Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2017-04-12

FAT SEX WEEK XXL: A Queer Couple Reflects on Their Nude Adipositivity Photo Shoot

Welcome one and all (who are knowingly entering into this adult-themed conversation)! This is Fat Sex Week XXL, the second edition of QueerFatFemme.com Fat Sex Week where I explore many facets of fat sex. Named for Magic Mike XXL, which was even better than the first Magic Mike, I’m hoping this edition is louder and fatter than ever before! Check this tag for all of the posts!

I love the Adipositivity Project! Photographer Substantia Jones has been tirelessly taking gorgeous art nudes of fat bodies for over a decade. As Jenna says below, seeing naked fat bodies helps normalize body diversity and is a gateway for fat acceptance.

Photo (of me!) by Substantia Jones. From the Adipositivity.com website: The Adipositivity Project aims to promote the acceptance of benign human size variation and encourage discussion of body politics, not by listing the merits of big people, or detailing examples of excellence (these things are easily seen all around us), but rather through a visual display of fat physicality. The sort that’s normally unseen.

I love this project and have so loved my collaborations with Substantia. I really value shooting with photographers multiple times over the course of years. It’s so fun to develop as artists and continue to check in.

When I shot with Substantia in LA last summer I did my first with my partner for the annual Valentines Day series. (You can dig around the Adipositivity website to find it!) A series intended to show that fat people are totally worthy of love, it always gets a lot of media attention. Substantia said that she suspects that most couples get busy after their shoot and it got me curious about the experience of a fat couple in the Valentines series.

Jenna and Sam were kind enough to answer my questions in honor of Fat Sex Week XXL!

What was the process behind your decision to pose for Adipositivity?

Sam: I had found Adipositivity before I met Jenna, and was already a fan. I got a bit starry eyed when Jenna mentioned she knew Substantia online. We joked for a bit that she should pose at some point, and the joking got a little more serious. I thought Jenna would make a great model, so I was all in favor. Then Substantia posted a call for couples, and we decided to jump in with both feet.

Jenna: Sexy pictures of other fat people set me on my body love journey. Among these pictures, I came across Adipositivity. Seeing Substantia’s work meant a lot to me, especially since her work included fat people just being. For me, being visible is part of my activism and of course someday dreamed for posing for Substantia. Then the day came when she was looking for couples for her VDay series. It was fairly soon and we made our schedule work so we could go to NYC and do it. Most of me couldn’t believe I was going to do it, but I knew it was something I had to do. Letting other people know that fat love, fat bodies are important and valued and beautiful. I did have a moment of “I won’t be able to be president if I’m naked on the internet”.

Jenna and Sam for Adipositivity! Photo by Substantia Jones.

How did you feel after the shoot? After the photos were released?

Sam: The shoot was honestly one of the most positive body-related experiences of my life. We had so much fun doing the shoot and hanging out with Substantia, that it was really just kind of a high for a couple days. The photos actually being online, though….that was both exciting and little anxiety inducing.

I don’t know if other communities talk about this, but for public speakers in the LGBTQ community we have a concept of “oversharing” – this feeling when you’ve talked about very personal things in front of strangers, and you’re left feeling kind of vulnerable and drained afterwards. For me, I had to learn my boundaries around this, and also to accept that this was cost of my activism. In a way, I felt the same way about our Adipositivity pictures. I felt a little overexposed and vulnerable, but I was aware that I was going to feel that way, and I was okay with it. I felt the change we were helping make in the world was worth the cost.
Primarily, though, it was thrilling. I was so excited to be an Adiposer, and to see which pictures were picked up for which sites. It was also really fun when someone who knew us would send us a link and ask “is that you??????”. We enjoyed the experience so much we did it again the following year!

Jenna: Substantia made us feel awesome. We read over her information she provided before the shoot and we kind of just paced around until she got there. Once she was there, it was really easy to get naked. I felt awesome after the shoot, never really knowing how I got to this place in my life where I was naked and proud. After the photos were released it was just so neat to see us through Substantia’s eyes. How she posed us, how we looked at each other and how my body looked. I saw the stretch marks and lumps and my hangy breasts but thought it looked great and I was so happy that I didn’t spend hours going over my imperfections. I was just really
content with all the photos and loved seeing our love translated into images.

This question is specifically for Sam. You included a rare model statement with your photo for this year’s Adipositivity Valentine’s Day series. Will you tell me more about how you feel at home in your body after taking T and how this has interacted with your feelings about your size?

Photo by Substantia Jones.

Sam: Being fat with a female body I think was particularly difficult for my dysphoria. A fat female body is especially soft and curvy – something I love in my partners, but it was the opposite of what I wanted my own body to be. Taking T helped a lot with that – I’m still soft, but I have firmer muscle underneath, and my fat has shifted on my body to a more male distribution. So, it was easier to not hate my body so much, when it looked at least somewhat closer to what was in my head.

Being fat has been both a blessing and a curse in terms of passing. I still have fat rolls, and those can still be perceived as a feminine shape. When I had breasts, they were large and difficult to conceal. I had (and still have) quite an ample ass. Those things combined really made it difficult to pass consistently, even after I’d been on T for quite a long time. However, being physically larger has always seemed to make people think I was stronger and tougher than I was really was, and definitely made it so I was challenged by transphobes less often than my slighter brothers.

When I think of myself in relation to body positivity, I definitely think of it in terms of both my physical transition, and my lifelong struggle with my size. My gender dysphoria was so much easier to deal with, honestly. Even though I transitioned quite a while ago (twenty years as of last month), there was a pretty clear path for how to change my body to match my mind. There were definitely difficulties, of course, but it was pretty easy to see how I could “fix” the problem. Learning to be comfortable in my fat body, in a fat phobic society, has been a much more difficult challenge. There is so much internalized crap around size that’s reinforced every day. The body positivity community provides some help here, but I find it so heavily tilted towards the feminine (with good reason, of course, women bear the brunt of our fat phobic soceity) that it’s not really as much of a support system as I could use. Online, at least, I find the most comfort in the gay bear community. There is something very powerful in seeing men who look much like myself being viewed as sexual objects of desire.

As what I would affectionately call a “Fat on Fat” couple, do you have any fat sex tips for my readers?

Jenna: I really like being naked as much as I can. That has really helped me feel comfortable in my body and Sam compliments and loves on me all the time about it. It’s nice to hear that and know he is so attracted to me.

Sam: I think it starts outside the bedroom. We both have baggage when it comes to our
bodies, so it’s not always easy to climb into bed and feel instantly sexy. Having Jenna make sexy comments about my body in passing does a lot towards making me feel like she actually likes my body, and makes me feel safer when the clothes come off.
I also think our queerness and openness around sex itself helps a LOT, as does our acceptance of ourselves as fat. We don’t have as many preconceived notions about what constitutes sex, and that makes us more willing to experiment with what works for us, and to be honest about what doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to change an angle, or move a fat roll out of the way, or whatever. We laugh if we feel silly, and then get back into it.

Photo by Substantia Jones.

How do you keep the spark alive in a committed relationship?

Jenna: I think accepting our sex life as it is has kept the spark alive. It may sound strange, but not worrying if we still love each other because we haven’t had sex in a month has really been affirming for me. We achieve intimacy in so many other ways that I feel really fulfilled in my life with Sam.

Sam: Like Jenna said, intimacy seems to be very important for us. We probably don’t have actual sex as often as other couples, to be honest, but we are always very intimate with each other. We’re always touching each other, kissing, holding hands. That seems to be very satisfying for both of us in a way that only sex achieved in past relationships. Not that we don’t enjoy a good sexy romp, but I don’t think we *need* it nearly as much, because we always feel connected.

Substantia works so hard to keep this self-funded project going! Consider buying prints for your home (both helping to normalize body diversity and supporting fat art)!

2017-02-13

Authenticity and Intimacy: Remembering My Relationship with My Grandmother

Some of the best gifts I have given myself were making decisions, even when I didn’t know how to move forward. The decision to stop hating my fat body. The decision to pursue an art career instead of law. The decision to move to LA. The decision to be myself, no matter what. Authenticity is freedom and the gateway to real connection.

In 2011 I made a decision to have a close relationship with my Grandmother. I had always loved her, of course, but our relationship was through the veil of family dynamic and not one-on-one intimacy.

Grandmother would always come with me to Crystal Fantasy, one of my favorite metaphysical shops. We shared an affinity for amethyst.

As you can imagine, when you have a Grandmother who you call “Grandmother” like it’s a Royal title or something, she’s unusual.

Grandmother is a title not a term of endearment. Flowers in the Attic is one of the only cultural references for that, and it’s not a warm fuzzy one. Even on Downton Abbey where they emote in the most British and subtle ways they call their Grandmother “Gran.” Emily Gilmore, that vestige of Connecticut upper class propriety, went by “Grandma.” Whenever someone outside of the family called her “Your Grandma” you kind of wince a little and correct them.

Calling her Grandmother was the first way I put her on a pedestal. I worshipped her, in a way. She was an icon: of femininity, fanciness, elegance, intelligence, independence and beauty.

My mother (who just went by “Mom”) raised me as a single mom in the Bay Area, about a seven hour drive from the rest of our family in Camarillo and LA. Grandmother lived Beverly Hills adjacent with Grandfather David. I only saw them a couple of times a year, and usually amongst the crowd of our family. I grew up knowing her as the Grandmother character in our family but not in a personally intimate way.

Rare shot of Grandfather David not wearing a suit.

I think if I had spent some time just the three of us (me, Grandmother and Grandfather David) it would have been great because we were all three Capricorns and loved to ask people questions. However, I’m super sensitive and my Grandfather could be crabby* so it was probably good we saw one another infrequently so he was always on his best behavior.

Our lifestyles growing up were so different! I lived in an apartment, my mom was literally always stressed about money and Grandmother was living in a big house finally doing well in her life financially as a Real Estate Broker in Beverly Hills. (Her 90210 office address was so cool to me in high school. I loved that show a lot.) Grandfather David was a professor of biochemistry at UCLA. Their house on Warner Drive looked huge to me. It had floor to ceiling bookcases, a standard of opulence I still appreciate today.

I have no idea who this dashing celebrity looking dude is but I wish I knew. I also wish I knew where that dress ended up!

It really mattered that I pursued higher education. Growing up I never questioned that I would go to a University, it was all I ever heard from my mom and from them. I went to Law School in large part because of their influence. They told me higher education was completely vital to credibility and that because I was smart there would be a yellow brick road of security paved after I got that JD.

I learned after charting my own course in life that security is not happiness. Having a JD made it way harder to get a job a lot of times, the complete opposite of what the Dean of Admissions said during 1L Orientation. When my “secure” law firm job of five years suddenly disappeared during the economic crash in 2008 that message finally hit home—nothing is truly secure. It became vital to me to live my truth and do what I’m passionate about.

So here I am a writer and making reiki infused tea and producing parties and working towards that talk show I am destined to host. I had an amazing, spiritual moment with an older man at a bus stop who, I realized in hindsight, was clearly channeling my Grandfather who told me I was a writer and he was proud of me. I know Grandfather could never have said that to me in this realm.

She really did a Norma Jean / Marilyn thing when she went from being a brunette bombshell to being a blonde bombshell.

I had to learn how to perform myself and not perform other people’s expectations of me. Grandmother did her own version of performing herself.

She created a persona for everyone she interacted with, she knew exactly how to get on someone’s good side and agree with them on the right points to put them at ease. I noticed this last year, she would be really positive with me and Dara because we are eternal optimists. I would hear a different story from other people and realized what she was doing. It’s a trauma response, to curate yourself to be the most pleasing to your audience as possible. I don’t think she did it intentionally to manipulate, I think she did it because she wanted to make people feel good. And people felt great around her.

Her with her hair stylist a few years ago.

When she was well into her 80s and it was convenient for her—bypassing those post-9/11 shoes off lines with her high heels still on, for example—she would proudly announce her age and provide her id. For years before that she hid her age with make-up, strategic plastic surgery and begging her children not to out her as their mom. She was a charmer and could command a crowd one by one, with each interaction and also with her fabulous looks. I’m bummed I never got to see her work a room in LA and learn how to network from her.

The fact that I didn’t feel particularly intimate with Grandmother when I was already in my thirties was what I made a decision to resolve. She had already given me glimpses of what she was like one on one in car rides, and she had been so accepting of my queerness that I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t know how exactly to create a deeper relationship, but from what I learned in Al Anon it was about trusting her with my authentic self and taking her off that pedestal. Pedestals are a huge barrier to intimacy.

Glamming together at my mom’s wedding in 2008.

I drove cross country in 2011 because I wanted to visit her alone for the first time and it was cheaper to gas up my Prius than fly and rent a car. I had run an emotional gauntlet by the time I got to her house, having just lost my job at Re/Dress when it closed, gone through a break-up, saw a beloved alcoholic ex-girlfriend who I had thought was going to drink herself to death for the first time post sobriety, and saw my estranged father. By the time I got to Grandmother’s all I could do was sleep and talk. My emotional risk paid off, she was so loving, sweet and accepting. It was very healing to be with her.

I never realized she hated Mexican food until I moved out here. Before that she would ALWAYS take me when I was visiting from the East Coast, which was a really nice thing to do. But once I moved here she knew she didn’t have any obligation quesadillas to eat with me.

That visit really opened me up to a lasting relationship. It’s interesting how when we are used to occasional visits with our families in big groups we don’t develop a lot of one-on-one intimacy. I loved that I felt like myself around her. We didn’t agree on everything, but she was always open to hearing me out.

One of my favorite moments recently was her complaining about seeing a woman doctor who hadn’t brushed her hair before their appointment. She equated sloppy personal aesthetic with not being a good doctor. Whereas I would prefer the doctor who was so consumed by her work that her hair was not at all a consideration. I told Grandmother that people have different value systems and no one here has to be wrong. Some people might think it was a waste of time for Grandmother to spend however long she did on her make-up in the morning (sometimes it was a full hour, sometimes she could be in and out with full face in 15 minutes**) but that they just had different values from her. I like to think that one sank in.

She told me I should date a Scorpio (her first husband was a Scorpio) and it turned out she was good friends with Lois Rodden, a famous astrologer, who my astrologer Katie Sweetman of Empowering Astrology confirmed made important contributions to modern day astrology. We had such great visits and I always longed to make enough money to be able to fly out a few times a year from New York City. Not having achieved that, making the decision to move ended up being the best choice.

I’m so grateful I moved to LA for a million reasons, but the ability to go visit her so often in her last year (we had no idea it was her last year, she was independent until she was felled by her only chemo treatment) was the best gift. We even spent last Valentine’s Day together! Being able to be so present for her illness and her Passing on to Something Awesome (POTSA) is something I’ll always treasure. Last Summer I shared with her a confidence I only shared with a small handful of besties. I’m so grateful that when she passed I had no secrets from her.

It all started with making a decision.

*I’m being kind; he could be a complete dick but at least he was nicer than her first husband.

**Our whole family could be waiting around for seemingly forever to go out to breakfast but Grandmother would take exactly as long as she wanted to get ready in spite of everyone’s protests. I loved her acts of defiance in service to her aesthetic.

2010-07-05

In Memory of Luscious

I found out a couple of weeks ago that a former sweetheart of mine passed away. It was very sudden. We do not know why (beyond knowing that it was not foul play), nor do we know if we will find out why.

I have been in a lot of shock and denial about it. I also believe that the stories that are hardest to tell are the most important to share, so I thought I would put down my thoughts and remembrances.

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Photo courtesy of Tanja Tiziana.

I met Luscious in 2005 at the NOLOSE conference. I always thought she was cute and regularly flirted with her, to no great reciprocation (she was incredibly shy in that way). I also always thought she was in an open relationship. Thanks to her erroneous Facebook status.

For New Year’s Eve 2008/9 I went on a girls’ road trip to Toronto to visit friends and eat our way though town. I thought it would be fun to proposition her for a casual make-out, which I did in a clever and carefully worded email sent a week before we left town. She said yes and proposed a night to hang out. She was a very talented chef and came in on her day off to the restaurant she worked at (Disgraceland–fabulous name). She cooked us an insanely amazing meal of fried chicken, poutine, fried okra, mac & cheese, corn dogs, fried green tomatoes… The gravy on the poutine remains the best I’ve ever had.

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After much stalling and making me wait patiently (not my strong suit), she finally kissed me and we made a date for New Year’s Eve. We began our affair all night that night and had instantaneously intense chemistry. That first night I remember her sitting up on the bed and coming up behind her to put my arms around her. She leaned into my chest and said “I feel so safe with you.” That is one of the most treasured compliments I’ve ever gotten from a lover.

We began texting fast and furious the days following my departure. We had a marathon phone conversation where she moved furniture so she could get cell reception to talk to me. She invited me back and being both impetuous and impatient, I decided to drive back up 10 days after leaving the last time.

We checked into love island and had an amazing time. She drove me around Toronto in the winter, showed me her favorite spot in the city, someplace right on the lake where she could sit and look at the city skyline and think, or talk to her BFF, Arun. I got to hang out a lot with Arun, who at the time was beginning to court my BFF, Zoe.

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Arun (next to Luscious on the right, also Gigi and Kaleb are pictured) remains one of my favorite people.

We loved many of the same movies, Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias were top choices. So we curled up to watch them on her bed-like concoction instead of a couch, which she called her “Flatress” and was more of an entity than it was a piece of furniture. She cooked me an incredible brunch. She complained in a facebook status update once that she wanted someone else to cook for her, so as a surprise for her I took a turn in the kitchen in lingerie and heels, making her muffins and bacon with brown sugar.

I met a few of her wonderful friends, but mostly we stayed on love island. She sent me home with cupcakes she bought for me from her vegan, gluten-free baker friends (they were seriously better cupcakes than I’ve had in NYC) and deviled eggs she made for my road trip.

One time she texted me “All I have to offer is my good palate, strong hands and big heart.” She had so much more to offer than that, but those were her most noticeable characteristics. She didn’t always speak up in big social groups, but she was incredibly giving to me in terms of intimacy. We talked a lot from the heart.

She was so kind. Even to people who weren’t particularly kind to her. One time we were in the grocery store, I was down the aisle a ways and this small child walked up to her and told her she was fat. I forget what Luscious said to the child but it was one of the most sweet and generous teachable moment responses I’ve ever witnessed.

She gave me one of my favorite cds, Dance Yourself to Death, who are her friends. I listened to it nonstop in my car for months.

On my next visit she curled up with me on the Flatress and showed me all of her photo albums, through her childhood and teen years. She was heart-open about so many things with me. She drove me to see places that were important to her history in Toronto and outside. She always held my arm when we were walking outside because she knew the ice terrified me. We had incredible sex.

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The problem with long distance is that it only works if the parties have compatible communication styles and abilities. She sort of dropped me suddenly, without warning. It was really devastating to go from a deep intimacy and fairly constant contact to next to no communication. About a month after our last visit and the sudden lack of communication we exchanged a couple of emails, but I still never really understood what she was doing or her intentions, and we came to no resolution because she never could tell me what she wanted from me or “us”.

I went back and re-read some of my journals from that time. I had forgotten how heartbroken I was over Luscious for quite some time. Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” on repeat heartbroken. Couldn’t stop talking about it for months heartbroken.

Though I still felt very sweetly towards her, as a matter of self-preservation I kept some distance and we mostly communicated through Facebook comments and status likes. I was always pumping Zoe for updates on Luscious when she would return from visiting her boyfriend in Toronto.

I emailed her in December when I found out she was having gastric bypass surgery. I know it can be really isolating and hard to make decisions about weight-loss (especially surgery) when you are in a fat activist community and I wanted her to know I was available to talk and supported her doing what she needed to for her own bodily self-determination. I also secretly wanted to open the door for communication otherwise.

I saw her again at the NOLOSE Conference in Oakland the weekend before she died. I went up to her and gave her a big hug and kiss on the cheek. We didn’t really talk beyond small talk though. It was hard to figure out what to say. We shared a lot of stolen glances, and the look on her face when I was on stage on Saturday night is something I’ll never forget.

I know right now I am feeling very confused, devastated, and needy. It feels so weird since I don’t live in her town and wasn’t an active part in her life. We were Facebook “likers”. In this day and age of Facebook and social networking it feels weird and hard that she has a Facebook account. It seems weird that I got a notice that she liked my status update on Saturday and then moments (?) later she was gone. It seems weird and also awesome that her Facebook page is now a memorial site for people to post about her.

It also feels weird to grieve someone who I was so intimate with, but who was no longer a current person in my life. I feel really grateful that many of my friends reached out to me when they found out. One of whom is my friend Kristyn, who also had former lovers die suddenly (multiple within a year) and she met up with me to talk about it. She said this really beautiful thing to me, the gist of which is the following.

As sex positive queers, it is really important to acknowledge that sharing your body with someone is a really sacred act. And even if you’re no longer sharing your heart and body with someone any longer, when they leave this earth there is still part of you that goes. It is really important to recognize that it is a significant and distinct loss.

At this point I am just trying to feel it. The first day I had some time alone after I found out I spent the day writing, working and listening to Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. I cried a lot and got it together to go to Rebel Cupcake. I dedicated the show and the party to her–a fat positive queer dance party with lots of good seating was exactly her jam. No one there knew her but it felt like something I could do for me. I am still finding ways to honor her and my grief day by day. Leah Lakshmi told me the night I found out “Shark, do the best you can to just feel your feelings.”

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She was really important to me and still is. I still thought about her every day. I hope that whatever happened that she wasn’t scared. I hope that she is someplace looking over us, and smiling.

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