jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

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At the Corner of Fat & Queer

Today is International No Diet Day. I used to write a lot about such things, before I went and got all queerified. And I thought today might be a good day to go back to that.


You see, my queerness and my fatness have a lot in common.

Being fat and being queer are both frowned upon by society. In most spaces, it’s only X markes the spotokay to be fat if you are ashamed of it. You have to talk a lot about how hard you’re fighting it, or how hard you will fight it, after you have this one last piece of cake. Excuses are given, resolutions are made. It becomes very performative, very competitive. A lot of energy is expended hating who you are.

Similarly, society in general, and the church in particular, teach queer people to work against who they are. Lots of theories are posited in an attempt to explain why we are the way we are. We’re supposed to fight it. Our own experiences are dismissed in favor of the newest bestselling book on the subject.

Having spent a decade being “out” as fat with no intention of losing weight, or letting my size get in the way of living life to its fullest, or hating myself because of it, or believing it makes me unlovable was good practice for living as an openly bisexual person.

Being a fat person who does athletic things has meant existing in hostile territory, and contending with disbelief. How can I possibly be fat and do a 12k? Or bike to work? Or this, or that. And if I am doing those things, then I must be doing them to change my size! Being queer and Christian is much the same. Hostile territory. Disbelief. And surely, if I’m in church and talking about being queer, it’s because I want my queerness “fixed,” my struggles prayed over.

Science is awesome but it hasn’t yet given us all the answers. A lot of money has been spent trying to pinpoint what went wrong in fat people that led to them being fat. It’s viewed, by science, as a type of brokenness in need of healing. A much better, much healthier, way of viewing body size is as a spectrum with no right or wrong or good or bad attached to it. I’ve written a lot, and others have written a lot, about this. We’ve talked about how research is beginning to show that the detrimental effects normally associated with fatness are actually associated with social ostracization, attempts to force the body into an ‘acceptable’ size, dismissive health care practices, etc. Fat people are in better health if they’re treated as, you know, people. Respected, listened to, trusted, treated as legitimate.

Science has also failed to provide an explanation for queerness. We’re certainly learning more, like how individual genes behave differently in different people, and can be affected by other biological factors. What we do know, though, is that sexual orientation is not changable, and that the life of a queer person can literally depend on whether the people surrounding that person are supportive or not, especially if that person is young. The church tends to view queerness as a type of brokenness in need of healing. But sexuality, like size, is best viewed as a spectrum. We are not all alike, and that’s a beautiful thing–not a bad one.

There’s another side to all of this, though, and that’s joy. I have found great joy in liberating myself from self-hate and fighting my body. Joy in 12k races and bike rides and hula hooping. Joy in buying clothes that fit me now instead of waiting until I became the ‘right’ size. Joy in being comfortable in my own body. I have also found great joy since coming out. Joy in being known for who I really am. Joy in liberating my affections. Joy in the community of queer people, and queer Christians, that I’m finding. Joy in being comfortable in my own soul.

And I won’t be letting the world around me steal that joy.

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Bi-onic Vision

I don’t date much. Never have. In the seven months since I came out as bisexual, I haven’t dated anyone of any gender. But I’ve discovered some interesting things about myself and society when it comes to dating. Things that went without thinking when I only pictured myself dating men are turned upside down when I consider dating women.

This became apparent during a recent discussion about my married name. I don’t like my last name, but when my marriage ended I kept it because of the kids. I thought, erroneously, that it would be important to the kids for us to have the same surname, and that it would help avoid rude speculation about their parentage. (If you’ve never been a single mother, just know that people suck, and they think they’re owed the details of your sex life. Oh hey, kind of like when you’re queer.) I also thought I would remarry. Why go to the trouble of changing it, only to change it again when I found my man?

That was twenty-one years ago. I never remarried. One of my children has changed his last name. I’m still stuck with mine. As I pondered this I realized that, if I ever do remarry, it will probably be to a woman. And if I married a woman, why would I take her last name?

No, really. Why? Why do we do this?

diceI could Google, but I suspect I’d find that the answer is ‘patriarchy.’ I suspect I’d find that the bride taking the groom’s surname is equivalent to a “Property of” label. And when the gender difference is removed from the relationship, so is the implicit ownership of one person by the other. Similarly, concerns about which of you is taller, which of you is older, which earns more money, etc.–these things no longer matter. They’re are all signifiers of power, and when the relationship is between two men or two women, there is no automatic expectation that the one is more powerful than the other.

I’m beginning to understand the discomfort straight white men feel about same-sex relationships. Heaven forbid people should see all those loving, equal partnerships and get the wrong idea.

But it’s not all rainbows and roses. The thought of dating women has revealed deep insecurities in myself that I did not know I had, or thought I had overcome. I’ve been surprised to find that the comfort and confidence I’ve worked so hard to develop in my own body is shattered in the face of my attraction to women with societally acceptable bodies.

I’ve had enough experience with men to know that the majority of them find me attractive. They may do so in secret, because they’re victims of this society as well, but I know that the average man would sleep with me if I offered. My theory is probably flawed, but I’ve always chalked this up to boobs. I have them. Men want them. But women…women have their own. They don’t need mine. And I know that it’s equally illogical, since I find a variety of women attractive, to think that other queer women are only interested in a narrow selection of body types, but that is still how I feel. Perhaps because I’ve been a woman for several decades, privy to women’s magazines and the constant striving of nearly every woman in existence for the perfect body? I don’t know. But whatever the cause, my insecurities abound, and I have yet to find a cure. *sigh*

♥Hey, did you know that today is International Transgender Day of Visibility? If you’re a cisgender person, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the simultaneous need for visibility and fear of being visible that trans* people experience. Spend some time reading and listening to their stories. Think about how you might create compassion within yourself and safety for the trans* people in your life. Thank you.

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Fun Fat Fact: Sleep Apnea

Story time!

Once upon a time, my tiny little grandmother and I went on a trip to Portland and shared a hotel room, and I got no sleep at all because I spent the entire night checking to make sure she wasn’t dead.  Why?  Because I realized that when her snoring stopped, so did her breathing, and it’s scientifically proven that people who breathe live longer than people who don’t.  When we got home, she reported this to her doctor, had a sleep study, and was found to stop breathing in her sleep roughly every two minutes.  Why was this not spotted before?  She had all sorts of signs, such as falling asleep in the daytime (at least twice while driving), waking up tired, truly awful snoring, etc.

I’ll tell you why:  She’s not fat.  And “everyone knows” that sleep apnea is much more common in fat people, right?  Must be all that fat forcing the air out of the lungs or something?  Wrong.

Yes, there was a study that said that, and this study got all sorts of attention.  Far more attention, it turns out, than the retraction of the study due to the researcher falsifying the data in order to make his hypothesis magically come true.  This researcher has since gone to work for the pharmaceutical industry, where I’m sure his skills are better appreciated.  Unfortunately, many medical professionals, and the media at large, still believe there’s a link between weight and sleep apnea, and weight loss is even recommended as a treatment.  This becomes a double-edged sword:  fat people are forced through unnecessary testing because it’s assumed they have the disease and/or pressured to lose weight, and thin people aren’t tested and continue to suffer.

This is not an uncommon theme when it comes to the medicalization of fat.  The blaming of fat is incorporated into our cultural outlook, becomes integral to the plot lines of our TV shows, and substitutes for actual medical assessment.  Losing weight, even though it is almost never successful, and often results in a greater regain, is prescribed as a fix for all manner of issues, even though we don’t have a clue about cause and effect.  Nor is it uncommon for research to be falsified or skewed to reach the desired conclusion.  Research has to be funded by somebody, and that somebody generally has an agenda.  The published conclusion often doesn’t tell the same story that the data tells, and the news media doesn’t seem to read beyond their own headlines.

For these reasons and others, it’s important to educate ourselves.  Great books on this subject include Body of Truth by Harriet Brown, and The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos, and I encourage you to read one or both.

Today’s Fun Fat Fact:  Fat does not cause sleep apnea.

(Hey, did you know I’m on Twitter?  Follow me @fearless_jenn)