a manifatso.

Last month I took an impromptu trip to see family out of state.  It was fantastic: a lovely time with my brother’s family, and exactly what I needed after a tough time at work.  I showed up at the airport, sad to go, but happy to have had the chance to catch up with some of the people who mean most to me.

When I got on the plane, things took a sharp turn. The flight was oversold, and I was assigned at the last minute to a middle seat.  As soon as I sat down, one of the people sitting next to me seemed to get agitated.  He got up four, maybe five times to talk to flight attendants.  He checked over his shoulder at least a dozen times.  Finally, a flight attendant crouched down next to him and whispered something I couldn’t hear.  The passenger got up and moved to a seat one row up.  Before he sat down, he turned to me and said, “this is so you’ll have more room.”

The flight attendant looked at him, puzzled, then looked at me and said, “this won’t be a vacant seat.  Someone will still be sitting here.”  The passenger looked away, then sat down.

Throughout the flight, attendants offered free beer, wine and extra snacks to the people sitting on either side of me.  They didn’t say much to me.  I folded my arms, locked my legs together, and tried not to make eye contact with anyone.  This was the moment I’d come to dread as a fat traveler.  I had been singled out—and so publicly—as a nuisance, a burden, a blight.  All of this, for having the body I’ve always had, nothing more.

No matter how good I was, no matter how small I tried to make my body, I couldn’t even take a fucking two hour flight.  I spent the rest of my time on the plane replaying the interaction in my mind to see if I was wrong, if I’d misread cues, or if there was something I could have said or done differently.  The landing couldn’t come soon enough.

As travelers filtered into the aisle to get their bags, the passenger who moved looked at me.  He said, “you know, I wouldn’t do this to a person with a walker.”

“What?”

“I wouldn’t do this to a person with a walker, or a pregnant woman.”

“I know,” I said. “That’s what makes this terrible.”

And there it was: a perfect stranger, telling me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t even want to be near me.  All because I’m fat.  All the doubt drained out of me and I felt the sting of humiliation—the same feeling I felt in grade school, when my parents sent me to fat camp.  The same feeling from middle school, when a fellow swim team member told me no one would want to see me compete.  The same feeling I felt at the doctor’s office last year, when another patient told me that “a woman your size shouldn’t wear belts.”  It’s the same feeling every time.  After this flight, it took days to feel like I’d even partly let go of it.  I still haven’t shaken it all the way.  Because of that cumulative effect, I’m not sure that I ever will.

So often, when I think of my experience as a fat person, these are the moments I think of: the rejection, humiliation, shame, frustration and struggle.  But my while my life is shaped by these moments, it’s not defined by them.  In that moment, on that plane, despite having a whole job centered around combating discrimination, and despite having spent years thinking and talking and writing about dismantling oppression, I completely lost my sense of self.  And that is, in part, because I didn’t have an affirming script to fall back on.  Or, at least, not one that I’d internalized as deeply as I internalized the hurt, frustration and anger.

I’ve been waiting to hear someone tell me what, as a fat person, I ought to be able to rely on, and what’s reaching too far, taking too much.  When am I reasonable?  When am I greedy, angry, insatiable?  I kept expecting to see some kind of fatty bill of rights that someone else would make, so it would feel official—more real than anything I could create.  But in a world where those affirmations don’t exist, we must create them for ourselves and one another.

So I’m starting that list here.  This is what I’ve needed to hear, but it’s not everything.  I hope you’ll add more in the comments.


A MANIFATSO.

We have the right to our bodies.  We have the right to weigh 90 pounds (or less), 400 pounds (or more), and every number in between.  We have a right to the bodies we have, the bodies we need, the bodies we were born with, and the bodies that reflect our gender identities.  We have the right to spaces that respect and accommodate our bodies, not bodies that shrink and change fit the spaces that exist.  We have the right to health care that provides the services that our minds and bodies need – not what others’ bias, prejudice and ignorance tells us we need.  We have the right to transition-related health care and non-medical transitions; to birth control, reproductive health, and whatever health care our bodies, minds and identities need to be our whole selves.

We have the right to eat. We have the right to eat salad and potato chips and lentils and pork ribs. We have the right to eat anything and everything: foods that reflect our families, histories and culture; foods that affirm our values and identities; foods that give us the nutrition we need, and foods that don’t. We have the right to access safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of income level. And we have the right to eat all of it in whatever amounts we choose and are able.

We have the right to travel, regardless of whether we are the size, shape or ability designers and engineers expected.  We have the right to pass through airport security without every detailed inch of our bodies being projected to security agents.  We have the right to sit in any airplane, stand on any bus, ride any bike or drive any car to get us where we need to go.

We have the right to work without fear of discrimination.  We have the right to new jobs, to promotions, to bad days and big accomplishments.  We have the right to bring all of our talents, skills and passions to bear, and we have the right to whatever work supports ourselves, our families, and our communities.  And we, like all workers, have the right to respect, and to policies that keep us safe and our jobs secure.

We have the right to family, love, sex, all of the above, or none of it.  We have the right to sleep with and partner with the people we want, for as long as we want to, in whatever formation reflects and affirms us.  We have the right to date people we’re attracted to and who are attracted to us, without being criticized for having partners who are too fat, too thin, too plain or “out of our league.”  We have the right to be seen publicly with our partners, whatever their size, shape, gender or ability.

We have the right to raise children—fat children, thin children, and everything in between—without our fitness as parents coming under attack.  We also have the right not to raise children without being portrayed as lonely, tragic or defective.

We have the right to walk down the street without being met with glares, stares, verbal harassment or physical assault.  And we retain those same rights in restaurants, gyms, job interviews, and our day-to-day lives.  We have the right to the anxiety and hurt that results from this treatment, and we have the right to let it go.

We have the right to be wallflowers or social butterflies, awesome or awkward, without our personalities being attributed to our body size, shape, or ability.  We have the right to be our own people or tell our own stories.  We have the right to be romantic leads, action heroes, or just real people with real challenges and successes, without being relegated to the role of the fat best friend.  We also have the right to be fat best friends.

We have the right to health care that doesn’t reduce all of our health problems to our weight, or balk at healthy fat people.  We have the right to respectful, precise, accessible health care, with treatments and services that reflect our needs, our beliefs and our histories.

We have the right to be good people, bad people, people with our own sets of morals and ethics that are not defined by our weight, our diet, our exercise regiment, or our blood pressure.  These are indicators of what’s happening in our bodies, not telltale signs about our morality, our fitness to serve as role models, or our impact on our children, neighbors or communities.  We have the right to go to the doctor’s office, even just once, even just for a fever or a broken arm, without being lectured about losing weight.  We have the right to health care that helps us, not health care that shames us.

We have the right to safe and inclusive community free from racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and oppression on the basis of our race, ethnicity, nationality or immigration status.  We have the right to live safe, free lives without being scapegoated for social, economic, political or public health problems that are too often wrongly attributed to us.

We have the right not to be policed for the food we eat, for exercise, body size, or body shape.  We have the right to live free from body policing, wherever it comes from, be that the media, the world at large, our friends, our families, or even one another.

We have the right to resist fatphobia as a tool of colonialism, that seeks to dismantle our very bodies and senses of self by imposing white, Western beauty standards worldwide.  These are constructs of power, not constructs of our communities.  And like any tools of imperialism or colonialism, we will resist it. We have the right to understand and describe our bodies in a way that reflects our cultures and histories, and resists them as we see fit.  We have the right to know that fat is beautiful, powerful, worthy and good.  We have the right to friends, family and communities who know that, too.

We have the right to state our needs, then get those needs met respectfully, without reductive dialogue or petty pushback on those needs.  We have the right to our lives, our families, our identities, our histories and our communities.  We have the right to be who we are–all of who we are.

‘real women’ & those of us who aren’t.

In high school, I worked in a gift shop that sold gardening tools, books and trinkets.  One of our best-sellers was a Hanes Beefy-T that read “REAL MEN GROW ROSES.”  It tapped into something with customers—something about it felt clever, irreverent.  Women would tease their husbands with the shirt; men would swagger up to the counter to buy them.  But no matter what their reactions, gender was at the fore of how they responded—because what’s more gendered than claiming the experience of “real men”?

We see this meme a lot.  “Real men love Jesus,” “real women take care of their children,” and so forth.  But more insidiously, this meme takes hold in our movements and communities in big ways.  Many of us preface our own experiences or aspirations with that phrase – “real women have curves,” “real women aren’t a size zero,” “real women don’t do housework.”  We do it because, in a world full of restrictive social scripts, we seek to see ourselves reflected somewhere, anywhere.  That lack of affirming images—or any images—leaves us to our own devices.

But sometimes, we don’t even get so far as to claim who is a “real woman.”  For example:

when-did-this-become-hotter-than-this

This is body shaming, pure and simple.  And thankfully, that’s been clearly identified in response memes that add affirming text like “it didn’t—they’re all beautiful” and my favorite “LOVE ALL THE WOMEN!!!” (a la Hyperbole and a Half).

But this tactic, which appears simply to be a well-intentioned misfire, has much more to it than that.  Let’s unpack, shall we?

 

the pitfalls of flipping the script.

In so many marginalized communities, there’s a temptation—an easy temptation—to simply flip the script on oppression.  “That skinny girl just needs to eat a sandwich, am I right?”  “Imagine what it would be like if women ran the world—we wouldn’t have any of these problems!”  This exists in a number of communities in a number of ways.  This isn’t to say that there isn’t value in those statements—but they do lay traps for us to spring on ourselves later.

Here’s the problem: flipping the script leaves the script intact.  The assumption in the meme above is that there is a right kind of body to have, and the women on the top row don’t have it.  While body policing of thin women operates differently than it does with fat women, it’s still body policing, and it still feels like shit.

And it requires operating on the same old norms.  If you think “that skinny girl needs to eat a sandwich,” that means her body is too thin, too small, too something. In order for something to be considered “too much” of anything, there has to be an ideal, a template or a norm—and this thin woman deviates from that norm.  Reifying that ideal—even if we’re revising it—always leaves the huge numbers of people behind, and it almost always leaves out people of color, people with disabilities, gender nonconforming people, and many more.  A truly liberatory approach to fat positivity/body positivity can’t simply replace one ideal with another, slightly shifting the whole system of body shaming and policing, but ultimately leaving it intact. So why rely on ideals at all?  Why not just explode them with images of all of our bodies and stories of all of our experiences?

 

‘real women.’

The first time I remember seeing a phrase claiming to speak to the body of “real women,” I remember my face flushing with embarrassment.  It was a familiar feeling—a trigger, then the sear of humiliation.  As an intersex woman, my sex and gender are always in question, and there is never enough evidence to somehow prove who I am, validate my body, or make sense of my gender.  Despite my strong femme gender presentation and even stronger cisgender woman identity, my body will never fit all of the qualifications required of female bodies.  I am not a “real woman,” and I am never allowed to forget it.  “Real women” memes, despite being designed to create more space for more women, not only leave me out, but they bring up the string of moments of sex and gender policing I have faced over the years, and make me feel even less access to my own gender identity.

And I’m not the only one.  Historically, as we have explored, transgender women have been accused of not being real women.  Butch women and lesbians, too, are often described as too masculine to be “real women.” The “realness” of women of color has been contested through forced sterilization, birth control testing on Latinas, and much more.  None of us are consistently understood to be “real women.”  And not being seen as “real” isn’t just rhetorical—that perception is what leads to restriction to our access to resources, social acceptance, public spaces like bathrooms—even control of our own bodies.

On top of that, there are plenty of people who aren’t women who still need liberatory movements.  That isn’t to say that every remark we make needs to reflect every marginalized community.  But failure to be aware of who we’re leaving out makes it more difficult to include those people in the future.  And it replicates precisely the kind of narrow essentialism we were initially trying to escape.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone to feel the burn of recognition, frustration and humiliation I feel when I realize I’m not “real.”

 

what you can do.

Talk about your experience on its own terms.  Don’t do it at the expense of anyone else.  Describing the rights, respect and dignity that all of us deserve can be just as catchy as flipping the script—and it’s much less likely to leave those who share our struggles behind.

on fat, trans, and the pitfalls of comparing identities.

A colleague and I recently gave a training on how to be a good ally to trans communities.  For those who’ve been through similar trainings, it’s nothing earth-shattering: respect people’s gender pronouns, don’t ask people when they’re having “the surgery,” and generally avoid forcing loads of intrusive questions or making a slew of judgments based on someone’s identity (or what you believe their identity to be).  Basic, right?

But something surprising happened at this training.  Many of the cisgender (non-trans) people in the room were struggling for analogies, for parallel identities and oppressions to help them understand a community that’s new to them.  But what surprised me was the number of people who compared being trans to being fat.  According to many, their perception of whether or not a trans person is “successfully passing” (that is: presenting as a gender-conforming person) is just like their perception of someone’s thinness.  If someone is passing well, or if they’ve lost weight, praise them.  If you clock them as trans, or if they’ve gained weight, it would be rude to mention. These comparisons were made left, right and center.

And as these comparisons were made, I felt myself begin to shake, from frustration, from sadness, from powerlessness, from anger.  Good as their intentions were, as a fat person, I felt more and more shameful, more and more erased, less and less valid.  I can only imagine how trans-identified people in the room felt.

We hear these comparisons all the time.  Being trans is like being gay.  Being a gay couple is like being an interracial couple.  Being fat is like being a person with a disability.  And everything, apparently, is just like being a person of color.

To their credit, this is often the way that allies—and many community members—struggle to find the language of oppression that hasn’t been taught to them.  They’re reaching to link our struggles, and that’s a good impulse.  The problem is, they’re doing it in a way that is substantially flawed and makes it deeply difficult to build relationships, coalitions and movements across lines of identity. 

 

why we compare identities.

Overwhelmingly, we do it because our intentions are good. Sometimes we do it to better understand allied communities—to deepen our understanding of the needs and experiences of other communities. Sometimes we do it to give voice to our own experience of oppression in a culture that doesn’t provide us with the tools or opportunities to speak for our experiences of marginalization. Again, the intention here is good: we’re trying to start conversations that establish various forms of oppression as real, valid and harmful.

The problem is that identity comparisons are often overarching and ineffective—and they don’t really help us meet those goals. While our intentions are good, these comparisons don’t create the impacts we hope for. So what I want to talk about today is the unintended impacts they create. So: what are the challenges with comparing identities, communities and movements?

(Note: I’ve focused here on race, LGBT, and fat, because those are the examples that I deal with most frequently, but there are many, many more.  Feel free to add yours in the comments.)

 

problems with comparing identities.

It glosses over substantial differences in experience in a way that can be hurtful, insulting and alienating.  After Prop 8 banned same-gender marriage in California, gay news magazine the Advocate published a cover story that declared that “gay is the new black.”  The problem is, this is frequently stated by white queer people.  And while white queer people have historically experienced hate crimes, police raids, and a whole lot more, we haven’t been lynched, been forced to sit at the back of the bus, or experienced the accumulation of oppression over generations on a single family or neighborhood.  Black/African-American communities have.  Intentional or not, claiming that “gay is the new black” is deeply disrespectful, and it’s often experienced as such. 

It’s an escape hatch for ally education.  When we compare our identities to others that we don’t share, we can unintentionally imply that we’ve got nothing to learn.  And sometimes we can even believe it. 

The logic goes like this: if I say that my identity is just like yours, then presto!, I have nothing new to learn about your experience or needs, because they’re the same as mine.  And if I already know all there is to know, I don’t need to change anything about what I’m doing to make spaces, communities or movements more accessible to people with differing identities. 

In that way, it also paves the way for pushing aside identity-specific needs.  If being fat is like having a disability, then I just need to make this event accessible for me, and it will automatically be accessible for you, right?  Wrong.  Many fat people don’t seek need ramps, bars, or ASL interpretation.  And making the comparison keeps us from grappling with the complexity of the identities of those around us.  It keeps us from growing, and it keeps others from participating.

 

problems with comparing movements.

It claims someone else’s work.  I’m a young white queer woman.  I wasn’t alive during the highest profile work of the Civil Rights movement, and I didn’t begin to take on anti-racist work until very recently, in the scheme of racial justice history in the US.  But if I say fat acceptance is “the next great Civil Rights movement,” I’m claiming that work as my own and conflating oppressions in a way that (rightfully) alienates communities of color.

Sometimes, it implies that other forms of oppression are “over” or “fixed.” Frequently, we hear that fat is the last acceptable discrimination. The implication here is that other forms of oppression are somehow remedied or obsolete.  Racism isn’t “fixed.” We haven’t “cured” our society of xenophobia.  But that’s the implication.

And all of that alienates potential allies. These comparisons, well-intentioned though they may be, divide our communities against one another.  LGBT communities know the pain of police raids, but we don’t readily and uniformly ally ourselves with immigrant communities, who face raids and deportation at staggering rates.  Fat people know the sting of discrimination and exclusion (see: Southwest Airlines policies), but many of us still dismiss concerns over ableism.  And when we draw sloppy parallels that make broad generalizations (while failing to pinpoint shared experience and values), we alienate the communities we are best positioned to support—and that are best positioned to support us.

 

drawing effective parallels.

This doesn’t mean that drawing parallels is out of the question—it just means that comparisons must be made carefully and thoughtfully.  Here are some ways to draw thoughtful, nuanced parallels.

Point to shared opposition & tactics of oppression.  A great example of this: Suzanne Pharr’s stellar essay, The Common Elements of Oppression.  In it, Pharr discusses the ways the common tactics used to oppress—but she is careful not to conflate communities or types of oppression.  Both immigrant communities and LGBT communities are accused of seeking “special rights.” That’s a tactic used to divide and marginalize us.  That means our struggles are linked—it does not mean they are the same through and through.

Point to shared needs.  Since our opposition (and their tactics) are shared, our communities often experience similar needs.  So when budget cuts target low-income people and communities of color, our needs are shared.  When bullying targets trans youth and fat youth, our needs are shared.  And when oppression and privilege are so poorly understood as a whole, many of our communities can benefit from some serious public education.

Be specific.  Sweeping generalizations (a la “gay is the new black”) are dicey at best, so specificity can be helpful.  Are you trying to draw a parallel between communities’ shared experiences?  Their shared oppressors?  Similar institutionalized discrimination?  Be sure to voice what you are specifically thinking.

 

what else you can do.

Support the work of allied movements.  If you’re a white queer person, like me, fight against police profiling and brutality.  If you haven’t experienced the criminal justice system as a prisoner, work for prisoner’s rights for those who have.   Believe in them, yes, and do something.  Write your elected official.  Phone bank.  Attend a rally.  Taking action is the most meaningful way to contribute.

Speak about the oppression you face on its own terms.  Grant it the integrity to speak for itself.  I feel fatphobia deeply enough on a daily basis that I can describe it in extraordinary detail.  I know, and trust, that those experiences speak for themselves, and do not need to rely on broad parallels to others’ oppression.

Use “I” statements.  I know, it’s well-worn and hackneyed territory, but it works.  Speak from your own experience, and avoid speaking on behalf of communities with which you don’t identify.

Interrogate your own privilege.  At the core of these comparisons is a deep desire to help those around us more fully grasp our own understanding of oppression.  And that desire is often paired with the internalized entitlement that comes with privilege—and that’s what creates the impulse to reach so readily for someone else’s experience in order to describe our own. 

Continuing to challenge our own sense of privilege and the internalized ways in which we appropriate others’ experiences is one of the most lasting ways to stem the tide of the comparisons that divide us while seeking to unite us.  And while that tide goes out, we can build more meaningful relationships across identities, and stronger coalitions across movements for true and lasting social justice.

borders & intersections: wisconsin, choice & immigration

A lot’s at stake in Wisconsin.  Public understandings of the meaning and worth of labor are up for debate.  National displays of solidarity are popping up nationwide.  And, in amongst all of that, the very livelihood of thousands of Wisconsin workers is at risk.  We are looking at the resurgence of the labor movement.

One more thing that’s at stake in Wisconsin: corporations’ control over elections and legislative sessions.  To be clear, if Wisconsin conservatives get their way, corporations will be the only voice well-resourced enough to be heard in state politics.  By defunding unions—or preventing them from forming altogether—the biggest contributors to elections will be corporations.  Look, of course everyone approaches elections with their own interests at heart.  By breaking unions, we’re removing their voice from elections—which means corporations are the only voice left.  To make it all Marxist, we’re eliminating proletarian participation in democracy in order to play up bourgeois interests. Given that labor unions also fund and support most of issues we care deeply about Women’s rights, LGBT rights, POC rights this is not just an attack on labor its an attack on everything.

 

labor and immigration

Increasingly, “made in America” is a thing of the past.  Our economy is global, which means labor must be global, too.  When corporations can’t exploit labor abroad, they do it here—within immigrant communities.  When we fail to address immigration reform in a deep and comprehensive way, we unintentionally perpetuate classist and anti-labor systems of thought, policy and rhetoric.

This is an opportunity to re-imagine labor. Cesar Chavez had it right. The farmworker’s movement developed because migrant workers were the one pool of labor that could not legally unionize in the United States.  So business owners had carte blanche to treat farm workers however they saw fit—and with the latitude they had, they proved that corporations can play tidily into Hobbesian narratives of self-interest.  In short, they treated immigrant labor like shit. 

So what’s the Chavez connection to Wisconsin?  The farmworkers movement of the 1960s and 1970s  interrupted what the labor movement was at the time.  Corporations were just beginning to outsource jobs and seek cheaper labor in other countries—thereby exploiting policy divides in nations that had less established labor laws.  In the United States, migrant workers existed (and still do) in a no man’s land: many aren’t documented residents who can leverage American labor laws against unjust employers.  At the same time, they also cannot unionize and speak out as a group about their own best interests.  It’s a stalemate in the truest form.  And corporations have been exploiting and perpetuating that stalemate for decades.

As of yet, major American labor unions haven’t deeply addressed the needs of immigrant workers.  In so doing, they have missed an opportunity to get union workers and their many allies to do something radical and actually identify with immigrants: as workers who can be all too easily exploited when they can’t frequently and vigilantly voice their own needs and enforce their rights.  And in the absence of intersectional, pro-immigrant perspectives, anti-immigrant xenophobia takes hold, even in the most progressive communities.  By not drawing the parallel between labor and immigration, we reify systems that keep immigrants undocumented and prioritize corporate interests over those of workers.

And the labor connection to immigration is just one opportunity that progressive people in the United States miss.  There are many more opportunities to connect our work for immigration reform to choice, LGBT rights, and progressive activism around globalization.

 

gender justice

Gender justice is a term used to unite struggles for queer rights, trans justice, and choice & reproductive justice.  And guess what?  Immigration reform connects to all three!  Here’s how:

Reproductive justice & “anchor babies.”  A primary scare tactic used by the far right accuses immigrant women of entering the United States to give birth to “anchor babies” that will provide their path to citizenship.  In this trope are deep and unspoken fears of a conscious racial takeover.  And in using the “anchor baby” line of thinking, conservatives once again paint the fertility of women of color as something that’s “predatory” and must be restricted.  Once again, women’s families and reproductive health are up for public debate.

LGBT rights and asylum.  As astonishingly anti-LGBT stories continue to roll out of Uganda, and many LGBT people in the United States join together to show our support, we lose immigration and asylum as a key mode of supporting LGBT people in other countries.  Asylum is very rarely afforded to LGBT immigrants to the US, showing that, once again, homophobia and transphobia aren’t “real” enough, that it’s all in our heads, and that ultimately, we could choose to be or do something different.  (You know what’s not a choice, though? Being gay.)  At the same time, we fail to expose the role of American evangelists in creating the anti-LGBT climate in Uganda and then exploiting that climate by seeding sensationalist policies like the infamous “kill the gays” bill.

Trans justice, documentation and Arizona. Recently, Arizona effectively legalized racial profiling of people perceived to be immigrants  (read: Latinos).  If you’re brown, police will assume you’re not a citizen.  Something similar happens to transgender people every day: if they don’t present as gender normative, their documentation is challenged and questioned at every turn.   The whiter, and more gender normative you are, the less your citizenship is interrogated.

globalization & foreign policy

Globalization is inevitable, but the way it’s taking shape is not.  For decades, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and so-called “free trade” agreements have defined what kind of power and money nations can access when they don’t already have power and money.  Many of us know that this is unfair, some of us know that this disproportionately breaks along lines of race (creating shitty impacts for nations of people of color), but few of us make the connections to immigration into the US.

In truth, “free trade agreements” could be more accurately renamed as “free labor agreements,” which allow American corporations to build maquiladoras and sweatshops in, among other places, Central and North America.  When those sweatshops open up, they employ many—if not most—people in the town where they’re located.  That means that corporations define the going price for labor in that area while simultaneously establishing a deep local dependence on that corporation to keep the local economy alive.  At the same time, corporations can decimate local natural resources and introduce social power structures that eventually decimate indigenous ways of living.  It’s malevolent, it’s racist, it’s insidious, and it’s forever.

 

do this, right now, today.

So, what can you do?  Here are some action steps:

  • Redefine “the immigration problem.”  Overwhelmingly, people on the left and the right will agree that the solution to “the immigration problem” is to stop the flow of immigrants to the US.   But the need for immigration reform runs much, much deeper than that.  If we had thought more deeply about the impacts of free trade agreements on Latino nations, we would have predicted the wave of immigration from Central America.  “The immigration problem” is more than documentation for farm workers, naturalization for LGBT immigrants, or the DREAM Act for students.  It bleeds into movements for labor, choice, and global justice in US-powered foreign policy.  And, at its core, it asks US voters who we think should be allowed to be an American.
  • Explicitly connect your liberation to the liberation of immigrants.  Because, as we’ve explored here, those two things are deeply connected.
  • Ask yourself: who benefits?  Overwhelmingly, you’ll find that the people who benefit from anti-immigrant policies and discourse are (surprise!) US corporations.
  • Come out as an ally to immigrant communities.  Speak up about your support for immigrant communities, and continue to educate yourself on the lived experiences of immigrants, the problems with public discourse about immigration, and how public policy continues to define who can be a “real American.”

why i’m fat positive.

I’m a lot of things: I’m queer, white, upper middle class, an organizer, a nerd, a clothes horse…

I’m also fat.

That’s an easy thing for me to say, and it’s a hard thing for many people to hear. And it impacts me more immediately, frequently and overtly than a lot of my identities.

When I tell people I’m fat, the most common reaction is panic: they assume I’m calling myself ugly, and they feel pressured or compelled to disabuse me of that notion. But people clearly notice my size all the time. Servers at restaurants notice it when they seat me. People on the bus notice it when they decide when and whether to make an empty seat available for me. Nurses notice it when they tell me I’ll have to be weighed as part of my physical, and then wince. It’s the worst-kept secret around. So I just put it out there: I’m fat.

Telling people I’m fat makes them uncomfortable. But telling them I’m fat positive makes people upset. Some get angry (“you’re endangering your health, and if you’re talking about this, you’re endangering other people’s health, too”). Some get shaming (“oh, so that’s why you dress that way. I just figured you didn’t know they were called skinny jeans”). Some even start to mourn (“I’m just worried about what will happen to you if you don’t even try.”). Most are just perplexed and they shut down, wondering on a very basic level why I think fat is okay.

Remarkably, very few people ask. So I figured I’d just say it.

I’m fat positive because I’m a feminist, and I refuse to acknowledge in the magical thinking that if you’re small enough, quiet enough, compliant enough and saccharine enough, you will somehow be enough.

I’m fat positive because I can’t afford to pay for two airline tickets just because the airline industry has decided that my body is the problem—not their outdated seats that haven’t changed in decades.

I’m fat positive because I’ve been fat my whole life. No matter how much I work out or how little I eat, my clothing has never dropped below a size 20 (I know!). I could spend my life in a gym, chasing some mirage that my body will never be, or I could focus on eating and moving in a way that makes me healthy and happy. Or, even more radically, I could not think about dieting, and know that my health is my own damn business. Either way, on the weight continuum, I’ll be somewhere between “superfat” and “ginormous.”

I’m fat positive because every day, fat people give up on all kinds of priorities and dreams because they’re fat. Granted, that’s a piss-poor reason to give up, but you know what? Social messages reinforce that thinking every day. I can’t go to the gym: I’m fat & I’ll be humiliated. I can’t date anyone: who would want to date a fatty? I can’t wear that outfit: I’m fat. Hell, I gave up on acting in college because I didn’t think I stood a chance. I may not have been a great actor, but I don’t know because I knew that being fat was rarely a leg up in auditions.

I’m fat positive because of the pervasive myth that fat women must be lesbians—the underlying assumption being that queer women can “give up” on their bodies, because they don’t “need” to attract men. I’m fat positive because I’m queer, and that shit is homophobic AND sexist.

I’m fat positive because I identify as queer, a category designed to upset essentialist thinking about sexuality and gender. There are tidy lines of thought that prescribe that male = man = masculine = straight, and female = woman = feminine = straight. Fatphobia is one of many things that props all that up. By regulating what our bodies can and can’t look like (in a very gender-specific way), fatphobia perpetuates normative gender and sexuality in a way that keeps all of us trapped.

I’m fat positive because I work at being an anti-racist ally, and fatphobia reifies systems of power that erase the bodies of many people of color, and that stereotype, parody and ultimately nullify their experiences. For example, in order to function as an anti-welfare trope, the welfare queen must be a woman (in this case, a single woman), a single parent (careless and promiscuous), poor (irresponsible), fat (slovenly) and Black (the Other, for middle class white voters). The welfare queen stereotype relies on some level on the fatness of the subject in order to function. And, on top of that, it’s predicated on a fear of someone “taking too much,” crossing boundaries and claiming resources that aren’t hers to take, an almost predatory image of a fat woman of color. This theme of “taking what’s not yours” is repeated with communities of color when it comes to welfare, English-only ballot measures, immigrant rights, and more. And, of course, it plays a core role in fatphobia: fat people eat too much, take up too much space, and generally exist to consume.

I’m fat positive because your weight doesn’t have any necessary relationship to your health, your attractiveness, your worth, your agency, your passions or your personality. But it does have a deep relationship to how others treat you, how you’re allowed to identify, and what kind of ramifications you may face if you reach beyond those bounds.

I’m fat positive because I like to hike and swim and do yoga. But bizarrely, while there’s an overwhelming sense of hostility to just being a fat lady living my life, that hostility is heightened immensely when I’m seen working out. (You’d think they’d like to see me doing something that’s associated with weight loss, wouldn’t you?)

I’m fat positive because there’s a huge, awful machine called the diet industry. It demands that we get as skinny as possible, and then get skinnier. And it tells us that the only way to get skinny is by spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on gimmicks, pills and such. And know what that is? Classist.

I’m fat positive because, as Maria Bamford puts it, “L’Oreal: Because I’m worth it. And because holding myself to an impossibly high standard of beauty keeps me from starting a riot.” I’m fat positive because sometimes I think we ought to start a riot.

I’m fat positive because, despite my mother’s stellar politics and longstanding values, she couldn’t get past my being a fat kid. She’s a staunch feminist, and a wonderful and caring parent, but she still struggles with my fatness because of an ongoing and deeply destructive constellation of myths about what it means to be fat in the United States.

I’m fat positive because no matter what size you are, you shouldn’t be ashamed. You shouldn’t have to turn on the TV to see therapists making anorexic women cry, or see trainers shout at and shame fat people. I’m fat positive because I don’t think that anyone else should decide what’s okay for you to wear or eat or do or look like. I’m fat positive because even though no one should be subjected to that, millions of us are every day—and we’re shamed into silence and compliance.