The spaces we spend time in affect us. They are shaped by who we are, and we are in turn shaped by them. Many of us are choosing to stay in hostile places or have no choice but to stay. How do we carve out space for ourselves and our communities? How do we create our own supportive environments when the world feels increasingly hostile?
Research shows that having access to the outdoors can improve our mental health, prevent violence, and help our communities come together. The indoor spaces we spend time in also impact us. People’s experiences of trauma may affect their relationship to place. Trauma-informed spaces take into consideration how and use principles like choice, transparency, and trust to create a physical space that doesn’t further cause harm. The spaces we are in can help us feel safer, support our sensory needs, and bring us comfort. Or they can do the opposite.
Not only do I want to think about how to shape the environment for my own well-being, but I also know that we have a deep responsibility to care for each other. To me, this means finding ways to help make our environments safer and more supportive for everyone. We can do that by wearing masks in crowded spaces and indoors, tearing down hateful signs, waving pride flags, making dinner for a friend, sharing our pronouns and asking others for theirs, or by asking our workplace to change the bathroom signs to be gender-neutral.
These days, I’m especially thinking about that as a trans and genderqueer person living in a place where the majority of my government is hostile towards trans people, people of color, immigrants, people who can get pregnant, renters and so many more groups. I’m mere months away from facing criminal charges for using the restroom in public. Given how much the world around us – both the natural world and the human world – affects our mental health, I find myself trying to figure out what I can control within my environment to take care of myself and others.
I am trying to take time to ask myself: What do I control? What do other trans/nonbinary people and our loved ones control in our environments? How can we create spaces that improve our mental health? How can we change the world around us to affirm our existence and help us find joy?
I know that nothing will work for everyone. Not all of us have choice in our clothes, housing, or work. I invite us all to think about how we can find comfort and support, where we can get creative, and how we can bring others along with us. I like to start with questions – as these open up the opportunity for me to explore. I’ve done that here. Each group of ideas, taken from real life examples, is grounded in a question. I hope that if the tips don’t work for you, the questions will help.
Consider the spaces you spend the most time in. Where is there space for at least one thing that affirms your humanity?
- Put up posters, flags, or other trans-affirming visuals in your space
- Put affirming messages on the things you carry with you, like a sticker on your water bottle or a pin on your bag
- Look around at what already exists. Find something that makes you smile (graffiti in the bathroom, some flowers outside, your favorite color on the wall). Look for it each time you are in the space.
- If you are in virtual meetings a lot, change your background or your profile picture. Add pronouns to your name.
What brings you comfort? How can you create a physical place for comfort?
- Build a cozy nest in your room, closet, bed, or bathroom. Bring in your favorite blanket, plushy, or photo.
- Spend a minute a day (at least) on comfort. Add a tiny scalp massage when you wash your hair. Change into your silly socks when you get home. Savor your ice cream.
- Use your senses. Listen to music you love. Feel textures, temperatures, or other sensations that bring you comfort. Find a smell you like.
How can you connect with nature? Where do you go to feel the sun on your skin?
- Get outside, even just for a minute.
- Admire something from nature. The toughness of weeds, the beauty of spring flowers, the way the moon changes over time. It can be anything that is around you.
- Take care of a houseplant.
- Get a sunlamp.
Does caring for your space help you feel cared for?
I’ll note here that I find that there is intense pressure to be clean, organized, and have a “beautiful” space. I reject this pressure and invite you to do the same. I also recognize that there is a level of mess in my life that brings me down. My first step is learning where this balance is.
- Clean up or ask a friend to help you clean up some part of your home.
- A loved one organized my Tupperware drawer. Something I never would have done! Suddenly it became easier for me to take care of my food needs, because it was way easier to pack lunches. I had no idea that the mess was such a barrier for me.
- I like to make my bed in the morning. I love my quilts, so it’s a nice visual for me to see them laid out. I don’t do anything fancy, so it only takes 30 seconds, even when I’m having a bad physical health day.
- Use a time limit to help tasks feel less overwhelming. Do the dishes for the length of one Beyonce song, for example.
What reminds you that you are loved? How can that love be part of your physical space?
- Put up photos/photo magnets on the fridge.
- Display cards or letters people have sent you.
- Ask friends to make art with you. Display it.
- Put reminders of your loved ones around – if it’s not safe for you to have photos, is there an item, figurine, book, or other object that makes you think of them?
We are each a part of our environment. How can we show up in ways that affirm and support our identities/communities?
- Try out different wigs on your zoom calls. If it’s not safe to play with gender on video, dress in affirming ways on the parts of you that are offscreen.
- Change your hairstyle.
- It’s okay if you cover your hair when you go in stores that aren’t as safe. You know who you are.
- Give your pets neo-pronouns. That way you get to hear xe/xyr or ey/em anytime you want!
- Create gender-affirming avatars on social media or video games. If you can’t do this on your main account, create a secret account to express yourself.
- Dress in ways that give you gender euphoria or transjoy. If it doesn’t feel safe to leave your house or bathroom in those clothes – can you text a friend a picture?
- If you can’t save pictures on your device, consider using Snapchat or another app where photos will disappear. You can still send the picture and get affirmation back.
- Snapchat also has a number of very gendered filters. Find one with a hairstyle you want to try out. Picture yourself with makeup or facial hair. Use with care as these are often super filtered and many of them have skin lightening. That said, there are a lot of options so some may feel good or at least silly.
- Give head nods or affirming smiles to the gender non-conforming strangers you see at the gas station or in the park.
- Okay, admittedly this works less well for me, because I wear a mask everywhere inside, but I know that I’m smiling….
What helps you remember you are not alone? What connects you to trans/nonbinary community and hope?
- Find hopeful stories from now or the past.
- Reading about the queer and trans history of Florida helps me remember the incredible lineage of resistance, strength, and beauty that I am a part of. So many trans histories feature big cities, so I search out things from where I’m from.
- Stories of people taking action can give us ideas for how to take action ourselves and can help us cope in traumatic situations.
- I thought I would hate it, but I watched a session of my legislature recently. Seeing four senators fiercely and powerfully speak up for trans/nonbinary communities helped me remember that I’m not alone. We didn’t win those bills, but I know that there are strong supporters out there.
- These spaces of hope don’t have to be from the place we live, but can be from the communities we love and are a part of.
As Octavia Butler says, “All that you touch, you change. All that you change changes you.” What touches you? What do you change? What changes you?