LGBTQ Fat PRIDE!

For the first time ever, my local area had a Pride march!  We had a small rally with three speakers who represented a range of ages and experiences, and then we marched a short loop.  I carried the bi pride flag, which made me ridiculously happy.  We had at least 50 or 60 people, a pretty good turnout for the first year, especially when a lot of people went up to Capital Pride instead.

After the ugly reception that a prior Pride event had gotten (people felt the need to tear down flyers and to put up anti-LGBT religious signs in their cars near the event), I was worried we’d be catching some kind of flak from the religious haters.  Particularly as motivated as they were to cause a stink about library sex ed because (gasp!) the teacher was queer.  But, there was no pushback that I saw.

For me, the best moment was when one of the speakers, a genderqueer teen, talked about the depression he’d* gone through as a kid. He mentioned how part of accepting himself was accepting being fat as a good thing and reclaiming that word.  I applauded, he pointed at me and grinned, and it turned into a round of applause.  I was really happy to be able to kick off an outpouring of support for a fat teen, that yes, it is okay to be fat, your body is awesome, and you are awesome.

*He was introduced by someone who knows him personally using he/him pronouns, but he didn’t actually say those were his pronouns. I’m going with he/him/his based on the info I have. So, awesome genderqueer teen, if you happen to be reading this and you go, “Wow, that’s me…but those aren’t my pronouns!” please let me know & I’ll make corrections.

Sweet, blessed apathy

It’s January, New Year’s resolution season, and a number of my coworkers have a diet pool going, with weekly weigh ins and a cash prize for the winner.  I’m moving to another office on Monday, and you would not believe the whining when a coworker brought in goodbye donuts.

The best thing about this for me was the realization that I. Do. Not. Care. I don’t feel like maybe I should join in, or wonder what people will think about the lunch I’m eating.  It just rolled past like any other workplace chatter that I wasn’t interested in.  That all by itself is kind of freeing.

Trying to Rise from the Ashes

Wow, tonight sucked.  President-elect Donald Trump.  I’m not okay with this, and I don’t know how we as a nation are okay with this.  (I’m pretty sure that we as a nation aren’t actually, and that voter suppression played a huge role.)

It got me thinking about what I can do, in my little corner of the universe, to make things better and brighter.  I’ve been meaning to set up a Patreon for some time.  I have a full-time job, so it’s not about the cash, but about the emotional validation of someone liking my writing enough to pay money for it. (I kind of get that at my job, but they pay me more for my XML skills and my ability to beat Microsoft Office into submission than the quality of my prose.) And, it’s about raising money for good causes by doing the work I’m already doing—writing about fat acceptance and social justice from my geeky progressive Christian perspective.

So, if you feel inclined to toss a few bucks my way, I will happily accept them and pass them along to four awesome organizations:  Planned Parenthood, NAAFA, the Ali Forney Center, and the International Rescue Committee.  And, since looking out for women’s reproductive choices, fat people, LGBTQ youth, and refugees is the absolute opposite of Trump’s stated goals, it’s a nice little protest against the soon-to-be Dumpster Fire-In Chief.

Some Thoughts on Gluttony

I’ve already mentioned that I get really tired of the conflation of having a fat body with the sin of gluttony. The times that I’ve seen gluttony addressed in a Christian, religious context, “fat” is usually used as a shorthand for gluttony, and eating in any way that doesn’t make you thin (or at least thinner) is viewed as sinful. Particular foods, specifically anything fatty or sugary, are also treated as innately sinful. (And that language carries over into secular discussions of food….sinful chocolate and virtuous salad.)

But I don’t think any act of eating can be sinful in a vacuum. I think there is such a thing as gluttony, but I think it has less to do with eating too many calories and more to do with selfishly taking from others or refusing to share.  And there’s an example of exactly what I’m talking about in Corinthians:

17But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

One interpretation of this that I’ve heard is that the communal meal was supposed to be a way of providing for those who didn’t have enough food. But, the wealthy church members who brought food that was supposed to be shared arrived first.  And rather than actually share, they ate early and finished off everything they’d brought. Then, when the day laborers arrived, after working a full day, there was nothing left for them to eat.

So, is eating a piece of chocolate cake sinful? Not inherently. If it’s the last piece of chocolate cake, and you don’t wait to see if everyone else in the house has had some, then I’d say yes. It’s not the food itself, but how it affects those around you.

I can think of a specific time when I was definitely guilty of gluttony.  We were gaming, and there was a bag of Swedish fish. Another player really liked them, and so the bag ended up by me, partly to rag on him and partly so he wouldn’t just eat them all.  Instead, *I* ended up eating most of the bag.  It wasn’t malicious, more a combination of needing something to do with my hands while the game was going on and unthinkingly eating the food that was in front of me because it was there. (I’m usually pretty good at stopping when I’m full, but I need to physically move the food away from me to do so.)

It’s kind of a silly example, and I’m not wracked with guilt or anything (though I probably will bring a bag of Swedish fish to the next game), but it shows the difference I think is important. It’s not eating that’s gluttonous, but eating more than you need in a way that takes away from other people.

Baby Diet Purgatory

TW: Dieting and intentional weight loss (no numbers or specifics)

I just spent the last couple weeks on a diet. Which, as committed as I am to FA, feels kind of like saying “Hey, I changed my voter registration to Republican, signed up for an atheist conference, and joined the Justin Bieber fan club.” I’ve been going through fertility treatments, and there’s an arbitrary BMI cut-off for intra-uterine insemination, which I was just barely under at the start of the last cycle.

Now, there may well be perfectly valid medical reasons to not want to do IUIs on patients over a certain weight or body fat percentage, but I stand by my statement that the cut-off is arbitrary because it’s BMI based, and that’s arbitrary by definition. The awesome (not really awesome) thing about these limits is that they encourage either doing risky or harmful things to make sure the weight comes off, or pulling tricks out of the high-school wrestler’s play book in order to “make weight.” (For example, I estimated that my hair weighs 2 ounces, and if I’d been close enough to the cut-off for that to matter, there was definitely a pixie cut in my future. And I was also planning on not eating or drinking the morning of the procedure.)

Fortunately, they *aren’t* actually going to weigh me the day of the procedure and pull the rug out from under me if I’ve gained weight. I wish I’d known that *before* I spent two weeks eating way too many salads and feeling lousy all the time, but I’m sure the weight loss I did get will look good to them. Yay, I’m pretending to be an obedient, compliant fat chick.

I have to say, it’s a very weird mental place to be on a diet, while thinking it’s complete BS. There’s an extent to which it’s easier, because I wasn’t shaming myself for being hungry or for “needing” to lose weight, but I also didn’t have all the warm fuzzies of a “positive lifestyle change.” I was actually a lot more successful in sticking to my plan than I’ve been on other diet attempts, which I mostly attribute to a mix of sheer stubbornness and a fixed end date. Kind of like that episode of Voyager where the holographic doctor is being an ass to everyone about their various complaints, and he gives himself a simulated illness to prove that they’re all a bunch of crybabies. He handles it just fine until he reaches what’s supposed to be the end time and he’s still sick. At which point, he loses it. And Kess tells him that she added a couple hours to the simulation because it’s not accurate if he knows when it will end. That was pretty much me on the diet. As long as I knew it was temporary, I could slog through.

And there was still that weird feeling of being “good” when I stepped on the scale and the number was lower, and the lingering thought that maybe I could keep this up indefinitely and lose significant weight. (Yeah, probably not.)

The one real positive of the experience was that giving up diet soda (out of concern that it would lead to more sugar cravings than just “no sweets ever” by itself) dramatically reduced my fibro pain. Note, there’s no scientific evidence that aspartame causes fibromyalgia pain or cutting it out fixes it, just some anecdotal evidence that some people report that it helps. (The third study gets serious side-eye for determining that “aspartame-induced fibromyalgia” is a thing that exists based on a sample size of *two.*) There’s also this one, which sounds like, oh, yes, MSG and aspartame totally cause fibro, but I also can only read the abstract, so I can’t tell if they did anything to rule out the nocebo effect.

I feel better, so I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to misrepresent it as some magical cure. Particularly since I’m definitely not “cured.” I still have random pain, and the trigger points are still very much an issue (and my cat Haley is awesome at jumping *right* onto them). But I haven’t had a bad pain day since I stopped drinking diet soda, so I’m going to call that a win. (I had heard the suggestion about cutting out artificial sweeteners for fibromyalgia, so it could totally be psychosomatic, but pain is largely subjective anyway, so what the heck.)

“All I want for Christmas is fat-shaming”—said no one ever.

Ragen has a new post up on combating holiday weight shame.   This is really timely for me, because I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with family members, a couple of whom have been all about the “fat=lazy/stupid” memes on Facebook lately.  To their credit, neither of them has given me personal grief about my weight in years, but the generalized comments are irksome all by themselves.

I will admit, fully and freely, to being oversensitive about other people’s crappy, thoughtless comments.  If someone makes a vague, general statement, and there’s a way for me to take it personally, I’m probably going to do just that.  That’s my own issue to work out, and not anybody else’s problem.  But at the same time, it’s also not my job to take comments that are explicitly nasty toward fat people in the best possible light, and jump straight to “Oh, they didn’t mean it in a *bad* way.” or “Oh, they think that way about fat people in *general* but I’m sure they make a special exception for me.” I’ve said before that I’m pretty convinced that if you’re an asshole online, you’re an asshole in “real life” too.  You may be an asshole with more tact in some situations than others, or an asshole with a good sense of what you can get away with, or an asshole who’s good at compartmentalizing, but that doesn’t make you not an asshole.

I’m still working on whether it’s worth saying something, privately, when people spew ugliness on Facebook that implicitly insults me. Commenting to the post itself is pointless; I’ve learned that many times.  In addition to immediately putting them on the defensive, it usually means you get a ration of crap from *their* friends too.

Fortunately, people tend to have better manners in face-to-face interactions than online ones, but not necessarily by much.  In Ragen’s post, she mentions a poll where 42% of people 18-24 would hesitate to tell a loved one they should lose weight, for fear that they’d hurt their feelings.  So, this means that 58% of 18-24 year-olds are sufficiently lacking in tact that they think unsolicited inexpert medical advice is not just acceptable, but that they’re doing the recipient a *favor.* Admittedly, they’re only believing what they’ve been told. They live in a culture that preaches 24/7 that fat is the worst thing ever, while simultaneously pretending that it’s possible to be fat in that same culture for ten minutes and somehow be unaware of it. They live in a culture where articles like the one Ragen cited can actually say ““if someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life” with a straight face.  Well, six different kinds of diets didn’t work, but now that you’ve *mentioned* it, that will magically make things better. You’re also totally the first person who’s ever told them this.  Sure, you are. You might be the first person who’s told them *today*, at least if they haven’t watched any television or flipped through a magazine.

I think the answer, online or off, is boundaries—what Ragen refers to as the Underpants Rule, where you accept that other people get to make decisions for their own lives, regardless of whether you like those decisions.  And, another thing people get to choose for themselves is what they’re willing to put up with. Frequently, if you actually enforce boundaries, people will back off.  They don’t necessarily mean to be rude; they’re just living in a culture that tells them that as long as they mean well and are “sensitive” (whatever that means) that giving you grief about your appearance is okay.

And the awesome thing about culture is that, as much as people are affected by it, they also create it. You can’t, all by yourself, rewrite the cultural narratives about fat, but you can add your own message into the mix. It’s not always much. Sometimes it’s like throwing pebbles into a huge lake, but the ripples do spread.

Flying While Fat

Today, Ragen Chastain posted a really excellent take-down of an Etiquette Hell piece arguing that if you don’t fit in a standard airplane seat, it’s your obligation to pay for a first-class seat or two seats to, as Ms. E-Hell puts it, “never presume I am entitled to more seat than I paid for and if any body part of mine has the potential to spill over into someone else’s purchased space, I need to make sure I pay for enough room to contain my body within the zone I “own”.”

Ragen covered the idea that it’s not any oppressed group’s job to be extra-special nice and accommodating to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. She also pointed out that it’s a pretty unreasonable expectation for someone to pay twice as much, or more, or just not travel, to avoid mildly inconveniencing someone else.

There are a couple other things I’d like to tack onto that. First off, the Etiquette Hell argument is based on the idea that you pay for a seat of a certain size. But seat size isn’t actually advertised when you order a ticket, at least not anywhere that I’ve seen. (I’ve flown Southwest, AirTran before it became part of Southwest, and Air Canada.) I checked Southwest just now, and there’s nothing in the flight info about seat size. If you look up flight info, you can get the plane type and then plug that info into SeatGuru to get a reasonable idea.

So, let’s say I try to be a super accommodating “good fatty” on my next trip. I determine that I need a 17.5 inch seat to fit without (oh horrors) touching the person next to me. Not wanting to pay double for first class, I make it a point to pick a flight that uses a plane with that seat width, even though that flight has a three-hour layover in Albequerque and requires me to leave the house at 4 AM. Except when I show up for the flight, it turns out that that particular plane is stuck in bad weather in Chicago, so my flight is on a different plane, with 17 inch seats. Oops. I already got up early and planned to sit around the airport for hours longer than I needed to. Do I owe it to my hypothetical seatmate to spring for an upgrade to first-class (if there are even seats available)?

Also, even if you were paying for space, it seems a little ridiculous to pay for 34 inches of space if you’re only using 18. And if you’re a thin adult, or a small child, you certainly don’t get a discount for all that space you’re not using. It’s not like there’s an option for people of size to pay twenty bucks extra to sit next to someone who’s a size 6 or less, and have that thin person pay twenty bucks less.

It’s even more apparent that you’re not really paying for a seat of a certain size when you realize that as the average person gets bigger, plane seats keep getting smaller. If airlines actually based their seat sizes on average body size, you might have an argument that people who are above that should pay more. But they don’t.

The other thing I think this piece misses is that there’s no consideration of who’s inconvenienced more in this scenario. Asking one person to undergo a major hardship to potentially save someone else some minor irritation just seems really unbalanced to me. Ms. E-Hell doesn’t say you should buy an extra seat if you encroach so much on the seat next to you that the other person is squished, or that you and them just plain will not fit. (That would be a much more reasonable position.) The standard is that if *any* part of your body is in the other seat by even a tiny bit, you should fly first-class or buy two seats. So, I’m supposed to pay double for a flight to spare someone else the horror of maybe brushing against my thigh? How about no. I get that some people are very touchy about their personal space, but maybe those folks should be the ones to pay for the extra space.