Archive for July, 2012


barbie tiny waistA couple of months ago I did an interview with a German television station as a part of my pole dancing studio to support Lulu Browne, a plus size pole dancer who rose to fame after her appearance on America’s Got Talent.  The interviewer asked me if I thought I would have the strength and courage to put myself out there if I were in Lulu’s shoes (weight-wise).  Though I told the interviewer that I could only hope so, looking back, I realized that I knew my real answer was very different.

Like so many other men and women in this crazy, media-hyped, perfect-body driven world, I suffered (and still do suffer) from serious self-doubt about my body. In a family of dancers, bodybuilders, and gym teachers, I was the brainy, but chubby couch potato.  I was not graceful or lithe or flexible or beautiful.  I had zits and wore stretch pants and no bra whenever I could get away with it.  Things have changed a lot since then—I’ve lost weight and gained muscle mass, my face has cleared up somewhat, and I’ve ditched the stretch pants for fitted shirts (although I still ditch the bra probably too often…).  And even though I’m closer than I ever was to our culture’s idea of the “perfect body”, I still have moments of self-loathing and frustration, when my thighs jiggle too much, or my stomach bunches up when I sit.

That’s why I have complicated feelings about this article from Bitch Media (wow is it hard to make that sentence sound serious…) about I am Ugly mirrorself-image and weight.

Author Tasha Fierce writes: I’m sure we all know a fat girl who feels like crap about her size until she receives some positive sexual attention from someone. Unfortunately, healthy self-esteem is not built on the slippery slope that is random affection from potential partners. If you only feel good about yourself when you’re with a partner to validate your attractiveness, once that partner has moved on (and they most certainly will when they figure out your feelings about yourself are inextricably tied to them), you’re back in the same, leaky, no-self-esteem boat.

She makes a strong point: Feeling good about yourself starts with feeling good about yourself, it doesn’t start when someone else starts feeling good about you. Your self-image should never be built on the approval of another person, no matter how important that person is in your life.

However, the reality may not be so simple.   I have done the work, internally, to get myself to a much more stable place with embracing my body.  I purposefully do one activity naked every day to feel more comfortable in my skin (plus, clothes suck!).  I look at myself in the mirror and find things I like.  But some days it’s still a struggle.  And moreover, I don’t think I could have ever gotten over that initial hump of disapproval without the help of my first boyfriend, who decided I was sexy enough to desire. His approval gave me the power to love myself, even after he was gone.

body_is campaignMy journey has shown me how unfair it is to expect people to self-motivate that journey toward acceptance from the very beginning. It is really hard living in a world where everyone and everything in media, society, culture, even family, is telling you to look a certain way, and you DON’T. The tiniest bit of sexual interest from someone else can “flip that switch” inside that gives you the power to start approving of yourself.

It also reinforces the things you already know about yourself when you lose sight of them.  My girlfriend kisses my back and says she loves the graceful arch it carries.  She nods approvingly and notes that my legs have strength and definition to them.  And she loves my butt (!!), which has always been my greatest insecurity.

Case in point, yes, acceptance of your body should come from within, but there’s a place for others—to push us, to light a fire, to remind us— to bring us closer to that inner sense of balance and bodily love.

 

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A Trans Sex Guide

I’ve been sitting back on Forever the Queerest Kids these past few months as my life has undergone some transitions—graduation from college, the start of a new job (that I tolerate), an internship with an organization that makes me excited for the next 10 years of my life, and the move to a new apartment (to come next month).  But I haven’t forgotten about you guys!  I’ve also been slowly collecting material to talk about, important things that I hadn’t gathered my thoughts on yet.

So here we go.

Looking through my bookmarked FTQK pages, I found that I suddenly had a lot of material on trans issues, and trans sex particularly, which is awesome, because I spent so much of last year trying to integrate more trans-friendly programming into my college campus.  I’m always on the lookout for intelligent responses to the incredibly difficult issues trans people face daily.  Here are a few.

My girlfriend recently alerted me to a really cool PDF Brazen: Trans Safer Sex Guide written by Morgan M. Page and published by The 519 last year.  The PDF is pretty groundbreaking just by the fact that it specifically deals with Trans issues AND sex specifically, but I thought the particular subtopics covered were even more interesting.  There’s a lot of stuff in Brazen that you just wouldn’t find in a safer sex guide aimed at cis-women.

For instance, Brazen devotes sections of each topic to dealing with people who engage in sex work.  Because the PDF is aimed at people in Canada, where sex work is technically legal (although there are a lot of restrictions around the trade), Brazen deals speaks to sex workers on amicable terms. There are concrete, specific tips for keeping yourself safe in the trade (don’t wear scarves or necklaces, as they can be used to choke you if a date goes wrong) and a no-nonsense approach to keeping yourself safe.  While it’s frustrating and sad that trans women are pulled into sex work out of necessity in inordinate proportions, I’m happy to see Brazen deal with that reality directly.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen sex work dealt with in a publication of this nature as anything other than among a laundry list of threats and potential missteps to a healthy sexuality.

Brazen also directly confronts the reality that many trans people are also recreational drug users.  Again, a sad and frustrating reality, and one that is NEVER dealt with in safe-sex guides for women.  Drugs and sex are very purposefully kept away from each other, in an effort to elevate the status of sex (by demoting drugs and distancing their combination in real life) at the expense of information.  Brazen makes very important points about mistakes people can make with drugs that are particular to trans situations.  EX: needles used for hormone injections are a different gauge than needs used for drug injections.

And on top of all that, Brazen does an incredible job of dealing with the nitty gritty of safety, like which activities put you at risk for which diseases, and how you can adapt condoms and other forms of protection to a trans or transitioning body.

Aside from safe sex, A Queer Chick, one of the columnists over at TheHairpin, had a great column back in march about navigating sex with a partner who has transitioned when you have never had sex/been attracted to that gender before.  She has great suggestions, like hanging out with dykes and watching queer porn, but the crux of her advice is strong for anyone, LGB, T or partnered with someone T, straight, queer, etc.

Don’t think about “how to have sex with a woman.” Think about how to have sex with your partner, your special beautiful sweet unique partner you’re crazy about. You don’t have to be a good lesbian, or any kind of lesbian at all. You just have to be with her.

And isn’t that how we need to think about trans issues in general?  That people are not their identity, but a unique individual who has come to their place in their own specific way?

But alas, it isn’t always that simple, especially for people who identify as lesbian or gay and fall for a partner who transitions to a gender that allows them to present as a straight couple.  Aja Worthy-Davis,who guestposted this article on Racialicious, writes eloquently on the subject.  She shows how complicated the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and transition can be in a world where we wear our labels not only through our own actions and presentations, but through those of our partner.

I’m a queer Black femme prone to dating middle-aged divorced hippie White guys due in equal parts to my upbringing, my personality, and my personal baggage. He’s a Black man who has dated more than his share of middle-aged divorced hippie White lesbians. And (I guess this is the kicker) when we met in our staunchly Catholic high school over a decade ago, he was a girl.

…[When he transitioned] My personal life sped up to where I thought it would slowly lead, and my mind was so wrapped-up in the practical questions (Where will we live? When will we go to graduate school? Who will do the cooking?), that it totally bypassed the more personal introspective question about how it would change my personal and relationship identity to be perceived as straight and be with a Black man.

While it’s easy, in theory, to acknowledge that the transition has not changed anything of substance in their identities, the way that a trans man and cis woman are seen is very different than the way two cis women are seen.  And I think it’s legitimate for there to be an element of mourning for the cis woman—the way she expresses her sexual identity has been changed.  She will, to most strangers, be forever read as a straight woman, and there’s not a whole lot to be done about it.

So at the end of the day, it’s a little stickier than just, “Well, this is the person I fell in love with, not the gender I fell in love with.”  Transition will affect many aspects of your life, and embracing that takes a lot of thought and work personally.  From the outside, it’s very easy to sing Love Makes the World Go Round, but inside a relationship, it’s more difficult.  But I would argue, inside that relationship is a complexity and strength that is a lot richer.

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