Laurie Toby Edison

Photographer

Preston Gannaway: Out in the ‘Hood: Teddy Ebony As Young Gay Man

Laurie says:

I first met Preston Gannaway at the National Queer Arts Festival when we both had work in the Bodies, body, bodies exhibition. Then I saw her again when we both had work in LGBT Art: Our Common Wealth at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

I very much admired her photographs in both shows. They were from her Out in the ‘Hood: Teddy Ebony As Young Gay Man.
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Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Preston Gannaway began documenting the life of Tavaris “Teddy Ebony” Edwards when they met during Pride week at Norfolk State University last year. Teddy is a young gay man living in Chesapeake, Virginia, who came out at 16 years old and dropped out of school. Today he’s attending college part-time and hoping to better his life.

“I’m the first openly gay person in my family. As a young boy, I was always feminine. I always liked boys. I had to hide it, because people expected me to be who I wasn’t. Before I came out, I was the captain of the football team. I was living a dream that everybody wanted me to live. I came out when I was sixteen. I guess I got tired of hiding who I really wanted to be.
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School was always tough on me. I was always teased about being gay. I didn’t wanna be around that. So I just left. [In my family] nobody’s got their high school diploma. But me and my mom got our GEDs.

My mom was both my parents. … My dad died when I was two years old and my stepfather was sent to prison when I was seven so my mom did her best at raising me. Growing up gay and without a father was very hard for me. Because there’s nothing like the support of  your dad.

When I turned 16 I accepted myself as being gay. It was very hard because I didn’t know if I would be accepted by my family, how friends would feel. But I couldn’t keep hiding who I was anymore. It was becoming too stressful. When people called me names like gay or faggie, I used to be so sad. Because I was more than just gay or a faggie. It really bothered me, though, because before I came out I was cool  with everyone. I had gay tendencies but I was a funny, so I always had everyone laughing. … But the hardest thing about coming out was telling my mom. I knew it was gonna crush her. But she took it better than I thought. She still loved me as her son. So once I had her approval, being gay became easier because I didn’t care what others thought anymore. My mom knew, and that’s all that mattered.

I believe in God. I go to church. God had been blessing me so much. I want a baby. I may be gay, but I want a baby. I plan to get married one day. Hopefully I can get married to a man.

Being gay, that’s the easy part. I’m happy being gay. You have no choice but to accept being gay, baby, because if you stress about it, you’re gonna hurt yourself.

I’ve been in the ballroom scene for almost six years now and I can honestly say the ballroom scene made me who I am today. Six years ago I was a 17-year-old high school drop-out, always fighting, doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing, trying to fit in and be somebody I wasn’t. As the years went past and I started to get older I realized there is so much out there in life. Like school, dancing, traveling, marching band. I started off by getting my GED in 2012 and joining my church, Enoch Baptist church, where I’m accepted for who I am.

One thing I can say [is that] over the years, being gay has changed completely. It’s more accepted and respected by some. Nowadays I see gays wear short shorts, girl shirts, tights, girl shoes and they walk around comfortable. Back in ’06, ’07, you would have been jumped or joked. Yes, that’s still around, but I don’t see to much of it anymore. I think that within the next five years being gay will be even more accepted. And I can’t wait to see it!
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It’s gotten so much better over the years. It’s comfortable now. I walk through the hood like it’s nothing. Everybody knows me now. This is me. I’m gay and I accept that.”

(Quotations are from Lightbox at Time.com.)

She does superb work and he’s an important voice.

HAES, Intersectionality, Inclusion, and Bravery

Debbie says:

Jessica Wilson is the most exciting HAES (health at every size) blogger I have come across in a long time. Blogging at My Kitchen Dietitian from my home town of Oakland, California, she identifies herself as a thin woman of color, not the most common description of a size-acceptance-friendly dietitian.

She doesn’t mince words and she doesn’t cut corners. Browsing through her blog, I find:

There is no limit to the number of people willing to tell us what our bodies need to be “healthier”. They are screaming it from daytime and prime time television, from books, from home shopping networks, from newspapers and magazines. They are offering up these shoulds and shouldn’ts, in a way that seems like they’re doing us a favor. As long as we follow their rules we’ll be so much better off!

Upon examination these people tend to have a few things in common. They are usually 1. White, 2. Cis gendered and heterosexual, 3. Higher SES [socio-economic status], 4. Have often self-appointed themselves the expert of everyone’s needs on the planet (Dr. Oz anyone?). 5. Have never met me.

Let me tell you, as a queer person of color, I am totally over straight white folks in self-appointed power telling me what I need to do in order to live my life, and be “healthy” as defined by the aforementioned stranger.

I think that this paternalism is just one aspect of the bigger issue here; as a nation our health literacy is in the toilet. With the constant barrage of “right” and “wrong” ways to do things—each of which contradict each other—we are completely without the knowledge to know that our body has individual needs and how to clue into them.

She also addresses the question how HAES intersects with racism. Responding to a list from Dr. Linda Bacon of the advantages of thin privileges (you can see the list at the link), she says:

I … wondered if there was another thin person of color, like me, in the room and how they felt about that list. Was there anyone in the room at the NAAFA conference who, like myself, has walked into a clothing store and been asked to leave their bag at the door only to find other white shoppers with their bags? Was there anyone in the room who has been followed around a store to ensure payment for desired items, as I have? I wondered how it would have felt to listen to that speech as a fat person of color, and reflect on the ability to find a loving and supportive partner in a culture of thin privilege and white supremacy. Was there anyone in the room who needed to buy two airplane tickets to travel and experience a public hair pat-down by TSA, as I have, because they wore their hair naturally? Did anyone in the room wonder about the way that thin privilege intersects with other identities? Thin privilege definitely makes life easier for me, for Dr. Bacon, and many others, I am not questioning that. To fully address fat oppression in our society, though, I believe the conversation needs be broadened from the one-dimensional topic I have found it to be.

She says she has been told by others that bringing in race is “muddying the waters.” On the contrary, any conversation about privilege that doesn’t bring in other kinds of privilege (such as a conversation about gender privilege that doesn’t address ability) is an incomplete conversation. Wilson is not muddying the waters, she is opening the floodgates in ways they need to be open. Without a commitment to intersectionality, we can’t even look at the real problems we face.

In November and December, she plans a series of blogs about the intersection between HAES policies and weight-loss surgery patients, and she is being very clear (while also being perfectly polite) that she doesn’t intend to sugarcoat or ignore any misuse or dismissal of these patients by the HAES community.

She’s the best resource I’ve come across in a long time, and a welcome addition to my blog reading. Watch for more links to her blog and posts about her in the months to come.

Thanks to Marcia for the pointer!

Some November Links

Debbie says:

I have a really rich collection of links from the end of October:

If you were living under a rock somewhere, you might have missed the (shocking! horrible!) news that Renée Zellweger had work done on her face.

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Jessica Goldstein at Think Progress sums up a sensible feminist reaction, with links to various news stories.

If we’re going to perpetuate an entertainment industry that fetishes female youth and rejects everything else, we don’t get to trash talk women who choose to alter their looks through whatever means are at their disposal. We’re the ones who created a social and professional environment that is inhospitable to any other path.

We built that world, and now we also have to live in it.

You can find a related feminist analysis from Sarah Kliff at Vox.

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In a stunning medical breakthrough, “after 19 months of treatment in which cells from his brain were transplanted into his spinal column,” Darek Fidyka (who had sustained severe spinal cord injuries) “has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs. He’s continuing to improve more than predicted, and he’s now able to drive and live more independently.”

Undeniably exciting, and many folks who are immobile after spinal cord injuries are undoubtedly trying right now to figure out how to get into the trials. At the same time, it raises the question of the value of walking, as we discussed here in July.

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I want to see Skin Deep, Carleton College’s new body-positive nude magazine. What a great idea! Sabrina Kenelly at TC Daily Planet has the scoop:

The student publication has three requirements for submission. First, they must have no clothing in the picture. Second, the picture must be submitted with the consent of everyone photographed. And third, the photographer cannot be oppressive; in order to combat and draw both racial and gender lines that are seen as problematic. …

Co-editor-in-chief Kyle Schiller said he hopes that the publication will raise awareness to issues such as fat and slut shaming. “I’ve spent too much time worrying about the food I eat and the clothes I wear,” he said. “I want to wear what feels good and I want to eat what I love.”

Schiller said he wants the publication to shock people, but in a way that’s body and sex positive. Body image issues and sexuality issues are taken for granted, he said, and things like fat-shaming and slut-shaming promote “a very real system of abuse.”

Apparently, Beloit students are also publishing a sex-positive erotic magazine. Is this a trend?

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And what happens to nude models 40-60 years later? Noreen Malone and Nadav Kander did an in-depth set of current photographs, with interviews and a related article for New York Magazine with former Playboy centerfold models, from 1954 through 1979.

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Here is Laura Aldridge, Miss February 1976, now 59 years old.

I was surprised by the commonalities they found among the women:

All the women in these pages—who went on to become journalists, entre­­­preneurs, real-estate agents, and sexagenarian nude models; who married, divorced, and, in one case, gave birth to a Victoria’s Secret supermodel — say the Playmate title imbued them with a sense of confidence that seems more of a precursor to the sexual freedom of third-wave feminists than related to the objectification and degradation that their contemporaries saw in the magazine. “I think everyone who walked in that door to be a bunny girl or Playmate knew what they had,” says Cole Lownes. “They may not want to admit it, but I think they knew [their power].”

Presumably, not all Playmates would agree, but it’s still interesting that ten of them share this feeling so strongly.

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The ever-insightful Annalee Newitz rants about the question of whether or not insurance coverage for frozen ovum is a feminist victory.

Why are we freezing women’s eggs, but not investing in the technologies that would take us beyond this primitive and unsatisfying solution to the underlying problem? And by “underlying problem,” I mean the way we still demand that women choose between work and children….

I think women should be demanding something more than frozen eggs and artificial wombs. We should be demanding that our workplaces provide childcare during working hours. I’m not talking about Google’s super-elite, super-expensive on-site preschool bullshit. I’m talking about CHILD CARE FOR EVERY WOMAN AT EVERY COMPANY. Sorry to go caps lock on you, but this solution to the work/child problem is so simple and so effective that I’d like to see it emblazoned across the sky.

If you look at it from this perspective, Apple and Facebook’s egg-freezing policy starts to sound a lot like a guy who just wants to get laid at a party. It’s weirdly focused on the fertilization part, and not the part that matters.

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Lesley at xojane offers a good, clear article on fat jokes, sparked by Andy Richter’s quick comeback to  Chelsea Handler, when she asked him (but not her thin guest) if he floats a lot in the ocean, and he said,

“Why, do you sink?” Waits a beat. “Might be that cast-iron heart.”

Most of my links are found through Feministing, Feministe, io9, Shakesville, and Sociological Images. For this group, Lynn Kendall found both the Playmates feature and the fat jokes piece, and Kerry Ellis found the Vox take on Renée Zellweger.

Reiko Brandon: Exquisite Silk Art

Laurie says:

When I was in Hawaii last month I saw a brief newspaper mention of an exhibition of silk art by Reiko Brandon in a  gallery space at Kapiolani Community College. How the work was made was unclear but it still sounded fascinating. I went to see it and found her work stunning.  It’s made by unwinding silk worm cocoons and then shaping the incredibly fine threads into art.

Silk Hanging

This dramatic hanging was the first piece I saw.

Serendipitously when I went to see the exhibit there was a workshop to make squares for a display quilt that was attended by Sensei Akihiko Izukura from Kyoto, who is the master of this art. I was able to speak with him (through a translator) and later to talk to Reiko Brandon whose work I admired so much.

I made a square experimentally and realized that with time, my hand and design skills would work well with the both the technique and its concepts. Within the limits of the square you can do anything that you find beautiful. It’s the kind of art within limitations that always appeals to me, and one could expand the concept into many shapes.

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Laurie making silk square
Me working in shadow.

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My finished square before it was lacquered for permanency.  It’s a flat board with nails in four corners. Nails can be placed to make any shapes you want.

Experiencing the technique gave her art a very powerful new dimension for me.

Reiko Brandon wrote about her art at the exhibition:

Cocoon Journey

This exhibition showcases my recent works created directly from silk cocoons colored with natural dyes. Inspiration for these pieces came from the one-year silk workshop given by Mr. Akihiko Izukura in 2012-2013. It was a most remarkable experience for me to observe the amazing life cycle of silk cocoons, from minute eggs to caterpillars, then to cocoons. One cocoon produces extremely fine, lustrous threads as long saw 3000 feet. Fragile, yet strong silk fiber responds beautifully to all natural dyes. It has been a delightful adventure working with silk cocoons.

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Close up of silk square
Close up of a silk square.
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The square pieces in the show are made by hand-stretching cocoons softened by being immersed in water for several months. The largest, perhaps the most significant piece of this type, Square Cocoons, White was made from approximately 3500 silk cocoons. The various vessel forms are created by reeling a single thread directly from each boiled cocoon, then dipping them in natural indigo. Working with cocoons is a repetitious, time-consuming endeavor. It requires enormous patience, but it gives me a special pleasure, seeing and feeling the mysterious rhythm of nature.

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Pots made from silk thread
Pots made from the silk thread.
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I doubt if there will ever be time in my life to learn this technique well enough to make good art but it was joy to experience it and see the work.

Hallowe’en: Our Costumes ‘R Our Shadows

Debbie says:

Talking primarily about the early 21st century United States here, we are an astonishingly open culture: our fears, our flashpoints, and the shadows that haunt us are easy to find on our web pages, in our music, and in the news. We are a culture where a white high school football team can make “monkey noises” when they beat an Afro-American team, where young men can not only be exonerated for gangbanging a drunken young woman but can be framed as the “victims” if punishment is even contemplated, where making fun of disability, age, and every other kind of marginalization is part of the expected territory.

So you might think that we wouldn’t need to express our darker selves in our Hallowe’en costumes, that we get enough of that in daily life. But you would be wrong. On Hallowe’en, apparently we express ourselves in all kinds of disturbing ways (as well as all kinds of completely fun and delightful ways).

Jill Tamaki at The Hairpin has some delightful visual comments on “sexy Hallowe’en.” (More panels of this cartoon at the link)

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Maya at Feministing (who led me to the Tamaki cartoons) offers a characteristically nuanced and thoughtful response to the sexy Hallowe’en phenomenon:

… confession time: One of the reasons I hate the fact that a sexy costume has become all but required is that I kinda like dressing sexy for the occasion. Yes, I’m one of those girls. If Halloween is fun because it’s a night we’re allowed to pretend to be something we aren’t, I want to pile on the heavy makeup and break out the skimpy outfits. (There are only so many opportunities to wear that tasseled white mini-skirt, after all.) Yes, the sexualization of Halloween is sad and absurd, but so is the slut-shaming that makes many women feel like it’s the only time they have permission to wear a “slutty” outfit without getting judged for it. (And, of course, they probably will get judged anyway.)

So let’s brainstorm some costumes that, whether revealing or not, are actually sexy. In other words, clever ones that don’t just involve cutting holes in a regular costume. I’ll start: I’m going to be a Sexy IUD. I’ll be dressed as a sleek, shiny copper “T” and go around hitting on guys with pickup lines like, “I’m over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy–and at getting you off!” and “I’d sure like for you to tickle my threads!”

More links to fun sexy costumes (not all of them as silly as the IUD) at the link.

The aspect I was not aware of, until Lisa Wade at Sociological Images brought it to my attention is men dressing up as fat women (!). What’s with this nonsense?

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Feministing, Sociological Images, have also been talking about racist Hallowe’en costumes, like the one above. There’s no nuanced response to racist costuming: don’t do it, tell your friends and family not to do it, and if you go to a Hallowe’en party where anyone is doing it, call it out if you can.

Not all of Wade’s examples are racist (and many many racist costumes are not also fat-shaming), but all of them are this overblown and all of them are–by definition–viciously sexist and transphobic. These are costumes for sale in many stores, and presumably there will be people out there next week wearing them “for fun.” As Wade says, “Halloween is a disturbing fun house mirror, showing us what we really think about each other.”

Resurfacing

Debbie says: Have you missed Lynne’s voice around these parts? Laurie and I certainly have

Lynne Murray says:

I am starting to come back from several months of sickness. I had to seek out medical care even though a house-call doctor visit took a big dent out of what was once my savings.

I’ve been without medical insurance more often than not in my life and now I can’t afford more than Medicare, Part A–so, no coverage for doctors, tests, etc. That was not a problem so long as I wasn’t in intolerable pain. Only in spring of this past year did that situation arise. I had wounds that were not healing and pain that kept me up at night.The doctor was helpful and open to collaboration and experimenting with different strategies to improve my health. He didn’t say that the slow healing might be due to diabetes, but he took my blood and the test result was that I do indeed have diabetes.

I would say that we don’t have a history of diabetes in our family, but we don’t have a history of regular medical care in our family, so who knows? Anyone I might ask is dead already.

As a fat person who already deals with some disabilities, I felt like the diabetes diagnosis was an indictment. The doctor agreed that I would work on lowering my blood sugar first without medication.

I looked for resources. I didn’t want to talk to people I knew or met about diabetes. I didn’t want any advice, I wanted facts, but some people nonetheless shared strange suggestions with me, like it or not. One woman, who was terrified that she would develop diabetes after watching her mother’s horrible death from it told me her doctor advised her to lose 40 pounds through calorie restriction (a soup diet!) and walking. The doctor told her to stay away from the gym until she had lost the weight because the increased muscle mass would get in the way of her weight loss goals. This incredibly stupid prescription ranks very high on my list of least helpful doctor’s advice of all time.

After looking at and discarding several books, I found Jenny Ruhl’s website and her book, and they really resonated with me.* She writes:

I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1998. Since then I’ve kept my A1cs in the 5.0-6.0% range using the techniques you’ll find explained at [the website], where you’ll also find extensive discussion of the peer-reviewed research that backs up the statements you read here. …

While people with diabetes often are seriously overweight, there is accumulating evidence that their overweight is a symptom, not the cause of the process that leads to Type 2 Diabetes.

Even so, it is likely that you’ve been told that you caused your diabetes by letting yourself get fat and that your response to this toxic myth is damaging your health.

Blaming you for your condition causes guilt and hopelessness. Even worse, the belief that people with diabetes have brought their disease on themselves inclines doctors to give people with diabetes abysmal care. They assume that since you did nothing to prevent your disease, you won’t make the effort to control it. So they ignore your high blood sugars until they have lasted long enough to cause complications and then they prescribe the newest, most expensive, potentially dangerous but heavily marketed drugs, though the drug-maker’s own Prescribing Information makes it clear that these drugs cannot lower your blood sugar to the levels that reverse or prevent complications.

Ruhl examines all the scientific literature with a clear eye and demonstrates a viewpoint close enough to my own Health at Every Size philosophy to make sense to me. She demonstrated to me that such approaches to lowering blood sugar have been around on the internet for some time:

The advice you will find below is an edited, updated version of the excellent advice written by a lady named Jennifer, which she posted for many years on the alt.support.diabetes newsgroup. It has helped thousands of people bring their blood sugars down to the level that gives an A1c test result in the 5% range. Note: The Jennifer who wrote the advice is not the Jenny Ruhl who maintains these pages. (Home/How to Lower Your Blood Sugar)

Her suggested method of lowering blood sugar included beginning by eliminating most carbohydrates, and adding them back, testing your blood sugar with a meter one then two hours later, and adding back the ones that have the least effect on you personally.

Ironically, all my early years of dieting proved useful during the first part of severely limiting carbohydrates. I reached back through the decades to all the times when I had changed my eating patterns overnight. Easily done.

A week later I finally got my hands on a blood sugar meter and test strips and started testing. The numbers were low and they’ve gotten lower, so I am hopeful to be able to manage without medication. The stakes are high enough that so far I am motivated to do it.

Ruhl writes:

Almost everyone diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes has a long history of trying to diet off weight and failing miserably. If you believe that your health depends on even more dieting, it is easy to give up hope.

But it turns out that a diabetes diet is very different from a weight loss diet of the sort you can see illustrated in the photo above. The point of a diabetes diet is not to lose weight. The point of a diabetes diet is to bring your very high post-meal blood sugars down into the normal range. You can eat as much food as you want on a diabetes diet, as long as the food you eat is food that doesn’t raise your blood sugar. (Diets/A Diabetes Diet is Different from and Easier than a Weight Loss Diet)

After the initial “get rid of the usual carbo suspects” purge, I called upon my post-dieting years of learning to respect, listen to and nurture my body. The challenges were unexpected–e.g., figuring out how to get enough fiber without the standard carbohydrates. Health food web sites offered some strategies (high-fiber-low-carb crackers, ground flax seed, etc.).

I was too sick with the infections that I’ve been battling to develop any cravings. Around the same time I was figuring out what to eat, I started on a particularly aggressive antibiotic, so low carb eating was only one goal–the other was to get through the day without throwing up.

For most of the past year I haven’t able to think or engage with ideas very effectively. Even reading posts on Facebook was sometimes too much.

In the past few weeks, my mind seems to be clearing! I could tell that my energy was coming back when I encountered a woman who came to my house to get a household item I was giving away on Craigslist. She showed up unable to lift the 22-pound spin dryer and demanded rope. I managed to get some thick string and helped to tie it to the wheeled suitcase she proposed to use to haul it home on the bus. I helped her because clearly, getting her out of my space without the free item she had come for would be more difficult. During the time I helped her, she produced a grubby piece of candy and offered it to me for some unknown reason. I made the mistake of telling her I was diabetic and she unleashed a torrent of fat-shaming remarks until I lost my temper and told her that my body was none of her fucking business. in those exact words and a rather loud voice. She looked around (the door was open to the hallway) and said something about neighbors. I told her I was cutting the string and she should tie the last damn knot and go on her merry way.

I was still angry for a long time after she left. Then, somehow, I managed to switch my mind onto another track. For the first time in months, I started to ponder some plot problems in a manuscript that had seemed just too much to pick up for the better part of a year. Surprisingly (to me anyway) I thought of a solution and I went ahead and started writing it.

Doing that reminded me why I write fiction. It takes me into another life even more powerfully than reading (which is pretty powerful). I was afraid that writing might not come back, but it has!

So here I am, still wounded, and not back 100%, but starting to surface.

* Jenny Ruhl doesn’t have separate URLs for the different essays on her sites. The name in parentheses after her quotations tell you where to find the context on bloodsugar101.com)

It’s Thursday: Have Some Links

Debbie says:

Danielle at One Black Girl. Many Words. has some words for the New York Times, in particular the comment that Viola Davis is not “classically beautiful.”

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I suppose I dislike two things: (1) that the need to be “classically beautiful” is held over the heads of women due to patriarchy and (2) that dark skinned women such as Viola Davis are automatically cast outside of “classic beauty” because of white supremacist standards.

It shouldn’t be my or any woman’s job to be classically beautiful. And yet, classic beauty shouldn’t be denied of any woman.

I’m right there with Danielle on both counts. Davis is, of course, an absolutely stunning woman by most standards. “Classically” is an interesting word. Dictionary.com gives a lot of definitions, only a couple of which are at all relevant. One is “modeled upon or imitating the style or thought of ancient Greece and Rome,” by which standard no one with particularly dark skin can be classically beautiful. Another is “of or adhering to an established set of artistic or scientific standards or methods,” which only works in this case if there is an established set of artistic standards.

So we can only conclude that the New York Times columnist was 1) sloppy with her words, and 2) not looking at the real Viola Davis.

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MariNaomi at Midnight Breakfast has a long collaborative piece on “Writing People of Color (if You Happen to be a Person of Another Color).”  In the same vein as Kristen Radtke’s “Women Cartoonists Draw Their Bodies,” which Laurie and I wrote about in September, MariNaomi enlisted a wide variety of cartoonists for advice. Most of the pieces are too large to reproduce here, but here’s a lovely one by Maré Odomo:

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Odomo says:

Don’t make your Asian character carry a katana and don’t put chopsticks in their hair (this isn’t a real thing, by the way). Ask your PoC friends to read your stories. If you have to ask if something is racist, it probably is. Base your characters on real people, but don’t just project your own feelings into a stranger’s life. Don’t assume that because someone is a minority that they’ve lived a certain kind of life.

Basic advice, always worth following. (For a less visual resource, don’t forget Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, currently on sale from Aqueduct Press.)

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Here’s a cautionary tale illustrating “nothing about us without us.”

Sarah Silverman, a prominent comedian, made a video for the National Women’s Law Center’s Equal Payback Project, in which she pretends to be considering a sex change to increase her income. As Zack Ford points out at Think Progress, mainstream (progressive) media thinks this is the bomb.

E! Online praised the ad as “humorous” and “thought provoking.” US Weekly joked that Silverman found the “perfect solution” for beating the “vagina tax.” Even Time Magazine highlighted the “risqué” ad, describing its plot as Silverman deciding that “it’s easier to just get a penis.”

But transgender people frequently see the question differently:

Rachel See, a transgender lawyer in Virginia, told ThinkProgress that “being used as the punchline of a fundraising campaign by a group that should be our ally made me sad.” Though the ad suggests Silverman’s salary would go up, See explained that “transgender people routinely face discrimination for transitioning. Many lose their jobs, or find that they have a harder time getting a job.” Indeed, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that in 2011, transgender people were four times more likely to be living in extreme poverty than the general population and faced double the rate of unemployment. As activist Janet Mock quipped on Twitter Wednesday, tagging the NWLC and Silverman, “Sex reassignment doesn’t help one advance in workplace. Ask one of the most underemployed populations: trans people.”

Ford goes on to further recomplicate the question and bring up important related issues. Read the whole thing.

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Speaking of transgender issues, Tim has put together a fine collection of links about why (and how) biological sex is a social construct. Here’s just one quotation, from Natalie Reed writing at skepchick:

In truth, sex is a loose aggregation of a variety of variables. Chromosomes, yes, but also hormonal levels, genitals, secondary sexual characteristics, skeletal structure and so on. We consider each of these traits to be male, female, or not quite either, then collectively make some kind of rough, relatively subjective determination as to whether it is a male body, a female body or an intersexed body. This is not unlike the daily process of gendering we engage in every time we come across another human being. We make a quick, subconscious, intuitive weighing of the feminine cues against the masculine ones and make a judgment call on how we should mentally categorize that person. But even in a medical situation, where we are strictly looking at an individual’s anatomy, it can still be just as much of a subjective judgment call based on the relative weight being given to individual traits, and there’s no real reason to say the karyotype gets the final say.

Bookmark Tim’s list for your next pitched battle on this topic.

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Finally, Harris O’Malley at Kotaku takes on some gender stereotyping, and gets it mostly right. In response to a letter from a man who believes he’s not finding dates because of his weight, O’Malley says, in part:

First: you’re assuming that women are a monolith and all want the same thing.

… Just as with men, women as a whole have a wide range of body types that they find sexy, from the skinny geek to big – not just husky but fat men. Look at how many women went absolutely bugfuck over Prince Fielder’s nude pictoral in the ESPN “Bodies” issue. [I wrote about that Prince Fielder phenomenon here in July.] The man is rocking a 50 inch waistline, and there are a lot of women who want to rub themselves all over that.

He goes on to talk usefully about the complexities of attraction. He’s too glib, and too locked into the physical nature of attraction as if it were a whole story, but he makes enough important points clearly enough to be worth reading.

Most links you find here are from Feministing, Feministe, io9, Shakesville, and Sociological Images, plus assorted other blogs I read (including Tim’s journal).

Sojourner Truth and Underground Railroad Sculptures

Laurie says:

I’m finally writing the second chapter on my trip to Detroit and Battle Creek. In addition to my amazing visit to the Sojourner Truth archive in Battle Creek, I also saw two sculptures that were an important part of the history.

After we left the archive we were taken to see a stunning 12 foot high sculpture of Truth in the central downtown park square in Battle Creek. Created by sculptor Tina Allen, it’s the center piece of the amphitheater-like park. It was a community project began by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, and funded by community out-reach, including, of course, the Archive. It was completed in 1999. The community parade that marked the dedication of the statue was led by the University marching band.

Sculptures like this are usually created with a sense of reverence that idealizes the actual person. The statue of Sojourner Truth has a powerful energy that feels like the real woman.  She towers above you but you can walk up to her and touch her, see her gnarled hands and powerful expression. There is an intimate quality to the work that is reflected in the fact that children are comfortable with it.

struth_94

sojourner head

Then we went to the Kellogg estate (yes, the home of the cereal king) where there is an impressive sculpture (one of a series of works by Ed Dwight) on the Underground Railroad. Battle Creek was an important stop for escaped slaves on their way to Canada. The escapees are shown heading in to hiding places.

UGrailroad-Battle Creek

I was fortunate to find the next sculpture in the Underground Railroad series on the river park near where I was staying in Detroit. It faces Canada and freedom, and the escapees are hopeful.

Detroit URR front

Detroit URR back

This is the statue on the Canadian side, celebrating the arrival to safety, that I hope to see someday.

Windsor URR safe

Going out to dinner one night I saw a bookshop across the street from the Greek restaurant we were heading for, and of course I went in. It turned out to be the book store of the Second Baptist Church, another stop (the last) on the Underground Railroad. It specializes in books on the subject. Escaped slaves were able to rest in secrecy at the Second Baptist Church before crossing the Detroit River on their final step to freedom in Canada on a boat owned by a church member.

I got to talk to Bobbie Fowlkes Davis, director of their tours of the Underground Railroad sites in Detroit. I bought my copy of Sojourner Truth’s narrative from them.

Altogether a trip that will always stand out in my memories.

The Only Black Woman in (Republican) America

Laurie and Debbie say:

Under the #IAmRepublican hashtag, the Grand Old Party is trying to advertise its diversity and the wide range of people who support it. Unfortunately, apparently they couldn’t find a single African-American woman to pose for the pictures, so they took an effectively free stock photo from istockphoto.com’s “happy portraits” series. And here she is …

gop-ad

And here she is as a Georgia Black Woman attorney with no party affiliation …

Georgia Black Woman Attorneys

And here she is as a payday loan customer …

payday loan ad

Why is this a body image issue? Because the Republicans would not have done this with a white man, and they probably would not have done it with a white woman. The nature of racism in this country in particular is such that any individual African-American person stands in for all black people. This is true of President Obama, of the woman in the stock photo, and of Michael Brown (among millions of others).

Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, writing in Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life say:

Even as commentators at the time of Obama’s election claimed to discern the coming of a “post-racial” era, their very harping on Obama as a “black president” reprised an ageo-old feature of racecraft: the turning of one person of African descent into a synecdoche for all. The classic historical instance is Booker T. Washington, anointed by powerful white persons to speak on behalf of all Afro-Americans, because disfranchisement had robbed them of the democratic prerogative of choosing spokesmen for themselves.”

Reducing an entire population to a single real person is shameful; reducing that same population to a nameless, uncredited, falsified figure is even worse. What the Republican party is really saying with this advertisement is,

“We want you to believe that this happy woman is an American citizen, an African-American, and a Republican. We want that in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with who she is, what matters to her, or why she’s happy.”

That’s what the Georgia Black Women Attorneys and the payday loan people want, to reduce all of black America to one smiling anonymous woman.

Links on the Brink of October

Debbie says:

I was struck by these very diverse images of women giving birth around the world.

Midwife Dorothy Igoro Chinyere examines a patient immediately fo

The photographer, Alice Proujansky, gave birth herself in 2012.

Although she didn’t set out to become a natal photographer, Proujansky is interested in working on projects about women and said for one reason or another, she finds herself photographing in the delivery room.

“It’s so interesting to me,” she said. “It’s so exciting to be part of a transformational process; it has a rhythm to it in that there’s a probable series of events … but every time it’s different.”

***

On a related note, Tracy Moore has something to say about what she teaches her four-year-old daughter … even if the child’s schoolteacher doesn’t approve:

HOLY SHIT WHY IS NOT OK TO SAY BABIES COME OUT OF VAGINAS? To be clear, I haven’t told her how the baby is made via a penis and vagina, or artificial insemination, or by reading The Secret. And to be extra clear, I could’ve also told her that babies also come out of stomachs sometimes, too, and via adoption, but we just haven’t gotten that complex about it. Apparently she simply said at school that babies come out of vaginas, and was told to only speak of this with mommy or daddy. And she got upset, because she now believed she was in trouble.

It happens in state senates, and it happens in pre-schools. What is so wrong with using the correct words?

***

It must be pregnancy-and-birth week here at the link source. In March of this year, I wrote a post about breast pump (and durable medical goods) design, and now there’s highly positive action on that front (pun intended):

10 harried but happy teams of hackers shared their inventions in Shark Tank-style five-minute presentations. The goal? To reinvent a clunky necessity of modern parenting: the breast pump.

Engineers, healthcare workers, students, moms, and lots of babies gathered at the MIT Media Lab hackathon to tackle this sticky problem. The vibe was motivated, inclusive, and positive, but that’s not to say anyone was shy about explaining the problems with the breast pumps on the market today—even with manufacturers like Medela, Lansinoh, and Ameda present among the sponsors of the event. …

When kicking off the event, Catherine D’Ignazio, one of the event’s organizers, encouraged the teams to think bigger.

“Rethink the spaces where people pump, and how they feel when they are pumping, and who supports them and their pumping and breastfeeding,” she said. “Hack more of the systemic problems that new families face, like the lack of paid maternity leave and early childhood education.”

***

Moving away from baby-making, here is an extremely interesting report on a study of sex worker experiences in Canada.

Canada’s first nation-wide survey of sex workers has some interesting findings the government should, but probably won’t, listen to. Over the five-year study, which was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, researchers interviewed 218 sex workers, 1,252 clients, 30 spouses or intimate partners of sex workers, 61 managers of escort or massage businesses, and 80 law enforcement officials in six cities throughout Canada. The study did not, however, look at undocumented sex workers or children, and probably captured neither the best nor the worst of the industry. 

the study found that 82 percent of workers felt appropriately rewarded, 70 percent were satisfied with their jobs, and 68 percent felt they have good job security. According to [Cecelia Benoit [one of the study’s lead authors], “Sex workers are average Canadians. They’re Caucasian, in their 30s and 40s, and have education and training outside of high school. Most of them don’t feel exploited, they don’t see buyers as oppressors…. They are people trying to do the best they can with the tools they have to live their lives.” Researcher  Mikael Jansson added, “They talk to us about the amount of control they have over their work situation… They have a lot more control over the timing of their work, the pace of their work than journalists.”

The sex work debate is usually oversimplified, often on the two leading “sides.” I appreciate the authors pointing out that they didn’t capture the worst of the industry. The study could be bigger, though it is reasonably substantial within its limits. Nonetheless, it’s good to have some numbers to toss into the generally highly opinionated but not very quantitative conversation about whether sex work is exploitation or not. (Answer: it’s both. Depends on where you look and what you look for, like almost everything else.)

***

I usually stay away from sexual assault response articles, just because the subject is so huge, and there is so much to say. But a regular reader sent this link, and I agree that both Roberta Smith’s article about Emma Sulkowicz and the artwork are outstanding:

JPPROTEST-articleLarge

You can, for the moment, call Emma Sulkowicz a typically messianic artist, and she won’t object. I used the phrase, sitting in her tiny studio at Columbia University on Thursday, as we discussed “Carry That Weight.” This is the succinct and powerful performance piece that is her senior art thesis as well as her protest against sexual assault on campus, especially the one she says she endured.

“Carry that Weight,” which is beginning its fourth week, involves Ms. Sulkowicz carrying a 50-pound mattress wherever she goes on campus (but not off campus). Analogies to the Stations of the Cross may come to mind, especially when friends or strangers spontaneously step forward and help her carry her burden, which is both actual and symbolic. Of course another analogy is to Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter, albeit an extra heavy version that Ms. Sulkowicz has taken up by choice, to call attention to her plight and the plight of other women who feel university officials have failed to deter or adequately punish such assaults. The carried mattress also implies disruption and uprootedness, which call to mind refugees or homeless people.

***

And finally, if you ever wanted a superhero women’s bathing suit designed for a real human and not a male comic artist’s wet dream, Suckers Apparel has you covered (well, partially covered):

winter-soldier

Each suit is hand made to order and they also do plus size and custom orders with no additional charges.These are temporarily available now, but will be generally available next year.

Most common link sources: Feministing, Feministe, io9, Shakesville, and Sociological Images, plus assorted other blogs I read. Thanks to Lisa Hirsch for Emma Sulkowicz’s story.

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