Who Are You?

In Kate’s State of the Prose she discussed a concern very near and dear to my heart:

A lot of people refuse to accept our self-identification as bloggers — no more, no less — and keep insisting that as long as Shapely Prose remains the most visible blog in the fatosphere, we have an obligation to “lead” it in ways that are never clearly defined and involve some highly mobile goalposts. So we made the difficult, much-discussed and verrrrry well thought-out decision to reduce our visibility in the fatosphere — by simply not being part of it anymore.

This passage resonated deeply as I also struggle to move beyond my -isms and be recognized as a writer first. By making a conscious effort not to write daily -ism updates, I have reclaimed some of my writer self. Gudbuytjane puts it another way:

As I’ve been thinking a great deal about the paucity of trans women’s voices discussing things other than trans issues for cis people, and inspired by some writing by other trans women, I’ve decided to open a companion blog to gudbuytjane: gudbuytjane’s Music Blog.

Trans women writing about things other than trans issues?! This feels almost revolutionary.

As a marginalized person I have been asked to put aside my artistic vision in service to “the movement”. This has meant some of my writing – and I am an incredibly prolific writer – has not been as warmly received as my frothy rants against whatever -ism was acting up that day.

In college this meant having my subversive Shop & Fuck fiction being dismissed as “low brow” while professors all but demanded a Beloved knock off. Professionally, it has meant I have been cutoff from the pop culture discourse because as a “Black” writer my thoughts on Sidney Lumet – unless it relates to his marrying Lena Horne’s daughter or the deliciously craptastic The Wiz – are not desired or welcomed.

By the way, those two Lumet items are related.

I could tell you more than you’ll ever want to know about James Bond, have spilled more ink spectacularly deconstructing the misogyny of Kubrick and DePalma – two directors whose work I very much enjoy – yet much of my published work focuses primarily on the ways in which I am marginalized.

I have a voice. My stylistic choices are deliberate. It is meant to be cheeky and accessible. I can ramble academically with the best of them. But c’mon, who doesn’t love “Zombie Playa” with a side of “Chicken Fried Fail”?

As members of marginalized groups we must tell our stories. There is no debate on that point. However, we must also carve out spaces where we are artists first and our -isms are merely the lens in which we explore our craft. There is space for a diversity of voices writing on a diverse collection of subjects. We need as many people living life as themselves first and their -isms second. This is the only way to be seen as complex beings, both as artists and people.

There are some days where just getting out of bed – here comes the oppression rundown – as a fat, queer, black female is all the radical action I can manage. And if on those days I want to wax poetically about Jack Soo’s nuanced performance as Det. Nick Yemana rather than give an -ism update, who are you to tell me it lacks merit and derails “the movement”?

56 thoughts on “Who Are You?

  1. Wow, Snarky, I totally get where you’re coming from. I’m exactly halfway through my JD and, as expected, I’ve excelled and I’ve lived and breathed it and immersed myself in it. Occassionally I’m the Feminist Law Student, but for the most part I am one of the crowd. What most people don’t know is one of the reasons I waited 8 years to go for my JD is because I wanted so desperately to be a writer. I’ve written two full novels, 1 terrible and 1 not so terrible and finally I realized that I’m probably not meant to make a career out of it. I’m still trying to doctor the not-so-terrible novel to go to the appropriate publishing house, but I’ve found my calling and I’m following through.

    It makes me sad when people are shocked to hear that not only am I a writer, but they are shocked to hear that I’ve completed projects. Once upon a time I was forever talking about my projects. I don’t go around crowing about it often anymore and they rarely follow-up with questions about plot, characters, etc., but it’s a great feeling that comes from their admiration. I’ll admit that.

  2. I think because I started blogging at LiveJournal (and continue there), I’ve felt freer to take up a banner for a while, put it down, take up another one, and generally have my blog reflect the weathervane of my mind.

    I found that writing consistently over a period of time about a particular subject draws more readers and more comment, but damned if I can stay interested enough in one subject to write about it effectively for more than a little while.

    So, though I only recent discovered this blog and have gotten huge benefit from posts on fat acceptance, I salute your interest in being a writer first.

  3. Wow, I hope this doesn’t come across as corny, hokey, and ridiculous, but I relate.

    IMO, you’re talking about a “spiritual” thing. (Don’t like that word–it is vague, doesn’t describe what I mean very well at all, but since that’s the default expression in common discourse, here I go.)

    Your blackness, fatness, queerness, etc., certainly contribute to who you are. After all, they shape your experiences, you day-to-day interactions, as surely as my yo-yo fat, moody, hyper-sensitive, rosacea-faced qualities shape mine. But these things do not define the totally of who we are. We are more than that.

    So before I really start waxing philosophic, sounding like a fool, and wind up regretting this comment, let me sum up by saying that neither you, nor I want to be defined by other people’s narrow boundaries. Even if those boundaries are a part of who we are. Even a big and precious part of who we are.

    There is more to us than that.

    *Steps off soapbox*

  4. 10 years ago I went to a play reading by a young Filipina playwright. The play was about identity in the U.S. for 1st generation Filipinos, and featured the main character in conflict with her mother, and Filipino vs. American culture.
    My husband is Filipino, and we’d been to many play readings on the same subject. What was interesting was the discussion that followed the reading: when would Asian playwrights be seen as simply playwrights, and when would they be “allowed” to write and produce plays that were about something other than Asian/American culture clashes?
    August Wilson wrote some of the best plays EVER, but does that mean that Suzanne Lori Parks and every other African American playwright HAS to write about the black experience in America? What if someone wants to write a farce, and s/he happens to be non-white? Chances are, they don’t even get their script read, let alone produced.
    The early studio heads were able to find success by hiding the fact that they were Jews; by changing their names, divorcing their Jewish wives in order to marry shiksas, and focusing on WASP-y subjects in their films. And apparently we haven’t come very far from those old days.
    When will people be allowed to be who we are, without being categorized and put in a box? My guess is not in the near future.

  5. *applauds*

    We all get to have fun, yo. That “but writing about music/books/games/wombats doesn’t further the mooooovemeeeeent” B.S. is just another way of marginalizing the already marginalized. Yeesh.

    Yes, Virginia, we’re people too, with facets! We have the right to NOT have to endlessly, tirelessly instruct those with privilege where we don’t have it.

  6. @Alyssa:

    It’s for that reason I ultimately chose to write a Fantasy novel in a world of my own creation, though admittedly using creatures that already existed in the genre. I have tried (and failed) so many times to write something meaningful to my heritage (I’m half-Filipina). I think, ultimately, while my upbringing had its moments of weirdness, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as, say, Carlos Bulosan’s adventures upon first coming to America. I’m really just a boring middle-class girl and any attempt to romaticise it is futile. And then I thought, who says I have to write something meaningful and Filipino-centric? Why can’t I write stupid Jane Austen Fan Fic or a novel about a white kid or whatever the hell I want? Where did this compulsion come from?

    Anyway, yeah, I get what you’re saying. There’s a disembodied critic saying that any author (of color) worth their weight (ba-dum-dum) is going to write something meaningful and specific to their culture. It sucks.

  7. I am in no way famous or a voice sought-out for “-ism” identification and writings, although my Google Reader is hooked up to this blog and many others because it’s an interest of mine to read, educate, and ponder these discussions and consider my own activism.

    Also of interest to me: sci-fi, dying my hair many frivolous colors, sewing (sewing!!), B-movies, Bond movies (yes!), dance music, cooking, immature Will Ferrell films. Sometimes I feel like my interests aren’t cool enough to out myself as having, even in the tiny-tiny-tiny little blog-o-sphere I inhabit. And yeah, sometimes I write a little essay on the racial mores or sexism or whatever-ism because I do notice, I do care, and I do want to talk about it. But sometimes… I wish I could just enjoy that stuff as the person (artist) I am and not think too hard about it. Or maybe, still think about it, but yeah, life my life too which includes baking brownies and laughing at Anchorman for the 12th viewing.

    So, thanks for this post, and I support you in every word of it.

  8. I’ve been reflecting on this as it relates to dance.

    I love to dance. I am curious about performing as a dancer. But will my dance inherantly be about my body in a way that a slender dancer’s wouldn’t be?

    I had that experience when a woman who was older than me approached me and interpreted something I had worn to dance as that sort of commentary. I listened, and realized so much of what she was saying was her interpretation, rather than my wardrobe choice.

    I’ve been told that I have an unexpected lightness about me when I dance — as though there’s this hidden fairy princess that busts out when the music gets going. And I wonder, is what’s being seen a reflection of what I’m doing in dance, or the cognitive dissonance being experienced on the part of the observer.

    I think the lack of self-consciousness is in part what’s being noticed, and what seems surprising. Good, I think, let that blow someone’s mind, and let them think that if a woman my size can act with such freedom, surely they can, too.

    I think I could do the same exact dance and some would see it as parody and others as social commentary and others as just movement that was joyful to observe. Of course, the music selection (and wardrobe) would make a difference. That would be an interesting idea to explore, though. Hmmm.

  9. Yeah, there’s a reason my D&D blog has lasted longer than any of the “issues” blogs I’ve started, and it’s the same reason why D&D is the biggest tag on my Livejournal: it’s a topic that doesn’t cost me anything to address. It’s fun to write about. It’s something I’m knowledgeable and passionate about that I actually enjoy and is unlikely to end with a head-shaped dent in my desk or vice versa.

    Though I think I’m going to have to write a post about the massive amounts of race fail inherent in the game. There are reasons I don’t use the default settings and their cultural identities and politics, but when they publish an epic destiny for drow where the elven god cleanses them of their “curse” for their next life… that’s a bit beyond problematic.

  10. AE:

    when they publish an epic destiny for drow where the elven god cleanses them of their “curse” for their next life… that’s a bit beyond problematic.

    Wow. That…holy fucking jeebus. That’s awful. I…actually have no words. The actual D&D system was a bit too rigid for me with entire races being classified as lawful neutral, lawful evil, etc., etc. My friend had a system that was half old D&D and half self-invented and if I remember correctly he refused to use those classes and allowed us to choose our attributes. It was much less rigid and allowed for growth as the game progressed.

  11. @Sarah B: The current edition has a much less rigid alignment system (the default alignment that most people are assumed to fall under is “unaligned”, only if you actually are rigidly dedicated to the philosophy of a more extreme alignment do you take it) and character creation involves making choices instead of rolling dice. The character classes are as rigidly defined as ever, though there are far more variations within them, and a couple different options for blending classes together.

  12. @Alexandra Erin:

    That sounds cool. I’ve only played in two groups in my life, the one I already wrote about and a 3rd ed. group that was run by a dictator who loved table grids and miniatures. The second group was not as much fun as the other which was very much a free form use your imagination kind of thing.

    And to keep this slightly on topic I’ll add HUGE NERD (with geek tendencies) to the list of Who I Am. =)

  13. There are some days where just getting out of bed – here comes the oppression rundown – as a fat, queer, black female is all the radical action I can manage.

    I hear you. There’s a few things I don’t talk about on the living 400lbs blog much, like being bisexual. There’s other things I don’t talk about at all. I originally thought it was to avoid derailing, but y’know, lately I’ve realized it also means I don’t have to explain/define/justify certain life choices and … it’s nice.

    Anne – I too started on LJ. My personal LJ is largely read by people who know me in real life, and yes, I go all over the place. But I also don’t assume most readers are necessarily interested in any one issue.

    It’s almost reversed for the “living 400lbs” blog. Most readers are interested in fat issues, or are superfat or curious about being superfat — the opposite of my personal LJ. At the same time, I I intentionally keep the focus on fat issues and my take on being way fatter than normal.

    WellRoundedType2 – I get a lot of positive feedback about how I dance with my husband, like “energetic”, “graceful”, “sexy” and “effortless”. Yes, others’ reactions tell me a lot more about their expectations than anything else….

  14. One previous commentator asked when POC would ever be “allowed” to just be. I don’t think they will ever be “allowed”, ultimately, you’ll just have to say you’re bored/tired/stymied just talking about this one topic. And so you’ll start to create art to reflect your other interests. The hope is that once people see what a kick-ass writer you are – talking about a non-ism topic! – they will start to come/hire you no matter what.

  15. In one of my MSW classes, I was the only out lesbian (no out B,G, or T people either). I got to be the spokesperson for all queer people all the time. I appreciate the professor asking me to explain how things affected LGBT people, as it was obvious that few in the class had given a second’s thought to the possibility that they might have non-straight clients. There were only a few members of the class who had any interest in participating so I had plenty of opportunities to ask other questions too, but it did feel like, “Everyone sit up and pay attention; we will now hear the next item on The Gay Agenda,” every time I opened my mouth.

  16. And how much does dwelling on the ways in which are oppressed and repressed affect your psyche? I’m white and middle class but even so some days I get so sick of being the angry feminist in the room when I just want to talk about something else. I mean, I like other things! Luckily there are plenty of spaces where I CAN do this and still be taken seriously, where I am NOT just there for my token minority filling status. I know I am lucky, and others are not.

    People should be allowed to be people first, and THEN whatever else they are. Whether that’s a Punk Rocker or transgender or both or neither.

  17. It’s funny you should bring that up, Snarky’s. I started blogging about fat before I was diagnosed aspie, and I actually had someone on an autism-related blog remark that it was nice to see autistic people blogging about stuff besides autism (which I’ve also touched on, but I still feel like kind of a n00b when I do it).

    Yeah, who is it that gets to just write about whatever they feel like writing about — only white, gentile, able-bodied, standard-brained, young(ish) middle-class cis het men? And everybody else is obligated to stick to writing about Those Things They Are (which differ from white, gentile, able-bodied etc.)? Screw piles of that.

    I remember reading something back in the big bad ’70s that Stevie Wonder said, something like, “I don’t think of myself as a black singer, I think of myself as a singer who is black.” And as far as I know, he’s never written (or at least released) a song about being blind.

  18. I remember reading something back in the big bad ’70s that Stevie Wonder said, something like, “I don’t think of myself as a black singer, I think of myself as a singer who is black.” And as far as I know, he’s never written (or at least released) a song about being blind.

    Oddly enough it was Will Smith by way of Stevie Wonder (Wild Wild West/I Wish) which got started me thinking about this. I finally watched Hancock and went kind of mad happy over it.

    The character was so fascinating to me. He was a black bum, but he wasn’t jolly or working from that magical bum trope. He was complex, dark, measured, but again he was accessible and likable. Well, at least I liked him. Yummy pathos, but devoid of cliche and not really representing anyone but himself. The movie was a bit uneven in what I assumed was an attempt subvert the audience’s expectations, but his performance was a making me all kinds of happy.

    And you know, it only took Smith 20 years to be “allowed” to play a character who didn’t shuck, jive and make audiences feel comfy. Though, I will be the first to say he can give that mid-90s-Julia-Roberts-dour-period a rest.

  19. Something that’s made me extremely happy is the Spanish Teacher from the show Community. He’s Asian and it was addressed once, briefly in the pilot, but never again. He’s just a crazy, community college Spanish teacher.

  20. @Sarah B – is he played by Charles Chun? Better known as Dr. Wen on Scrubs. I keep hoping to see him working on another television show, but with a much bigger role. I haven’t seen the show yet, btw.

  21. Gosh. Wow. Yes.

    I’m like, this artist-writer lady who loves cats and overalls and loves to paint whatever the fuck I feel like painting for hours and hours without talking to or interacting with anyone. At all.

    But I give a shit about the movement, and I give a shit what it means to be a fat, feminist, lesbian, working-class, Appalachian white-girl, too.

    It’s played out in being expected to be grateful to spend my creative energy helping other people.

    And while I really care, there are times when I just want to paint pictures of angels or listen to some fucking Tom Waits (or preferably both at once.) I mean, I have periods where I have to scale back community organizing and involvement, etc. just to breathe for a second. I’m not a martyr. And I wish more people could understand (usually the folks who’ve pressured me to perform for the movement were actually people who had more time to spare than I did) that we ain’t meant to be martyrs, and you can’t effectively organize when you’re going on 2 0r 3 hours of sleep a night.

    So I think it’s up to folks like you, Snarky, to take that space to do what you need to do artistically. That’s revolutionary in and of itself. Folks who live in the margins have to take up space by putting what’s inside of them out there- if we don’t do our art, then the face of art won’t change.

    Sorry to ramble. This struck a chord.

  22. “At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

    I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. ‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.’ Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world–prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.” Goldman, Emma. Living My Life

    It’s interesting isn’t it, how we people of causes aren’t allowed to be fun. It reminds me of the principal who wouldn’t let me see the school nurse over an earache because I was trying to cheer up another sick student so I must not have been “in real pain.” If you have an ISSUE, you must be SERIOUS about it, all day long. Don’t mess with my belief that you are some kind of one sided shrill banner waving harpy by having a life with facets.

  23. Ms.e – yes, exactly. Like I don’t have a serious problem with depression because my sister told a story that made me laugh. 23:58 is not sufficient for a diagnosis, ma’am. For all the problems with the DSM, at least it says things like “more days than not” and “all or part of the day.”

  24. “We need as many people living life as themselves first and their -isms second. This is the only way to be seen as complex beings, both as artists and people. ”

    She Shoots, She scores. Well said Snarkysmachine. I see us as minds first, bodies second, and I wish more people would dare to be more than they are. I often speak to people who will almost whisper their dreams and thoughts rather than say them out loud because they are so confined by their given “roles” in life. I won’t live like that – I am creative and a dreamer, both personally and professionally, and that’s me, so if people confine me, I’ll wrestle free and probably alientate myself, but I am at least living as myself, which I havent always.
    Loved this post Snarkysmachine .

  25. Sometimes it’s exhausting and boring trying to make sure you’re a “good” representative of whatever -ism you happen to belong to (summed up admirably by the XKCD strip How It Works). Even as a middle-class inbetweenie white woman, I find it gets tedious having to stand up for feminism and FA all the time – sometimes we all need a rest and a chance to think about something else.

    I particularly like the Emma Goldman quote above about living your beautiful ideal, and it reminds me of the famous poem, Bread and Roses:
    Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
    Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

    If we couldn’t do something frivolous, beautiful and radiant until all the oppression in the world was wiped out, we’d live our whole lives in miserable, endless toil. It seems to me it is a radical act to say that whatever -ism you embody isn’t your whole life, without denying that the -isms have affected you. Mainstream opinion seems to accept two narratives: either you believe there is no such thing as any prejudice based on the colour of your skin, your sexuality etc., in which case you are free to focus on whatever you choose; or, you believe that the world is systematically biassed against people due to the colour of their skin, sexuality, gender etc., in which case you can only ever speak on this subject and no other until you have brought everyone else round to your point of view and fixed all oppressions.

    It’s only when you’re the default that you’re allowed without question to focus on one of the myriad things that interest you, rather than the things that you are.

  26. If we couldn’t do something frivolous, beautiful and radiant until all the oppression in the world was wiped out, we’d live our whole lives in miserable, endless toil.

    THIS.

    Since “in miserable, endless toil” is exactly the
    place to which the patriarchy has been relegating many marginalized groups, it really chaps my hide when members of groups that theoretically oppose the social order that perpetuates this limitation of our lives wants us to either “serious-up” about it or to not speak up when it’s not convenient for them.

    Oh hai I’m being an angry feminist again.

    I like pie. Wait, no, that’s

  27. whine I accidentally broke the funny I was trying to type.

    What I was about to say was: “wait, that’s not serious enough. I <3 pie!"

    Curses. Foiled again.

  28. I think people forget that “the movement” (any and all, IMO) is not The Person.

    There is a reason why my “personal info” at my blogs (yup, have several) usually includes the disclaimer “This is not all that I am. Ask.”

    As for being limited to certain topics to write on… I think this falls under the “write what you know” assumption. (And I use the word “assumption” deliberately) Although it seems everyone is “required” to “conform” to the stereotype. I wish that was not the case.

    Myself, I am someone who is in constant struggle with food (LONG, complicated story there…), who is a frustrated writer (haven’t finished anything yet), female, and Asian. If we were to proceed on stereotype, the presumption would likely be that I’m an Engineer. Okay, you have me there. But I also do other things, like play ice hockey, attempt my hand at fiction, play with fibre, spectate at sports, and have an eclectic book, audio, and movie collection. But that STILL leaves out a whole bunch.

    Speaking for myself alone: Snarky’s Machine, I look forward to learning more about you through posts here.

  29. “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” – Sir Toby Belch, in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

    Everywhere there are people telling us that we have to be serious. Everywhere there are folks wondering why we’re laughing. Always, there will be people who will try to see us as only whichever causes, purposes or pigeonholes they wish to categorise us in, disapproving of whatever it is we’re doing. As per the First Rule of Retailing: People can, and will, complain about anything.

    My strong belief is that if we allow these people to dictate who we are, and who we can be, then we are no longer in control of our own lives. I’m female. I’m fat. I have depression. All of these are aspects of who I am. None of them defines the whole of me – just like my having the sun sign of Aries (moon in Virgo) in western astrology, or being a Metal Pig in Chinese astrology, or being Myers-Briggs type INTJ/INTP doesn’t define all of who I am either. I also crochet granny squares and make those into blankets as a hobby. I can make up a pretty good batch of apple and cinnamon cupcakes when I’m in the mood. I’m pretty good with scones and pastry. I hate housework, but when I do it I do it properly. I enjoy gaming. But that’s not all of who I am either.

    All people are complex. All people are more than the sum of their various parts. By denying people the space to be more than just a cause, or a concept, or an ideal, we deny their very humanity.

    Besides, the folk who are telling us to be serious, to take things seriously, to never deviate from the Message or the Cause or the Call or whatever, are the ones who aren’t interested in our eventual success (quite the contrary, in fact). If everyone in the world took everything seriously, the suicide rate would be far higher, the birth rate far lower, and the species probably would never have moved on from Africa. Sometimes, the odds against things seem so overwhelming, and the enormity of the task we’re facing in trying to obtain reasonable treatment for anyone seems daunting. At times like that, you can either “take things seriously” and give up in despair, or you can look up at the giant towering over you, pick up your pea-shooter, and say “Back off, buster, or I’ll shoot this right up your willy!”

    Then, once everything is over, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, laugh a little at your own audacity, and go home for some cakes and ale.

  30. I always get confused when people act as if someone who is a known activist is not allowed to have any other interests (maybe even interest ze shares with some of the “enemy”! Gasp)

    It doesn’t make any sense to me. Isn’t the goal of anti-oppression work to get to a place where nobody’s lives choices are limited by what they are “allowed” to do, based on their race/sexual identity/ sexual orientation/ religion/ ability status/ BMI? What good is asking for equal representation everywhere if we then forbid ourselves from going certain places?

    People who expect you to only live as a combination of -isms for the cause don’t realize that they are actually doing something they always call others out on: reduce you to certain aspects, instead of allowing you to be a whole human being.

  31. I think one of the beautiful things about the web is that you’re free to present whatever aspects of yourself you want, without having to first be judged by your outward appearance.

    And I’m very grateful that Snarky doesn’t limit herself to writing about activism, because she’s such an entertaining storyteller – I dream that she puts together a one-woman show someday.

    As a hetero white male, I don’t think I can fully appreciate just how difficult it can be to maintain a self while struggling under the oppression of any -ism. But I get a hint at it in my roles as a parent and as an aspie geek – I’m certainly not as good a dad when I’m stuck in the parent role 24/7, and sometimes my soul screams for something more sustaining than a diet of database applications.

  32. Been a while since I de-lurked, but this one got me. I’m with lauren – the goal of any movement is freedom to just be. Whatever the -ism, it is only a prefix. ;) The whole is always going to be much more complex. Part of what’s been great about Shapley Prose for me is the introduction to the concept that being fat is not who I am, it’s what I am. Only one part. Will other people see it that way? Will I always be chided for stepping out of bounds? Probably. But we are all a thousand-fold beings. Sometimes after I eat my baby-flavored doughnut, I like a cup of tea, you know?

  33. When my blog suddenly got readers, I got confronted with this one almost immediately. I found it was a lot harder to maintain boundaries than I thought it would be, mostly because the people who did want me to be their representative and speak to their issues were nice, friendly, interesting people. They had come to my blog so full of compliments and praise, and when they asked me to realign myself in just this teensy tiny way, my immediate reaction was to feel that I owed them something in return. Especially when the something they were asking for seemed so ostensibly good! Who argues against being the vanguard of a good cause? Nobody good and deserving of readers, that’s who!

    I really dug that Kate quote, too, especially the “highly mobile goalposts” line. The only goal I had with my blog was to make my life process visible and documented for myself. Then I got readers, and suddenly everybody was staking their own personal goalpost in my field. It’s really hard to say, “That’s your goal, not mine, get it out of my field,” without making that sound like a value judgment on the other person’s priorities. It’s especially hard when those goals are usually laudable, and a thousand times especially hard when they are goals you would like to have but, for a bevy of complicated reasons, don’t.

    I’ve tried very hard to stick to my original goal of documenting my own process, which now has to involve documenting my ambivalence and resentment and defensiveness and selfishness and privilege freakouts when somebody hits me with a goalpost I won’t/can’t/don’t want to deal with right now. None of that stuff looks nice or reads well, and often doesn’t make me look very likeable (in my mind), but it’s the only solid goal I feel I have any shot at reaching. I can’t meet somebody else’s standard, but I can meet my own, especially if my own standard is just brutal ugly self-honesty — I’ve got all the resources I need for that immediately at hand.

    It’s all weirdly compounded by the fact that I don’t consider my blog to be real writing. I started my blog as a side outlet, to be “easy” writing that I did on the side to procrastinate from “real” writing. So to have my “fake” writing suddenly become the real stuff has just been a mindfuck and a half. I am supposed to be writing short stories and fiction, not essays about social issues. I feel like I’ve really failed and taken the easy way out on my writing, because I’m not working on the stuff that is difficult and vulnerable, the stuff I think of as “real,” and am instead blogging, which feels like the mental equivalent of ranting at people on the bus.

    I didn’t join up with NaNoWiMo, because I already have, like, three unfinished novels sitting around, and I’m goddammit fuck not starting another one. But I am trying to take the message of NaNoWiMo to heart, and am forcing myself to sit down a little bit each day and work toward finishing one — AND ONLY ONE — novel. It’s so much harder for me, because I am pretty clear about what I think about social issues (most of the time), but I am not at all clear about what the main character does next. I am a qualified expert on my own feelings and my own life, but when I have to make something up, I feel like a total idiot, stepping into You Don’t Know Shit land. It’s too, too easy for me to write about feminism and yadda yadda; describe the look on the evil villain’s face? OH FUCK I have NO idea. Wait, Harriet, what if it’s a FEMINIST villain? NOW WE’RE COOKIN’

    /rant

  34. @ Meg Thornton – “I also crochet granny squares and make those into blankets as a hobby. I can make up a pretty good batch of apple and cinnamon cupcakes when I’m in the mood. I’m pretty good with scones and pastry. I hate housework, but when I do it I do it properly. I enjoy gaming.”

    Excellent! Please can I come to your house for tea?

  35. There are some days where just getting out of bed – here comes the oppression rundown – as a fat, queer, black female is all the radical action I can manage.

    Swap “queer” for “largely asexual with heterosexual tendencies” and that’s me.

    I know I’m black every day when I look in the mirror. These days I dread phone calls from my white best friend of 17 years because she’s teaching at an all-black middle school and is currently waist-deep in alligators, and having to give weekly “teaching moments” to her is mentally exhausting.

    I know I’m fat when I see an outfit I’d wrestle a horde of rabid squirrels for, and the sizes stop at 12.

    I know I’m asexual when I find a guy physically attractive, but know that I’d send him home as soon as he takes his pants off.

    I know all of this. I’ve accepted all of this. But damn if I don’t want to have to deal with the societal BS that’s behind it on a daily basis. What about the parts of me that you don’t readily see? Have you met the woman whose last good birthday was her 21st? Did you know that she likes to write horrible fanfiction? Or that she can’t draw her way out of a paper bag, but keeps doing it anyway because she loves it? Have you seen the bag of dice she keeps as a reminder of the year she spent playing her first two D&D campaigns? Are you aware she never played again after that year because she couldn’t reconcile her inner geek and her inner fatshionista?

    That’s me….but it’s still not all of me. I can sit here and package that entire paragraph as being separate from my race, gender, sexuality, and size, but they have crossed paths time and again. “What I am” is a flagrant contradiction of “who I am”, according to society. I’m supposed to be “hey, girl, hey”-ing at the mall with my 6 kids instead of reading about the implications of Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer canonically existing in the same universe, which I think means I’m a societal unicorn.

  36. There are a lot of people on the Internet who want the world to know that they aren’t what one would “expect.” They want the world to know that they are unique, complex, and full of seeming contradictions. After 18 years as an active reader and participant on the Internet, I can’t help but believe that most people (at least on the Internet) think they are not normal. I used to think I was different, too – different from other black women, people of color, etc. But now I know I am no more or less different. And there is nothing “not black” or “not woman” etc. about my interests or choices in life. There is no “regular” world vs. my world.

  37. Did you know that she likes to write horrible fanfiction?

    ChloeMireille, you wrote an excellent comment all the way through, but this is the question—of all the wonderful things you said—that’s resonating for me right now.

    I’m a librarian and I love reading fanfiction. There, I said it. And what’s worse, just this month (in a kind of spirit-of-nanowrimo challenge) I started to write some–and even share it on a fan fiction site.

    Unfortunately, most of the people who know about my other writing projects are wondering why I’m “wasting my time” on stuff that will never be published (as in, for money or writing credit\professional cache) and has “no value.”

    The fact that I’m finding this kind of writing incredibly freeing, gratifying, and a complete blast doesn’t register with them. I “should be working on real projects.” As one person said, “There aren’t even any fat people on that show. Or librarians.”

    Because writing what you know isn’t just a suggestion, it’s an imperative. Makes you wonder about the secret life of Joss Wheedon, doesn’t it?

  38. I haven’t had the problem recently of being defined and fenced in by my differences, in part because I’ve stopped speaking up. I’ve been letting other people talk, and hoping they will speak for me. (Hint: they don’t.)
    Speaking and having a voice isn’t feminism 101 so much as feminism pre-K, so I’m just wondering what the fuck happened.
    I’ve spent the whole month disappointed that I’m not doing NaNo (I’ve never tried it, and I’ve always meant to).

    I spin yarn, well, and I’m self taught. I enjoy cooking but am terrible at finishing a meal all at once, and make horrible messes. I’m a hard agnostic, and was a solipsist in high school (I got better). I tend to be critical, so I’m trying to be more gracious. I tend to be introspective, or possibly self absorbed (so I’m trying to limit what I type here, I could go on for DAYS). I’m a lesbian, but I never had one of those chosen families I keep hearing about, just the regular one.

    (I love parenthesis, and, also, unnecessary commas. I will happily overuse either.)

  39. yay snarky! great post!
    question…uh oh…am i allowed to ask? are you married to a biological male? just curious…why am i curious? i think its really just curiosity about language. i just read that you identify as queer and i was curious….how you are using the word queer – culturally queer? sexually queer? ok….you really are great! and clearly you don’t have to answer. :) hope u are having a BEAUTIFUL day!

  40. There are a lot of people on the Internet who want the world to know that they aren’t what one would “expect.” They want the world to know that they are unique, complex, and full of seeming contradictions. After 18 years as an active reader and participant on the Internet, I can’t help but believe that most people (at least on the Internet) think they are not normal. I used to think I was different, too – different from other black women, people of color, etc. But now I know I am no more or less different. And there is nothing “not black” or “not woman” etc. about my interests or choices in life. There is no “regular” world vs. my world.

    I’m trying to understand what you’re getting at here. On first examination it read as “Get over yourself”, which is a valid criticism. That said, I really don’t want to address that reading if it wasn’t the intention of your point.

    My post wasn’t decrying my spespul snowflake status, but rather the way in which artists of color are asked to speak from their marginalized places first rather than be artists, and how that hurts marginalized folks. This is not a critique of interweb culture or even blog culture, but how my intersecting identities are regarded in dominant culture spaces and expectations are placed on me in those spaces.

    I’m pretty extraordinary but this is hardly a result of any of my -isms.

  41. This has gotten me thinking. I’ve been a feminist since I knew the word, I was before then too, I just didn’t know what to call it. So I’m been a feminist for a while, but lately I’ve been examining culture even more closely, really looking at television and movies and thinking about the gender politics involved in them. I’ve been re-examining my thoughts about disability and just like every other -ism there is. In doing this, I’ve stopped enjoying watching movies in part, and reading comics and listening to music. I’m constantly questioning everything, every thought and cultural meme, and since nothing is perfect, ever, all those things have become unenjoyable. I find myself thinking, “next time there’s an open thread I will ask what everyone thought of XY or Z.” I think sometimes I have to just stop worrying and questioning and sit down and watch my favorite horror movie or watch “The Office,” without worrying about the implications of how the fat characters in that show are portrayed.

    Not stop completely of course, but allow myself to enjoy things sometimes without being insane about the implications and gender politics and every other problem in our society that influences our culture.

  42. As far as depression goes, I’m with ya! It’s like those, yes, TV ads that play mournful music as gray people dressed in gray sweats slog around their gray world, not eating, showering, or interacting with their poor cats because they are DEPRESSED!
    When I was in the worst of my depression, I was an over-scheduled, over-achieving perfectionist. I laughed out loud, talked a lot, and gave the general impression that I was a happy, outgoing person.
    The problem is we want to make things simple, and human beings just aren’t simple.

  43. Snarkysmachine – My response was written after reading all the comments (I read your post first and then returned later to read the comments), a lot of which centered on people’s identities. I definitely wasn’t thinking, “get over yourself” – more like, “you’re not alone.” In the past I’ve seen that kind of identity/hobbies declaration accompanied by a sense of being misread or isolated.

  44. Alibelle, WORD. Feminism and queer awareness (and racial awareness to a degree, and all seventeen million other types of social awareness) drive me up a wall more often than I’d care to admit. I sometimes long idly for simpler times, when I had no idea how much most things I like sucked. More often than that, I throw shoes at the TV (or whichever medium) and yell “Why can’t I enjoy my entertainment in peace?!” It’s horribly exhausting to be so aware of every injustice and every oppression all the time. I’ve actually just about reached the point where I’m seriously considering stopping following most, if not all, feminist blogs, because even reading about all that makes me feel like I’m nothing but the oppression. Thing is, my day to day life is actually pretty good. I get to live my life as just me, without having to be Oppressed Person ™ all, or even most times. And then I turn on the internet, TV, or open a newspaper, an there the hate is once again. I can’t even imagine how much not fun it is to don the cape of oppression on a daily basis, just to maintain a blog (which is still a hobby to most people).
    If one’s life is solely defined by the qualities the world deems ‘inferior’, it diminishes the person. And that’s not good for anyone. There are times when I fear my friends hate me because I yell at the newspaper, when the smart thing would be to toss the damn rag to protect my emotional well-being. Awareness is great, and preaching is necessary, but sometimes we all need a break. If we spend an hour contemplating the uplifting qualities of a bunny’s whiskers, even if we do it every single day, the patriarchy is not going to win while we’re away.

    (bad fanfiction writers FTW!)

  45. So I’m bipolar . And in a lot of ways, that just sucks. I can’t tell anybody except for family and a few family friends because of the stigma attached to BPD….and because of the very creepy hypersexuality that landed me in whole new diagnosis from the DSM. In short, I lost my goddamn mind and its hard to even discuss that part of my life without wondering if you or someone else is going to write me off as a slut AND crazy. I’ve also seen more than a few Craigslist personals that specify ‘no fat chicks and no bipolars.’ On the other hand, the diagnosis makes my depression more ‘real’ for some people. Its prompted the only conversation I’ve had with my dad about my mental health in 15 years.

    And I’m from Appalachia. I’m extremely proud of where I come from but I’m sick of being the ‘exception’. For some reason people can’t fathom that not every person from Appalachia is dirt poor and living in shacks. Similarly, average Americans can’t even grasp the idea that a) Appalachia doesn’t need their fucking pity b) some people chose to live lives that aren’t mainstream America. And no, I don’t find your ‘compliments’ on my neutral accent complimentary. In fact its puts me in a really difficult place where I have to question if I have subconsciously resisted the accent out of shame. Not fun.

    Last but not lease I have had a female partner for 8 years but I still love the doods. I wish that people would stop telling me that I’m ‘bisexual’. You don’t get to define me.

    This isn’t exactly what Snarky’s had in mind with her post. However, it hit a nerve with me because sometimes its the assumption that a person with my identity doesn’t even exist or shouldn’t exist that pisses me off the most.

  46. Forgive me for not reading every comment, I’m having a bad focus day. And I have this half formed thought that is pounding on the inside of my skull looking for release.

    I feel there is some thematic connection between “The Fantasy of Being Thin” (or at least what I remember of Snarky’s Machine’s post on it, and the desire to be a writer/artist/singer/etc. first instead of being all about the Issue(s) first. When we spend so much of our energies dreaming of how great life will be when we… solve the fat, conquer the issue… yet forget to live in the moment, we lose something. Except that in the present case, the demand to put all else on the altar for the Issue or Ism is external. We can’t live the way we like, or so we imagine, because we aren’t thin yet, if we are still bound by TFOBT. We can’t write, or dance, or create, etc. the way we like because the professors, the critics, the blogosphere, expect so hard at us that we only meet their wishes.

  47. Oh and One Jewish Dyke I meant to say earlier that I am super uncomfortable that an instructor took that approach with you. It puts way to much pressure on a student. There have been times when I’ve had LGBT students, POC individuals, autism spectrum, etc in my university classes and I wanted them to speak out but in many cases they don’t. And that’s fine. I simply cannot fathom denying my students the CHOICE of speaking up. And really, it all goes back to Snarky’s original contention of not wanting to be the spokesperson all the time.

    This may seem like I’m making a big deal out of something that you appreciated. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to ask a Muslim student’s opinion or a lesbian to speak about their own experience. Every time I’ve chosen to not do so. In the end, I’m the instructor and sometimes students just want to be students.

  48. Fantastic post, SM.

    I think people get hit with a lot of variations of this expectation. It’s pernicious regardless of the specifics and origin. Reducing people to a cardboard cutout is a Bad Thing, even if you then place the cutout on a pedestal strewn with flowers.

  49. Because writing what you know isn’t just a suggestion, it’s an imperative. Makes you wonder about the secret life of Joss Wheedon, doesn’t it?

    Ah, Spoonfork, but when you DO write what you know then you’re just creating Mary Sues. :)

  50. Oh, I’m not supposed to take some happy where I can get it, even with an official depression diagnosis? Crud, I’m SO doing this wrong! Am I the only one here sans blog/FB/MyS/Twitter? Huh, I must not be human…/snark

    “What I am” is a flagrant contradiction of “who I am”, according to society. I’m supposed to be “hey, girl, hey”-ing at the mall with my 6 kids instead of reading about the implications of Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer canonically existing in the same universe, which I think means I’m a societal unicorn.

    ChloeMireille, I’ll see your societal unicorn and raise you a pegasus with rainbow afro: I’m all about Ugly Betty and old cartoons (I’m looking forward to a Filmation retrospective DVD box set. Yes, it’s that serious).

  51. I once found an old copy of Emerson’s Self-Reliance on the sidewalk in front of a strip club. It was old enough to have gilt lettering, but not old enough to have been published during his lifetime. I picked it up, took it home, and let it take over my brain for a few days — but only for a few. (Emerson himself advises against that sort of thing.)

    Here’s the text online, in case anyone’s interested. The opening sentences run thus:

    I READ THE OTHER DAY SOME VERSES written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. Always the soul hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for always the inmost becomes the outmost — and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgement.

    What appealed to me was his urging his readers not to become “isms” — or as he phrased it in an earlier essay, The American Scholar:

    It is one of those fables which, out of an unknown antiquity, convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.

    The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man, – present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters – a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

    Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney, a statute-book; the mechanic, a machine; the sailor, a rope of a ship.

    In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state, he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men`s thinking.

    Of course, in 1830s New England, Emerson was still conventional enough to omit one-half of the human race from his considerations, yet, allowing for this, his points still stand.

  52. Thank you for your post on black female desirability.

    I’d never given a thought to the privilage that being a white female gives me in the dating market.

    I’m gonna go mull that over like whoa, now.

    (And, also: Jesus H. Christ, those guys are a bunch of true winners. Ugh.)

  53. “Oh and One Jewish Dyke I meant to say earlier that I am super uncomfortable that an instructor took that approach with you. It puts way to much pressure on a student. There have been times when I’ve had LGBT students, POC individuals, autism spectrum, etc in my university classes and I wanted them to speak out but in many cases they don’t. And that’s fine. I simply cannot fathom denying my students the CHOICE of speaking up. And really, it all goes back to Snarky’s original contention of not wanting to be the spokesperson all the time.” – fatsmartchick

    I have a similar job and I act the same way you do, I never expect or ask any student to speak for “their people”. That’s for the reasons you mention but also, and I think even moreso, because I think that it’s important to look at the white, cis, middle-class people there and say, hey, you have *at least* as much responsibility to think about this as the “minorities” do. I don’t want to encourage the idea that it’s up to “them” to tell “us” what’s going on and if they don’t, “we” can’t be blamed for not knowing.

Comments are closed.