This is Not Just What I Look Like

One of the reasons that I get so excited about being distantly related to Lizzie Borden or Jonathan Moulton or whomever is that when I was growing up in these small towns where everyone was related to everyone, of course, we were related to no one. We had cousins, but they were all in Michigan. And this notion that there are a shit-ton of people out there, all vaguely distantly related to me is… I don’t quite know how to explain it. It makes me feel like, yeah, I am from here.

This rich tapestry of people spreading out across American from the early 1600s.

Which, yes, I guess, makes us the smallpox blanket of people.

So, that’s maybe not so cool for everyone.

But it brings me to the other thing that really upsets me about this whole doctor visit. I look like the people I come from. My body is shaped like my grandma’s. I have huge boobs like my other grandma. I have blue eyes like my favorite uncle. I am big and fat like a ton of the Phillipses (no pun intended) and their ancestors. I don’t just look like me.

So, when someone wants to suggest ways that I can dramatically be thinner? Sometimes, depending on how it’s delivered, I experience it as “these traits you share with the people you love, the things about you that remind you of them, are gross and should not exist.”

Which kind of feels like you, and the people like you, your family, should not exist.

Because, I have to tell you, I have watched the people in my family for generations struggle to be thinner. And I don’t know of a one who’s lost weight and kept it off. Believe me, while I am weak-willed and will eat cookies for dinner, I can tell you, the self-loathing about being fat that some of them have and the self-discipline they have especially about things that would allow them to lord over other Phillipses and prove how much better they were than the rest of us, if there was a way to be thinner and stay thinner that worked for my family, someone would have done it. And that person would be bragging about it every damn day.

So, it’s not as if we are people who have been saddled with fat and who can, if disciplined enough, remove the fat and keep it off and still be people. Not overall. It may work in individual cases, but I have not yet seen it. We are fat people. It’s an inherent trait. The same way that we’re grouchy assholes who abuse drugs and each other.

Yes, we can successfully take steps to mitigate those traits and not everyone is expressing those traits, but they’re there.

But here’s the crucial difference, I think. I do think that, when my family is not being grouchy assholes who abuse drugs and each other, they are happier. And I long, so much, for the people in my family to be happy. It’d be good to mitigate those things.

It’s not important to me that my family mitigate being fat. I don’t look at them and think “There are all the gross and disgusting fuckers who I love” the same way I look at them and think “God damn it, can we just try to be happy for like five seconds and not be assholes to each other?”

I don’t see them as gross and disgusting at all. That’s my family.

I don’t know. I had a point, but I just got caught up on the idea that someone could look at my grandpa and see him as round as a Christmas ornament, sitting in his chair at his game table, smoking his ubiquitous cigar and think that his biggest problem was his weight. I mean, lord almighty, if you had to make a list of all of the health concerns that should have been addressed at the Phillips household and you put “they’re fat” at the top or even in the top ten, you are either a fucker or a fool.

How incredibly short-sighted you’d have to be to gaze into the house on Riverview and see only a family that needed to diet and exercise.

So, that’s it. In short, I feel like I’m being asked to reject some fundamental part of my family as fucked up and disgusting, something that makes me a “problem.” And this is funny considering what my family is like and how “fat” is really, the most neutral thing about them.

And I love them.

And that’s that.

The Small Rebellion of Being Who You Are

So, Ryan wrote this really beautiful post on how he was kind of caught off-kilter by his emotional response to seeing Chas Bono on Dancing with the Stars.

My personal reaction to Chaz has surprised me.  I didn’t expect to feel emotional about it, I didn’t expect to feel as invested as I have in him competing on a silly dancing television show.  But I found myself mesmerized watching the first episode, voting as many times as I could for him to stay on, and watching every week to see how he does.  Last night when he was eliminated I was emotional again hearing him say how his life would have been different if he could have seen someone like him on television when he was younger.  I was emotional because until I saw it, I never realized the sheer impact of seeing someone like Chaz on national television, not being studied on a talk show or the butt of jokes on a sitcom, but dancing alongside everyone else, could do for someone.

One thing Ryan’s post got me thinking about is how there is this is kind of a weirdness in activism, one that, I think, has been really helped by blogging. The weirdness is that what makes a good activist is often personal discomfort. You are so outraged that you must do or say something. And that’s great. We need activists.

But not everyone is an activist. And I think it can be hard for people who want to imagine a way to live their lives in some quiet manner to find people who are living their lives in a quiet manner to view as inspiration. People who are in great discomfort now want to know that there’s some hope for it to be resolved. But this is what Ryan is getting at about Chaz. He’s just appearing on some stupid show, in the same manner everyone else appears on the stupid show. It’s like activism of the mundane.

And I think that’s one of the things that blogging has really done well–allowed people who otherwise wouldn’t have it a chance to develop a voice and a platform and to tell their ordinary, unique stories.

As terrible as the statistics Ryan offers up about the realities transgender people in our country face, I don’t think that, even ten years ago, you could have easily found those statistics unless you were already a part of the activist community. And now, it will be completely ordinary for you to click on that link and read them.

Change can’t work without the in-your-face crowd. It just can’t. You need the radicals to open up room for the non-radicals. So, I hope this post isn’t construed as somehow criticizing the front-line activists. But change comes when the avant-garde (in the literal sense) have opened up the possibility and people who aren’t as radical have stepped in to take it.

But then, the people who are farther back need to know, somehow, that there is an ordinary, happy life available. That the possibility has been opened up and you can take it. That’s one thing that I think blogging has been really good at–providing glimpses of how boring and ordinary everyone’s lives are. I think that, without the mechanism of blogging (and Facebook and Twitter), it’d be a lot harder for people to know of the possibilities.

Anyway, it seems like one of the things that’s always used against minorities–racial, sexual, class, and gender–is that “they’re” not like “us.” “They” do all these things we would never do–have too many kids, have sex in “bizarre” and “wrong” manners with the “wrong” partners, have partners they can’t or don’t feel real connections to like “we” do, and deserve the shitty things that happen to them because they are so different than “us.”

Any time one of “us” comes out and says “Hey, I am the ‘them’ you’re talking about,” it opens the possibility that hearts and minds will change. But more importantly, it reduces the power of the boogey-man used to terrorize members of those minority groups into keeping quiet or being ashamed of who they are. You’re not a monster or so totally fucked up that things will never get better. You’re like your mom’s friend, or the girl you know at school, or the guy who wrote that post on the internet.

Gearing Up

It’s a kind of funny loop. I’m feeling good and sociable and excited because I have this nine-night doohickey set aside for woo-woo stuff, which means that folks are coming out of the woodwork to be all “let’s do dinner!”

The Man from GM is coming through on Sunday. My parents will be here on Tuesday. I can’t get out of those things, but I’m excusing myself from everything else.

So easy to just slip by carving time out. But I need to carve that time.

It’s nice to pick your own times for ritual, but I’m already like ‘Argh, Friday! I’m not ready.”

But I am ready. As ready as I need to be. Everything else is just window dressing.

Still, I’d like to get some white sage.

And some long matches.

And some wood for the fire.