Tag Archives: abuse

Eve Adams: A Life that Should Not Be Prettified

photo of Eve AdamsLaurie and Debbie say:

Eve Adams is the subject of a recent New York Times “Overlooked” obituary by Emily Palmer,  in the series featuring people who should have been remembered in the obituary section, but were not.  (Of course, the obit is behind the Times’ paywall.)

The article frames her, accurately enough, as

an outspoken gay writer and Polish Jew in an often homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant America in the 1920sand ’30s, one who published an early example of American lesbian literature written by a lesbian.Her “Lesbian Love,” a collection of short stories and illustrations, was published in February 1925. Written under the pseudonym Evelyn Addams, it explores the sexual awakenings and gender-defying nature of several dozen women of varying social pedigrees whom Adams had met in Greenwich Village and in her travels around the country as a roving saleswoman of revolutionary multilingual periodicals.

She had quite a biography:

Preferring men’s clothes and women’s company, Adams lived her life boldly at a time when the world considered the only decent way to live it was to keep it behind closed doors. She counted among her friends the anarchists and revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman as well as the taboos-shattering author Henry Miller.The United States government considered Adams an “agitator,” records show. Headed by J. Edgar Hoover, the “Radical Division” of the agency that would become the F.B.I. had been charged with spying on her since at least 1919.She was arrested in 1927 by an undercover police officer, Margaret M. Leonard, who had walked into Eve’s Hangout and obtained a copy of “Lesbian Love.” The book was deemed indecent, and Adams was held on several charges, including disorderly conduct. She was convicted and spent 18 months in jail before being deported to Poland on Dec. 7, 1927.

Jewish. Lesbian. Deported. To Poland. In 1927.

The rest of the story gruesomely writes itself.

By June 1940, as German troops were approaching Paris, [Adams and her partner Hella Oldstein Soldner] fled to the south of France. There are suggestions in the research about them that they may have aided the Resistance. The women were arrested while living in Nice and hauled to the Drancy internment camp in Paris in December 1943.Later that month they were crammed, with about 850 Jews, onto cattle cars headed for Auschwitz, according to Nazi police records. The journey took three days. Just 31 of the group lived to see liberation, in 1945, and though there is no record of their deaths at the camp, Adams and Soldner were not among them.

Palmer chose in her obituary to focus on Adams as a gay pioneer, a worldly trailblazer, and to end the article on an inspirational note. She doesn’t paper over Adams’ fate, but neither does she give it much attention.

When we look at this obituary, we see the story of a talented, committed, radical woman who was made unwelcome in her adopted country and sent back to a world where Jews had always been under siege and in danger. She was unwelcome anywhere, and despite everything she did to make a good life for herself, she was eventually destroyed for some combination of her religious/ethnic background and her sexual preference.

As a culture, we are almost unwaveringly committed to telling stories with hopeful conclusions, to turning our eyes away from the torture, the genocide, the abuse. We find some “inspiration” to hang onto, leaving the people who experience the unspeakable horrors to be forever alone with their memories — if they live to have memories at all. And when people do survive, we insist that their survival is enough to constitute a happy ending.

Eve Adams is worth remembering both for her accomplishments and for her fate. In the end, in the hell of the camps, who she was, what she wrote, who she loved, and what she believed was dissolved and erased. Everyone who died in the camps, everyone who dies at the hands of the police, everyone who is deported today to a dangerous homeland, everyone who dies of abuse of any sort should be remembered both for their individuality and for their common experience. The celebrated and deported Lesbian activist writer dies next to the housewife who never left her home village, and nothing about any of their deaths is inspirational, or hopeful.


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The Power of Positive Loathing

Lynne Murray says:

“You cannot help those you loathe.”

This sentence has been kicking around in my head for several days. I found it in this thoughtful piece by K.C. Gibbons, at Big Blue Dot Y’all. Gibbons’ piece about her healing journey as a victim of domestic violence is riveting and deserves to be read in its entirety.

The sentence about loathing also provided the jumping off point for two other women’s thoughts (Kath, and Golda Poretsky, both quoted below) on how hatred can undermine compassion. I can’t resist adding my own thoughts.

Counselors involved in anti-domestic-violence work often say that hearing from victims is one of the most effective ways of reaching violent men in counseling. But clearly that method can have pitfalls. During her recovery period, Gibbons says:

I took a position as a co-facilitator of a court-ordered therapy group of male offenders. We talked a lot about the cycle of abuse and tried to move these men from their destructive patterns. I did this work with compassion for the better part of a year. And then, one night I looked around the room and realized I wanted all these men to just be gone. To disappear. Because I no longer believed a fundamental tenet of my (then) faith – that all people have a “divine spark” and are worthy of redemption. I quit the position and quit counseling all together. You cannot help those you loathe.

In case you are keeping score, I would offer Gibbons’ experience as a situation where loathing is appropriate and useful. In her case, loathing was nature’s way of getting past all the expectations of how we “should behave with compassion to everyone” and getting to the gut level truth that she needed to avoid perpetrators of violence in any setting.

Loathing (including self-loathing) interferes with offering help. When loathing enters into the equation, compassion and even common sense evaporate–to be replaced not by neutrality but by openly hostile language and action.

This is what inspired activist Kath (aka sleepydumpling) on Fat Heffalump.

When she read, “You cannot help those you loathe,” she says:

[S]omething went “click” in my head. All those weight loss surgeons, those “obesity” experts, the weight loss industry, bullying personal trainers, all those people who claim they want to “help” fat people… they loathe us. If it’s not us they loathe, it’s our fat. And by hating fat, and failing to see that our fatness is part of who we are – not a growth or some kind of removable shell, they are therefore by default loathing us.

Fighting fat
War on obesity
Fat busters/blasters
Eradicate fat
Fat is “killing” you
Obesity epidemic

These are just a few of the terms they use in the rhetoric of weight loss and anti-“obesity” campaigns. Everything is framed around sickness and disease, war, violence, anger. This is not the language of helping fat people, it’s the language of waging battle on them. And as Marilyn Wann says – you cannot have a war on fat without having a war on fat people. The two are not separate entities – our fat is part of us, part of our bodies, part of who we are. Bodies are not disposable shells made for modification , they are an integral part of the human being.

This is why so much damage is being done to fat people. Because of this loathing of fat. Instead of working with us to make our lives as full and as rich as they should be, society wages war on our bodies and therefore ourselves. In fact, more often than not, we are enlisted as soldiers in that war, in a kind of twisted friendly fire. It’s as though in the “war on obesity”, the people who are fat are considered “collateral damage”. Some of us will die, many of us will be physically scarred forever, almost all of us will have emotional and psychological trauma that we will never lose in the vain hope that they win the war. What it does to those who are on the front lines matters not to those waging war. We’re the cannon fodder. Those in power are safe back in the war room, viewing it as a series of strategical moves and sending forth more and more troops to get bloody on the ground.

Referring to Kath’s post, Golda Poretsky looks at a similar phenomenon when she considers why and how the culture of fat hatred damages children by attacking fat kids and their families, rather than working to nourish and nurture them.

First Lady Michelle Obama has stated that one of the goals of her “Let’s Move” campaign is to “eliminate this problem of childhood obesity in a generation.”

Imagine if she had said that one of her goals was to “eliminate childhood poverty and malnutrition in a generation.” Imagine if she made this much more pressing issue a priority.

Obesity is a “sexy” issue only because it’s easy.

It’s easy to vilify and stereotype people, including children, based upon how they look. It’s easy to stigmatize a group, say they’re bad, they have bad habits, they need to be changed, they need to look different.

Poverty is a much scarier problem and a much bigger, more endemic one.

Obesity is just a red herring. Vilifying obesity has become a way to ignore the reality of the suffering of millions of people.

It’s time to refocus on the real problems and real suffering of our nation’s children, whether they happen to be fat or not.

Kath’s and Golda’s posts reminded me of how in San Francisco, after many people’s homes literally disintegrated during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I saw a report at the time saying that donations poured in to help the traumatized survivors, but some who donated specified that they didn’t want their donations helping those who were homeless BEFORE the quake. These “premature homeless people” did not qualify for some donors’ compassion. Of course, the people handing out the money might very well have enough compassion to overlook the stated preferences of some donors.

The compassion button is so often pushed to solicit charitable contributions that some of us have learned to be cautious. We may not want to be conned or taken advantage of by thieves posing as charities. We may be wary of fueling someone’s drug or alcohol abuse with a handout.

We have learned well to avoid unconditionally compassionate behavior. The loathing we’re encouraged to feel toward “undeserving” groups (because we’ve been taught that they are undeserving) is one of the ways we put conditions on compassion.

Making fat people into an “undeserving group” allows all kinds of people to punish us “for our own good,” and to feel self-righteous while abusing us, exploiting us, and profiting from offering bogus remedies for our “problem.” The anti-obesity warriors are able to separate themselves from the fat people they supposedly serve and actually loathe.

But wait, there’s more!

As Ragen Chastain points out, we fat people are targets in a war we never started, all-too-frequently internalizing a view of ourselves as loathsome in a tragically unhelpful way.

I think the belief that you can have a war on obesity without creating a war, and subsequent casualties, out of fat people is at best naive and at worst intentionally obtuse. We cannot separate people from their bodies and any war on people’s fat becomes a war on fat people. Luckily the first step of the solution is pretty simple – end the war on obesity. Right now. Then we have all kinds of options to make public health about providing information, access, and options without actively contributing to stigma, low self-esteem, and poor body image.

Loathing is like a sharp knife we are being handed and told to stab ourselves. But a weapon used against us can be turned back and used against those who hate our fat bodies so much that they demand we them put under permanent siege, or even die if necessary in glorious struggle against our fat. I say that, like K.C. Gibbons, we are entitled to loathe people and organizations who are willing to kill us rather than keep looking at us.

The Power of Positive Loathing needs to be used judiciously, of course. Although it can be healthy to hate someone who’s trying to destroy us, it’s equally damaging to hold onto the hate. Just because our culture luxuriates in permission to hate and attack fat people like a dog’s permission to roll in road kill doesn’t mean that nurturing our own long-term loathing in return is a good thing.

Feel it, yes! Acknowledgw that it’s completely appropriate to loathe someone who is attacking us, yes. Let’s put the blame where it belong–not on our bodies but on those who hate them. Let’s reclaim and defend our embattled bodies against those who are trying to kill or maim us “for our own good.”

That said, we do not wish to damage our hearts with an extended embrace of hatred–even the justifiable loathing of those who so despise our bodies. The next step needs to be taking action against those who are attacking us.

Kath and Golda and I are all suggesting that kindness and supportive engagement would be so much more effective in improving fat people’s physical and emotional health and solving real problems such as access to nonjudgmental health care, shame-free spaces for physical activity, and unconditional emotional support. Ragen and I are suggesting how to use loathing in the war against the war on obesity.