I come to this page with absolutely no idea how to say what I want to say. But I’m here, and I’m gonna try.
First: let me stop assuming that everyone who comes across my work is familiar with my backstory. I’ve realized of late that I write as if the reader has been on this journey with me; I make vague allusions to events but never really flesh them out except in my own head. To describe the journey I’ve been on for the past 9 years will require a lot more context than I’ve been inclined to provide in the past. This will be long, but maybe, satisfying. And aren’t those the best?
Second: let me stop being flip like I was right there. This is silt churning, catharsis. It needs a delicate hand and mind.
I’ve been “political” since I was a young femme. I first got into environmentalism when I was about six. I was heavy into whales and other sea life, and I loved plants and nature and nonhuman animals in general. (I loved human animals too, but I’m trying to highlight that humans are also just animals!) The ozone layer crisis (this was the early-to-mid 1980s) worried the hell out of me and I made my mom buy non-CFC hair spray that she hated because it took so long to wind up. I also put a brick in our toilet tank that I’m pretty sure was still there when we left that apartment.
I ended up starting an environmental club at school, and we brainstormed on what we could do to save the planet with our elementary selves. There was a bad drought here in California at the time and my mom’s bank was giving away these envelopes filled with stuff like water-storing crystals for plant soil and pink food coloring tablets to drop in your toilet so you’d know if it was running and wasting water. I took a TON of them (because no one was taking them anyway) and we handed them out on the street.
My awakening to other issues that impacted my identity took place in popcorn fashion: staggered, bursting into view. At eleven I read about riot grrrl through the Prodigy message boards, and I became a feminist. At thirteen I began learning about Black liberation struggle and our African heritage; and at fifteen I admitted to myself (and my mother) that I was queer. I had been fat, to various degrees, since I was six or so, but didn’t connect the way I was treated because of it to any larger oppression until I was around fifteen as well, because it was around this time that I circled back around to riot grrrl and feminism. Riot grrrl led me to punk, which exposed me to anticapitalist ideas (but it wasn’t until this year that I actually read Marx).
(It should be noted here, that troubling these upper layers of ideology was a dark undercurrent of “pathology”. When I was eight I was raped by an older classmate, and became a survivor. When I was fourteen I attempted suicide for the first time, and became a survivor of a different type. I found feminism for the first time because of my experience with rape, and I found it again because of my experience with craziness.)
Riot grrrl and punk were kind of tarnished for me in the late 90s and early 2000s, around the time I was awakened to trans folks’ struggles. I made a really precious friendship during that period with a white trans woman who had some questions on race and who offered to answer my questions about gender in exchange. I’m still friends with her and I am so appreciative for that experiential skill-share. She and other queer and trans friends of mine were involved in the Camp Trans protests of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival because of their “womyn-born-womyn” policy. They would go around to different artists’ shows who played MWMF and draw attention to the issue. I was still recovering from my second suicide attempt and in some intensive therapy to process a second rape that was inflicted on me in 1999, so I was never able to participate in the protests (and I still feel shitty about it). But I stopped buying the music of all the bands that supported MichFest, which included one of my favorite bands at the time: Le Tigre. Hence my disillusionment with riot grrrl; Kathleen Hanna was a real idol of mine when I was a teenager and seeing her support a space that deemed my friends unwelcome hit me hard.
By the time I was twenty-five (2005) I had finished intensive trauma processing and was looking ready to enter the workforce (again, after a brief stint from nineteen to twenty). Once I entered the workforce again, my politics started to slowly bleed out the window. The more it looked like I was going to be able to be a productive member of society, maybe be able to have a career and an investment portfolio or whatever, the less I cared about radical shit. I never became a conservative or anything, but I definitely was trying to be normative. I was trying to fit in with the folks at my office, who were all obsessed with the milestones of life, with meeting societal expectations, but they didn’t know it. And neither did I, because my political awareness never actually ran that deep. I hadn’t made all the connections. I hadn’t rooted my understanding of these systems and their impact inside myself. I still thought that if I just tried hard enough, I could overcome. Because I was exceptional. Or at least, I could be, if I got my shit together.
I lived in this way for about four years, striving, considering myself middle class, considering myself on my way to something: acceptability, or respectability, or maybe even prosperity. But my body began to protest again, straining under the pressure of normality, a reminder. In 2008 I had a reproductive health scare and a lot of associated pain; in March of 2009 a doctor’s negligence in not treating my hypothyroidism led to my gallbladder needing to be removed. To top it off, I was laid off from my job a few months later.
And then, because disruption loves to cluster, my marriage unraveled. I was left alone with myself and what I had accepted as my life. That pain catalyzed me to really begin the work of decolonizing my mind. In response to years of repression, I spent a few summers on unemployment being queer and fat and Black and loving it. I also started to reconsider a lot of things about myself, starting with the origin story of my crazy. I still wasn’t making the deep connections yet, though. I acted as if I loved myself, as if I had begun to fully embrace all of my being, but that was just the confidence of others flaking off onto me. Once I was still and alone, I didn’t really know who I was.
(A year or so after my ex left is also when I started withdrawing from all the psych meds I had been on. Having been unemployed for a couple years, and coming into a full realization of how fucked the health insurance system in the U.S. is, I was really worried about being so dependent on it. Meds aren’t cheap, and the doctor visits to refill the meds are even more expensive. Plus, I disputed that I actually needed them, to be honest. Part of my newly reborn radical consciousness thought my craziness was a product of the meds, and that I didn’t have any debilitating problems before that. That’s not the case, but I’ve already talked about that elsewhere.)
The generosity of the government started to run out, so I folded myself back into acceptability and went back to work. I was eating well because I was trying to support my body through the withdrawal, and my mom had gotten breast cancer so we both went vegan together. As a result of these changes (and my increased activity level because I took a lot of walks to quell boredom at work), I lost a bunch of weight from 2012-2013. I also met my current partner. In spring of 2014, I went back to college for computer science. Again, I was sure I was on my way to something. It wasn’t as much about respectability this time, but it was definitely about prosperity. I really thought I was going to be financially stable, wealthy even.
Nah. I just got laid off again. And I got pregnant, and got awful all-day morning sickness that made me drop another twenty pounds. By the time I got an abortion, I weighed as much as last I did when I was ten years old. So that was wild.
(I think, though, that getting laid off that time was the last boot out of respectability I’m gonna take. I’m really not trying to go back.)
I ended up going back to school full time after that and that’s where I’ve been since. I now live with my partner in an apartment, because the big house my mom and I got went into foreclosure and we had to split. Having to actually manage a two person household, make sure rent and lights are paid, etc. has definitely radicalized me. There’s so much I probably knew was bullshit, but didn’t have to navigate until the last 3 years. Going back to school also helped me make more connections and understand how oppressions are related and perpetuated in a much more native way. And, honestly, this motherfucker who is currently President of the U.S. made me realize a few things about how useless civility and conflict avoidance are, and how norms are kind of bullshit. (I wanna write about that, but later.)
What brought all this up for me was that recently I started wearing sleeveless stuff again. Before this summer, I hadn’t worn anything sleeveless since 2011 or so. Back then I was writing about fat a lot, which led to me hanging out with a lot of amazing fat femmes. I felt bolstered by their beauty, and like I said before, their confidence was contagious. If you asked me in 2011 why I was wearing sleeveless shirts I’m sure I would have answered with something that was proudly body-positive, something quotable. It was a veneer, because I didn’t really know in my soul why. I’ve worked so long and hard to subjugate this body and contort it into proportions that society deems appropriate. I’ve done it as a punishment for my perceived fault in being raped, I’ve done it as a form of self-harm in order to soothe, and I’ve done it under the guise of health. Why would I not consent to hiding the evidence of my failure?
I told myself it was because my the skin on my arms is all wrinkly and crepey and hanging now since losing and regaining so much weight. I told myself I should have learned to love myself earlier so I wouldn’t have fucked up my skin with dieting. I told myself all the things that would convince me that this was my problem, that it was my fault, and I should take the L and wrap up my arms and probably my whole body and also just drop off the face of the planet because I was never meant to survive anyway.
But this summer is so fucking hot. And THAT is not totally my fault. In fact, I have spent my whole goddamned life ringing the alarm bell about environmental shit. That’s one thing I’ve never lost sight of. And the heat finally drove me to connect the dots and uncover my body again. I realized that if these capitalist motherfuckers are going to burn down the planet in their own quest for prosperity, I’m not going to consent to covering up my fat in this blinding heat, sweating it out in penance for not meeting a standard of beauty. That realization opened the literal floodgates. I’d already been spending the last year or so thinking about all the fuckshit I do to myself that makes my life worse in exchange for upholding the status quo. But my body hate and shame is deep rooted, entwined with shame about being a survivor of multiple rapes and assaults and as a result being sexually dysfunctional for the majority of my life, placing others’ pleasure and comfort ahead of my own. It took being off the meds for an extended time, I think, to catalyze this for me. Being able to think a bit more clearly, and also the benefit of age, has seared the connections between the way I treat myself and systems of oppression/social control into my mind. I can never go back.
Y’all, can I just say that I hope the rest of the world wakes up faster than I did? How I be around this stuff, writing about this stuff, but not actually knowing this stuff in the core of my being? I still, still don’t feel like I have this wholehearted embrace of every part of my body, but I am resolute in my intention to sit with my discomfort. I have a reason, now. I know why I’m doing this. I’m a child of god and I deserve to live my life without the fetters that humanity has laid on me. I am glorious, even if I can’t see it through the blinders of socialization into white supremacist capitalist imperialist cisheteropatriarchy.
I invite you to join me as I work through this process of self-reflection & transformation. Next up: breaking down my attitudes about my disabilities & divesting from a cure/control/contain model.