Category Archives: disabilty

Body Oppression Teach-In/Santa Rosa, California

Debbie says

On Monday, November 16, at 7:00 p.m., Laurie and I will be the featured speakers at a body oppression teach-in sponsored by Occupy Sonoma County. If you are anywhere near Santa Rosa, California, please join us at the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County,  467 Sebastopol Avenue. (Donation requested.)

Here’s an (unpublished) article I wrote to offer some context for the teach-in:

nude from Women En Large

Perhaps the only thing that all human beings have in common is that each and every one of us lives in a body. Until the bioengineers figure out a way to upload our brains into the cloud, that’s going to stay true.

So what is “body oppression”?

If you are treated less well than other people because of something about your body, that’s body oppression. If a store detective follows you around because your skin is darker, and/or you are younger, that’s body oppression. If you can’t get into a building because your wheelchair doesn’t climb stairs, that’s body oppression. If your doctor makes assumptions about your health based on your size, that’s body oppression. And if you learn to shame yourself because of the body you live in, that’s internalized body oppression.

In other words, body oppression is everywhere. Almost all of us know what it feels like to be oppressed because of our bodies, and most of us know what it feels like to internalize that oppression and blame ourselves.

Resistance to body oppression is both individual and collective, both private and organized; however it forms, it always relies on each of us learning to accept our own bodies, live in our own skin. The cosmetics manufacturers and the beauty corporations have co-opted this message into “Love Your Body,” but Laurie and I are working towards something much richer, more complex, and more powerful than a smooth skin campaign.

nude from Familiar Men

Working with Laurie’s stunning black-and-white photographic images of bodies – fat female bodies, male bodies, bodies of women who live in Japan – and with accompanying text which encourages the viewer not to trivialize those images. We don’t want the portraits of fat women to be simplified to “yes, those bodies were beautiful in another time,” so we provide text that demonstrates her as powerful in the tradition of fat liberation.

Resisting body oppression as an individual isn’t (necessarily) about loving your body; that’s great if it happens. It’s about the right to look in the mirror and see what you see, not what the world tells you to see. It’s about making the invisible visible.

Michelle, who blogs as The Fat Nutritionist, said it perfectly:

We need to be allowed to see ourselves as human, at any size, and to see ourselves represented alongside other humans. We need to be able to share our images in public, if we want, and push the recognition of our humanity. Mostly, we need to be allowed to have images of ourselves imbedded in our brains, alongside everyone else. When we see nothing but images of people who don’t look like us celebrated and represented by our own culture, little by little, it degrades our sense of being human. It is a form of systemic emotional abuse.

 Resisting body oppression collectively is about working together, about learning to notice who is being oppressed and who is oppressing, about fighting back, about demanding that every single one of us is treated respectfully and fairly. Over the last few decades, body image activists working together have changed the kinds of clothes that are available, the quality of medical information, the laws about seat belt extenders on airplanes, and much more. There’s so much more to change that sometimes we forget how far we’ve come.

Building collective resistance can only be done by adding more and more individuals to the group. The one thing that makes the invisible visible better than a photograph is a living, breathing person. Each victim of body oppression (fat, dark-skinned, disabled, or any or all of the above) who asserts their right to live fully is a harbinger of the world we all want to live in. Each ally who supports us is a bulwark of the effort.

Come talk with us at the teach-in. Uploading into the cloud isn’t happening any time soon; as long as we all have bodies, let’s learn to live in them well and to fight for what we deserve.


“Body of Work”: Embodying Queer Disability

Debbie says:

I promised that I would review “Body of Work,” a spoken word show curated by my friend Gina de Vries, which promised to explore “queerness, sexuality, disability, chronic illness, and the question: ‘How do you have a body?'”

Body of Work is a new show, so it was fitting that the first version explored a lot of fresh territory. All six performers were at a high standard, so I’ll say something about each of them, and what I feel they brought to body image.

Tobi-Hill-Meyer-for-Body-of-Work-300x300Tobi Hill-Meyer used both spoken word and film to explore what happened to her at a Feminist Porn Awards show, when she and her girlfriend were harassed by a security guard for making out in the gender-neutral bathroom (!). Hill-Meyer has severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and had to wear her breathing mask in the bathroom because of those (horrible!) scent-releasing machines which hotels and other public venues will claim make life “better.” The mask changes her breathing, which is what attracted the guard’s attention, and also confused the guard about her gender. The result: disability and trans identity come together in a miserable institute of harassment (which was, fortunately, resolved fairly cleanly, but left both Hill-Meyer and her girlfriend traumatized). This piece was very clearly narrated, and the film (of the makeout session in the bathroom stall) brought an immediacy to it which strengthened the impact.

CinnamonCinnamon-Maxxine-Photo-1-for-Body-of-Work-300x297 read a raw, powerful open Dear John letter to their fears, anxieties, and limitations, a letter which revealed not only their vulnerabilities but also their anger against racism and the ways the world holds them back. The letter morphed into a beautiful transformative burlesque dance, done with a slideshow of the song lyrics in the background.





Katherine Cross created a context for the intersections of autism, trans identity, and sexuality using two video games: Bayonetta, a high-graphics video game about a sexy succubus who is the viewpoint character, and Error 404, a Twine game where your job is to pleasure an extremely demanding (and kinky) artificial intelligence. Cross drew the connections between learning sexuality from the outside (Bayonetta’s imagery) and from the inside (Error 404’s exploration), and brought the two back into her own sexual experience in an intense and moving presentation (with game screenshots in the background).

Neve Be provided a long, painful autobiographical screed about their sexual history, interwoven with disability experiences and experiences of racial oppression, powerfully narrated, with back-up electronic music which was intended to be (and was) disquieting and disturbing.

Rachel-K-180x300Hearing a performer talk about extreme social anxiety is particularly powerful, because they are there in front of you, telling you about the challenges of being there. Rachel K. Zall embodied this very well. I especially appreciated the casual, unstressed way in which she talked about overcoming (and not always overcoming) extraordinary challenges.

Finally, curator Gina DeVries, limited by strep throat (and unable to MC the show), read a short piece about sex and chronic pain, and being with a lover who was not only supportive of zir pain issues but also open to continued sexuality through pain limitations.

How do you have a body? By opening up the raw places, and finding joyous spaces inside. If this show runs next year (or anywhere else in between), with these performers or different ones, don’t miss your chance.