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

2016-04-06

Incredibly Delicious Supplements Delivered Via Raw Honey Made By Awesome People

Some of you may remember that Dara did this huge organizing project in 2012. She quit her day job, lived off savings and ran a global initiative aimed at building peace. She met a lot of really great folks doing that work and it has been such a pleasure for me to meet and interact with them.

At her NYC going away party I hung out with Zak for the first time. Zak’s a really great guy–positive energy radiates from him and he’s really just the kind of person who elevates your mood when you’re around. He’s an entrepreneur and I knew his work with the Ring Thing because Dara had sold them in partnership with Good 4 Me with a school non-profit she was consulting with. I have had a Ring Thing on my phone ever since Dara was selling them and I cannot endorse it enough as a wildly useful phone accessory–a kickstand, hook, handle and many more things in one. I use it many times a day.

darazakDara and Zak at her going away party at Chelsea Piers.

So here’s Zak, this great dude I’ve only just met whose work already has been an intimately helpful part of my life, and he says that he and his business partners at Good For Me Lifestyle have a new product they are unveiling. He literally whips out a box of superfoods to let me taste. A whole fleet of superfoods infused in delicious raw honey.

“Hell yes I would like to try those,” I said.

While everyone else in Dara’s NYC party went on to the karaoke bar, Zak and I sat down for some one on one time talking superfood honeys.

They enable you to take all of the superfood stuff you know (and probably some you don’t know) and get it into your life easier. It’s ideal when you have time to plan a biodiverse menu for yourself and your family full of superfood plant products.

honeyvariety

But there are times when you’re busy, traveling, sick, whatever and you don’t have capacity for that. These supplements handle that, or just add to your already super spectacular menu.

Since they’re infused into honey you can just grab a tiny spoonful (maybe 1/2 teaspoon or so) and eat it. Or you add it to hot water to make a delicious beverage. They can be added to food really easily and the new butter infusions are fabulous to cook with.

Zak gave me a flight of honeys to try and they were a Goddesssend during our cross country road trip. I served them in microwaved sweet potatoes or gluten-free peanut butter sandwiches when I made us dinner in hotel rooms, we used them as supplements, and they were really great when our bodies were weary or sick from travel. Dara’s a cancer survivor and we take making sure we eat well pretty seriously.

Here are all of the flavors you can choose from:

Energize Me–a delicious chocolate flavor is actually all naturally occurring from the superfoods, Organic Cacao Beans, Organic Bee Pollen and Organic Maca Root. It’s great for a pick me up and focus. I’ve never used it in lieu of caffeine I really just think it’s delicious and throw it on oatmeal a lot.

honey

Heal Me–the answer to my complete inability to ever actually make the anti-inflammatory powerhouse golden milk. Instead of doing all of that cooking I just grab the superfood and enjoy the tumeric, black pepper (activates the absorption of tumeric), and cinnamon. I use anti-inflammatories to help with my chronic digestive disorder as well as keeping me from getting sick. The Good 4 Me Lifestyle literature espouses these further benefits: treating migraines, menstrual pain, upset stomach, detoxing and more. I think it is delicious and also great as a baste for chicken, tea, oatmeal and sweet potatoes.

Love Me is their blend of Cayenne, Ginger and Goji Berry. All are great at healing when you feel sick or under the weather. Also great for heart health, treating migraines, allergies and more. It’s spicy, I really like it!

Savor Me is better than pesto, in my opinion. Moringa, Himalayan Rock Salt and Basil Leaf
are anti-inflammatory, improve your immune system, restores cell pH and lots of other benefits. Zak suggested putting it on pasta and he was right!

Not on the website now is Fuel Me, their supplement that includes protein powder that Dara and I really ran through as a meal supplement when we didn’t have time to eat big meals while on the road. I hear you can special order it!

These things are delicious. They sell out regularly at farmer’s markets. This is the kind of thing where someone is giving you a tester and you’re like, “Oh yes this is amazing sign me up.”

buttervariety

All of their supplements are sold in month supplies, $45 (on sale for $40 right now) for four jars. The jars are infinitely reusable, too, I love them for storage. You can get one flavor or a variety pack.

While on our road trip we stopped at Jordan’s house to say a quick hello while leaving New Orleans. Jordan, like Zak, was also totally charismatic, genuine, high vibration sweet guy. He made us organic sprouted brown rice crispie treats using the Heal Me butter, which is a perfect road treat. We got to see the home where Semaj (the other third of the trio of awesome folks behind Good 4 Me Lifestyle) makes the superfood supplements.

jordansemajJordan and Semaj are also wildly talented musicians and their album the Zenn project (named after their adorable daughter Zenn, who is on the cover of the album) is fabulous!

I feel pretty strongly that everything carries energy and these are great people making great products. I seek to operate at the vibration they are! Seriously!

As someone who has started a small product-based business, I know how hard you have to work and how much you have to believe in what you do. Zak, Jordan and Semaj are working hard to get healing to people and these are fabulous products I am excited to support. (P.S. I always say when a post is sponsored, and this one is not. I’ve used and enjoyed this stuff immensely and want to support this great small business!)

If the superfood honeys or butters sound great to you, give them a chance you will not be disappointed!

Keep up with Good For Me Lifestyle on Instagram!

2015-04-20

We Need to Be Talking About Lyme Disease in the Queer Community

I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about Lyme Disease and how it affects the queer community. I grew up a woodsy outdoorswoman going to Girl Scout Camp in Northern California with signs that warn of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease. I saw the signs that told us to do tick checks, as a camp counselor I’ve coordinated big groups of young people in looking for ticks and being aware of them. I know to seek medical attention if you see a bullseye rash, especially if you get a fever or aches following exposure to a tick bite. (The CDC has a guide to symptoms of tickborne illness, if you’re lucky enough to know you got bitten.)

I’ve heard that only 20% of folks with Lyme Disease had a tick bite that was identifiable. It’s a disease that sneaks up on you, is vastly underreported and very difficult to test for. (It’s estimated that the cases of Lyme Disease are actually 10 times higher than what is reported.) Because of these factors it is really difficult to get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Insurance companies and the US Government are both very unwilling to concede to the actual appropriate treatments for Lyme Disease, doctors lose their license for treating it effectively, paying out of pocket for treatments is wildly expensive… This is a very scary, very real and very deadly thing that is happening to more and more people.

Over the years I’ve known a few queers with Lyme Disease. I’ve connected with some about treatment as they’ve used a similar anti-inflammatory food plan as I have, or who have battled candida overgrowth like I did because of the mammoth amount of anti-biotics used to treat Lyme.

small_selfportrait_sunX400Photo of Leslie Feinberg from Advocate.com. Have you read Stone Butch Blues yet? You should.

Ever since Leslie Feinberg died from Lyme Disease, I’ve known we need to talk more about Lyme Disease in the queer community. I didn’t know how to have that conversation, so I just started to bone up and educate myself.

I watched the documentary Under Our Skin, free streaming on You Tube, which according to folks I know with Lyme, it is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to seek treatment for Lyme Disease and it is shitty. It’s the kind of helpless I feel when I see really big world problems that need solutions. But I know what I do have control over and that’s learning more about it, asking questions and opening conversations.

Here’s the trailer for Under Our Skin:

Under Our Skin – Trailer from Open Eye Pictures on Vimeo.

Here’s a link to the whole documentary on you tube.

I also watched the Punk Singer, the Kathleen Hanna documentary by Sini Anderson. Kathleen opens up about her Lyme Disease and how it affects her life. It’s a really powerful double feature. The Punk Singer is available on Netflix and to buy on iTunes. (It’s great in addition to the Lyme content to hear about the Riot Grrrl movement, see great interviews with queer heroes like Lynnee Breedlove.)

images (2)

Here’s the trailer:

I may not know what to say about Lyme except, I’m here and I’m listening and reading about the disease and experiences of those with the disease. And I want more people to listen to folks with Lyme and hear them. And see them, and help them be part of the queer community even if they physically can’t be there.

4116744_1428627138.8138Photo from Jessica’s Lyme Treatment Fund.

My friend Jessica Scarlett and her wife Nik are fundraising $9,000 for her Lyme treatment. Maybe you have a few extra bucks for a stranger or maybe you know them from somewhere on the internet, like both of their really awesome art and etsy stores. NikScarlett.com
Jessica’s vintage collections and sales are the coolest.

I met Jess when I was a baaaaby gay in Sacramento, CA in the late nineties and Nik when I moved to Philly. They are a really cool couple and battling a really shitty disease.

I’ve also followed Fran Varian’s battle with late-stage Lyme Disease for years, as she is an incredible writer and femme so many folks I know have adored for a long time. The thank you letter up on her Help Heal Fran website is a poignant article about living as a queer with a chronic, expensive illness.

franindiPhoto of Fran Varian from HelpHealFran.org

The below passage from that piece really hit me. I think a lot of Femmes participate in queer community from a place of giving–but it is so hard to be Femme and in a place of needing help sometimes. We have this notion about ourselves as Femme that we have to be resilient warriors doing it on our own.

Before I knew that I was sick I was proud to be an activist. I worked for social justice in the health care industry and I donated my time to teach kids about poetry. I read and I performed at fund raiser after fund raiser. I wrote and spoke extensively with the earnest hope of making a difference in someone else’s life. Before I became sick I held a deeply-rooted belief that it is noble to give of one’s self and shameful to require gifting, though I never would have said that out loud.

Now I think differently. And because my body does not frequently cooperate and allow me to physically accomplish all of the things I want to I have a lot more time to think. Before late stage Lyme became my daily reality I allowed the pride I felt in being helpful and in giving to define me. I thought it said something about me. Unlearning that vanity has been almost as difficult as learning how to live each day with a daunting, progressive illness.

Avril Lavigne was on the cover of People Magazine last week coming out about her retreat from the spotlight while she underwent extensive Lyme Disease treatment. It’s awesome when celebrities bring awareness to it. Wealthy folks obviously have a different experience with treatment because they have access to funds for treatment insurance doesn’t cover. But still, the more awareness people have about it and the more we talk about it the more we can turn the tide of these awful insurance companies and maybe move closer to single payer healthcare/government run medical coverage for everyone.

Do you have an awesome Lyme resource to share? An article you read and resonated? A documentary, video, blog? Leave the link in the comments!

(I had some cool ones on my facebook fan page, but I’m still locked out of Facebook pending giving them a government id to their satisfaction).

2015-01-09

Five Ways I Shake Off Body Oppressive Rhetoric During the New Year’s Resolution Bandwagon

Having spent the last three weeks traveling, between a road trip for a meeting at Dollywood and a family trip to Seattle, I’ve been really off my game. I find it so challenging to travel and meet my self-care needs.

I manage a chronic digestive disorder (Irritable Bowel Syndrome is the Western diagnosis, but I know it’s more complicated than that) with food restrictions and I can feel when my digestion isn’t working. I can get away with not eating in alignment with my body for a little while but eventually it adds up and I’ll pay a price with intense flares and body pain. It’s hard to not want to eat all the amazing food you’re exposed to when traveling. Moderation works for me until it doesn’t.

I also manage my mental and emotional health with exercise. I am still not sure what alchemy I need to carve out time for more than walking the dog when I travel, but more often than not if I pack my gym clothes and shoes I won’t use them. I’ll end up cranky and spiraling by the end of a trip from not getting my angst out on the elliptical. I know that setting better boundaries and time management when I travel is a growth area for me.

15889385960_a7632fe2fa_zWe already had the Seattle trip booked when we got a meeting with the Dollywood Foundation to partner with them for silent auction prizes for Dollypalooza in September… We decided to just go for it and took a road trip, and fulfilled my bucket list dream to see Dollywood at Christmastime. It did not disappoint.

As I was preparing to leave Seattle I found myself really excited to go to the gym and drink green juice, smoothies and detox from sugar. And as I heard the same kind of “drink all the green juice!!!” and “get a new gym membership!!!” trumpets from the anti-fat mainstream media and billion dollar weight loss industry in conjunction with the new year’s resolution influx of people working to lose weight for the umpteenth time, I felt gross about it. Like, here I was wanting to participate in something that is also being used as weapons against bodies like mine.

I thought a lot about what was going on in my head about this stuff and how it was that I have herstorically dealt with the new year’s uptick in relentless weight loss commercials, before and after I began eating in alignment with my body and going to the gym. I came up with some ways that I’ve used to make sense of the complex and seemingly contradictory relationship I have with loving my fat body, hating the sizeist media and making choices that help my body feel its best. I share them below.

1. Run your own race

I like to remember that everyone has their own life and their own life challenges. It’s really difficult to live in a society that literally has a war on body types like yours. In my case, the war on obesity hits home, but other bodies are under attack–people of color, disabled folks, transfolks, aging people. It’s also true that oppression of any body affects all, so the fear of becoming fat, or old, or disabled affects the narrative and creates a society where no body is safe.

So that said, people who need to focus on diet and exercise to lose weight, I just let them do their own stuff. That’s their life path, not mine. I am very self aware and know that my choice to go to the gym doesn’t mean I think my fat body is bad. I also don’t expect some kind of wild body transformation. I do expect that as I keep going back I’m going to feel calmer and more at peace with my surroundings and the onset of Winter and the Winter Blah Blah Blahs (aka Seasonal Depression). (P.S. I’m writing this blog post while sitting under my NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy LampUV Happy Light.)

16085137075_a651db95c4_zSpeaking of lights, that’s a hologram of Dolly Parton playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Dollywood production of A Christmas Carol.

2. You are worthy of love exactly as you are.

All of the “NEW YEAR NEW YOU” rhetoric (actual graphic I saw on the itunes store app center thingy this morning) is basically shorthand for you’re not good enough. Remember there are multiple billion dollar industries that require you to feel insecure in order to sell you products. It is not in their best interest that you feel good about yourself.

But here’s the thing. Today, right now, you sitting right there. You are actually good enough because you are human and you are worthy. That’s something you can choose to believe.

There’s a myth that losing weight and modifying yourself is going to make you feel worthy, but self-acceptance is actually the surest way to make yourself feel that way. I know a lot of people who have lost weight in a myriad of ways, and the thing that seems the most common among them is that people who started out hating their bodies had a lot of self hate left once the weight was gone. Wild insecurities pop up when you lose weight and haven’t lost the hate for your body.

It’s not like we don’t all have ways we want to grow and change, change is the only constant in life. I’m a lifelong learner and self-developer. But I know even as I have “areas for growth” (I’m always working on improving my language to be more gentle with myself) I’m worthy right now. It’s just choosing to shift your perspective to believe that you’re worthy and accept yourself as you are. Maybe that’s a change you can work on for the NEW YEAR NEW YOU.

15897718658_474ccf4ff1_zThis kettle corn that I watched get made in front of me was very inflammatory and very delicious. Moderation in all things, including moderation, said Maya Angelou.

2. Be critical of the media you consume

When I was first getting involved in size acceptance I went on a complete media diet. I focused only on size positive or size neutral things. I obsessively collected pictures of cute fat people and put them around my house so I could see them. I trained myself to see fat as positive.

Now I’m able to employ lots of techniques for consuming mass media (that’s probably a whole other blog post). I work to be very critical of what I consume.

I was in the airport and saw the new Self magazine with a big headline of “Love Your Body.” I didn’t have the chance to read it because I was too busy being paranoid because I was accidentally high, but I went onto the website to find out if they were really joining the bandwagon of loving your body as it is. And I saw that the Love Your Body headline right where every other month has weight loss tips, and I looked through their website and saw all of their weight loss articles, so I realized they were just co-opting language to sell weight loss! Real classy Self magazine!

This time of year especially, I work my hardest to remind myself that mass media is not the boss of me and try not to get defensive or mad every time I see something that advertises quick weight loss or uses headless fatties to scare folks about fat. Getting defensive or mad is totally a valid response, though, and my rage does flow through, but rolling my eyes is better for my stress level. I remind myself that lots of fat people are really healthy. Health at Every Size is all about people at all sizes having access to activities that are good for your health. And that is an inconvenient truth for magazines that rely on fear of weight gain in order to sell copies.

I know that choosing to go to the gym is all about me loving my body and not about me losing weight in order to love my body, a complexity that seems contradictory but is actually not at all to me. I worked really hard to make peace with that.

I also know that people who are fat and don’t choose to go to the gym or restrict their eating are totally worthy of love, too! There is no “good” or “bad” way to have a body, it’s just a body!

16076930595_5d2229e69f_zMe and my fat friend Santa just hanging out on a porch in front of the Christmas buffet. I actually found the buffet meals to be full of food options for lots of dietary restrictions. In addition to a mac and cheese station.

4. Replace should with could

This is a wonderful strategy for treating yourself with kindness. I used to be the kind of person whose resting thoughts were always on the ways in which I needed to improve myself. “I should learn Spanish. I should eat better. I should be working on my book. I should get back into working on neurolinguistic programming.” That’s an actual transcript of my inner self abuser that I just tapped into. I can go DEEP into self-shaming with shoulds.

Because I’m still a work in progress and I believe language is so powerful, I have been working for about a year on replacing my shoulds with coulds. “I could learn Spanish. I could be working on my book…” It’s so much gentler. This constant New Year’s chatter of all the ways you should change keeps reminding me of the ways I want to change. But instead of hearing “You should go to the gym” I am hearing, “I could go to the gym.” I am hearing, “I could organize my room.”

5. Every BODY is different

Dr. Phil is full of complexities and I don’t love all of his messages, but he said one thing that really hit home for me when I was early in my fat activist days. I was in a place of “I’ll eat a cupcake whenever I want” as a way to express fat rage. (That’s still a totally valid place to be, of course, but I like to be strategic about my fuck yous and eating a cupcake more than once in awhile will cause me a lot of pain so I don’t.)

Dr. Phil said something on his show specifically about sweet tea that I haven’t ever forgotten. It’s that, basically, all bodies are different and he drinks a glass of sweet tea and gains weight and lots of folks drink a glass of sweet tea and stay thin.

His point was that he had no control over the type of body he has and he had to accept it. And that’s just kind of how things are. Like, it feels really shitty that I got this amazing huge gift basket from a professional colleague for the holidays and pretty much everything in it, wine, crackers, pretzels, caramel corn, hot cocoa, is all food that will make me sick. That fucking sucks. But I’m at a place where I am choosing to accept and love myself for who I am and that means cherishing the complex body I was given.

And I would love to eat a fuck you mass media cupcake, and I probably will eventually. But in the meantime I’m going to accept my body and do the work it needs to do to feel good, so that I can do the work I want to be doing in the world to change it. To create media that helps people feel good in the bodies they have and become the people they want to become by cheering them on instead of shaming them.

15890219499_633f4fb47f_zHow about a fuck you 25 pound apple pie from Dollywood?

Do you have additional ways you choose to shake off the body oppressive media this time of year and/or manage to strike a balance with your own personal wellness goals?

2014-05-22

All Bodies Deserve Health Care: Great Video Resource!

My friend Kelli Dunham, a stand-up comic and nurse, posted a video she made about planning for unplanned health care and I think it is one of the most brilliant things I’ve seen about how complicated it is to have a non-normative body while trying to navigate the health care system. I absolutely had to share it with my readership.

If you can’t watch a video right now–repeat this mantra, “I deserve health care.” Then keep repeating it until you have six minutes to watch the video and receive some really great, practical, funny advice.

I think a lot about how much worse Dara’s cancer treatment would be if she had waited. Believe me, it sucks a lot, but it could be worse… Luckily right now her care is considered “curative.”

240134641_117c66a8d5_o (1)Here’s Kelli Dunham with her late partner, Heather MacAllister, who worked to inspire all folks to take care of their minds and bodies. Her parting words are in this blog post I wrote five years ago about my own medical self advocacy.

I’m really thankful Dara’s lump was found when it was. But if she had waited to get her annual GYN exam she might not have caught the lump in time for it to be stage 2. I mean, Dara is not boob identified so even though once I knew it was there I could feel the lump it wasn’t super likely it would just get found on its own, and without her doctor’s insistence she might not have had it biopsied for quite some time.

It really touched me in Kelli’s video when she talked about how even folks who haven’t gotten “that lump” checked out deserve health care. Because they do! It’s so hard to advocate for yourself and it takes time to realize that you probably need to deal with the hassle and cost of health care.

The more hassle you get being a fat, disabled, gender non-conforming, otherwise marginalized person in the health care system the more likely you are to need your health care situation to actually feel or seem extremely urgent to get health care. Which, sadly, means that health care issues that are easier/cheaper to address if they’re caught early, are much harder to deal with and sometimes no longer curable.

One of the biggest motivating forces behind my work as a body liberation activist is getting people to love their bodies enough to take care of them and to dismantle the system that pathologizes fat people just for their fat. My beloved step mother died at age 48 after being prescribed fen-phen–she was being treated for her fat not her actual symptoms. What a fucking hassle to have a body that is immediately targeted and treated incorrectly because people buy the myth that fat is automatically unhealthy. This happens far too often.

11873829985_1d0d81bcc4_zMy step mom Liz, in Yosemite, sometime in the early 90s.

I also know way too many fat, gender non-conforming queers who have passed before their time because of a lack of healthcare that can squarely be blamed on systemic fatphobia.

So watch this video. Pocket this info. Regardless of what your own situation is, maybe you’ll learn something that will be helpful to pass along to a friend when the time comes. And repeat the mantra, “I deserve healthcare.”

10290632_10152377167780340_6190868267996805814_nKelli designed this awesome low-fi photo of Glenn Marla with his iconic phrase!

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.

2014-01-14

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!

2011-03-15

Magical Smoothies

{Also, stuff I’ve been up to lately}

I have given up on caffeine and refined sugar again (after a happy Fall/early winter free of both and physically feeling great) and other than being ever so tired I’m doing okay. I’m sleeping a lot right now. Curse the late winter blah blah blahs and the traitor daylight savings sun that makes it seem like it should be a lot warmer than it really is!

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My BFF Rachael came to visit from the sunny Southland of Hotlanta. We ate pizza and I met her fabulous and charming beau at long last.

Smoothies are really helping this time, the natural sugar pep is waking me up and ever so tasty. To this end I’ve started concocting smoothies from basic ingredients around. I just made this one up and was super happy about it.

1 banana
handful of frozen peach slices
handful of frozen mango cubes
handful of spinach borrowed from roommate
Enough Trader Joe’s reduced calorie pink lemonade to cover 2/3 of the stuff in the blender
Just a touch of cream
1 packet of lemon-lime emergen-c

It is tart, sweet and smooth. Emergen-C is also helping me to get some energy and not feel so run down and caffeine desperate.

When I went to California, I squealed at the plethora of Jamba Juices. I grew up in the Bay Area, smoothies were always a thing but they started really catching on when I was an undergrad at UC Davis. I was seriously bummed when I moved to Philly and they weren’t as easy to find.

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I attended Mackenzi’s “Come As You Were” 90s party and two of the other party goers were dressed like women I’ve slept with.

A decade later Jamba has joined me out here but they’re all in Manhattan and I rarely leave Brooklyn. Nearly daily on my mid-Winter trip to California I availed myself of the joy of the convenient locations and quick pick-me-ups that made my epic social plans possible.

I decided I was going to start using my awesome blender (leftover from previous tenants, specifically designed for margaritas) to make smoothies and cast about for recommendations for “boosts” like those freebies you get from the Jamba. I’ve had a few suggestions. I’m considering Greens+, a generic whey protein powder, or spirulina. But before I drop a bunch of cash on supplements I want to research more and talk to my doctor.

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I produced an all queer 20 minute retelling of the Outsiders. I also narrated it with Heather who was the director.

The one drawback of being all smoothiecore in the dead of Winter is that it lowers my body temperature. I drank one at work one day and wondered why my teeth were suddenly chattering and it took awhile and a hot tea chaser to feel normal again. I run pretty cold.

That said I am excited to learn all of these new smoothie recipes out there. Soaking cashews overnight is my next adventure.

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I also worked on my taxes for my accountant. Do you have self-employment income? Do you have assets of any kind? Get an accountant.* I’ve been with mine for longer than any other relationship I’ve had, more than hair dressers, pets, or girlfriends. He’s awesome and totally worth the trip back to Philly. Instead of a photo of me stressing out over spreadsheets and drinking tons of hot chocolate last week, here’s another hipster photo of the queer Outsiders. Promise better photos as soon as Nogga posts them!

*I suggest getting one via recommendation from a friend.

2010-04-22

Allergies!

I have said before that vulnerability is a sign of strength. Through my sneezy haze this morning after a fitfull night unable to breathe, I asked the twitterverse for everyone’s favorite allergy tips.* Tonight’s trip to the coffee shop for the third cup of the day (so tired and woozy from congestion and meds) confirmed that I am not the only sneezy, sniffly mess in Brooklyn.

I am still fairly new to seasonal allergies. They started a three years ago for me and for awhile I thought I was just allergic to my office in North Jersey because I would drive out there and develop a bad sinus headache. It occurred to me it had more to do with the time of year and the density of flowering trees than a dislike for office parks and fluorescent lighting.

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Suggestions from the twitterverse:

1. Zyrtec-D: Jessie Dress suggested that it takes about three days for it to really work. I am trying this now, the 12 hour kind, first thing in the morning. Sarah Biz thinks that Zyrtec with no D at night is perfect for her. She finds the D drying. I know I need some preventative sudafed to keep me from getting a sinus headache.

2. Alavert D 12 and Claritin work for other twitter followers. I couldn’t find the former at CVS today.

3. Taking lots of Vitamin C is the suggestion from Golda at Body Love Wellness. She says inundating herself with C is better than anti-histamines. I am still on my grapefruit a day kick and now adding emergen-c early in the day to supplement my nighttime multi-vitamin.

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Cherry trees along the esplanade at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

4. Tylenol Sinus. My mom taught me this for sinus headaches when I started getting them. My mom is extremely scent sensitive and has had terrible allergies for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t even start wearing perfume until I moved out of the house, and forget about incense. Tylenol Sinus is pretty much the only medicine that works for my sinus headaches.

5. Jacq from Sugar recommends acupuncture. I know a lot of folks who swear by it though I have never tried it. I am likely to start soon if these allergies stay crazy. I’ll go see Geleni at The People’s Acupuncture of Brooklyn. Everyone I know is going to her and she is reportedly quite good.

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6. My friend Sophie swears by Counter Attack. You can get it in the Whole Body section at Whole Foods or from Amazon. It has worked for me to stave off colds, so I am hoping it can work for allergies. I’m using it as part of the Vitamin C assault.

7. My mom also told me about this sinus rinse thing she and her wife are huge fans of for preventing allergies. I did it tonight for the first time and it feels hella weird but my sinuses felt so much better afterward. Right now I am so hell-bent on feeling better I’ll try anything.

8. Local honey. My yoga teacher, Jyll, tipped me off to this for preventing winter colds, but apparently it also works for allergies. You can get it at the farmer’s market.

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Sam, my big sis from my sorority, enjoys Lebanese desserts in Astoria, Queens. There is a lot of honey in those desserts, though usually I just have a tablespoon of local honey on my oatmeal.

I am trying to be the kind of person who takes action instead of complaining, so I feel my multi-pronged somewhat scattershot attack on allergies at least makes me feel like I am doing something instead of just suffering.

My humidifier is set up and ready to go to help me sleep a little better tonight. If you’re out there suffering from allergies, consider me your sister in the struggle. Let me know what helps!

*Last year I did a terrible job of keeping track of what medicine worked, so I have all of these half empty boxes I am dabbling from. This past week has proven that Claritin with no sudafed does not work for me. Now I am going to just put that box in the giveaway pile.

2010-01-25

I Try To Love Myself As Much As She Loved Me

I met Liz when I was 11 years old, when she decided to marry my absentee father.

Dad and Liz got engaged 9 days after they met as adults. They both grew up in the same mid-size city in California’s Central Valley and were high school classmates. An accident at the factory Dad worked at brought him to the emergency room where Liz was an intake clerk.

Once they were engaged, Dad called me to tell me about it. I remember speaking to Liz on the phone, she was so excited to finally “have a daughter”. She said it over and over again, that she’d always wanted a daughter.

Liz had two sons, 19 year old Richard Luke was living in Germany with the army. (I could never wrap my head around why that kid had two first names.) The youngest, Shawn, was almost 14 still lived at home. My Dad moved in with them right away.

At this point in my life my dad was intermittently in the picture. My parents separated by the time I was 15 months old and my mom worked really hard to make sure he had a presence in my upbringing, even though we lived two hours away in the Bay Area. My mom ran out of steam covering for my dad’s lazy parenting by the time I was 6 or so, and I hadn’t really seen him more than a couple times a year. The logistics of getting a kid for a weekend when you live two hours away is a little complicated for someone who doesn’t make a lot of money and barely pays his child support as it is.

By the time I was 11 I was horribly shy. I was always a fat kid and being a fat kid turns from cute to, well, graceless around the Tween years. Of course they didn’t have that cutesy word “Tween” in the 80s, back then it was just fat and awkward.

I was well-aware of my fat by then, everyone in my life teachers, peers, relatives and my beloved television wanted to remind me of the fact that I was fat. I was a total bookworm. In books I didn’t have to see the differences so starkly between me and the main characters. I could easily blend into the Baby Sitters Club. I always identified with cosmopolitan native New Yorker Stacy. She had fluffy blond hair and good fashion sense.

In real life I had fluffy golden brown hair with streaks I got in the summertime at camp. I longed to be normal and thin.

Liz was fat, too. Not just sort of in between fat, either, like my mom and other female relatives were at the time (though now, of course, most of them are around my size). She was short and round, with a round face, black curly hair and a mouth that was always smiling. She was half Italian half Mexican and very girly.

The first time we met, Liz was ready to be a huge part of my life. I was mistrustful and didn’t understand why she loved me so much already. I was used to adults liking me, since as an only child I learned to socialize well with grown-ups and I was very bright. But the way she just immediately loved me, in that I-loved-you-before-I-knew-you way that parents talk about felt so weird. As I continued into adolescence and hated myself more and more, the more suspicious I was of her unconditional love.

My mom wasn’t what I would call emotionally nurturing. She was a stressed out single mom putting herself through undergrad. There was always a contingency and a reward to meet. Usually it was “get good grades and you’ll get this” and “lose weight and you’ll get that”. I was exceptionally good at the former. The fact that Liz was so proud of me regardless of my latest accomplishment felt bizarre. My weight was never an issue.

She had lived in the same town almost all of her 40 years. Everywhere we went when I visited she either already knew someone or got to know someone new. She would always introduce me as her daughter. I would blush when she said this because I thought it wasn’t true and it never made sense to me. I also felt a little weird because she was so open and friendly with strangers. She had a huge heart and was extremely welcoming to strangers. She was proud of being friends with all sort of people, including a big biker crowd from her younger days. I was jealous of her self-confidence.

I didn’t get to go to Dad and Liz’s wedding because of some last minute drama having to do with some friend of the family who was supposed to be my chaperone on greyhound that didn’t work out. I went for Thanksgiving a few weeks later and watched the wedding video so many times over the next few years each frame feels like my own memory.

Her family was huge. Five girls, all fat, most of them had five kids of their own. Everyone would gather at Liz’s mom’s house the day after Thanksgiving to make tamales. It was a huge ordeal, making hundreds of them, with many different stations going at once and different groups responsible for different parts of the assembly.

The house was cozy and humid, smelled sweet with a tang of chili and meat and filled with talking and laughing. I was placed in the masa station, spreading a white dough made from cornmeal dough, lard and salt on the insides of damp corn husks. Liz and one of her sisters or her mom would put meat and an olive inside each one. One of the kids would fold them into little pockets. They would then go into a steamer for awhile and then placed into freezer bags by the dozen.

I remember my step brother Shawn complaining that the other kids in the family had to be teenagers before they got to spread the masa, but somehow I was the exception. Liz ignored his complaint, and I kept assembling tamales.

They treated me like one of their own, and I came back year after year with Liz to spread the masa.

My visits to my Dad increased exponentially once Liz was there to motivate them.

Liz loved to go garage saling, where she taught me to haggle and bought me lots of stuffed animals I didn’t need but I certainly wanted. We would pile into her car with her friend Terry, who was a little fatter than Liz. I remember one time Terry pulled out a seat belt extender so that she could use the seatbelt in the car, they were both very excited that their older cars with seat belts made for very small people were just a little bit safer for them.

We spent a lot of time crafting. She would set me up with a cross stitch or a beading project and we would sit at TV trays side by side watching TV and laughing. When I let my guard down around Liz I felt very comfortable. She talked about what it would be like when I had babies and how she couldn’t wait for me to have a daughter. I was just being adolescent and contrary when I claimed I would refuse to let her put my babies in ruffle butt tights.

She loved clothes. I remember when she got approved for a Lane Bryant credit card she was ecstatic and immediately maxed it out on new things from the catalog.

She loved the color pink. She collected elephant everything. Whenever I was at a loss for what to get her for Christmas I would get her a blinged out elephant knick knack and she would love it.

Richard Luke got married in Germany. Liz was devastated that she couldn’t go to the wedding, but a transcontinental trip was entirely out of the question financially. I promised she would have a lot of fun at my wedding and was already working out in my head how I would handle the mom/step-mom dynamics.

Liz told me about her ex husband a few times. Richard Luke was born out of wedlock and later she married Shawn’s dad. He was abusive. Her struggle to leave him was epic and she had to work her way off welfare.

Liz and Dad loved each other a lot, that was clear. My dad hit my mom, which was why she left. I am unsure whether or not Dad was ever violent with Liz, though I remember a screaming fight I witnessed when I was 16 or so that drove Shawn out of the house with me in hot pursuit. From what I could tell they mostly fought about money and Dad’s drinking. They also expressed their love pretty regularly, too. She saved one dried flower from every bouquet Dad ever gave her in a jar under the TV.

While Liz was outgoing and confident, and dressed as well as she could manage with not a lot of money or access to cute plus size clothes, she did talk about losing weight. Not as regularly as my mom, but of course I didn’t live with her so I’ll never know for sure. She had a lot of chronic health problems that her doctors always blamed on weight. She was regularly dealing with asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, among other things. She also complained of aches and pains and trouble walking.

Being fat was hard for her, too. She didn’t always fit in seats. Had she ever made that transcontinental flight she would have been in a lot of pain from the armrests.

I remember one time we were in our pajamas and I saw her belly peak out from under her loungerie. It had a dimple in it, below the belly button. I thought it was so odd and was slightly horrified. I developed the same dimple myself by the time I was 20. I hadn’t been exposed to naked fat women before, I didn’t know what that kind of flesh was supposed to look like.

She dealt with being fat very differently from my mother. Mom switched us to nonfat milk really early in my childhood, I don’t remember ever having butter instead of margarine. We stocked our pantry with diet food. Things could have tasted so much better if we focused on moderation, vegetables and using real ingredients.

Liz would cook full force with fat. One time when I saw the giant bucket of lard from the tamales I was shocked. But she never really stopped, and her cooking was incredible. I think she would occasionally diet.

Around 1996 the drug Fen-Phen started making its rounds. It was a weight-loss drug made from fenfluramine and phentermine. It was heavily marketed and people were seeing pretty immediate results. I was about to graduate from high school and my mom suggested I start taking it. I blew her off, as I often did, especially about weight loss stuff.

A year or so later Liz told me over the phone that she had been taking Fen-Phen to help with her medical issues and was losing weight pretty quickly. She was excited about that.

In early 1997 valvular heart disease and pulmonary hypertension started showing up, mostly in women who took the drug. It was taken off the market in September of that year. While I was in college I saw Liz and Dad less because I was busy with school and my social life. She stopped taking Fen-Phen and I never did notice any difference in her weight.

In mid-1998, toward the end of my Sophomore year of college, I went to visit Dad and Liz for Dad’s graduation from Community College and his 50th birthday. It was really important to Liz that I be there. We did all of our regular stuff, crafting, hanging out. She told me that weekend she was trying to get in touch with the child my Dad fathered in high school but was put up for adoption, and that Dad was putting up resistance.

Just three months later I was coordinating move-in at my dorm. That morning I had been getting ready and looked outside my window at the sky and felt really peaceful and happy, which was unusual for me at the time—I was starting to come out of a several year long depression and was taking steps to stop hating myself. I got a message from my mom to call home right away. When I talked to my mom that night she told me that Liz had died.

Liz woke up, kissed Dad and went out to the living room. About and hour later he got up to join her. She was on the couch, dead from a heart attack. She was 48 years old. That week she had been complaining that her asthma was acting up. Her heart was weakened. Probably from the Fen-Phen.

I was devastated and in shock. Mom offered to come with me to the funeral but I said no. I didn’t want to add to the confusion and weirdness with the ex-wife dynamic. The weekend was bizarre and hard. I had never been to a funeral before. My dad was drinking again. He had me sleep on Liz’s side of the bed, and I didn’t know how to say no, that that was weird and bad boundaries and I didn’t want to sleep on my dead step-mom’s side of the bed.

We’re all Catholic, at least mostly. The Rosary was the night before the funeral and it was open casket. I walked up the aisle and burst into hysterics that I didn’t want to see her like that. My Dad’s mom, who had been really cruel to me as a child, was the nicest and most nurturing I’d ever known her to be that night. She brought me into the pew and told me I didn’t have to see her like that if I didn’t want to.

The mass was big and weird and there were hundreds of people there. I felt this obligation to stay with my dad, even though I probably should have just gone with my grandparents. His house became this huge party with all of this drinking and pot smoking and at 19 years old I was still pretty square and still wasn’t drinking a lot in college. I felt uncomfortable, unsafe, and scared. I didn’t know how to articulate what I needed because I didn’t know how to advocate for myself.

I went back to school. I tried not to deal with it. I did pretty well.

I am angry that I only knew Liz when I was an adolescent and didn’t appreciate her the way I wish I had. I am angry that her physical heart was affected because her doctors treated her weight and not her symptoms. I am angry that Liz never got to go to any of her children’s weddings. I am angry that Dad never joined the class action suits against the makers of Fen-Phen. They paid out over $14 billion in settlements. But at the same time I certainly didn’t want to have to think about it or interact with him that much to do the work of making it happen.

Over the years little things occur to me. The way Liz always wanted to make people feel special and at ease, the way she was welcoming. I get that from her. I loved that about her. Her huge metaphorical heart cannot be weakened by a pharmaceutical company’s greed and exploitation.

I think about the plus size resale store I work in now and how much she would have loved it. I work hard at body liberation activism because I want to make it easier for people to live in this world and I don’t want Fen-Phen to ever happen again. I think about Liz every time I see an elephant tchotchke. I can’t wait to have a daughter.

*I feel compelled to share this story now, as an initial draft, as a way of honoring Liz and bringing her into my adult life. Especially in light of the perpetual crop of weight-loss drugs on the market, the fact that I keep hearing ads for them on the radio and in side-bars on websites, and the fact that on Friday the LA Times and New York Times reported that the FDA in America chose to recommend “stronger warnings” on the sides of Meridia bottles while the European Union recommended a ban of the product. I guess posting this story is my way of turning my rage over that news into productivity.

2009-12-01

World AIDS Day & More on Medical Self-Advocacy

You know how weird it is to think that I have never known a world without AIDS? I remember growing up and it was new and scary, and with family friends in the LGBT community* I always knew about it in some way or another. It is weird to think about it now as having been around for almost three decades, which is actually a really long time.

When I was about five my single mom and I lived with two gay guy roommates. One of them was the only person I would let brush my hair because I had such a tender scalp. I was completely unaware of it at the time, but they both tested positive. I remember one of them moved away to live with his mom in Texas. I didn’t know at the time it was to be in hospice.

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Me, age 6, in front of that house not long after Rob moved away. I need to get my mom to scan me some photos from that era.

Not everyone is touched by HIV or AIDS directly, but I think everyone can do their part to create awareness, know their HIV status and practice safe sex.

You know sometimes STD screenings don’t automatically include every STD? It’s frustrating because I go to a sort of run of the mill not homo GYN and I am sure I am one of the only unmarried and queer patients. I always have to give them a laundry list of what I want to be tested for.

Sometimes it is weird to put words to asking for an HIV test, but it’s really important! I know WAY too many people (myself included) who have been cheated on in the most heinous and unsafe of ways. It’s really important to trust no one but yourself when it comes to getting tested.

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Here’s a picture of me in an actual moment where I was unaware of the cheatin’ going on! Accompanied by Zoe, who had that fateful come to Jesus moment with me in a car on the way to the Paramus mall about confronting things.

I don’t ever want to think when I’m monogamous or whatever that there’s even a possibility my partner could have given me an STD but it’s real. Get tested, for everything, once a year. Think of how nice it will be to KNOW that your partner didn’t give you an STD that calendar year!**

Also I know way too many people who have died from ovarian cancer and other lady parts cancers. Get screened for cancer (as much as they can), too. The earlier HIV, cancers and other diseases are found, the easier they are to get treated.

This is also especially important for people who are not of normative bodies and genders. It’s really vulnerable to go to a doctor when you’re fat and are going to get the fat talk or when you are transgender and are going to get the [insert laundry list of fears, here]. Bring a friend who can be your advocate and hold your hand. It’s really important to get your bits checked no matter what kind of bits you have and how they line up with the outside.

Take it from someone whose routine trip to the GYN turned into a kerfuffle of mis[fat]diagnosiswhen a doctor is supposed to be treating you for something and launches into the fat talk you can politely tell them “I am not here to discuss my weight with you. I am here to discuss my bits, my HIV status and whether I am at risk for cancers.” I like to have a mantra to prepare ahead of time.

And, luckily, since that terrible trip to the GYN, I haven’t had a fat hating doctor. I am about to get health insurance again and the first thing I plan to do is get my bits checked, my blood drawn and my HIV status confirmed.

If you’re uninsured and lucky enough to be in a town with an LGBT clinic, you can sometimes get low or no cost HIV tests and other exams. Use the resources available to you to keep you safe and up to date about your status. Those resources weren’t there when our loved ones started getting sick, but they are there now.

Do something to revere their memories.

*My mom, who is now Lesbian identified and gay married, was in and out of the closet a couple of times while I was growing up.
**I can imagine the girl talk emails that ensue. “OMG y’all, I didn’t get an STD from my monogamous partner! Woo hoo!” Considering the amount of girl talk emails I have gotten that had a different result.

2009-04-15

Help Heal Fran for Leah’s Birthday!

My life looks like this: I plan an organize an event that takes literally hundreds of hours to put together, during lulls in the event I am surfing CraigsList on my phone’s tiny internet for apartments in Brooklyn. Because all of my stressors in my life are hitting a great glitter douche* of crazy all at once. I’ve seen 18 apartments in the last week and a half and haven’t found a good one yet. Mostly they are all recent renovations with no space and high rents that want me to be excited about stainless steel appliances. Seriously, all I want is some good counter space in the bathroom, closet space and a few windows. My future roommate agrees.

FemmeCast’s Femme Shark Correspondent Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha came out for a clandestine visit/gig for API month at Swarthmore last weekend and it was a welcome distraction from everything to hang out and do life planning and road tripping with her. She went looking for apartments with me and I caught a bit on tape. (I want to start a video blog but need to figure out how to get the video editing software I need for PC. Eventually.) So here’s a bit of that adventure, for your pleasure.

Also, since Leah’s birthday is next week, she is doing a fund drive for her friend Fran Varian, whose writing is amazing. I can give $20 as soon as my next unemployment check hits, but what I can’t offer in cash I can offer in spreading the word. So if you have $10 to give, please do. I’d love to see Leah meet a fund raising goal for her fierce friend for her birthday.

Hey all

Hope this email finds you well. I’m turning 34 next Tuesday, yay! And
while I am open to give am open to gifts of makeup or books or another
skirt
besides the two miniskirts I wear all the time (I am a size 12-14 in
the ass), what I’m writing to ask is if folks could make a donation
for my birthday
to my friend Frances Varian, who is struggling with late term Lyme
Disease and is literally fighting for her life as an uninsured
working-class queer femme writer and badass.

Some of you know Fran: for those who don’t, she is an awesome abortion
provider, queer femme working-class writer and (can I say it again)
badass. You may have seen her on stage at any number of gay-ass events
in the Bay over the last few years, and she’s a former Seattle
national slam team champion. You can see some of her work here:
http://www.franvarian.com/, and here:
http://www.hipmama.com/node/30311.

Fran has been really sick for the past four years. What started out as
fatigue, muscle weakness and getting sick at the drop of a hat only
recently got
diagnosed with late-stage Lyme Disease- and when I say only recently
diagnosed, I mean that Fran fought for two years in SF to get anyone
to look at her increasingly frightening symptoms. Fran originally
believed she had fibro, and we were some of each other’s first
disability buddies. However, my health got better and hers got worse,
to the point where she now is dealing with heart problems, constant
nausea, spasms and seizures and worse stuff. She was diagnosed,
finally, a year ago with Lyme, an autoimmune disorder that is
having critical effects on her health, and which is difficult to
treat, both because of the lateness when it is finally diagnosed and
because of a medical industry that dismisses many patients who have
it . Late stage Lyme works a lot like late stage syphyllis in terms of
symptoms- some folks go into dementia as the spirochites that cause
Lyme go into the brain. Others die of heart failure in their 30s as
they penetrate the heart.

Fran is literally fighting for her life, as an uninsured woman with a
disease that is misdiagnosed and dismissed throughout the medical
world. Her fight has made her move to Durham, NC to live with her
partner, because it’s cheaper than the Bay and she’s found doctors who
will help her- a choice that carries the cost of isolating her from
the community that loves her. She’s had a PICC line installed in her
arm since last fall, and is in the middle of an intense course of
intravenous anti-viral and bacterial treatment that her docs say is
her one shot of beating this. And, she’s paying for the whole damn
thing out of pocket.

What I really want for next year’s birthday is Fran healthy, able to
move back to the Bay ) and reading poetry next to me. What I really
want is for my friend to not be another story of a working-class queer
femme fireball who died a preventable death of an immune disease in
her 30s- like Heather McAllister, the amazing, beloved queer fat femme
icon, who died of ovarian cancer as an uninsured woman in her 30s two
years ago. As a chronically ill woman who knows that I have lived and
gotten better because of the support and love of my community, I am
reaching out to my community to help my friend.

Anything you can spare will go to help Fran and her partner Dante to
pay for her treatment. You can donate here:
http://www.helphealfran.org/
My goal is to raise $2,000 for Fran in the next two weeks, which will
enable her to pay for her next round of treatment.

Please donate on her website, but if you don’t mind dropping me a note (brownstargirl at gmail dot com)
letting me know how much you were able to give so I can track how much
is going to Fran, it would rock.

In love, lipgloss and revolution,
Leah

*Glitter douche is a word I just learned from Cherry Poppins. Used by Kings N Things in Austin, TX, it describes the act of anything that “is that crucial moment in a performance (often drag pieces) when you grab glitter and toss it out over the audience. The glitter could also, say, come from an object, such as an umbrella opening dramatically and showering glitter out over the stage. We also occasionally make use of ‘confetti douches’ or ‘rose petal douches.’ Regardless of the material used, a gender performance show wouldn’t be complete without douching of some sort.”

Here I am trying to picture all of the moving parts of my life as little pieces of glitter flying all over the place. Instead of a shit storm, which is sort of what it feels like.

2009-01-05

Medical Self-Advocacy for Queer Fat Femmes

There is so much to say about Queer Fat Femmes and medical self-advocacy. In honor of Lesbian Health Bloggy Such A Day or whatever (thanks to Sinclair for bringing it to my attention and for the gorgeous masthead up above my entries), I am going to relate a little story and some free advice.

In early 2007, right after the passing of one of my heroes, Heather MacAllister, from ovarian cancer, I had my Heather MacAllister Memorial Gyno Appointment. This is the missive sent out from her loved ones by her side at her death:

Heather’s last wish for you, what she wants for us all, is to love each other, and to love ourselves. To take care of our minds and bodies, without fail and against all odds. And to know, beyond doubt, that we are all beautiful, amazing beings. Never forget. This is what she lived for. Take care of yourselves, you beautiful beings.

I felt it was imperative to look after my health and to take steps to prevent the stuff I was able to prevent. Despite being covered by insurance for the duration of my twenties, I hadn’t seen a gyno since grad school, mostly because I was really lazy about finding one who I felt safe with.

I did some research and made an appointment. The doctor was fairly nice and the process was streamlined, but I was a bit taken aback that she started up with the fat stuff* immediately. In fact, this was a new tactic. “You are fat, I think you might have a wheat allergy and I am going to run a blood test.” And almost immediately blood was drawn and I said meekly Uh, can you also do a full STD screening? That’s why I’m here, too. You know, gyno health.

Two weeks later I got the dreaded phone call from the gyno office requiring me to come in for a follow-up (and another $50 co-pay). She looked at me gravely. “It says here you are allergic to wheat and corn. You need to stop eating those immediately and start losing weight. You might have a heart attack.” And she actually said to me, “You have such a pretty face, you’ll look so gorgeous if you lose weight.” I was in tears and thinking God, are you my mom circa 1994?

I demanded a copy of the results so that I could bring them to my fairly fat positive primary care physician and show to one of my besties, Kelli Dunham, stand-up comic and published nurse.

My PCP recommended I get a second opinion from a gastroenterologist. Since this was the American health system in the Hateful Bush Economy (TM), this all took place over the course of months, since it took forever to get appointments and cost me $50 a pop.

The gastroenterologist did an upper endoscopy, a colonoscopy and another full blood work-up. In the meantime, I gave up wheat and corn and later dairy. Seriously, it is extremely hard to eat without wheat or corn, as corn is in pretty much everything, especially gluten free stuff. I remember declaring to my besties When they tell me to give up bacon I’m just going to go for a diet of supplements.

To top it off, the last part of this eight month ordeal occurred while my fiance and I were breaking up. Imagine being told “Hey, I think we need to move apart for awhile on account of my intense depression” the day before you have to have a colonoscopy. I was wheeled into the operating room wracked with sobs because of the whole “emergency number” question.

But, the great news is that I am not allergic to wheat, corn or dairy! That gyno was a quack and I am totally glad I advocated for myself and got that second expensive opinion. And it turned out my gastroenterologist is in the same office suite as another gynocologist. While I was waiting for my many appointments, I read the complimentary cards from her clients and I decided to do my next year’s gyno screening with her.

I was really glad I did. I had to ask them to do a full STD screening and they seemed surprised–I was a 29 year old sexually active lesbian and they didn’t seem to jump right to the conclusion that it meant I should be screened.** Despite that, I still felt cared for and my weight was not an issue.

I published Episode 4 of FemmeCast about the concept of Health at Every Size, which really addresses fat people and the consequences of un-fat positive diagnoses. I’m sure we’ll come back to it again in future episodes.

Fat phobia from medical professionals can itself be a health hazard in that it inhibits fat people from seeking out routine and other medical care that they need.  All people, regardless of size, shape, age, race, class, gender, ability or sexual orientation deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in a health care setting and to have their health care needs addressed in ways that make them feel safe and comfortable and not attacked for who they are.

The day that I found out that the wheat and corn allergies were misdiagnosed, I had a tasting fleet of beers, a cupcake and really hot rebound sex. I think Heather would be proud.

*Typically this involves a medical professional saying “OMG YOU ARE FAT YOU ARE GOING TO DIE ONE DAY ON ACCOUNT OF YOUR FAT.” I will note that almost every doctor I have encountered who told me that said “Otherwise you are in perfect health.”
**Dude, always always ask your health providers to screen you, just to be safe.

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