing someone else away from coming in some terribly vague manner. Again, this is a problem that should be addressed by the person who has the problem, rather than being put in the mouth of an unsympathetic disciplinarian.
Xe was told that members of the group felt that xe was taking advantage of other members of the group. This probably goes back to the financial issues once again. My other sources who were present for the group discussion that occurred in our absence informed me that one of the topics that was brought up specifically was when someone loaned the Receiver some money, and then the Receiver came out to eat with the group after the meeting was over. This may be a conversation that could reasonably had at some point when it’s not packaged in with the other six tons of bullshit, but in truth it smacks somewhat of the extreme right wing pundits and politicians who are trying to prevent families on government assistance from buying such healthy foods as fish, lobster, and similar items viewed as “luxuries,” a step that will only continue to perpetuate the cycle of those in poverty eating unhealthy processed foods and continuing to live unhealthy lifestyles. The thing about lending someone money is that, once you have loaned it, if you didn’t explicitly specify what it was to be used for, you no longer have that authority. You may not like where it ends up going, but that is more on you than it is the person who borrowed it from you. Grow the fuck up and actually talk to them personally about it instead.
As far as other people who are supposedly being “taken advantage of,” i have a feeling that this was at least in part directed at me. As i have said above, the Receiver is someone with whom i have a rather close relationship, and i have been helping xim out with the meals we go out to after group, essentially buying xyr meal. i do this because i honestly want to do it. Xe doesn’t ask me to, and i absolutely DO NOT begrudge xim it. i want to spend time with xim, i want xim to be included, even when xe can’t necessarily afford to come along on the activity. i want xim to have fun, and i want to have fun with xim. i do these things of my own accord, and xe is absolutely not taking advantage of me.
One final thing that may be contributing to this whole “taking advantage” narrative may be the Receiver’s reliance on others for transportation when it can be arranged. Yes, it is true that xe doesn’t drive. No, it is not xyr fault, and when transportation cannot be arranged, xe walks or takes the bus. But my question is why is this even an issue in the first place? Xe lives right there in town, and any detour to help xim get to group would take, at the very most, five minutes to accomplish. i live 40 miles away, but i can often find people to help me get to and from group, and that’s an 80-mile round trip each time. It seems to me that if members of the group truly valued the Receiver as a member and truly wanted to help and support xim, a five minute detour in their route to group would not truly be that much to ask.
On a related note, i heard from a neutral source who was present for the discussion three weeks ago, that someone brought up an anecdote about having seen the receiver walking on the sidewalk with xyr cane, but that rather than using the cane, xe was twirling it and “walking just fine.” The insinuation of this statement seems to be that the Receiver exaggerates xyr condition in order to falsely drum up more sympathy from the group. Newsflash for those who don’t understand chronic pain: it is not a constant thing. Chronic pain comes and goes as it pleases, sometimes effected by things such as weather or emotional state, but sometimes simply at random. Xe doesn’t always necessarily need the cane, but xe probably had it with xim just in case. Citing a single anecdote of one time xe was seen not using it does not make anything approaching a convincing case for falseness on xyr part, and it betrays a severe lack of knowledge, empathy, and sympathy for xim.
Xe was told that the group was not a charity. Yes, those exact words. No shit.
Xe was told that xyr gender identity was unclear and confusing. Xe was told that xyr identification as both non-binary and a trans man was a source of confusion (despite the fact that xe has explained xyr identity on numerous occasions, and it really isn’t xyr fault if people ignored xim). Xe was told that xyr choice to sit with the other non-binary people in the group made it more so, because we all have weird pronouns. Xe was also, for whatever reason, told that my singular they pronouns were grammatically incorrect (they’re not, by the way), and that our other non-binary member (at the time) was also confusing because ze uses a different set as well. This betrayal of prejudice toward our non-binary members, as much as anything else, made this fall firmly within the realm of “my business,” which the Sender was so gung ho about it not being.
And again, this is not an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination. The Receiver is rather routinely misgendered or has the wrong pronouns used toward xim, not just by the Sender, but by many others in the group as well. Moreover, despite the fact that xe identifies as a trans guy in addition to a non-binary person, xe feels that xe has been systematically excluded from conversations and support from the other trans men in the group. Xe outright asked them for help with specific aspects of transitioning on one occasion, and was essentially ignored. Meanwhile, when a couple of new trans men came to visit the group one night a couple of months ago, xe overheard the exact conversations that xe had sought out being had right at the other end of the table where we were having dinner. This problem, clearly, goes deeper than a conflict of personalities between the Sender and the Receiver.
Xe was told that xe would be receiving “a strike” due to this exchange. Why? Our foundational documents have a section on a three-strike policy to help police our membership for being out of covenant with the group. The Receiver was simply flatly told that xe was receiving Strike One for this situation. Those of us who were present for the discussion that was had after this conversation took place cannot find any way in which the Receiver has broken the covenant. Here is the text of the covenant (written by the Sender herself, no less), word for word:
Our lifetimes have taught us that by coming together we are made better. We have learned that shared adversity is better faced, that shared sadness is lessened, and that shared joy is enhanced. In sacred trust, we promise to spend time together in mutual support and heartfelt caring for ourselves and each other. We pledge to offer the best of ourselves in loving-kindness to one another. We pledge to give and to take support and advice with an honest ,open heart. We solemnly promise that we will model behaviors within our communal circle worthy of this sacred trust and true to the dignity of our community; we ask to be reminded of this pledge should our behavior fall outside this promise. In the spirit of these solemn promises, we pledge to grow together in our individual uniqueness, our shared diversity , and our limitless birthright as Human beings…
By our figuration, the Sender has actually broken covenant with the Receiver. She has told xim that xe is not welcome to share xyr adversity and sadness with the group. She has rescinded the offer of mutual support and acted in a way that reflects neither heartfelt kindness nor an honest, open heart. She has not modeled behaviors that are worthy of anything even remotely approaching sacred trust or dignity. So this is me reminding her of this pledge, because her behavior has for damned sure fallen outside of this promise.
When the Receiver was finally offered the chance to speak ximself, xe was so overwhelmed with all of these things and the emotions attached that xe was in tears and couldn’t truly advocate for ximself with anything approaching effectiveness. This is not the way a supportive community deals with an issue. This is not the way a supportive person communicates with someone who is already known to have issues with depression. This is not the way a human being talks to a fellow human being. Period.
When our non-binary group had our discussion, we decided to take a look at the group’s foundational documents and look really closely at the exact wording. Along with finding that the Three Strikes policy did not apply to the situation in which the Sender was doling out Strike One to the Receiver, we found another interesting fact. There is, in fact, no precisely codified procedure for how mediation is done in this group. The guidelines that are there specify that individuals with disputes should try to handle them one-on-one, and if that doesn’t work it should be done with a neutral party. The problem with attempting to apply these rather vague guidelines and the traditional “we’ve always done it this way” approach to this particular situation is that this isn’t a situation in which a single member has a problem with a single other member. This situation involves an entire group of the membership who have their own separate issues with the Receiver. This is not a situation that should have been handled in a single go in a single one-on-one discussion, and the Sender is sure as HELL not a neutral mediator in this. The best way that this could have been handled is probably my original idea that i floated at the very beginning of this situation three weeks ago, but was rejected because “we have a way of doing things that has always worked in the past.” Here’s another newsflash: one-size-fits-all solutions rarely actually do fit all scenarios, and the lack of openness to input from someone who knows the Receiver EXTREMELY well is troubling.
This is also not the only time that the Sender has overstepped her prerogatives as group member. i have heard from several sources, both in our non-binary discussion group and among neutral parties, that (despite the fact that our foundational documents state explicitly that there is no leader or “owner” of the group) this individual often acts as if she is the leader, holding court from a position of absolute rule. From what i understand this tends to come in cycles. She will start to grab for power, and someone will eventually tell her to take some steps back and let the group run itself. Well we appear to be in the upswing of a power grab, because she is certainly acting the part of an autocrat right now, and her dismissive attitude toward anyone who disagrees with her views is only one evidence of that.
Unfortunately, much of this current power grab appears to be directed at the Receiver, and her attitude toward xim is quiet toleration at best, with downright disrespect and contempt at worst. The Receiver had previously decided to never run a group meeting again, because the last time xe did, the Sender refused to participate in the activity at all, and actually fell asleep during it. Whatever protestations might be made of such things as working a long shift or being tired from a long week, if someone lacks the basic respect for the person running the meeting, or is so completely exhausted that they can’t physically keep their eyes open during it, perhaps they just shouldn’t fucking come to group and should spend that time in bed getting good, restful sleep instead of openly insulting another member of the group with their complete lack of regard for xyr feelings.
On top of all of that, the Sender has repeatedly attempted to dissuade me from being close to the Receiver. When we first started to become closer, the Sender pulled me aside and had a “heart to heart” conversation with me about how she didn’t think me pursuing any sort of relationship with the Receiver was a good idea. And even after all of this shit erupted over the past couple of weeks, the Sender has continued to try to pull me over to her side, dangling carrots in front of me by telling me all the things that i’m missing by not attending group these past few weeks, or telling me that she thinks my voice would be valuable in the non-binary breakout session that was planned for yesterday. i see it for the underhanded, Machiavellian stratagem that it is, though, and i will not be fooled by her silver (but forked) tongue again.
Potentially more troubling than all of that, however, is the timing of this entire situation. To begin with, the discussion about the Receiver that touched off this entire situation was done in a group meeting in which not only the Receiver was absent and unable to face xyr accusers directly, but also when the rest of our non-binary group was similarly not at group. This cloak and dagger pettiness is incredibly worrisome in a group that is supposedly formed for the mutual benefit and support of all its members. It became even more troublesome when i heard from one of the non-binary prospective members this past weekend at Pride that they had not only heard about this incident, but that they had heard two different versions–one told by the Sender and one told by a neutral party. This speaks to a pattern of behavior, rather than an isolated incident, and honestly makes me wonder what else other members of the group are holding against me besides the apocryphal grammatical incorrectness of my preferred pronouns.
Secondly, this conversation about the Receiver, and subsequently between the Sender and the Receiver, took place the week before we had a bunch of prospective new members about to start sitting in on group meetings, and that fact was used as an excuse to keep this from being handled as a group. i was told that we wouldn’t be able to do anything for this entire month of June because we didn’t want to air all of this in front of the new membership. Well, like i said earlier, maybe they should see this seedy underbelly of pettiness and strife. Maybe they should see something other than the rose-colored glasses of a sunlit utopia with which they are more than likely being presented (i know i was when i was prospective member).
In all honesty, it is entirely possible that i am finished with this group. It is entirely possible that this post will result in my being summarily ejected from the group. Even if it doesn’t, however, i still may not return. It is my assessment that this group is not, in its current form, a safe environment of support. This assessment is especially true when it comes to those who identify as non-binary, and the fact that there are two more non-binary people looking at joining the group worries me. Will they be subjected to the same level of disregard and sometimes even contempt that our current batch of non-binary people have experienced? i don’t know. i hope not, but i honestly don’t know.
i don’t know if i will go back. i know that the Receiver currently has no plans to. Xe has chosen to wash xyr hands of the group entirely, and reports that xe has felt much better about life in general after having done so. Maybe that’s what i should do, too. Quit going to the closed, and apparently harboring veiled non-binary-exclusive attitudes, group and just keep going to the open one. Because right now the closed group is not truly a support group. It’s a members-only club, and the membership in the club seems to be controlled by a single individual who has figured herself as the de facto leader.
According to my previously-stated measure of a support group’s success, this group is not successful in the least, and until something changes, i think i’m done with attending.