Body positivity is not just for women

“There’s something manly about a big gut, huh?” my brother asked his wife, in reference to a relative’s beer gut.

She smiled as she pursed her lips and cocked her head.

“I guess it’s pretty unhealthy…” my brother responded.

We’re not a skinny family. My brothers and I all struggle with our weight, though you wouldn’t tell by looking at us; we’re all very active. I’ve borne the brunt of my mother’s scrutiny, as a girl, but we’ve all felt it. Growing up with a skinny mother who constantly puts down her looks (and by extension, ours… we have the same genetics… also shut up mom if you think you’re fat then what do you think I am?…I’m not bitter…) really put a psychological strain on all of us.

I wanted to say so much to my brother in that moment: that it was sexist to imply that belly fat was masculine, as if belly fat has a gender; that he should turn his attitude around before his daughter grows up, because she is sure to have her own insecurities; and that a beer gut being unhealthy isn’t the counterargument to “but it’s manly!” (they are separate things).

In many cultures, a big gut on men is indeed celebrated as a rite of passage for married men. There is definitely a cultural connection to manliness. But if you’re going to say that you have the privilege of gaining weight because you’re a man, you had better think about the implications of this line of thought for the women in your life.

That being said, I know the household he grew up in, I know how we all internalize guilt about our bodies; I empathize with him. I haven’t overcome my own body issues overnight; how can I expect my brother to?

I’m working hard on being body-positive myself, but I also want to be an ally for men with body image issues, and that is an entirely different type of body positivity than for women. There is some overlap, but I feel that my experience being a non-skinny woman does not necessarily make me a good ally for men.

There are so many body-positive fashion bloggers, clothing lines, and spokespeople popping up all over the place for women, and while we have absolutely not closed the gap on positive representation for fat women, men with eating disorders and negative body image go largely ignored. “Oh whatever, you’re a guy, you can get away with anything.” It’s true, male privilege is a thing; but that doesn’t mean men’s lives are automatically anything. Especially if we’re talking about the intersectionality of male body positivity and the LGBTQ community. I once had dinner with a group of gay men, several of whom were talking about the diets they were going on in order to lose weight for summer, boyfriends who dumped them for gaining weight, etc. Not every LGBTQ man feels this pressure, but it is a far more pervasive issue than is publicly acknowledged. I don’t even know about intersectionality with other identities. But I will say from first hand experience, jewish guilt doesn’t help.

Even straight white cisgendered fit men like my brother can have issues with their body image; and even if they don’t, they could always be better role models for those around them who look up to them. Healthy self-esteem carries over to everyone in our lives. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Here are just a few body-positive resources for you menfolk/masculinefolk/anyone to whom femme/female body positivity doesn’t apply:

  • Dressman “underwear for the perfect man”, and other body-positive campaigns for men. (By the way the Modcloth male employees campaign is super cute… especially a quote from one of the guys saying that the confidence of the women in the women’s shoot inspired him to wear a swimsuit for the men’s shoot!)
  • This Bustle roundup. Tons of wonderful masculine fashion inspiration for plus-sized bodies.
  • This Ravishly roundup. Brings to light the intersection between body positivity and maleness in our culture, and the pressure to “man up” when one’s self-esteem isn’t at its best.
  • This “body positivity for guys” tumblr, which specifies itself as “A body positivity blog specifically for all of us male-identified, masculine-bodied, and/or masculine-presenting people of Tumblr.” There are some wonderfully diverse gender presentations on here.
  • This other male body health and love tumblr. Again, very queer-friendly. (Can there be any other kind of body positivity?)

Exercise or don’t. Wear what you want to wear. Be yourself. Male or female, masculine or feminine, cis or trans*, queer or straight… most of us need a little body positivity.

Happy Friday!

 

Advertisements

Book review: “Butch is a Noun” by S. Bear Bergman

Upon recommendation from fellow blogger The Butch (thanks man!) I found another lovely queer book to read: Butch is a Noun (BiaN). The author, Bear, goes into all the ways ze does gender, and I can’t help but hear echoes of Stone Butch Blues, if only because both butches are products of similar societies: both are from New England Jewish roots, and both resist femininity with all their strength. Not only that, but (though SBB does this only tangentially) both books address variety within the butch community: butches who are women, butches who are transmasculine, butches who are men, butches who love other butches, and the oppression they face from within the community.

Now I feel like these books were a product of a much more heteronormative era than we are living in right now, so I don’t relate to much of it. The chivalry. The glorification of performing gender to the point of impracticality. But both books also address the need for such posturing, stemming from the the external pressures to be a certain way all the time, to be consistent in one’s gender, to be always reinforcing gender roles even while defying them.

SBB talks mostly about being one kind of butch, about the pain of existing in an era where norms were violently enforced by the police, about fighting for civil rights and workers’ rights and the struggles of the working class. It was about how civil rights, for workers and for LGBT people, were sometimes one and the same. It was about all these things, and Leslie’s personal identity underwent very little questioning or change. Ze was a butch through and through, refusing dresses, dating femmes, working manual labor jobs. And ze was repeatedly forced to fight for and justify zir existence.

BiaN is about a slightly different life. Bear alludes to rough and even violent experiences, but with the help of hir family and butch brotherhood, she is fortunate enough to write a book that focuses more on the positive aspects of butchness. Absent are the bar raids and police rapes in SBB. Butchness has evolved. Ze alludes to ever-present violence, to butches hardening up as they get older, to the stress of daily interactions; but by and large ze focuses hir writing on the glorification of masculinity, of femininity, of butch/femme dynamics, of a romantic dynamic so often underrepresented in the media.

I will say I still don’t identify with the book’s old-school gender dynamics. Back when I was dating men, wearing dresses and wearing my hair long, I still didn’t find it necessary for people to open car doors for me, to protect me from mud, to carry my groceries, pay for dinner. It made me angry. I learned later to be grateful, to not assume the worst of the male/butch party in these situations, and to just say thank you and slip into the car seat with a smile. But my dad never did any of that stuff for my mom, she didn’t seek it, and we never discussed it: those gender dynamics feel stilted and uncomfortable. So to find a whole queer subculture glorifying these gender dynamics felt surprising to me. And that’s when I realized some people LIKE being treated this way.

Maybe I’m too much a product of my upbringing. My parents are about the same height; my dad is marginally stronger than my mom; they both worked for comparable salaries their whole lives. There was no butch/femme at home. My mom is capable and active and doesn’t wear makeup; my dad does not peacock his masculinity. So for me, the model for masculinity and the model for femininity are hardly different. Maybe I’d have felt differently in a more gender-divergent household. But then I look at my brothers, so comfortable in their masculinity, and I realize we all have multiple influences shaping our gender experiences. But I was always closer to my parents than my brothers were; it’s inevitable that their gender dynamic would play a role in shaping my own experience.

Or maybe it’s because I generally fit into femininity when I want to, and as a result never had to assert my identity as otherwise; Feinberg and Bergman certainly faced much more othering as children, and as a result, discovering who they were rather than who they weren’t created in their butch identity a sense of pride that is freshly asserted every time they interact with the world as a masculine creature. In their time, I would have been a “femme”.

But as far as masculine-feminine goes, and this is something I just never ever related to, both books portray romance between masculine and feminine as this electric dynamic, that being your partner’s opposite was very much a desirable thing, whereas I always struggled with that in romance. The thing about this is that Bear is in fact married to a man. Ze alludes to being a butch who likes other butches, boys, men, masculine humans of various identities, at the beginning… and then waxes poetic about femmes for page upon page, and then squeezing in a few pages about butch-on-butch. To have a feminist masculine writer talk about femmes with such admiration and respect is wonderful and enjoyable to read, for sure; but the balance of butch/femme and butch/butch was skewed heavily toward the former. I’d been looking forward to some more discussion about butch/butch as a complementary presence to the butch/femme, but there was little besides the chapter calling Bear out on the unequal attention to the two dynamics. I eventually started skimming over the parts that were painting flowery word-pictures about butch masculinity and femme femininity because there was so much of it there; almost as if the book itself was conforming. Nevertheless, this is a personal gripe, and it was all very well-done.

Aside from not identifying with their perception of gender dynamics, both Feinberg and Bergman are from New England Jewish upbringings. I didn’t completely identify with Feinberg though because of her working class roots; I was unquestioningly going to college and they forbade me from doing menial summer jobs because we didn’t need the money (though I wanted to because I wanted to feel needed and I was ashamed that I had privilege). Feinberg’s descriptions of factory work and the need for unions and union politics was completely new and eye opening for me. But I thought I’d have more in common with Bergman, because Boston-area judaism has a kind of commonality. It turns out that her family’s synagogue-going habits (vs. my family’s lack thereof) and her family’s gender dynamics and her mother’s pressure on her to perm her hair and wear makeup… these are not things I can relate to at all. Her family sounded wealthier than mine, and indeed in my hometown there was a great divide between us first-generation Israeli kids and the rest of the jewish kids, as well as a divide between the upper-class jewish kids and the middle-class jewish kids. There were many differences that came up yet again in BiaN.

I think more than anything BiaN made me realize how much heterogeneity there is even within that community; my identity as a Boston-area jew intersects with my first-generational status and my middle-class suburban status and, of course, my femme-ish status.

Tl;dr: Reading books about experiences other than one’s own is incredibly eye opening. I found Butch is a Noun to be a wonderful read to follow Stone Butch Blues. The two books are complementary pictures of female-assigned masculinity. I’d love to pick up a book about femme-ness next, or some other female-assigned masculinity besides butchness, to see the queer world through a fresh set of eyes that have seen their own unique challenges. Right now, I give this book a solid thumbs up.

Lea Delaria, OITNB season 3, queer masculinity

A rambly post about a couple things.


I don’t know if I mentioned a few weeks ago that at a social-justice-y burlesque show I saw with GF, Lea Delaria performed a powerful rendition of this song, and it was effing amazing. Also she’s basically my height!!! I got really excited about that. But more importantly she’s an incredibly talented singer! Ayways, she recently appeared on Conan to sing a snippet of Bowie:

Big Boo + Bowie… amazing. I just wanted to share.


Speaking of OITNB, I’m not a huge fan of this season. I’m only halfway, but I’m having a hard time finishing; I really wish there was a little more. I hate what happened to Daya and to Nichols, but I feel like those were good plots; they moved forward, they had purpose. Red’s plot line was great as well. Other plot lines, I really don’t get:

  • I know that Piper wasn’t the main character, but I wish she’d shown some development. She’s bratty and snooty as ever.
  • Chang’s plot gives me a lot of feels, but I don’t totally understand it. She seems to have been totally abandoned in prison; does she not have any money in commissary? She doesn’t even have toothpaste. But where did she get the phone? I also wish her character was more empowered; she says snarky comments in response to racist/judgmental comments, to show that she is a person (calling people “lesbian”… maybe in response to being called Chang; letting people know she can hear them: “eyes squinty but ears work fine”). But she seems to have no relationships within the prison or without. And also the final flashback scene when she was in the warehouse and the man who refused to marry her because she was ugly called her undesirable one last time; instead of devaluing his opinion, she continues to take the comment to heart, crying as she orders the men to… well. I guess that’s more realistic than her rising above beauty standards.
  • Poussey was drinking because she didn’t have a girlfriend? really?!
  • Will I ever get through an Alex/Piper scene without gagging?
  • Why does Alex like Piper?
  • Why does Stella like Piper?
  • Why was the reveal of Ruby Roses’s character so awkward? Like she’s suddenly there smirking across the warehouse? Why?

This season is interesting, but a little bit weird.


Also, on the topic of queer masculinity, Buzzfeed had this interesting discussion on the topic. There are things that I do very girly and things that I do very boyish, but if I measure my success at being either one, I fail. The people in this roundtable have an interesting take on gender, moving the discussion beyond “masculine vs feminine”, and why people are afraid of deconstructing gender. There are many good excerpts, such as this:

Thomas: I’ve written about gender and masculinity specifically for a lot of different audiences for many years, and I’ve never sugarcoated my truth nor have I presumed that readers won’t understand it. I’ve approached people with the expectation that they can do better than “born in the wrong body” and I’ve challenged everyone I’ve interacted with to think of their own gender, and its intentional construction, as a spiritual and potentially revolutionary act. I don’t know why I’m trans. Gender is not a performance for me, in the simplistic way I viewed identity as a young person. It’s also not the construction projected on me. It’s something messy and beyond. There’s a freedom in that, and also a kind of terror for most people. Because if we can’t signify with our bodies in legible ways that are easily and entirely translated, in what other ways is our universe not what it seems?

Van: I think the more we understand gender and its connections to other identities, the more we can generate love and empathy in the world. We would place more value on the lives in the margins and do what we can to ensure their survival. I say, let’s continue to expand these conversations, let’s discuss ways to create healthy masculinity that upholds accountability and uplifts femme-of-center folks and trans women of color, but also illuminates and recenters self-love for masculine-of-center folks.

Gabby: The closer any of us get to the ideal standard of beauty for men or women, the more praise we receive from the public at large. If you’re a dyke, be a dyke, but don’t be a “manly one.” If you’re a trans woman, they want you to look as much like what’s considered a “real woman” as possible. Universe save you if you fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and don’t rush to make a choice they consider appropriate — they don’t want us. And as a brown person of color without considerable means, reaching those standards in either direction is challenging.

Ari: That’s the important piece here. The range is wide and far. There are many of us who do not pass — and frankly don’t want to! — and those are the narratives we don’t see. I present masculine on a Tuesday and sometimes might present feminine on a Thursday. This freaks both queer and larger communities out. The world loves to be “progressive” and stand by you, as long as they understand where you fit.

Read the whole transcript on Buzzfeed.

“Where the bois are” in NYMagazine evokes conflicting feelings, leaves much unanswered

This article about boi culture in NYMagazine is a really interesting read. Although this article covers a subculture that’s filling an important niche in the queer world, this article seems very dismissive and negative to me. Let’s see what lovely truth-nuggets this reporter has uncovered for us!

First off it’s funny when reporters delve into a subculture.

Secondly, the ageism here is really interesting, as is the rejection of queer politics while at the same time embodying the very same gender-defiance that was made possible by a previous generation of gender-rule-breaking women/womyn.

Boihood has nothing to do with earth mothers or sisterhood or herbal tea, and everything to do with being young, hip, “sex positive,” a little masculine, and ready to rock.

Also note how “sex positive” is in quotes: it’s not political sex positivity; it’s sex positivity in a perpetual-teenager sense.

Some hypothetical questions off the top of my head: Is it a positive thing to have this culture where you no longer have to be militantly political 24/7, this sense that most enemies of LGBT society are vanquished? Or is it an excuse to act like kids even into adulthood because growing up is just too hard? Does it come from a positive environment surrounding LGBT acceptance, or is it a result of a negative youth-oriented age-ist culture? Is it a redefinition of female masculinity in the same way effeminate men redefine masculinity? Or is it brattiness?

As one butch interviewed for the article said:

What’s new is seeing these kids who really seem to be striving for a certain kind of juvenilia, not just masculinity. They really want to be kids. This hit me when I saw this girl—this boi, I guess—barreling out of a store in Chelsea in huge, oversize jeans, a backpack, and a baseball cap pulled down low. And she was running as if she were late for the school bus . . . Her whole aura was so completely rough-and-tumble 8-year-old that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a slingshot in one pocket and a frog in the other.

Whether or not it’s necessarily a bad thing to reject “adult” queer culture is debatable. There does seem to be a flexibility in gender roles that is refreshing: some bois date butches, some date femmes, some date other bois, some transition and use male pronouns, some remain female-identified. It’s become non-political in terms of feminism and homosexuality, but in terms of gender they seem to be filling the spectrum from male to female and bridging the gender gap.

The article seems to have found “one of each” bois with douchey views: one that uses misogynistic rhetoric like “bros before hos”, one that is against transgender bois, one that thinks boi-on-boi or butch-on-butch is gross and that likewise femme-on-femme is “air”, one that thinks “butch-femme” is stupid. They also found a femme who is fed up with bois because of her perception that they represent the feminization of butch women.

Maybe this is a product of too many conflicting expectations put on people within the LGBT community, and a young generation even less concerned with rules and politics than their predecessors. The biggest take-away from this article for me was this subculture is about subverting the binary, generally: masculine-of-center dykes don’t have to be macho butch anymore, and male-identified people don’t have to medically transition anymore. But the other take-away is that this culture is associated with exclusion, artsiness, youth, insolence, and lack of respect for others, which seems to do a disservice to non-binary people who are older, more political, more butch, more femme, more traditional, less traditional, less promiscuous.

This article never purported to seek out a representative sample of lesbians, but it never made clear that not all young LGBT people are like this and that this subculture is a luxury in cities such as NYC and San Fran where politics have become so progressive as to render gay rights virtually obsolete, attracting LGBT youth to a scene promising an escape from the gravity of being outsiders in a heteronormative world.

And at the end of the day, having a less-masculine-yet-still-potentially-male-identified subculture is awesome: people female assigned at birth who transition/don’t transition but identify as male don’t have to prove their masculinity? Awesome!! It’ll be interesting to see how this movement evolves with time and becomes more age-inclusive.

What are your thoughts?