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

2014-03-07

Self Care Recalibration with a Chronic Illness and a Baby

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

When I was thinking about folks whose self care priorities I admired greatly, my friend G immediately came to mind. G left me a comment that changed my life a couple of years ago. Researching for my Love for EveryBODY workshop, I wrote a Facebook post asking friends with gender non-conforming bodies and/or chronic illnesses how they worked to love their bodies. G said “Stress is a toxin.” I quote that all the time and it has helped me reconceive how I think about self care. I have known her for over a decade, since we were both baby queers in nearby metro areas, and was curious how self care changed during and after the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and now that G is a parent in her early thirties how it has changed, too.

photoMy friend G and adorable baby L!

1. When you were diagnosed with MS (at what age?), what was your process around assessing the kind of self care you needed as a person with a chronic illness? What kind of self care did you need to engage in?

I was diagnosed at 26. It was what seemed to me at the time a long time to figure out what kind of self care I needed. A diagnosis like that is SO overwhelming. I really think it was probably two years till all the major pieces of self-care are realized, and it’s an ongoing process of identifying how certain parts of my life need to change in order to enact the self care needs, including ending relationships with people or organizations that used to work for me but I might come to realize induce more stress than joy, for example. Those realizations are difficult and ongoing.

I think the “process” involved a lot of trial and error, and a LOT of re-evaluation of the truths/stories I had in my head about the kind of person I was and what I did with my life. For example, at the time I prided myself for being super scrappy and always landing on my feet, getting by with very little financial resources, always believing things would get better in the future and building a lot of financial and social/emotional debt in the present. I had to accept that I needed to read and buy into “west coast” woo-woo talk of mindfulness and do yoga and eat like a hippie. I needed massage and to drink tea and to calm down.

I came to realize these things out of desperation at first–I was so sick restorative yoga was about the only kind of movement exercise I could do, and I had always ran and ridden my bike everywhere. I could tell that gossiping or ranting about something till I was blue in the face only made me feel extra exhausted and didn’t help things.

When something happens like you get really sick, you end up with piles of bureaucratic BS, with a works that seems unfair and unable to accommodate your sick self, and when I fumed for days about the unfairness of the insurance company or a workplace policy, I would feel sicker, and saw that nothing productive got done anyway. So the calculations look different now. I could spend 4 hours on hold and arguing with Time Warner [an American cable and internet service provider] in order to maybe have them correct the $15 error, or I could think “Would I pay $15 not to feel like this?” and call it a loss and move on. Is that awesome? No. Does it hold that evil company accountable? No. Does it save my health? Yes. I had to really focus and choose my political battles, and I really think my targets have gotten clearer and the related actions more efficient. The same is true socially. My world of what and who I cared about got smaller, and that’s ok, (even though it’s sometimes lonely) because the quality of those fewer connections are better.

Also I came to figure our that, as a person who always took pride in my paid-work ethic, that in order to stay alive I had to treat my self-care like a job. I put “exercise” on my work calendar and held myself to it as if I was going to teach a class. Even if I only ended up walking when I had hoped to run. Even if I couldn’t do it as long as I wanted. Required. As was sleep time, as was not drinking alcohol. Things got very clear and firm.

2. What surprised you during that process?

I think what surprised me at first was the way in which some deep themes, like scarcity, or putting others’ needs first until I blew my lid, we’re not isolated to say, finances or romantic relationships. They were deep and everywhere. I had to show up for myself in a new and major way. And it was scary.

I was also surprised that eventually, I was happier. Again that was some “west coast woo” stuff that I was sure my Protestant Midwest working class cultural pride had no time for-that happiness linked to healthiness. But it was and is true. The happier I am the way healthier I am. Not that I don’t get sick anymore or don’t have MS. I do. But I thrive and shine much brighter in the times between flare ups.

3. How did your self care needs change when you had a baby? What was anticipated and what was something you had to adjust to?

Hahaha. Well. I have to say I still haven’t mastered this one. I draw from lessons when I was a non-parent with MS, but it requires a whole new mantra. Because if I had a TON of extra cash for daycare when I was not working (I work on my phd work 2 days during the week and stay home with our infant 3 days a week) I could maintain my self-care bar. I could schedule yoga 1 or 2 times a week, go on a run a couple times a week. But that’s not happened. Massage and acupuncture has been greatly reduced. One income and a baby is real tight. So I’ve had to modulate what gets me through (aside from the added joy of the miracle of my baby and the stellar support of my partner) is telling myself “It will not always be like this. It will end eventually.” And it does. The days of sitting in how position for hours and hours has passed. The days of not being able to do anything like pee without the baby in my sight has ended.

And also self care right now looks like “good enough.” The day has ended and the dirty dishes cover every inch of my kitchen? I did good enough. Sit down in the couch with your wife for one hour of no-responsibility chill time. I can’t get a vigorous run or yoga session in? I make the baby’s nap time a sleep in the Ergo [a baby carrier that straps to a big human] while I take a 4 mile walk. It’s a lot of approximation and survival. And it has to be good enough for now.

Really it’s an extension of the major learning curve when I was first diagnosed, which is self-forgiveness. I was do disappointed in myself for having the disease, for being able to do less. I still have to practice self-forgiveness for not doing “enough” self care, or for not getting “enough” of my work done or not being a present enough parent the day I felt like crap. And I found that this practice allowed me to have a lot more compassion and generosity towards others.

4. How to you manage self care priorities as a parent with a chronic illness?

See above I think re: good enough and self forgiveness. Also, my wife is really amazing and if she hears me have a tired MS cough she sends me to bed or calls one of her besties over to our house to watch the baby so I can rest when I wouldn’t have done so myself.

5. How do you deal with “missing days” and let yourself off the hook for them?

See self-forgiveness. Also–scaled expectations. I have very long term goals. They are not made or broken in one bad day. I have had to accept that if they are, with the exception of having to push through one big presentation or deadline or something, they are not environments I want to be in. Like, if I am unable to think one day I had planned on reading a ton, then I do something mindless like delete emails, then rest. If my whole career as an academic crumbles because I strategically read the introduction of each book the day before class, it’s not a sustainable career. Also I’ve had to let go of the over-achiever image of myself I’ve had since I was little. I am not going to win 1,000 awards in grad school for service, teaching, and research. I have prioritized my health, stability in my family life, long-term involvement with political movements, and research. My work in the world is not to win awards. It’s to, as I think of that Alice Walker quote all the time, find my work in the world and do it. I will raise supported, loving, engaged children. I will have a robust and happy life-long loving relationship with my sweetie. I will produce research that changes the tides of the homelessness-industrial-complex. I will be a part if meaningful political change. I am doing it, and it us bigger than one day.

6. You told me once you treat stress like a toxin and nix it in the bud right away. How did you realize stress was a toxin and what are your body/mind/emotional warning signs that you’re feeling stressed? What do you do to nix it in the bud?

I can be a super intense person and I tend to recognize stress if something becomes invasive thinking that I can’t stop looping back to, can’t seem to let go of, or if something is taking a lot of my time when it shouldn’t be. Those are the “quantitative” things if you will (the things I can count, recognize, and reason).

Physically/emotionally I notice that I feel anxious and spent. Both exhausted and amped up. I tend to shut down, then suddenly come out of the shut down place very angry and upset. These kinds of things.

Some things, like when my daughter was in the ER last week, are necessarily stressful and they can only be mitigated–ask our friends to bring us dinner in the ER, be kind to and find the joy in my wife and baby even though it’s stressful and my body is tanked by it, cancel our weekend plans so we can just rest.

Other things, like people who are drama, involve not engaging, or being real clear like “our interactions do nothing but stress me out so I am not doing this anymore. I wish you well.” Some things, like undue stress when teaching, involve setting up really clear boundaries from the get go–I don’t check email between 5pm and 10am. Don’t expect me to. I don’t haggle about grades. Period.

Actually, I find email in general, or really any communication devices that are “input” a no-go after 5 or 6. I can’t have stress if I don’t know about it, and I tend to be most tired and ineffective after 5, and stress interferes with sleep, and 8 hrs of sleep is a requirement. So even though I am not working for wages right now I tend to avoid email or lots of texting or going places in the evening. It is time to take care of my and my fam’s bodily needs and go to bed. It sounds so boring on paper, but it’s really great. I love routine, I love slow, quality interactions with friends coming over for dinner. Getting MS is stressful and has been terrible, but it’s given me the impetus to have so much discipline and perspective in making my life center around what’s important, and at a fairly young age for our culture. Thank the Goddess. I am blessed.

Thank you so much G for this interview, this was amazing and gave me so much to think about. We don’t often learn how to distill our core priorities in life and then how to align our time spent with those priorities.

2014-03-05

Self Care Stretches Time and Creates Resilience

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

Self care is like driving a stick shift car in the city. Once you think you’ve got your gear set and you’re really rolling something comes up and you have to downshift or brake. There are a lot of moving parts to coordinate and things don’t go as expected. Self care is this constant balancing act. I want to make myself happy but I also don’t want to make myself suffer as a result of that happiness.

This morning, for example, I deeply craved a flavored black tea. I’m tea obsessed, and lately my jam has been complex, delicious, sweet black teas. Love Tea #7 from David’s Tea is perfect for this. But as I walked to the kitchen to start up the electric tea kettle I checked in with my body. My body is tense. I’ve been dealing with some mounting anxiety issues and I knew my body was going through it today especially. I sighed as I realized the better choice for me, in the moment, was to go for my “Feelings Tea,” a blend I create myself that is high on herbs that help calm down my anxiety (chamomile, lavender, catnip, along with oatstraw and hawthorne berries for emotional TLC).

I wondered in that moment if the self loving thing would be to give myself the pleasure I wanted by succumbing to the craving or if it was to take care of my body in the long-run and set my day up for more success than a rush of caffeine could offer?

That answer is sometimes both.
24383_379486228748_5305803_nI wasn’t sure what photos to use in this post so I decided to include photos of awesome people I ran into today on my way to a dentist appointment. This is Becca Blackwell, full of stories from the 90s, and who rules.

“Self care” is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but the concept is fairly simple. I would define it as anything you do to take care of yourself.

Think of a parent, caring for a child. The kind of care that parent gives the child would vary depending on the child’s age, needs and parent’s inclination. The same goes for taking care of ourselves, the level of care we give ourselves depends on our needs, inclinations and how much attention we are paying.

Once we age out of someone else caring for us (or many of us never had someone providing all of the care we actually needed) suddenly we’re in the business of self care without a real roadmap for what that means.

In my post on how I deal with anxiety I talked about running a diagnostic on your body, mind and spirit to find out what it is that you need in order to take care of yourself. In my experience I do this by journaling to see what is coming up and just trying new self care out to see how it works. It’s imperfect, but generally I can tell when I haven’t been doing enough self care because I get my own warning lights. My chronic digestive disease starts acting up, my anxiety is flaring, I’m snapping at my loved ones. When I’m doing the right amount of self care often I feel in my flow–like I am in synergy with the universe.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity and privileges people who are constantly “busy.” When you ask someone “How are you doing?” they often reply, “Oh I’m so busy!” Being busy is a status symbol, and being busy is often the number one excuse folks have for not spending the time needed to take care of themselves.

Being a body liberation activist I believe everyone deserves to love themselves and their bodies. And part of loving your body is knowing what it needs, and what you need, to take exquisite care of yourself. It’s really important to me that I am in touch with my body. How can I teach other people to love themselves if I’m not doing things to love my own self?

Self care is a hassle, but the rewards are infinite. In the words of my friend Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s therapist, “Self care stretches time.” If you really are one of those constantly busy people, self care might be just the ticket for settling yourself down enough to create the time, identify and manage your priorities in order to live the life that you want.

tangerinejonesedbarnasI ran into Tangerine Jones, burlesque legend and incredible person. Check out the article she wrote in 21st Century Burlesque, Backlash Blues. Photo by Ed Barnas.

Self care is allowing yourself the time to digest what is going on in your life. Processing emotions and mental experiences are as important as rest periods when you’re training for a marathon. It’s that time when your muscles start to heal and become bigger–that’s what self care enables you to do with the mental and emotional stimulation going on.

So what constitutes excellent self care? That’s a highly personal question. Something as simple as brushing your teeth every day is self care. I’ve literally known people who were so strung out worrying about other people that they let their own hygiene fall by the wayside.

The more I’ve gotten to know myself and my body, the more I understand about what kind of self care I need. The more I’ve learned about what kind of care I need, the more of a priority I make it. This is a slow-going process of realization and eventual prioritization.

I’m also a recovering perfectionist. If I were to do “perfect” self-care I basically could do nothing else. I could shove my day full of yoga, meditation, soothing time in a bath tub, reiki, writing in my journal, going to meetings, going to the gym, and on and on. Once I started making self care a priority I would turn it into a whole cycle of “never enough” tapes in my head and I had to get myself to come correct and stop punishing myself for not caring for myself enough. How’s that for a difficult cycle to break?

I treat self care as a job, but I also work hard to not get obsessed with not doing it enough. I give myself a threshold of about 5-7 self care tasks every day, not including day to day stuff like hygiene and eating. (Many of these 5-7 daily self care tasks only take about 1-5 minutes and some can happen while I’m doing other things.) This is a lot, but I’ve been focused on my own self care for about three and a half years, adding things slowly to that list. I watched a great video by Cheryl Richardson where she suggests only focusing on one self care activity at a time, and the rest falls into place.

In the Winter I am confronted with some significant issues with seasonal depression, so I know if I want to avoid a February and March downward spiral, I need to start in October working on my Winter Care Regimen, a beefed up version of what I do every day.

8332_157396603748_4263703_nI met Becca during our time vying for the title of Miss LEZ. Photo by Maro Hagopian for the Village Voice.

Self care is about creating resilience. When you’re living in marginalized identities there is a lot of criticism and oppression to weather, and I do it a lot better when I’m on my self care game. This is especially true as I step more and more into the public eye.

Self care is about the more you have the more you can give.

Self care requires a constant diligence recalibrating. When you get sick or tired you have to stop and rethink, add more or delete other things going on in your life that are taking away from your ability to care for yourself.

I think a lot about fleeting pleasure versus contentment. Sometimes choosing the pleasure of the caffeinated flavor tea is not a sacrifice of my overall serenity, but I’ve learned how to drive my body well enough to know when that choice will have been like hitting a pothole. I can weather that pothole sometimes, and sometimes I can’t. Caring for myself means I need to lighten up a bit. These days emotional care nachos are a big choice during my girlfriend’s chemo treatment, in spite of my tricky digestive reaction to queso.

I’m compiling an epic self care post to go up this week as my mini series on self care continues! Comment with your self care ideas on my Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook Fan Page!

2014-02-20

Five Things I do Every Winter to Avoid Seasonal Depression

This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!

When I was a teenager living in sunny Northern California I completely resented the sunlight for being so cheerful. I was a surly, depressed and unhappy teenager who had been relentlessly bullied in my childhood and middle school years. I think it was to be expected.

11534524226_e726da4816_oThis is the present-day backyard at my mom’s house. My teenage bedroom window is on the right. It’s waaaaaay nicer in the backyard than it was 20 years ago. When I was home for Christmas I spent each morning of my 2 day stay in the hot tub.

What I didn’t realize that upbringing was doing to me was making me unsuited to any other climate. The first few years I was living on the East Coast I wasn’t really in touch with myself and my emotional well-being to understand that what was happening to me in February and March was seasonal depression, but as I’ve learned more about it and developed coping strategies I actually can see when it creeps up and I know how to stave it off.

Seasonal depression is about lack of sunlight. I am a creature who comes alive in the sun, even though I used to resent it so much and I can get wickedly sunburnt. But I sincerely appreciate it and definitely need it for my own well-being.

I was hanging out with someone who was so delighted by the warmish, bright day we had on Monday that she pumped up the heat in her apartment, threw open her window and laid down in the sunbeam. Naked. (The UV rays won’t penetrate glass so you need the exposure to the direct light.) I thought that was the most delicious way I’d heard to combat seasonal affective disorder.

12663409293_09c60c005a_z When I was visiting my mom for Christmas we went on a hike at Point Reyes for my birthday (which is Christmas Eve).

I thought it would be helpful to share my Winter regimen, which has five main components:

1. UV Therapy Light–I use a UV lamp (aka “Happy Lamp”) every single day for at least 15 minutes but usually 30. I flick it on first thing in the morning when I do my journaling and I sit right next to it. If I’m not journaling I’ll read or sit on my computer. It really works. The one I have now was a hand me down from a friend and I’m thinking of getting a travel one because mine is kind of big and hard to move around. I start my UV light work in late November and lasts until it feels like Spring is really happening. Here’s a version from Amazon that looks handy and small.

I also know some folks who go tanning (the bed kind, not the spray kind) and have said it is mood altering, but of course there is the skin cancer risk…

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2. Vitamin D–I start taking a Vitamin D supplement in October. Just one additional pill on top of my multi-vitamin.

3. Walking–I walk for 20 minutes every day and I try for that walk to be around noon when the sun is at it’s highest. Even in the snow. I try to do this all year long but I have a heavy emphasis on this in the Winter months. I have a dog so that really acts as an impetus to walking.

4. Exercise–I exercise year round as a way to assist my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. It’s the best thing I can do to take care of myself and in the Winter ideally I go to the gym three times a week. In October my gym buddy Avory and I were talking about upping our gym regimen because “Winter is coming…”

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5. Keep the blinds open. Part of my morning ritual is opening the curtains up in my room. I’m on the second floor, which is great for birdwatching but not so great for light, but those little bits of sunlight that occasionally peek through are important to me and it reminds me that there is a world turning outside and it’s not perpetual darkness.

I hope these help. It’s not too little too late, when I find myself off the bandwagon within a couple of weeks I can feel the effects of my seasonal depression strategies at work again.

2014-01-24

Five Ways to Begin to Love Your Body Right Now

In my interview with Amy McDonald at the Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit, she asked me for five tips people can employ to love their body more right now. I wanted to write these up and share them with readers who didn’t get a chance to hear the interview and for new readers who want to remember them from the interview. (If you missed the interview and want to listen to it–along with several other incredible talks with lesbian and queer folks talking about money, love, bodies, nutrition, travel, it’s available as a download. Click here to view more details.)

You don’t have to wait to have a good relationship with your body. Not after you lose weight or start going back to the gym or get a lover. Whatever space you’re in with it, you can start making peace right now.

1. Remember that you are not alone.

Everyone has a hard time with their body at some point or another. My friend Glenn Marla says, “There’s no wrong way to have a body.” And everyone can do better at loving their bodies right where they are at.

We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity–it serves the billion dollar beauty and diet industries if we hate ourselves so we buy all of their stuff. If you could really solve your own body hatred by buying something it would totally work but it doesn’t.

Even the most ardent body positive activist has “bad fat days,” and the struggle with our very human bodies is part of being human.

2. Be honest about your yucky feelings.

I am a big believer in naming our hard feelings and getting them out of ourselves. It helps expell shame. So if you feel complicated about a body part, be honest about it.

An exercise I’m a big fan of for a body part you feel complicated about is to talk to it. First, touch it, softly. If this were my stomach I’d rest my hands on it. Then I would talk to it. “Hey stomach, I’m feeling really complicated about you. X, Y and Z are making me feel really hard today.” Then, after you name the hard feelings, start thanking it for what it does do for you. “I know I feel complicated about you today, but I want to tell you thank you for being a soft place for my dog to rest, filling out my dresses, being a great canvass for a tattoo, etc…”

rp_7611841844_73be89d6d6.jpgFrom a Rebel Cupcake a couple of years ago. I felt sooooo complicated about that outfit.

3. Take excellent care of yourself.

When you don’t feel good about your body it is really hard to have the motivation to take care of it. Self care is really important for mental, physical, emotional and spiritual help, though, and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle, negatively and positively. The more you don’t take care of your body the more you start hating it and the reverse is true, too.

Once you start taking care of your body by doing things like getting enough sleep or learning intuitive eating, it starts helping you feel more comfortable in your body.

It’s taken me years to learn how to take care of myself and I’m still learning. I just said to Jacqueline the other day, “I’m 35 years old and I just realized that I absolutely need to eat lunch within a couple hours of breakfast. As soon as I leave the house I end up in this spiraling vortex of not being able to get the food I need and I get hangry and want to kill someone.” It is so weird because my logic brain is just like, “I shouldn’t be hungry yet,” except that I actually usually get hungry and should just pay attention to my body.

Is there something for your body you could do to take good care of it today? Like an extra hour of sleep? A long bath or shower? Self care stretches time, according to Kelli Jean Drinkwater, and it really goes a long way.

rp_6051297793_7ca8fb97d1.jpgEveryone has a body! With the Miracle Whips.

4. Get value-neutral about your body.

I heard a spiritual thought leader say that the body was just a vessel for the soul. I have found that idea very helpful in coming to terms with my body changing when I don’t ask it to. It’s similar to the sentiment I expressed about How to be a Good Ally to Fat People Who Appear to Have Lost Weight. It’s just a body, in a different form.

Sometimes our bodies are doing things that frustrate us, as in a period of lessened mobility, or sometimes our bodies may feel absolutely great. Being really attached to one kind of outcome or another is a vicious cycle of not enough or worry about things changing. Weight naturally fluctuates a little bit, skin gets saggy when it gets older. It just changes, but it doesn’t have to change how much unconditional love you have for your body.

Part of learning to be body positive for me was learning my body was not my worth. The acceptance of your body without judgment is really powerful. It takes baby steps but repeating mantras of, “It’s just my body.”

5. Stop negative talk about other people’s bodies.

I absolutely love the expression, “When you point your finger you have three pointing back at yourself.” I have had to do a lot of work to stop judging other people’s bodies. When I hear myself begin to judge I stop and I change it to noticing. It’s a subtle difference but it does actually work. “I’m noticing that that person has amazing boobs. I’m noticing that that other person is very thin.”

We are conditioned in our diet/scarcity/commodified insecurity culture to judge other people’s bodies but that is actually not our job. So if I work to stop buying into that in my own head, and externally with my friends and family, I’m doing the work to change the culture I see as so damaging. I believe that change begins with me and I want to do my work to make the world more loving of all bodies.

I also think that we are our own worst critics. Whenever someone spends the time to say something really hateful I wonder what they are saying to themselves, alone, when no one is around. People who are terrible critics of other bodies are saying nastier things to themselves.

And the good news is as you get more value-neutral, compassionate and understanding about other people’s bodies it really helps to become compassionate about yours.

2014-01-14

I’m in the Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit

My new friend and colleague, Amy McDonald, invited me to participate in the first ever Happy, Healthy Lesbian Telesummit.

For those of you who have never participated in a telesummit before, basically it’s an online “event” (meaning, a limited period of time) where you can listen to live or recorded presentations or conversations with moderators. I went deep down the rabbit hole of woo and self-development at the first Hay House World Summit last year. This one is next week! January 20-24!

Facebook The Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit

Amy is the Founder of the Happy Healthy Lesbian, an online community for queer women who want to live their best lives. To help us all off to our best start in happiness and health for 2014, Amy has brought together all of her favorite queer women mentors, coaches and guides in The Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit.

And guess who she’s chosen to talk all things Happy and Healthy Body? Your old pal, Bevin Branlandingham!

She’s also talking to my health coach Victoria from Heart Beets Holistic, my newly minted relationship coach (more on that journey in a blog post later this week) Christine Dunn-Cunningham of the Lesbian Love Guru, and my friend Dawn Kirby who taught me about tapping! She’s launching a business to help women heal from sexual trauma.

You can register for the summit here. You’ll get emails each day of the Summit with the days’ available conversation to download!

Amy will be speaking with lesbians and queer women from Canada, the USA, Thailand, and Australia, sharing wise woman wisdom about how we can all be happier and healthier this year. Together we’ll share our favorite tips and techniques of happy and healthy bodies, relationships, money, food and nutrition, travel and spirit.

All by queer women for queer women.

Registration is free and easy. AND by registering you’ll also be able to access loads of free gifts from me and Amy’s other guests, including teleclasses, e-books and more.

Register here!

I’m really excited about this event. I hope you can join in the fun!

2013-11-28

Free Download of Kate Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World Lite

It’s Thanksgiving here in the US and folks are either gathering with family of origin or choice and maybe having feelings about that, or NOT gathering with those folks and maybe having feelings. Sometimes there’s no winning! The feelings just come no matter what you do!

As part of the THX4SUPPORT hash tag project happening today on Twitter, I wanted to point readers to a resource I think is totally invaluable! Kate Bornstein, gender warrior and auntie to so many of us, provides this free pdf of the “Lite” version of her book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.

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Me and Kate and Carmelita Tropicana at a reading for the Feminist Press in 2010.

Head to this link for the free pdf download.

I just want to say about suicide that I’ve been there. I’ve thought that life wasn’t worth living anymore and gone to great lengths before to end it all. And I’m so grateful that each time I even started down that road that there was something by the grace of the goddess that got me to reconsider, or at least procrastinate about it long enough to decide not to. I’m so grateful.

If there’s anything that you can do (and hopefully Kate’s book can help you come up with things to help procrastinate) to stop yourself, even just for a few minutes, do it. Reach out for help if there’s someone out there you might be able to talk to. Reaching out for help doesn’t work for me in the moment, though. I haven’t ever been good about asking for help when I’m that dire because the shame of that shit getting so dire, the gremlin thought of, “I should know better how to manage my depression that I shouldn’t want to kill myself,” is a pretty deep and hard gremlin.

BUT, there are a lot of things you can do and Kate’s book does a great job of outlining a lot of them (101, in fact). Go for a walk, write down 10 of the most awesome things you can think of, write a mini vision statement “If I were supreme ruler of the universe…” Look your dog square in the eye and promise her you’re going to fulfill your life commitment to her.

And on a personal note, I want to say that you are valuable, wonderful and your body is exactly right the way it is because all bodies are good bodies and the culture that tells us otherwise is just trying to make money off of us. We need you here, because the more freaks, outlaws and body warriors we have the better and more fabulous this world is for all of us.

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I’m pretty stoked to have stayed alive to see this little munchkin grow-up! Joey’s almost two now and I’m spending Thanksgiving with her.

Follow hash tag #stayalive on Twitter any old time for lots of good reasons to stay alive. Thank you, Auntie Kate, for everything that you do.

2013-11-25

A Great Way to Deal with Yucky Feelings: Emotional Freedom Technique aka Tapping

In advance of the #thx4support event on Thursday I wanted to talk about a tool that has been enormously helpful in my life to deal with yucky feelings (on Triggergiving, I mean Thanksgiving, or any other day).

This summer I worked with a woman whose work with lesbian survivors of sexual trauma involves using Emotional Freedom Technique, colloquially called “Tapping.” I had heard of it before but never really learned about it until Dawn told me about it. She walked me through the basic steps, and honestly it seems so simple it can’t possibly work. But, as my health coach Vic from Heart Beets Holistic said about Tapping, “The neuroscience is there. It really works.”

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So I gave it a shot. And a few months after starting to use it in areas of my life I was finding the most difficult to navigate, mostly money stuff (growing up working poor problems, like scarcity and fear) and residual grief from a break-up, my life in both of those areas has radically improved. I don’t know that Tapping is the only thing that worked but things have gotten better and it’s a great tool so I have been telling everyone I know about it.

Here’s how it works. If you have a yucky feeling come up, you start Tapping. For example, when I feel fear come up about money, my whole insides tense up. My stomach goes in knots and my heart hurts and I just have a total physiological reaction. What I do when I feel that way is I start doing the tapping sequence (and apparently there’s no exact “right” way to do the tapping, but lots of people say starting with the pinky sides of the hands hitting against each other) and naming the emotions that are coming up with me. Then I do the whole tapping sequence and usually end it by saying what I want to release and tapping my head.

The real powerful part of this, I think, is naming your feelings honestly. Even if you believe working with the meridian points is all made-up, being able to name the feelings you’re having is so incredible. We’re taught to swallow our feelings, not express them. So I express my fear that there will never be enough, that I will always be broke, that I don’t have enough money to pay for things, that I won’t be able to live my life as an artist. Then I release them. I sometimes follow-up with affirmations because I like the antidote to fear and insecurity with positivity. (In the foregoing example, “I live an abundant life and the Goddess takes care of all of my needs… I have more than enough to cover my bills and give money generously, etc…”)

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The idea is that Tapping helps you move the trauma out of your body. It’s an energetic release that works spiritually, physiologically and emotionally to acknowledge the trauma response and let it go. I know a lot of people who have worked with Tapping to deal with significant life traumas and it has really helped them. I believe if it can work with people on the really big stuff it can also work on the smaller more chronic issues that block us from our path.

I am a fan of free call-in seminars and I did one in September that was about releasing fear around money. I was so annoyed that I spent an hour and a half listening to this call and the “how” of it was only five minutes about naming your money fears and releasing them through the tapping points. It’s also much easier to learn the tapping points in a video. My favorite how-to video is below. Five minutes with one of my favorite spiritual leaders, Iyanla Vanzant. She has an incredible show on OWN called Iyanla, Fix My Life. I highly recommend it.

Again, it feels wild that it’s so simple.

My yuckiest feelings sometimes come up for me when I’m in transit, especially in the subway. Mostly when I’m moving my mind is going the most rapidly. One time I found myself tapping while on the F train and felt a little weird about it. Vic says that you can tap on just your finger tips because those are meridian points as well, but sometimes I just tap for real anyway because I don’t really care what people think of me on the subway and, honestly, tapping is the least weird of the weird stuff I’ve seen happen on NYC Transit.

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If you’re going to be dealing with hard things on Thanksgiving, Tapping is a great idea to have in your arsenal! I think having a tool box of things that help you stay grounded and centered is a great way to pre-plan for hard stuff. If you’re new to Tapping, maybe sketch out a list of the meridian points to tap and keep it in your purse or pocket and excuse yourself to the restroom to let it out. And don’t forget to follow hashtag #thx4support on Thanksgiving to be part of a whole community of folks supporting one another through the holiday!

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I’m fundraising to support QueerFatFemme.com! If you’ve been touched by the site, please consider donating money and getting a really cool prize! Folks in NYC can give $40 and get gourmet cupcakes made by the Rebel Cupcake Princess, Morgan! These are incredible cupcakes you basically can’t buy anywhere else.

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Morgan, talking about the background of the Riots Not Diets cupcake (a reclamation of past grapefruit diet trauma) at Rebel Cupcake in May. Photo by Gizelle Peters.

2013-11-22

Thanksgiving Day Body Support

I have a few big triggers in my life and one of them is holiday events as a single person. (In fact, I realized when writing this post I’ve written about being single and child-free at the holidays several times, here, here and here.) Holidays are so loaded! It’s like here’s another time of year where you’re supposed to have a partner and that triggers all my feelings of not having this relationship I want. Plus all of the seeing family of origin stuff or not seeing family of origin and how isolating and hard it can feel at either end.

It’s hard to have a body at any old time of the year but especially given the trigger fest of eating and family and large meals and seeing people for the first time in a long time.

I was asked by Melissa A. Fabello of Everyday Feminism to be part of a Body Activist conglomerate on Twitter to provide support through a hash tag all day and evening on Thanksgiving!

I’ll be posting from the intersectionality of my work–about learning to love your body, being queer in the world, gender, and developing authenticity around family of origin.

All the information is below! Please signal boost!

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From the release:

#THX4SUPPORT: A Twitter-Based Recovery Support Event

Thanksgiving is coming. And while for many of us, that means the excitement of friends, family, and food, for many others, Thanksgiving comes with it a lot of stress, fear, and anxiety.

But you’re not alone.

And this Thanksgiving, we want to make sure that you get the support, resources, and community that you need.

This Thanksgiving, use the hash tag #thx4support on Twitter to:

Reach our team of eating disorder, recovery, and body image activists for one-on-one support or inspiration

Find awesome articles, videos, and resources being tweeted out by organizations and activists

Make new friends by finding people across the country struggling with the same issues. Start a support network!

The following people will be on hand to talk you through any feelings of negativity that you experience:

Melissa A Fabello, Body Image Activist: @fyeahmfabello
Wagatwe Wanjuki, Writer and Activist: @wagatewe
Arielle Lee Bair, Recovery Blogger: @arielleleebair
Kat Lazo, Media Literacy Advocate: @theekatsmeoww
Matt Wetsel, Survivor Turned Activist: @tiledsarenomore
Bevin Branlandingham, Body Liberation Activist: @queerfatfemme
Use the hash tag #thx4support or tweet us directly.

Are you an organization who wants in on the action?
Use #thx4support to tweet out related articles and resources!
Let your followers know that this support is available. Share this graphic!
If you have capacity, join in on giving support to people using the hash tag.

And what can individuals do?
Follow #thx4support and send inspiration to those in need!
Tweet out your favorite resources using #thx4support.
Let us know what kinds of ideas and questions you have by tweeting us!
Because we believe that recovery is possible. And we know that support can help.

—-

Struggling? The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can help. Call toll-free 1.800.931.2237.

2013-11-12

Ways I’m Embracing My Imperfect Meditation Practice

People are always going on and on about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits of a meditation practice. I’ve been working on becoming a gold star meditator in fits and starts for years. If my meditation practice had a star it would probably be glitter, shiny and a little distracting.

First of all, I’m a shitty, inconsistent meditator with a lot going on in my head. But I have noticed that since I’ve been attempting to meditate for three years, I am a lot calmer and better at it than I used to be. The trying is the important part. I don’t do it every day though I wish I did. I’ve assembled a few of my meditation tips to encourage other people to seek their inner peace even if they, too, are shitty, inconsistent meditators.

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Calling the corners at Rebel Cupcake. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

I set up a place when I moved into my new apartment that made sense for meditation. At my old place I would sit at the foot of my bed right in front of my altar to meditate. I was never completely comfortable and discovered I liked meditating a lot better from a chair. So I bought a really cute armchair for $30 from a thrift store and set it right next to my fire escape window, where I have a few pots of flowers and herbs. I call it my “Feelings Chair” and every morning I write my morning pages in it and when I meditate I usually do it there. It’s pretty close to my altar (though it doesn’t face my altar) that I feel like I can get the energy from my little sacred spot in the corner where I do my meditating. It’s not perfect, but it works and that’s what’s important.

I really like Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness, it’s like $10 and comes with a guided meditation CD. Very very good intro to many kinds of meditation. It helped me lighten up on myself about meditating. I used to get so frustrated that I couldn’t perfectly clear my head of all thoughts. She says, “The sky is not the clouds,” with regards to thoughts that saunter in during meditation.

Sometimes my meditation practice is just me staring at a squirrel I’m noticing who has a really beautiful fluffy tail, or some birds playing, or how flamey trees are when I’m walking Macy. I try to walk 20 minutes every single day in the Winter as a form of fighting Seasonal Depression, but I don’t always make it a meditation walk. (When I do a meditation walk, I do a version of the Sharon Salzberg prescription in the book I recommended, but mostly I just try to clear my head and focus on being on the walk.) Sometimes it’s a gratitude walk where I literally list things I’m grateful for during the entire twenty minutes (things get repeated).

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Backstage prayer circle with Ivan Coyote, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Felice Shays and Cal Truman (not pictured). Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

I also really love guided meditation journies streaming online. I started with the Oprah Winfrey/Deepak Chopra free meditation situation earlier this year and I’ve done a couple of others, but the Oprah/Deepak one two combo is pretty great. There is a new one that started yesterday. Once you sign up for one you end up getting notices for follow-up ones and now I’m subscribed to a few different online meditation sites for their free streaming meditations.

I’m trying out a video meditation series, which I’ve never done before, and might help folks get started. It really combines the peace I get looking at nature with guided meditation audio. I’m not totally wild about the content partners (not particularly meaty lectures) but the videos are gorgeous.

Lynnee Breedlove had a great quote on his FB the other day about what he thinks about meditation. He’s been a guru to me for quite some time, and he taught me a lot about the value of paying attention.

Meditating, it occurred to me. if god is love and the greatest way to love someone is to put your attention on them, and attention is awareness, which is consciousness, then all you have to do to experience god is pay attention (hard for ADD people, so we try to lengthen moments of attention with substances or brain chemical inducing behaviours, but such addictions cloud the attempt.) therefore consciousness/paying attention is experiencing/being god/godlike. So “all you have to do” to meet god/transcend is look at some one/thing, listen, and breathe. the more moments you can do this, the closer you are to god or the higher you transcend. simple, right?–Lynnee Breedlove

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Invoking the Goddess Lilith at the TRL Lilith Fair tribute show. Candle holder is Ashleigh Nicole Smith as Lilith and a helpful audience member who “Had a light for the Goddess,” as I requested. Photo by The Think Theater Queer Photography.

I like the idea that prayer is asking the Goddess questions and meditation is where you receive the answers. I had a lover who meditated differently–she treated it as a discussion with the universe and did a kind of question and answer. So when we meditated together I’d be keeping my mind blank and she’d be talking to the universe. But it was actually still really helpful to share energy in that way, and mutually pretty calming. Lots of my friends swear by group meditation or pair meditation.

I hope that some of these suggestions help encourage folks to do some meditating. Kelli Jean Drinkwater told me “Self care stretches time,” and I’m hoping that this Winter I can meet the demands of some impending emotional difficulties with an arsenal of self care and peaceful, meditative times.

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2013-10-09

My Experience with the Heart Beets Holistic Seasonal Cleanse

A few months ago I began a health coach relationship with one of my friends. I actually really love the coaching experience–I had an artist life coach three years ago and the experience radically transformed me artistically and spiritually. There’s something about the accountability required with one on one attention and the individualized diagnostics that can happen with the right chemistry between coach and subject.

The gateway activity for me and Heart Beets Holistic health coaching was her seasonal cleanse. I was initially extremely dubious. I have heard about cleanses people have used before and they often seem like fad diets or fasting. Many people say “cleanse” as a euphamism for radical diet. As someone who is body positive, fat positive and virulently opposed to diet culture, I am not prone to want to jump on eating trends. Cleanses seem trendy right now.

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Vic. She’s not just a coach, she’s also a babe.

Heart Beets Holistic announced the first cleanse group and I immediately thought, “Not for me.” But Vic is persistent and persuasive, so though I didn’t think it was going to be a good thing I agreed to try it for the three week period. I trust Vic as a body positive, health at every size focused health professional. She believes all bodies are good bodies. She’s a nurse practitioner and a holistic health pratitioner who is very excited about fat. “Mo’ fat mo’ betta!” she likes to say to me.

“I can’t seem to get full!” I say to her.

“Eat more fat!” she replies.

She’s the first health practitioner I’ve ever been involved with who is pro fat but she is right when she tells me to put butter on stuff. It’s the opposite of how I was raised. It was a non-fat milk, low fat food kind of lifestyle, even though I was always fat.

The cleanse was appealing to me because it was about eliminating the most inflammatory foods. Sugar, dairy, wheat/gluten, corn, peanuts, eggs, and soy. I have kicked sugar before and I felt great, so I knew this would help me reinvent my eating.

She gave us recipes for every meal. Most cleansers were doing two smoothies a day, one in the morning and one at night, but because of my IBS (Irritabel Bowel Syndrome*) Vic didn’t want me to have so much fiber so close to bed, so I was to eat bone broth with veggies cooked in it at night. There was a healthy, filling lunch in the middle of the day and we got recipes for that, too.

I also have been interested in moving towards a whole foods lifestyle and I found the cleanse really helpful for that. Focusing on eating whole foods–not processed or pre-packaged and getting down with some vegetables I hadn’t used before was easy to learn through the methods of the cleanse. It also reset a lot of my eating habits and made me focus on my eating in a new way.

It wasn’t a cheap process. The cleanse experience made me think a lot about food justice. It’s really hard to eat well in an inner-city, and it costs a lot of money. Stuff with wheat in it is cheap! Processed food is cheap! We have all these corn subsidies so corn stuff is cheap!

Getting the things I needed for the cleanse recipes took a lot of hoofing it around Brooklyn and Manhattan (this would be easier if I lived in a town with a Whole Foods and a car). But Vic is also all about teaching you how to do things cheaper, and towards the middle of the cleanse we can replace protein powder with beans and nuts (together become a complete protein). Beans in a smoothie are weird but actually not bad.

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Grocery haul at the beginning of the cleanse.

I’m not going to lie, some of the smoothies were a little weird, but by the end you learn how to create your own to suit your palate, and being forced to try something new is actually a good exercise in learning how to deal with change.

At the beginning of the cleanse I was feeling very diet triggered. There was so much emphasis on what I couldn’t eat, so much focus on food that it made me think of all the millions of times I embarked on a diet. But I also recognize that, for me, when I am aware of a trigger, I can make different choices around my self-care. I recognized the feelings coming up of rebellion, “You can’t tell me what to do” and the familiar sense of failure that haunts diets in the life of a fat person. But I reminded myself that my goals in this were to try a new way of eating and feel better, it wasn’t about losing weight or finally getting skinny so I could begin my life, which is what all my old diets were about.

I also could talk to my friends (and my health coach) about those feelings and work through them.

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Me, Randee, Vic (in the burger costume) and Leo.

The cleanse took some time and focus every day. All that food preparation is a good amount of work and at least a couple of trips to the grocery store a week to stock up on vegetables. But it was only three weeks and I kept reminding myself of that. I can do anything for three weeks.

I felt totally sore the first couple of weeks. She suggests epsom salt baths to help with the sugar detox, and I was taking herb supportive and immune system supportive tinctures three times a day. Vic also sent out journal prompts and daily breathing exercises to keep us working on the mind/body/spirit connection.

We also gave up smoking, caffeine, and alcohol during the cleanse.

I liked having friends who were involved in the cleanse with me. Leo did it, too, and we mutually bitched about all the stuff we missed and supported each other through it. There was a facebook group since we did this as a group for a seasonal thing (in May, this was the Spring detox) but Vic also does the cleanse with one on one coaching clients.

I had a lover over one night during the cleanse and I made her a smoothie that I was having. She had been fighting a cold for three weeks and after that smoothie she was totally back to normal. These smoothies are no joke, extremely filling and full of nutrients.

Tons of people asked me how it went and Jacqueline was the first to point out that my skin was glowing because it really was. Some people lose some weight on the cleanse and while I was actually at a pretty low weight for me to begin with I felt kind of puffy and I noticed the inflammation die down. I also had more energy and felt better overall.

After the cleanse was over there’s a re-entry period where you see what your body reacts to. Turns out I am really reactive to soy, corn and dairy, which kind of blows because I love a latte’ and hardly anyone has almond milk. (I’ve begun Yelp check-in tips about places that serve almond milk.)

The cleanse, for me, was great because it completely transformed how I eat, cook and relate to food. It was also the realization for me, as suggested by Vic, that I had a candida overgrowth and would need to treat that, too. I’ll blog more about the candida cure at a later date.

The cleanse also sparked a 90% reduction in my IBS symptoms. This is something I’ve struggled with for over six years, had two colonoscopies and upper endoscopies, lots of medicine and nothing has helped other than avoiding food triggers. But it turns out that many of my food triggers (raw salad, kale, broccoli, blueberries) are totally digestible if I’m eating in this whole foods way. Doing the candida cure this summer has resulted in an almost entire elimination of IBS for me, which feels like a miracle because, while mine was not a terrible case compared to others, it was definitely really difficult under constant threat of debilitating digestive episodes.

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Pretty stoked to be eating broccoli again.

If you’re interested in doing the cleanse with Vic, I say go for it. Her packages are sliding scale and each comes with two coaching sessions, which happen over the phone. Also, if you’re interested in having a supportive, body positive health coach who is really amazing, I highly endorse Heart Beets Holistic Heath.

*For me the IBS “diagnosis” was basically my second gastroenterologist telling me “We don’t know what’s wrong with you but there’s something wrong with how you digest food.” Super unhelpful. So people with IBS often present differently with different symptoms.

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2013-06-18

Plus Size Pageant Documentary–There She Is and some questions for my readership about being fat and expressing gender

I was asked by the filmmakers of a new documentary released yesterday to watch a sneak preview. I was cuddled up in a cabin in the woods with a bunch of my queer besties and it seemed like the perfect activity for a rainy day. Now that it’s released world-wide for free on the internet, I want to share it with my readership.

From the press kit: “There She Is follows two plus size pageant queens as they prepare for an upcoming pageant. They discuss their lives as plus size women, including how they feel when others’ perceptions of their appearance clash with their own. The film challenges the viewer to examine his/her own definition of beauty and the ways in which it affects our everyday lives.”

It’s very fat acceptance 101 but also very human. It’s full of pretty dresses and watching girls do make-up (one of my favorite things to watch).

I have some thoughts about the film, so read on for my feelings or you can watch the movie and then read what I have to say. I’d love to hear your reactions, too.

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I accidentally bought an evangelical christian guide to retreat planning when at the used book sale.

Here is the full film (about 20 minutes long)–the link to the website is here.

Or just watch the trailer:

I feel strongly that pageants can be a great thing for people. I think beauty, make-up, hair and clothes are art forms that are derided by mainstream culture as “frivolous” but can be very empowering. I think aesthetic arts are actually really helpful ways of reclaiming your body from what society expects from you. This is assuming that one understands that make-up/hair/etc are optional parts of aesthetic life and not compulsory. So I went into this documentary on the side of the contestants because I know beauty pageants are actually really fun hobbies/pursuits for folks.

I competed for the title of Miss LEZ and talk more about my pageant thoughts in this post.

A couple of things struck me about this movie. The first was that the blonde subject spoke about not wanting to run out to the grocery store without doing her hair, make-up and wearing cute clothes because she felt an unspoken expectation not to appear like a “fat slob.” I actually struggle with this myself. I challenge myself all the time to appear outside (and sometimes in photos on this blog) without wearing make-up. Sometimes I just physically don’t feel comfortable not wearing make-up and I am not sure if that’s because I just like to present a version of myself that is more in line with my vision or if it because I feel pressure to make myself more palatable for the outside world as a fat, queer person. I think it’s likely a bit of both, though I do work really hard to not let other people’s perceptions of me affect what and how I do things. I also never truly feel “in my gender” if I’m not wearing false eyelashes, red lipstick and some killer outfit.

I also was curious about the subject who talked about her weight loss at the end. It was actually kind of a bummer because as a fat loving person who is self loving I secretly want a fat acceptance narrative to not involve weight loss goals, but at the same time it’s unrealistic to expect fat people to not participate in ways of bodily self-determination. I rarely pursue weight loss goals myself but certainly make choices with regards to food and exercise that sometimes have a by product of weight loss.

I was curious and confused about the brunette’s reaction to her weight loss. In some ways I felt like her engagement was a byproduct of it from a man who wouldn’t otherwise accept her. (I.e. “It’s okay if you’re fat as long as you’re trying to lose weight.”) But I had a hard time understanding whether I was perceiving that correctly.

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Cuddled up watching the documentary.

For me, I try to make weight loss value-neutral and not focus on the scale about success. I focus on how my body is feeling. I don’t think losing weight will change who I am inside and suddenly make myself love me more. I’ve known enough formerly fat but still self-loathing people to know that’s not a narrative that works, you have to love yourself from the inside first regardless of how big your body is. As a body liberation activist, I also work really hard to not mind other people’s weight loss positively or negatively. I won’t judge them for it and I won’t celebrate it. I want to know if the person is feeling good in their body.

I’m wondering from readers what they feel like about wearing make-up, whether they find it compulsory, if they feel comfortable in public spaces or specifically queer spaces without it (if they are a make-up identified person)?

In what ways do you feel “in your gender,” and how does that present? How does that differ from day to day, moment to moment?

How do you respond to weight loss in your life? Are there ways that you make it value-neutral?

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