It is possible to prevent violence. It is possible to end violence.
How does it feel to hear that?
How does it feel to imagine a world without violence?
What would it take to be able to imagine that world?
Sometimes it can be hard to imagine a world without violence when we are living with violence all around us, when people who experience violence aren’t getting their needs met. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine stopping violence before it happens when violence has been there our whole lives.
I am like so many other trans people who as kids weren’t able to imagine themselves in the future. For some of us, it’s because we didn’t have the words or ideas of who we could truly be. For others it was because the world didn’t show trans people growing old, didn’t give us the possibilities to imagine a trans future. Or the world filled our heads with all the bad things that could/would happen and none of the good things that might be possible. I hear from people that it can be so hard and even feel frivolous to imagine a world without violence when so many people aren’t getting the help they need right now for the violence they are experiencing right now. Imagining is hard.
The ways that we imagine change over our lifetimes. As a kid, like many kids, I was told “you won’t think that way when you’re older.” Or “you’ll be more realistic later.” As though the way I thought and felt was wrong. It’s true that for many of us our ideas, hopes, feelings, minds, and bodies change over time. But that doesn’t make our earlier experiences and actions less valid or valuable. My politics at 15, 25, and 35 are all a part of who I am.
There’s no right or wrong way to dream.
It seems, too, that our imaginations can be affected by our surroundings. I don’t believe that those without their basic needs met can’t dream big, AND it is totally reasonable to focus on those basic needs first. That’s part of why our work around trans-affirming services can be so difficult. So few places are able to do the bare minimum – use someone’s actual name and pronouns and make sure they can pee in peace – that we struggle to think about what comes after that.
How do we envision and dream up a better world? I think about how who we are and what we’ve been through influences that dreaming, how dreaming is not the only thing we can do to make change. What I think about is how people deny others the right to dream – claiming falsely they aren’t capable or aren’t ready until all their other needs are met. What I think about is how trauma can make it scary to dream. How even the things that aren’t trauma influence and shape us.
When I think about that, I think about stories.
There was the time that I watched my fingernail get eaten away by an infection, and I was shocked that my friends thought I should go to a doctor. What was a doctor going to do? Nothing. I learned that my friend who is way healthier than me goes to urgent care at least twice a year, and I have been once in the last fifteen years. I never saw so concretely how my experiences with healthcare were keeping me from believing that getting help was possible.
Or there were the countless times that I patiently, so patiently talked people through how important pronouns are, while inside I was falling to pieces. I am both so glad you asked and also so very exhausted of explaining pronouns. In part because it’s not just pronouns, it’s also how many people just don’t get how important they are still, and that they aren’t that important to everyone, but they are super important to many, and that we need way better trans-affirming services than just asking for pronouns. It’s how too often, when you ask trans people what else could be done to be trans-affirming, so many of us struggle to think beyond pronouns and names because we are so very, very far from even having those respected, that like why even bother dreaming bigger.
There was the time I was at a panel where an argument came up between panelists about what to prioritize when supporting Black queer youth. Some spoke about the need for an affirming environment to meet their basic needs – food, a hug, someone who calls them by their names. Another emphasized having the language and tools to understand why the world was the way it is. It was so hard for all of us to think of a world where these things are not mutually exclusive. What if we had food at our events? Yes, I can’t learn as well when I’m hungry, but if you keep me from learning until I have consistent access to food how much will I miss out on?
I remembered then how much I needed the language to recognize all the terrible things happening around me. Being able to name them didn’t stop them, but it helped me speak out.
And what does all this have to do with preventing violence?
Social justice work is the work of imagination. It’s the work of creating a better world. We don’t always know what that world will look like, but we grow it along the way. There’s no one right place to start. Perhaps it’s in dreaming. Perhaps it’s in policy work or teaching our kids or being kind to a neighbor.
The stories of social change, of preventing violence, are stories of dreaming of imagination. They are also boring stories of daily actions, of policy decisions, and infrastructure, and economics and things that are obscured from most of our lives. They are glamorous and unglamorous at the same time.
That does not mean it’s impossible or unnecessary to dream. I learned an activity from the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) called “Safe, Stable, and Nurturing.” It’s pretty simple. Get in small groups and write or draw what those words mean to you and what it would look like to have a community that was safe, stable, or nurturing. Move the small groups around so that everyone gets a turn at each word. Then discuss. Years ago, ICADV did this activity with groups of young people around the state and then brought the responses to the legislature to advocate for change that would create better conditions for youth.
I’ve led the activity countless times since I learned about it, and every group, every person has different responses. Some words are hard to relate to – what is safety? The word safety has been used against some people, especially people with disabilities, and now trans people – either declaring that we are unsafe to be around others or that we need to have our rights restricted for our own safety.
That’s part of what I love about this activity – it’s a chance to think more deeply with people around us about what we want and need. To see the ways that we might be dreaming big or coming up with immediate actions. Some people want more effective responses from police, some people want a world without police or prisons. (Prison abolitionists remind us how important being able to dream big is, so that we can imagine safety without police and prisons.)
There’s very little research on preventing domestic violence in trans communities. We can assume that many of the big picture change efforts that are a part of DV prevention would greatly benefit trans people as well. And we know that for the efforts to be truly meaningful, they must be tailored to the needs of trans communities and made trans-affirming.
There is no one singular thing that will end intimate partner violence, and there is at least one thing every person can do to make a difference. Preventing violence involves layering on protections and supports in our communities that will help make it easier to have equitable and respectful relationships. Sort of like when you want to prevent spreading infections – one method is great, but doing multiple things will help even more! The good news is that most of the actions we can take make the world better in a lot of different ways.
All of these are linked to intimate partner violence prevention. Imagine all the other impacts that any one of these actions would have on our world:
- Safe, stable housing
- Quality education about emotions, relationships, and communication
- Building skills to deal with conflict
- Trauma-informed services and healing support
- Equitable access to income, paid time off, and other benefits
- Positive learning environments that encourage and support young people
- More access to nature and green spaces
- Physically accessible communities and services
What can we do to help ourselves and our loved ones dream? What can we do to both imagine the future and make it happen now?
Maybe step one is starting to realize when you aren’t dreaming. It’s naming the things that are holding you back and the places you are getting stuck.
Maybe step two through infinity is dreaming, and acting, and dreaming, and acting again and again. We get better at it through practice. We go back to step one again and again as we notice getting stuck. We dream ourselves through that. We take what we dream and we build the world with it and then we dream more. And all the while we take care of ourselves and each other.