It’s been a long time since I posted. I haven’t even been sure I was going to continue the blog. It pretty definitely saved my sanity in ’12, but ’13 has been a serious energy-eater and one of the things I haven’t had energy for is much grappling with fatmatters. I even un-subscribed from Regan Chastain’s blog–no reflection on Regan or the important work she does, just that I needed desperately not to have more stuff to be angry/stressed about and needed fewer voices in my head for a while. Also, I have come to the conclusion that I am in an awkward place vis-a-vis the Fat Acceptance community by virtue of not being absolutely fat-positive–absolute being the critical word here–and it made it hard, I think, for the blog to really find an audience, even with extraordinarily generous shout outs from a couple of friends with serious clout. It’s not always a good use of energy to keep working on. There is also the matter of the blog being as much about theology as about fat. It seems to me that the most successful blogs tend to be more closely focused.
And yet, I haven’t quite gotten around to closing it down. Several friends have sent me fodder in the past few months, which I’ve read, but not quite found the energy for. I apologize here, officially.
What got me going today? This:
Just for the record, I have multitudinous experience with each and every one of them.
I’d seen an earlier meme of racial micro-aggressions (and had been shaken to realize that I’d been guilty of one of them a couple of times) and been intrigued by the term. We used to just call this sort of thing “rudeness,” and I’m not sure that it’s an unalloyed good thing that we’re renaming these behaviors, reclassifying them into sociological issue–the idealist in me still wishes that folks would just avoid being rude. But there is an important difference between simple rudeness (not saying “Excuse me.” when you bump into someone accidentally) and socially/ethically/humanly toxic rudeness like “You have such a pretty face–if you’d just lose weight…” or (to someone whose ethnicity is not immediately clear) “So, what are you?”
Calling the rudenesses “microaggressions” does clarify their poison, and their relationship to larger, more obviously damaging/dangerous aggressions. It’s not a big leap from micro to macro to cataclysmic here. Lots and lots of evidence out there–millenia-long strings of it, in which we are all anguishedly tangled, personally, communally, ethnically, nationally, internationally.
And they all have layers. They are all weird little microcosms of what-makes-humans-act-so-badly. The most recent one I was on the receiving end of (that I remember–lots of this crap just sort of rolls off without registering because, thank God, I do have more on my mind than paying attention to every dumbass slight I’m subjected to). I was taking my mother for a walk around her nursing home. My mother is a size 4–all 98 lbs. of her looks like a decent puff of wind would sending her flying like Mary Poppins without an umbrella. A car full of teen girls drove by us and three of the girls took the trouble to lean out of the window and shout fat slurs at me. Which I particularly didn’t need because things with my mother this year have been, um, fraught. We’ll just go with fraught.
But what was interesting to me about it were the layers. Since I don’t much look like my mother unless you’re a particularly perceptive person (which they pretty surely weren’t), as far as those girls knew (those middle-class girls, if the car was any indicator) I was my mother’s caregiver/aide. So we have the following layers: 1. badly raised children 2. teenagers who are so marred by their own self-loathing that they need to take it out on random strangers, and feel entitled to do so (see #1) 3. sadism and bullying (see both #s 1 and 2) 4. Really bad class behavior because aides generally make somewhere between minimum and $12.00 an hour, which is not a living wage (and I have spent a lot of time this year watching these people do amazing, loving work with people who are not always easy to work with or love–and we won’t even get into the spectacle of a generation whose racism isn’t very far below the surface being cared for by immigrant women from Africa and the Caribbean and Latin America, who are often treated by their patients in ways that make my blood run cold…I had a lot of exposure to a world that stays mainly in the background of most of our lives this year). So the bitchy teens managed to be size-ist and classist and bullying and dumb and just plain wretched all at once. Fortunately, my mother’s hearing sucks.
And we call that a “microaggression.” The only reason that it makes sense to attach “micro” to it is that there was no actual physical violence. No guns, fists, knives, or bombs.
It’s good that we’re acknowledging that these things are aggressions, that they are, thereby, acts of violence. What bothers me is that we’re still, somehow, holding on to the notion that they are, by virtue of not involving physical violence, lesser woundings. We’re a funny lot here on planet earth. We want desperately to hang onto the mind/body or spirit/body split, and to privilege the mind/spirit half of that split, and yet we only truly treat the wounds and illnesses of the body with real respect. We puzzle me.
Which raises another more or less related matter. Someone whose opinion I generally respect a lot recently suggested to me that I not take some of my mother’s more aggressive behaviors of the past 9 months “personally,” since some of them were functions of her increasing dementia. People used to say the same thing to me about my mother-in-law’s various modes of behavior toward me. Many would suggest that I not take the crap-oid behavior of the girls in the car personally–that none of these things is actually “about me.” It was during those early years of my marriage that I had an epiphany. My mother-in-law’s nastiness was happening TO ME. It didn’t matter that it didn’t matter who I was–that she’d have been beastly to anyone my only-child-of-an-Irish-Catholic-widow-who-was-also-deaf had had the temerity to marry. He married ME, and I was the one getting poked in the kidneys every time she caught us embracing. I concluded then that the whole don’t-take-it-personally thing is serious garbage. That is a suggestion that we not feel what we are feeling.
I’m not saying that we should wallow in our bruises. But there’s a saying somewhere that “you can bury your feelings, but you bury them alive” that seems to me to be an important bit of wisdom. And that telling other people to bury their feelings is maybe one of the most pervasive microaggressions.
Nor am I suggesting that we carry grudges. My lovely therapist says that carrying a grudge is like shooting yourself in the foot and waiting for the other person to bleed. True that.
But there has to be some large territory in between burying feelings alive and shooting ourselves in the feet. And it would probably be useful to remember that the business of processing our hurts is something that involves infinite variations and modes, sometimes even within one person.
Eventually, I’ll turn my mother-in-law (who truly, fiercely loved her son) into a comic novel. And, in the order of things here in The Second Smallest State, I may end up teaching one or more of those dumbass girls from that car. No chance that I’ll recognize her/them, but the Universe would probably be amused.