“No Fats, No Fems, No Blacks, No Asians”: Interrogating Whiteness and Its Collusion with Thinness and Hyper-Masculinity in Queer Communities

I have a t-shirt that says “More Fats More Fems.” It is a direct confrontation to the “no fats, no fems” rhetoric that is used in many gay personal ads or app profiles. I have seen this for many years. In addition, “no Blacks, No Asians” is also frequently used, along with an aversion towards transgender people.

Most of these ads emanate from white, cisgender, gay men. White supremacy, thin supremacy and cis supremacy are huge problems in the GLBTQ community. I have found this out the hard way through my own experience. I am oppressed by two of these axes of oppression and privileged by the third. I will talk about the oppression first and then end with the way I am privileged.

I am fat and femme. In 1973, I was assigned male at birth. Growing up, I always knew I was not a boy. I was a feminine-acting and a gender nonconforming child. My gender creativity did not sit well with my peers or even my own family. For my first six years of existence, I was just me and living life with my parents and siblings. But as soon as I went to elementary school, I was thrown to the wolves. It was like a trial by fire. The playground was a battleground for me. I was brutally bullied from grades k-12 and grew increasingly aware of the fact that I was femme. When I came out into the gay community as an undergrad I was shocked by the level of femmephobia or effemiphobia. Fem gay men were completely marginalized. There was a tremendous emphasis on being masculine. Masculinity was seen as sexy and male-assigned people who were fem/me or feminine were seen as sexually and socially undesirable. I was shocked because I erroneously assumed that a group that was discriminated against would not discriminate against members of their own community. There were lots of fem/me gay and queer men that I met and they too faced marginalization from the community. When I came out as trans the anti-femme hatred only intensified and I realized how much misogyny, sexism, effemiphobia and transphobia there was in the gay and lesbian community.

I was also a chubby child and was bullied for being fat. I look back at chubby photos of myself as a child now and think I look cute. At the time, having my appearance mocked was devastating. I was already being teased mercilessly for being a feminine boy. Being made fun of for my weight and appearance dragged me down even further. I am not a lifelong fatty. When I hit puberty, I zoomed up in height [eventually reaching a height of 6’6”] and became really skinny for about 15 years. However, when I hit 30, my weight started to shoot up. This was similar to my other family members. I went from my lowest adult weight of around 200 to my current weight of over 400 pounds. I doubled in size. I have seen the way people treated me then versus the way they treat me now, including in the queer community. One time at a trans event, a skinny trans woman gave me the dirtiest look because apparently I was taking too much food from the buffet. I could no longer enjoy the event and felt like crying. The standard in the LGBTQ community is thin. The community as a whole is thin supremacist. The beauty standards for trans women or transfeminine people is the same as dominant culture: thin, dainty and petite. As a 6’6”, 425 pound transfeminine non-binary person, I am a TransAmazon. I do not fit the dominant beauty standards of cis or trans communities. It is very difficult to realize how marginalized I am in this society.

Transmisogyny and Fatphobia are issues that I care deeply about. I am affected by both problems and am the victim of these forms of oppression. However, I am also white. As a white person, I receive white privilege. This refers to unearned benefits and advantages that a person receives simply for having white skin. I first became aware of my whiteness in 1992. I was taking a Black Studies course and it was also the year that there were riots in Los Angeles due to the fact that the Black motorist Rodney King was brutally beaten by cops and the cops were exonerated by an all-white jury. This was done even though there was a video of the assault. I could not believe this injustice and was embarrassed to belong to a race that was so hateful and so dedicated to spreading white supremacy and dominance.

When I first came out, one of my best friends was a Black, bisexual woman. Her coming out paralleled my own coming out as queer and trans. We were both in a white, cisgender, gay and lesbian community and organization. As I began to experience transphobia, I noticed that she began to experience racism and biphobia. White lesbians and gay men treated her differently and made inferences about her identity. She got sick and tired of the racist treatment and had me read a letter to the LGBT group addressing her mistreatment. Her experience sadly was not unique. Beginning in the 70s and 80s, women of color began to speak out and write essays about racism in Women’s Studies, feminism and the lesbian Community.

Women of color and lesbian of color feminists sounded the alarm about racism in white-dominated feminist and lesbian spaces. Audre Lorde emerged as a leader who wrote and spoke extensively about racism in the women’s movement and in the lesbian community. She wrote that “your silence will not protect you” and encouraged women of color and queer women of color in particular to speak out about racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

It was through my friend’s experiences and then through my immersion in Women’s Studies that I learned about racism and my own white privilege. I realized that I have white privilege in the LGBTQ community and that there are many ways in which white people receive better treatment in both the mainstream and in the subcultures. LGBTQ people of color face racism in the white dominated LGBTQ community and sometimes homophobia and transphobia in communities of color. This means that it is often hard to find a home where they truly feel valued. It speaks to the need for queer and trans people of color communities to have their own groups and spaces that are safe and inclusive.

In conclusion, the “no fats, no fems, no Blacks, no Asians” phrase is absolutely despicable. This phrase speaks to the need to combat racism, fatphobia and femme-phobia within the LGBTQ community. One of the things that has truly helped in the past several decades has been the emphasis on intersectionality. Now people are looking at what it means to be a queer person of color or a fat feminist or an Asian trans man etc. because they are putting together multiple forms of identity and analyzing multiple forms of oppression. My hope is that people will analyze both how they are oppressed and how they are privileged and work towards a community of diversity, inclusion and respect.

Women’s Studies Graduation Speech

These are the remarks I made at our Women’s Studies Graduation today. The remarks at the event were shortened for time; these are the unabridged remarks.

In thinking about what to say today, I was struck by the phrase full circle moment. As many of you know, I graduated as an undergrad at UNH in Women’s Studies back in 1996. We had our very small women’s studies graduation in the Smith Hall reception room and I never imagined I would be back teaching at UNH 22 years later. As an undergrad, it was Women’s Studies that radicalized me. I came to the institution traumatized after 12 years of severe bullying based on my gender expression, my weight, my socioeconomic status and even my height. When I got to my first women’s studies class with Penelope Morrow, my whole world started to shift. Up until that time, I thought the bullying I received had been my fault. But the more I learned, the more I learned about patterns of systemic oppression. I began to study gender and gender expressions beyond the gender binary. I came out as transgender and knew that I did not fit the gender binary system. I realized the oppression I faced was not my own fault but the fault of the transphobic system we lived in. After many years of study, I returned to UNH as a faulty member and came to that full circle moment. In addition to Penelope Morrow now being a colleague, so too is Jane Stapleton who taught me feminist activism when I was a sophomore. I wanted to give a five brief lessons learned in my years at UNH and beyond that I think are important reminders for all our wonderful women’s studies students.

1. Know and respect from where you came.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Let us be thankful for our families, blood and adoptive, and all that they have given us in our journeys thus far. For a long time I was very bitter towards my parents and focused endlessly on what they didn’t do or didn’t give me. Now that I am older, I focus on what they did do for me and what they gave me. I see the tremendous sacrifices they made to bring me and my siblings into the world. On their end, my parents should also be grateful. They got a son, a daughter and a J, so they got all bases covered. In addition to our families and our ancestors, I also want us to thank out feminist, queer and ancestors of color… For me these include people like Audre Lorde, Leslie Feinberg, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, Pat Parker, Sylvester, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Gloria Anzaldua and many more. Remember how hard these folks fought and be inspired by their sacrifices.

2. Be who you are.

During your four years here, it is my hope that you have been able to explore your identity and figure out a little bit about who you are and who you are becoming. I say a little bit because being who you are is truly a lifelong process. I have had identities change and identities stay the same but it is all a part of the process of who I am. The most important part of this phrase is to be unrepentant and unashamed in the person that you are. We live in a society that is constantly trying to make people conform and be someone that they are not. These forces are strong and they are ubiquitous. I urge you to resist these forces as much as you are able. The true you is incredibly beautiful and deserves to radiate powerfully in this world. As Alice Walker wrote: “No person is your friend or kin who demands your silence, or who demands your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended. Or who belittles in any fashion that gifts you labor so to bring into the world.” I specifically urge those from oppressed and marginalized groups to be who they are. So often, we are taught we don’t belong or that we should not even survive. What a revolutionary act it is to be Black or Trans or a Feminist Woman or a Disabled Person and refuse to be silent and refuse to hide in the shadows. We are beautiful and we deserve to be here. Be who you are. Or as Oscar Wilde famously quipped: be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

3. Love who you are.

Folks, this is a really tough one for me. I don’t have a problem being who I am in the world, but I sometimes I have a hard time loving who I am because the cultural zeitgeist is so dominated by bigotry, discrimination and prejudice against all marginalized social groups. We assert ourselves and often get beaten down and told to hate ourselves. This message to hate ourselves, whether subtle or overt, is incredibly injurious to us. Self-love is the love that makes all other love possible. It is especially important for people of color, LGBTQ people, feminist women, disabled people and others to love ourselves because to so strongly leads to self-empowerment. When we go in being who we are and loving who are, we have already won half the battle. There will be more than enough people who diss us, who hate on us or who throw shade at us. We don’t have to be one of them. Our self-love will take us through many difficult passages in our lives and it will help to radiate outward our internal essence to the whole outside world. I am not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying I don’t struggle with it myself. But even if only a goal, even if only a destination, when we throw our ourselves into self-love, there ain’t no telling what we might be able to accomplish.

4. Stand up for what you believe in.

Those of you who know me might know that this is definitely my favorite one. I love to fight back against injustice. I love to see my teaching as not only an academic pursuit but as a form of activism or social justice seeking. As a teacher here, I am thrilled to see students’ transformations. From first year to senior year, I get to witness students change their minds and refine their thinking. Together, we look at issues from multiple angles and figure out our own thinking. From there, if we are activists, and women’s studies students almost always are, we can take our thinking and figure out how to fight for it in our society. Today’s society needs progressive activism more than ever. We stand up and demand that all people have reproductive justice and the ability to make choices about their own body. We demand respect and rights for people of all genders, including Trans and gender non-binary people. We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and with all communities of color fighting police brutality and mass incarceration. We stand for a solid social safety net that does not put the elderly and the disabled at risk or in harm’s way and we demand a universal, single-payer health care system that shows that health care is not a luxury but a right. We stand for these and so many other things. What do you stand for? What do you want to stand for? What do you want your legacy to be? Go out there and fight for your beliefs and know that I and Women’s Studies are here cheerleading you on every step of the way.

5. Never, ever, ever give up.

Think about the civil rights movement and how long it took to obtain basic civil rights in the fight against slavery and Jim Crow segregation and how that movement continues in the fight against police brutality and against the prison industrial complex. Think about the suffrage movement and how it took 72 years for them to finally get suffrage in 1920. Think about Harvey Milk and how he gave his life in the battle for gay rights. Think about Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson who fought for transgender people, homeless people and the incarcerated for decades before their tragic and premature deaths. None of these folks gave up. We have a responsibility to follow in their footsteps. Activism is not for a week or a month or a year. It is a truly a lifelong pursuit. Never give up. The words needs your passion, your fierceness and you stunning fabulosity.

In conclusion, I want to say thank you. Each day in the classroom I have learned so much from you and taken away so much wisdom. On this, the time of your commencement, I want you to go forth and continue the work you have started here at UNH. I wish you many full circle moments. A quote from one of my heroes Leslie Feinberg goes: “Imagine a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for. I closed my eyes and allowed my hopes to soar.” Let your hopes soar high and always know that what you are doing matters to the world. It may not be easy but it is totally worth it. There are few feelings as wonderful ad changing the world for the better. Thank you all so much for listening.

 

Trans Support Groups

I remember the first transgender support group I attended. It was at the Milford UU Church and it was called Transgender North or T.G. North. They had an old-school snail mail newsletter they would send out and they would address it as T.G. North so it would give recipients of the newsletter more privacy. There would usually be between 10-20 people who attended G.T. North. They were an interesting bunch with the usual diverse “characters” you often find in the transgender community, and I say that only in the positive sense. It felt good to be in a community of trans people [and it was almost exclusively trans women and MTF cross-dressers.] This was back in the early to mid-1990s and the group was run by a couple names Karen and Pat Wells. They worked very hard to keep the group going for a good amount of time and I am not sure when the group eventually folded. There were some people that got cross-dressed in the church bathroom, as they did not have the privacy or safety to get dressed in their home. A few brought their wives and partners but many did not, either because their spouse was unaccepting or because their wife did not know.

I went to a few other support groups including Tri-Ess New England, the Tiffany Club in Waltham, Mass and one in Portsmouth, NH. Some I only went to one meeting while others I went to a few. A group I founded called New Hampshire Transgender Resources for Education and Empowerment [NH TREE] in the early 2000s had a number of open houses where we had meals and shared comradery with each other. The same was true of the 2009 successor to NH TREE that I formed entitled simply Transgender NH. There have been barbeques and house parties and pot lucks.

However, what I would like to point out is that the days when the support groups had their heyday, in the 1980s and 1990s are over. Starting in the mid to late 1990s, the internet happened. This enabled people to meet online. It enabled people in rural areas to find each other much more quickly. I remember back to Transgender Tapestry Magazine and how they would have personal ads in the back of the magazine. People would then write into the International Foundation for Gender Education [IFGE], who ran the magazine and the mail would get forwarded to the correct person. It all seems so quaint now. Snail mail! Imagine that.

While I would say there is still very much a need for trans people to get in a room and be able to look each other squarely in the face, I am not sure the next generation agrees. Digital natives, they have grown up with the internet, smart phones, social media and digital technology all around them. Going to a brick-and-mortar trans support group may seem old-fashioned or even unnecessary.

I will always be thankful for trans support groups, especially T.G. North. This was a time early in my coming out when I definitely needed this type of support. I only wish I knew where many of those early pioneers I met are and how they are doing. Their courage is inspiring to me and I will never forget them.

What’s Going On

I blew it. My goal was to write one 500-word entry per day. I have not done so in well over a week. There are several reasons for this. I don’t want them to come as excuses, because ultimately I am responsible for this blog. I am not so much disappointed in not keeping up so much as frustrated. There has been several life circumstances that have made it hard to keep up.

I am injured. I have a problem with my foot that they are still trying to figure out. One explanation is a tear in the Achilles tendon. But they won’t know for sure until I have an MRI on May 4. The pain has been excruciating. They put me in a “boot” and it hurt more than ever. The “boot” crushed my heel. I think this was because my whole foot and leg was so swollen. It has been difficult to walk and the whole situation has been extremely frustrating. The pain has made me not want to do much of anything, including writing.

It is the end of the semester and the end of the academic year. That is always an incredibly busy time. I have always said that I don’t like the academic year. I would much rather have the 9 months of works spread over 12 months because the work load would be so much more manageable. As it is now, we are supposed to cram everything in before mid-May. I hate the amount of stress that puts everyone through and then all of a sudden everyone leaves. It is truly bizarre if you ask me. I envy other people that have normal 12-month schedules.

The injury has caused me to be depressed. My depression is not as bad as it was about a month ago but it has flared again because of the injury. This further makes me uninterested in the blog and keeping up with a daily practice.

Finally, this past week, I had to do three, 1000-word articles. These articles were for the zines I do in my classes. Although it is a student publication, I try to always write an article and have my TA write one as well. It wasn’t too bad writing these because the topic interested me but it definitely took away from writing in my blog.

I have no idea if I will write an entry tomorrow. I have a doctor’s appointment and then a 3-hour class. The injury has made me not want to walk and made me more tired as well as it feels like I expend twice as much energy when I have to walk.

I need to have compassion for myself. It is not a failure that I have not kept up but perhaps a set-back. What I know for sure is that the blog will continue and that I will make a priority. I think when classes end that will be a help and when I get this injury under control as well. Thank you to anyone who reads this and thanks for your patience as I attempt to re-establish a daily/regular writing practice.

Glucometer

I have no idea sometimes why I picked the keywords that I did. But I am going to stay true to them and see what comes up. Perhaps it will be good for me as a writer, because it makes me write about challenging topics. Not just challenging in their complexity, but challenging in their narrowness. How often does one write 500 words about their glucometer?

For those that don’t know [and before I became diabetic I certainly didn’t know] a glucometer is a little device that allows you to test your blood. You prick your finger with a lancet and then put the blood up against a little piece of hard paper called a test strip. Then you get a number. One website [dexcom] states: “A glucometer, also known as a glucose meter or blood glucose monitoring device, is a home measurement system you can use to test the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood.”

Many people want to know if it hurts. It doesn’t hurt too bad once you get used to it. It is a little pin prick and doesn’t bother me much. I generally take it from the same finger because it seems to be one that can get pricked again and again and be no worse for the wear for it. The injections of insulin can sometimes hurt more than the finger prick to be honest. It depends but sometimes it hurts and can even cause a small amount of blood to be emitted. All things being said, I’d rather have the finger prick test than the injections of insulin in my belly.

The number pops up incredibly quickly. I barely have time to take out the lancet and dispose of it before it pops up on the glucometer. It is so, so easy to feel like a complete and total failure when that number pops up. I may have had low blood sugar once or twice in my life. The vast majority has been high to very high.

For people with diabetes, your fasting number should be 80–130 mg/dl. 2 hours after meals a person with diabetes should be less than 180 mg/dl. The official A1C recommendation for someone with diabetes is less than 7.0%. My fasting number this morning was 173. That’s pretty bad. However, I am grateful for any time that my number does not go above 200. I have had numbers in the 300s and even a few in the 400s.

I generally test my fasting number each morning first thing [fun!]. But recently my diabetes regimen has changed. In addition to my long-acting insulin taken each morning in 2 shots I will be doing three short acting injections before each meal. My endocrinologist wants me to test before each injection with meals as well as at night before bed. So this increases my number of injections from 2 to 5 and my number of finger-prick texts from 1 to 5. So that means I will be doing 5 injections and 5 finger-prick tests per day. This is a huge increase and basically means my glucometer and supplies needs to be with me at all times.

As I said in a previous entry, I hate diabetes and I hate having diabetes. But it is a challenge to take care of it well and get your numbers in better control. I hope to do just that and will keep you informed. Also, I just wrote over 500 words about a glucometer. Go me!

Capitalism

This is a hard entry to write simply because I am far from an economic theorist. I find economics very challenging and can’t even balance my own check book, much less truly understand huge economic paradigms. What I can say, without any trepidation, is that I hate capitalism.

I have long believed capitalism to be a wicked, nefarious, rotten system. I have long seen it as a system based upon brutality. I have long seen it as a system based on greed and callousness.

Capitalism is defined as “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” “Private owners for profit” is the key phrase there. And it could not be more obvious that this profit is not equally shared by the masses. It is owned by the 1% and other economic elites.

Like so many others I come from a working-class/lower-class family. My parents have struggled their whole lives economically. I give them all the credit in the world for raising three kids on such a small amount of money and holding on to jobs for decades in order to keep the family going. Despite gaining four degrees, I have not been able to surpass my parents in terms of economics. In fact, I am in worse shape because at least they were able to own their own home. My brother and sister also struggle economically and have not surpassed our parents in terms of income.

This is not a rarity. This is the norm. People, with few exceptions, do not surpass the economic class of their parents. Part of the American mythos is the rags to riches lie, that you can start off with nothing and earn your way into the 1%. This does not happen. Period. This ties in with the other lie called “the American dream.” This states that if you work hard enough you can rise up the economic ladder. The “myth of meritocracy” is a good phrase for describing the reality here. It is a myth that merit will carry you up the economic ladder. As we know, we live in a racist, sexist, heterosexist country [among many others isms]. So being a white, cis, straight male is in itself a kind of currency. Fairness or hard work is not the way it works in the USA. Capitalism is at the base of virtually all forms of oppression. That is not to say it is more important, but that cash play into racism, sexism, etc. in vitally important ways.

Meanwhile, socialism is defined as “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” As it stands right now, the community has no power under capitalism. The rich, powerful and elite, including government officials, have all the power. We would have to overthrow capitalism to move into a system of socialism. I wish it could happen tomorrow. But it is going to take a very long time to do so. I do see the beginnings of revolutionary thought through some of the movements that have come forth in the past several years since the beginning of the Occupy movement. I am a socialist and I believe that the means of production should be regulated by the community as a whole. In the personal realm, I know for sure that I am never going to get ahead given the ratio of my debt and my income. Capitalism is a wicked system and it needs to be dismantled so that people can experience true security and true freedom.

 

 

 

White Supremacy

bell hooks frequently uses the phrase “white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.” I think it is a handy way to name the systems of oppression we live under, even if some identities are not included in it. In the last entry I talked about patriarchy and today I am going to talk about white supremacy.

The first thing that I want to say about this entry is that I am white. Therefore it colors what I have to say about the subject. Many white leftists like to talk about racism as if they are the experts on it. We are not and never will be. So take what I have to say here with a grain of salt given my white privilege.

White supremacy is a system of domestic terrorism. It has been going on for centuries. It started with the genocide of Native people and then proceeded to slavery with the arrival of the first African person in 1619. African Americans have suffered 400 years of horrific oppression. When slavery ended, the attacks continued via lynching. Then came Jim Crow segregation and now we have the prison industrial complex. Slavery has not really died; it has only been redesigned.

In recent years we have seen case after case of mostly African American men and some women be assassinated by the police. While this has been going on much longer, the availability of cell phones makes documenting the cases easier. In some cases police body cameras also show the event. But what is remarkable is that in most cases it doesn’t matter. In case after case we see officers exonerated even when there is video proof that they murdered someone. The fight for justice against police is an uphill battle. Police are seen as being in the right, and armed or unarmed Black men are targeted as the enemy who deserves to be killed. When we hold police accountable for their crimes?

When you think of genocide, forced relocation, boarding schools, slavery, Japanese internment in concentration camps, Jim Crow segregation, lynching, the prison industrial complex, police brutality against POC, you get a good sense of what the system of racial terrorism looks like in the U.S. POC can never really catch a breath when their lives are always on the line. The recent extreme presence of xenophobia and immigrant bashing is another facet of white supremacy. The fact that a president as blatantly racist as DJT could be elected president is proof positive of the continuing power of white supremacy.

White supremacy can also be used to refer to colorism, the system that assigns superior value to light or lighter skinned POC within POC communities. It can also be used to refer to POC collusion with dominant systems of race ideology. bell hooks has termed this the colonized mind. Internalized oppression is a huge problem in all oppressed groups. We must work to make members of our oppressed groups “woke.” This involves education and the willingness to stick your neck out in service to a larger cause.

Sometimes I am amazed that POC even talk to white people given the way we have treated them for centuries. To me, it would only be natural for POCs to have animosity for white people. At any rate, as white people we need to take responsibility for white racism and own up to our white privilege. We have created this problem and we have a duty to correct it.