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Love Your Body Day: Complex Body Relationships

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival

As feminists share tips, stories, and body love today, I am pleased to see that some are also highlighting the negatives of the body-love imperative.  While fighting body-negative messages is crucial, it is important to recognize that the goal should be acceptance of others’ bodies, not unqualified love of one’s own.  For many people, including transgender, genderqueer, and intersect people, people with disabilities, people with a history of eating disorders, and those with a history of sexual assault, body love may not be a comfortable or appropriate goal.  It’s important to realize that for some of us, a body is an inconvenience or a hindrance, and that experience is just as valid as body-love.  

So what tips would I share on Love Your Body Day?

1.  Speak to others in a thoughtful, compassionate way about bodies.  Recognize that people’s relationships with their bodies vary widely and respect that.  Don’t speak in absolute terms or offer advice when it’s not wanted or needed.  For example, don’t sing the praises of exercise–many feel that while it’s wrong to criticize someone’s weight, exercise is right for everyone, and that simply isn’t true.

2.  Be gentle with yourself if you have difficulty with body-love.  Sometimes our bodies are disappointing.  They might not function how we’d like them to.  It might be hard to gain or lose weight.  We might have health problems we can’t control, or a body that doesn’t feel right for our gender.  If nurturing your body isn’t appropriate for you, try nurturing your mind or your spirit.  A lot of body issues are mental health issues, and it can help to have a safe space to talk those out, even if they aren’t “fixable.”

3) Look for and give support where you can.  It might be helpful to share experiences with others who have similar body issues.  This doesn’t have to be a formal support group–I’ve seen plenty of this on Twitter and Tumblr.

4) Think of ways to visualize yourself or express your creative spirit–this doesn’t necessarily have to involve your body.  For example, you might design an avatar or a work of art to represent you, make a spirit wall, practice creative visualization to envision yourself in some way other than the embodied, or use fashion to cover your body or make it less noticeable than what you’re displaying on it.

5) Assert your right (and others’) to take up space in a way that works for you.  It’s okay to say that your body fucking sucks.  You have a right to be sad, hurt, or angry.  Anyone who insists that you love your body, get over your issues, or make more of an effort to love yourself is practicing emotional abuse.  You have a right to inhabit physical space as well.  You have a right to accommodations that you need.  You have a right to say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable.  You have a right to tell others not to say things about your body that they think are positive, and not to touch your body.  These are all parts of bodily autonomy.

Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars: Again, We Need a Queer Movement

Recent debates on whether Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars is an appropriate viewing experience for children exemplify a dangerous conservative trend in the LGBT movement.  As in debate on same-sex marriage, queer activists find ourselves being ask to defend our simple humanity, backed into a corner where visible queerness is seen as a bad strategic move.

Again, I find myself using an example of a queer celebrity in the media to argue the necessity of a truly queer movement.  The more time we spend arguing that we are normal, “just like” our opponents, the further we get from our policy priorities.  When we allow hate groups to define the debate, they have already won.

How can we turn this disaster around? Refuse to engage by framing our position around being like our opponents.  We are not like bigots, homophobes, and transmisogynists.  We embrace diversity.  We fight with creativity and humor.  We shift the ground under gender stereotypes and we regularly fuck with patriarchy.  We don’t accept conservative arguments that dehumanize us and challenge our right to occupy our space.

We’re here, we’re queer.  Join us.

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] gmail.com.

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.

Review: Captive Genders

I received a review copy of Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (coming out this month from AK Press) at the perfect time.  I’ve been frustrated by the growing focus in recent months on two of the things I care least about when it comes to queer rights, the two things that the mainstream LGBT movement seems most adamant about: marriage and the military.  It’s impossible to get away from those two topics if you’re following LGBT news, but this book also turned my focus to another problem–that the most-covered “alternative” issues, those focused on individual rights, are still not the most important priority.  Employment and housing discrimination are important but they focus on the middle class.  Hate crimes are a problem, but the kneejerk response of hate crimes legislationtries to solve that problem by using the same harmful official system that terrorizes queer and trans people on a daily basis.

I would recommend this book to any activist, but especially to white, middle-class activists in the “LGBT movement.”  The pieces in this anthology encourage us to get away from the white, middle-class idea of “safety.”  Strong sentences for hate crimes don’t make us safer.  Nor do most of the priorities of LGBT rights organizations.  It is only from a privileged position that we can even believe that there might be a safe, mainstream, assimilated place to work and live.

Conservatives and moderates in the movement, and outside of it, want you to feel safe.  It’s another story of us versus them: it helps those who are disgusted by trans people of color, by poor queer youth, by public queer sexualities, to tug the most powerful and heavily funded segments of the LGBT population away into a zone of “safety” and assimilation.  Of course, many queer and trans people don’t have that luxury, and it’s foolish to think that any of us really do.  Queer and trans people in prison, juveniles in the child “welfare” system, immigrants, sex workers, the homeless, and other marginalized groups are often victims of a cruel and unusual system that targets minorities and encourages oppression.
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Transsexual Is Not a Sexual Orientation

One of the trickier things about queer movements, unsurprisingly, is finding the words to describe ourselves, our community, and those around us.  Words are incredibly important to many people in terms of self-definition and claiming membership in a community, but the words to describe gender and sexuality are often new and have different definitions depending on who you talk to.

One thing I just saw at work, though, in an interesting CDC report on health disparities, is a definite linguistic gaffe.

Although Healthy People 2010 specifies that health disparities include “differences that occur by gender, race or ethnicity, education or income, disability, geographic location, or sexual orientation,” only a limited number of regularly published national- or state-level health reports include information on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or heterosexual identity) as a demographic variable for comparison.

Since when is “transsexual” a sexual orientation?  There are some differences in opinion on the meaning of words like transsexual and transgendered, but I’m pretty sure most people commonly understand “sexual orientation” to relate in some way to sexual desire and/or sexual partners.  Trans* identities, on the other hand, refer to an individual’s gender identity.  Can we get this right, CDC?  It’s bad enough to lump “T” in with “LGB,” while simultaneously ignoring trans peoples’ needs and priorities.  But I think it’s even more egregious to suddenly refer to trans* as a sexual orientation, as if trans people didn’t have sexual orientations in addition to gender identity.  It’s part of a broader trend of ignoring the sex lives of trans people and assuming that a trans person’s identity is entirely constructed around hir gender identity/transition.  To me, it feels dehumanizing.

Gender and the Potential of Children

There’s been a lot about children and gender identity on my radar screen lately, from stores with gender-neutral children’s clothing to the media ridiculousness surrounding little Shiloh to the tragic murder of a 16-month-old little boy whose mother’s boyfriend didn’t think the infant was “man” enough.  I’ve also been tapping into my own inner-child potential as I try to resolve issues with depression and finding my gender identity.

Childhood, ideally, is all about play.  Children who are given safe spaces to exercise their curiosity and explore their surroundings as they grow up are more likely to be well-adjusted adults.  Adults, in fact, could learn something from children.  It’s amazing how a problem changes shape and how solutions present themselves when you take a step back and approach the problem with your imagination guns a blazin’.

And that’s the thing about childhood.  Imagination doesn’t do well with boxes.  It’s about exploring possibilities, playing, learning.  As we get older, society draws lines and we all learn where those lines lie.  We learn that boys do this and girls do this, and we learn behaviors that society considers “appropriate” to our gender.  And for those of us who don’t feel 100% comfortable with our gender, it may take years to unwrap those neat little packages we’ve been dressed up in and try to find who we are, independent of this thing called “gender.”  It may take a lot of play.

Blogging “Yes” Day 17: Violence in Queer Communities

It’s day seventeen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and today I read the short but gorgeously powerful essay entitled “Shame is the First Betrayer,” by Toni Amato.  It’s hard to know what to say about this essay, because it says so much in such a concise format.  It does really resonate, though, and is an important reminder of how violence creeps up in queer communities, with queer people not only as victims but as perpetrators.

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Roundup: First Blog Carnival on Privilege

Welcome to the First Blog Carnival on Privilege!  First, thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to this first round of the carnival.  I was excited to see all the different takes on privilege represented here, and the diversity of those who submitted.  You can see all the entries below the cut, and follow links through to read the complete posts.  I also want to announce that we will be having a second carnival, since this first round was so successful.  To give everyone plenty of time to think about submissions, the second carnival entries will be due Sunday, May 23rd.  The topic for the second carnival will be White Privilege, so start thinking about race and racism for your posts.  I would also accept posts for the second carnival that deal with other sorts of racial privilege, for example if you want to write about a community where one group is privileged based on the color of their skin, but that group isn’t “white,” that’s perfectly fine.  Submissions again can be e-mailed to judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com.  If we get a lot of submissions again, then I’ll probably switch over to a monthly format, and perhaps ask for other hosts for future carnivals.  Also, because this came up a couple of times in this round, I do prefer new posts, but if you want to submit an older post for a carnival and not rehash an issue, that’s also fine.

And now, on with the carnival!

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IDAHO

Yes, I know I’ve kind of abandoned ship lately.  But never fear, I shall return!  I only have a month left of law school so I’m hunkering down and then joyously returning to blogging.

That said, I really wanted to get a quickie out there for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is focusing on transphobia this year.  I thought this was particularly appropriate for me personally, because in the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about gender identity and am very thirsty at this point to learn more.

Though I was always conscious of the “T” in LGBT, I think I’ve spent a lot of time being at least partially transphobic, and very trans-ignorant.  The Global Arc of Justice conference really helped me understand how broad the fight for transgender rights is, though, and some personal acquaintances as well as some books I read helped clarify what gender identity is really about.  There are a lot of different ways to experience gender – it isn’t just male, female, FTM, or MTF.  Some people identify entirely as their “destination gender” after transition, and don’t want to be referred to in any other way.  Some identify strongly as transmen or transwomen.  Some prefer something more fluid, and don’t identify as trans but rather as genderqueer or something similar.  Some go from being a “straight male” to a lesbian, some from “straight female” to straight male, some stay bisexual or pansexual the whole way through.  Though I don’t think our society has very many set-in-stone stereotypes about gender identity, because we tend to simply cover up the variations, it’s definitely a bigger world than I initially thought, and it’s important to recognize these differences when thinking about discrimination, rights, and/or the law.

There have been some great steps in the law lately, perhaps most notably the House’s passage of the Matthew Shepard Act (c’mon, Senate!)  A lot of people think of this as a hate crimes bill to protect gay and lesbian people, and it does expand our protection, but actually we’ve already got a lot of it.  Trans and intersex folks have nada.  So this law would be a great step, but at the same time, there are a lot of things that need to happen that aren’t happening.  We need to educate ourselves about gender and not be afraid to discuss it, to ask questions, to teach our kids about different gender identities.  We need to educate law enforcement (big time).  And those of us who don’t really understand need to ask, read, educate ourselves, and become activists.  We also need to learn to listen.  I think a lot of people in the LGBT movement (myself being one) have a tendency to think we know what transpeople need (and intersex people, if we even consider their existence).  We lump transfolks into the gay rights movement and then get bitchy when they intrude on our women-only space.  I admit that when I first heard about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival incident, I was a little unsure about my opinion.  I wasn’t sure I wanted someone with a penis in a woman-only space, because I will freely admit that I hate and deeply fear the penis at this point in my life. But on the other hand, well, that’s my problem.  I need to get over it, or not show up.  We don’t have a right to identify as women if we’re going to exclude others who choose to do so.  My own acceptance is coming along slowly, and I appreciate any help from trans, intersex, and genderqueer folk who have advice or opinions, but I also know that it’s not your responsibility to fix my fuckups.  I think we all need to take responsibility for the discrimination and plain stupidity we’ve exercised in the past, and figure out how to do better in the future.  Hopefully this year’s IDAHO focus will be a strong first step.