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Radical Reading: Freeing Ourselves

The following is part of a new regular feature called Radical Reading, which will come out roughly once a month.  I’ll be reviewing books of particular interest to a queer, feminist, radical audience.  If you have a book that you would like me to review or would like to put me on the list of reviewers for your press, please contact me at judithavory [at]

Freeing Ourselves: A Guide to Health and Self Love for Brown Bois, put out by the Brown Boi Project, is a guide to healthy living unlike anything I’ve seen, but quite like guides I’ve imagined.

Focused on MoC (masculine-of-center) people of color, Freeing Ourselves is an accessible, engaging guide to overall health presented in a unique format.  The educational material is interspersed with powerful stories, poetry, and photographs that reflect a wide range of racial and gender identities.

The guide takes self as a starting point, and does an excellent job of framing self in a way that includes, rather than excludes.  It presents self-awareness as a way to fight back against the lack of medical knowledge or outright hostility that many MoC people face.

I particularly liked how this guide acknowledged right up front the way healthy masculinity is defined by the colonial oppressor.  I believe that one of the huge problems marginalized communities face in terms of health care is that racial identity, gender identity, and self-actualization are all problematized.  Medical transition, for example, isn’t available without the othering diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder.”  Women are framed as hysterical, black men as dangerous.  The medical establishment doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is part of an institutional framework that uses gender as a weapon.

When recognizing common threats in people’s lives, the guide lists common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety alongside structural problems like oppression and abuse.  This guide does the best job I’ve seen so far at acknowledging that structural harms and internal “illnesses” operate in similar and interconnected ways to bring a person down and threaten that person’s health.  It also acknowledges how Western society harms relationships and connections, encouraging men to compete rather than to embrace each other.

There are a number of practical tools and charts included, such as guidance on when to see a health care provider and information about the risk of STIs for different races and genders/sexualities.  The information about sexual and reproductive health is particularly useful, since many health care providers are completely unaware of safe sex practices and risks for non-heterosexual or non-cisgender people.  The information on STIs here is not only focused on penetration, for example.  There is plenty of helpful advice about gynecological exams for those who do not identify as female, and about the risk of breast/chest cancer.  In addition, this guide provides detailed information about transition and the different options available.

I also found the information about pregnancy and forming a family particularly to be done particularly well.  There aren’t any assumptions made about whether and how MoC people might want to form a family.  The guide acknowledges the creativity of individuals to form families in a multitude of ways, as well as providing information about pregnancy and birth options.

The last section, while perhaps not as focused on HAES as I am, did a pretty good job at acknowledging and accepting different body types.  The holistic approach to food and physical practice has a strong ayurvedic influence, with information about “cooling” and “warming” foods.  The suggestions for exercise are varied, though limited attention is paid to people with disabilities.  Finally, this section includes specific information about the physical effects of chest binding and explains STP (stand-to-pee) devices.

Overall, I would recommend this book for any MoC person of color who has been frustrated by the healthcare system.  I also think this book would be an excellent tool for providers, who often seem to be undereducated on some of this issues covered, and for gender non-conforming people generally.  As someone who is neither masculine or feminine of center, but rather a blob off there in the corner somewhere, I still found quite a bit in this guide that is relevant to me.  The guide is available from the Brown Boi Project on a sliding scale, with $20 being the value of the book itself and the rest going to the project as a tax-deductible donation.