The Rotund

Still Here. Still Fat.

Dear White Fat People

| Posted in Action Plan, Discussion, Fatty Politics, Intersectionality, Letters

133

When I started this blog, I wrote imaginary letters. It was an amusing rhetorical device, kept me entertained – and, more importantly, it preserved the idea I had that, really, I’m just sitting here, talking to you as an individual. That was, and is, important to me because I believe activism in this format is most effective when we have a connection, when we see each other as human beings living unique experiences.

I’ve been so proud, over the years, to be part of the fat acceptance movement, to be part of the fatosphere. Some amazing things have been accomplished. Every email I get or person who tells me they have decided to stop hating themselves because there are other options, better options… That is transformative.

But from the beginning, the fatosphere has struggled with intersectionality. Specifically, the fatosphere has struggled with racism. There’s enough overlap between the worlds of fatness and disability (though I do not support the conflation of the two) that people seem to be good about acknowledging the intersections there. But fat acceptance has proven remarkably awful – I’d say almost as awful as mainstream feminism – at being sensitive to issues of race.

This is unacceptable to me. I have worked, here at the Rotund, to be as inclusive as possible – and I’ve also fucked up plenty of times. I’ve not done as much as I could to make this space inclusive. That is totally on me.

But what I have tried to do, as much as possible, is at least not let racist shit slide.

And, y’all, my supposed allies in fat acceptance, I have to say very honestly and with sincerest regret that this letter is necessary, some of y’all are fucking this up.

A lot.

If fat acceptance is a safe haven for racism in the name of solidarity and keeping the movement together, then I gotta tell you the truth: we’re doing it wrong. And not just a little wrong. If we are building a fat acceptance that supports racism then we are doing social justice fundamentally wrong on so many levels I cannot even.

I am debating with myself whether or not to link the post that has me all up in arms – I’ve long believed that we trade in pageviews on the internet. I don’t want to be cryptic by any means, but I also don’t want to drive traffic to sites that flat out don’t deserve it based on their own words and actions.

Let me explain – no, there is too much, let me sum up.

The Strong4Life campaign in Georgia is pretty much a bunch of gross fat hate. As so many of these initiatives prove, the path to hell really is paved with good intentions about saving the children. There was a response from the fat activist community – which I was really glad to see, even though I did not have the time or energy to participate myself. That’s the great thing about community – we don’t all have to fight every single fight.

I tell you that I didn’t have the time or energy straight up because I am not ashamed of that. We all have to balance our lives and our activism. And I also tell you because Shannon Atchka emailed me one day and basically threatened to “out” me in some fashion for being unwilling to help him. I’ve had my minor run ins with him before but I tried to have a fairly reasonable email conversation about how I wasn’t avoiding the campaign because of him – but my life was in a little bit of psychological shambles at the moment and I needed to focus on that. That didn’t go so well.

My plan was to just write it off as another difficult conversation with someone who essentially means well.

But now Shannon Atchka has decided to have a pity party and, frankly, some people have joined him in comments on his post about the matter.

Some of the comments on his post make me actively ashamed to be associated with fat acceptance as a racist movement – and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit quietly with that. Because fat acceptance belongs to me, too, just as much as it belongs to people making racist comments about how tired they are of being called out on their white privilege.

Listen, if you’re tired of being called on your privilege, consider that the people of color around you are probably EVEN MORE TIRED of having to deal with it. Plus they have to deal with living in an inherently racist society!

Yes, it absolutely sucks, my fellow fat white people, to be told that you have certain advantages. White privilege is a difficult concept for a lot of people.

But here is a basic fact of life: the people who most need to hear about something are the people who most protest hearing about it.

That means if you are kicking and screaming because someone called you out for doing or saying something racist… you might want to consider that the reason it feels so very awful is because YOU DID OR SAID SOMETHING RACIST.

Being called out is a favor, an act of kindness – someone is letting you know that your internalized racism is showing and getting all messy all over everything. It doesn’t feel very good at the time, but being corrected NEVER does. The key, the most important thing for you to do when you are called out, is to not freak out on the internet where you will only make things worse.

That’s what Shannon Atchka is doing. Atchka is calling out Julia Starkey because she dared to say something critical about Stand4Kids – the fat acceptance response to the Georgia campaign.

Now, I think Stand4Kids is a pretty cool concept. But I also accept and acknowledge that Julia was correct in her questions – and doing the people involved a favor by giving them a chance to explain what was going on.

It’s totally understandable to me, as a busy person, that the people involved in Stand4Kids were volunteers. And I definitely understand when people lack knowledge. But google exists for a damn reason. And creating a project or atmosphere of any kind that is welcoming to people of color involves more than an invitation to participate. That’s the tiniest step you can take in getting people of color involved. What you actually have to do – and if you don’t know how, that’s again why google is so very useful – is make your project or atmosphere actually welcoming. You have to create a space that invites diverse people to participate without fear of ridicule or hatred.

That is hard damned work. And I don’t think anyone is perfect at it.

The really great thing though is that no one is really expecting perfection. A genuine effort and a willingness to listen when we screw up is half the battle that we as fat white people trying to create diverse spaces have to fight. Screwing up is not the end of the world! It’s uncomfortable – we’re embarrassed and our feelings get hurt and we kind of flail around a little wishing no one had scolded us – but discomfort isn’t going to kill us. In fact, discomfort is a really great teacher, if we pay attention to it.

I see a lot of objection to the idea that people of color are not responsible for educating the people they call out. I get it, I do. It’s easy to think that if someone is going to call you out, they should put in the effort to tell you what you did that was so wrong and why it was so wrong. The problem with that is the obligation it places on the person who was offended or injured in the first place. The problem with that is that we as fat white people can, as I mentioned earlier, use google. Or we can talk to other fat white people! We are resources for each other in so many other things; we can help each other with this as well.

In fact, I’m going to volunteer to field racism 101 questions here – if you’ve been called out and you don’t understand why, you can ask me about it instead of the person of color who called you out. How about that?

There is a difference between saying a person of color is welcome to participate (and solve the diversity problem their own damn selves) and saying that it’s something that will be addressed. One is a deflection of responsibility – the other is an acknowledgement that it hasn’t happened yet but we want it to, we’re trying to make it happen.

I don’t beef on the internet. I have too many other things to do (fat things! and clown school!) to spend my time stirring up online drama. I love y’all and I want our time here together to be productive. I want us to feel empowered and amazing. I very very rarely post angry – mostly because I always feel bad for being all pissed off after the fact. But this is worth it, this is worth posting and waking up to dissenting opinions in the morning. Because I do not want to be part of a fat acceptance that claims it is divisive to point out racism. I do not want to be part of a fat acceptance that defaults to a white perspective, a white experience. A white face.

The strength we have is in our diversity, is in the uniqueness of our experiences. Our strength is in the summation of our identities, as varied as they are. Intersectionality is vital because it keeps us invigorated, strengthens us, teaches us.

I know that white people get tired of talking about racism. And sometimes it feels like we can’t get anything right. When that’s the case, we need to sit down and shut our mouths and listen. It’s difficult – but it’s worth the effort because we have so much to learn, so far to go. Because it is complete and utter bullshit that our social justice movement can be derailed by the racism of white fat activists.

This is the link I want you to follow:

a response to white fat activism

from People of Color in the fat justice movement

Please, my fellow fat white people. Let’s stop fucking this up.

Love,

The Rotund

133 Comments


News Flash! Middle-class White Dudes Not Sole Arbiters of Attractiveness!

| Posted in Body Image, Fatty Politics, Intersectionality, Social Commentary

57

There is a certain class of guy who, well-intentioned as he might be, thinks that reassuring an individual fat woman that HE likes fat chicks and thinks they are sexy. And, you know, I really do understand that this is supposed to be a compliment.

However.

This is really just another example of “Acceptable Fat is the fat I want to fuck.”

And, lemme tell you: You acceptability and worth as a person is NOT determined by whether or not some random dude would tap that.

I mean, I don’t usually bust out with the feminist polemics but when men try to offer that reassurance – or try to insist that fat is unattractive because of hip-to-waist ratio and that means it is unhealthy and socially unacceptable (while inviting reasoned arguments to the contrary – yes, spammed comment, I am looking at you) – it really grosses me out.

That sort of thing makes too many assumptions. Assumptions like, oh, I don’t know, the value of women being determined by their fuckability. And not their fuckability in general – their perceived fuckability by white, middle class, mainstream guys.

Do I even have to throw the word patriarchy out there?

It also assumes that all women are performing attractiveness for the benefit, specifically, of the mens. Maybe that’s why lesbians are both super attractive and scary to so many straight men? The idea that men are not, strictly speaking, necessary?

In any event, it is not the job of women to be attractive. We have shit to do that does not include providing, for example, entertainment for construction workers as we walk down the road. We have things to accomplish that are more important than being eye/arm candy, than being fantasy objects, than being representations of what the dominant cultural paradigm tells us we should be even if that image is completely unrelated to the reality of our physical being.

And, you know, this is not to say that women need to reject “looking nice”, for whatever value of nice they prefer, out of hand! I mean, I love me the hell out of some makeup, which I may have mentioned a time or two here. And I like pretty dresses and fancy shoes and I spend more time thinking about shoes than I do about, like, calculus.

But I also don’t NEED that stuff to make me acceptable. None of us do.

So if I don’t meet up with some random guy’s notion of fuckable, that’s actually okay.

Because you don’t have to want to have sex with every woman in the world, dude. Women have value that is not tied to your penis.

I’m not offended that you don’t want to pork me. (See what I did there?)

In fact, I probably don’t want to have sex with you either.

And that’s okay – you still have value as a person. I’m not going to harass you or make assumptions about your lifestyle or try to force you into a mold that would make you more sexually attractive to me (I’m just saying, men in black eyeliner = A++). I’m not going to treat you as though you are subhuman or somehow a waste of space and societal resources. Hey, we can even hang out in a friendly fashion and then go back to our respective personal spaces and have sex with people who DO find us each attractive and whom we find attractive in return! Our personal relationship doesn’t have to involve that dynamic – or the desire for that dynamic.

Just… Guys, get it through your heads. Your cock doesn’t determine my worth as a person. Not if you think I’m hot and not if you think I’m disgusting.

57 Comments


The Socio-Econuhmics of Fatshuns; Hoarding, Limited Resources, and Memories of Charity

| Posted in Adventures in Shopping, Discussion, Fatty Politics, Intersectionality

32

So, I posted about The Morrissey Dilemma and then I went shopping. Because the universe has a sense of humor, I found two pairs of jeans with no problem for under $60 – not per pair but total (also, Avenue’s sizing is even more wack than usual). I found a fancy dress for a wedding reception this weekend that fit great, a neon yellow shirt, and even a pair of bathing suit separates that should kick butt once my size comes in (already ordered – and on sale, bonus, Torrid is turning into my go-to store).

This is one of those crazy situations where I am finding the stuff I need – and Lane Bryant is even having their annual bra sale. This is the time to strike while the fatshun is hot!

That’s often how it goes – there’s good stuff and then nothing (these waves of plenty vary in timing according to personal taste); it’s one of the major problems with the inconsistent availability of basics. So, if they can, a lot of fats practice fashion hoarding. But if you’ve not got the available funds to stock up, you’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

In other words: Poorer fats can’t hoard.

Well, poorer fats can’t hoard as easily – I’ll offer the qualifier because there is always the person who comes in and says “well, they can save up!” as if it’s just that easy.

ETA: I am inserting a note about thrift stores: Fat clothes in thrift stores are like diamonds, dude. Hard to find, hard to recognize, impossible to count on. My personal theory is that because fats tend to hoard their clothes, fewer things get sent to thrift stores to begin with. And the larger you are, the scarcer the thrifting gets. Thrifting is also not a viable option in all areas.

At various points in my life, especially when I was fresh out of college, buying a new bra was an expense that I had to plan for months in advance. I lived in actual fear of my bras wearing out, of underwires breaking, of elastic giving up.

When I hear criticism of fashion choices made by fat people, especially when those criticisms are offered by young, smaller fats with some degree of economic privilege (which is not to dog on young, smaller fats with economic privilege – I’m just talking about my own issue here), I often wind up really angry. Not because there is a difference of taste but because that difference in taste eclipses and obscures the very real differences in available resources.

In the last few years I’ve had more resources at hand. But I remember with perfect clarity digging through big black garbage bags of second hand clothes that people would bring me – stuff their fat family members had dug out of their closets because they didn’t want it anymore. There’s a certain smell to clothes that have been bagged up and brought to you as charity, I tell you what. It isn’t precisely a bad smell but it’s there and it lingers.

It lingers in my outlook, too. I can afford to stock up on bras a bit more now. But that attitude of making do, that sticks around, too, and I think that’s why it can be so frustrating to hit the brick wall of “I need shoes” or whatever it is.

I realize this is kind of rambly, but I think it has to be because there are no easy answers to how to negotiate this. There is no magical source of stylish, well-made clothes that exist at an accessible price point for everyone (hell, sometimes that is true no matter what your price point, it seems). But the style standards for fatties – often enforced with particular stringency inside the fatty fashion community – are even more exacting that standards for straight sizes. I feel like there has to be a way to build our community with the understanding that socio-economics and class are real issues that intersect and complicate the already thorny issue of fatshion. Throw in other intersections of oppression and it gets even MORE complex.

And I think we should not shy away from that complexity. I don’t talk about fashion a lot here because my style is, to borrow a phrase from HGTV, taste-dependent. But also because a lot of my fatshion is built around clearance items and things scrounged from the back of my closet that are 10 years old. I mean, that sort of thing is not really useful to a lot of people.

But maybe it is. There are a variety of projects online, like The Uniform Project, Brown Dress, Wardrobe Refashion, and Wardrobe Remix that address the issue of sustainable fashion but none of them address the issue of sustainable FAT fashion.

Maybe it’s time we start talking about that for ourselves.

Another ETA: Unapologetically Fat has been posting a really great Sewing At Any Size series that I wanted to link to. I do want to emphasize, though, that sewing is not a cure-all. I totally recommend that people learn to sew but even gaining a new, resource-intensive skill can tax already stressed finances beyond the breaking point. Sewing used to be a far more economical way to outfit yourself but there’s a lot more emphasis on sewing as an indulgence, as a luxury – and that’s reflected in the cost of supplies. So, totally, if you have the resources, it will make a huge difference but please don’t assume it isn’t something anyone can just pick up.

32 Comments


Should and Could Are Very Different Words

| Posted in Intersectionality, Links

18

There’s the Bacardi ad. There’s Dance Your Ass Off (which would be awesome if it were just fat chicks dancing but is instead incredibly fit-looking women dancing to the deathlose weight).

But what finally got me today, what finally cut through me being mopey for no good reason, was this snippet that was linked to on the Fatshionista Twitter feed.

The idea that fat women would DARE to feel good about their bodies to the extent that they’d wear fitted clothing…. *GASP* *SHOCK* *THE HORROR*

And then I read the comments. The usual concern trolling, of course, popped right up. And then this: “Fats shouldn’t be pretty.”

That’s when I laughed.

Because, ooooooooooooooooh. It might be cloaked in the guise of “I’m just concerned about their health” but what it really boils down to is that the existence of fat women who look good seriously screws with people’s comfortable paradigms of rigid boxes and categories of who is okay to hate.

It’d be possible to draw parallels between that sort of behavior and lots of other oppressive, hate-filled behavior but I think it’s obvious enough – this is the sort of person who cannot handle anything they perceive as a threat to their own constructed identity.

That’s totally a bit of arm-chair psychology right there. But I think just a bit of critical analysis is useful here. We can even just look at the first two words and know rather a lot. Come on, deconstruction is not really our enemy. *grin*

Fats – we use that term but I don’t get the sense from the context that it’s quite the affection collective noun that we’ve turned it into. No, this is meant to be a negative usage.

Shouldn’t – Should and could are interesting words. I used to have an English teacher, when I was in grade school, who would correct students who asked if they COULD go to the bathroom with “Of course you CAN – the question is, are you allowed?” COULD and COULDN’T indicate ability. SHOULD and SHOULDN’T indicate responsible, one might even go so far as to say moral, courses of actions. It isn’t that fat people lack the ability to be pretty, it’s that they should not as a moral course of action.

I mean, if fat people were to run around feeling good and looking confident, ordinary people might get confused and find them attractive and treat them like actual humans who are autonomous beings! And, well, that would lead to dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Maybe this is the real fear that rests below so much fat hate (and so much hatred of anyone who is “different” – whether it be people of color or transpeople or gay people or people who like show tunes or whatever) – the fear that they might have to question what they thought they knew about themselves, might have to feel their way through unfamiliar territory to be their actual selves instead of relying on media and pop culture to define what is acceptable.

Bah. Screw that.

Fats should be whatever the hell they want to be. They should be pretty or they should reject the very concept – either way, they should know that they don’t owe anyone anything when it comes to aesthetics.

Fats should dress however the hell they want. They should have the brio to wear fitted clothes or trapeze dresses or skinny jeans or phat pants or anything that expresses what they want to express.

Fats should make their own rules. Because fats? Can do anything they damn well want.

18 Comments


Emerging spaces, shaping spaces, diverse spaces

| Posted in Action Plan, Fatty fatty 2x4, Intersectionality

12

Hey, y’all! I am at Wiscon, having a great time (ETA: Okay, I’m actually BACK from Wiscon – I started this while I was there but then got totally absorbed into the convention). I was on an awesome panel and then I had dinner with some great people. One of my favorite things about geek cons is being able to make a Trek reference (which I’ve been doing constantly since seeing the new movie – see it in IMAX if you get the chance) and know that more people will get it than not.

There is something incredibly special about that feeling of common and shared experience. Community is a really powerful thing; it strengthens us to share experiences and reference points.

Of course, part of being a member of an oppressed group is feeling isolated from those community experiences. That’s why borrowing Lesley‘s jacket was such a damn big deal, you know? It was such a normative experience – where normative means what people with a certain kind of middle class thin privilege experience without so much as thinking about it.

I am really lucky because I get to be part of a fat community – and be part of building a fat community – where we can discuss both the commonalities and the things that make our myriad of fat experiences different.

The thing is, I am a white, cisgendered woman in a herterosexual relationship. I grew up kind of straddling class lines, but I live a pretty middle-class existence right now. And that means my experience is not going to give voice to everyone. I can speak TO fatties (and nonfatties) of different life experiences but I cannot speak FOR them. I CAN give people a platform to share their experiences which is why I try to have guest posters fairly often. But since I’m not as involved in the blogosphere as deeply as I should be I fall down on that a lot and I apologize for that.

Because I do want this to be a space where diverse people can come together and discuss things. The things and experiences we share and the things and experiences that we do not. Diversity is, I think, our greatest strength as a community, as a social justice movement. The more stories that are told, the more voices that are represented, the better. Wiscon has really underscored this for me, through the things it got right and through the bits of fail that happened.

For me, though my unpublished but highly draconian comment policy stays in place (if you are a troll, you get marked as spam, easy, breezy, beautiful, to coopt an advertising slogan), this means making it really clear that, while I as a blogger can only occupy the identity that I inhabit, I want to hear from people with different identities, different experiences, different social constructs that define them. I want everyone to feel welcome here, as much as it is possible for me to make that happen.

I run into problems because I am not always sure how to make that happen, how to keep that acknowledgment and atmosphere of welcome front and center. The Rotund has become a sort of personal designation for me – people call me that and that’s what on my Wiscon namebadge, for example. But I started this space because I wanted it to be bigger than, you know, my personal livejournal.

Which means I have more work to do here. I could be all, “oh, I’ve been stretched so – forgive the metaphor – thin with work and freelance and the book and blah blah blah for so long” and it would be true because I do think there is only so much any one person can do sometimes and that sucks, of course, but it is reality. That’s not going to create a more welcoming atmosphere for diversity, though.

So. I’m talking to several people about efforts we can make across the Fatosphere. I’m committing to reading more blogs by more diverse people (I’m guilty of using the Fatosphere Feed as my primary source of blogs unless I know you and you’ve pointed me at your blog) so I can link to them here – I have a certain platform and I want to make sure to share that with people. I’m a huge fan of guest posts and I want to expand the group from which I traditionally draw them. I want to actually write out my comment policy so that it is very clearly stated what will get you labeled as a troll around here (hate-speech is definitely the way to go to get yourself a one-way ticket to the spam filter).

And, while I’m not expecting people to do my work for me, if you’ve got any suggestions, I’m always eager to hear them.

In the meantime, though I started this blog as a general sort of fat and body politics blog (and I’ll still talk about general fat issues), I want to inject some more specifically death fat style discussion as well. There IS a difference between being a size 14 and being a size 24 and being a size 34 and so on. And acknowledging that and talking about it is a good thing for all of us.

I got to meet so many people while at Wiscon. People I’ve known on livejournal for years, activists, friends, etc. I also go to meet Debbie and Laurie from Body Impolitic (and Laurie’s photos really are world changing). (I also looked for Stef who maintains the Fat Friendly Health Professionals list but never found her, unfortunately. I would love to have some fat-specific conversations with people who work toward FA next year.) Our conversations, while brief, really clarified for me just how much I want to this to be an activist space and how NECESSARY such spaces are for all of us. And I want that to be true for all of the Fatosphere – and as a long-time member of the Fatosphere I don’t feel like I’m overstepping my bounds when I claim some voice in directing its growth. We all have that voice, if we step up to it, particularly those of us who have privilege that gives our voice more volume.

This is all going to be in development. It’s all well and good for me to SAY I want a diverse space but my actions have to back that up. I mean, it’s not like trust is built in an instant. So there’s not a neat and tidy closure to this entry. I wish there were but I feel at this point like I just need to post the damn thing. *grin*

12 Comments


Off-topic, yet relevant.

| Posted in Intersectionality, Off-Topic

6

So, RaceFail09. (Summary here.)

You know, there is so much to be said and so much that has already BEEN said. And I keep trying and feeling wholely inadequate when it comes to adding to the conversation. Especially when I think about unpacking the ways this is mirrored in fat circles. But here is what I can say at this point:

1. My white friends – being told you did something racist is not the same thing as being called a RACISTOMGELEVENTYONE. It kind of feels the same sometimes, so that defensive urge is actually a pretty natural response. But you need to check it. Because your hurt feelings don’t actually mean that you aren’t doing something racist. Something that probably hurt some other people – otherwise they wouldn’t have mentioned it. Give yourself some space if you need to – especially on the damn internet – and process your hurt. Then see if you can take something constructive out of what was said. Don’t use your feelings to trump other people’s feelings and belittle their concerns.

2. White white friends that are writers – if a person of color says your depiction of a person of color is problematic, pretend you’re back in a workshop. This is a chance to make your writing BETTER. Your intent isn’t so much the point if your audience isn’t getting it, you know? These people are doing you a giant favor.

3. Electing a black president does not make us a post-racist society. I mean, really? No. I get that some people don’t feel like they have benefited from things like white privilege and male privilege and, you know, as an individual maybe you got the short end of the stick. But it doesn’t mean those things don’t exist on a societal level. Try to keep that in mind – these criticism of you as an action-taking entity are often informed by more than your own actions. That sucks, sure, but it’s also a side effect of living in a racist system. Work to root out racism and maybe we can get rid of the unfortunate side effects that screw things up for everyone, too.

In the meantime, check out Verb Noire. This is a start-up in direct response to the lack of people of color in the science fiction industry both as writers and as characters. This is a serious Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is kind of effort and I support it. Which is why I’m putting a donation button here where you can easily access it. *grin* But seriously, sci-fi needs a kick in the pants and I think this might go a long way toward lacing up a pair of kicking shoes.



And, in the meantime, here are the submission guidelines!

We are looking for original works of genre fiction (science fiction/fantasy/mystery/romance) that feature a person of color and/or LGBT as the central character. Book-length manuscripts must be at least 250 pages, and short stories cannot be over 100 pages. All manuscripts must be double-spaced, in 12-point font (Times New Roman, Courier, etc) in black text, and must be a Word/Open Office compatible document. We ask that you insert a header with your name and the first two words of the title at the top of each page. Please do not send them as read-only files as that will make any editing more difficult.

We are also accepting poems in traditional and experimental styles with a maximum of 10 pages. The same formatting rules will apply.

Personal and critical essays are also welcome as long as they are within the aforementioned themes. Poetry, essays, and short stories may be subject to inclusion in anthologies depending upon the number of submissions fitting a specific theme.

There will be (approximately) a 6-8 week turnaround time in which submissions will be reviewed and a decision will be made as to whether or not we will be publishing your manuscript. Payment will be dependent upon sales, as each published author will received a percentage of the sales price.

There is no need to submit a query letter, nor do we require you to have an agent, but we do want a brief synopsis of the plot for longer manuscripts. Please send all submissions to verb.noire@gmail.com.

ETA: We will accept works from white authors as long as the central characters are of color and/or LGBT.

6 Comments


“But I didn’t MEAN it that way”: The ultimate cop-out.

| Posted in Discussion, Intersectionality

29

So, here’s the thing: “I didn’t mean it that way” doesn’t make whatever offensive thing you’ve said not offensive. Your intent is probably, most of the time, not to hurt someone because I doubt you’re that kind of asshole but sometimes it happens. Trying to logic someone out of being hurt just invalidates their feeling and experience and underscores that you’re a jerkface.

Don’t be a jerkface, okay?

The primary problem I have with “I didn’t mean it that way” is that it places all of the responsibility for making the situation okay on the person who has been hurt instead of the person who said the unintendedly offensive thing in the first place.

Oh, look, you know what that is? Victim-blaming in action!

I’m not saying “I didn’t mean it that way” doesn’t have some value. But, as a livejournaler posted last night (I don’t know her personally so I don’t want to link – I don’t know how she’d feel about that sort of thing), if someone is letting you know that you’ve said something egregious, it’s because they already know that you probably didn’t mean it like that. They are now doing you a favor by letting you know how it came across and how that makes you look.

To use a mostly innocuous example: would you rather have someone point out that your fly is open so you can fix it, even though that causes you some minor embarassment at the time, or would you rather no one mention it so that you spend your whole life with your fly open, giving the world a view of your Sunday undies?

Personally, I’d rather have someone mention it. I may be red-faced but then I can deal with it.

The same is true if you are a person who has been offended by something – it’s not actually your job to make the situation comfortable for the person who has offended you. It’s nice if you don’t set them on fire or anything, you know, but if your feelings are hurt by something or if you have otherwise been caused pain, the intent of that person doesn’t negate your feelings or pain. You do not have to logic yourself out of anything here. You are allowed to be anger, hurt, or whatever.

Generally speaking, in that kind of sitaution, you are not the problem. People who don’t want to deal with thinking about others (oh, noes, we must widen our world view, the horror! *handtoforehead*) are the problem.

Invariably, when this comes up, people want to bring up, “Well, this one time, this person said something stupid and apologized and then there was a flame war and now I’m just never going to say anything ever again because there is no pleasing those people.”

I see that sort of thing every time I get involved in a discussion of race – some white person said something dumb and then some people of color got upset and then the other white people get upset because THEY DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY. “Those people” is almost always code for people of color.

Don’t be that kind of jerkface, either, while we’re at it.

It doesn’t matter what the oppression is – if a member of a group tells you that they have experienced something that you have done as being offensive, the right course of action is to listen to them. Odds are good that they know what they’re talking about, having experienced that sort of thing before.

It’s up to you to make the choice to change your language, action, assumptions, whatevs. But, as uncomfortable as it is, someone has done you the favor of letting you know how you are being perceived. That’s a pretty powerful thing to do for someone – we should be pretty grateful when that happens.

Look in the mirror when someone shows you your reflection. Then go from there.

29 Comments


Guest Blogger Rebecca: Disproving Bootstraps: Some Intersections of Fatness, HAES, and Disability

| Posted in Exercise, Guest Blogger, Health, Intersectionality

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You might remember Rebecca from her awesome guest post about the children’s book I Get So Mad. You might have read her children’s book posts (part 1 and part 2) at Shapely Prose as well! I’m so glad she’s back with another post for us, this one on the way fat and disability intersect for her in a very personal way.

I love HAES, and I try to do it. I eat the foods that make my body feel as good as it can, and I exercise the amount that makes my body feel as good as it can.

You might not guess that if you were tracking me. I eat a high proportion of animal fat and animal protein – at every meal. If I don’t, I end up in screaming physical pain. (Not exaggerating.) I’ve tried every non-meat food and food combination under the sun, in order to try not eating all that meat. Nothing else works.

Also, I can’t exercise much. On a good week, I can manage two or three short walks. If I exercise more than my spoons allow, I end up in bed for days, in severe pain, with fevers and chills, unable to read or understand sentences. For my body, energy can’t be generated by exercise, and exercise can’t build upon itself.

Sometimes it’s a bit oppressive to live in a culture that believes that regular exercise always leads to a higher exercise capacity. That’s not true for everyone. Because I have CFIDS and fibromyalgia, I’ve been perceived as lazy and deluded. I’ve been perceived as malingering, even when I’m doing everything I can to live the fullest life possible.

Some of the garbage thrown at disabled people is the same garbage thrown at fat people. Pain flare-ups from massage are common for CFIDS patients, but I was once told by a massage therapist that the subgroup of her patients who’ve had bad physical reactions to her massage is the same subgroup of her patients who “want to be sick.” A recent article quotes a doctor saying, “‘The problem is that most of those people [with fibromyalgia] are very difficult patients.’” Sound familiar, anyone? Fat folks receive the same blame, the same labels of “difficult.” (If we weren’t difficult we’d have laid off the baby-flavored donuts already and become thin.) Both groups are told we’re lying about our body’s physical workings.

Some of my personal fatness/disability intersections are hard to navigate. When people see me eat but don’t know I’m sick, they may well think I’m a typical fat person eating typical FATTEH FOODS. I hate to feed (snork!) into that stereotype, but because I believe vehemently that a fat person should be able to eat whatever they want whatever their health, I don’t “excuse” my foods – even though the excuse could bank some serious mainstream credit.

Another challenge occurs when people who do know my illness’s needs offer me a kind of “free pass” for being fat. ARGH! No one’s fatness needs a “pass.” The people offering the pass assume that if I weren’t sick, I’d not be fat. But there’s no way to know that, and frankly I don’t much care. Fatpol has been in my heart and soul since long before I was either fat or disabled.

I am white, and although I work ongoingly on identifying and challenging my white privilege, I’ll always benefit from it. I also benefit from my illness being mostly invisible (and when visible, probably resembling the flu) – I’m not subject to the insta-prejudice that visibly disabled folks receive. Those are two ways that my body conforms to society’s prescribed ideal. On the other hand, CFIDS’s invisibility opens the door for some rather soul-crushing suspicion from the world at large as to whether I’m really sick.

There’s one way in which being sick and in pain every day for fifteen years makes fatpol a little easier for me. I appreciate what my body can DO. I’m so euphoric on days when I can take a walk or cook a goulash that residual insecurity about fatness wafts away on a breeze of triviality.

On the other hand, it’s a strain to embody a double societal violation of agency and aesthetics. My body threatens the notion that a person can do anything under her own steam, that we all have individual agency over our physicality. My existence disproves bootstraps.

Thinking we can completely control our health has a quality of bargaining with God or performing magical rituals. Of course there are healthful actions people can take. But the degree to which those actions succeed, especially given the myriad other factors in everyone’s life, is often complex and untraceable. I dislike how attainable “health” is portrayed to be. A term used in some disability communities to describe non-disabled people is TAB – “temporarily able bodied.” Just a reminder that anyone can become disabled.

Even HAES sometimes pokes my heart a little. I love it – I do – but sometimes it’s colored by the religion of health that our culture holds so dear. Sometimes we forget that health is elusive to find, elusive to keep, elusive even to define. Sometimes morality flavors our HAES movement even when we don’t mean it to.

HAES shouldn’t foster superiority. Where is the line between strongly supporting everyone being as healthy as they can be, and defining health as something a person should try to be? Where is the line between health aspects that are our choice, and those that aren’t? Where is the line between valuing health, and subtly placing less value on those of us who aren’t healthy?

Often even the liberal side of HAES encourages working towards “your OWN standard of health” for “you as an individual.” This is wonderful, but even my own “standard of health” is unreachable to me. The individualness of HAES isn’t just about different people having different health goals and values; it’s about different bodies having materially different abilities. Don’t assume that a disabled person can exercise or that they can’t, or what their HAES is.

Being disabled is supposed to be shameful, and I’m not always immune to that. Sometimes I catch myself worrying that my sickness is a shame because it’s harmful to fat liberation – like I’m not “representing” fatness well enough to the outside world. But that’s hooey. My sickness is a shame because it makes me sick; and it’s *a* shame, which is not the same as shameful. Fatness is neither – neither shameful nor a shame. My best spirit days are the days when I can say FAT CRIP with a big grin.

17 Comments


Thin is In and White is Alright

| Posted in Intersectionality, Links

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I’m going to hit y’all with another link instead of a big thinky post (and then I have an awesome guest post queued up!) because ZOMG, the end of the year is BUSY! *grin* And also because I wanted to link to this as soon as it was posted. I got to read it before it was posted and I wanted y’all to all read it even then. Intersectionality, y’all. Don’t forget about it.

Here is the thing about the Fantasy of Thin: it’s never held that much power over me. I grasp it intellectually, but it doesn’t really speak to my personal experience. I think because the images and stories I see of women whose lives become amazing after dieting, are about white women. I don’t dream about the thin me having men and women fall at my feet, because that thin me would still be black and thus not beautiful according to mainstream beauty standards. I’ve been rejected more for my race than my fatness. I don’t sit around thinking about how a slimmer version of myself would get promoted at work, since dieting wouldn’t open doors for me that wouldn’t get slammed shut again by racism and sexism. That’s not to say that I’m not unaffected by the fantasies of the wonderful things that would happen if I was thin. I get the message that I am a lazy ugly failure for being fat in surround sound every day. I just happen to get that announcement with a special chorus of “why can’t you be less black?”

7 Comments


Transgender Day of Remembrance 2008

| Posted in Intersectionality

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It is easy to focus on our own oppression to the exclusion of all else. That’s why intersectionality is so very important. Of my trans friends, several are also fat – trans hate doesn’t happen to some nebulous group of people who aren’t connected to us, it happens to transpeople of all shapes and sizes and orientation. It happens to our friends and to our loved ones.

And even if it didn’t – even if you don’t know a single trans person and you have never experienced hate and oppression to have a frame of reference – trans hate would still hurt us all. When it is acceptable to persecute a group of people for being outside of the mainstream “norm”, then no one is actually safe. The mainstream norm is impossible to achieve.

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I won’t suggest HOW you should remember, or mourn, or spit in the face of trans hate. But I do suggest that you remember, mourn, spit, fight, cry – do SOMETHING.

Today most of all, we remember those who were killed. Because we die violently, unmemorialised, and are mocked after our deaths.

Because the world sees us disposable, less than human (and who can mourn that?). Many of the dead lost their lives because they were trans women of colour, doubly disposable. Racism is killing our sisters every bit as much as trans misogyny is.

Who would mourn a thing, a that, an it?

Few will respect our lives as they were, and few will mourn them, and they must be mourned. Their lives were meaningful, their names and genders were real and important, and they lost their lives from hate.

Today we hold on to some memory, even if it only be a name and a photo, so that they are not as erased as completely as their killers would have.

5 Comments


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