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

2017-05-03

Why Authenticity is so Vital: In Celebration of Ellen’s 20th Coming Out Anniversary

“As long as you stay true to exactly who you are, you will be rewarded in ways you cannot possibly imagine.”—Ellen DeGeneres

The 20th anniversary of the coming out episode of Ellen’s sitcom was April 30, 2017. It was the first time a lead character on a TV show came out; it was before Will and Grace, the Logo channel, and Modern Family.

For those of you who don’t remember, it was a BIG DEAL. Media was covering it before it aired and endlessly discussing and debating afterward. There was an all star cast of supporting characters and extras, including gay icons George Michael, k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge.

I found out from my friend H. Alan Scott that Ellen was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her coming out on her talk show because he was invited to be on it! His story about how he watched the coming out episode is detailed in this piece he wrote for Newsweek and on the below video from the show. (Believe me, I hinted hard that I wanted to be invited as a plus one to go to the taping but sadly he didn’t get a plus one.)

“It’s easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages… Not just for the LGBT community but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light remind us that we have more in common than we realize and push our country in the direction of justice.”—Barack Obama on the occasion of giving Ellen the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1997 was an interesting year. We didn’t have the internet like we do now. We didn’t have smart devices or social media. You had to call people or email to make plans and if you wanted directions somewhere you pulled out a map.

Ellen joked on her show that since we didn’t have Facebook yet in order to make a big pronouncement about your sexuality you had to get a sitcom.

They called the episode “The Puppy Episode” because when the writers told the executives she needed to be in a relationship by the fourth year of the show an executive at the studio said, “Well get her a puppy, she’s not coming out.” You can watch it on youtube in parts, starting here.

I spy Laura Dern, k.d. lang, Dwight Yoakam, Demi Moore, Gina Gershon, Jenny Shimizu, Billy Bob Thornton.

I feel like for gay people in 1997, it was kind of like the Kennedy assassination—people remember where they were when they watched it.

I remember very viscerally what it was like for me watching Ellen come out. I was 18 years old, in my dorm room at UC Davis. Wearing my bathrobe, alone on the couch I shared with my suitemates watching the cable that I paid for because TV was an escape drug for me at the time. Life was really painful, I was depressed and felt very alone. I knew I was gay but couldn’t be open about it. I was still so convinced that if I acted like everyone else and hid in giant, formless overalls I would somehow appear normal and being gay went against that idea. I also didn’t think I was going to get to own my sexuality because I was fat. Fat was, in my deluded opinion, not attractive and I didn’t think people who weren’t having sex should bother coming out.

I was super wrong. Owning your truth, that’s hot. Owning your body, that’s hot. Being true to who you are? That’s priceless and so liberating.

I don’t have any pictures of my Freshman year at UC Davis available but here’s one from two years later when I was out but still working through my relationship with fashion. Deepy appreciate this rainbow beanie. Pictured here with my very supportive through my coming out process friends Mary and Dianna.

“Your whole calling is about you being what you were meant to be.”—Oprah Winfrey

It’s very lonely being in the closet. When you don’t feel like you can be your authentic self, it’s hard to live freely because you’re always keeping a secret. If you’re out there and you are in the closet now, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone and you’re okay. When it’s time for you to come out, it will suddenly feel more uncomfortable to be in the closet than the risks you take to come out. But, like Ellen says, the risks to be your true self are totally worth it.

Sitting right next to H. Alan in the audience was documentary filmmaker Alexis Fish, who had a big party for Ellen’s coming out episode. (I wonder if they overlapped at all at my birthday party last December since they were both there.) I couldn’t believe what an amazing experience it was for Alexis and her friends to watch the episode with community. I’m so glad I get to have that community now, and I’m so grateful for social media for enabling community to be even more accessible to folks in the closet these days.

Oprah Winfrey played Ellen’s therapist in the Puppy Episode, which I had completely forgotten about. She was a guest on this special episode of Ellen’s talk show. Needless to say, I immediately texted H. Alan “YOU WERE IN THE SAME ROOM AS ELLEN AND OPRAH.”

Oprah mentioned that she said yes to appearing on the Puppy Episode immediately, and she gets credit for that. There was so much backlash, the world was reeling because of something that today seems so pedestrian. We needed that backlash in order to start a very important conversation.

Laura Dern was in the episode and she didn’t get another acting job for a full year after the episode—because people thought she was gay. “I hurt straight people for this,” Ellen joked.

“It was hard, I lost everything. I got to be stripped down of everything and start all over again. And that was a wonderful gift to be able to start all over again and to realize that I was strong enough to come back.”—Ellen

Laura Dern said it exactly right while on the couch with Oprah and Ellen. “How incredible to be sitting between the two people who have walked us toward our truth in such extraordinary ways… To celebrate the bravery to remind people to be who they are. And whatever the consequence is of doing that, it brings everyone with you when you’re willing to be that true to yourself.”

Why, in our society, is it brave to be yourself? Because of the White Hetero Capitalist Patriarchy, that wants to keep us small, to punish difference and to make people feel ashamed of who they are. Media creates a feeling of insecurity for your benign human differences so that they can sell products to you to help you feel better.

On the talk show episode there were lots of celebrity messages of congratulations. “You widened the circle of understanding, connection and kindness,” Diane Sawyer said to Ellen.

Me and H. Alan doing partner yoga. I love that he’s always game for a silly photo.

There’s a power in being openly who you are. I continue to practice that by talking openly about things most people don’t talk openly about. Part of my impetus for using this openness is to eradicate shame. I truly believe shame leads to stress, which leads to cancer and other disease. It makes me feel so much better and happier to be open about who I am, how I struggle and the tools I use to move through the struggle. I can’t do it alone and I want to help you all know that you don’t have to do it alone, either.

Last summer, my friend Jeff Scult inducted me into One Golden Thread, a whole movement about being connected to other humans with a golden thread bracelet. He said when yours falls off you should pay attention to what you’re thinking about in the moment. I have been working on staying in gratitude as much as possible in order to eradicate the effects of trauma from the past few months.

With Ellen’s coming out on the brain, I was walking through my house thinking about how grateful I was to be out, to be living with my incredible partner Dara, to have our beautiful new home and how cute my closet is going to be when it’s finished. Then I got to our bed and was super grateful for my weirdo cat Biscuit Reynolds. As I leaned in to give him a belly rub he attacked the string from my golden thread and in one movement ripped it off of me.

I have now watched Ellen’s 20th anniversary coming out talk show episode twice and can’t get through it without crying multiple times. I’m so grateful for all she did to make the world a lot easier for the rest of us.

2017-04-04

FAT SEX WEEK XXL: Six People Tell You Why Curvy Girl Sex Is Awesome

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!

There’s a new book on the market called Curvy Girl Sex: 101 Body-Positive Positions to Empower Your Sex Life. Written by Elle Chase, it’s a huge collection of sex positions to help empower your sex life.

April Flores Pin-Up magic is all over this book. Photo by Nick Holmes.

Let’s first talk about why this is important–fat people are taught that we’re not fuckable. All oppressed people are taught to not take up space and that we should be as invisible as possible. When we try so hard to not take up space it’s actually very physically and psychologically disempowering.* In a society that doesn’t see fat bodies as valuable and the porn that celebrates diverse body size is considered fetish, most fat folks have to go through a ton of self work to empower ourselves enough to thoroughly enjoy sex.

There’s a lot of scaffolding that goes in to feeling free and embodied enough for body oppressed people to have an orgasm, it’s wonderful when work that centers fat pleasure arrives on the scene to help!

Curvy Girl Sex has so much to offer for folks of all sexualities, genders and sizes to improve their sex lives! I decided to interview a sampling of folks about what they loved about the book.

Photo by Nick Holmes.

I’ll go first! It serves as a gorgeous coffee table book full of hot pin-up photos of April Flores. An award-winning trailblazing sex performer; she’s my favorite porn star. She won the very first BBW award at the mainstream porn awards that they ever gave out, then won it again. She is overtly political, not just being a sexy fat woman in porn but also doing it with an empowering message to her fans. I was on her radio show (that links to a porn radio station website) for Fat Sex Week last week and we talked for an hour about fat sex, body positivity and having your best life. We had radio phone callers! One of them identified as Sub Matt. I’m now friends** with April Flores and in real life she’s totally fun, smart and great to hang out with.

This was literally the first thing I thought when I saw the cover of Curvy Girl Sex, “April Flores is the exact right choice for this cover. A Queer, Fat, Latina history making sex performer.” I think everyone loves a coffee table book of pin-ups and maybe it should be a book of fat sex positions with April Flores as the pin-up?

I have had a sex positive household for my entire adult life, so we have had Curvy Girl Sex out in the living room while I’ve been working on Fat Sex Week and it’s been a great conversation starter.

From a design standpoint, it’s a beautiful book in a bright yellow that would look great as a pop of color, too.

World-renowned Sexpert Tristan Taormino loves the key guide in Curvy Girl Sex. “I have a bad back and I can tell at a glance which positions are the ones I should be sure to try.”

Here’s an excerpt from the book that shows how the key guide is used for each position. The keys include suitable for pregnant women, strap-on friendly, easier on the back, easier on the knees, etc… I love that each illustration for the key images is a plump body.

My partner Dara said that Curvy Girl Sex is smart and a great example of intersectionality.

The author of the book, Elle Chase: “I think what makes this book most valuable is that it can be used for ANY body, not just ‘curvy.’ The positions are terrific for people with mobility issues, people who have chronic pain, people of all gender identities and even average sized folks. It’s an all-purpose, permission giving positions book for anyone with a body, with or without body-image issues.”

My friend Dari said he loved that the book has a whole section on car sex! Car sex is hard in a fat body it’s helpful to know that Elle figured that out.

Author Elle Chase, photo by Nick Holmes.

From the book: “Stop the negative thoughts by focusing on what’s happening in the moment and on what kind of pleasure you can or are giving your partner, then revel in your ability to be present and in your pleasure at the same time as your partner—that’s no small feat!”

Click here to check out a pdf of the Whoopie Pie position the page that excerpt is from.

The Yoni massage on page 151 is really optimum foreplay for my friend Katy. She’s a fat sex blogger and we spent a lot of time during our hang out talking about this book. “As a fat woman who has been sexually abused I have a weird connection to my pussy. I have to actively envision it being pleasured. Yoni massage is actually what I need to feel that skin and remember these nerve endings because due to trauma I had to so actively choose to ignore, forget and disconnect from them. I really like that inclusion because that’s new to me and empowering!”

Katy can also vouch for the Slip N Slide position on Page 123 being very satisfying.

We both agree the book is missing an essay or something from April Flores! I asked her what she thinks is the most valuable thing about this book and she said the representation for fat women! Look through the sex book section at your local feminist sex toy store and the percentage of women of size is nothing like the actual percentage of larger bodies in the population. Our sexuality matters and our representation matters!

Photo by Nick Holmes.

Consider grabbing a copy of Curvy Girl Sex to help you empower your sex life!

*I do a whole aerobics number for Fat Kid Dance Party about teaching people physical ways of embodying the idea of taking up space and healing by taking up space! 7:30PM on Thursdays at EVERYBODY in Los Angeles.
**My friend H. Alan Scott says in Hollywood being “Friends” with someone means they are in your phone and you can text them right now.

PS: I am soliciting a volunteer to transcribe the video in my previous post with Sparklez to make it more accessible–if you’re available shoot me an email QueerFatFemme at Gmail!

2016-11-10

Four Strategies I’m Using to Move Forward in the Wake of the Election

Last night I was at Trader Joe’s and the cashier asked me how my day was going. I have a standing principal of authenticity and I don’t say “fine” unless it’s true. I try to give an honest answer. So I answered, “As a Gay American I’m really struggling in the wake of the calamitous election results.” He was not prepared for my answer and I watched him having a lot of Feelings as he rang up my groceries. I didn’t realize that my honest answer might be triggering to him, but sometimes I think cisgender White men need to be reminded of inconvenient truths.

And the inconvenient truth is, even as a Gay American, I’m a person with a lot of privilege, specifically White Privilege. I know the results are even more terrifying for people of color. I’m struggling in the unknowable future of a Drumpf* presidency. I don’t know what comes next for Muslim-Americans, undocumented people, people of color, gender non-conforming people, trans people, women, people of size, disabled people, any people dependent on Obamacare, and all of the other bodies of Americans that man metaphorically stood on top of or discarded while he used hatred to galvanize support.

I am remembering the legacy of resistance I come from. Before every event and performance I produce I do a circle prayer/offering of good intentions where I honor our queer ancestors. (If you’re curious what that looks like skip ahead to minute 9 of this video.) I don’t take for granted my ability to be a fat queer flamboyant femme, I know that just thirty years ago I wouldn’t have this access to express my authentic self. The ease I have being a weirdo in this world is because of the blood, sweat, and resistance of those people that came before.

It looks like it might get harder to be a weirdo for awhile. And at least I know that we have communities and we can create some really beautiful shit. And grass roots works a lot faster than government, the glacial pace of regression under Drumpf won’t be able to move as fast as we will. We can support each other and we can continue to make change.

amberhikesFrom my friend Amber Hikes: “I, for one, am not done fighting. There’s not one aspect of my identity (Black, Woman and Queer) that gives up and goes quietly into the night. We ain’t going out like that. Game on.”

I’ve been working with the spiritual principal “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional,” and thinking through the ways I allow suffering into my life. I know that the pain from this election is real but I do not want to suffer. However, it’s super important to acknowledge our Feelings and process them, otherwise we end up just feeling them later—and paying interest.

Here are some strategies I’m using now to cope with all of the anger, grief, guilt, sadness, rage, and shock. I offer them to you as ideas. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Belief in my friends who are changing the world.
Giving me the most hope right now are my friends. When I start to spiral out into the what-ifs and the horror of 50 million people voting for someone who stands for so much hate, I can picture a friend and think about the ways they work to change the world.

I have surrounded myself with people who have big hearts and are bad asses, who see problems and dive in. These are people who work at non-profits or people who have corporate jobs and big volunteer lives. Who are artists who use their art to amplify anti-racism, experiences of marginalized people, who change people’s hearts and minds through self-expression. People with financial privilege that have a strong ethic of giving back and empowering people who don’t have the same privileges.

Especially people who are just everyday folks who speak up at the work lunch table or wherever to interrupt food shaming, racism, or “locker-room talk.” Frankly, I think that’s the most effective form of activism, one to one relationship-based conversations that help people have more compassion.**

It’s horrific to think about all the people who voted for hate (even if they couched it in different reasoning to make themselves feel better, a vote for Drumpf was a vote for White supremacy), but I believe so strongly in the people I know doing good it helps me have the faith to move forward.

halanbevincoffeeshopMy friend H. Alan Scott writes, “The Talmud says, ‘When the castle goes to ruin, castle is still its name; when the dunghill rises, still it is a dunghill.’ Drumpf is temporary, but if we focus, as a community, we’ll make the castle rise again.”

Have Faith Not Fear.
Earlier this year two people I knew had second bouts with cancer. This flipped me out because my partner is a cancer survivor. I started thinking about strategies to move forward without being afraid she’ll get cancer again. I could be worried and fearful 100% of the time if I let myself go into that thought spiral. I had the aha moment that I needed to remember to replace that fear with faith.

I have so much fear about the future of our country but I am choosing instead to have faith. Not faith in outcomes but faith moreso that we are going to work. I hope that people are galvanized enough to keep doing the work, keep having the uncomfortable conversations with people, keep standing in support. (Hey White folks who want to be in solidarity, here’s a great article about how to have those uncomfortable conversations with other White people. Here’s a great cartoon about how to interrupt Islamophobia.)

Remembering times we had a dip in social progress and we came back.
When Prop 8 passed in CA and it outlawed gay marriage, everyone was so mad! There were protests in solidarity all over the country! But the thing I couldn’t forget in that time (2008) was that when I was in college there was a similar referendum on the ballot (Prop 22 in March of 2000) that passed with a 10% greater margin. I was sad that gay marriage was still outlawed in CA but at the same time also impressed at how much the margin had changed. Prop 8 passed by only a sliver.

I genuinely believe social progress is the way forward and that our social justice work is working. I think the Drumpf election is a setback and a wake-up call to apathy and White complacency. If you feel you didn’t do enough work on this election, you can pick it up now and start working on ways to shift the world. (10 Simple Ways White People Can Step Up to Fight Everyday Racism.)

I remember when Bush won the election in 2000. I was 21 and we thought we should all move to Canada. I don’t think that anymore, I am going to stay here and fight because I believe we can continue to move social progress forward. I’m going to tap my mentor activists for their experiences of hope and how they moved forward during the GWB years. This is worse, but we have so much we can build on.

I also believe that the amount of talk about rape culture going on in the election has helped shift the conversation, emboldened women and is teaching more consent on a wide scale. A silver lining from this traumatic election cycle.

daniellemannafromheavenMy friend Danielle Berrin is a Senior Editor at the Jewish Journal, pictured here delivering “Manna from Heaven” after blessing the Challah at my Epic High Holiday Shabbat dinner. Because of the talk of Drumpf’s sexual assaults, she chose to come out in her newspaper about having been sexually assaulted during an interview with a prominent journalist. She put herself at personal and professional risk to do so, since women are so often lambasted for talking about sexual assault experiences. Her story has had an a-typical result, with the assailant outing himself and ultimately resigning from prominent positions. I was surprised and grateful that Danielle has received so much support. This is a new era where sexual assault survivors are becoming more and more supported. The more of us who speak out against rape culture and sexual assault the faster we will change things so entitled men like Drumpf don’t just get to grab whoever they want whenever they want. Photo by Rick Sorkin.

Channeling rage
Rage and anger are totally valid emotions. So is a feeling of powerlessness. The first step to processing pain is validating your feelings. Protests are a great way to channel anger, so are art projects, cooking, and exercise. Figure out what you need to do to identify the feelings you’re feeling in the wake of the election and figure out a way to channel them so that you can refresh yourself for the work ahead.

Self Care
Whenever I go through loss or get hard news my first stop is self care. After Grandmother’s recent lung cancer diagnosis I committed to a daily meditation practice and I’m proud to say I’ve been consistent for 25 days and that’s my longest daily meditation stretch so far.

In a world and culture that doesn’t value my body, my gender or my sexuality I know I have to value it the most. Self care is an act of resistance and it is really important that we prioritize this.

I encourage you to do a self care inventory. How are you caring for yourself? What ways can you adjust your life to make room for the things that increase your capacity to care for yourself? Self care stretches time and enables your fuel for the revolution. Make self care dates with friends and check in with each other about following through with self care.

Right now I’m in a “detox from America” and am doing all I can to cleanse my mind from this stuff and support my resilience.

Kate Bornstein says this about suicide—do whatever you need to do to stay alive, just don’t be mean. Figure out what you need to do and do it, because we need you to stay alive.

magalybevinatweddingFrom my friend Magaly Ickes-Jones: “My first generation Cuban/Nicaraguan-American, gender non-conforming, queer, Latinx, veteran, political scientist lover of the U.S. Constitution heart is bruised and battered by the unamerican hatred, ignorance, and fear that fueled American voters yesterday. I’ll heal and it will get better. I appreciate the comfort of my loved ones and these words and the promise that can’t be taken back: ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’ -Preamble to the U.S Constitution”

I am going to do what I know to do and look for support from my loved ones as we hold each other up. I’m going to stick to my faith. I believe we are going to work together stronger. We’re going to be okay. It’s what I have to tell myself every time a new cancer diagnosis comes into my life, every time I mourn a friend, every time I try something and fail. I remind myself that everything is okay in the end, and if it’s not okay it’s not the end. It’s not the end.

*I installed that app from the amazing John Oliver video “Make Donald Drumpf again” and so now all I ever read is Drumpf online and it makes me feel good. Thought with 30 million views it sadly still didn’t change the election results.

**I like the idea of spreading kindness rather than calling it “political correctness.” My work in the world is to support activist resilience and I want to help people do this work more effectively. If you have questions about how to do that, hit me up and I will work to get it answered.

2016-09-15

REALITY Storytellers: International Travel and Sheepherding

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

Once I got to the airport I did all the things I needed to do to feel okay about a first 6 hour flight and then a 9 hour flight. It starts with iced tea, a to go sandwich and it moves to an impulse buy of Bible Charts, Maps and Timelines which I thought might be helpful to read on the flight as my Bible knowledge is very small compared to those who were raised with Christian or Jewish religious schooling. I had no idea about how great our tour guide would be and how he beyond obviated a need for supplemental education.

You guys I was really nervous. I was going on a trip with no one I knew and I didn’t know what to expect. Rick, the facilitator meeting us at the gate, gave us a time to meet and told us to look for the Schusterman folder. I reminded myself I was doing this in the spirit of life begins at the end of your comfort zone and how I do all the brave things I do to keep on growing and I walked up to a group of strangers and introduced myself.

abhrahamstent2I don’t have any pictures from the airport but here’s the first meet and greet in a replica of Abraham’s tent at Neot Kedumim Park, a Biblical Nature preserve.

And then I got to forget the scared feelings and just focus on remembering names, a great task when you’re having a social freak out, give yourself something to focus on and get good at it. There were two Ricks, a Natalie, a Sophia, a Liz, H. Alan and more. I think I created a pneumonic chant and throughout the whole first 24 hours of the trip I was pretty great at remembering names because I was channelling nervous energy into name recognition.

I sat next to Sophia and Liz on our flight from LAX to EWR and learned that Sophia is a Christian journalist for a Christian magazine. There were a lot more Christian origin folks on the trip than I thought there would be. Sophia also gave me an amazing list of Korean restaurants to try and I’m excited to go do that with her! She fell asleep in the middle seat pretty quickly after take off and I watched movies instead of reading my book. United apparently has all sorts of free on demand new releases now and I enjoyed a bunch of them. Also I enjoyed what I call “God TV” when we flew past a ton of thunder storms at dusk along the East Coast.

mesophiabillMe, Sophia and Bill at a rest stop in Israel.

I felt a lot of weird feelings flying into the New York City metro area for the first time since I moved away in late December. It felt like I was getting home but I don’t live there anymore. Our layover was a total opportunity to hang with folks from the trip but I couldn’t find anyone so I just roamed the terminal alone and texted friends. We couldn’t go to our gate because they have another extra security check point that doesn’t open until the flight is near boarding. I found out later everyone was in the bar but I don’t drink so it didn’t occur to me to check!

I met Megan in line for the next security check point and bonded over really really not wanting a middle seat. She runs a youth media and filmmaking education program and asked me what I do and somehow I started talking about all of my jobs and overwhelmed even myself. Sometimes I remember that I could nail my audio logo in thirty seconds and could figure out how to translate the what do you do question into talking about the business I’m working on but I’m still kind of clumsy at that and just talk about what comes to mind. Whatever, working for a sex worker’s rights non-profit and a body positive activist and all the other gigs makes for really interesting conversation.

After waiting in line for the second security check they had us put our bags on a table and then did some kind of sensor thing and told me they were looking for narcotics. I said a silent thank you prayer that I had so diligently sorted through everything I packed so I didn’t accidentally bring some “California meds” with me in my purse or carry on.

Megan and I tried so hard to get window seats but the gate agent had nothing for us. It was a good bonding experience for us to try to fight that battle together. I feel grateful that I have this really baller Cabeau memory foam neck pillow that cinches and holds my head upright which saves me from accidentally sleeping on the person next to me and I was really hoping to sleep a lot on the 9 hour flight.

joedanhalansheepherdingDan, Joe and H. Alan surveying the Biblical landscape and watching other people herd sheep and goats. It’s so weird that I’m friends with them now but this photo was just as we were meeting!

Unlike our flight from CA I sat next to no one from our trip, and I could hear everyone excitedly chattering near me but the men sharing my row weren’t so effervescent as nervous excited REALITY Storytellers. The lucky guy with the window seat next to me fell asleep immediately and stayed asleep the entire flight, never once going to the bathroom so I kind of felt grateful to have easier access to walking around.

My friend Michael passed away after getting blood clots from a long flight to Hawaii. Fat people and women are socialized to prioritize other people’s needs over our own and walking around on a long flight is actually super important to preventing blood clots. So even if I feel like I want to not bother people while experiencing all the triggers of being fat on a plane, I use Michael to inspire me to prioritize my health, rise above the shame, stigma and discomfort in asking someone to move out of their aisle seat so I can go use the restroom. I also found a tiny place behind a row of seats to do some yoga while most of the flight was still asleep.

What was surprising about the flight was the meal service, we got dinner and breakfast. I haven’t experienced meal service on a flight in years. Also particular for Israeli travel was that forty-five minutes until we landed we weren’t allowed to walk around on the plane.

I was way in the back of this huge plane so when we finally landed it took me a long time to deplane, and I really only recognized about six people from our trip, all of whom were already on their way to baggage claim presumably. I was nervous about losing the group in a foreign country where I had no cell service but I also really needed to use the restroom and freshen up a bit. On the packing list they had suggested packing an extra outfit in your carry on and I assumed we would have another opportunity to change and put on make-up. This was the only opportunity folks, and I missed it.

I realized quickly as I hustled to baggage claim and through the passport check point that since sun hats were on our packing list almost all the Storytellers had on hats! I started following people in hats. And luckily, this and many times to come, I found Rick Sorkin and Bill in line because they are like 6’5” and easy to spot in a crowd.

bevinsheepherdingI just look at all of my selfies with the herd and wish I was wearing more muppety make-up but it’s fine my gender presentation doesn’t have to be perfect for me to have an amazing time.

I almost blew it in the passport line. Since I had surrendered all trip obsessiveness, I didn’t have any idea what hotels we were staying in and other than a few highlights didn’t know much about where we were going. The passport woman was giving me so much side eye and I was trying to explain “I’m on this leadership development high energy journey through Israel, I’m with all these other…” but none of the Storytellers were left and it was just me.

Eventually I found something saved on my phone that seemed to satisfy her and I got my sticker for entry but it was a freaky moment. I also know I have a lot of privilege as a White person from the US and it might not have been so easy for me if I wasn’t. I also know now to study my itinerary and know it well when I go through a passport check point. I have a lot of feelings about borders in general that have come up for me on this trip I’ll discuss in a later post.

I got to baggage claim and luckily my bag was waiting for me but sadly for three of my fellow travelers they were chasing after United for days. So disheartening. I learned from Sarah Hurowitz on this trip that in her extensive business travel knowledge that if “it isn’t in your possession you might as well never see it again.”

I kept trying to figure out who was on our trip and meeting people and being good with names. We proceeded in a few clumps towards the exit and our waiting tour bus. It must have been so hard for the staff on the trip to figure out who everyone was and that we actually had everyone. As a participant on this trip in many parts you are completely shielded from logistics and in some ways it was an amazing break from real life so we could focus on the experience.

As soon as we got on the tour bus we had our first lecture from our tour guide Michael Bauer (as of this point we had no idea how good we were getting it) about the differences we might find about Israeli culture from American culture and the size and scope of Israel. Then we were off to our first adventure, a sheepherding experience at a Biblical nature preserve. I’m obsessed with animals and feel a strong connection to them, so this was an ideal activity for me. It was not an ideal activity for the strappy sandals I wore on the plane and was struggling with through rocky “Biblical” terrain.

biblicalnaturepreserve

Our group of fifty was split in two. We spent a few minutes learning about what our task was, moving the mixed herd of sheep and goats through several points in a giant pen. While the first half of our sub group was taking a turn at sheepherding our group spent time strategizing, identifying a leader in our subgroup who had experience sheepherding and I pumped the facilitator for more information about sheep and goats that might help us. First of all, in a mixed herd, the natural leader in the herd is a female goat. Second of all, in our herd there was only one breed of animal that may have existed in Biblical times and that was the Syrian goat, who was the leader of our herd.

It was pretty bananas trying to herd animals with a bunch of people you only just met. Our strategy was to create a semi-circle and move the herd that way. It kind of worked, we were ultimately successful. I only got hit by a ram in my leg a couple of times and only got scratched up by Biblical thorny plants a little bit, but I barely noticed because it was so thrilling to get to hang out with animals.

sheepandgoats

The debrief had a lot of good nuggets about leadership. Learning from the group you’re trying to lead about the best way to lead them. Leading from behind so that they take their own initiative. Sometimes groups need a gentle but firm push in the rump to get moving.

After the sunset and sheepherding we moved our group to a replica of Abraham’s tent for snacks, our nametags, swag bags with the printed program in them and the first group go around. I was legit disappointed that with a replica of Abraham’s tent there was no replica of a Red Tent (you’ll remember it if you read the awesome novel by the same name)! It’s my favorite woman-centered activity from Biblical times, a special tent for the women of the tribe to bleed during the Full moon because that’s when people were more moon-focused and bled together.

It was nearing 9PM and even though there were snacks out we were still going to get dinner in Tel Aviv. I had no idea how many hours it had been since I left home. It was only the first indicator of the fast pace of this trip.

storytellerssheepherdingIf you could hear sound in this photo you’d hear some guns going off in the military training ground off to the right.

2016-09-08

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

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

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

bevinbikinitoastFatkini and Toast. Photo by Dara.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

joellebevinMe and Joëlle at the Fat Caucus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

halanbevin

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

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

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

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