Flying While Fat – American Airlines, 5/23/16

[Content Note: fat-shaming, anxiety]

This past weekend, I flew down to San Antonio, Texas, to attend the wedding of a friend. This friend was one of my fellow graduate teaching assistants the past two years, and I also get along really well with her now-husband, so I was really happy to be able to be there for them on their special day.

Flying is a very nerve-wracking experience for me. I try to avoid it if at all possible, not because I have any real fear of the act itself (on the contrary, I find planes fascinating and enjoy the feeling of weightlessness during take-off), but because I’m a fat woman who’s also 6′ tall.

Planes are not designed for me. In fact, the people who make planes basically refuse to believe I exist, or at least that I’m a person they want as a customer. This ranges from the extreme fat-shaming of Southwest Airlines (which will force you to pay for a second seat if you don’t fit into one) to the limited accommodation of JetBlue (which, despite having seats a few inches wider than most, still flies to and from only a few places, very few of them places I ever go). It doesn’t help that the majority of my weight is carried in my middle, with a pronounced belly and a very large butt, making it very difficult for me to sit in “normal-sized” chairs if they have arms, and requiring me to use a seat belt extender on every plane I go on. The seat belt extender is important, because it also prevents me from sitting in Exit Row seats, which most people know as the Tall People Preferred seats. However, according to most airlines, being fat is a disability. You see, people who are disabled aren’t allowed to sit in Exit Row seats, because anyone who sits in them has to be capable of opening the emergency door and inflating the slide, both of which require a certain amount of physical strength. But people who require seat belt extenders are automatically banned from Exit Row seats, because we obviously wouldn’t have the physical strength to open the door. Does anyone else smell something fishy here? I mean, it’s also true that children aren’t allowed in Exit Row seats (something that was also a problem for me as a kid, because at 12 I was already 5’8” and thus uncomfortable in normal coach seats), but I’ve seen short and skinny (read: not muscular) women sit in them with nary a peep from the flight attendants, perhaps because there’s almost always a big tall man in the row who could open the door for her. Do they think that my fatness will cause me to block the door like an over-inflated balloon when the regular people go to try and open it? I don’t fucking know, but it’s frustrating as hell.

When I have flown overseas, I’ve always borrowed money from family so I can buy a business-class ticket. This has nothing to do with being hoity-toity and everything to do with knowing that my sanity limit for sitting in a coach seat is a few hours at best. On a flight that lasts 8 hours, I need to be able to move. Even business-class seats hardly fit me, and I still need a seat belt extender, but I’m not crammed in like a sardine, and I especially am not seated next to a person who might glare at me because I edge into their space, even with the arm down. Since I’ve been overseas a grand total of three times (three round-trip tickets), and my family isn’t poor, this was a sustainable practice. But it’s not something I can do regularly, so when I booked my flights to Texas, I bought a coach seat through American Airlines.

I was really lucky on Friday with my two flights. The first one I was able to pull up the arm on the aisle side (I paid extra to reserve aisle seats on all four flights), and none of the flight attendants noticed or commented on it. On the second and longer flight, there was no one in the middle seat in my row, so I was able to spread my legs and pull up the arm to sit comfortably (although my legs still started to ache about an hour in). No one gave me disapproving looks or sighed when they saw I was seated next to them. I didn’t have to squeeze into too-small seats and be miserable. It was an ideal situation and a lucky break.

The wedding on Saturday was lovely, despite not knowing anyone aside from a few other friends from our university. The bride was radiant and beautiful and the speeches were funny and heartfelt. It was outdoors so I was a bit warm, but otherwise it was a lovely experience and I cried copiously (I cry very easily when I feel deep emotions). I was really glad I went and got to be part of the experience.

On Sunday I hung out with one of our mutual friends, as the newlyweds and our other friends had left that morning already. We had intended to do some exploring, but it was very hot so I ended up going back to my air-conditioned hotel while he did his own exploring, and we met back up for dinner at a really delicious Mexican restaurant (real Mexican, not Tex-Mex).

My flight on Monday didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I slept in until 10 am, got ready, checked out a bit after 11, went to a little breakfast place nearby to eat, then went to the airport several hours early to wait for my flight. The first leg was short and uneventful, I once again had an empty middle seat and was able to sit comfortably. The second leg was, unfortunately, a very bad experience. When I got to my seat, the row was full and it was clear that the guy next to me wasn’t going to pull the arm up. I managed to squeeze myself into the seat by sitting entirely on my right butt-cheek, with my legs slanted so my left heel jutted out into the aisle slightly. I asked the nearby flight attendant for the necessary seat belt extender, and she looked critically at my seat and said “are you going to be comfortable like that?” I grinned wryly and said “well, it’s life”, thinking maybe she had a solution, as flight attendants sometimes do. She then said “yes, but you aren’t going to be able to fly like that. You might have to make other arrangements” and she walked away. I sat petrified. I knew that I could be thrown off the plane simply for not fitting in the seat. I knew I could be refused service, even though I had bought a ticket and checked my bag at the gate. We were in Dallas, TX, and any other arrangements would require extra time and money that I simply couldn’t afford. I sat and waited for the hammer to drop, trying in vain to squeeze myself tighter, make my very large body smaller, just so I could suffer the two hour flight to get home. The flight attendant came back and said she might be able to pull the aisle arm up (which I had already tried and failed to do). I half-stood and she pulled it up and I looked at her with naked gratitude and said “thank you”.

I wish that was the end of the story. I wish I could say I had an uneventful rest of the flight. Instead, a few minutes later, a male flight attendant came back and told me that I would have to have the inside arm down for takeoff. I and the guy next to me looked confused, as it was down. The attendant called back to toward the female attendant I’d been so stupidly grateful to. “I thought you said there was a problem?” She pointed at the aisle and he realized that arm was the one that was raised. He said “I’m sorry, both have to be down for takeoff.” He said it loudly, so everyone around me turned to look. I smiled with embarrassment and pulled it down with a sharp jerk, cutting into my side. He nodded in approval and left. That was when I started to cry, silent, angry tears. The plane hadn’t even left the terminal, so I put my airplane mode back off and posted an angry status to Facebook about how humiliated I felt, typing through my tears. The people around me had quickly looked away after he left, but the damage had already been done. Everyone knew I was A Problem. My body wasn’t okay, and I didn’t deserve to be treated with respect.

The female flight attendant who’d acted so helpful before came and whispered “it’ll only be for takeoff, then I’ll come pull the arm back up for you”. I choked out a thanks, but I was so angry at her. She may have just been doing her job, as she saw it, but I’ve flown enough times and known enough sympathetic (and non-sympathetic) flight attendants to know, that she could’ve said nothing and it would’ve been fine. My fat body protruding half an inch into the aisle wasn’t going to throw the entire plane off balance. I’m practiced at the art of leaning out of the way in tight spaces, which I did every time someone or something came down the aisle for the rest of the flight. All I wanted was to go home with my dignity intact. But on top of alerting everyone that my body was A Problem, she spent the rest of the flight acting like she’d done me a huge favor by lifting that arm, instead of just being a decent human being. I spent the rest of the flight trying to read my Kindle, alternating between wanting to pretend I wasn’t there and being unable to concentrate on the book because I was so angry. It was only a few hours, but they felt like eternity. By the time the plane landed, all I wanted was to get off and try to forget it happened. It was almost 11 at night, I still had to get my luggage, then find my car and drive the hour home from the airport. I was stiff and I had bruises on my sides from where the arms cut into me. I was so relieved and tired by the time I got home at 1 am that I  fell into my bed and slept, after spared some time to cuddle my kitties, who had a lot to tell me about me being gone.

I live in a world that will not let me forget that my body is A Problem. Most of the time, I can protect myself from the worst of it. It’s pretty rare to be mooed or oinked at in the street, although it does happen. I’m not well-known enough online to draw the amount of hatred that most fat women bloggers do. I don’t go out to eat often, and I almost never go clothes shopping. When I do go out in public, I try to only go with friends, so the ever-present voice in my head is drowned out from telling me that everyone is looking, everyone is judging, everyone is watching you and disapproving of your fatness (and if you think that that voice is lying to me or overreacting, you’re only partially right).

Flying is one of the few times I actually feel endangered by fat shaming. Not of assault or physical violence, but a very real danger of being refused service, despite my existing reservation and money spent. A danger of being extorted, of experiencing both financial and emotional difficulties because of my body.

The reason for this is so I’ll feel ashamed of my fat body. So I’ll try my best to change it, through surgery, or dieting, or disordered eating, or exercise, or pills, because my body is the problem and it needs to be fixed.

What I actually feel is angry. Angry at the companies who shame me for not fitting in their tiny seats that were never meant to accommodate my body. Angry at the people who treat me like shit because they might have to sit next to me, rather than taking the airlines to task for making the seats too small in the first place. Angry at the country I live in for its complete lack of affordable alternatives to flying. Angry at the idea that I should feel ashamed simply because my body isn’t average. Angry at every single micro-aggression and simple injustice that I have to deal with every single goddamn time I try to say I deserve to be treated like a human being. And most of all, I’m angry that every time I remember this trip, this wonderful chance I had to watch two people I care about joined in marriage, I will also remember this anger and humiliation.

And this is what it’s like, flying while fat. This isn’t the first experience like this I’ve had. It won’t be that last, either. But I will be damned if I feel ashamed of myself just because I’m expected to. I’m going to stay angry, and keep yelling at the indignity of it, and hope that someday in the future, I can look back and say “isn’t it nice that things aren’t like that anymore”.

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Blogaround and Links

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I’ve had some stuff on my plate, so today I’m just gonna share some great blogs and links that y’all should read. This stuff ranges from old to very recent, just a big collection of some of the blogs and individual blog posts that have meant a lot to me over the years. 🙂 Also a couple news links to recent things, in case you haven’t heard about them. If you have time you can definitely read all of them, if not just pick whichever ones look good, I won’t judge.

Shakesville – Of course I started with Shakesville! A progressive feminist blog run by Melissa McEwan, who is not only a wickedly good writer, but an all-around awesome woman.

Dances with Fats – A lovely blog by a lovely fat lady, who pushes back against all of the concern trolling, ridiculously fatphobic, and otherwise harmful-to-fat-people things that are out there in the world. As the name suggests, she is a fat woman who dances (and has done marathons and triathlons too)!

The Angry Fangirl – I just found this blog recently, I think through Shakesville, and it’s brilliant. Everything this talented lady writes resonates, and is important. Especially check out “An Open Letter to White Allies” and “10 Things Bisexual People are Sick of Hearing”, but then read all of it.

Down Home Tarot – For a change of pace, if you like spirituality and/or Tarot, check out this lovely (and fairly new) blog, by a fellow Shakesville reader, where she discusses Tarot through a lens of intersectionality and critical thought.

Those are all the general blogs I wanted to link today, as I currently don’t read a ton of blogs, but in the future hopefully I’ll have some more for you! Now I’m gonna link to some specific blog posts that are and have been important to me.

Schrödinger’s Rapist – This remains, in my opinion, the most important blog post ever written about how women perceive men they don’t know, and how important it is for men to realize that they are a potential threat. It clearly and calmly lays out how to interact with a woman who you are interested in. I wish it was required reading for high school freshmen (especially the male ones).

The Spoon Theory – This is an article written about invisible illnesses and disabilities. Although some people with chronic illness dislike it, if you ever read or hear someone taking about “I wish I had more spoons” or “I don’t have the spoons for that”, they’re referencing this. I personally identify with it because of my anxiety and depression (mental illnesses are invisible illnesses too).

Perpetual Potential Thin Person – This one is a very succinct “fuck you” to everyone who thinks that fat people aren’t really people, they’re just thin people who are temporarily fat.

Let’s Talk (More) About Sex – A great post that lays out all the things people can and should be doing when they want to have sex. Very empowering and consent-focused.

On Presence and Imperfections – A lovely blog post written by a volunteer at a cat shelter I also used to volunteer at, back when I lived in Cincinnati. The post isn’t really about the shelter, although there are several pictures of the cats there, it’s about being friends with someone who has a disability, and accepting that person for who they are.

Now I’m gonna link some interesting articles I’ve read recently. If you’re my Facebook friend, you’ve probably already seen these, but they’re worth a look if you haven’t read them.

Pro-Bernie Trolls On Why They Harassed Nevada’s Democratic Chair – From the Rolling Stone, who called several of the titular trolls to ask them why they sent threatening texts and voicemails to Nevada Democratic State Chairwoman Roberta Lange. The texts included threats not only against her, but her children and grandchild. Some included her home address and phone number.

We Called Up Bernie Fans Who Threatened Nevada Dem State Chair and Asked Them to Explain Themselves – Similar story, different people were called by a different journalist. The gem is at the end when one says “Please don’t tell people my name, I like my privacy.” Wow. So you want the privilege you wouldn’t give Roberta Lange.

It’s Pretty Rich for Bernie Sanders to Compain about Democratic Party Favoritism – A well-researched piece that proves that Bernie Sanders has been the favorite of Vermont’s Democratic Party for decades, despite refusing to be categorized as a Democrat, and thus why his cries of favoritism now are pretty disingenuous.

Men Are Sabotaging the Online Reviews of TV Shows Aimed at Women – A fascinating look at the numbers of TV show ratings online, and why men seem to think they’re entitled to rate things that are clearly not aimed at them. It’s almost like they can’t deal with not being the center of the universe. Hmm.

The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About – A fascinating in-depth look at the microaggressions women are forced to endure on a daily basis, and the fact that we’re trained to minimize our reactions.

“Top tips for men juggling a successful career and fatherhood” – An article about a twitter account that skewers the sexism inherent in a lot of the media we see aimed at women in the workforce.

I hope you enjoyed this collection of links to other good things to read, I’ll try to be back next week with some actual posts of my own! And by all means, if you have any interesting links to share, feel free!

What Being an Ally Means to Me

[Content Note: discussion of transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, emotional and physical violence]

One of the greatest blessings of being active in social justice circles is getting to know so many wonderfully diverse people. I remember when I started college, I only knew a few gay people and one trans* woman. Although I got to know many gay men over the course of my Bachelor’s studies, I didn’t meet any other trans* people until I came to Grad school. And although I’d learned about asexual and genderqueer people from the social justice blogs I followed online, I didn’t meet anyone in person who identified as either of those things until I joined the cast of my university’s Vagina Monologues.

The most beautiful thing about meeting people from all these different groups, to me, is the biological diversity. I don’t necessarily mean race, although that certainly intersects with all these various identities too, I mean things like height, weight, bone structure, arm length, eye color and width, curly vs. straight hair, and so on and so on. Although I’m not a scientist, one of the things I love most about humanity is how different we can be from each other. I, at 6′ and 400+ lbs, represent the extreme of two spectrums, height and weight. There are women I know who are 5’2” and skinny, and we’re part of the same species. We couldn’t look more different, and yet we share 99% of our genetic makeup. What an amazing world we live in, where someone like me and sometime like you can both exist and be human together!

 
But there is a flip side to this beautiful diversity. And it is an ugly flip. Where people are erased and marginalized, even within their own groups, because they don’t fit the “ideal”. I am pushed to the margins of womanhood because I am too tall, too fat. I am pushed to the margins of LGBT culture because “bisexuality isn’t real” or “you’re too femme to be butch, but too butch to be femme”. LGBT people of color are pushed to the margins because “homosexuality is a white man’s disease”. Trans* women are pushed to the margins of womanhood because “you’re not a real woman” or “you don’t pass”. Genderqueer people are pushed to the margins of both LGBT and straight culture because “there are only two genders”. Asexual people are pushed to the margins because “sexual desire is normal, what’s wrong with you?”. Trans* people are pushed to the margins of LGB culture because “trans* isn’t a sexuality”.

The basic deal is that for every single group, there’s people who aren’t acknowledged as being in that group. And this is where people have to struggle to change things, because the idea of “us vs. them” isn’t a new one. In fact, it’s an extremely old one, that evolved in us over millions of years, and is very strongly-rooted in our cultural DNA. But one of the things that we, as modern human being, have to acknowledge is that our society, our culture, has evolved much faster than we have. Where we have this primitive brain telling us “that person is different from us, shun them” we must say to ourselves “no, I am smarter than that”. And the beautiful thing about the human brain is that is adapts. If you force yourself to analyze your thinking patterns and work to change them, over time, they will change. So the burden, for all of us, is to do this. Not just accept the ways we’ve been taught, not to just accept the status quo, but to be aware and to question things, to learn about others and accept them for their differences.

Of course, I have a lot of privilege here. White privilege, cis privilege, economic privilege, educational privilege, straight-passing privilege, and so on. When I look at a black woman or a trans* woman or a lesbian woman, I don’t feel fear, because I know they aren’t likely to hurt me. But they don’t have that guarantee from me. They have no idea if I, a white, cis, straight-passing woman, will hurt them. They don’t know if I will yell at them, accuse them of stealing, assault them in the bathroom, spread rumors about them, commit acts of emotional or physical violence against them, simply for being who they are.

One of the first acts that I, as an ally, am obligated to do, is to show that I am a safe person. When a genderqueer person meets me and says “my preferred pronouns are ‘they, them, their’ “, it is now my responsibility to correctly use those terms when referring to that person. If I forget or fail, it is my responsibility to apologize and try to do better (and not a long-winded self-flagellation, just a “sorry, I meant they” is just fine for most people). If I meet trans* woman who is not “out” as trans, it is my responsibility to NOT say “this is my trans* friend, X!” because I could be putting her in very real danger. If I meet a black woman and she brings up cultural appropriation of black culture by white people, it is my responsibility to NOT try to play “devil’s advocate” or say “but why does that even matter, there are bigger issues”.

But here’s the key thing, for all you allies or potential allies out there. Even if I do all these things to show I am a safe person, a marginalized person is still not obligated to trust me. Practicing all the little things that protect marginalized people doesn’t make me automatically awesome. And every marginalized person gets to assess whether they will engage with me on that level. If I meet a trans* person who then says “sorry, I don’t trust you”, I can feel disappointed and even hurt, but I do not get to be angry and demand they trust me. I do not get to feel butthurt because they didn’t give me a cookie for being Such A Good Ally. If a black woman says “I do not have the energy to deal with a white person who is trying way too damn hard to be a good ally” then that is every bit her right. And again, I can feel hurt or disappointed (because I have a right to my own emotions), but I do not get to try and explain to her why she’s wrong for protecting herself, or go on a rant on social media about how I try so hard to be nice to “those people” and they always shun me. Because those things don’t make me an ally, they make me an asshole.

I don’t write about social justice issues because I want praise from other marginalized groups. I write about them because they’re important. I write about them because they effect me, and my friends and family. I write about them because it is fucking exhausting to live in a culture that sees me as less-than because of my weight or my sexuality. I write about them because for as exhausted as I am, I know there are people who are exponentially more exhausted by all this shit. And I am not always a good ally. I say stupid, shitty things sometimes. I get mad sometimes when I’m called out on it. But I’m trying. And that’s good enough for most people, and everyone else gets to decide whether it’s good enough for them. And if not, they have that right.

This essay wasn’t written because I want all my friends to give me cookies. It was written because I want people to stop being assholes. If you are a real ally, you don’t get to go on a Netflix comedy special and complain about “all that dang terminology they want us to memorize all the time” (ahem). You don’t get to complain when someone calls you out for saying or doing something shitty. If you want to really be an ally, you will shut the fuck up and you will listen. You will listen when people are kind enough and good enough to explain to you why you’re wrong. You will listen when people say “this hurts me, because”. You will listen when people gift you the stories of their lives, of their struggles as part of a marginalized group. You will listen and you will resolve to do better. Because that’s what a real ally does. It isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being kind. For people who spend so much of their lives defending themselves from physical, emotional, and mental violence, kindness is a gift. So be kind, and listen when someone says “you hurt me”. It’s the fucking least we can do.

Dream Journal 5-8-16

[CN: child abuse, rape, PTSD, hostility to consent]

This was a doozy. The dream started with a girl (maybe 11 or 12) and her father. They were part of a group of humans who had landed on a habitable world to settle it, only to find that there was two groups of humanoids already there and in the middle of a war. Because the humans were almost indistinguishable from one of the humanoid groups, the other group (who looked very much like dragons or giant lizards, but with opposable thumbs) decided we were also their enemy. They began attacking us and the father was trying to broker a peace treaty. In the midst of negotiations, the leader of the dragon-people showed up with a small human child in chains, saying something about “bringing a snack along”. The girl reacted very strongly to this and basically confronted this enormous dragon-man (he was much larger than most of his species, which is partly why he was the leader), and he was intrigued by her, and proposed a trade. Her father objected, but she agreed to go with the dragon leader if he let the child go. She was terrified of being eaten, but she couldn’t just let another person be killed, especially a child. So the dragon leader took her with him when he left, and basically made her his pet. Often he would bite her, just enough to break the skin and make her bleed, but not actually take a chunk out. Although the dream never showed any sex, it was also heavily implied that he used her in that way as well (although they weren’t technically physically compatible, there were plenty of ways for him to abuse her). She became very quiet and withdrawn, and although the dragon leader sometimes took her to further negotiations or diplomatic meetings where her father was, she was forbidden to talk to him or even acknowledge him, or else suffer harsh punishments.

The dream then skipped a number of years, and the girl had grown up into a young woman. She’d been freed a few years earlier, when her captor had died of old age, and his family didn’t want to bother with her. Unfortunately her father had died before she was freed, so she never got to see him and explain everything. She had received an education while enslaved, so once she was freed she went to college and got her teaching degree. Now she was a teacher at a school, but it was on the border that the humans shared with the dragon people, and the peace was very uneasy. Sometimes the dragon people would show up and parade through the halls of the school, just to show they could. One day, they showed up in greater numbers than normal, and seemed to be inspecting all the classrooms. She watched with terror as they came closer and closer to her room, but her students didn’t understand why she was so frightened. She overheard one of them say that they were looking for her, as the grandson of her captor had decided that she was a fine trophy who needed to be brought back to his family’s keeping, to prove that they could have whatever they wanted. Her mind flashed back to her time as a slave, and she ran from the school. Miraculously the dragon people didn’t notice her leave, but she continued to run, knowing eventually they’d figure it out and come after her. She couldn’t stop reliving the horrors she’d endured as a slave, they played over and over in her head as she ran. She entered a forest that was extremely alien, a place most people refused to enter, as the trees were black (not just dark, but actually black) and seemed to suck away all light, making the interior of the forest pitch black. Cries of animals or maybe lost souls echoed inside the forest, a place of sheer terror. Somehow she made her way to a clearing, and collapsed on the ground, unable to run any further. She heard footsteps approaching, and half-buried herself in the sandy grey ground in an attempt to hide.

A young woman, who was me in the dream, found her there. She whispered to me and begged me to hide her. As I had the ability to use some magic, I turned her body into a small dog, and stored her soul inside a piece of soap. Just as I finished taking her things and bundling them up, a man showed up and demanded to know who I was and what I was doing there. I told him I was a traveler, and he somewhat rudely demanded that I continue my travels with him. I agreed, however, because I felt that it would be safer for me and for her to go with him. He led us out of the forest, and I put the piece of soap on my shoulder to keep it safe (???). At one point we ended up base-jumping off of a very tall cliff into a valley below, where it turned out he was going to settle down and make a life, and he expected me to be his servant. Because I was afraid of the other woman being discovered, I turned her back into a person, albeit a different-looking one, and stored her emotions in another piece of soap, so she wouldn’t have to feel the terror or suffer from PTSD anymore. Unfortunately, it made her very vulnerable (very much like a blank slate), and once I brought her home to the man who was my employer, he convinced her to marry him and then get a job so he could stay home and do nothing. I also tried to get a job with her, to keep anyone else from taking advantage of her, but I was fired almost immediately for telling off a customer. I realized then that this was a much worse situation than I thought, and I needed to give her back her emotions so we could both escape somewhere else. Unfortunately, I had lost the piece of soap where I’d stored them. I searched all through town, terrified that I’d lost it during our jump (remember, it was on my shoulder, not exactly in a secure place), or that it had fallen into the sea and dissolved. Every time I found a piece of soap (which were all magical objects in this part of the dream), I would hold it up to my forehead and if it resonated I knew I was close. One piece glowed a bit but it wasn’t the right piece (maybe someone else’s emotions, but not hers) and so I kept searching in frustration.

And that was where I woke up, still searching for her emotions so I could turn her back to normal. 😦

Dream Journal 5-5-16

Since I have a lot of really bizarre dreams, I’m going to start posting them here. 😉

[CN: alien abduction themes, experimentation, hostility to consent]

Last night I had a dream about one of my friends and her fiance. In the dream, she told me that her fiance and his parents were actually aliens, and had been performing experiments on me and other friends and colleagues of ours, usually while we were sleeping. Since she was engaged to him, they’d decided they could trust her and bring her into the fold. They’d also decided to see if I was trustworthy, so she invited me to see one of the experiments. She told me all of this matter-of-factly, as if it was no big deal. I was understandably horrified, and I went to see my oldest brother to get his advice. My middle brother showed up as I was heading to our meeting (which appeared to be in a hotel in Tokyo), but I refused to tell him what was going on, because I didn’t want to endanger him, since he has a baby. My oldest brother showed up to see what was keeping me, and he also told our brother that it was too dangerous, so he left in a huff and the two of us went upstairs to a fancy dining room to discuss the situation. He told me that I had an obligation to humanity to see what was going on, basically to act as a double agent so we would be better able to fight back against the aliens. As he was telling me this, a giant robot started attacking Tokyo, and we calmly watched it from the windows of the fancy dining room as it attacked other buildings. He reiterated his point that it was my duty to do this. So I left the dining room as the giant robot came closer, calmly warning several people on the lower floors that it was about to attack the building, and teleported back to my office to tell my friend that I was willing to witness the experiments. The first experiment I watched was a recording of me, and they stuck a probe up my nose to scan my brain. Then we went to another friend’s house, and just as they were about to start experimenting on her, I woke up.

I’m not particularly good at dream analysis, but since my friend’s wedding is in a few weeks, I would guess that the representation of her fiance and his family as aliens probably has to do with my fear of our friendship changing, which is pretty silly, because I know her fiance fairly well at this point, and he’s a great guy who I get along well with (I haven’t met his parents, but I’m sure they’re very nice). I’m really not sure what the giant robot and meeting my brother in Tokyo were about, though. 😉

Making Your Voice Heard

[CN: homophobia, sexism, racism, physical assault, rape culture, rape jokes, ageism, ableism]

It all started with a tweet.

The BGCrushes twitter account is a student-run account for people to submit anonymous comments about their local crushes at our university, Bowling Green State University. Most of the tweets range from sweetly shy to super racy, but this one was obviously outside the norm for the account. Over the next few days, responses became increasingly heated. Some people saw it as an attack on Greek Life (sororities and fraternities, for those outside the US), and vehemently defended their brothers and sisters. Others saw it as an opportunity to call for change and discuss the problems in our community. Some saw it as a chance to make tasteless rape jokes and slurs.

I first heard about what happened when some friends of mine started posting about it on Facebook, as I’m not very active on Twitter these days. These were undergrads who I’d met while doing the Vagina Monologues earlier in the semester, and they’re mostly women of color and sorority/fraternity members, and some of them are LGBTQ. They were appalled that this had happened, and about the response. They called for their fellow Greeks to take the perpetrators to task, to seek out the ugliness in their ranks and make it clear that such behavior was not indicative of what Greek Life stood for.

Unfortunately, the police and university response was lukewarm, at best. They shared a website and said “if anyone has any information, please contact us” and left it at that. The administration said they couldn’t do anything. And we, the students, decided that wasn’t good enough.

On Friday, April 29th, a group of us met for a rally in front of the student union. The leaders of the student organizations gave passionate speeches about how they didn’t feel safe, as students, as people of color, as LGBTQ individuals. They talked about how they wanted their university to be better, to be a safer, more welcoming place to everyone. The local independent media came and took pictures and interviewed several of the speakers. After they opened up the floor to everyone, I went up and spoke as well, even though I was so emotional I was afraid I would cry. When I was finished I was shaky and light-headed from the emotions and the response. We stood together and we shouted “BG Be Better!”.

I don’t remember specifically what I said when I spoke to the group. I remember saying “I am a bisexual fat woman” and “this is not an attack on any group, this is a call to action”. But the part that was most important to me was when I talked about how we can all do something.

That was, truthfully, the very first rally I’ve ever been to. My social anxiety makes it very difficult for me to go out in public and put myself in any perceived danger, even when I feel strongly about something. I did it this time because I knew that I would know most of the people there, and that there was a pretty low chance of violence (there was no violence, everyone was very civil, although it probably helped that there were a couple police officers standing by just in case). Even though I felt really good afterward, proud of myself for doing something, I also felt extremely affected, emotionally. I spent most of the rest of the day feeling emotionally raw and exposed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to participate in anything like that in the future, just because it was a very taxing experience.

But even for people like me, who have anxiety, who are afraid, there are things we can do. We can talk about our experiences, and share stories about the experiences of others. We can call out our friends and family when they say or do bigoted things. We can push back against the narratives and stereotypes that hurt marginalized people. We can share articles and memes that point out how bigotry hurts people. We can blog, and we can comment on blogs. We can write emails to our representatives, and sign petitions. We can talk to a suicidal trans teen and tell them it gets better. We can support our friends half a continent away and tell them we love and support them, even if their family doesn’t. We can donate to people and causes that help others. Any and all of the above options are valid, and they help.

There’s always been the stereotype of the “armchair liberal” or “armchair activist”. This is a person who literally sits in their armchair and complains about injustice, but never gets up and does anything about it. This ableist and ageist stereotype hurts people who really can’t go out and join in protests or go to rallies. Right now, in the internet age, it’s so much easier for people to be activists from their armchairs. Rallies and protests are super important, but for those of us who can’t attend for one reason or another, there are things we can do.

For me, the most important take-away from this experience is that anyone can help. My favorite blog, Shakesville, uses the term “teaspooning”. It originated when the main writer of the blog, Melissa McEwan, wrote “All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon.” It refers to the fact that often, the work of social justice feels overwhelming and heart-breakingly difficult, like trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon. But for me, teaspooning has taken on an additional connotation. If one person is trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon, it’s an overwhelming endeavor that will take an eternity to accomplish. But if ten million people started emptying the sea with teaspoons, suddenly the task would seem a little more doable.

So pick up your teaspoon. Start doing what you can. Every teaspoon you empty is one that someone else doesn’t have to. Because we truly are in this together, so make your voice heard.