Presidential Fears

[Content Note: violence, death, Trump]

I haven’t posted about the election, or much of anything, honestly, in the past few months. Part of that was feeling like everyone else was saying it so much better, and part of it was being busy with personal stuff, and part of it was just despair.

I knew he was going to get the electoral college votes. I knew there weren’t going to be any surprises. I hoped anyway, because it was the last hope I had.

I’m so terrified of what the world is going to look like in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I haven’t been talking about politics in the last few weeks for several reasons, one being that I feel sick and anxious all the time. People will die. Some of them might be people I know.

I never realized before how deep-seated our society’s hatred of women is. What hope do I have, as a queer fat woman, if one of the most intelligent, qualified women on the planet couldn’t overcome her gender to defeat one of the most vile, least qualified men in history? What hope do any of us have? What hope do people of color have? What hope does our country have?

I’ve never liked post-apocalyptic fiction. It always felt too possible to me, people romanticizing the idea of a societal collapse that always felt too close for comfort. But even in the worst days we’ve had as a country, I never before really believed we could be destroyed as easily as I feel we could be now. I honestly wonder if there will even be a United States of America in four years. I fear for all the people who will die if our society does collapse, not just in possible military coups or bloody civil wars, but from malnutrition, lack of access to necessary medications, lack of working infrastructure. We already have those problems, and many of them will get exponentially worse.

I’m terrified for my nephew. He’s going to be a year old next month. I’m an adult, and a relatively healthy one. Barring nuclear war or random acts of violence, I’ll probably survive infrastructure collapse (and I have at least one skill that would make me able to emigrate). But elderly people and children are always the first to be severely impacted by such things. And even if he survives the physical hardships, what kind of world is he going to grow up in?

The assassination of a Russian ambassador earlier today gives us horrifying echos back to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Will we have WW3 this time next year? Will the world survive, when we have nuclear weapons? In 100 years, if the human race still exists, will they look back on this and scoff at how obvious it all was (as I’ve witnessed people do when learning about WW1 and WW2 both, the “how did they not know this was coming?” reaction is pretty common)?

I want to run away. I was already planning to move to Germany, so I might as well go ahead and do that (whether I have a job or not). But is anywhere safe? Would it be better for me to stay near my family, if only so I can help them when things go bad (and possibly be with them when we’re all vaporized)? Or would it be better to go somewhere else, where I could possibly help them travel to if things get even worse than that?

I’m only 31. I don’t want the world to end. I don’t want my home country to collapse. I don’t want any of this.

This is a nightmare I can’t wake up from, and I’m so, so afraid of what the future holds. I wonder if there’s even a future to worry about.

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Dream Journal 10-7-16

[Content Note: police brutality, slavery, racism, incarceration, spiders]

The dream started out, from what I can remember, with my character (not me, but the person I was in the dream) making a plan with a group of friends. Apparently we’d discovered a door to another world, where cows and dogs were sentient and ruled the world, while humans served as slaves. I went through the door on a cart drawn by a couple of my friends, magically disguised as the sentient cows. I witnessed a young woman standing half a mile away from a store, and when I asked her if humans weren’t allowed near, she said “I’m not allowed near” with fear in her eyes. We had learned through our reconnaissance in this world, that humans were basically given just two choices. Either they could serve their bovine masters, or they could go to “school”, which was actually run more like a prison. They weren’t allowed to go out alone, they couldn’t live their own lives, they were slaves or prisoners and nothing else.

I made my way to the school, and found the underground group of rebels. They were so badly oppressed that they told me their top goals were being able to go out on their own in groups, and having a say in their meals. They showed me a bookshelf that contained all the books that they’d found from my world, things like “Magic Knight Rayearth” and a series of “slice of life” comics (not real ones, sadly) that they loved best because it showed the heroine just living her life freely. They thought they were fantasy novels. I had to laugh a little, sadly, and told them I was glad they’d found them, especially the “slice of life” one, and they stared at me incredulously as I explained that that was really how life was, in my world. Then they became angry, really angry at the cows who oppressed them, and asked me to help them start the rebellion. I agreed, and we started a riot in the “school”, culminating with a huge number of people gathering in the “gym” (normally off-limits except during specific periods and with close supervision) to hear me speak. I gave a rousing and passionate speech about life in my world, how we took so many little freedoms for granted, how even our leaders were totally human (I didn’t explain that we were the only sentient life, or mention that we ate cows, which would’ve seemed like cannibalism to them), and how with some work, they could have a world similar to ours, where they were allowed to live and work freely. The principal (also human, but given his position by the cows in charge) came over the intercom to say that a “rabble-rouser” was loose in the school, and they needed to turn me in. The crowd around me laughed at him, and instead of turning me in, orchestrated a break-out. The crowd swelled as we left the “school” and mingled with slaves who were told about our plans and enthusiastically joined in. We marched through the streets, demanding our freedom, and fought off all the meager attempts to dissuade us (the cows were used to their slaves being meek and easily bullied, and had never had to respond to this kind of situation before).

As we stopped to rest in a little shanty town where many slaves lived (and they fed us and let us rest), I had a lot of people come up to me and beg me to tell them more about the utopia I came from, how amazing it was, and with mingled fear and hope in their eyes, asking me if it was really true, that I was free, had always been free. I was bothered by their assumptions that my world was perfect, so I gathered the crowd and started another speech, where I told them about racism (which didn’t exist in their world), and the current “plague” (my actual word in the dream) of police killings of black people, how many people in my world saw people with dark skin as lesser, and how we had struggled, as a society, with this problem, with some people denying it even was a problem, as others created Black Lives Matter in response, and many people in the middle, not sure what to do or say.

Shortly after that speech, which received a confused response (many of the slaves, especially some darker-skinned ones, had very complicated feelings about it), we were attacked by an odd piece of technology, it was sort of a flying land mine filled with venomous spiders. We managed to evacuate the area before it arrived, and then I took it on single-handedly. I’d summoned a stream of water to wash away the spiders when I woke up.

Pokemon Go and Mental Health

[Content Note: discussion of mental illness]

Pokemon Go is the only reason I left the house today.

That’s not an exaggeration or an excuse. Even though I had planned to go to the library to do some translation work, because I can’t focus at home, I didn’t want to. This is part of what I’ve been struggling with for the past few months, the constant need to get work done and the overwhelming apathy and dislike of leaving my comfort zone battling each other, and usually apathy and comfort win. Even though it stresses me out more in the long run to not get my work done, I’d still rather not leave my house and deal with the outside world on any given day, unless I have to. I will go to work or class, usually with a minimum of grumbling, and do my work diligently (if not excitedly), but on days when I have no set schedule, I prefer to become an unresponsive lump lying on my couch, playing on my Nintendo DS or watching Netflix.

So where does Pokemon Go figure into this equation? Well, it’s pretty simple, really. I love Pokemon. I’ve played the Pokemon games for years, only excepting a couple years during and after college when I couldn’t afford to get a new handheld game system and thus had to make do without. I still have my Blue, Red, and Yellow Gameboy cartridges, the original Pokemon games that were first released way back when. I’ve only beaten the various games a couple times, and I’ve never filled out the Pokedex, but that doesn’t really bother me. I enjoy them, I enjoy the battles and the stories and the cute little creatures I can catch and nurture. So, like all the other avid Pokemon fans, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Augmented Reality app game that would make it possible for me to catch Pokemon in the real world (so to speak). And, like other avid fans, I’ve been frustrated as hell since the release on Wednesday, since getting logged into the server is often futile. And since I hate the heat and it’s summer, I haven’t spent much time outside since it came out. And I’ve also had other things on my mind (I attended a vigil on Friday for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), so although I’ve caught a few Pokemon in and around my apartment (Friday after the vigil I went out with friends, but my phone’s battery died so I just had to watch them run around and catch stuff), today was the first day I’ve actually been outside and working to catch Pokemon. It’s a bit cooler today, and overcast, so I’m not too hot and not too worried about sunburn. I parked further from the library than necessary so I could walk across campus and catch Pokemon, but I stuck to my path and didn’t wander around, so I missed out on a couple. And when I got to the library, which is a PokeStop (place where you get free items like PokeBalls and healing items), I caught a bunch of things and then settled in to work. Every fifteen minutes or so I check my phone, catch anything that’s come around, get my free items (the PokeStops refresh after a certain amount of time, so if you sit at one for a while you can basically get unlimited items), and then get back to work. And it’s great.

When I got out of the shower this morning and contemplated going out, I made all the usual excuses. “Well, it’s already 2 pm and the library is only open until 5 on Sundays, so it really wouldn’t be worth it.” “I could easily get my work done here and not leave.” “I just don’t feel like going anywhere.” And while I’d opened the app, my phone was having trouble connecting to the server, so I sat there with my excuses rolling around in my head. But then, it connected. There was my little avatar, and a couple common Pokemon (Rattatas and Pidgeys, mostly) that I quickly caught and traded for items, and I was ready to go. I swiftly gathered my laptop and wallet into my messenger bag and went out to my car, carefully keeping an eye on my phone in case anything else popped up. I drove to the parking lot at the student union, not too far from the library but a nice walk, and held my phone out to see what I could see. I quickly caught an Eevee and a Nidoran male, then went on my merry way to the library, catching several other Pokemon (although nothing exciting) along the way.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve caught multiple Weedles, which I traded in so I almost have enough to evolve my Kakuna into a Beedrill. I also caught a Shellder and a Growlithe. I’ve used the PokeStop multiple times and now have 8 eggs (I only had one this morning) as well as plenty of PokeBalls and several Potions and Revives. I’ve leveled up twice. And, although slightly less exciting, I’ve translated over a page of text. I’m not translating any slower than normal, since I usually take multiple breaks to check social media or rest my brain (every few paragraphs, basically), and the most important thing is that I’m getting it done.

The number of people I’ve talked to in just the last few days has been staggeringly high for me, and it was almost all because of Pokemon Go. After the vigil on Friday, when I went out with my friends, we saw roaming groups of people, all with their phones out, excitedly tracking Pokemon and sharing their joy and camaraderie over successful catches or rare finds. People I didn’t know would come up and say “I just caught an Eevee over there!” or “Hey, did you know you can get Pikachu by that landmark?” Because any Pokemon that pops up on the map can be caught by everyone in the vicinity, it inspires cooperation with others, rather than competition. In fact, although there are battles and Gyms in the game, you don’t battle any other player directly, instead you battle against Pokemon that various players have assigned to the Gym, and so even though there’s a fun element of competition (you can choose one of three teams. and teams can take over unclaimed gyms to make their team stronger), it’s more against the game than any other player. The amount of joy and cooperation I felt whenever a big group would congregate (usually multiple small groups converging on a PokeStop or a Pokemon everyone wanted) cannot be overstated. I felt like part of a real, physical community, for the first time in a very long time. I’m not someone who usually feels welcome in most places. I shy away from a lot of communities I can choose to join simply because I fear rejection or dislike various aspects of that community. I don’t spend much time in fandom communities because there’s almost always an unpleasant aspect or subgroup that I find spoils the community as a whole. But so far, the only thing I’ve felt from other people playing Pokemon Go is joy, and friendship, and acceptance. It’s possible that could change, as the newness wears off. It’s possible that people will get tired of it and stop playing and it’ll become commonplace and not exciting anymore. But for right now, for me and all the other people I know who are playing, it’s joyful and new and friendly, and for a lot of people who struggle with mental illness, it’s a reason to go outside. It’s a reason to join our community, even if only briefly, to catch a Pikachu or Squirtle, to see the sunshine, to feel like we belong in this world.

Sometimes, it’s a beautiful world.

On Privilege and Luck

[Content Note: rape, abuse, physical and emotional violence, homophobia, fatphobia]

Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to talk about certain things. The intersection of identities where I live (bisexual/pansexual/queer, fat, cisgender, female, white, upper-middle class, spiritual atheist, and so on) gives me certain insights into those identities. But I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t talk about certain things.

For the purpose of this post, I want to define what I mean by luck. A lot of people see luck as a positive force in the world, some even see it as some divine gift. When I use the word “luck” in this essay, I’m talking about statistical probability. It’s statistically improbable for certain things to happen, and when those things happen, they’re usually labeled as luck, either good or bad. When I say I’m lucky, I mean that I’ve been the recipient of statistically improbable things or statuses. I don’t mean that I have a gift, or that some invisible being has favored me, or that I’ve done anything worthy of praise. I simply mean that the odds have been in my favor.

So I’m one of the lucky women who’s made it to 30 years old without experiencing sexual assault. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a right to talk about sexual assault, because I don’t know what it’s like. I have a pretty good imagination, and reading the accounts of survivors or seeing graphic depictions of it in the media gives me some idea, but I don’t really know. And it’s not like I’ve done anything to prevent it, really. I’ve just been lucky. I never went out of my way to avoid being assaulted, I never worried about what I was wearing or whether I should walk alone at night (although walking alone at night does make me a teeny bit nervous, because I’m a woman). I’ve never worried about the men I’ve dated trying to force me. Some of this is probably a result of my physical size, but since large and powerful women have also been raped, I don’t want to say that’s the reason because that discounts their experiences. It isn’t because I’m fat, because fat women have been raped. The simple fact is, I’ve been lucky. And sometimes I feel guilty about it.

How fucked up is that, that I feel guilty about not being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted? I know that no rape survivor would ever want me to feel guilty. What does it say about our culture, that when I was younger I actually thought the reason no one had tried to rape me was because I wasn’t attractive enough (I know that’s not true now, but younger me was a product of our culture, as much as anyone else is)? What does it say about our society that I actually wished men would give me negative attention, because it was better than no attention? Once I actually encountered verbal abuse and catcalling, I was disabused of those ideas pretty damn quickly, but as a young woman who’d never experienced any of it, I bought into the idea that a man verbally assaulting me was a compliment, and envied girls who dealt with it! And that’s just proof of how immensely fucked up rape culture is.

I feel guilty about past me’s thoughts too. I know it isn’t her fault, because she was raised to believe she was undesirable, and that catcalling and other forms of verbal abuse were compliments. But I feel like I can’t talk about other women’s sexual abuse because of that, because I felt that way. Isn’t it great how many modes of silencing are built into this fucked-up culture of ours?

Today on another blog I follow, I encountered the term “invisible queer” and it was exactly what I am, too. I identify as bisexual or pansexual (depending on the audience and whether they know that there aren’t just two genders), but I’ve only dated a very few people in my life, and all of them were cisgender and male. Despite the fact that I’ve never dated a woman, trans* person, or genderqueer person, I know I’m attracted to people of all sexualities and gender identities, so bi or pan fits me. But I often feel like I don’t fit into the queer community, because I didn’t deal with a lot of pain or stigma related to coming out. I’ve never dealt with someone giving me a death glare because I held hands with or kissed a same-sex partner. The worst I’ve had to deal with was some clueless questions (like “but which gender do you like better” or “if you had to choose just one gender, which one would it be” or “do you have twice as much sex”). When I came out at 16, my best friends said “is that all? We thought maybe you were sick or moving away, when you told us you had something big to tell us!” My mom said “as long as you’re happy” and my dad said “I think you’re too young to know that yet” (not an ideal response, but not openly hateful, and he’s never said anything homophobic to me before or since). Even in queer settings, most people just assume I’m a straight ally (which is frustrating when I’m looking to meet people t0 date). So I often feel like I don’t have a right to talk about issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community, because have I really dealt with most of those issues? I remember a group of LGBT classmates and I talking in college, telling our coming-out stories. One person said their parents acted like they’d died. One said their father threatened to kick them out, and their mother cried for days. Another person’s family did kick them out, but they luckily had a friend whose family took them in. I just sat there, listening, feeling grossly out of place with my accepting family who acted like it was no big deal.

I’ve dealt with casual homophobia a few times, like when I got a super short faux-hawk haircut and a coworker asked me if I was a lesbian (she acted so suspicious about it too, like “I thought you were a decent person but now you look like that”). I vaguely recall saying something like “why would it matter?” and then she never talked to me again (she was in another department so I didn’t talk to her normally, we just walked by each other sometimes in the building). But I’ve never been physically threatened for being bi. I’ve never felt afraid of violence in a real sense, just mildly nervous because the possibility exists. I have straight-passing privilege, after all, so I’ve rarely been made to feel afraid.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve the privilege and luck I’ve had in my life. I feel like there are so many people who are braver, smarter, kinder, more loving, more deserving, who’ve had horrible things happen to them. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Violence doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t bypass people who are better, it doesn’t leave the brave and kind and smart people alone just because they’re brave and kind and smart. Sometimes violence even seeks out the people who are kindest, bravest, smartest, because it wants them to suffer.

I don’t think I had a specific point to make with this post. I just needed to say something, because I feel so sad and angry about what happened in Orlando, and I feel guilty that I’m alive and physically unharmed when over 100 people are dead or injured. I’ve been so, so lucky in my life, when so many other people haven’t been. And somehow that feels wrong. I wish it didn’t. I wish that my state of being was the statistically probable one, that only a few people ever dealt with violence and abuse and rape (or none at all).

I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the chest, but I can’t pull the knife out. It hurts. It hurts.

It Could Be Me

Last night, there was a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Today, my friends are sharing their stunned responses to this tragedy. A lot of people don’t know what to say, and I can’t blame them. But I do have a few things to say.

Not. One. More.

I am 3o years old. I remember Columbine. I remember Sandy Hook. I remember Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood, and so many, many others. I remember last year when a young man killed several people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I remember the horror, the helplessness. I remember the anger, so much anger, at all the lives lost. And I remember the frustration, every goddamn time, when people would try to start a dialogue about gun control, and they would be shouted down. Even though the crimes just keep getting worse and worse. Even though more and more people die from guns. Even though the very simple things that are called for (harder background checks, licensing, closing manufacturing loopholes) are things that most sensible gun owners agree should happen.

I am shaking with rage and sorrow as I write this. I may not have known anyone who was killed in Orlando, but I know the LGBT community. I’m part of it, I have many friends who are part of it, and we are all full of rage and sorrow because we live every day knowing that our lives are less valued, our chances of rape and death are much higher, because of who we are.

And I have something in particular to say to my family and friends, the ones who might be saddened by this, but will forget in a week or so, move on with their lives, because thank goodness, it wasn’t anyone they knew.

I’m someone you know. And I could be next. I’m a bisexual woman who believes in equality and has friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, so on. I could have been in that club. I could’ve been there for a fun night with my friends, for dancing and drinks, and I could’ve walked in and never walked out again. It could be me whose phone keeps ringing and ringing as the rescue workers walk through the club through the cacophony of desperate people trying to reach their loved ones. It could be me whose voice you never hear again. It could be me who’s lying in a morgue, marked as “Jane Doe” because in all the chaos I dropped my wallet and they haven’t had time to figure out who I am yet.

Don’t turn away. Don’t stop reading. You need to know this. Those of you who might not have known my sexuality, who might not have thought about it, who might not have considered that it could be me. I want you to think very, very hard about that. About what it would feel like, to not know if I was okay, to wait hours in agony, trying to tell yourself that maybe I’m out of town, or maybe I lost my phone, or maybe this or maybe that because you don’t want to believe that I could be dead. To find out from my mom or brothers that I was killed, violently. I want you to think about how you’d feel. I want you to think about it. Because it could be me. Because of who I am, because of what I do, because I’m a bisexual woman living in the United States, I could be killed. It could be me.

We can’t let this continue. We can’t.

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”.

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.