How do we deal with conflict, while we go on making a world where differences between us can be welcomed and delighted in? We need to attend to harmful impacts, and do the work of ongoing social transformation and repair. What follows are reflections on – and a possible map for – a process of generative conflict in counternormative community. One or all of these steps might be employed in alternative processes of justice-seeking, handling a complaint, or managing a relationship conflict. Can conflict be a way to generate more love and more complex community? Can we learn to hold conflict as an integral part of social transformation, and belonging in difference?
We make mistakes and act out unconscious entitlements. Even with good intentions, we have harmful impacts. As new aspects of our selves emerge, we offend others’ expectations. We fail to meet their needs. We diverge from standard practice in our communities of practice, which are always evolving. We are working in contradiction to normative paradigms for the sake of social, racial and environmental justice, embracing new sex, gender and relationship paradigms, in dialogue with powerful illegal medicines. We are traumatized and endangered outsiders in the world of social norms and outlaws in the legal system. When we experience conflict, where do we turn?
Conflicts in the world of counternormative communities are likely to feel particularly powerful, explosive, or painful, because our work and play together involves our most intimate selves. We touch each other’s souls. Missteps, missattunements, or boundary blurring can be experienced at multiple scales, including violent sexual assault. Moreover, the sense of belonging we can often find – as outlaws in counternormative playspace – is often addressing a lifetime of unmet needs: for community, place, identity, welcome, co-regulation, and secure attachment. Social justice movements, sexual healing work, queer community, the psychedelic medicine world, recovery circles, or anywhere we find deep, soul-level connection and counternormative co-creation can offer a powerful balm to the souls of people who have not found belonging elsewhere. When harm unfolds in relationships where so much hope has been ignited, there can be a deeply traumatic impact.
When we feel danger, we are not neurologically resourced for creative engagement. Some kind of map is needed, because we so value empowered choice and voice, courage, creativity, pleasure and centered accountability. We value our communities of practice, and the new relational world we are co-creating. For the sake of the healing and well-being we know is possible, and honouring the resourced responsibility and tender care that are key to us, this is offered as a preliminary map, so we have something to refer to when conflict startles, frightens and threatens us. May it assist us in opening space and time for living an ethics based on love and justice, not just rules and roles.
Download the Map and use the Drop-Down menu to navigate to descriptions of each step.
(The Generative Conflict Map was made with Kai Cheng Thom. This process was written by Caffyn Jesse in conversation with Tricia Bowler. It was inspired by Tricia’s work at the Being Held Institute, by Caffyn’s work at the Institute for the Study of Somatic Sex Education with Kai Cheng Thom, and by by the conversation and learning at the Queer Transformative Justice Group convened by Kai Cheng Thom and Carly Boyce 2020-2021.)