I had a very painful experience yesterday that I’d like to share. I thought about doing this privately, but I decided that it was worth talking about in public because my readers mostly come for a mix of queer issues, feminist, and human rights law, and you may not be aware of the insidious harms of body shaming and talk about the “obesity epidemic.” There is a slim chance that the person I’m telling this story about could read this article. I hope that if she does, she’ll understand that it’s not about her, and I’m not saying that I hate her as a person or that she’s a bad person. I don’t want to shame an individual here. I want to point out the context of her words, that we live in a society where vitriol like this is acceptable. For that reason I’m not saying who she is or how we met, just that she’s someone I know in a professional capacity.
So here’s what happened:
We got into a discussion about the “obesity epidemic,” where I was arguing that a lot of the public health messages about obesity harm more than they help, and that children shouldn’t be shamed into diet and exercise. Her position was very different, so I decided to disclose my personal history of eating disorders (probably EDNOS, I don’t really know how to categorize it yet) in hopes that my perspective might be one she hadn’t considered. It didn’t really do much good in the abstract, but eventually we got around to talking about the calorie signs that many big cities now require to be displayed in restaurants.
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You’ve probably heard the story of the straight man in Indiana who’s suing because a blood bank turned him away on account of “looking gay.” I don’t know that he’s a good poster child, but this case is a great illustration of how discrimination tosses logic out the window.
Numerous articles and posts have shown that the lifetime ban on men who’ve had sex with men makes no sense from a public health perspective. I’m very familiar with the FDA from my day job, and I’m convinced that it’s inertia pushing the decision to await further research, as other high-risk groups are subject to a one-year ban. This is a policy that’s a legacy of a gay panic, and it’s time for it to go.
I find it funny, in a sad way, that someone would be excluded for acting gay, a criteria that is obviously illogical for assessing HIV risk, under a policy that itself has no foundation in logic. Justifications boil down to “that’s just the way it is, and how it’s always been.”
Appearance and mannerisms often serve as a proxy for anti-gay or anti-trans discrimination because they are a visible marker of what makes the bigot uncomfortable. That’s why it’s crucial for non-discrimination legislation to address not only members of a group but those perceived as belonging to it. You shouldn’t have to claim an identity to be protected–bottom line, it’s wrong to discriminate against someone because of how they look or act. That’s equality 101.
Until a government agency offers a compelling reason to apply the laws differently based on someone’s queer identity, and to use appearance or perception as a judge of that identity, I’ll be opposed to this policy and others like it. There are logical, public safety-based ways to screen blood donors, and it’s time we relied on those alone. The FDA has offered no compelling state interest to justify this type of discrimination.
This question came up at work yesterday, in relation to an article on HPV and Gardasil. I felt kind of uncomfortable about the advice “limit your number of sexual partners” related to HPV prevention, because to me, it feels like a value judgement. But what’s the equivalent? My instinct is to say “have mature, open conversations about safer sex with all your partners, no matter their number.” But numbers-wise, this technique doesn’t achieve the same goal as reducing partners. HPV transmission isn’t fully prevented by the use of barriers, though they certainly help. It’s also hard to know whether you have HPV, because a lot of people do have it, and thus screening tests aren’t common under the age of 30. It doesn’t show up on a Pap smear. So technically speaking, limiting your number of partners is the most effective thing to do, in addition to practicing safe sex.
On the other hand, when it comes to something like HPV, I’m unsure what the risk/benefit calculus really is. For example, many women who have sex with women don’t use barriers because frankly, it’s a pain in the ass. It’s not a community standard, and STI risks are low enough that some people don’t think using a dental dam or gloves is really worth it. You might make a similar choice about HPV–I probably have it or have had it, it’ll probably clear up, what’s the big deal? Maybe this is more about stigmatizing STIs than anything. It’s all well and good to give advice for prevention, but maybe what’s more important advice than anything is “get tested after 30, look for lingering cases, have regular Pap smears in case an issue does show up before then.”
I’ve been in a bit of a mood about the latest “research” regarding obesity and being overweight. Cara does a good summary of the issues regarding the first study in question, which focuses on overweight women who think they’re normal. Because, of course, we all know overweight isn’t normal. And how dare you think you’re something you’re not. How dare you be bold enough to have a healthy, positive, loving view of your body in this woman-hating society. There’s something wrong with you.
The other study (which I can’t find the article on anymore, would someone link in the comments?) is an analysis of I think 19 different studies that finds an increased risk of death for people who are only slightly overweight. The study was done on white people only, and the indicator used was BMI, which we all know is pretty problematic. But what bothers me the most is the way it’s reported. Yet another “oh my God, you’re going to DIE if you’re fat!” article designed to evoke fear in the populous. Because plenty of people, of course, are “just a little overweight.” But you know what? Stepping out onto the street increases your risk of death. You might be hit by a bus. And while I’m skeptical of the study design, even putting that aside, the framing of the message is harmful to those who will read it and think “oh shit, I’m a little overweight, I might die sooner.” I’m guessing your reaction to that is less likely to be “hey, I should change my diet or exercise more!” and more likely to be, well, depression. Which can kill you.
So let’s stop striking the fear into the hearts of fat people and instead think about holistic health, which includes love and respect for your body, respect for how other people view their bodies, and not scaring the shit out of those who dare not to apply the tried and true formula of diet and exercise (or those who can’t).
There’s been a bit of radio silence here, as you may have noticed, though I’m still blogging fairly regularly with my ladies at the F-Wave. I wanted to break that silence, though, to make a comment on World AIDS Day.
Last year this time, I was on the floor of my apartment in Iowa City with my friend Rita, researching and creating a poster presentation to mark the day at our law school. I remember thinking as we did that presentation how many populations are affected by AIDS, and also how much AIDS is tied in with legal/political issues in various tangential arenas. Take a moment today to think about some of these, and add your own in the comments:
- Funding for development, both HIV/AIDS related and generally
- Laws that criminalize/penalize sex workers and those who work with them
- Sex education, especially focused on sexual violence prevention
- Marginalization of women of color and women generally worldwide
- Laws that keep HIV positive people and people living with AIDS from adequate health insurance coverage, work, travel, and giving blood
- Sodomy laws that make it difficult to work with men who have sex with men and provide proper prevention and treatment, as well as endangering unknowing wives
- The use of rape as a weapon of war in Darfur and elsewhere
As you probably know by now, today is World AIDS Day. There’s so many things I could talk about today – how governments discriminate against HIV-positive individuals, how homophobia jeopardizes healthcare, how numbers are inaccurate in many cases because risk categories are stigmatised, how AIDS funding by the US is linked to abstinence-only policies – but today you’ve already been inundated by words on this topic, so instead I’m going to share some pictures from my effort to commemorate the day. If anyone wants the documents that are on the posters, since they’re hard to read in the pictures, let me know and I can e-mail them.