Tag Archives: feminism

Review: Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues

against-me-transgener-dsphoria-blues-1389381288I’ve never reviewed any music on my blog before, but then again there haven’t been any records by bands I listen to that have mattered as much as this one. Punk has never quite lived up to its promise of being all-inclusive and all-accepting; sexism and homophobia have always been problems just as they are in other subcultures and societies. Maybe that’s why I find the candid honesty of Against Me!’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, about her identity (and the concept album she’s written about it) so refreshing. It doesn’t feel like it was over year and a half ago when she came out as transgender and intent to start hormone replacement therapy, but here we are: it’s 2014 and the album is only now out.

Rough Surf on the Coast
Grace has always written about gender dysphoria in her music (see ‘Violence’ on Searching for a Former Clarity, ‘The Ocean’ of New Wave, and ‘Bamboo Bones’ on White Crosses to name a few), but never in such a personal, obvious, or unapologetic way. While other public figures with a pop culture status have had somewhat public transitions, Grace stands out since she spends more than half of a given year on tour, on stage, performing music and meeting fans. Short of putting her musical career on hold and withdrawing from the public eye to transition privately, there wasn’t really any other way to go about it but to be as up front as possible.

In terms of trans* visibility, it’s pretty significant. There are many strong voices who are very open about who they are, but Grace’s presence, visibility, and accessibility in the music scene over the past fifteen years makes her stand out more than others. Since Against Me! never became so huge that they stopped playing club shows, it’s typically been easy to talk to the band after a set and say hello – despite a brief major label stint that resulted in some more mainstream commercial success.

Both Grace herself and the record, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, matter in part for their degree of visibility. Continue reading

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Eating Disorders: Not Just a Woman Thing – Huffington Post Live 7/31/13

The only way we’re going to change the landscape of mental health and eating disorders is to keep talking about it, which is why I’m so thrilled that The Huffington Post covers this topic fairly regularly. I joined their live segment on 7/31 along with Dr. Ted Weltzin, and eating disorder survivors Bryan Piperno and Brian Cuban (who’s first book is about to come out – congrats Brian!)

Here’s the full segment:

I took the opportunity to talk about the most important avenues to create change  - policy reform. Men aren’t always included in eating disorder studies for a variety of reasons. Men are less likely to seek help, to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, and most inpatient facilities don’t accept male patients. All of these factors make it harder to actually identify and locate patients to participate in research. That, and most large studies are funded through public money, and currently there are very little research dollars available for eating disorder research.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working and volunteering with the Eating Disorders Coalition for the past 7 years. The EDC advocates on Capitol Hill for mental health policy reform, and we always need more people to come and share their stories. If you’ve been  personally impacted by an eating disorder, whether suffering from one personally, watching a loved one struggle, or in your professional life, we want you to join us! Check out http://www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org for more info.

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2012 in Review

The New Year marks almost two years that my blog has been online. 2012 saw a lot of new visitors, and as I did last year, here are some of my favorite posts of 2012!

1) January 13, 2012: Smash Your Scale (And Anything Else Holding You Back!)
One of my favorite posts, and also one of my favorite stories to tell. The avatar for my blog (the smashed scale up in the corner) isn’t some stock photo – it’s actually the scale I smashed back in 2005 behind the alley of my first apartment.
“I can’t really understate how good it felt to smash that evil contraption. It was one of the biggest enablers of the eating disorder, and there was no way I could pretend that I was going to get better and still keep it around.”

2) February 6, 2012: Continue reading

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Fit, or Fitting In?

Well, this is an interesting follow-up to the ‘fitspo’ discussion last week. Sarah Robles, the top weight-lifter in America, is bound for the Olympics and can barely pay rent.

…And even though she’s the U.S.’s best chance at an Olympic medal, she’ll never get the fame or fortune that come so easily to her fellow athletes — in part because, at 5 feet, 10.5 inches and 275 pounds, she doesn’t fit the ideal of thin, toned athletic beauty.

“You can get that sponsorship if you’re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini. But not if you’re a girl who’s built like a guy,” she says. The 23-year-old from California became the highest ranked weightlifter in the country last year after placing 11th at the world championships, beating out every male and female American on the roster. On her best day, she can lift more than 568 pounds — that’s roughly five IKEA couches, 65 gallons of milk, or one large adult male lion.
(full article)

The thing is, if you passed Sarah on the street, a lot of people might make assumptions about her health based on her height and weight, and I doubt anyone would assume she was an Olympic athlete. She’s a prime example as to why I can’t stand that ‘fitspo’ crap – it promotes very narrow ideas of health, fitness, and attractiveness. If ‘fitspo’ is about motivation to work out, why isn’t there any with Sarah Robles? After all, she’s pretty damn fit!

Eat healthy and work hard, and you might be on your way to the Olympics, just like Sarah Robles!

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Uninspired

Hi, internet. Sorry I’ve been absent lately. I’m taking a summer class (for the first time in four years!) and, in addition to my regular job, it’s a lot of work. I’ll try to get posting again on a somewhat regular basis!

Currently listening: Have Heart - Songs to Scream at the Sun
Currently reading: Women and Politics

There’s something that has been bothering me lately. Around the time that Tumblr announced they would be actively screening and banning accounts & posts which promoted self-harm and eating disorders, I noticed a new trend.

Fitness Inspiration. Or, ‘fitspo’ for short. A little background: the type of stuff Tumblr was taking aim at (although how effectively they’ve implemented this policy is arguable) was content that actively promotes or encourages eating disordered behavior. Images of emaciated people, usually women, emphasizing characteristics of being extremely underweight that are circulated by “support” communities for eating disorders, but all they support is the continuation and reinforcement of life-threatening disorders.

The average person sees this crap and they are appropriately upset by it. However, it was quickly replaced by ‘fitspo’. This, it seems, is perfectly okay with the average person. Images of female athletes doing physically demanding activities, extreme yoga poses, or close-ups of some stomach muscles accompanied by some “motivational” captions.

On the surface, it may seem harmless enough, encouraging people to exercise and to eat well. Exercise is good, right? Food is good, right? As a runner, I can’t disagree with either of those sentiments. I enjoy exercising, I sleep better when I’m active, and I make sure to eat in a way that supports all the activity I do because I want to make sure I’m giving my body what it needs.

There are two things I don’t really ever look at, though: the mirror and the scale. Here’s why.

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The Sun’s Always Rising in the Sky Somewhere

Currently Listening: Against Me!: The Disco Before the Breakdown

I recently talked about how punk rock and sobriety had a big effect on my life, and the appeal that punk had because of its foundational ideals of acceptance of all people. Black, white, gay, straight, fat, skinny – there wasn’t any room for to judge people over such superficial things.

That doesn’t mean people didn’t bring their own prejudices and insecurities into radical or punk communities. It’s easy to say, “We stand for this,” but being ‘not prejudiced’ against a given group or type of person isn’t as simple as saying you aren’t racist/homophobic/transphobic/sexist and then denying all responsibility when you end up doing or saying something which actually happens to be prejudiced.

That’s because not acting or thinking in prejudicial ways is a process that evolves as we erode our own ignorance. You can be well-intentioned in your ideas and words, but that doesn’t always mean you don’t do or say anything that isn’t offensive to someone – particularly something you have zero exposure to or experience with.

This week sees one well-known punk musician coming out in a very public way over a matter which will put a lot of these issues to the test. Tom Gabel of the band Against Me! (yeah, they spell it with an exclamation mark) has a six page interview in this week’s Rolling Stone coming out as transgendered. She (Tom) will be changing her name to Laura Jane Grace and doing hormone therapy. She and her wife will remain together. It’s all over the internet already, so I won’t bother repeating all the same details that are available everywhere else.

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In Remembrance: Reanna’s Story

In my last post about Lobby Day, I mentioned a story shared at the Congressional Briefing by mother Tracy Smith, who’s daughter Reanna died from her eating disorder while waiting for treatment. Tracy has agreed to let me share her testimony here to further spread the truth about the severity and life threatening reality of eating disorders. I’m deeply grateful to Tracy for her courage and willingness to share this story, and hope that others will learn from it. 

Please note that some of the specifics regarding her daughter’s death may be difficult to hear and are rather emotional, and if you are in recovery from an eating disorder, please take care of yourself while reading.

The following speech was given by Tracy Smith on Capitol Hill on April 24, 2012, at a Congressional Briefing held by the Eating Disorders Coalition as testimony to advocate for the passage of the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act.

Tracy Smith testifies on behalf of her daughter.

It has been seventeen months since my baby was taken.

My Family has been devastated by an eating disorder in the worst way possible. On Nov 15, 2010, my Daughter lost her life to an eating disorder. In less than twenty-three months this disease came into our lives and took over my child. Physically, mentally emotionally and in every aspect that you can imagine. Due to misdiagnoses by her pediatrician, lack of education and no coverage for her condition by medical insurance we were alone in the very short battle!

This is Reanna Yvette’s Story.

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The Unlikely Connection Between Punk Rock, Sobriety, and Eating Disorders

Currently Reading: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi
Currently Listening: Minor Threat’s Complete Discography

Along with people being surprised that I used to have an eating disorder (“Really? You?”), I also get surprised reactions when I tell people I don’t drink.

“Really? Never?”

Nope. When I was 15, some of my friends started experimenting with drugs and sneaking downtown to parties to drink with older friends. I didn’t share their intrinsic interest in trying these things, but eventually went along and participated a few times because I was starting to feel left out. My lack of interest in substance use often translated into not being invited to hang out, because people knew I didn’t want to be around it.

After a few times giving it a shot, I decided I really had no desire to ever partake in any of it. I didn’t like not feeling like myself, and I didn’t like the way people acted when they were intoxicated. For a little while, this made me feel like an outcast. I think some of my friends felt judged by my decision, which wasn’t intentional but was sort of unavoidable.

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Book Review: The Body Project

“Although eating disorders…are not caused by visual images alone, these pathologies thrive in an environment in which so many “normal” people work so hard (and spend so much money) in pursuit of the perfect body.”
-page 124 

Even though it came out almost fifteen years ago, a lot of people I’ve spoken to about this book hadn’t heard of it. So, it seemed appropriate to do a write-up for it and encourage more people to read it, because it’s excellent!

With The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, author and historian Joan Brumberg has pieced together a unique and invaluable historical account of how women and their bodies have been regarded in our country over the last 150 years using a combination of personal journals, medical textbooks, and other historical records.

Imagine being in the market for new clothing or undergarments and not having any standard sizes to reference. Prior to the sexual revolution of the 1920s, there wasn’t really any such thing as we think of it today. Undergarments were usually made by hand at home, and were far more about function than any fashion. As large companies began mass producing both undergarments and clothes, though, industry size standards cropped up to accommodate the emerging market, changing the way we thought about bodies and providing another form of measurement to scrutinize them by.

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Striking a Nerve

I ran across something really amazing on Tumblr last night that was originally posted by Andrew Sullivan and I really wanted to do a post about it. Rather than summarize it, I’ll just quote the whole thing:

You struck a nerve with this one, as I was just discussing this very thing a few weeks ago with a group of high-school freshmen in my English class. We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, “That’s disgusting.” We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him.

The lightbulb went off. “Oh,” I said. “I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.” The boy nodded and shuddered visibly.

“But,” I continued. “As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time.”

The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked.

“So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn’t actually want you to.”

It makes so much sense that I’m surprised it’s never been spoken with such clarity before now. Most of the men I’ve known who were homophobic were also more likely to engage in womanizing, catcalling, or other macho type stuff (although I realize that kind of behavior isn’t limited to the stereotypical frat boy). Turning the tables on that isn’t just about “eww that’s gross”, it runs way deeper than that.

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