The format of the workshop was simple, but ultimately very, very powerful. We all took off our clothes at the beginning and then stood up in a circle looking at one another. We took turns being the center of attention but stayed in the circle formation. The person whose turn it was would tell the group their name, and what they love about their body and what they struggled with. Then the group would go around and each person in turn would give a specific compliment to the person about their body. Then we would move on to the next person.
One of the best things I have ever done for my mental health is to adopt the world view of Pronoia. This is the assumption that everything in the Universe is aligning to my benefit. It’s described as the opposite of paranoia. (The term was coined by Rob Brezny, spelled out in this great and giant book.)
Last weekend when Dara and I were looking at wedding venues near Dollywood in the Smoky Mountains, we realized we have different ways of dealing with potential homophobia. We were originally going to talk on the phone to potential venues about whether they were friendly to host a Queer Wedding. I decided instead to utilize my gut instincts. I find, in general, if I assume people are going to be loving and kind to me, most folks rise to that occasion.
Dara, however, was definitely steeling herself for some potential discrimination.
This is a great example of the dichotomy between paranoia (Dara being afraid we would experience homophobia) and Pronoia (me assuming that people will be kind and loving).
I’m not giving you a blanket idea of how to deal with oppression in general, I’m just offering what works for me as a Queer Fat Femme in a heterosexually centered fatphobic society. I still loudly remark at the end of a movie when heterosexuality is reinforced, I still notice overt oppression against me as a queer fat woman with an exaggerated gender presentation. I see and experience all the ways in which this world is not built for human size diversity.
However, in general, I find when I assume strangers are intending to be loving and kind it makes my experience of living in an oppressive world a lot easier for me.
I acknowledge my White privilege in this. I grew up poor but I learned how to class pass early on and that does affect how I experience the world and overt or covert oppression. People of Color, Black folks, trans and gender non conforming folks, disabled folks, poor folks, older folks and other oppressed people have different experiences than I do.
Pronoia helps me keep my brain decluttered from other people’s judgments. I could spend a lot of time micro analyzing how strangers look at me or if I hear an audible sigh from someone seated next to me on a plane. Most of the time I assume their looks and sounds don’t have anything to do with me or my size. Maybe that’s not true, but probably it is true the majority of the time.
What I’ve noticed is that most people are so concerned with themselves they aren’t thinking about me. And when they are thinking about me or overtly judging or oppressing me, what I think about is how hard it must be in their own head. Because most folks who are pointing a finger have three pointed back at them, and generally those folks have a really nasty, self hating and judgmental internal dialogue.
It doesn’t mean that I’m bulletproof. I still have that coding in my brain that makes me feel conspicuous when I’m standing up in the aisle of an airplane waiting for the flight attendant to move because I can’t really squish around her. I’m reminded sometimes that I’m fat in public when I’m eating, but I’ve long lost the shame around being fat. I don’t think a lot of thin people have the same coding. Some do and if they feel shame around eating in public or standing in the aisle of an airplane worrying about their perceived size—that shame is from Fatphobia. Fatphobia affects everyone, no matter their size, but the oppression lands on the fat people not the thin ones.
We are really excited to have a destination wedding in the Smoky Mountains! We get to share a favorite place of ours with all of our friends and family!
I find it helpful to think of oppression as systemic and not something everyone is intending to promote in their unconscious actions. The wedding coordinators at the venues we were looking at, if they had any hesitation about us as a queer couple or didn’t know how to be “cool” around us about our Gay Wedding, that was a result of systemic oppression. Systemic oppression doesn’t excuse bad behavior or overt oppression but it does help me assume best intentions from people on the ground doing the best they can with what they have.
Engaging in Pronoia helps my mental health. When I assume the world is ultimately a kind place, when I don’t assume people are judging me (or thinking of me at all), when I don’t get caught up in shame and defensiveness, I’m just happier.
This is the type of thinking I hope to impart on all of the small children in my life through my example because they really learn mostly by example. We could use a generation that is exposed to kinder methods of self talk and compassion for self and others.
Here are some things I do that help support my Pronoia:
1. I treat it like a practice.
I lived in NYC for a long time and it taught me how to walk through the world and pay very little attention to how people are reacting to me. I also generally work to stay in a self loving and compassionate place which helps me feel more loving and compassionate towards others and assume they are reflecting that back to me. Pronoia in action.
2. I assume best intentions.
Impact is more important than intent. But in general, the impact of oppression on me is lessened when I can get to the compassion place. It also helps me not notice oppression against me and sometimes that’s just easier for me to exist within. Pronoia is about me living my best and most peaceful life and not about what someone’s intentions actually are.
3. I pray for it.
A very successful real estate agent I met at a conference a couple months ago taught me a practice she does every morning. She visualizes everyone on her path that day working in her favor, even folks she doesn’t know. She then holds gratitude for that. I haven’t started doing it every day but I do it every time I go to the airport because flying while fat is difficult and I can always use people (and spirit guides) working behind the scenes on my behalf.
Oppression leaves a lot of scars, especially when you’ve experienced repeated oppression, hurt and judgment. It can be really hard to move into Pronoia! If it appeals to you, I suggest taking one tiny baby step towards it by using only one of my tips above at a time and slowly incorporating it into your life. Like a couple minutes a day of intentional practice to start, It took me many years to get to where I am now!
The wedding coordinators we met with were a mixed bag. The first one was great, enthusiastic about our wedding but at one point late in the visit, when we asked about having the restrooms be gender neutral, made the effort to reassure us that she believes all people in love who want to make a life commitment should get to. The second place we visited was immediately off my list because it was sold to us differently over the phone than what they deliver for services. But I still didn’t get a real friendly vibe off the proprietor. But maybe he was having indigestion and not about us being homos, I don’t know.
The wedding venue we ultimately selected had both the coordinator and her assistant at our site visit. They never blinked about our queerness, the gender neutral restrooms were an easy yes for them and they are already thinking about beautiful signage. And they were both overtly excited about our wedding plans—we’re really excited to work with them.
This is where we’re going to get hitched!