Monday, September 24, 2018

Has Call-out Culture On The Left Become An Obstacle?

Has call-out culture on the left become abusive? What about other aspects of leftist activist discourse? Stay in your lane. Emotional labor. Educate yourself. Are we, as activists, creating a culture where we expect people to transform into good people without being able to ask questions or mess up? Where we expect people to have the ability to learn just from reading articles on the internet or lengthy books filled with unfamiliar words?

The first thing I want to point out is that people learn differently. My son needs one on one interaction or videos. He can learn through reading, but the information takes longer to absorb and, as a kid with autism, he sometimes has a lot of trouble with abstract ideas that aren't spelled out in real world situations. I learn best in a classroom setting with a combination of academic and lay speak, reading, and one on one interactions and questions. Some people can read a library in a week and understand it all perfectly. Some people can't really read at all. Some people are auditory learners, some people learn best using their hands and using activities to get a lesson across.

So, why then, do we on the left expect all people to be able to google a topic, pick the right articles without actually knowing about the subject matter (because we all know there are plenty of blogs, news outlets, youtube channels, and more that are going to be arguing the opposite point that we are), read article after article, and then be able to come to the same conclusion we've come to- on their own with no guidance? It would be kinda great if we could do that. It truly would make our jobs as activists easier. We could call people out, tell them they're wrong, not tell them why, and they'd go learn about it and then realize they were indeed wrong. That's not how people work though.

Calling out, on the internet, has become about having someone to take out our pent up anger on. And that's relatable and understandable, because goodness knows, we have some pent up anger and, generally speaking, nowhere to release it except in twitter rants and youtube videos that have 112 hits by mostly trolls.

But what happens when we start dog-piling on someone who is genuinely trying to learn and wanting to understand but, for whatever reason, hitting a blockade in their minds? Neuroscience has told us that the human brain, when it has a strongly held belief and encounters information that goes against it, will actually throw out the new information and the original belief will become stronger. This is not a conscious thing that people are doing. It's how our brains evolved and it's how they navigate the world daily. Which means that it is incredibly difficult to change information that we grew up with, information that's a part of our core beliefs about how the world works.

This seems especially true with fat liberation. Because, while I grew up in the 90's getting "girl power!" messages that, at least challenged the patriarchal ways of the world a little, there was never a single shred of any information that told me being fat was acceptable in any manner.

But, beyond how difficult it is to evolve our ideas and information, when someone feels attacked and defensive, it makes the issue that much worse. And I'm not saying that we have to be 100% nice all of the time because, yes, it's infuriating and triggering and anxiety inducing and we just can't be the patient educator all of the time. It's completely okay for some people to just block someone and move on.

But, that's why it's always been a good thing that we have different people in different degrees of helpfulness and willingness at different times. I've seen, and been in the position of a person who has screwed something up out of ignorance and misunderstanding, and had a dozen people calling me names. As someone who deals with severe anxiety as well as suicidal depression, this tactic might feel good, but it also tends to be ableist and doesn't help anyone learn. Maybe a word or concept was new to that person. Maybe they misunderstood something they'd read. Maybe they really were just being an asshole. You won't know unless someone has that conversation. It doesn't have to be you all of the time, but it does have to be someone. When people are trying to learn and grow, who does it help to make them feel like they're shit human beings no matter how hard they're trying or how far they've come?

On the left, we've started expecting people to be perfect. Which is that much harder when we all have a different definition for perfect.

And, many of us will say, "but you can't demand the emotional labor of marginalized people". To which I'll respond- no.. you can't. But why can't we request it? No one has to answer or use their spoons, or energy, or risk their mental health, in order to educate a person. But when we start refusing to have any one on one interactions, we're taking away the human aspect of social justice issues. Having someone reading about these things on your favorite social justice website can be good, but it's much easier to dismiss that information when you aren't connecting it to real human beings. In a one on one conversation where you can say "this is how you're making me feel and these are the consequences of your words and beliefs" is where people tend to have "aha!" moments.

It's pretty well known by now that having someone in your family who's LGBTQIA+  (which, by the way, I almost guarantee there is. There are a lot of us around, we just may not feel safe telling you) significantly increases the likelihood that you'll support legislation, policies, and beliefs that are pro LGBTQIA+. Because when you can relate your beliefs and actions to someone that you actually care about, suddenly it's not an abstract scary person, it's your son, it's your cousin, it's your parent.

And I completely get that people should be good people regardless. And I'm behind the idea, for example, that women are people because we're people, not because of how we relate to a man. But it's also true that humanizing feminism by relating it to a woman that man cares about is going to get through to people. It's a first step in getting the to the point of seeing us as people deserving of rights regardless of whether or not we're related or sleeping with that man.

I'm going to jump to one more topic. For those of you who don't know, the term "stay in your lane" refers to people in privileged positions staying away from having opinions of marginalized people or situations. For example, if a celebrity was fat and disabled, a fat able bodied person wouldn't be able to criticize them for perusing weight loss. But if that celebrity was superfat, then disabled fat person who was a small fat or a medium fat couldn't criticize them. The issue I see with this is how difficult it is to effectively create change if only a fraction of activists can even say anything.

Sometimes staying in your lane is appropriate... but sometimes I appreciate when a thin ally speaks up about yet another fat role model turning to intentional weight loss. And sure, they have to be careful how far they take it... personally yelling face to face at a fat person who's decided to lose weight? Not cool- definitely stay in your lane. But expressing any opinion at all? Venting their frustrations on their facebook page? We have to give even privileged people some leeway to process their emotions on things.

We're creating an unhealthy dynamic in which people aren't allowed to feel or process any feelings they have. And the infrastructure is imploding because of it.

In theory, a lot of leftist ideas are great and hugely necessary... but the way we implement them practically is becoming problematic itself and it's not helping our causes. There's no room for discourse and learning. It's an all or nothing game where loser gets his head on a pike.

I want to be clear, I am not calling for marginalized people to be "civil". A lot of us are living in desperate and terrifying times. In the US, many marginalized people have to be hypervigilent because risk or death or losing everything is even greater than it's been. Standing your ground and having clear boundaries and expectations for how people get to behave and treat you is necessary and healthy.

What I am saying, is that, for those who are able, when you can, let's do our best to take on some discussions so that we can take the pressure off of those who aren't able right now. Fat activists- let's do that within our own group. Some of our fat siblings are unable to educate right now. So let's do that when we can. And, when we can't, maybe they can pick up where we left off. You don't have to be friends with the people you're educating. You don't have to invite them into your life, because, intentionally or not, they often leave violence. However, we can't expect for them to find the light when we shove them into the dark with a "figure it out and don't come back until you do".  If we do that, all they'll find is more darkness, and we're the ones who suffer for it.

Friday, September 21, 2018

When Eating Disorders ARE The Beauty Ideal

TW: EDs, mention of death

When I was in high school, I had a casual friend, M. I liked her. I wanted to be like her. She was quirky, weird, popular, and once asked if she could have my soul. I said yes, wrote it on a piece of paper, and she put it in a decorated box in which she kept her other collected souls. She was me, but prettier, thinner, and way less awkward. She was also, as good 90's kids were, obsessed with Nirvana.

I recall a day in creative writing class, where she was waxing poetically about Kirt Cobain, slipping in that he had an eating disorder which lead to his suicide (which is likely not actually true 15 year old me caught the conversation.

"When I grow up.. I want to have an eating disorder" I sighed, half to myself, not at all aware that I already had a full blown eating disorder in the form of anorexia ("atypical" because that's what they call it when you're an anorexic who's fat). I wanted a "better" eating disorder. Where I could go months on end eating nothing at all. Part of me wanted to waste away and die. Most of me just wanted to be thin and desirable and I thought an eating disorder would achieve that because nothing else had.

M started crying and her friend, J, swooped in to comfort her, angrily snapping at me "you can't just say things like that!". I stuttered an apology, saying I didn't know it would cause that kind of reaction.

The issue that I want to discuss here- is that the tears and the anger were not for a 15 year old girl who longed for anorexia, but because of a celebrity that no one in that class had known personally. Now, I'm not saying that you can't be upset or grieve when a treasured celebrity dies or struggles with something. But I do want to make it clear that no one showed one bit of concern, compassion, or pity, that a young girl would strive to have an eating disorder,would make it a goal.

Do you understand what I'm saying here? I wanted an eating disorder. On purpose. On purpose. And no one cared or tried to help me.

Often, when fat people have eating disorders, we're patted on the back, told to "keep doing what you're doing", and praised for trying to do the right thing- which is to be smaller. The experiences of thin people with eating disorders and those of fat people with eating disorders are very different. You may have guessed, but neither M nor J were fat. They were squarely in thin territory and probably had never considered that fat people, especially fat kids, almost constantly hurt, and are bullied and abused relentlessly. It's really no wonder that I was hoping for the "willpower" to restrict even more. Both needing to be thin and needing people to hear and see my pain.

Thin people are often so oblivious to the struggles and oppression of fat people, that such disturbing information is only disturbing coming from a thin person. Coming from me- the fat girl in class- it just highlighted and centered thin people. We can't even talk about our own hurt and trauma without it being about thin people.

I never received any kind of emotional support or medical care for my eating disorder, even though I'd go weeks without eating anything at all, often could not stand- getting dizzy just from getting out of my chair, was using and abusing ephedra (a diet product now banned in the US) to get through the day, exercising for hours every day, and made comments like the one above. A thin kid doing these things would have received treatment.

Given that young girls and femmes who are or perceive themselves to fat are the most at risk group for eating disorders, we are hugely failing these kids. Boys and masc kids are becoming more at risk in general too- again, specifically among those who are or perceive themselves to be fat.

We, as a society, have taken a disease that has the highest death rate of any mental illness, anorexia, and glorified it. We've made it something that little kids dream about being able to "accomplish" some day- like it's a shiny trophy with "first place skinny" marked on it.

People want to talk about glorifying "obesity"?  At least fat people survive. Even if you believed the nonsense about fatness increasing risk for other illnesses, we're still living into our 60's, 70's, 80's, and beyond. We have children as young as 8 being treated for EDs.. we have children, children, dying. Being put in the ground because of eating disorders.

Why are we allowing this? Why is there no information or outrage over the epidemic of body hate? Why? Because you can't profit from people having self esteem.

You can't profit from people having self esteem.

It's time to take back our power and stop trying to kill ourselves for perceived beauty. They don't care if you die as long as they're raking in the dough at the end of the day. We have to understand that we are more important than capitalism. We are more important than some rich dude getting richer. We are just plain important. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Being Fat During Hurricane Florence

This past weekend, Hurricane Florence swept through my state, creating panic and destruction. I'm a few hours inland, but the path of the hurricane was expected to go right through my city before, last minute, dipping south and going around us. We got some flooding, some power outages, but it was nothing like it was predicted to be- thank goodness!

In the week leading up to the hurricane making landfall, I was a busy busy bee. I'm what I call a practical prepper -not end of the world zombie apocalypse prepper, but i know shit goes bad prepper. So I already had bug-out bags ready, a comprehensive first aid kit, two weeks worth of meds packed, and lots of water. That didn't stop me from running myself sick trying to prepare for loss of power, loss of water, and possible evacuation for myself, my family, and my companion animals.

But the reason I'm such an anxiety ridden prepper who needs to know exactly what could happen in every possible situation? Because I'm fat. Being trapped and unable to be rescued is one of my greatest fears. It's the core of my agoraphobia as well as claustrophobia. Getting stuck. Rescuers being unable to lift me. It's horrifying.

I think back to Hurricane Katrina and stories of fat patients being left to die in hospitals because they were "too much trouble" to move safely. As someone who's also disabled, I'm convinced that I will die in any major cataclysmic event.  So, despite being really well prepared for anything that could happen, I was terrified. I was having daily panic attacks, the anxiety triggered a mast cell disease flare as well as a fibromyalgia flare, both of which added to my panic (how could I be rescued when I was having anaphylactic reactions to everything?!)

This goes beyond the fear of not fitting in a movie theater seat or airplane seat (very real fears!). I'm afraid of dying. Not because fat is an illness or because fat causes medical problems that will kill me.. it's not and it won't. I'm afraid for my life because of the negligence of people in a society who demonize fat to such a degree that our lives are forfeit , unimportant. Worse, I'm afraid that my family's lives are in danger because of fatphobia. Is my son less likely to be rescued because they don't want to bother with a family that includes a fat woman? Will he have to watch them leave me behind?

At this point, eight years into fat activism, I feel like most of the things we think about are obvious (to me at least), but when you're forced to really confront how deep it goes, how far reaching the danger, and how horrific the potential deaths, it's easy for someone with a panic disorder to really freak the fuck out.

During Katrina, there were three specific patients who were killed rather than evacuated, due to weight. One, Janine Burgess, was suffering from end stage cancer and nurses justified giving her  a lethal dosage of morphine because she may otherwise become conscious (she was sedated to the point of unconsciousness) and, without proper medical care, would suffer greatly. Did they evacuate other end stage cancer patients?

Also, there was Rodney Scott, He was chosen to be the last to be evacuated due to his weight, combined with being paralyzed and unable to walk . While he was successfully evacuated, his life was prioritized as the least important of patients needing evacuation.

Lastly was Emmett Everett, a man who begged medical staff , multiple times, to not leave him behind. He knew what was going on. His roommate had already been evacuated. a man who was awake, aware, ready to evacuate, and in good spirits. He even graciously told the doctors to evacuate others ahead of him. In the end, he was deemed too heavy to be moved at 380lbs. Emergency personnel have said they could have evacuated Everett, but were never even told he was there. Nurses told Everett that they'd give him something to help with dizziness he was experiencing. Instead they gave him a deadly dose of morphine and midazolam (a sedative).

Emmett Everett was murdered- straight up murdered- because staff didn't want to deal with him. They didn't even try. And no one was prosecuted for his death or the death of Janine Burgess. The limit for who they deemed unworthy of saving seemed to be "300lbs". I am 305lbs.

Is it any wonder that I worry? I should. Sometimes anxiety is unfounded and creates a mountain out of a mole hill. This is not a mole hill, it is a monstrous mountain that we keep being too afraid to look at or acknowledge.

The obvious answer to this is to actually think of fat people as people. To prepare for evacuating us and having life saving policies in place for us. It's not impossible, it's not even all that difficult. The issue is simply that no one cares enough to put in the small amount of effort it would take.

I made it through Florence without being hurt or stranded at all, but the future is always uncertain. My life will always be uncertain.

Dreaming of Wheels

I finally dreamed of myself in a wheelchair . How we view ourselves is often hard. What we think of ourselves, even how we picture ourse...