During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities developed strategies to take care of each other. While many people have returned to more-or-less “normal life” (and there are also many people who are continuing to take precautions), these same strategies can also be useful for trans survivors building supportive networks and communities.
One of these COVID mitigation strategies was the idea of creating “bubbles,” or intentional connections with people in our social circles, structured around mutual support, harm reduction, and open communication about safety and boundaries.
This is similar to the idea of “pods,” structured around mutual aid and meeting chronic and acute needs, which we can map to visualize and organize.
For more on creating “bubbles” during the COVID-19 pandemic, check out this FORGE webinar from 2020 on the different ways that bubbles can look and fit into our lives:
Many of us have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic as trauma. This has led some people to isolate or use other coping strategies. We know that being around people we care about is important for our mental and physical health, so when our ability to connect is restricted, our wellbeing suffers.
Similarly, survivors may respond to traumatic experiences by isolating from loved ones. Just as navigating the COVID-19 pandemic at one point felt new and uncharted, reconnecting with support people after experiencing a traumatic event can be overwhelming.
Bubbles may be helpful in many ways, in addition to COVID risk reduction. Making conscious choices about the people we include in our circles can help trans survivors to create safety nets with other survivors, support people, loved ones, and even service providers.
Bubbles are built intentionally, and with respect for our boundaries and the boundaries of others. Creating a bubble is about choice. When survivors have had their autonomy restricted by an abusive partner or life circumstances that take up a lot of someone’s time/energy, regaining choice in our social circles can be empowering.
Creating a bubble also involves open communication about our needs (for safety, connection, practical needs, etc.). It may feel awkward or uncomfortable to talk about these things for the first time, but opening up these conversations can lead to deeper connections and more fulfilling relationships.
One way to get more comfortable talking about our needs is introducing them in a similar way that we introduce pronouns. For example: “My needs are ____. What are yours?” A less formal version might sound like: “I’m in the mood for/up for _____ right now. What about you?”
As an example of this, a couple of friends and past housemates of mine have been struggling to find social connections post-college, while still maintaining a sense of safety around COVID, and finding activities that are accessible for all of us to participate in. We decided to create a tentative plan to see each other regularly each week and cook a meal together, and spend a few hours playing board games or watching TV. We don’t always need to be going to an event or going for a long hike to find that sense of social connection, while also taking some of the practical burden of cooking for ourselves every day of the week.
Some other prompts for starting conversations around comfortable activities and boundaries might be:
- “I’d love to hangout. I want you to know I can’t handle crowds and loud noises. Can we meet somewhere quiet?”
- “It’d be great to see you. FYI, I’m super covid cautious. Let’s meet outside and wear masks. Does that work for you? What needs do you have?”
- “I’ve been struggling and can’t make any decisions. Will you pick out dinner and a tv show for us to watch?”
- “augh I’m about to have a bad week, send memes please!”
These conversations will likely feel uncomfortable until we have more practice, and that’s okay! It may be helpful to start with “lower-stakes” needs, like preferring a certain type of food (“I’d rather get pizza tonight instead of tacos!”) and building up to things that feel more vulnerable.
Bubbles often shift and change over time, and can adapt to support the needs of a survivor at a specific point in time.
People in our bubbles could help us meet practical needs, like carpooling to a clinic on the way to work, bringing someone groceries when they don’t feel like going out, or helping someone move out of an unsafe situation. This could also mean having a friend who helps us to keep records of experiences of stalking, or a coworker who checks in on us to make sure we made it home from work safely.
Bubbles can help us to meet emotional needs, like having a supportive listening ear to vent to, having a friend we do joyful activities with, or meeting with someone from our spiritual community. They can also help us to meet needs for physical connection, like a friend who loves giving hugs or cuddling up on the couch while watching a movie. Our bubbles could also include romantic or sexual partners who meet our needs for touch and connection.
Who’s in your bubble? How do you get your needs met through your connections with others? What does communication about safety and boundaries look like in your relationships?
Asking these questions can help us to envision our relationships and social circles as “bubbles,” and get clarity on how our connections with others support us and serve our communities.