REALITY Storytellers: Flying While Fat and Preparing for My First International Trip

Welcome to a blog series about my experience with REALITY Storytellers traveling to Israel. For more about the trip and why I chose to go check out this post. I look forward to sharing with you what I learned and the personal, political and creative growth I experienced.

I’m a Capricorn. In short, that means I like to be in charge. As anyone who has traveled in a group with me can attest, I love an itinerary and I love to be prepared. Before my trip to the Florida Keys I was obsessively watching tourist videos about the area and crowd-sourcing my Facebook so that I could curate the coolest and best trip possible. 

bevinbikinitoastFatkini and Toast. Photo by Dara.

Faced with a trip to a country I’d never been, and not speaking more than a couple of words of Hebrew or Arabic, I would have normally spent six months preparing. Because the trip is planned and curated entirely by the Foundation, I did the opposite of my inclination and entirely surrendered to it, which was not super hard because life has gotten so hustle bustle. It’s been a practice for me to learn let go and let things happen.

I read the suggested preview articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (here, here and here), but I didn’t read any of the books. (My reading list is LONG, I’m a slow reader, I select books judiciously.) Based on what the other REALITY Storytellers have reported about the suggested books, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is now in my to-read list. 

We got a draft of the trip itinerary but that was also long and said DRAFT all over it and maybe I just have DRAFT training to barely pay attention until I have a final version. I was kind of worried I would get attached to outcomes and if things were canceled or moved around it would discombobulate me so in my mind I was going to wait until we got the final itinerary and look at it on the plane. (We ended up getting it when we had already done one of the leadership development exercises in Israel.)

I regret not reading that draft. I would have understood a lot more what we were up to and it turned out our draft itinerary only changed slightly. Once I realized that the itinerary not only had timelines but writing and articles about each adventure I would try to cram them before each stop but there was never enough time. The itinerary for the trip is the size of a novella.

The size of that final printed itinerary is the first of a series of realizations that “there’s obviously a lot of work, passion and thought that goes into curating the REALITY trips.”

Dara is so go with the flow about her travel that she is a great counterpoint to my overpreparedness. She did a lot of eye rolling during my obsessive research about the Keys. When she went on REALITY Global last summer she totally surrendered to the trip and I don’t think she read her itinerary the whole time. She just let the bus take her wherever and experienced it. I think that different ways of being in the world are totally valid.

REALITY sent a suggested packing list and I remember last year going through it with Dara and regendering it for her because masculine presenting women, feminine presenting men or genderfluid people don’t fit neatly in “For men you should pack two pairs of slacks” kind of lists. Since we didn’t know exactly what she was doing we guessed at what she wears that could work for the packing list and hoped for the best.

img_20160903_180448956-animationPhoto of me and Ryan, half of the duo that created the photo booth at Dollypalooza NYC by Shoog McDaniel. Check out the photo booth in real life at Dollypalooza LA October 29th at Los Globos.

I don’t fit neatly into suggested packing lists either. My gender is flamboyant not binary. My only shorts are these tiny denim things with big ol’ fringe on the side and I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant by shorts for hiking.  I just wear dresses all the time, even when hiking. I know how to dress “modestly” when asked  (for two stops on our trip we were asked to prepare for modesty). I think I did a pretty okay job packing. I have a couple of “In hindsight I would have worn this other thing” moments I’ll describe when I get to those parts of the trip story but I felt comfortable subbing “dress” for pretty much everything they mentioned in the packing list.

My friend Jenn came over to hang out the day before I left and it was great to have her company as I meticulously went through everything before I packed it. I travel so much that I have a lot of systems in place to make it easy for me. I have a “go pack” of toiletries that has an easy in and out pouch if I don’t anticipate washing my hair or taking a real shower. I have a second set of make-up for travel. That kind of stuff.

I wanted to make extra sure I was packing as light as possible knowing that we were going to go from hotel to hotel often. I harbored the idea I could pack as light as my friend Vera did when she went to Vietnam earlier this year for two weeks with only a daypack. She said her secret was travel cubes and not caring how her hair looked. I got cute travel cubes and aspired to getting it all in a carry on size suitcase but changed my mind last minute because it was going to be way easier for me to pack quickly each morning with a bigger suitcase. That was a kind choice I made for myself. This was the first time I ever had checked luggage weigh in at less than 32 pounds! So my meticulousness was worth it in the end, it made life easier to not have a ton of extra stuff and I wore everything at least once. 

I was nervous, which is why I spent so much time working on packing. I had never been out of North America, never been to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I had never used my passport. In fact, I let my passport expire in 2013 and didn’t renew it because forking out $100 for an aspirational passport renewal hadn’t been in my budget so being accepted on the trip required me to do it. Since Israel doesn’t stamp passports I still don’t have any stamps. (By the way, they just redesigned the US Passport. If you don’t count Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty, there are only two people represented in it, both White men, one a farmer and one a cowboy. The graphic design is beautiful but the representation of actual US diversity is wildly lacking.)

During the Desiree Alliance conference I co-facilitated the fat caucus with the fabulous Joëlle Ruby-Ryan. During it one of the participants talked about asking for priority boarding as an accommodation and it empowered me to think about what accommodations I might need while flying to Israel. It’s a long flight, six hours on the first leg and nine on the second. (Longer still on the way home.)

joellebevinMe and Joëlle at the Fat Caucus.

Being fat on an airplane is a nightmare. There are plenty of places fat people go that remind us that the world is built for people who are small, even though in the US the average size is 14 and considered “fat.” Those tiny airplane seats with the arm rests are awful. The leg room doesn’t allow for tall people and the seat belts are not at all consistently sized. I can be on the same airline with two legs to a flight and one flight the seatbelt will fit me fine and on another I’ll need an extender. Same exact body, inconsistent seat belts.

If you’re a person with thin privilege feeling annoyed that a fat person is next to you on a flight, please know that the fat person is likely feeling 1,000 times worse. A whole myriad of feelings are possibly coming up. They are probably doing everything in their power to make themselves small, scrunch over to the side and get out of your way. They are possibly having a ton of shame triggers because a fatphobic society reminding you that you don’t fit in the world is just a current corporeal reality opening a pandora’s box of a lifetime of fat harassment and societal ridicule. They are maybe even totally checked out of their bodies because disembodiment is a response to trauma and it is traumatic to hold the level of oppression fat people have endured. If shame actually worked to cause weight loss there wouldn’t be a billion dollar diet industry because believe me, fat folks are conditioned to feel shame and beat themselves up way worse than the outside world does.

My fat experience on a plane is fairly average because I’m not super fat (a chosen self descriptor for a larger fat experience than mine) and I’m not an inbetweenie (a term to mean those folks between plus size and straight size). I prefer a window seat because in them I feel I’m the most out of the way, I can lean into the window away from the middle seat person and I don’t have my arm bumped every five minutes by flight attendant carts (my arms are fat, too). Some fat folks I know like to travel with a thin friend who can be in the seat next to them and therefore a buffer to other airline passengers. Plus you get to raise that arm rest that isn’t giving anyone any actual personal space. Folks will also travel with another fat friend and then split the cost of a third ticket so they get extra space with the empty middle seat. If you’re a fat person and interested in learning more about coping mechanisms for flying while fat, there’s a great Facebook group.

I had to actively check out from worrying about what my experience flying for so long would be like. As soon as the worry would pop up I would use tools I know to redirect my thoughts. Like repeating a mantra, or solving for the worst case scenario.

A lesson I’m working on learning is that I am valuable enough to ask for what I need. So I decided to ask for the accommodation I needed and I emailed the Schusterman Foundation (the folks sponsoring the trip) and said that as a person of size it would make my trip easier if I had a window seat. They were very nice about it and got in touch with the travel agent right away. I got a window seat for both cross country legs of the trip but unfortunately the travel agent couldn’t make it happen for the longer legs from Newark to Israel. I was stressed but decided to just do my best to make it work and ask at the ticket counter as she suggested.

bonvoyagebevinMy bon voyage photo at the airport where Macy would not cooperate. Photo by Dara.

With that, I was all packed up and had a friendly email and text message chain from the trip facilitator who would meet us at the gate to our LAX leg of the flight. It felt a lot like the first day of summer camp, not knowing anyone from the trip and being nervous about whether or not I was going to make friends.

After Dara dropped me off I had to do International travel things on my own. Checking in for an International flight is kind of the same but they tell you to be there 3 hours early, except if you have a domestic leg the first time then you just come the normal 2 hours early. Security was bananas but I think it was due to construction on the United terminal.

My first stop outside of security was Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for iced tea and I saw this really cute hip dude in a cool hat and jean jacket with lots of enamel pins including a Golden Girls and several Hillary pins. When I saw him again in front of me waiting for the water fountain I hoped that he would be on my trip.

halanbevin

It was the first time I ever saw H. Alan Scott, writer, comedian and co-host of Out on the Lanai, the Golden Girls podcast and he, in fact, was on my trip. When he showed me his Golden Girls tattoo during the layover that’s when I really knew it was going to be an amazing adventure.

More on my experience flying all that way and how the adventure immediately began on the ground in my next post!

halantattooH. Alan plans to add the banana leaf pattern from Blanche’s bedroom wallpaper to complete the sleeve and I can’t wait to see it!

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