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

2016-10-11

My Coming Out Story

Happy Coming Out Day! Every year on October 11th the LGBTQ community and our allies celebrate Coming Out Day as a way to commemorate and sanctify an important moment in the lives of queer people. It’s also an important way to help our children, families, friends, co-workers and communities know that you are a safe space for LGBTQ folks to come out to.

bevinchrisamandadamienFor this post I’m using photos I found in my archives from the Femme Family Pride Coming Out as Femme party that Femme Family produced in June 2009 at Stonewall Inn. L-R, Damien, Me, Amanda and Chris.

Coming out is such an intensely personal decision, since being queer is somewhat of a seemingly mutable way of being different. (“Passing” as straight is easier for some than others, and it is often tied to gender presentation.) I thought in honor of the occasion, and the fact that I told this story to my friends Jenna and Rick at my Epic High Holiday Shabbat dinner on Friday, I would share it here!

Coming out is easier said than done, and for me it was really difficult. I am 37 years old, which means I grew up in a pre-Ellen era. I noticed a pretty big cultural shift when Ellen’s character came out as a lesbian on her then sitcom in 1997. It was a watershed moment when, more and more, people were aware that LGBTQ folks were openly living their lives queerly. I feel like most kids who came of age after Ellen came out have a different experience within American culture.

bevinrachelsophieMe, Rachel (check out her work getting Queers, Women and POC into tech sales) and Sophie (check out her incredible body positive pin-up photography business).

I didn’t know gay was a thing that you could be until I was 14 years old. I had literally never understood that any of my mom’s friends were gay, that any celebrities were gay or that people throughout history had been leading queer lives.

I met the first lesbian that came out to me at Girl Scout Camp when I was a Counselor-in-Training. At the time that was a big no-no (even when I became a counselor a few years later it was very understood that lesbianism was don’t ask don’t tell) but we were friends and it came up. I felt a huge paradigm shift knowing that people were gay and it started helping me understand myself better. I wasn’t the kind of kid who grew up knowing I was attracted to other women, mostly I was attracted to gay men. (Hello, Keanu Reeves and George Michael.)

bevinbridgetMe and Bridget, who just launched her amazing business coaching! She’s been a little bird supporting me with branding, web stuff and business for years, so excited for her new venture!

I began questioning my sexuality when I was 15. I had no one to talk to about this so I just kept it as a running wonder in the back of my mind. My mom came out for the second time around then.* It was not a bonding experience for us. My Junior and Senior year of high school was really difficult for our relationship, since mom was going through a divorce and my grumpy selfish step dad was still living with us because we couldn’t afford to sell the house (recession) and mom didn’t want to risk me having to leave our great school district. Not a recipe for anyone to be at their most compassionate emotional self. In my perception at the time my mom was not a safe person for me to discuss my sexuality with because we were not safe people for one another emotionally. My mom is awesome and she has been a great safe space for queer kids for years and years as a teacher but we were very much water and oil in high school.

I know now that a teacher at my school was gay (she’s friends with my mom!) and if only teachers were allowed to be openly gay in the mid-90s, my life would have been a lot easier.

miasiaMiasia is an incredibly talented belly dancer from Washington, DC and whenever I possibly could get her up for a gig in NYC I did just that! You should check out her classes and performances!

I came out to myself for real when I was 16 years old and could actually articulate internally that I was attracted to another woman. I told three very close friends who were not in my day to day life. When I got back to high school for my senior year I shoved all of that internal realization deep inside, in spite of a low-level crush on a girl in high school, and tried to keep fitting in even though I never actually fit in.

katestonewallLaurence and Kate Huh, a really vital archivist photographer of NYC queer life.

I never dated anyone in high school, all dance dates were strictly platonic and even though I had some flirtations with boys here and there nothing ever happened. I knew how to keep my armor up as a trauma response to intense bullying I experienced in late elementary and middle school. To this day I still have to work to let my armor down where sex, attraction and flirtation are concerned.

damienstonewallperformanceOne of my favorite performances of Damien’s is “Femmes Bash Back” based on the Femme trans women of color who began the Stonewall uprising by throwing purses and heels at the cops raiding the Stonewall. Let that fictional Stonewall movie be forever proved wrong, since they rewrote history so some white cisgender gay dude threw the first brick. Stay tuned for Happy Birthday Marsha! It is important that our history be preserved accurately and not white-washed.

In college I met a lot more gay folks, especially gay men, and almost everyone was in the closet for some period and eventually came out. It’s so weird to think about that time because now it’s so normal for people to be openly gay that I forgot that I knew a lot of these folks before they came out formally. Even though I knew in my heart I was attracted to women (I identified as bisexual at the time because I hadn’t realized all my big crushes were on gay dudes) I didn’t think I should come out because I hadn’t dated or even kissed anyone romantically. It was all wrapped up in fat girl body self loathing and not feeling like I deserved access to my sexuality. Why bother coming out if I was inherently unfuckable?

shomidjingOur Femme DJ Shomi Noise.

Now I know that my identity has nothing to do with anyone other than myself. I know I’m Femme regardless of whether or not I am partnered with a Butch, I know that I am fuckable whether or not I’m presently having sex, I know that I am kinky even when my floggers are collecting dust.

bevionstagestonewallIf my college-aged self could know how I would turn out, coming out of the closet would have been way easier.

At the beginning of my Junior year of college, at 19 years old, I was really thinking about coming out for real in spite of not having kissed a girl, and then just days later I met my first girlfriend. I was her Resident Advisor, she was a resident on my floor, she had Ani DiFranco posters all over her room (a very late ’90s tell). She wasn’t out to her roommates but as we became friends she came out to me and then we held hands while watching Mary Poppins late one night and it became wildly easy for me to come out because I was young and in love and wanted to tell literally everyone I knew about it. Plus saying, “I have a girlfriend!” is way easier than saying “I need to let you know I identify as LGBTQ.” Since being Femme presenting is invisibilizing to many folks, coming out is Groundhog Day repetitive for me. I tend to drop a “My partner/my girlfriend” or when I was single “My ex-girlfriend” as a way to come out rather than just telling people directly. Somehow that is more seamless for me.

arielbevinEarly photo of me and my friend Ariel Speedwagon.

I’ve had a few more coming outs in my life, like when I got to law school and decided to come out as a lesbian instead of bisexual, when I came out as Fat and Femme, and when I shifted to using queer to identify my sexuality because it better encompassed non-binary gender identities. There’s also coming out as a medical marijuana user (as Melissa Etheridge says,”I believe anybody who smokes cannabis is using it medicinally, whether they consider it so or not”), and coming out as non-monogamous which for me just means I like to be a little free to ethically explore connections with people as they pop-up and adhere to agreements with the person I am partnered with.

melissasjMe and my friend Lissa and Sarah Jenny.

I just can’t endorse coming out enough. I was scared, so so so scared before I came out because I thought I was going to lose friendships, loved ones and access to my dreams. For me, living life authentically, and loving myself for all of me, allows me to feel so free and relaxed that I am more able to focus my energy on making the world safe for other people to do the same. I have had SO MANY DREAMS COME TRUE because I am openly 100% of the time my authentic self. I think global peace starts with inner peace, and we need to be committed to doing the self care and self expression we need to feel at peace.

femmefamilyintention

Our logo intentionally had wings hugging the heart. Sophie designed it and Chris designed our flier.

Queer allies: amplify queer voices on your social media. Tell people you are a safe space and show your support for LGBTQ people. Work to learn how to be a better ally. It’s still dangerous in many spaces to be out as a queer person. Queers who live in countries that are more accepting of queers, learn more and more about LGBTQ refugees and borders and how being queer is sometimes the fight for your life. Offer your resources. I’m hoping to amplify more ways to do that in the coming months as I learn more about displaced LGBTQ folks.

Let’s all make the world more survivable for LGBTQ people and work to make “coming out” obsolete. Wouldn’t it be cool if people got to just grow up to be whoever they really are and love whoever they love and do it to whoever they feel attracted to and have consent and all that stuff?

Happy Coming Out Day!

*It turned out that my mom herself had come out of the closet for a few years in the early 80s. She even rode in Dykes on Bikes in the San Francisco Pride Parade in 1980! After a really traumatizing relationship with a horrible woman, my mom went back in the closet when I was four, dated men and married said step father who started out cool and then got awful and selfish and then after her second divorce she dated a woman and came out for good. So complicated, right? I didn’t come out to her until I came out publicly when I was 19.

miasiaonstageI love that in this photo Miasia is holding herself much like the wings of our logo are holding the heart.

metaueretandjesseTaueret and Jesse were both at the Femme Family Coming Out Party but somehow not in my batch of photos so here’s a cute one I found at a party in the same time period when hunting through my archives. TT made that beautiful hair fascinator herself. She was so talented.

 

 

 

2016-09-30

I Promise My Personal Tragedy Will Not Interfere with My Ability to Do Good Hair: Remembering Amanda Arkansassy

It happened again. The phone calls and texts started, trying to give me news of a friend’s suicide before I found it on Facebook. This is what we have now. Who knows the protocol?*

bevinarkansassyMe and Amanda at a dance party in 2010. Yesterday I met someone who had tiny flying birds coming from a tattoo on their head and it reminded me of her shoulder tattoo.

This is a post about my friend and it’s a post about my messy grief process. I don’t know what to do right now, but I think modeling how I am grieving may be of some help to other folks out there who are bewildered and confused and don’t know how to keep processing these suicides of bright light Femmes.

My friend Amanda and I became close in 2008/2009 when she was a member of Femme Family, a Femme organizing group that sprung to life after the Femme Conference in August of that year. We wanted Femme community in NYC, and me and Damien, Amanda, Sophie, Chris, Taueret, Bryn, Bridget, Rachel, Hana, Dylan, Erica, Heather, and a lot of other Femmes who popped in and out, made it happen. Mostly we were cultural organizers, throwing dance parties, fundraisers, Femme poker nights, a Femme literary reading series, we had a book club and published a zine.

femmefamilyClockwise from top left: Bryn, Sophie, Damien, Amanda, Rachel, Me, Chris, Dylan, Erica. We were all so busy working our party that we had to do a group photo in stages.

femmefamilygroup2webTaueret, Heather, Me, Bridget, Amanda.

Amanda was the Madam of Country Glam, me and Damien weren’t yet roommates but we were Co-Head Madams. Taueret was the Madam of Ferocity. I forget which Madam title Bryn had. Taueret took her life in February of last year and Bryn just this past January. The last time I saw Amanda was when she was out for Taueret’s memorial (on Amanda’s birthday, October 3rd) and the last time we spoke on the phone was after Bryn passed and Amanda needed advice about posthumous art curation. It was such a beautiful moment, we talked for an hour while I was in a park at sunset, Dara and I having just seen what would become our quirky house in LA. I watched the beauty transform around me in my new neighborhood, we processed about Bryn and she filled me in on her new romantic adventures.

Amanda had the biggest heart. She was so sweet and welcoming. She was from Arkansas and it was a huge part of her identity. She was brilliant and political and knew how to show up for people. She always drove a huge SUV and made it look really easy in Brooklyn and Manhattan. She was a little younger than me and in some ways I think that played into our dynamic. A couple of days ago a friend of hers told me Amanda referred to me an inspiration but to me she was my fiercely loyal Femme friend.

birthdayamandaI’ve known so much grief and loss for so long that I know that even in sad circumstances we need to celebrate life. So even though it was the day of Taueret’s memorial and that was the reason for her visit, I knew our Femme Family reunion brunch needed to include birthday candles for Amanda.

I was still rebuilding myself after my painful break-up with my ex fiancé and she witnessed and held space. She showed me solidarity. She loved Steel Magnolias and Dolly Parton as much as me. She loved to get dressed up and take pictures. She loved other Femmes and loved to peacock for and with us.

0008_ability-to-do-good-hairThe title of this post is an homage to a shared favorite movie.

She started performing burlesque as Lola Dean and I think her first performance ever was at my Queer Family Holiday party. Taueret’s first burlesque act was at my previous party, a Queer Zombie Cabaret, and they both bonded over learning burlesque. When I competed for the title of Miss LEZ I asked them both to be my back-up dancers for my “talent” (hosting a gameshow/being surrounded by hot Femmes) as the Baconettes.

arkansassywiththosepastiesAmanda loved these pasties so much, she bought them special for the show on Etsy. Photo by Alison Picard.

Amanda was amazing backstage at the pageant. She was a former pageant queen in high school and gave me great advice about my interview portion and poise and other pageant stuff. Taueret was also amazing and told off a former date of mine who had recently stood me up. I remember leaving with Taueret after losing the pageant and feeling both physically famished (they don’t feed you backstage) and emotionally supported while kind of crushed that I lost.

misslezbevinamandaIf you want to read about my pageant platform and my play by play of that night check out this blog post. Photo by Syd London. Shout out to original Baconette Melissa Davis!

We brought the Baconettes back together the following Spring. I was Queen of Honor at Hey Queen, a queer dance party that was a staple of Brooklyn nightlife for five years. I was “Size Queen” and wanted to compose a really hot number to Madonna’s “Hanky Panky.” Me, Taueret, Amanda and Hana met up in my tiny living room to practice. We did it again at That’s My Jam the next month and from the buzz off those events I started Rebel Cupcake at Sugarland on International No Diet Day, May 6, 2010. Amanda performed as Lola Dean along with Taueret at the first Rebel Cupcake and once more before she moved to San Francisco.

bevinbaconettes

She, Sophie and Rachel all moved to San Francisco at about the same time. I felt really sad that they left but felt kind of okay, too, because I knew they had each other and no doubt they would do magical things out there.

rebelcupcakequeerrootWatching the blossoming friendship of Rachel and Amanda was really special. Photo from the photo booth of Rebel Cupcake, by Nogga Schwartz.

I think a lot about how Femme Family was this beautiful incubator for those of us involved. It gave us confidence in our abilities and we got ideas that were firmly based in our Femme identities. I started Rebel Cupcake, a body positive dance party for fat kids and fabulous weirdos. Damien started Heels on Wheels, a Femme art tour, show series and now a book with Heather. Sophie started Shameless Photography a feminist body positive pin-up photography business and many of the Femme Family were her first models.

Amanda went on to create Femme Space, a reclamation of space for Femmes and a beautiful portrait project. The stories and photos are stunning, I highly recommend a deep dive into them.

Long distance took an understandable toll on our friendship, but it never lost all of its love. I would see her and have epic conversations about all the things but mostly romance gossip because it was a fav of both of ours. Just six months ago she got on snapchat and she posted the sweetest thing on Facebook about how she loved my “snapchat stories” and for a bit there we would have girl talk and lingerie sharing over snapchat private message 10 seconds at a time.

bevinamanda2015

As our friend Elisabeth said memorializing Amanda, she was the ultimate “Hi Femme!” which was her actual license plate. She had to appeal a bunch to the CA DMV to get it–they thought it was about drugs and she schooled them that it was an actual identity. She was tickled every time she caught someone taking a photo of it behind her in traffic.

We constantly bonded over country music and I still think of her every time a good block of country music sung by women is on the radio (which is rare). When I was in LA last year learning my way around I heard a whole hour dedicated to women in country music and was so excited to tell her about it.

A couple of years ago she told me her plan after she moved to San Francisco was to eventually go back and head an organization for Southern Queers in Arkansas. I loved seeing Arkansas through her lens on social media. I loved seeing places she had told me about.

sfcrew2011Visiting San Francisco with Mackenzi, outside of the Lexington with Sophie, Dagger and Digg. Amanda was always a poly-identified Femme and there are a bunch of really good looking folks that had the pleasure of knowing her romantically in mourning. She was so special as a friend and I think she was extra extra special as a lover.

Another toll of long distance is when your friends throw parties you hella want to be at. She had a birthday party at the Madonna Inn one year and I was SOOOOO SAD I was too broke to go because I had always wanted to go to the Madonna Inn and they were taking lingerie photos with all the theme rooms! It was going to be Femme Slumber Party birthday magic. And I got to go to Dollywood which I know she always wanted to do and I wanted to do it with her! And she had a Dolly Parton themed getaway birthday party.

rachelamanda2010Femme Conference 2010.

Now that I’m in LA I am closer (wouldn’t ever turn down an invite to the Madonna Inn now!) but her housewarming party in Crockett, where she just moved to get more rural, was a night when I’m doing a big event here. I remember thinking “SOMEHOW SOMEWAY we will have a party we can both attend.” She died before I could even pester her to come be my photographer for Dollypalooza next month.

One of the things that is most beautiful in Femme friendships is seeing yourself reflected in one another. Amanda was positive and upbeat, like me, and sparkly. She was the kind of Femme who threw herself into activism and organizing and also had good hair and impeccable nails. I always told her she was my nail inspo and had stiletto nails long before they got really mainstream popular. She kept a few fingers on the right hand short, for sex. I was living for her ombre. Honestly, her hair just kept getting better and better.

arkansassyNashville fans, she declared Juliette Barnes one of her fashion icons. Amanda left behind a perfect shiba inu/chihuahua rescue named Memphis and her cat, Kitten Butt. And a gorgeous white bedroom set she moved cross country.

I’m taking this death really hard. I am replaying all of the ways in which I feel like I could have done things differently. Like what if I hadn’t flaked on hiring her to photograph me at my high school reunion reclaiming space that felt alienating to me as a teen. Would we have had a heart to heart two weeks ago that could have changed things? Should I have finished writing my book already since it’s mostly about how I survived this epic heartbreak and betrayal and bloomed even bigger and brighter than I ever thought possible? Could it have been a road map for her?

I shared these feelings with a friend yesterday who said, “You can’t put your lightness in someone else’s darkness.” And then confessed that they must have been channelling Spirit because they would never have said that. I’ve also gotten similar messages about Bryn and Taueret when I asked my psychic Alex about their possibly related suicides.

queerfamilyholidayallofusPhoto by Alison Picard.

I feel like there’s this way that when you shine really bright like Amanda did, like Bryn did, like Taueret did, that the world doesn’t want you to survive. Just being a bright light superstar that by your very identity challenges the white heteropatriarchy is dangerous. That manifests in the experiences of trauma caused by oppression, misogyny, heterosexism, ableism, fatphobia, transmisogyny, slut shaming, classism, and on and on. It’s hard to stay sane and positive when the world is relentless with heartbreak, police brutality, apartheid, and all of the other horrific things you see just by turning on the news.

The world is made better and sweeter for me by activists and artists like all three of them. I try like hell to take care of myself. I try like hell to model self care for the corner of the internet where people pay attention to what I say. When I’m modeling self care, I am saying “This is how I am staying alive today.” Because self care is vital and survival is vital.

amandaonthemuniThe same month she took her life her face was on the side of a Muni bus. Her light was shining bright. But it goes to show that we can have a good face on and be battling darkness really deep.

And let’s talk about our fucked up mental healthcare system. Why don’t we have walk in clinics, where you can start treatment without a giant ball of red tape and bullshit. Why don’t we fund this? Is it because the people who are in charge find our bodies disposable? We have such a fucked up world we need to make it more survivable. Instead the fuckedupness is making it harder and harder to stay alive.

It’s important and good we know about what’s going wrong in our world. We have to see it to change it, right? But we also need to recognize the toll that takes on everyone’s mental health.

We need to stop treating self care like it’s optional. Take care of yourself and take really fucking great care. And fund easy to access free mental health for everyone because we need it . All three of these friends of mine were brilliant women with different access to help and different ways of soliciting it. What about the people who aren’t as resourced or good at self advocacy as Bryn, Taueret or Amanda? Somehow we need to do better at getting mental healthcare into the hands of people who need it. The amount of people who need it is mounting.

speakingoffemmegroupSpeaking of Femme.

I keep thinking about the idea of feminizing the world as a means of creating world change and world peace. Amanda even mentioned it in the article announcing her as one of KQED’s 20 Women to Watch.

In response to the question, “If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting, what would it be?” She replied, “It hasn’t been written yet (to my knowledge), but I’m looking forward to media exploring a futuristic femme oligarchy. Until then, Steel Magnolias will do.”

Maybe that’s how I need to womanifest my thoughts about how to feminize the world. Write a TV treatment for a show exploring a Futuristic Femme Oligarchy. If Femmes ruled the world? It would be amazing. Amanda dedicated her Femme Space project that was poppin’ off to the memory of Taueret and Bryn (check the footer on the page) and I would dedicate that TV show treatment to all three.

amandaspeakingoffemmeblue

In the meantime we need to figure out how to survive. This is why I blog. This is why I talk about the things I’ve figured out for self care and to take good care of myself. I’m writing a self care zine so I can brain dump to whoever wants it all the stuff I know about self care. Because we don’t live in a world where mental and emotional healthcare is free and easily available. ’Til we do we need to be taking care of each other and ourselves.

I talk a lot about becoming a rich lesbian. I mostly want to be rich because I want to start a foundation to support the kind of hard to fund amazing grass roots edge of social change groups that don’t usually get grants. I want to give them cash and provide support for their sustainability and helping have the kind of structure that ensures the legacy can move forward if the founders either move on, burn out or have shit go down in their lives. My friend Jenn and I brainstormed that I need to have a social worker on staff who can provide therapy for supported organizers, coaching people in self care.

bevinandthebaconettes

I see a lot of activists whose work and care taking is dedicated to the point of compulsion. There’s always more to do and not enough money or resources. I see people who are broke who give what little they have to folks who are broker than they are. It’s in the giving nature of people dedicated to world change. I wonder if Amanda needed more care than she was capable of receiving. I wonder if there’s a way to teach people to receive the love that is around them. Because Amanda, Taueret and Bryn were all beloved.

These deaths rip open the wounds that I work hard to heal. I’m grieving hard the loss of all three, grief compounded upon grief. I was putting dishes away and a wave came. I was literally sobbing into my kitchen cabinet when I came to. I find it’s easiest to grieve when I just open myself up to it. I don’t try to pretend that I’m cool when I’m not and I work to practice radical honesty with people who ask me how I’m doing.

femmepicnicWhen I was doing my deep dive into my photo archives I realized that right after this Femme picnic in Dolores Park I met up with my queer Femme friend Melissa Tracy who also took her life this year.

I’ve learned a lot about grieving over the years. I was sending a blog post about break-up grieving strategies to a friend and I realized a lot of it was very applicable to death. Try to be present. Try to let it flow. Commit to your plans so you don’t spiral out for too long. For me, preventing the darkness is easier than being swallowed by it and having to crawl out, so I’m trying really hard to not fall into that place.

This week I asked for a lot of help. Dara has been out of town for work for almost two weeks. On Saturday Amanda’s suicide hadn’t been announced yet and I had to figure out how to get the help I needed without doing the endless phone calls and messages thing, so I put an all call on Facebook. I don’t give a fuck about seeming vulnerable. I think we should be more vulnerable with each other, it’s a sign of strength.

amandaonstageatbellhouse

In some ways it’s been good that Dara’s not here. I have been relying for primary support from my friends and it’s important to lean out of your primary for support. I’m also crabby and listless, and I’m actually feeling shitty about how I am not a pile of sunshine for Dara right now. So being independent from her has been helpful.

Yesterday I knew I had a ton of work to do and in the in between times might need brightening. So I asked Facebook once again for sweet memories. Remembering connections to other, living folks is a sweet way to remind me that I am loved, and taking breaks from work to sit with a few at a time has been so helpful.

queerfamilychristmasstage

I keep remembering all the hot people I was going to set her up on dates with. I keep thinking about all of the collaborations I wanted to do. Over the past year I thought a lot about what Amanda would do my Femme Space photo about. I thought maybe my rainbow mumu and me in a Home Depot because I am definitely a power tool wielding Femme, I do not let stereotypes about women and femininity stand in the way of me getting what I want to get done. And then I definitely thought it was going to be me teaching my new fitness class at the body positive gym opening up in LA. But whatever it was, it’s a collaboration that won’t happen. Because something about the world was too painful for her.

I want to make the world more survivable. I wrestled with the choice to not go to her funeral on Wednesday but the thought of making the travel plans was so overwhelming I was paralyzed. So I took that, and my big chronic digestive disorder flare as my signs that I needed to stay put and take care of myself. I can’t make the world survivable unless I take care of my own survival.

*For me, just in case this is relevant to any of my friends reading this, I prefer a phone call. Almost all of my calls are scheduled because that’s how I roll, so if you call me twice in a row and text “Call me ASAP” I know what that means. So that’s my preferred protocol. I changed my number to a 323 number when I moved to LA so check your phone and delete that old Jersey 201 number!

wafflesinbmoreI have all these new friends I just made and I wonder if they think it’s weird that I say I love you literally every time we part ways. It’s because I’ve known so much loss and I’m only 37 and I know it might be my last opportunity to say it. So I always do when I feel it. Grief is an unfortunate side effect of love, and I love really big. I loved Amanda a lot and my grief reflects the size of that love. There is no timeline on grief, I will never get over missing her. I will never get over Bryn and Taueret. I will only do what is the best case scenario and get used to the idea that they aren’t here. 

More Amanda Love:

Go Fund Me Campaign to help with Amanda’s memorial costs.

KQED Holding Space for Amanda (lists a lot of her artistic accomplishments if you want to learn more about her prolific work)

Femmes Before Literally Everything

To be added: Memorial information for next month’s memorial.

2015-11-19

Four Great Queer Art Presales and Kickstarters Happening Now! (A Couple Ending Soon!)

There are FOUR amazing queer artists doing crowd funding to develop capital to finish their amazing projects! A couple are ending in just a few days so act soon!

I believe that supporting queer art is vital to survival. In a world where we don’t see ourselves represented in mainstream culture, where even if we do see an LGBT person probably they aren’t fat, a person of color, disabled, older and/or working class. And speaking of class, it can be really hard to fund your projects as an artist with limited means and without parents or relatives who can patron, or the skills and resources to write grants.

It is also important to remember that art isn’t just creation, it’s also all the business stuff, preparing things for print, layout, interfacing with printing vendors/distribution/post office trips. Endless biz. When you’re trying to do this with limited artist resources it is hard!

When queers have spending power to put behind projects that we believe in, that speak to us and that uplift images of different queers, it is radical, beautiful and something we can do to nudge the world. This is why I love crowd funds.

Okay, pitch over, lez get to it!

cristytarot

1. Next World Tarot by Cristy Road

Cristy Road’s HOTLY anticipated tarot deck has been in the works for a couple of years. The whole deck is modeled by queers. She’s even got ME slated to model for one of the cards (I don’t know which card yet). It is truly one of my favorite parts of being an artist is the honor of getting to be in my friends’ art. I cannot wait to see the gorgeous results. Cristy’s work is floaty, gritty, magical, whimsical and are detailed wonderscapes. Next World Tarot will make a vibrant and beautiful tarot deck unlike any other I’ve ever seen. (Check out my review of Spit an Passion for more of Cristy’s great work.)

From Cristy: My stories are about smashing systematic oppression, owning our truths, being accountable to the people and places that support us, and taking back a connection to your body that may have been lost through trauma or societal brainwashing. The NEXT WORLD TAROT is a visual spectacle of both the battle cry and the reconnection, between outcasts and their criminalized identities.

You can pre-order your tarot deck for $45 or get a postcard or some other amazing Cristy Road work for your home and heart.

Kickstarter!

shoogbook

2. Queers in Nature Book by Shoog McDaniel–Crowd fund Ends on Sunday!!!!

Shoog McDaniel is the photographer behind one of my favorite Instagrams. Queer babes, nature, sweetness, adventures, an airstream trailer. All wonderfully captured by this mega talented photographer. When they announced their crowd funding campaign I immediately grabbed a presale of the book because their art is so beautiful. The dreamy Florida naturescape in their photos inspired my trip to the Florida Keys last Spring. I would love to see Shoog sell out of this book and get enough funding to publish their next book Rad Queer Spaces.

The book is only $30 shipped, and I already treasure mine even though I haven’t received it yet!

In Shoog’s words: My name is Shoog McDaniel and I am a fat, genderqueer artist and photographer living in Gainesville, Florida. It has long been my dream to produce a tangible book of my photography, because I feel that it is important to have visual representations of the beauty and strength that queers hold. This book brings together the natural flora and fauna of Florida and the magic of southern queers, and I am so excited to be able to finally share it!

Indigogo link

jessikadeck

3. visions: a crystal oracle deck by Jessika Fancy

An oracle deck is kind of hard to explain.

In the words of Jessika Fancy: An oracle deck can be used much like a tarot deck as a source of guidance and inspiration when life presents us with its many challenges. It is meant to be an intuitive tool for anyone that chooses to use it, as there is no right or wrong way to do so.

This is the latest of Jessika’s gorgeous, powerful witchy products and I think it is going to be a really great tool! Each deck and booklet comes in a hand dyed pouch!

The pre-order of the deck is $45 and should arrive by early/mid December!

The Go Fund Me

occultbook

4. OCCULT GENERATION – A hardboiled sci-fi graphic novel series

I just received this from my friend Sophie Spinelle, the pin-up portrait artist behind Shameless Photography the body positive feminist pin-up photography studio I mention a lot on my blog.

In Sophie’s words: Occult Generation is pulp graphic novel set in 1920s New York City featuring the paranormal, queer culture, and a secret society in Harlem fighting to stop the remnants of the confederacy.

It’s going to be a smart, politically incisive, and visually gorgeous book. Its heroes will be people of color, queer folks, people of size, and people with disabilities. I’m going to be playing a villian, and Kearstin is one of the good guys.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about this project. I can’t wait for you to see it and read it, and see some of yourself represented in its pages.

Maybe you love sci fi and graphic novels and this is up your alley? They are only halfway to their goal and six days to go!

Kickstarter

2015-04-24

You Should Read Michelle Tea’s Book How To Grow Up

I love Michelle Tea. I can’t say much more than at 22 years old I read Valencia and finally found a literary voice that sounded like my own. Kind of breathless excitement about life, stories and a fascination with other people and my feelings and how they affected one another. Reading Michelle Tea told me I could be a published writer, too. It also told me I could maybe one day be an artist and have an amazing group of inspirational kind of reckless friends and all of those things came to pass.

How to Grow Up is her latest memoir. I have read much of her work over the years and I think it is my favorite. Her writing has evolved a bit, it’s still chatty like a friend telling you a story over coffee rather than writing a story and letting you read it. But the sentences are tighter, shorter and the sentiments are clearer. Also, she has a lot of really deep self-reflection and self-compassion that sharpens what she says through lessons learned. It is familiar to her early work but it is a different and more developed literary voice.

It’s written in essays, which makes it easy to read in chunks, but it is also very difficult to put down!

54ac92e6ce1cd_-_elle-how-to-grow-up-v-elv

I thought at first that the book was basically going to be an almagamation of her great column in xoJane Getting Pregnant with Michelle Tea. (I remember a road trip a couple of years ago where I would take breaks from driving at gas stations and read a couple of articles on my phone.) I was totally wrong about that, the pregnant stuff is only a couple of chapters and it is in a more nuanced, self-reflective tone than the columns.

Her book covers so many topics like doing the work on yourself so you stop dating people who stomp all over your heart, going to Paris fashion week, deciding whether or not to drop being a full-time artist in exchange for steady employment, getting over a huge break-up, having a wedding without spending a fortune, and so much more. I related to so much of it on such a deep level.

1937764487_495d6304f0_zIn November 2007, I had just been dumped by my fiance. I was devastated. My friend Mamone was in DC (I was in NYC) at the Sister Spit show and, knowing what a huge Michelle Tea fan I was, asked the group to pose with this sign to make me feel better! It was such a wonderful gift to receive this photo!

If you out there are reading this blog post, I think you should buy Michelle’s book How to Grow Up. However, these people in particular are going to love it:

Working class folks.

I love how much Michelle Tea talks about money, her feelings about it, growing up working class and oh my goddess how being an artist with an uncertain income is affected by that working class upbringing. I have never read anyone talk about the intersections of those two realities about money–working class/poor childhood and taking the leap to freelancing. It is scary as shit and I need a lot of tools in order to navigate this. I’ve already begun using one of her tools, which is to invite her higher power into

Spiritually curious people.

Michelle opens up about her spirituality, including a Stevie Nicks higher power that helps her through things. Tarot readings, how she meditates, explores Buddhism and explains some Buddhist principles in terms of hilarious real life examples of her love life. She also talks about how meditation has really helped her navigate life with more stillness. And the weird fears we get when we venture into a new kind of deeply religious or woo place with ritual and worrying about getting it “right.” I related so intensely to that I put that sentence in “we” and I’m not going to edit it.

I’m a super spiritually curious person, I’m always interested in hearing folks spiritual practice and woo modalities, so I loved that thread throughout the book.

XO-lv4KJThis amazing photo was taken by my friend Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography fame.

12 Step People.

I’m paraphrasing Michelle in a blog post I can’t find that I read a few years ago that she breaks the 11th tradition of AA about being anonymous at the level of press, radio, TV and films–being transparent about where her tools for sobriety came from–because she couldn’t have gotten sober without it. Not telling people about her work in AA would be like lying and acting like she could have done it all on her own.

Anyway, she has so many great recovery gems going on in the book in some ways I felt like I was reading really engaging sobriety stories. I found a lot of good tools for my work in my own 12 step program (for family and friends of alcoholics) and I will recommend this book to my pals in recovery.

I have been thinking a lot about whether or not people who don’t like 12 step language or tools would be put off by the book and I don’t really think so. (I know a lot of folks who had parents or former partners in recovery who have been really damaged by recovery language and don’t like it.) It doesn’t overwhelm the content, and if you take what you like and leave the rest you’ll still enjoy it.

Political people like queers or femmes who critique the fashion industrial complex but also love it.

There’s a whole chapter about Michelle buying her first designer piece, a leather hoodie, and all of the feelings that come up about it from her working class background and history being a vegan punk. How her deeply committed political beliefs are complex and how she had to learn to lighten up a little in order to actually enjoy life and eat enough food to live off of. Um, also there’s a whole chapter about Michelle deciding whether or not to get BOTOX.

20150212_015937Macy’s ankle broke while I was reading the book.

On a personal note, this was the first time I read a Michelle Tea book and actually knew some of the people she talked about because our queer worlds are very small. I had always wondered if I would read a Michelle Tea book one day and know people in real life, and then it happened. Knowing who they were did not change how I perceived them independently of the book and also it did nothing for deepening the story since Michelle writes very well from her own perspective and experience. I kind of thought if I knew someone and read about them it would be a thing but it wasn’t.

(I am always curious about how people talk about people they know and use pseudonyms and all of that because of my blog and the memoir I’m working on. My privacy ethics are very nuanced after years of blogging, but I still sometimes feel nervous about people’s reactions to being in print.)

I highly encourage everyone to buy Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up and savor it. You will love it.

And then consider picking up Valencia because it rules.

2015-02-27

Half the Self Hate: Denise Jolly “Self Love is my Life’s Work”

For years I’ve been noticing the People Magazine annual “Half Their Size” issue. It comes out around New Year’s Eve and the cover is always the same: before and after photos with big graphics about how much each person has lost. People Magazine devotes pages and pages of a feature story to readers who have lost over half their body weight. They ask them how they did it, what motivated them, what their “rock bottom” was as a fat person.

I kept thinking, What if we talked to people about how they lost more than half of their self-hatred? What would it look like? I find it so inspirational to hear how people have risen out of oppression and cultures that don’t value their bodies/identities and have learned to love themselves in spite of that.

I reached out to several artists and activists whose work and self love I admire to ask what practices they employ to love themselves and how they defy a culture that commodifies self hatred. I wanted to know what inspired them to work to reduce or eliminate their self hate.

This is a series about self love triumphing over self hate, and valuing yourself as a radical act of resistance.

The Half the Self Hate series continues next week with my video interview with plus size porn performer, size activist and feminist April Flores.

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I first learned about Denise Jolly through friends in San Francisco and Brooklyn who said that I should meet her. After this happened three times, I started doing some googling and found the treasure trove of her work. Denise is an artist living in Berkeley, CA who shot to notoriety with her Be Beautiful project, a social media exploration of loving her body for 30 days. She’s an incredibly powerful performer, self-reflective and vulnerable writer and I’m thrilled to have her as part of the Half the Self Hate series.

How do you identify?

That’s a fun question.

In the most universal context I identify as a fat, kinky, queer, working class raised, community educated, white, femme.

What does that identity mean to you? How do the intersections of it help you bloom? What are your struggles?

My goodness I feel as though I could write an entire book trying to answer these three questions. I’ll do my best to be succinct.

My identity means the world to me. It is fluid and constantly evolving. It is the intersection of judgment and projection, the merging of what I am socially prescribed to be with how I see myself. It manifests in my crass tongue that loves words like cunt and fuck. It is big in all its 6 ft tall 300 lb 5 inch heel, red lip, big hoop wearing glory! Everything that I do is big yet somehow I love to hide in dark corners in cities everywhere I go with an astute awareness that I embody a level of safety most do not experience. My identity is an active and working understanding of when and how to leverage privilege. Unpacking, honoring and growing my identity has become a massive part of my life practice.

At this point in my relationship to self and social analysis I can say with great certainty I move through the world with a very high level of privilege. Even with the oppressions I have experienced in my life which to be clear there have been plenty. That said, I am a large bodied, feminine presenting, cis gendered, white, femme. Which means I am afforded social fluidity in nearly all communities. I am the mama archetype. My queerness is celebrated and highly visible within queer community and moot in straight community. Especially dominantly white straight community. Which is where I was raised by my fiercely loving, working class, single mother in a house filled with trouble making boys. I was groomed to know how to care for myself and others from birth. I learning how to work hard, have compassion, and always aspire to do and be better from my working class roots. I am not college educated. I learned critical thinking and writing in community spaces. Those roots are invisible to most unless I state them. This is what free agency looks like. The intersection of how I look and the way I speak affords me the opportunity to see the world in a lot of different ways. No matter the struggles or oppressions I have experienced I am extremely blessed.

As for my struggles my critical brain wants to name my greatest struggle as my internalized beliefs around class division that are steeped in a capitalist agenda. My vulnerable heart wants to name my greatest struggle as depression that can manifest in addictive and self- destructive behaviors. My body wants to scream at my brain for thinking so much it interrupts its ability to be free. Even in all of this it has become glaringly clear that any “struggle” I experience is a blessing.

denisesubwayThe final photo in the Be Beautiful series. Photo by Airial Clark.

When you were younger did you have a period of self-hate? If so how did that affect you internally and in the ways you expressed yourself or interacted with others?

Truthfully I hated myself most days until I did the Be Beautiful project. That was not even two years ago and I am currently 35 years old. I fear saying this but in the spirit of honoring vulnerability there are still so many days self-hatred creeps in like a destructive lover. The hatred no longer wins but it sure does work hard to hold its place in my life.

Throughout my teens and most of my 20’s I aspired to be loved by everyone. So I showed up in service to the needs of those around me rather than working to actualize my own greatness. I was sweet and congenial. Hell I was even prom queen. I was simultaneously highly visible while feeling completely invisible and alone. No one knew much of anything about my life and if they did it was compartmentalized to a singular aspect and
never the full spectrum.

What helped you decide not to hate yourself? What were the circumstances, how old were you?

A want for love was my primary motivation. I was constantly in shared space with my Bestie and platonic life partner Sonya Renee Taylor who founded The Body is Not an Apology. Her life’s work is about creating social change through empowering radical self-love and acceptance. She and I were invited to be part of a Body Politic think tank at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and asked the question “What sits on the other side of your bodies shame and your bodies joy?” I was 33 and had never really experienced being seen as desirable, partnerable, or lovable. I realized I had never shared sexy photos with a lover or even stopped to look at my gorgeous body in the mirror. I had no clue I was sexy or amazing. I knew part of that was something I had to navigate internally but was also clear there were social constructs that instilled those beliefs in me so I started Be Beautiful as an active inquiry to the question and now my life’s completely different.

sonyacarriesophiedenise(L-R) Sonya Renee Taylor, Shameless SF photographer Carrie Lynn, Denise, and Shameless founder and photographer Sophie Spinelle. Photo by Miki Vargas.

Where has your journey to living a life geared towards self-love taken you? How has your work as an artist been influenced by this journey?

It has become my life’s work. Outwardly my journey toward self-love has literally taken me all over the world. Honoring the vulnerability through public discourse and artistic process has afforded me the opportunity to speak, perform, and share my work with audiences globally. I am now a fulltime artist and activist who’s work specifically engages the process of actively learning to love myself. My goodness, as a working class girl who was told she’d never be nothing I still weep with gratitude at what my life has become.

Inwardly my journey towards self-love has taken me through a tumultuous and impassioned series of love affairs. I have and continue to build intimacy while dismantling the internalized beliefs that lead me to 33 years in isolation from love. I had never known beauty, body and heart break the way I do now. As a writer I live a life that lends to a shifting narrative. Which means everything I do informs my artistic practice.

Your Be Beautiful project was a huge step towards leaning into self love. Can you give some background to my readers who are unfamiliar with the project and the reception?

Be Beautiful started as a 30 day exploration into loving my 6 ft tall 311lb body. Each day I took a photograph of myself nearly naked in public and private spaces with beautiful written across the parts of my body I had internalized shame about. I then posted the images on social media. When the 30 days were complete I wrote an article about my journey that was published on The Body is Not an Apology. The Article and photographs have since been republished and cross-posted all over the world. I then had the remarkable privilege of working with Shameless photography. We flew to Brooklyn and recreated the shot of Madonna hitchhiking nude only this time I was the model wearing only high heals and a handbag. Mind blowingly that image went more viral than the Be Beautiful series. For instance in a single day it was shared with Cosmopolitan.com, Redbook, and MTV under headlines naming my 311lb body as gorgeous.

Having major markets and social institutions like Cosmo name a body like mine as gorgeous was a remarkable moment. That said what I continue to experience, as most impacting are the personal stories people share. Last year on tour a young woman told me when the project was released she was in treatment for an eating disorder and the project saved her life. So many women have written just to tell me in seeing my body they are considering themselves as beautiful for the first time in their life. My god that’s amazing.

denisemadonnaThe recreated Madonna shot (my first missed connection with Denise–Sophie invited me to the set to help this last March but Dara had chemo that day!), photo by Shameless Photography.

Since the Be Beautiful project ended have you continued the practice of looking in the mirror at your body? How has your conception of your body changed?

I most definitely have continued the practice of looking at myself in the mirror! There of course have been periods wherein I have not but I do
prioritize doing so.

I love my body now. Every inch, every stretch mark, my face, my breasts, my ass, I love it! The most important evolution has been learning to share and celebrate my body with lovers.

Is there anything you think you could say to your younger self to turn away from self hatred or do you think it was an inevitable path that had to run its course?

To be real I think our cultural constructs around self hatred and destruction lend to most people having to navigate and work through some level of it. That said I certainly believe it can lessen with every generation.

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to surround yourself with people who affirm and validate your power and possibility. Regardless of age or station that can be hard but if you identify potential role models that challenge any perception of internalized shame or self-hatred, invest in that relationship. I have been blessed to meet a slew of powerful women in my life and have worked very hard to prioritize being in shared space with them as much as possible. My closest friends are my greatest influences and anyone I work in collaboration with or support of is someone that is investing in the actualization of my greatness as much as they are of their own. This is imperative.

What practices do you employ now to be more self loving and less self hating?

I have many. I think the most important is practicing active awareness. Self-hatred did not just disappear when self-love finally made its way into my life. When hatred comes I have to honor its arrival, unpack why its here, and invite the possibility of other experiences. This opens my life up to moments of levity without shaming the absolute truth that I was indoctrinated with a deep belief that I should hate and work to destroy myself and everyone else.

I wrote an article that offers 5 rules to start being beautiful that I think can speak more extensively to this.

What’s your favorite self-care activity?

My favorite activity is writing love poems in chalk while listening to music and dancing around my neighborhood in the middle of the night.

denisesmiling

Thank you so much, Denise, for your thoughtful and incredibly powerful answers for the Half the Self Hate series!! You can invite Denise Jolly to speak, teach or perform! All the information is at her website. You can also follow Denise on her Instagram, Facebook fan page and Tumblr!

******************

Half the Self Hate Instagram and Twitter contest challenge:

The contest is over, thanks to the folks who shared and posted, and many many thanks to two great feminist, queer owned, body positive sex toy stores for sponsoring, Sugar in Baltimore, MD and Self Serve Toys a queer-owned feminist sex toy shop in Albuquerque, NM (both have online stores). They believe, as I do, that all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are!

I still want to know how you’ve lost half your self hate! Write a tweet or an Instagram post about one practice you have employed to lose half your self hate. Or commit to employing one practice to lose half your self hate! (You can borrow a practice you learned about in this blog series!) Hashtag your post with #halftheselfhate.

I can read something and it kinda sinks in, but if I read something and then apply it to my life by writing something reflective, that’s when it really begins to work for me. The great thing about blogs and social media is the archive. I’ve really loved reading what people have said so far on the hashtag and I’d love for it to continue as a reflective space for folks to remember what they’ve done to cut half their self hate! It’s difficult to speak openly about loving yourself and I’d love to keep moving forward to cut that social stigma!

2015-01-28

Why Plus Model Tess Holliday’s Media Blitz is an Important Moment for Fat People Everywhere

So the other day I got a phone call from a reporter friend of mine at the New York Daily News (one of the big dailies in NYC) doing an article about plus size model Tess Holliday (formerly known as Tess Munster) being signed to a modeling agency. Tess is unusual because she’s only 5’4″ and a size 22–much different proportions than the standard for plus size models. By the way, even though plus size models are modeling clothing worn by women of lots of different shapes and sizes, the “industry standard” is under size 14 and 5’8″ or taller.

tessCNNTess Holliday on TV! Source: Tess Holliday Facebook.

I did the interview with the New York Daily News and my quote is good and meaty. Here it is.

“It’s astounding the reach she has and how many people respond to her,” said QueerFatFemme blogger Bevin Branlandingham. “She created a movement around being a plus-size model.

“It’s radical to have an agency willing to stand behind someone and push the envelope about what way models have to look. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. A good model has more to do with how she works in front of a camera then what her height and weight proportions are.”

Since that article came out on Saturday the media has been blowing up about Tess getting signed! I got an excited text from the reporter, Pearl Gabel, that it was the third most popular article on the Daily News’ website! Since the Daily News article came out I’ve seen Tess in People Magazine, Buzzfeed, CNN and just learned she was on Inside Edition!

During my brief interview with the Daily News I had a lot more to say than what my quote could fit, so here are my thoughts on why it’s important that Tess was signed by an agency and the resulting media storm.

tesscuteShe’s so cute! Source: Tess Holliday facebook page.

Fat comes in lots of shapes, and my fat looks really different than someone else who may be the same size as me. And it definitely looks different than a standard plus size model. It’s really refreshing to hear of a modeling agency willing to take a chance on a model who doesn’t fit into the industry standard.

So why does the modeling industry matter in all of this? Shouldn’t we be moving away from more superficial representations of bodies?

I was steeped in this issue when I was working at Re/Dress in its Brooklyn incarnation, 2008-2011. Then-owner Deb partnered with Plus Model Magazine to do a model search for a size 18+ model. I resisted at first, not feeling great about modeling as an industry and Re/Dress as an indie store helping supporting it. I remember a long conversation with Deb while we were sorting clothing on the racks talking about this. (Plus size processing was one of the best things about being a Shop Girl at Re/Dress.)

I came around 180 degrees watching the model contest unfold. There was of course an essay contest in addition to the photos for the entries. As folks who love people who love their bodies we really looked for people who had body positivity as part of their ethic. Seeing how excited people get about modeling and models, I thought it was a great way to use that excitement to feed in messages of body positivity. Additionally, it’s really fun to dress up and look pretty, especially if you’re in a non-normative body that is historically marginalized.

We ended up selecting a regular customer of ours who was so glamorous and gorgeous and, like Tess Holiday, gives amazing face in front of the camera. Audrey Lea Curry, who later went on to co-star in the erstwhile awesome show Big Sexy with my friend and fellow Re/Dress shop girl Leslie Medlik, was the model and won cash and prizes, including a spread in Plus Model Magazine featuring Re/Dress clothing and shot by amazing plus size model and photographer Velvet D’Amour.

audreyplusmodelmagA page from the Plus Model Magazine spread. Photos by Velvet D’Amour.

The plus model industry and size positive movement has been pushing the issue of representation in the fashion industry for a long time and it’s really heartwarming to see a shift happening in this moment. I remember ten years ago mainstream plus brands were barely starting to use standard size plus size models in their advertising. And today mostly you get the really pretty, “curvy” models. I love brands, like Domino Dollhouse, that have been using bigger plus size models all along and work to support them.

I first heard about Tess Holliday when she was modeling for Domino Dollhouse. I got to meet the designer, Tracy Broxterman, at an indie trunk show at the closing of the Re/Dress Brooklyn incarnation. (Re/Dress has since retained an online store and has a storefront in Cleveland, and is now owned by the fabulous indie designer Rachel Kacenjar of Cupcake and Cuddlebunny fame.*)

tess-holliday-anthonyevansPhoto by Anthony Evans.

What I love most about Tess’s media blitz is that not only is there a non-standard plus model in the industry making huge waves, she’s also tattooed and pierced! Tess has been staying on message about believing in herself in spite of what people told her. This quote from the People Magazine online article is really inspirational:

“I’ve just kept doing this stuff recently, thinking, ‘Thank God I didn’t give up,’ ” says the Los Angeles-based Holliday, who had to overcome many detractors to get where she is today.

“I found out about plus-size modeling when I was 15, and I went to an audition in Atlanta. They told me that I was too short and I was too big, and I would never model. But I’m very hardheaded!”

I can definitely relate to being bullied and using that spitfire to rise above the lies people told me about my body and loving myself anyway. Tess didn’t just stick to plus modeling in spite of being told no at that audition, she also began a movement called Eff Your Beauty Standards in order to empower other fat folks. I think it’s amazing when plus models, who could just stay a pretty face in front of the camera, get political with size activism and empower others.

The modeling agency (MiLk Model Management) said that they were driven to sign Tess because of her social media following. I think it was Tess’s inspirational movement that has been a big part of her prolific social media presence that helped get her that deal.

Tess Holliday’s Instagram is a very satisfying feed to follow. Lots of gorgeous Tess shots, of course, but also glamorous behind the scenes of a modeling career and regular every day stuff like hanging out with her babetown Australian fiance and her son. And it’s always a good moment for me when Tess is in her underwear. Swoon!!

tesshollidayforpowdermagazineHeidi CalvertI adore Tess’s vintage aesthetic and her fatshions. Photo by Heidi Calvert for Powder Magazine.

Our society’s ridiculous notions of beauty are being thwarted a bit right now, because of this event and the media avalanche. This is a big story. People who read it who haven’t heard about size activism might have their minds stretched. The modeling industry is seeing that people respond well to non-normative body shapes.

The more people who share about Tess and talk about how great it is to have actual plus size diversity in modeling the more we can catalyze a bigger societal shift towards body acceptance. So share this blog post, or a media piece you appreciate about it. (I’m especially fond of the Buzzfeed article because it shows lots of Tess’s followers using the #effyourbeautystandards hashtag being empowered!)

Fat allies, this is your time, too, tell your people about Tess and let them know that it matters to you that this is representing change in an industry that oppresses bodies. Remember my mantra, All bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are!

And be sure to write your favorite plus size manufacturers to ask them to use models of all plus sizes so we can be sure that MiLK model management and other agencies that follow suit have jobs to send these models on! And support the indie designers that have been using plus models of all sizes all along!

I would love to see this change mean more gateways for other non-normative bodies, ages, ethnicities, genders, body hair status, etc…

20150117_182554-MOTIONI also want to give a shout out to my bestie Mackenzi’s new women’s clothing boutique in Astoria, Queens, Lockwood Style, carrying sizes 0-24! The inventory is really diverse and there’s a lot of turnover in styles. It just opened as the sister store to her Lockwood home and gift store next door. It’s worth a trip to Astoria if you find yourself in NYC shopping while fat! The dress I was trying on was from Cabiria Style, an indie local plus size designer carried at Lockwood.

*If you’re suffering from cold this winter I highly recommend fleece lined leggings, and Re/Dress online is having a Winter layers sale right now. I just bought some in pink and black. Use code LAYERUP for $5 off each piece. I secretly wanted to buy this $98 vintage nightie but for now just practical layers, I will when I am a rich lesbian.

**PS. Be sure to check out Domino Dollhouse’s Valentine’s lingerie line featuring Tess Holliday!

***PPS. Read this article from Huffington Post last week about my friend Sophie Spinelle’s body positive feminist pin-up photography business. I love the title of the article so much! These Pin-Up Photos From ‘Shameless Photography’ Show That Every Body Is Gorgeous. Congratulations Sophie!

o-SHAMELESS-PHOTOGRAPHY-900Bra burning pin-ups is the way to go!

2014-11-20

Post Chemo California Road Trip Part One: San Francisco, Santa Cruz, the East Bay and I-5

Our post-chemo trip was postponed a few months, but we made up for it in October during an epic ten day Southern and Northern California road trip exploring new places and visiting familiar stomping grounds for this California native. I chronicle the trip in these blog posts. Check out the post chemo road trip tag for all of the posts!

When Dara was ending chemo we were supposed to celebrate with a family vacation to Southern California in June. It happened that her family was going to be staying in the same Southern California town that my family immigrated to from Canada in 1962 (how random/fated that they picked Oxnard for their trip, though technically my family is in Camarillo, too) and we were going to maybe get them to meet. We had enough airline miles to make the trip free. All the plans were set and we were traveling just as soon as we possibly could after Dara’s last chemo treatment.

Except that post-chemo trip got canceled because Dara’s father passed away very suddenly and we went to Las Vegas instead. The miles tickets were able to be postponed, but we couldn’t change the destination. We had a trip via LAX to take within the next year, and decided that in the Fall we would finally take that post-chemo trip, only by now Dara would have hair and we wouldn’t need to obsessively clean the airplane seats and tray tables with antibacterial wipes. (Chemo would make her immune-compromised for at least a month following her last infusion.)

14806615819_1c38c0932b_oSo many pro con lists were incorporated in figuring out exactly how to plan this epic journey.

When we conceived the new incarnation of this trip we decided that Dara would buy a cheap ticket to Las Vegas a couple of days before I left in order to get her dad’s car so we could save on a rental car. Mercury was retrograde, so our trip was really difficult to pin down. We adjusted dates of where we were going to be a few different times as curve balls came at us and hoped we didn’t annoy our friends too much with furtive texts like, “Oh shit, our cabin trip got changed to Big Bear so now we’re moving things forward two days.” Camping became cabin, destinations were shifted, etc…

The thing about being from California and knowing lots of people from my adult life in California, is that anytime I am there I can see about 2% of the amount of people I want to see. And if I’m there for a holiday, which I usually am, it’s even more difficult to see friends since they tend to be out of town or busy. I try to trust my gut about who is on my mind and hope everyone understands.

Dara had a few work meetings (she’s a consultant in education research, action planning and grant writing) we had to schedule around, and I wanted to make sure we squeezed in as much adventure and relaxation as possible. We’re never going to have a post-chemo road trip again and I wanted it to be fun and meaningful.

15796314336_2223a44853_zDara in her work meeting outfit during our drive up I-5. She’s so cute dressed up for work!

Our first stop after my 11PM arrival to LAX was to Lebec, CA—we were driving up to San Francisco for Dara to have a work meeting early the next evening so we needed to get out of the way of LA traffic. We stayed in a kind of crappy Motel 6 with weird tasting water and had a Denny’s kind of breakfast. A true road trip meal.

I deeply wanted to stop at Harris Ranch for steak but there wasn’t time. I love that place and recall fondly many trips with my mom driving down I-5 to visit my Southern CA family and stopping at Harris Ranch for her to get steak and eggs. (I never liked steak until my late twenties.)

15200027324_724da6cec1_zSidewalk colors in San Francisco.

This time around Dara and I also postponed a trip to the Madonna Inn, which I used to stare at longingly when mom and I would take the 101. I didn’t even know what that gorgeous, huge, white building was on the inside until I was an adult. Staying at one of Madonna Inn‘s gorgeous theme rooms is on my bucket list and I was really sad when timing meant we had to drop it from the itinerary.

Making very swift trips from Southern to Northern CA was a trade-off for how much fun we had in both places. We drove through the East Bay from I-5. We were in a rush, but since Dara got confused by my mention of my home town, Castro Valley, and the neighborhood we were staying in San Francisco, The Castro, I decided she needed to have a trip down the main drag. I’ll save the distinctions for another blog post, but trust me. Castro Valley is not The Castro.

20141015_170248I made this bouquet at a place in the Richmond district of SF called Intention Flowers, which is just woo enough to be perfect. I love arranging flowers.

We were in San Francisco for a day and a half and hit up some of my favorite haunts and explored a few new spots.

While Dara was at her work meeting, I went to Burma Superstar with my friend Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography. Shamless just turned five years old! My shoot was one of her first. I adore her and really appreciate friendships where not seeing one another for months or years you still pick back up where you left off.

15371294390_1487444fb6_oI saw Sophie’s adorable apartment and she has a real working land line! So retro!

Burma Superstar has incredible food. Their Tea Leaf Salad is so savory and delicious–it won an award in Sunset Magazine which says a lot. I also had the Basil Chili Pork Belly at the recommendation of the super helpful waiter. FYI they will absolutely lie to you about the wait, though. When they said 20 minutes they should have said an hour or more. But the extra time with Sophie was so wonderful.

The next morning I headed out solo to meet up with my friend Megan Beene at Tartine, my favorite bakery in the whole world. Their croissants are magnificent and totally worth the stomach ache for this gluten intolerant fat femme. Megan got stuck in Bay Bridge traffic so we had fifteen minutes to catch-up before work but the hug was worth it! The Tartine line is always out the door because it is no secret to tourists.

15837592472_49d3c4c004_zWith Jess and California gas prices in The Castro.

I met back up with Jess and Dara (we were staying with Jess and Claire in the Mistro, the area above Dolores Park that is both the Mission and Castro) and we went exploring. I fell so in love with Best in Show a newish pet store with a very well curated selection of dog outfits and accessories. Macy would love this owl sweater.

20141016_223822I also fell in love with Wilbur Milli, their adorable rescue pup who is blind and bumps into a lot of things with his nose. This could also be the trip called other people’s puppies as we hung out with lots of dogs everywhere we went.

Jess introduced us to her favorite store, Local Take. What a treasure trove! Another well-curated store of local artists’ wares, from home goods to clothing. Dara bought a wooden tie that has received much acclaim. I checked in on Yelp and scored us a free stainless steel water bottle which we take everywhere now.

15796337576_f0fbe8b5a6_zDara’s wooden tie!

15634592188_e01d373689_zWe made it a game to take the cutest/cheesiest couple photos during our whole trip. I loved this one in the dressing room at Local Take.

We had lunch at Orphan Andy’s, a charming super gay diner where I tried a pork belly omelette. It was pretty good pork belly, but kind of a weird flavor combination within the omelette.

That afternoon Dara and I took off solo to Twin Peaks to catch the view. I love it up there. Another place that is tourist-central for a reason. So many good photo opportunities.

15820017925_376b5facc3_zStandard Twin Peaks stunning view.

15200576703_e9e5aa5207_zStandard Twin Peaks “I can hold Market Street with my hand” photo.

15634609388_7c9e79de15_zI wanted to sit in the dirt on the cliff to look at the view for a bit. Even a few steps away from the tour busses was more peaceful.

We stopped at Bi-Rite Creamery for ice cream and since it was a cold cold day in San Francisco it was deserted and we got to try many of their flavors without the pressure of the typical line behind us.

That night I stayed in to play Settlers of Catan with Jess and Claire while Dara had another work meeting.

15812384366_1565142e34_zCute Castro Kiss.

We hit the road pretty early the next day to have lunch with my mom and see her classroom (she is a high school teacher and changed schools within the last couple of years) on the way to another of Dara’s work connections in Santa Cruz. Mom took us to the best Mexican place ever, La Piñata in Hayward near the San Lorenzo border. If you’re ever in the East Bay I highly recommend it.

I basically never eat Mexican on the East Coast because the food at La Piñata is what I think of when I think of Mexican and nothing holds a candle to the delicious soupy refried beans covered in cheese and perfect enchiladas I remember from my youth. If any ex-Californians have restaurants they recommend in NYC for Mexican, let me know.

15635185790_3e1e34b821_zOne of our cute couple photo attempts from Twin Peaks.

Dara was meeting my mom for the first time, which meant I picked her outfit. I needn’t have feared, though, since Mom and Dara basically talked education policy the whole time and got along famously.

In Santa Cruz, Dara had an afternoon meeting with a former work colleague and I was going to meet up with a friend of mine at the beach. We could have taken 280 but I am definitely a backroads kind of girl and knew I had to defy google’s directions to sit in traffic on a boring suburban freeway and head through the mountains and to the Pacific Coast Highway. Basically, when in doubt, I take the scenic route and it makes life infinitely better.

15804445536_4986450a6f_zThis is way cuter on the side of the highway than a cement wall and strip malls.

15829649952_3ecedee57b_zTaking a five minute let’s look at the view on the side of the road break.

I met up with Jen Hollywood at Rio Del Mar State Beach. We spent forever trying to find each other because we each went to different spots but it was a wonderful hour long catch-up. We even saw a seal pop its head out of the water! California magic!

20141017_162917Jen Hollywood and dogs!

15642269619_1e17757198_zI did not catch the seal head but that’s where it was, right in the water under the pier! If I lived in Aptos I’d drive the 5 minutes to the beach every day for the sunset.

That evening we stayed with Dara’s lovely former boss and her husband and had an amazing conversation. Their house is gorgeous and basically straight out of a renovation photo from Sunset Magazine, my favorite CA travel and lifestyle magazine. As someone who aspires to be a late in life minimalist, I had to resist the urge to take a ton of photos to put in my vision book. (I try not to scare people I’ve just met by introducing them to my tendency to relentlessly document everything.) Imagine having enough kitchen cabinets that everything goes away and you just have acres of counter space? I am a total city dweller that dreams of pantry space and walk-in closets. Also there is a backyard writer’s house. Dream home!

When I was a teenager I had a couple of friends who lived in Santa Cruz and I have always adored staying there… this just made me even more set on coming back. The forest and the ocean meet-up in this beautiful, peaceful, hippie, woo, place full of birds, hybrid cars and great coffee.

I’ll continue our journey in another blog post about our post-cancer cabin trip to Big Bear!

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2014-10-27

Why I Posed Nude for Diva Magazine

This past July I received an email from Sophy Holland asking me if I would be interested in posing nude for Diva Magazine’s Body Issue. I know Diva—it’s an international lesbian magazine based in the UK. I loved their Body Issue last year. I immediately checked out Sophy’s website and found an incredible portfolio of sumptuous photos for many world-class publications. It was kind of scary to say yes to something like this. Sophy was very enthusiastic of my work with body liberation and I trusted my intuition, which gave Sophy a thumbs-up.

15447725338_31a39d7308_zOn set with Omyra. All backstage photos by Madison Shields.

I know first-hand the power of seeing real women’s nude bodies and transforming people’s perceptions of themselves… it’s one of the most significant ways I was able to begin to unlearn my own body self-hatred. (I talk more about this in my interview that went along with the photo shoot.) I wanted to take this step politically, and personally I needed to make an amends to myself.

Five years ago I had just turned 30 and my friend Molly was launching her boudoir photography business Fat Bottom Photography. She offered to shoot me and several other folks during a day-long marathon of lingerie and nude photos. I learned a lot about posing nude from that experience, both in front of the camera and Molly’s detailed pre-shoot instructions. The most memorable advice was to hydrate, get plenty of sleep and not wear a bra before you get shot nude because it’ll leave marks on your skin.

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When the proofs came in Molly sent me the gallery and I looked at it a couple of times. But I never got around to telling her which photos I wanted to have retouched and I just let it sit in my gmail drafts for years. An embarrassing amount of years, until I just accepted that I didn’t have it in me to select nude photos of myself and deleted the draft.

I can’t really explain why I never went for those photos. They were gorgeous! Molly is an incredible photographer and I have many treasured portraits she’s taken on other occasions, but there was something about the vulnerability of seeing my naked body like that. I can stare in the mirror and like what I see, I can wear lingerie on stage and post those photos on my blog. But naked? Too tender.

15013670633_b3de0f127b_zMake-up artist Shirley for W3ll People doing her magic on Sam, a super talented celebrity cake decorator.

With the Diva Magazine shoot, I knew it would be different. Saying yes and showing up meant Sophy got to do what she wanted (subject to my personal comfort with what type of nudity I consented to). It meant I couldn’t stall the release of the photos. It meant distribution. And in some ways that felt scarier than having private boudoir photos of myself, but it also meant making a choice to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Going into it I was a bit nervous. Usually I can bring a buddy along for shoots but not this time. Since it was nude, it was a closed set. And, with twelve on-camera subjects, make-up, hair, photo assistants, catering and a few other folks it was already full. Sophy made sure to tell me I would know one of the other on-camera subjects, Robin.

The Diva shoot was way more glamorous than I imagined it would be. I’ve modeled a handful of times and it’s usually kind of uncomfortable and a bit ad hoc. I love being in front of the camera, though, so I’m totally up for discomfort for the sake of art.

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This was modeling in style! My call time was 8:30AM at Pier 59 studios, a professional photography studio with a gorgeous row of make-up mirrors and chairs, a gorgeous zen garden and a juice and coffee bar. I was among the first to arrive and had so much fun digging into the delicious catering brunch while Keiko began the three and a half hour project of making my hair “Priscilla Presley meets Dolly Parton.” And Shirley (Shirley Pinkson for her amazing make-up brand W3ll People) doing my make-up was so soothing. (Sometimes I think of getting my make-up done as a form of body work because I find it so relaxing.)

Sophy was incredible. She showed me photos of inspiration for my individual shoot and hair. She checked in with me about what I was going to wear and checked in about how I was feeling leading up to the big moment in front of the camera. She worked to make me feel super comfortable, supported and valuable. I know this was in the context of a very professional photo shoot, but in a more bedroom context, these are also characteristics of a good top. I’m just saying.

15447928677_7b9d36dcb9_zThe only behind the scenes photo Sophy sent us of herself, here she is overlooking Carly’s look. Sophy is the stunner standing with the perfect long blow-out. Carly has all the bombshell red lipstick.

They played music over the sound system for each individual shoot and Sophy was the first to play All About That Bass for me. I didn’t realize it was a size positive pop anthem until after the shoot and it has been forever endeared for the association with a special day.

15013094284_31de553106_zMy finished hair and make-up selfie in progress with Shirley and Keiko.

My individual shoot took almost no time to complete—given all that hair and make-up it was less than two songs and a few “Move your foot a little to the right” and then we were done. Most of the rest of the time waiting for the big group shot I hung out and got to know the other models. A DJ, a triathelete, dancers, my pal Ashley Kolodner of Gay Face 1st Class, one of the stars of VH1’s R&B Divas, and more. Each of us has an interview in the feature article with their nude photo.

The group shot was really fun to do, and I tried to make my facial features as interesting as possible. It was kind of awkward, since we were all half naked hanging around in poses, but we were cracking jokes and getting to know each other.

15447868227_d79ef1d462_bI actually think my hair has never looked better than it did after all this hard work by Keiko!

The final results are gorgeous, I am absolutely in love with the shot that Sophy chose for my feature. I was interested to note it features prominently my stomach rolls and my stomach is an area of my body that is still complex for me. But it’s a testament to the power of a good photographer to be able to help you see a part of your body in a new way.*

The article that goes along with the cover story (teaser here) is each person in the shoot talking about their body and how they became at home in it. Though most of the bodies are normatively shaped, almost everyone has a story about how it was a struggle to love it. I also really appreciate Rosebud’s story of coming home in their trans* body from a place of wishing it was masculine or anything other than what it was.

15447783748_eb3b00286f_zYou should check out Monifah’s album, it’s wonderful.

I still feel a little bummed I never got those photos of myself from that Fat Bottom Boudoir shoot— all bodies change and I’ll literally never have the same body I had when I was 30. I’m so thrilled with what Sophy did and am really proud of myself for making that personal amends, being afraid and doing the photo shoot anyway. Now I have a gorgeous record of where I was in my body and about my body at 35. And I know it’s never too late to keep moving forward in the journey to loving and being comfortable with your body.

The Diva Magazine is available for digital download for $5.99, on newstands now (check your international newsstand since it’s a UK-based international magazine), and you can order a print copy to be delivered to your door. The stories in the feature article are incredibly inspirational and empowering—I hope you’ll get a copy!

15447360949_494e5d44f9_zHere’s a teaser screencap of my picture but you’ll have to get the magazine to see the whole thing!

*My photographer friend Sophie Spinelle does this with her Shameless Photography Pin-up clients. I really want to get together with Sophie Spinelle and Sophy Holland sometime.

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