So, What Can I Do?

Friends and colleagues of the theatre (and elsewhere), 

*THIS WHOLE POST APPLIES REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU WORK*

More and more I am hearing about situations in rehearsals halls where women are feeling unsafe. More and more situations where women are being sexually assaulted by bosses and co-workers. More and more situations where victim blaming, slut shaming, denial of responsibility and gossip are the norm in rehearsal hall. More and more situations where people feel that they are being forced to choose between being and ally and speaking up for survivors and personal economic resources. A big mouth or a job is a rough spot to put a person in. 

So there you are; in that rehearsal hall, hearing about lying sluts and family worries and benefit of the doubt. What do you do? What do you say? 

First: I BELIEVE YOU.  

These accusations are made because they are things that happened. Often the police are not involved for a variety reasons that are often not any of your business. But they happened. And most of us can prove it.

Second, you can do nothing. Nothing is always an option. It's not ideal but it's well within your rights. You can remain silent and hold onto your job and potentially career and I respect that; honestly, I get it. 

But there are options beyond nothing.  

If you see it happen or someone discloses to you. Support the victim however they ask and if they ask don't back down. Go as far as they need. Go as far as you feel comfortable. 

If you don't feel comfortable holding an abuser accountable ask for the hall to be work talk only zone. Respectfully ask all your colleagues to keep their personal lives personal and not for rehearsal hours. It might not make you very popular and you might have to eat lunch alone but chances are you can find someone who appreciates the request and that way the gossip is silenced. 

You can hold people accountable for their victim blaming and begging for the benefit of the doubt. Ask them why they need it? Ask them why they are talking about women this way? Say words like victim blaming and gas lighting . Challenge them when they call ex lovers crazy bitches. And do this in all situations of misogyny and slut shaming; do this when others are gossiping about survivors. 

Feeling tough? What if the abuser is your friend? You are in a unique position. Sit down with them. Offer support. Offer to assist them in getting help and making restitution. Many of us are willing to forgive if real remorse and proof of change is evident. You can offer incredible support and kindness to your friend. There are many examples of this happening across the country and it is beautiful. Counselling, support and hope are available for perpetrators as well as their victims. 

I appreciate how hard this will be. But we will all appreciate you doing it even more. 

Are you the boss? In charge of grants or prizes or who gets access to those precious resources? Demand accountability from those you hire and when there are abuse and assault accusations reach out to the community; hire people who express compassion and tenderness in their work and in community social settings. Make abusers demonstrate rehabilitation and give space to those they hurt to feel safe in your theatre.  

Holding people accountable or taking a break from hiring them will not crumble our communities. Instead we will be stronger, safer, more accountable and we will make better work. We will make better work audiences feel safe watching. 

And lastly, again: believe us.  

AN OPEN LETTER TO JES BAKER

Dear Jes Baker, 

Months ago I was reading Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and could barely keep myself from responding positively to every single thing I read. I was blogging for hours and hours; feeling uplifted and powerful; feeling new and empowered. It was a heavenly feeling. Truly. Nothing had come along in ages that I had felt more connected to, more challenged by and more ready to share with friends and lovers of all body sizes. Fat is rad! You knew it, I knew it and I wanted everyone else to know it! 

And then something happened. It was the strangest thing… I started to feel shame and a deep anxiety. A book meant to empower started to make me feel ashamed. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls forced me to look deeply inside myself and examine how I feel about by fat and the space I occupy; reflections I welcomed with open (chubby) arms, and what I saw made me sad. Deeply sad. The tears were altered from their previous joyful flow and I struggled with even continuing to read the book. 

It’s not your fault, of course. I mean, how could I predict the response I had. But it’s been a response I have continued to struggle with since it happened. I DON’T feel good in my own skin; I feel like I currently occupy a body that isn’t mine but that is hiding my real body, padded out to keep her safe. 

My body is currently a battle ground, a space of healing and hurt. Food became a protection and a weapon and the result: I got fatter. Surrounded by chips and ice cream I felt safe. Eating wasn’t a rebellious act, it was self protection. It was solace and harmful. Instead of cutting I ate until I was sick. Ate until it hurt to move, until my body and my organs hurt like my heart. Ate until I woke up in pain and hungover. I wanted to feel anything, to remind myself of my human-ness.

So what happens when fatter-ness comes at the result of self harm? How does one find the body positivity in that? How does one heal from trauma and feel at home in their own skin when the result of the pain feels like a violent alteration of the body. This body in the mirror, naked, feels like someone else’s. A me of a time of pain and a pain I am slowly recovering from. And I feel glimmers of my old self - sometimes in the arms of a lover when pleasure becomes the only sensation. Sometimes with friends and family when joy is in the fore of the conversation.

The truth is, that despite my politics, ethics, activism and deep desire to love myself radically exactly as I am: I want to lose weight. I want my old self back. A self altered by events but a self I loved. A self who kept me strong and fierce and energized and fit and fat. I want to take all the trauma and pain and frustration and hurt and loss and grief and learning and wear it in a different version of myself; a version of myself who finds joy in food; a version of myself not faking it. This body triggers me because it is the result… It is not authentic and I hate it. 

But I feel like I am betraying the cause. Like I am shunning my fat sisters who are recovering beautifully in their own skin. How do we talk about weight loss and body positivity? How do we share a legitimate journey with ourselves and healing that feels in direct opposition to our personal politic? How does one advocate for radical self love when you do not radically love yourself? Can I work to lose weight without betraying these deep values? 

And can we please talk about it? And this… what about this? This fills me with so much shame I can hardly stand. 

Screenshot_2016-03-14-09-37-32-1.png

You and Virgie Tovar speaks so much beautiful truth but what happens when I know all this and still desire to change. Is it possible for weight loss to happen without internalized capitalism and misogyny? If I know it is not about turning myself into a commodity for trade? 

I want to love myself. I want to heal. I need to heal. I need to not have to explain myself if I don’t want to… I need to not feel shame about what I want as much as I need to not feel shame in my own body. And what if want to talk about it? Well, I guess I am... but is there space to talk about losing weight in queer/feminist/body positive spaces? 

And to those rude people who say crappy things like, "you said riots not diets"? Can I tell them to fuck off? Can I riot and diet?

I need my body to be a space of love again. 

So, what does this have to do with you? Well, I guess nothing. Not really. It just seemed like the way to frame it… To frame my feelings into a reflection on a specific thing. To ease myself into what I am deeply feeling. Your book made me feel brilliant and beautiful and desirable and afraid. But it’s the afraid I am left with - and a desire to get back to brilliant, beautiful and desirable. 

So, this is to you Jes, and it isn’t. It’s a battle cry and a shameful whisper. Perhaps, it’s just the wind… 

Life sure is fucking messy! 

Battle on, sister. Battle on.

 

Things a fat girl will tell you pt 2

47% in and the thoughts keep a flowing… Jes Baker for the feels, pals! 

My most favourite photo of me is one my ex* took of me. I am standing totally naked on a beach, all the fat on display and happy. Fuck, so happy! 

In that photo there is no fear, no shame, no worry about stretch marks or body hair - just the sun on my naked skin. 

*The irony is that that ex often made me very aware of my fatness as it related to him. He was a
“I prefer “bigger” girls” dude, always after a goddamn pat on the back! What he didn’t understand was that by constantly telling me how grateful I should be, he marginalized my dating experiences and fetishized my body in a way that removed me and turned me into something for him. His new partner is also a fat woman and I hope he doesn’t make her feel the same way. 

“Why did you stay with him, Michelle?” - that’s what you want to ask, right? So ask. Why stay with him? Because there were situations in my life that existed beyond my control and sometimes we allow people into our lives because they help us push that stuff aside. Good sex, easy personality, someone you can sort of work on when your own shit feels too hard, someone who does not challenge intellectually, someone you don’t really mourn when they prove themselves a coward**. 

But I still have that rad photo. 

The point is: NO FUCKING TROPHIES. 

What we’re taught as fat people, as fat women particularly… There must be something sinister going on because it can’t be that the person you’re with is actually attracted to you. Are you easy? Unchallenging? Eager to put yourself and your values aside to be with anyone? Can they use you and discard you and you’ll be ok with that because how lucky you are JUST to have found a person willing to touch you in a sexual way… Especially if they are hot. How fucked up is that? 

And cool, if you’re a fat person and love your fat fetishized, DO IT! Also give Big Big Love a read. 

Further to last night, almost as soon as I pushed publish and went back to the book Baker begins to talk around fitness and feeling shame at the gym! Holy hell. IN MY BRAIN. 

And look, I hope I didn’t make anyone feel bad about having fitness goals. I love you for you, all of you… I just want everyone to know that you’re amazing and losing 10lbs won’t suddenly make you happy. Allow yourself happiness today because you’re missing out on a million little moments of joy*** 

Half way through that is becoming my biggest take away. Maybe you’ll lose 100 lbs one day (or 10 or 14 or whatever) and maybe you’ll wear that aspirational piece of clothing in your closet from high school and maybe you’ll do 1000 other things. Maybe. But what about the 1000 things you aren't doing while you wait. I just wanna do stuff, with my whole fat body in tow.

I want to:

  • share millions more kisses
  • be naked in the sunshine 
  • go swimming
  • visit Paris again
  • love fearlessly 
  • wear blundstones with party dresses 

When I weigh 10 less pounds? Or tomorrow? I have blundstones, a party dress, and two lips. I need money go to Paris and not to live in a sub-arctic temperatures to be naked in the sunshine… but those things too will come. And in the meantime, MORE JOY. Whatever that means for you. 

xo 

** Sorry if you see this and it hurts your feelings. Truly, I am grateful for the times we spent together.

*** And please don't feel like I minimizing the very real barriers to joy. I feel them too and I am here for you if you need anything. 

things a fat girl will tell you pt. 1

Today, hours ago actually, I began reading the book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker. Jes is the Militant Baker and if you haven't checked out their writing, do yourself a favour...  

Obviously it's got my brain working and thinking about how I occupy the world in my own fat body. How does the privilege of my whiteness intersect and interact with my fatness and my queerness? How much confidence am I allowed given the perceived transgression of my fatness? How much space am I allowed to take up?

So I decided I would use this space (since it's mine) for some reflection as I read through Baker's wonderful book. 

First, please just call me fat. I hate your euphemisms. All of them. They aren't "kind" and they speak more to your fear of fatness than to any reality of my existence in the world. If you call me anything but fat I will ask you not to and I don't care if you feel embarrassed. And I know not every fat person wants to be called fat and not every fat person is comfortable with their fat or the word fat but for me... it's your only option. Spare us all the embarrassment. 

Second, I don't want to hear about your diet. I do want to hear about the struggles you are having in your own skin, how it makes you feel and WHY you are struggling to love yourself. I will tell you you are beautiful, powerful and amazing and I will mean it. I will follow you on instagram and love all your selfies and call you a babe ALL THE TIME.  I do not want to hear about your calories or your #fitspo or what you've been eating. SMASH DIET CULTURE and love yourself. Please. Run or don't, it's all good, but you're amazing exactly as you are in this exact moment. Right now. Don't wait for those 10 lbs or that 6 pack or that 5k. Do it, whatever it is, you totally can! 

So here is some irony for you: I began reading this at the gym. I have been struggling with insomnia and shaky mental health lately and moving my body in rapid motion helps. It was good and I am still fat. Reading the book I had a little cry (because I often cry) and sent loving kindness and apologies to the female-appearing people I judged just a little.

And then I was gutted by just how complicated and tenuous my relationship with my body really is:

I head into something resembling a child's pose for the unflexible to stretch my back, my ass facing the whole gym, and I am overcome by the anxious feeling that the entire gym simply CANNOT see my ass like that... I am not wearing a thong and maybe they can see the cellulite and what if my pants have fallen down or my shirt has slipped up? I have to turn around and face them, protect them from my fatness. Intellectually I know how fucked up that is, but I was so taken by a need to hide my ass from the world of the YMCA that I altered how I took up space in the gym. And though I didn't cry again I was glad that the flush of embarrassment across my cheeks could be attributed to exercise and not shame. 

I haven't gotten to the part in the book where Baker writes about sex and dating (it's coming) but I want to leave two last thoughts here today: 

1) Yes, that is the dude I'm dating. No, he isn't fat. Yes, he is conventionally handsome. Uh huh, he is in that [insert cool project, band, etc] here. Yes, we have sex. I know! He's so skinny!  I have dated a number of men that people find conventionally attractive. Some of them were lovely and some were assholes. Some of them broke up with me and I broke up with some of them. None of them cited fatness as a reason for our breakup (and if that was part of it I am thrilled they never told me). Shut up about that already. 

2) Dear Straight Dudes, THERE IS NO TROPHY FOR DATING FAT GIRLS. There is no pat on the back and there is no reward coming for you. I actively do not care if all your exes were fat... I don't care if there is a "type" of fat woman (UGH) that you like better than another type of fat woman... If you don't like me for me, fuck off. I'm a person, not just another fat woman to earn your "good dude" badge by fucking. I am NOT a novelty. DATING ME IS THE PRIZE, PERIOD. 

I would love to hear from y'all about this but keep your mean comments and "concern for my health" to yourselves, thanks! 

Buy My Book!

Hello my dear ones, 

Both dear ones I know and dear ones I have yet to know... I made a book! And you can buy it. It's a collection of short stories, essays and two plays from the past 8 or so years of my life. The truth is I am between sustaining contracts and am relatively under-employed. I have a wonderful support network in my life but they can't feed me or pay my rent. Things will turn around financially in September but for the time being I am putting this out there into the world in hopes that you might wanna read some stuff I wrote in exchange for your money! It's just like buying a published book but all the cash goes to me and not to a major publishing house! That's cool too! 

So, for a minimum $10 (though feel free to send more if you want to), I will send you this little book. 7 stories, 3 essays and 2 plays. Email me the cash to michellenkennedy@gmail.com and I will send you the special password protected PDF. 

Thanks so much for all your support! 

Much love, 

Michelle