Category Archives: Familiar Men

Justin Chin: 1969-2015

Laurie and Debbie say:

Just before Christmas, Justin Chin died, at the age of 46. Justin was an award-winning  queer poet and performance artist, who wrote (among many other things) about being HIV positive. He was also featured in our Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes.

nude of Justin Chin from FAMILIAR MEN

About this picture of Justin, Laurie says, “I photographed Justin in his home, in places he chose, surrounded by his things. One of the feelings I absolutely wanted to include in Familiar Men was joy, so making this picture of Justin was a real gift.”

In Justin’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Justin’s friend Kirk Read said: ““He was a soft-spoken visionary who could go on a rant about generations of gay men dying and then toss in a completely inane pop culture reference and have it all make sense. … He brought gravity and levity to the microphone.”

Friend of Body Impolitic Steven Schwartz has a Justin Chin recollection:

The first time I saw Justin Chin perform, it made an impression I will never forget. This was in the 1990s. HIV was still very scary and HIV+ blood was something that policemen feared and everyone else viewed with a near-magical awe.

Justin was lactose intolerant. The piece was addressing how that lactose intolerance played out where he went to school — because he was offered milk every day as part of school lunch.

But the moment that transfixed me was when, as he was telling the story, he took out a syringe, and drew some of his own blood.  There it was, on the stage — HIV+ blood, the boogeyman of boogeymen. He injected it into the milk carton he also had on stage with him.  Towards the end of the performance, he opened the carton, and drank the milk — and the
blood. Everyone was afraid of the blood, but it was the milk that was, to him, dangerous and poisonous.

I have never seen anything like it on stage, for its bravery, for its inversion of expectation and understanding, and for the way it changed perspectives in a moment.

Justin wrote several poetry books, including Gutted, winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Poetry and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, Harmless Medicine, and Bite Hard. His  essay collections are Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms, Burden of Ashes, and Mongrel: Essays, Diatribes, & Pranks. His one short story collection is 98 Wounds.

We’ll close with two excerpts from “Grave,” a Justin Chin poem about death.

In the harsh glare of an easily
reprehensible life. The channel changer is lost
in the crack of an infinite sofa.
       Everything falls apart, everything breaks
down, torn into a million
              fragments, Jericho everyday.
I want to be the blameless
victim in this canceled puppet show,
the marionette every mother loves, the one
souvenirs are modeled from.
You know what they say,
God never closes a door before making sure
that the windows are barricaded
and the fire escape is inaccessible.
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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.


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