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I had the honor of attending a beautiful marriage celebration this past weekend in Minneapolis. My husband and I are deeply driving-averse, and although I am not a big fan of air travel, especially in these modern days of nickel-and-diming, fat-hating, slut-shaming, desperately grasping, unregulated air lines, we decided that one hour in an uncomfortable plane seat would be preferable to eight hours in a car. Since it was only an overnight trip, we packed light, and I wore the bra that I planned to wear under my dress.

It’s this bra, in case you are curious. It’s a GREAT bra for the large-bosomed, particularly if your sweet chariots swing low. This is not the bra for someone who prefers stylish underthings over a utilitarian brassiere, but since I am the sort of person who walks into the bra department of my local department store once a year like clockwork and says, “Do you have this utilitarian brassiere in beige? Great, I will take four. And a twelve-pack of those beige, cotton, granny pants while you’re at it,” it is the perfect bra for me. Wearing it is also similar to wearing scaffolding, and there is enough metal in this thing to make a staid, tight-laced, Victorian matron pale.

So it was no surprise to anyone except me, and only then because I just wasn’t thinking about it, when my bra set off the metal detector at O’Hare. I responded to the TSA officer’s troubleshooting questions about the contents of my pockets or the possibility of implants with a good natured, “I’m pretty sure it’s the underwire in my bra,” hoping that he would wave his wand toward my boobs (oh hush) and let me go on and get some coffee. But instead he herded me into a little glass booth where I was subjected to a desultory yet unpleasantly thorough screening from a “female screener” who paid extra special attention to my underwire area, much to my mental discomfort.*

Eventually, the TSA officer, satisfied that the underwire shaped metal located under my boobs was, in fact, an integral part of the support mechanism of my underwire bra, let me go, and I scampered off, chagrined, to get some coffee.

This being a United flight, I was a little apprehensive about Flying While Fat.** I’m not death fat, and can fit within the confines of one seat belt with room to spare. Lowering the arm rest isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it hurts my elbows more than my hips. Still, I definitely visually register as fat (and often end up sitting solo on buses and trains as a result, which as far as I am concerned is the best side affect of FA since that whole “putting half and half in my coffee” thing) and you know, just knowing that I might get the side eye from other passengers or gate agents had me a little uneasy.

I kind of hate to say it, since being furious at various airlines is one of my favorite parts of air travel, but everything went fine. Nobody pointed and called the Fat Police on me or any of the numerous other fat passengers, and nobody even really looked at me twice. Not only that, but the flight was short enough–an hour and change–that I didn’t even have time to get all squirmy and uncomfortable in the 17-inch wide seat.

The wedding celebration was delightful, with an amazing view and much exuberant dancing, for which I would like to thank the happy couple, who picked the music, The Most Enthusiastic Hotel-employed DJ Ever, and Elomi, for creating a bra that will hold my boobs in check even during “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.”***

I woke up the next morning without a hangover**** miraculously enough, but with one nagging thought: How the shit am I going to get through security in this bra without subjecting myself to another public groping? Not wearing a bra at all was out of the question; being 36 years old and having worn a bra since I was ten (aside from a Hippy Year in college when I declared bras to be untenable to my political beliefs), I would no sooner spend a significant amount of time outside without a bra than I would without pants. I hoped for a more lax attitude towards security at this smallish airport in a Midwestern city populated by eerily nice people, but as I waited in the interminable line for an excessively vigilant woman to perform the initial boarding-pass-and-ID-check, while a rogue TSA officer poked some sort of bomb or drug or liquids-in-containers-larger-than-3-ounces sniffer contraption into random bags, I knew that was folly.

Then it hit me.

I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “You might want to go through a different security line than me.”

“Why?” he asked, a little alarmed.

“Because I’m going to take my bra off before I go through the metal detector.”

And I did. And my husband, bless his heart, went right through the same security line behind me, which was probably for the best because if he hadn’t, I was going to plop my big old 40G right into a bin to send it through the metal detector. Out of deference for his more introverted and nonconfrontational nature, however, I stuck it in my purse instead, and walked through the metal detector metal- and support-free, without a hitch.

And so that I may serve, if not as a good example, as a horrible warning, let me impart the following wisdom:

  • If you are roughly 5’6″, 250-ish pounds, and an average US size 20, you’ll probably be okay on a United flight, even a short commuter flight on a smaller plane with 17″-wide seats.
  • If you are planning on flying any time soon and don’t already own one no-underwire bra, consider picking one up. I reservedly recommend this Cacique cotton no wire bra, which is not going to win any awards for lifting, separating, supporting, or shaping, and is also sold by a company that touts itself as a premier retailer of plus-sized undergarments yet refuses to carry anything above a DDD cup in its stores (while offering “bra fittings,” and if anybody here is over a proper DDD cup, and has been fitted by an LB sales associate who did not then attempt to stuff you into an ill-fitting, too-small bra, please tell me in the comments), but is pretty handy for Saturday mornings when you really want pancakes but are inexplicably out of baking soda and need to run out to the store or when you are planning on going through a hyper-sensitive metal detector. I’m a 40G and I think the one I have is a 42DDD, which works fine for its purposes.

*She did offer, a few times, to let me undergo a private screening, but I mostly just wanted to get it over with so I declined. I would have accepted if she wanted me to actually remove any additional clothing, and I want to remind my modest or religious readers, that you have the right to request a private screening by a TSA officer of the same gender if you are asked to remove a veil, head covering, or any other garment that you do not wish to remove publicly.

**Bought the ticket just before they announced their anti-fat policy.

***Peace to you and your family, MJ.

****Dear Colleen, Ha ha. XO, OTM

From the Election Protection website:

The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.

Through our state of the art hotlines: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) and 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota (administered by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund), this website, and comprehensive voter protection field programs across the country, we provide Americans from coast to coast with comprehensive voter information and advice on how they can make sure their vote is counted.

If you see or experience any shenanigans at the polls tomorrow, please call 866-OUR-VOTE/888-VE-Y-VOTA. Volunteers there can help you find your polling place, confirm your registration, educate you about the voting laws in your state, or in some cases, send mobile field units or contact election officials directly to address the problem.

We are not powerless, and we will be counted.

IMPORTANT EDIT: A savvy commenter politely reminded me that the MFA program at University of North Carolina Greensboro has produced some excellent authors of note, including NC poet laureate Kathryn Byer, Kelly Link, Steve Almond, Julianna Baggot, former NC poet laureate Fred Chappell, and Randall Jarrell. This commenter also made a point that bears repeated: “OSC certainly doesn’t represent the views of most GSO writers!”

I used to live in Greensboro, North Carolina, not far from the man himself, so although I appreciate the coverage at Feministe and The Slog, it is not news to me that Orson Scott Card is a hateful homophobe.

I used to occasionally read his “Uncle Orson Reviews Everything” column in ridiculous, bigoted Greensboro weekly The Rhino Times (I generally picked it up to read “The Beep” which served as a good reminder of political views of most of my neighbors, lest I get complacent and let down my guard). I read Ender’s Game because aside from O. Henry, Greensboro isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of literary accomplishment so I thought I should probably familiarize myself with the region’s more famous authors. And you know, whatever, it was alright. Not the best book I’d ever read, although it is where I learned the word “hegemony,” which really came in handy when writing about various forms of institutionalized discrimination for law school papers, so I guess I should be grateful for that.

So but anyway, I knew Orson Scott Card was a hateful homophobe because of Donna Minkowitz’s kind of heartbreaking Salon interview with Card from 2000:

“I find the comparison between civil rights based on race and supposed new rights being granted for what amounts to deviant behavior to be really kind of ridiculous. There is no comparison. A black as a person does not by being black harm anyone. Gay rights is a collective delusion that’s being attempted. And the idea of ‘gay marriage’ — it’s hard to find a ridiculous enough comparison. By the way, I’d really hate it if your piece wound up focusing on the old charge that I’m a homophobe.”

“What old charge?” I’ve never heard of it.

“It’s been raised before. It’s been circulating on the Internet for a long time. It’s really just one of those annoying things that happens. It’s really ugly!”

As the rest of Minkowitz’s article (and this recent piece in which Card basically accuses J.K. Rowling of stealing from Ender’s Game to create her Harry Potter series then goes on to pat himself on the back for not suing her, thus proving that she is a greedy bitch, or this one in which he whinges about his neighbors being mean to him because of a computer glitch that left his sprinklers set to water his lawn daily during a terrible drought while he was out of town) shows, not only is Orson Scott Card a hateful homophobe, he’s also a complete jackass.

So, in summary, if you really want to read Ender’s Game, get it from the library or buy it second hand, because otherwise, you will be serving to enrich Orson Scott Card, who is a hateful homophobe.

Michelle Obama Watch

Gina at What About Our Daughters has taken Michelle Obama Watch life, and she’s looking for contributors!

If you use WordPress, you can add the RSS feed to Michelle Obama Watch on your side bar. It’s in the Dashboard under “Design” and then “Widgets.”

I’ve gone back and forth over who I support in the primaries. I voted for Obama and then spent the next month wishing I’d voted for Clinton (not that it would make a difference in Illinois, but still). Now at the end, I think I made the right choice. I would also classify myself as someone who, as Melissa described, “voted for Obama in the primary, who [has] watched with horror the seething hatred directed at Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman.”

So congratulations to Barack Obama. I’m glad the stupid primaries are over and I am facing the coming months of campaigning with fear and dread and, under it all, a glimmering kernel of hope that all this talk of change is more than rhetoric. Now I am way too cynical to think Obama is going to take office and socialize our health care system, pass the ERA, codify reproductive justice into federal law, grant equal rights under the law to non-hetero couples, and strengthen Title VII or anything. But I’m hoping things will at least be better once he’s in office.

I’m editing this to add something important, that I know but that somehow (ummm) failed to really hit me until just now. Lauren at Stereohyped says it better:

While I was well aware of the historical nature of the campaign, the full weight of it didn’t truly hit me until last night, because I didn’t really allow myself to believe that in this country that I grew up in, this country that I know and love and hate and could not live without, that something like this was possible. We have a black, major-party nominee for president. And if he plays his cards right and voters step up to the plate, he could also become president. There are few black Americans, especially older black Americans, who were idealistic enough to fully believe (and not just hope) that this could happen in their lifetimes without seeing it first with their own eyes. Barack Obama was one of them.

Holy fucking shit people. We have a black, major-party nominee for president. Knowing myself as I do, this probably still won’t totally hit me until I’m doing laundry tomorrow night at which point I will have a tearful, all-to-public realization of the momentousness of the occasion in the damn laundromat.

What I really want to say right now, though, is that I am with Cheryl Lynn when it comes to Michelle Obama: “‘Chelle could call me at two o’clock in the morning and ask me to roll on a bitch and I would calmly pull out my sneakers and Vaseline.”* I am a FAN of Michelle Obama. I am hoping that she becomes friends with Hillary Clinton, learns a few tricks, hits the senate (Come be my senator! I will campaign for you!) and runs for president in 2020.

And I’m so not looking forward to what the media and the Republican party (and some bitter racist Democrats) are going to try to do to this woman from now until November. For shit’s sake, look at just one way so-called “allies” have treated Michelle Obama before now. Two coworkers, when discussing Barack Obama’s campaign around the Illinois primaries made it a point to stress how little they trusted Michelle. When I asked them why, they answered that they thought she was scheming, and that it was her greedy desire for a larger house that forced poor Barack into a potentially shady land deal with Tony Rezko. And I don’t even want to get into what my staunchly democratic grandparents, who have a framed picture of FDR on their wall and who were two of the biggest Hillary Clinton supports on this planet have said about Michelle because it makes me sick to my stomach and more than a little bit depressed. And that’s just a tiny bit of what I, a privileged white woman who has worked hard to limit her exposure to assholes and bigots as much as possible, have experienced first hand.

There’s a storm coming. And it’s going to be ugly.

Racialicious has a preview today in a post by Tami from What Tami Said entitled Michelle Obama: Aint’ She a Woman?

Michelle Obama seems not to inspire the fealty among mainstream women that Hillary Clinton does. Over at the blog Hillary is 44, which has very vocal about suspected sexism directed at the first viable female candidate for president, a screed was recently posted entitled “God damn Michelle Obama.”

Obama wants his lantern jawed wife to be “off-limits”. Michelle apparently is the only spouse to get such special treatment. It was Michelle of course that debased herself by trying to dredge past right-wing attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It was the Obama campaign that circulated anonymous memos attacking spouse Bill Clinton.

Lantern-jawed? It is sooo feminist to attack a woman based on her appearance. It’s a safe bet that the proud women at Hillary is 44 won’t be speaking out about how press, pundits and even some progressive bloggers have painted Michelle Obama as the stereotypical domineering black woman–a two-fer sexist and racist label.

Tami ends the piece with an admonition that all bloggers who self-identify as feminist MUST HEED if we are going to make any progress toward justice:

Mainstream feminists have been extremely vocal about the gender bias that has dogged Hillary Clinton since she appeared on the national stage. They rightly realized that sexism against the former First Lady and current Senator is just an example of the way society views ALL women. So, why are so many women standing silent, and worse, abetting the demonization of another woman of substance?

Shakesville kept up with the misogynistic attacks on Clinton with the Hillary Sexism Watch. Now, What About Our Daughters is taking it a necessary step further and starting a dedicated blog to monitor the situation:

Volunteer Michelle Media Monitors
This whole infamous tape stuff is just a sliver of what Michelle Obama is going to face in the media. So because I predict getting a flurry of emails from now until November, I am going to be proactive and start a separate Michelle Obama blog to track every article, blog post, youtube clip that pops up and provide you an opportunity to respond. Because if the past is any indicator, the campaign has no problem with her being turned into a verbal punching bag, I DO! IF you want to volunteer and want to post updates on the blog, send an email to the gmail account in the right sidebar. Its going to be a LONG hot SUMMER!

Whether you support her husband or not. Let’s be clear, any and every Black woman that walks in her footsteps can expect the same treatment so we might as well pull a Gandolf, draw a line in the stand and yell “THOU SHALL NOT PASS!” This ain’t about Barack, its about every professional Black woman that has had to smile on the days she didn’t want to for fear of being labeled ANGRY.

So keep your eyes open, and stay loud.

*I’m not entirely sure what the Vaseline is for, but I have some and would totally bring it along if M. Obama asked me to!

ETA: OKAY in the comments, MayDarling kindly explained:

If you’re going “roll on a bitch” ie, fight a girl, you put vaseline on your face so when said bitch tries to scratch you; instead of grabbing onto skin, she gets nails full of grease. Mainly just to keep your pretty face from being scarred from cat-fight scratches.

And, you know, I don’t want to put Vaseline on my face OR fight women so I guess Cheryl Lynn’s metaphor is not entirely apt for me, but the underly sentiment of support still stands.

You know those days when you wake up and think, “I just can’t do this today. I can’t take one more day as a walking, talking fat-bodied political statement and I can’t cope with the misogyny and racism and ablism and homophobia and transphobia and capitalism and hate and greed and pollution and noise and assholes because it’s hopeless and we can never change anything ever”? I have those days sometimes. But from now on, instead of despairing,* I will call those times Teaspoon Days:


KNEEL BEFORE THE POWER CARDIGAN

Thanks to Melissa for the concept and Faith for the execution. And how pants-wettingly great is it going to be the first time I’m out and about and run into some other awesome person wearing a teaspoon? Because I’ll know that whatever I’m feeling, be it despair or the will to keep on fighting, I am not alone.

*Okay, I will probably despair some, too, but whatever this jewelry can’t fix, I will treat with beer.

Hey Chicagoans – don’t pass up the chance to see official excerpts from still black: a portrait of black transmen, playing this weekend at Northwestern University, The Center on Halsted, and Columbia College. More info at blac (k) ademic and the official film website. I’m excited!

Congratulations and best wishes to What About Our Daughters. Here’s to many more years of “uncompromising, unapologetic, and unbowed defense of Black women and girls.” Thanks, Gina, for keeping me informed and aware and always refusing to back down or be silenced.

Lauren Williams at Stereohyped linked to a story on NPR that asks whether “fatism” is indeed more widespread than racism:

A new report in the current issue of the International Journal of Obesity suggests that weight discrimination is on the rise.

“Overweight women are twice as vulnerable as men, and discrimination strikes much earlier in their lives,” the report states.

The reason used by some to justify the bias: weight is modifiable, race isn’t.

So does this reasoning have any merit? If you believe that weight is modifiable, it seems like it would. But I call bullshit.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that weight is modifiable. Take me for example. When I was 17 I started my first “successful” diet and lost 60 pounds; I’ve not stayed at a stable weight since. For almost 20 years I have been either losing or gaining weight, living in a state of constant weight (and wardrobe) fluctuation. So, is weight modifiable? Mine sure is. I don’t even know if my body has a set point, much what that set point could be because I’ve never given my body a chance to find it. Now that my brain has decided that being fat is okay, I am both fascinated and terrified to see what my body ultimately makes of this information. But that’s beside the point, which is that sure, technically weight is modifiable.

But it’s not modifiable in any controllable way. I can set my sights on a particular weight and throw all my energy into getting there and maybe I will, but probably not (in all of my weight’s amazing malleability I have never achieved a “goal weight”). Even if I get close, I have proven time and time (and time and time) again that any weight below 200 pounds is unmaintainable for me without untenable sacrifice. Modifying my weight is less about a precision manipulation and more about setting forces in motion and hoping for the best. So how modifiable is something that we can change, but only with intense effort and never permanently and never in a focused and specific way? Not fucking very.

But even if weight is arguably modifiable, even in a grossly imprecise way, the modifiability justification falls short. Under US law, deafness is a disability and discriminating on the basis of deafness is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But deafness is also modifiable in some instances with cochlear implants. Should it be legal to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for a deaf employee who is eligible for a cochlear implant but refuses to get one? Religion is a protected class under Title VII, making it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion. But religion, as important is it is to many people, is not a genetic trait and so is 100% modifiable. If scientists suddenly discovered a quick and easy gene “therapy” that would change a person’s race, should racial discrimination suddenly become legally acceptable? Relying on modifiability as a justification for weight-based discrimination is convenient, but ultimately unsatisfactory.

Not to mention that the underlying legal philosophy used to justify the bias basically says “Here is an acceptable way to be. You don’t have to be this way, but if you chose not to be, you have to face the consequences.” Who is defining acceptable? And how are they defining it? And who died and made them boss, anyway? What we end up with is anti-discrimination law as a tool of social control – conform or you’re fired, fatty.

But not only is this whole “if you can change it, we can discriminate against you for it” explanation pretty bogus, as Tara at Fatshionista explains, this line of thinking (and the report Lauren linked) fails to consider the complex intersectionalities at play here too. Lauren addresses this at the end of her post when she asks: What if you’re black, a woman, and obese?

Despite the assumptions underlying Title VII and related case law (very little of which was written or interpreted by non-white non-men (I don’t know how many of these white dudes were fat, though)), apportioning discrimination neatly into buckets labeled “gender,” “race,” “color,” “nationality,” or “religion” is impossible. Generally under US law, if you are a black woman who is passed over for promotion in favor of white women and black men, you’re SOL; the employer promoted other women and the employer promoted other black men so under the law? No actionable discrimination. When a report like this suggests (or when the media interprets a report like this to suggest) that “fatism” is more widespread than racism, it is saying that it’s possible to cleave fatness away from race, to say definitively that if an employer discriminatorily fires a fat black woman, it’s because she’s black. Or fat. Or a woman. But not some combination of the three. Consider fat and disability in the same framework. Is an employer illegally refusing to make a reasonable accommodation under the ADA if it could cheaply widen an existing ramp door to allow a fat person who needs a large size wheelchair to access the building but refuses to do so?

Is there a point at which the modifiability justification and the shortcomings of anti-discrimination laws at addressing intersectionalities come together? I was hoping to find that when I started writing but it’s getting late and I’m not there yet so I open up to you, dear readers. I think this is an important conversation to have. I chose to post about this here instead of commenting on Stereohyped because I wanted to think about this using FA principals as a given rather than getting bogged down in “fat is unhealthy/losing weight is easy and awesome” debate and, ultimately, not getting anywhere new.

ETA: I was fixin’ to climb into a nice warm bed with a nice warm dude and two nice warm cats when it occurred to me that I should make a very important clarification. I AM NOT asking whether “fatism” is more prevalent than racism. That question, in the parlance of the internet, is made of fail. I am talking about modifiability as bias justification and intersectionality. I also don’t mean to limit the discussion to race, gender, or disability – that’s just what came out when I started typing. Okay go.

In the summer of 2006, seven young Black lesbians from New Jersey—Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and Khamysha Coates—were hanging out on the pier in New York City’s West Village when Dwayne Buckle, a man selling DVDs on the street, sexually propositioned Patreese. Refusing to take no for an answer, he followed them down the street, insulting and threatening them: “I’ll **** you straight, sweetheart!”

It is important to understand that all seven women knew of another young woman named Sakia Gunn, who had been stabbed to death under very similar circumstances—by a pair of highly aggressive, verbally abusive male strangers. At least some of the seven had known Sakia personally.During the resulting confrontation, Buckle first spat in Renata’s face and threw his lit cigarette at her, then he yanked another’s hair, pulling her towards him, and then began strangling Renata. A fight broke out, during which Patreese Johnson, 4 feet 11 inches tall and 95 pounds, produced a small knife from her bag to stop Buckle from choking her friend—a knife she carried to protect herself when she came home alone from her late-night job.

Two male onlookers, one of whom had a knife, ran over to physically deal with Buckle in order to help the women. Buckle, who ended up hospitalized for five days with stomach and liver lacerations, initially reported on at least two occasions that the men—not the women—had attacked him. What’s more, Patreese’s knife was never tested for DNA, the men who beat Buckle were never questioned by police, and the whole incident was captured on surveillance video. Yet the women ended up on trial for attempted murder. Dwayne Buckle testified against them.

The media coverage was savage, calling the women such things as a “wolf pack of lesbians.” The pro bono lawyers for the young lesbians would later have to buy the public record of the case since the judge, Edward J. McLaughlin (who openly taunted and expressed contempt for the women in front of the jury all throughout the trial), would not release it. As of late August 2007, the defense team still didn’t have a copy of the security camera video footage. And after the better part of one year spent sitting in jail, four of the seven women were sentenced in June 2007—reportedly by an all-white jury of mostly women—to jail terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years. The oldest of the women was 24, and two of them are mothers of small children.

I’ve blogged about the New Jersey 4 before, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve let them slip away from my awareness. Brownfemipower posted info about a new website, Justice 4 the New Jersey 4, that provides information about the women’s case, links to contact the women in jail, and information on how you can help.

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