For years I’ve been noticing the People Magazine annual “Half Their Size” issue. It comes out around New Year’s Eve and the cover is always the same: before and after photos with big graphics about how much each person has lost. People Magazine devotes pages and pages of a feature story to readers who have lost over half their body weight. They ask them how they did it, what motivated them, what their “rock bottom” was as a fat person.
I kept thinking, What if we talked to people about how they lost more than half of their self-hatred? What would it look like? I find it so inspirational to hear how people have risen out of oppression and cultures that don’t value their bodies/identities and have learned to love themselves in spite of that.
I reached out to several artists and activists whose work and self love I admire to ask what practices they employ to love themselves and how they defy a culture that commodifies self hatred. I wanted to know what inspired them to work to reduce or eliminate their self hate.
This is a series about self love triumphing over self hate, and valuing yourself as a radical act of resistance.
The Half the Self Hate series continues Friday with my interview with gender activist, performer and legend Kate Bornstein.
The Goddess smiled upon me when I met Kama La Mackerel when they stayed at my home while in New York City to perform. They are a sissy, poet, comedian, dancer, drag and visual artist based in Tio’tia:ke, on colonized Kanien’kehá:ka / Mohawk territory (aka Montreal, Canada). There are invisible fireworks radiating from Kama at all times and especially when they are on stage. When we first met we spoke about their work creating community spaces that celebrate self love for Queer and Trans* People of Color. I knew Kama would have some incredible insights into self love practice and the journey to value yourself. If you ever have the opportunity to see them perform I suggest you snap it up, and in the meantime am so grateful to welcome Kama to Half the Self Hate Week on QueerFatFemme.com!
How do you identify?
TransPOC femme queer warrior mixed-race brown/black working class university-educated able-bodied displaced diasporic anti-colonial anti-racist survivor artist community organizer movement builder & lover…
What does that identity mean to you? How do the intersections of it help you bloom? What are your struggles?
I deliberately decided to reply to the first question, “How do you identify?” with a list of words that string together a multiplicity of identities that all intersect in different light, at different moments, a bit like a kaleidoscope; at any given moment, I am all of those identities, and more, but at any given moment, I am also less than the totality of those words threaded together.
I strongly believe in intersectionality as a way of understanding oneself and processing the types of oppression one faces, and the type of privileges from which one benefits. I will, however, explain a couple of the words I use to self-identify:
TransPOC – ‘coz that’s just a fact: I am a person of color. I can’t ever switch that one off. Not even in the most intimate moments, ‘coz that’s how deep white supremacy creeps in– it manages to crawl inside your skin and colonize the shit out of your own colored body. And TransPOC, “trans” and “POC” together, because my race is only policed vis-à-vis of my gender, and my gender is only policed vis-à-vis my race. Or as I like to call it #Colonialism101: controlling, policing, ridiculing, silencing, fetishizing, dissecting, sexualizing, selling, buying and trading colored bodies through the lens of western white supremacist gender binary.
The rest is fairly self-explanatory. I do want to point out that I am university educated and this has given me TREMENDOUS amounts of privilege in navigating the world. Just the fact that I have access to the English language, and to a particular type/register of English language testifies to this.
I will also point out that I conclude this string of words with the word “lover”– love is a force that is taking more and more space in my art, my organizing and my everyday life. I wouldn’t be able to do all the work I do if I didn’t centre love as the driving force in my life: love for myself, love for others, and love for justice.
When you were younger did you have a period of self-hate? If so how did that affect you internally and in the ways you expressed yourself or interacted with others?
Oh Goddess! I’ve been in a “period of self-hate” for most of my life now! As much as I have learnt to love myself, to care for myself, to value myself, and to be happy with who I am, and as much as I am now the happiest I have ever been in my life, this does not mean that I have conquered it all! This only means that I am still working through shit, I am still working through a lot of shaming and self-shaming, and I am still learning to love and value myself a little bit more, every single day.
I like to think of shaming as functioning in layers: living in a white supremacist world that values only particular types of bodies, we learn to feel ashamed of ourselves from a very young age, and through our family, school, the media, society, our communities, we internalize layers and layers of shame over the years, and by the time we’re 15, we’re all pretty much screwed… It is only a couple of years ago that I started to actively work through all those layers of internalized shame and self-hatred. I’m still working through it; I don’t think it will ever end: each time I work through one layer, another layer appears, and that’s the challenge and the beauty of doing this type of work.
What helped you decide not to hate yourself? What were the circumstances, how old were you?
Oh this was a process. This was a long, long, very long process and it is still ongoing. I will mention a few things here that helped me and that worked for me. First, having amazing, kind, challenging, honest and supportive networks/people in my life. I consider myself very blessed– I’ve had some really rough shit to deal with in my adult life, but I’ve always had solid people to hold me when I broke down. Those people loved/love me so much, even when I hated myself, and they thus pretty much taught me how to love myself. (If you’re reading this right now, you know who you are: <3)
Things also changed when I started connecting with more POCs, when I started surrounding myself by QTPOCs, and loving them, desiring them & fucking them, and reading their zines, and spending afternoons with them in parks, and running workshops and organizing festivals with them! Doing all this helped me see beauty in them so I could love myself a bit more; and it helped me see beauty in me, so I could love them a bit more.
Things also changed when I started spending long nights with Audre Lourde and metro rides with bell hooks, and all those other amazing Black feminists and women of color writers. They helped me ground myself, they helped me honor my legacy, and they taught me to centre love in my life, my art and my work.
Things also changed when I stopped dating and/or fucking cis-white able-bodied dudes.
Things did change when I made a commitment to watch only porn that features POCs and only POCs.
Things started to change when I started looking for representations of myself and my people in the media that I consumed-- the books I read, the blogs I followed, the shows I watched...
Things changed drastically when I started working on my internalized misogyny and my internalized racism. This was and still is, without a doubt, the hardest part of the work for me, and yet, this is the work that allows me to love myself a little bit more everyday...
Where has your journey to living a life geared towards self-love taken you? How has your work as an artist been influenced by this journey?
I think, more than anything, that a journey towards self-love has allowed me to love others better. A journey towards loving myself allowed me to be a more caring human being, first towards myself, and then towards others, and that in turn has helped me to build community in more intentional and accountable ways.
This journey towards self-love has allowed me to embrace my femme identity, my skin, my thick curly hair, my history, my legacy… It has also allowed me to make art and to finally get over the fear of my own voice and to express my right to narrate.
It has also made me a better lover! Once I had started working through my layers of shame, I started seeing people with different bodies in different ways: I started dating and fucking individuals for whom I wouldn’t have previously felt much attraction, and that pretty much revolutionized my sex life!
When we spoke in December I remember you were talking about creating intentional space for QTPOC to heal legacies of hatred through self love, can you talk about that?
YES! As I like to say, the revolution will not happen in the streets. It will first happen around dinner tables, park benches and comfy couches where we will intentionally spend time together, talk about the generations of trauma that we carry in our bodies, and slowly work through our pain and heal collectively. Once we do that, we can go and burn the streets for all I know. But first, we need to create the spaces for us to love each other and care for each other, and heal.
Is there anything you think you could say to your younger self to turn away from self hatred or do you think it was an inevitable path that had to run its course?
Interestingly enough, I never talk to my younger self and/or think about talking to my younger self. But my younger self talks to me pretty much all the time! Generally speaking, my younger self says: “Don’t worry, you got this! You’re winning at this, who’d have thought?!” And that allows my present self to breathe a little bit in moments of panic!
In that journey towards self-love, one of my biggest struggles has been with self-forgiveness– you know, forgiving myself for shitty things I did to my younger self, ‘coz I didn’t know better, and even when I knew better, I put myself in threatening situations just because of low self-esteem?
I still struggle with self-forgiveness and I sometimes hate myself for things I did to my younger self. But my younger self is pretty badass, and often talks to my present self and asks me to forgive myself and to embrace and love my younger self. (I’m still working through this one…)
What’s your favorite self-care activity?
WELL, MASTURBATING, OF COURSE!
My self-care activities are fairly standard (watching shows, spending time in bed, having good food etc.), so what about I talk about my favorite self-love practices instead? I love touching myself in multiple sensual, erotic and sexual ways, I love dressing up and celebrating my body through clothes and make-up, and I love gifting myself a great deal of alone time.
Making art is also a gift of self-love to myself. Given that I have a full-time job and other commitments in life, making time to make art is a deep act of self-love to me: making art and allowing my voice, my point of view and my experiences to speak through the creative process is, to me, an act of self-love. Also, making art brings so much joy to my life, and I like making myself happy!
Can you tell me more about Qouleur and GENDER B(L)ENDER? What does 2015 have in store for both of them?
Qouleur is a QTPOC grassroots arts festival that I co-founded in 2012. It is typically a 10-day festival that seeks to highlight the lives, work and art of queer and trans racialized folks in Montreal, and it is packed with workshops, film screenings, talks, an art exhibit and a performance night. Qouleur started because QTPOCs felt that neither mainstream nor alternative/radical Montreal queer and feminist spaces had an anti-racist and anti-colonial analysis AND practice to them, and that if QTPOCs wanted to have access to safe and celebratory spaces, they would have to create it themselves. The festival will be running for a 4th year in 2015, with an amazing collective of committed and passionate volunteers. I have stepped away from Qouleur to work on other projects, but it is phenomenal to see the project change and evolve according to the vision of new folks getting involved! <3
GENDER B(L)ENDER is a monthly queer open mic that I founded in May 2013, and that I host every last Friday of the month. The idea, really, is to allow anyone to have a stage where they can perform whatever they want, and they won’t get judged for the quality or nature of their performance. No oppressive language or behavior is tolerated in the space and this applies to both audience and performers– those are the only rules of the night! It’s a fun, kind, nurturing and supportive space where most of the performers are performing for the first time of their lives. And that is a beautiful moment of self-love to witness and celebrate every month!
For the 3rd year in a row now, I am curating a performance night called The Self-Love Cabaret: l’amour se conjugue à la première personne. This is an amazing night ‘coz it happens on Feb 14th and it is actually an anti-Valentines artistic manifesto! With a queer, feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial mandate, artists take to the stage to celebrate self-love instead of celebrating capitalist notions of belonging and coupledom! This year, I have a line-up of six absolutely amazing Montreal-based QTPOC artists whom I can’t wait to introduce!
Kama La Mackerel is so incredible! You can find out all about their work and keep up with them at their website, Tumblr and Facebook Fan page. Thank you so much for your kind words and reflection, Kama!
Half the Self Hate Instagram and Twitter contest:
I want to know how you’ve lost half your self hate! Write a tweet or an Instagram post about one practice you have employed to lose half your self hate. Or commit to employing one practice to lose half your self hate! (You can borrow a practice you learned about in this blog series!)
Hashtag your post with #halftheselfhate and make the post by February 20th at midnight Eastern time. Two winners will be chosen by a random draw.
One winner will receive a $50 gift certificate from Self Serve Toys a queer-owned feminist sex toy shop in Albuquerque, NM with a great online store!
A second winner will receive a Vesper vibrator worth $79 from Sugar, a queer-owned feminist sex toy shop in Baltimore, MD which also has an online store!
Self Serve Toys and Sugar believe, as I do, that all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are.
*To qualify to win your Instagram or Twitter needs to be public! The winner will be selected by random number generated by random.org of all entries to the contest between February 11th and
February 20th February 24th Midnight Eastern time.