I’ve noticed something lately and I’ve been ruminating on it for a while, but something that happened today brought it all bubbling up and made me decide I needed to express my thoughts to more than the inside of my head (which is a great place, don’t get me wrong, but does little to take these thoughts beyond the cavernous, echoing halls and hidden little hideaways and mental forts of solitude).
See, in case you aren’t already aware of this, I am a fat woman. Obese, large, fat. I make no attempt to hide that fact (and really? how could I?) I observe the world from inside this body. I observe the way the world treats this body and others like it (and yes, I mean the body and not me because mostly people only see my body and they never get down to actually noticing me so they act, react and treat my body a certain way, not me) and I notice a few things.
For one, where did this dichotomy come from where fat folk are yelled at to get off our lazy asses and work out, yet when we have the temerity to go to a gym and do just that, we get ridiculed and told to get off the machines and let people who really want to use them do it? We walk and get told to give it up, to go home and stuff our face, that we can’t be serious about weight loss or we’d be running. And gods forbid we should try running.
And yes, I’ve been told all of those things. I’ve had personal trainers tell me I was too fat to work out. I’ve had gym bunnies actually ask me to get off the elliptical I was working out on because “You’re going so slow you can’t be serious. Speed up or get off so the rest of us can use it.” I’ve also been told I shouldn’t sweat so much because it’s disgusting. (I mostly just blinked at her until she went away).
Now, it’s summer and I live in a second story apartment with no air conditioning. It gets HOT up in here. I also work from home, so I’m here all day in this heat. I don’t know if everyone knows this, but us fat folk? We tend to run a little to the hot side of things. My general clothing allowance on summer days is a sarong or shorts and a sports bra. Sometimes I even put on a swim suit and go down to the pool (shocking, I know).
My windows are open and fans circulate air and sometimes in the course of my day I walk past said windows and sliding glass door in my sarong or sports bra or swim suit. All my “naughty bits” (which…aren’t naughty in my opinion, but I think that’s a whole other blog entry) are covered. It is quite clear however that I am fat. My skin shows. My fat is obvious. But then….when isn’t it obvious? If I had no skin showing, would I somehow be less fat?
This afternoon, I actually had someone knock on my door to complain about me standing in the patio door in my shorts and sports bra. I had heard something outside and went to investigate, found two young kids (maybe 4 & 6) playing in the courtyard across from my apartment and stood to watch for a minute as their parents weren’t immediately noticeable (they were watching from the shade). All told, I was there maybe 5 minutes before going back about my business.
Let me pause here to mention that several hours later, my apartment is still 90 degrees and at the time of the door knocking was somewhere near 95. I was sweating. In my shorts and sports bra. Doing nothing but working at my computer.
Now, said door knocker was a woman in her thirties if I had to guess, five foot six or so, in a pair of shorts, tank top and sandals. I tell you this to explain that the only difference in our apparel was that hers covered her belly. Mine didn’t.
She started out polite enough and said that I shouldn’t be walking in front of my windows nearly naked. At this point, I knew it was going to be a longer conversation than I wanted to have through the door of the apartment, and I didn’t want the cats to get out, so I stepped into the hallway and pulled the door shut.
Apparently this was tantamount to scandal, that I would step out into the public fairway dressed as I was.She proceeded to tell me that I was “endangering the innocence of the children” who were playing in the courtyard (and who didn’t even have a clue I was there), and that if I didn’t put some clothes on, she was going to report me to the landlord.
I pointed out that my attire was perfectly acceptable for broadcast TV and that as such, no I wasn’t going to put more clothes on in the privacy of my own home OR just to respond to someone knocking on my door, but she was welcome to report me if she thought it necessary, however if the landlord actually said anything to me I would start going to the gym and mailbox dressed this way, and have my lunch on my balcony dressed this way, because how I dress and how I present myself in public is none of her business.
I don’t know this woman. I watched when she left and she went to one of the apartments across the courtyard, but I’ve never met her before. But I know this, it wasn’t the amount of fabric on my body that was the problem, it was the amount of fat she could see.
If it is perfectly acceptable for skinny women to cavort around on a beach in a thong bikini that disappears up their ass and they have to get a special wax job to not show off their pubic hair (another societal hang up that baffles me….it’s body hair people, no matter where it’s growing, it’s nothing to be ashamed of) and where the top barely covers their nipples, then it is perfectly acceptable for me to be seen in my shorts and sports bra.
I’m fat. I came to terms with that a long time ago. I work out. I try to eat healthy. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I will not put on more clothes and live my life a sweaty, sweaty mess just because someone is afraid of my fat.
I am not just my body. I refuse to allow anyone to continue to act as though I am. I am a strong, beautiful, talented woman who has lived in this body for 45 years. If you can’t handle that, keep it to yourself, I’m not interested.
I’ve been watching this roll out in the media and social media around me. I have read with horror and empathy as women expounded on their harrowing tales with sexual assault and sexual intimidation, watched as every man who dared to speak up and say, “hey wait, I’m not that guy” got lambasted for his privilege and his obvious inability to “get it” and I’ve wondered what in the world I’ve done wrong in my life that I didn’t feel the way these women do.
Let me be clear. I am a cis-gender woman, complete with big breasts. I have never in my life felt as though my life or my body were in danger due to the proximity of a male of the species. When a guy uses sexual aggression in a social situation I reward him by telling him he’s an asshole and walking away. When a guy tries to talk down to me or expect me not to know something because I have boobs, I show him what I do know.
Am I naive to behave as though people are people? Am I wrong to believe that people can rise above the social programming in individual interactions?
Or possibly worse, does my thinking that way, does my behaving that way, in some small measure help perpetuate the very culture where rape is seen as common place and our girls are perpetually taught to protect themselves rather than our boys being taught not to rape?
These are the questions that have been rolling around in my head this past week. One thing I know for certain, my treating men like grown adults who know how to behave even with a penis and a set of balls is never going to END rape. There will always be situations and individuals and we won’t ever stop it completely. And YES, we need to have consistent and strict punishment for those caught and convicted. And YES, women, it does fall largely to us to not be stupid.
I’m reminded of a young man I knew in high school. He was something of a hellion. He was known for being disrespectful, getting into fights, causing trouble. I became friends with him. I made it clear with my behavior that his behavior was unacceptable. Very quickly when he was with me he was respectful, even chivalrous. He controlled his words, he spoke to me about the reasons he was angry or hurt…by the time I’d known him a year, he was a different young man. He was getting better grades, he was making friends. My expectations changed how he behaved.
Since then, I’ve applied this principle with others, both male and female. Most of the time it has positive results.Sometimes it fails, but I guess that helps me remember I am human. In every instance though two things were constant: I EXPECTED and made my expectations clear, a certain model of behavior and I loved unconditionally, even when the behavior wasn’t modeled.
Nothing I’m saying is a solution. I don’t know how to fix what is wrong in a society where men feel justified killing a woman who won’t have sex with them, or where rapists are told “don’t do that again” and let out into society simply because their victim was their wife. I don’t know how to help every woman feel secure in her own body, in her own sexuality.
I’m not sure I actually have a point except to point out that #yeseverywoman isn’t exactly true….because most of what I see being posted under the hashtag doesn’t apply to me. And yeah, I’m a big fat woman, and I’m usually the person my girlfriends use as their “safety” when we’re out and some guy gets ideas that make them uncomfortable (by which I mean, they sit in my lap and kiss me and make it clear I’m their girlfriend so the guy gets the idea…which is probably not the “right” way to handle that, but how do we even fold that into this conversation?).
So, am I somehow privileged because I don’t feel threatened by every guy I pass on the street, every dick in a bar thinking with his little head? Or is it because I don’t find myself desirable enough to be aware of the threat they pose? Or is it maybe that I haven’t yet experienced any overt sexual aggression? Or am I oblivious?
I honestly don’t know. I just don’t know.
*I preface this by saying that I posted part of this to facebook today so sorry if it’s a repeat for anyone*
I have an amazing job doing something I love for a company that I am truly proud to be a part of. Most of the time, I get to work from home. I go into the office once or twice a week most weeks. Some weeks, like this one, I’m there more often. We have two office spaces actually right now, one around the corner from the other.
Both are in the financial district of San Francisco, not far from Union Square. It’s the kind of area where you can’t really buy lunch, even a simple salad, for less than $10. The stores are all the kind that don’t know that fat people or poor people exist. The office space I work out of is positioned in the slightly less posh (of the two locations) area. Our neighbors are Walgreens on one side and a brand new Good Vibrations on the other, with a Kinko’s and a Chipotle rounding out the block.
Step around the corner and head up to the other office though and it’s like entering a world I have never understood, nor been a part of. By day, it’s a bustling shopping district for the well to do. Walk the block and a half from the corner and you will pass stores for H&M, Dior, Prada, Coach, Burberry. Across the street is Brooks Brothers and Cartier.
When I’m working in that second office, particularly when I am going to be over there all day, I walk up Post St in the very early morning hours and I’m struck by the profound dichotomy that is a daily part of this area.
I’m usually walking to the office from BART somewhere between 5:30 and 6 am, when all of the stores are still tightly shut against the night, their eyes closed to the dark world that exists on that same street, even in their own doorways, once the sun goes down.
The homeless make themselves temporary shelters in the alcoves and doorways, beds made of cardboard rummaged out of trash cans to soften the concrete, sometimes cardboard as their only blanket, or as a makeshift wall to offer them the illusion of privacy.
As I’m walking up that street, they are waking, pulling themselves up out of whatever dreams find them in such a harsh bed, gathering their belongings and dragging themselves up into the slowly growing light of day, to disappear with the light. Some might position themselves strategically to beg for a bit of food or a few dollars from the commuters just beginning to move about the city, some shuffle off to try to get a day’s work or to check on friends, or to aimlessly wander, never staying in one place too long so that they aren’t rousted by angry shopkeepers or hassled by police called in by people nervous about their own safety without ever giving thought to the safety of those who sleep on the streets.
People tell me that the homeless are lazy, that they’re dangerous, that they choose to be on the streets…and all of that may be true for some. I hear about people trying to pass laws to take away their right to own “things” or to sleep or gather in certain places and I can’t understand the mentality. With so much waste in this country it seems ludicrous that we should have a significant homeless population at all.
We have houses sitting empty, office buildings with no one in them, abandoned malls and military bases. Imagine if we took one empty mall, used cubicle partitions to section off small spaces for one person, slightly bigger spaces for families…a space that they could call their own, a space that is warm and dry and safe. Imagine if we put in showers. Imagine if we used one of the stores to set up a clothing “store” where stores and manufacturers could drop off items they might otherwise throw out, and average citizens could drop off items they no longer want and we put the homeless to work sorting and stacking/folding/hanging/”selling” those articles of clothing. And imagine another one where we did the same thing with food and other necessities. Imagine if the residents could earn “coin” through other jobs like cleaning the compound, or taking classes to learn new skills and could spend that “coin” in the clothing store to improve their wardrobe? Imagine if those classes were taught by people volunteering in a “class room” we built in one of the stores.
Imagine someone who tonight is sleeping in a cardboard bed in the doorway of the Prada store walks into a job interview in six months in clothes they earned, with skills they learned because someone turned a vacant property into a place where hope is born.
Today is Beltane, the Pagan holiday of fertility and creativity. It is a day for planting seeds and giving them what they need to grow. Today, this is my seed. This is what I want to see come to fruition. I can’t make it happen on my own. I don’t have the money or property to do it. I have the ideas. I have the ability to write up ideas, to flesh out rules, to help plan and even to help implement…so, I’m planting this seed here. May the fertile ground of the internet see it to fruition. May Yule find a pregnant promise ready to birth change.
I am not easy to love tonight
my curves are sharp,
my song a razor
you don’t want to get too close
the wheels are spinning tonight
if you catch me
you might bleed
the scars crack open
skin to skin
jagged edges rip
don’t touch me now
don’t touch me there
pain in silence screeches
of deserted walls and windows
I’m not home
I’m not there
there is no home tonight
there is no safe place
smoke obscures the danger
I can’t breathe
put away your nice words
I have spoken in this space before about what it’s like to deal with agoraphobia, and how I fight to keep it from keeping me from the things that I love. This weekend, I drove down to LA with a friend to catch a band playing in a bar, which is fairly standard for me. If you know me at all, you know I love music, and I love live music even more.
In fact, live music is one of the things that keeps me battling my phobia.
My anxiety level pre-gig is often in direct proportion to how much I love the band or artist, and affected by how well I know the venue. Of course a lot of little things go into that last part of the equation. Have I been to the venue before? Was it a good experience? Do I know where exits and hiding spots are? Do I know the staff? Do they have pictures online that give a good sense of the space? And on and on.
This weekend we were going to be at a brand new venue for me that I couldn’t get a lot of pictures for online. The ones I did find didn’t give me a lot of confidence that I was going to be able to handle it. The band was Louden Swain, fronted by actor Rob Benedict. I’ve seen them a few times. The friend I was traveling with is friends with the drummer.
Once I was sure that we were, in fact going, this is basically the way my head worked:
8am: I don’t really need to go. I mean, I have other things to do. We have time to cancel reservations
9am: Oh, hey, Louden Swain in my ears. I like that. Right! I can see them this weekend.
3pm: *looks up bar online* oo….I’m not so sure about that. Maybe I’ll talk to her about it. (I won’t but I think it anyway)
6pm: *makes packing list*
10am: Oh, shit I need to pack. All the packing, why haven’t I packed? Where is my Xanax? When did I need it last? Will I need it? *remembers bar website* oh, yes, yes,…need the Xanax, find the Xanax.
2pm: I can’t. *distracts from packing thoughts with work and tv and food*
10m: Holy fucking shit I didn’t pack.
5am: I shouldn’t go. I’m not going. People. Crowds. Judgy judgy people. Panic. *heart speeds up* Stop, focus, go to work.
8am: “What are you doing this weekend?” MUSIC! ALL THE MUSIC! LOVE THE MUSIC! converstaion ensues.
4pm: If I’m doing this I really need to pack the stuff. What should I wear? I don’t have anything to wear. No clothes. I can’t go.
6pm: Okay, I’m packed. Security blanket (my camera) is read to go.
7pm: What? Wait. No. No. *panic over doors* calm down. *panic over space* calm down *panic over people crowding me* *panic over back and knee pain* *panic over nothing at all*
10pm: Attempt to sleep while scenarios run through my head, including things like getting stabbed in the crowd and no one knowing, having the bouncer take my camera away, having my friend disappear, getting lost and unable to get out of the crowd, and on and on….
5am: *wake up from nightmare about being crushed by people* Try to convince cat it’s still sleepy time. Try to convince myself it’s still sleeping time.
6am: Give up and get up, repack everything. Drink coffee. Try to ignore the growing, gnawing fear by poking about online.
8am: Leave the house. Stop for gas. Nearly turn around and go home. Get back in the car and head to friend’s house.
9:30 am: Leave friend’s house and hit the round. Drown out screaming fear with conversation about ALL THE THINGS
4:30pm: Find the motel after missing it the first time. Spend considerable time with Friend is prepping telling self to calm the fuck down. Take Xanax. Prep myself while inside I’m SCREAMING that I’m going to die. Resist the urge to speed friend up. Tell the inner voice that we’ll get to the club plenty early. Reassure self that if we can’t handle it we don’t have to stay.
5pm: Leave hotel to go find food. Eat dinner at little burger joint. Swallow panic repeatedly. Swallow the desire to run, to leave too early. Stay calm, eat food. Conversate. Try not to look like a complete spaz. Think maybe possibly I’m pulling it off.
6:30ish pm: Arrive at the club. Get a glimpse inside. Wow, small. Wow, don’t see side door. Okay, stage is good. Okay…Okay…breathe, breathe….it’s not much different than Dante’s. You can do this. It’s okay. Holy fuck someone is between me and the door. Holy fuck, no, okay moving. Moving. Sorry friend. Must door. Okay, better.
7ish pm: Bouncer sets up, gives us chairs. Is friendly. We like Bouncer. Bouncer is our friend. Okay, calming down a little. Oh look, it’s boys we know. stand up, say hi. Remember why I do this. Smile, make talking happen. Get hugs. Go back to sitting.
7:15: Must look important, as various band members keep asking us questions when Bouncer isn’t there. Heart thundering, but panic in check.
7:45 ish: Band members stop to talk. Panic! New people I don’t know talking to me! Panic! Panic! Oh, wait, I know this. I can talk about music with you. Yes, music is good. We like music. Calming down now. Oh, friendly new band people GET my problem and talk intelligently about anxiety and agoraphobia and what it takes for me to do this stuff.
8 ish: Doors in a second, Bouncer is amazing. Anxiety shifts from the whole “what if” part of the problem into the “focus, concentrate, one step at a time, breathe, say hello, don’t freak out, she’s not touching you, you’re okay” part of the situation. Get to the stage. Calm down setting up camera and lenses. Go get drinks. It’s okay. Not too crowded. Can handle this.
Sometime after that: Lead singer of first band comes on stage, starts talking to everyone. Is clearly drunk. I’m okay, I’m okay….It’s okay. Breathe. Friend is right here. Friend is good. More people start coming in. I can FEEL them. they’re behind me. I know they are. Okay, Okay, band is starting. Pick up camera. Do the work of pictures. Panic recedes some.
Band is done, holy fuck, holy fuck. People. All the people. So close. Friend. Friend please help. Friend talks to folks directly behind and beside. Oh look, boys on the stage. Make faces at boys and toy with camera. Ignore the SCREAMING PANIC.
*ALARM ALARM ALARMALARMALARMALARM* Personal space invaded, someone yelling! Someone touching! React by pulling forward, someone moves with me… Stage pressed to stomach, person touching my back. FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK. See Rob laugh about the time I’m read to elbow into whatever soft tissue I can find, turn my head enough to realize that the person shoving me into full on panic attack is Richard Speight Jr. Manage to NOT punch him in the nuts.
*HOLD STAGE UNTIL HE GOES AWAY* Breathe, breathe, breathe. fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck I love you, go away. go away, go away….okay, okay, he’s gone. Okay. Drink, try to focus. TAKE MORE XANAX. No, it’s okay, I’m calm. I can function. Fuck! Who’s touching me now? Drunk woman making sure I’m okay. Telling me she understands. Will not stop touch my back and arm. STOP! GO AWAY! the music can start any time now boys, I am going to end up hiding if you don’t hurry up.
Form words “please stop touching me.” Drunk woman says okay. Breathe…I can do this. Breathe. Oh shit, she’s doing it again. Step away. Yes, take the Xanax. Make the words, “I really need to you stop touching me. It’s making it worse.”
Oh, music stuff. We like music. Lift the camera. Work, work, work. Rob’s smile is nice. Calming down, focus. This right here. This moment, when the music is coursing through me and the crowd disappears and it’s me and the music, the band and the camera….this is why. This is the reason I endure the rest of it.
There was a moment when Andrew, the lead singer of the band Virgil who had spoken with us outside, came by to make sure I was doing okay. Friend mostly handled it, because to look back at him might have set me off again, but I acknowledged him and was more grateful than I probably expressed. (You have a new fan for life, Andrew. Just so you know.)
When Louden Swain’s set was done, I really wanted to catch the next act, because those were the boys that stopped out front and talked to us, but my back and knee were very done with standing, so we went and found a place to sit down so we could rest, I’d be out of the crowd and we could catch their music.
I had a few moments of panic even then, but with far less obvious sparks. Friend went to talk to folks, sudden panic. Went to the bathroom, sudden panic. By that point it doesn’t have to make sense. It just is. And you just take each little flair as it comes, breathe through it if you can, or escape if you have to. When Virgil’s set was done, I was wrung out and really wasn’t sure I even had it in me to get out the front door with the crowd, but we managed, and headed back to our hotel.
It’s hard to explain how exhausted I am after a gig. It isn’t a physical exhaustion. Usually, physically I’m still hyped. Music moves me physically as well as emotionally and mentally. But mentally and emotionally, I’m wrung out. There are times I even end up sounding like I’m on drugs, I can make no sense, I can tell stories about stuff that never happened. I can fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.
It’s also hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to *see* it. I hide it very well. I have a “coping” face. Most people who saw me Saturday night didn’t see any of that. Even Friend, who knows me very well, doesn’t see it all. She reads my tiny facial clues well, and it’s fair to say that if she hadn’t recognized Richard at the same time I did, she would have jumped in as well. But by and large, it isn’t anything visible…and if it IS visible, I’m probably about one failed intake of air from a complete catatonic state.
Just in case you ever wanted to know what it’s like inside my head…
I posted this to my photography blog today. Thought I’d share it here too for folks who haven’t seen that blog.
Originally posted on A Long, Slow Stroll Around the World:
Somewhere back in late 2006 or early 2007 I had the good fortune to have someone send me a mix CD of music that would one day change my life. It didn’t hit right away, as I had put out a call for new music and had received a LOT of it. I worked my way through MP3s and CDs and even cassette tapes, picking out voices, sounds. And then I came to this one.
Out of the 12 or so songs on the CD, only one of them was destined to change everything. It was a simple, live recording of a man with a guitar, his voice a little rough but with a quality that told me it wasn’t always like that, the song different enough to grab my attention, lyrics that stayed with me even after just one listen. It was called, “Pinata Novia.”
I eventually found out…
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I was in the post office on my lunch break to send out some books. While standing in line because there was only one person working the counter, I overheard two men in business suits behind me griping about their morning BART commute.
These two men were late twenties, possibly early thirties, well dressed and well groomed. They looked like nice young men.
The taller of the two was complaining because he was made to feel guilty by other people on the car and relinquish his seat (the ones supposed to be reserved for handicapped and pregnant women) when three women got on. In his own words, the train was packed. He’d gotten on the train in Fremont, so he was lucky, he had his pick of seats. “I always sit by the door so I can get out before all the slow idiots can get in the way,” he said.
He went on to tell his buddy that these three fat chicks on crutches get on and all of a sudden everyone is telling him to get up and let them sit down. He wasn’t going to, he said, but people were getting angry. So, gave up the seat and went to stand by the door.
“They should have a rule like the do with bikes,” the buddy said. “You know, you can’t get on a crowded car if you have like a wheelchair or too much luggage or crutches and canes and shit.”
Now, by this point, I was a little perturbed. As a fat chick who is sometimes in need of a cane, and who can stand on the train, but it will mean back pain for days, and someone who has asked an able bodied young man to give up his seat for me, I was exactly the person they were talking about.
I probably would have let it go and not said anything, but then the tall one said, “I know. This one got off at my stop and couldn’t even walk right. Bitch blocked the whole escalator. Screamed like a crazy person when her crutches got hit by some hot chick’s suitcase.” And they both laughed.
By this point other people in line were acting uncomfortable. I knew I shouldn’t even open my mouth, but I was furious. I turned and very quietly said, “I hope that you never find yourself permanently injured and at the mercy of someone like you for the very small kindness of a seat on a train. I am willing to bet any one of those women on crutches would gladly give up their injury and stand so that your able, strong body could continue to exhibit the laziness of someone who has never had to really work. And while I’m at it, I hope that sugar-laden coffee and fat-soaked donut in your hand don’t settle around your waist to be joined by all the rest of bad food choices you’ve made in your life turning you into a fat asshole that young lazy assholes like you make fun of because of their own insecurity.”
They both stared at me for a second. The tall one called me fat bitch. I smiled. “Yes, I am fat and I can be a bitch. But I’m okay with that, and I don’t need or want your opinion of how I look.”
At which point, it was my turn to go to the counter and mail my packages. I doubt they’ll learn anything by my diatribe. But maybe….just maybe….