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A lo largo de los años he sido objeto de muchas observaciones bifóbicas.

La bifobia no es solo una expresión específica de homofobia para las personas que son “parcialmente” gays. La bifobia viene de la comunidad queer y heterosexual, y en mi experiencia, es una expresión del pensamiento y/o binario que puede ser muy destructivo para nuestro mundo en muchas maneras. Las que voy a exponer a continuación ni siquiera son las peores, solo son las más reveladoras de los perjuicios escondidos que hay contra las personas bi.

Algunas personas dicen que “pansexual” es la identidad de elección si te atraen personas sin que te importe el sexo o el género, y por lo tanto rechazan el género binario. Abordo esta cuestión más adelante, y afirmo por qué me defino todavía como bisexual y no pansexual, mientras desafío el género binario. “Queer” puede ser también en término paraguas para la comunidad LGBTQ+, o puede ser un término más radical para una posición que desafía la heteronormatividad.  

  1. “Yo también fui bisexual una vez”

A lo mejor para algunas personas su identidad se siente más estable en una categoría diferente a “bisexual” y pertenecer a una etiqueta diferente es ahora su preferida. Pero decir algo así es muy condescendiente e inválido. Una mujer identificada como lesbiana actualmente me lo dijo en el Club Lexington hace unos diez años. Estoy seguro de que la gente lo sigue diciendo, y hay que pararlo.  Sé que he sido bisexual desde los 16 años, y todavía soy bisexual. Me honra cómo me identifico. Punto final.

  1. “¿Pero qué pasa con la monogamia?”

Nada en contra del poliamor, que es una identidad legítima también. Pero la bisexualidad no significa no-monógamo. Bisexual significa muchas cosas diferentes para muchas personas diferentes, algunos de los cuales son monógamos, y otros son poli. Enfrentar bi y poli es simplemente inadecuado.

More Radical Reads: Los 4 modos in los que la ‘no-monogamia’ me ha ayudado ha sentirme mas segura y comoda en las relaciones romanticas 3.“¿No refuerza la palabra bisexual el género binario?”

Este asunto ha tenido mucha cola en el blog. Un gran artículo para releer para una exploración más profunda de este tópico tan complejo es:  Words, Binary, and Biphobia: Or Why “Bi” is Binary but “FTM” is Not.  Por ahora, me gustaría aprovechar la oportunidad para salir como un bisexual de género queer, y por lo tanto detonar todos sus contraargumentos por el mero hecho de mi existencia.  

  1. “Me da miedo salir con bisexuales porque creo que me dejarán por otro con un cuerpo diferente al mío.”

No dejes que tu inseguridad arruine una relación potencialmente fabulosa con algo tan bisexual.  ¡Sabes que la bifobia es tan maliciosa que yo mismo que soy un orgulloso bisexual y lo he sido durante años, pero ahora tengo una relación con otro bisexual y estos miedo afloran en mi cerebro! La gente tiene un montón de prejuicios contra los bisexuales por cómo son tratados en el mundo de la cultura y los medios, el mayor de ellos es el mito de que somos incapaces de satisfacer sexualmente con una pareja o que negamos nuestra actual sexualidad.  Esto es específicamente bifobia y no homofobia porque el miedo de las “dos” realidades de existencia bisexual y viene de gente gay y hetero, y como he mencionado ¡de bisexuales también! Así que no te sientas mal si tienes inseguridad o miedo. Nuestra cultura es bifóbica, así que asimilarlo tiene sentido, justo como asimilar el sexismo u otro ismo tiene sentido.

Incluso yo, que he estado reuniéndome en contra de la mierda durante años, sucumbo a veces. Estate vigilante y deshace tu bifobia interiorizada. Míralo como un acto de resistencia contra una parte fea de una cultura dominante, justo como deberías deshacer otras varias internalizaciones.

5.“¿Pero a quién prefieres realmente? ¿Con quién crees que acabarás?”

Un hombre gay me preguntó una vez esto, curioseando en varios niveles de mi atracción física contra la afinidad emocional hacia hombres y mujeres, por último intentando adivinar con su bola de cristal la respuesta de con quién acabaré, como si mi futura felicidad fuera más incierta que la suya y necesitara su consejo. Me preguntó por quién me sentía más sexualmente atraído, si a hombres o a mujeres. ¿Mi respuesta? Depende. ¿Con quién tengo más magnetismo? Si con hombres o mujeres. ¿Mi respuesta? Depende. El hecho de que mi deseo y vínculo emocional tenga alguna complejidad no significa que sea menos válido y sus capas no significan soledad para mi u otra persona con mi particular clase de atracción.

6.“Intuyo que le das a todos los palos ¿no?”

Argggg.  Todo lo que mueve el argumento. Me siento atraído por la personalidad de las personas más que por su apariencia física, aunque sienta lujuria. Hay mucha gente con la que nunca querría liarme por su comportamiento, actitud, creencias, etc. Siento que mis preferencias sexuales y románticas están muy discriminadas, pero yo no discrimino. Con esto quiero decir que distingo de quien quiero ser con ciertos estándares de compatibilidad y deseo, pero también que no corro a juzgar sobre con quién debería emparejarme basándome en su sexo asignado de nacimiento o su género.

More Radical Reads: Four Terrible Bisexuality Tropes on TV, and Four Portrayals That Defy Them 7.“Si te van todos los géneros, ¿por qué no dices que eres pansexual o queer?”

Escribí un artículo: “Queer vs. Bi: Why I’m Coming Back Around to Bisexual” . Brevemente—pansexual y queer son probablemente más precisos para mí en sus estrictas definiciones, pero me gusta usar “bisexual” porque es una palabra con una importancia histórica y también actual en el mundo hetero, en el cual puede ser usada. También creo que la gente puede alejarse de “bi” dentro de la comunidad LGBTQ por la bifobia, y esto tiene que parar.

[Imagen de portada: una foto con dos personas sentadas en una cama. La persona de la izquierda tiene el pelo corto y lleva gafas, un top azul encima de una camiseta blanca y pantalones rojos oscuros. La persona de la derecha tiene el pelo oscuro, gafas, un collar naranja, un top gris y pantalones verdes. Están sonriendo y sus cabezas se inclinan a la izquierda. Fuente: Mushpa Y Mensa]

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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We believe that there must be space to tell the story of EVERY body and we are grateful to those who have shared their stories with us so that we might share them with you. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there is help. You can reach the toll-free, confidential National Eating Disorders Association Helpline in the US at 1-800-931-2237. You are not alone.

I was 20 years old when I decided to tell my mom that I had been struggling with bulimia. Her eyes widened and she said, “Que… pero todo lo que tu crees y todo lo que haces…” (“What… but everything that you believe in and everything that you do.”)

My mom was referring to my feminist activism. Since my senior year in high school, I had become involved with feminist organizing, forming groups and events that focused on women’s empowerment and health. For my Jehovah’s Witness mom, feminism was an outlandish and extreme movement, but she nonetheless became familiar with feminism through my activism.

Her reaction was my biggest fear. I felt like a “hypocritical” feminist.  Today, I understand the complexity of eating disorders and how they can impact anyone regardless of political ideology, but at the time, my mother’s reaction demonstrated something deeper. Her response was a clear example of how so many of us lack comprehensive eating disorder education.

My mom had adjusted to the idea that I could assimilate into feminism, a white American concept (in her mind), but she could not come to terms with me having an illness that can happen to anyone regardless of geographical region, gender identity, or ethnicity. My mother’s lack of suspicion about my eating disorder was not because I was a feminist, but because I was raised Jehovah’s Witness; I was brown and I was chubby. An eating disorder was simply an idea for which she had no context.

Dealing with an eating disorder is already a huge undertaking, but for a person with a marginalized identity, it can be doubly challenging. Discrimination has historically and systematically hindered us from having the same access to resources. Apart from sociopolitical inequality, marginalized cultures have their own complexities and challenges to deal with. Due to these disparities in information, education and resources, navigating an often complicated treatment and health care system is exhausting and difficult. Therefore, there is an urgent need for providers, families, and activists to offer space for marginalized voices in the eating disorder world.

Invisibility is Violence

Marginalized people are constantly left out of eating disorder conversations. When I was at my worst, I felt trapped and I stayed silent about my eating disorder. Not only was I ashamed, but I never saw anyone like me — a Xicana from a migrant working-class family –– talk about eating disorders.

I had no point of reference to feel included or acknowledged. I didn’t even have the language to express my feelings and thoughts about my body or my relationship with food because this language didn’t exist in my circles. The fact that my family and friends did not know what to say or how to support me only further proves that eating disorder education and representation is lacking in our communities. Having a lack of language to discuss and understand eating disorders, an absence of validation about our relationships with food, and being denied access to eating disorder treatment — all of that is violence.

When marginalized people’s experiences and bodies are not part of media, medical research, and advocacy efforts, we receive the message that our illnesses are invisible. Having our health issues regarded as non-existent means that the quality of our lives, our happiness, and sometimes the length of our lives are cut short. Ultimately, not having comprehensive health education on eating disorders becomes just another part of a long list of systemic oppressions we face.

More Radical Reads: Getting Honest About My Disordered Eating

Look for Who’s Struggling and Reach Out

For the past 30 years, eating disorder representation has been centered around the white, heterosexual, cisgender, middle-class, able-bodied, pathologized experience.  There is a lot of compensated work to be done! This narrative has left out tens of thousands of people. As a result, there is a real lack of research on the rates and levels of eating disorders in marginalized communities.

Eating disorders happen discreetly, in isolation, for many folks. Even when people demonstrate signs of having an eating disorder, it is left unaddressed because disordered eating has been normalized in our society and steeped in diet culture.

Eating disorders are deeply isolating experiences and they become even more isolating for folks of color because we do not see ourselves within the greater cultural understanding of eating disorders. Including folks with disabilities, people of all sizes, and people of different social classes within the narrative of eating disorders is a must if we ever hope to empower groups that have been ignored.

We Bring a Lot to the Table

Marginalized folks have so much to offer to heal communities. For the past 500 years, our communities have survived through resiliency and an ancestral knowledge that is unknown in corporate medical institutions. For example,the decolonization of medicine movement has been key for the perseverance and healing of Native American and indigenous communities. Something very powerful occurs when people create their own culturally relevant programs within their own communities.

One example is T-Ffed: Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders. T-Ffed has been instrumental in doing outreach within and advocating for the transgender community, a population with a high risk of developing eating disorders. T-Ffed offers a transgender cultural competency educational workshop for healthcare providers and community-based healing intensives for the LGBTQ community. Studies indicate that culturally relevant programs “lead to successful completion of therapy and ensure recovery.” Marginalized folks are creative and powerful, and we know what needs to be done for our healing. We are the experts of our lives.

More Radical Reads: Learning to Eat Despite Shame: Managing Masculinity at the Table Our Work in the Body Positivity is Movement is Crucial

The type of work that marginalized folks offer in the body positivity movement is high-quality, unique, and valuable. Clear examples of this include The Mixed Fat Chick, Adios Barbie, Caleb Luna, Ashleigh Shackelford, and Sonya Renee Taylor offer powerful and much-needed critical analysis of the body-positive movement that validates many of our shared feelings and thoughts. Thick Dumpling Skin, a site for Asian Americans to share their experiences with diet and thin culture, is another excellent resources. Annie Segarra has also provided a platform to “give attention to body positive folx, women, LGBTQIA+, people of color, people of different sizes, and people with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses, [and] mental illnesses.”

These sources illustrate how our work cannot be meaningfully replicated by anyone who has not been in our shoes. 

This work is not only life-changing, but life-saving for many like myself.
It goes without saying that enough harm has already been done as a result of the widespread belief that eating disorders only impact white womxn. We can no longer afford to perpetuate this myth, particularly considering the fact that eating disorders are the deadliest mental health illness.

There are small, yet impactful steps that people can do to create space for marginalized folks with eating disorders. It can be as simple as talking to younger family members about eating disorders and letting them know that anyone can be affected by them. Supporting the work of those in marginalized communities and those doing eating disorder awareness groundwork is another good way to show support. For providers, here is a helpful checklist to ensure that all people are being included in your services. You can also check out and participate in the events that are happening in your area during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week each February.

Together, we can change the ways eating disorders are viewed. We have the power to make sure no one struggles alone.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Gloria Lucas is a brown chubby riot grrrl from Southern California who is currently involved with Nalgona Positivity Pride and the I am Not White and I Have an Eating Disorder Project. As an eating disorder (ED) survivor, her continual healing consists of providing comprehensive ED information that is relevant to communities of color. Her goal is to start conversations on decolonization, elders’ stories, and radical body love in all communities. Check out Gloria’s T’shirts at her Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/listing/238942161/beat-eating-disorders-piggy-seafoam-t

[Image Description: Photo of Gloria Lucas, founder of Nalgona Positivity Pride. She is a Xicana with light skin and dark brown hair that is pulled up into a bun with bangs. She wears black jeans and a mint green shirt that features an illustration of Miss Piggy. On the illustration reads “Beat Eating Disorders.” Standing in front of large hedges with one hand on her hip and the other at her side, she stares directly at the camera with a slight grin and her head titled up. Source: PainBrushHeart]

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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I was a pretty typical teenager when it came to sex. I wanted it and wanted to know more about it. When the classes I took in school failed to tell me how sex happens for folks with disabilities, I turned to the resource kids in the ’90s turned to for everything: Google.

The results were terrifying. Most sites told me that good sex probably wasn’t possible and others were dehumanizing. It was at that moment I realized I’d have to figure it out for myself. Below are ten things I’ve learned that I wish someone could have told me back then.

1. Talk before you fuck.

This is advice I’d give anybody who is about to have sex with a new partner. However, if one of you has a body that moves differently, this can be especially key. These conversations can be awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can be part of the fun.

Talk about likes and dislikes, but don’t stop there. What are your personal boundaries? For me, for example, I have trouble getting up off my back, so I’m never comfortable with a new partner holding me down. What limitations are you concerned about? Do you need to be lifted or have your weight supported? For me, this means talking about spasticity. Part of my disability is that the muscles anywhere below the waist are tighter than average. This can often mean fun for my partners but has an effect on the pace. My muscles often loosen up as sex goes on, but I have to start slow with lots of foreplay or else I can end up with very painful cramping.

What should your partner look out for? For example, many folks I know have muscle shakes during times of pleasure. What signs should your partner take as signs of pleasure or as a sign it’s time to slow things down?

2. There will be a learning curve.

It takes all partners some time to get used to each other’s likes and dislikes, but when you add different abilities to the mix, this is even more true. Give your partner time to learns the ins and outs of being with someone new and give yourself time to do the same.

3. The first time is never the best.

In a culture that is hooked on the ideas of love at first sight and immediate chemistry, we often think if the first time isn’t all fireworks that something must be wrong. Sex with a disability is like anything else we do with one. We have to figure out how to adapt to make it work for us.

My first few times having sex were not what I had hoped. In fact, they were awful. Even with guys I really liked and was really sexually attracted to I found it was painful and just really unappealing. It took a lot of experimenting and finding the right partner before I was convinced sex could be pleasant. However, I found once I stopped imagining it as impossible and gave us both a chance to learn, great sex was an option after all.

More Radical Reads: 10 Tips for Radically Loving Your Body (Disabled or Otherwise) 4. A little humor goes a long way.

Taking ourselves, and especially our sex lives, too seriously often ends poorly. Sex is supposed to be fun. You are with someone you enjoy being with, doing something that, out of context, would be funny in and of itself. Know that having different abilities means you will most likely end up in some situations you were not expecting.

Let me give you an example. When I first started having sex with my fiance, we had a tendency to get stuck. Yes, you read that right. Given my muscle issues, it was not unusual for me to end up in positions neither one of us was sure how to get me out of. In my younger years this would have mortified me, being buck naked and my disability all on display like that.

But you know what happened? We laughed, hard and for an insanely long time. What would have once been a huge embarrassment for me became something we can both smile about.

5. Mobility aids can be a fun addition.

I had always frowned on using my mobility aids as part of my sex life. Having been with men who fetishized disability, the whole thing just turned me off.

When talking to a friend who uses his wheelchair more than I use mine, however, I was assured that wheelchair sex was not to be missed. As it turns out, my friend was right. Fooling around one day, my fiance and I found ourselves bent over my wheelchair having some of the best sex I can remember.

Now of course, that angle won’t work for everybody, but the lesson here is to use your own mobility aid to your sexual advantage. Try different things. Play around with it. It’s a great way to mix things up that’s unique to you and your partner.

6. Look at sex from different angles.

Finding out what angles are most comfortable for you and your partner is key to enjoying sex. I was sure I’d always be a missionary girl, but as it turns out, there are tons of options I can do comfortably and really enjoy.

Start with things you know you’re comfortable with. How do you sleep? How do you cuddle? How are you most comfortable when pleasuring yourself? As it turns out, missionary isn’t always comfortable for me. But starting there and trying new things, like sex in the spooning position, has opened a lot of doors for us. Try them all and you’ll be amazed by what you learn about yourself.

7. Play with making your fantasies accessible.

At some point I mentioned to my fiance that I had always wanted to try being on top. This was just a passing thought because I had already ruled it out. Because of my balance issues, I had never been able to get on top the way able-bodied women do. This led me to assume it was just not possible for me. However, the next time we were in the heat of the moment, he figured out we could start with me on the bottom and we could rock back and forth until he could pull me up on top. Not all fantasies are going to be possible, but it can be great fun to try it out. You never know.

More Radical Reads: 4 Keys to Talking About Sexual Desire and Boundaries With Your Partner 8. Ask around.

I have been lucky enough to surround myself with very open disabled friends who can share tips and tricks. If that’s not the case for you, don’t be afraid to ask able-bodied friends for their favorites as well. Once you know what you’re comfortable with, you and your partner can adapt it to work for you. If you need more specific advice, consider online groups specific to your disability or illness. There are plenty of these on Facebook.

9. Learn what makes you feel sexy.

In a culture that has a hard time seeing those with disabilities as sexual beings, it’s important to be able to see ourselves that way. Learn what parts of yourself you love and your partner loves. Have fun finding new ways to accentuate them.

For instance, I can’t wear high heels. For a while this made me feel less sexy than other women. So now my fiance and I enjoy shopping together to find shoes I feel amazing in. A pointed toe works wonders.

10. Never stop learning.

Many couples fall into patterns when it comes to sex and it gets boring. Feeling like our physical abilities are limited can make this an even bigger problem. Whether it is through these tips, books, movies, shopping, or anything else, enjoy experimenting.

[Featured Image: Two individuals sit in wheelchairs facing one another outdoors. The person on the left rests their leg between the legs of the person seated on the right. Source: Flickr.com/amslerPIX]

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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This article was originally published on Medium under the title “How Do We Hold Each Other Accountable When We Mess Up?” and is republished with permission.

It’s hard work being accountable. It’s even harder holding others accountable. As someone who has been on all sides of accountability: asking for help to stop harm I’m experiencing, needing to be held accountable for harm I’ve done, and helping others create paths to do the same, I’ve learned a lot of us don’t know what to do to hold others accountable when they have caused harm.

The reality is that all of us have, or will, cause harm in some way or another, because we are human. We fail, we learn harmful behaviors and language, we are surrounded by violence, and replicate it sometimes un / consciously. When people cause harm it is possible for that harm to stop and for those involved to find another way to offer community retribution, support, and healing.

Many folks in the communities of which I am a part have shared that they have been let down and distraught by “community” or phrases like “accountability,” “restorative” and “transformative” “justice.” I believe it does not always have to be this way, especially if we are prepared to do the work of holding our loved ones in our communities accountable.

Here are some suggestions, maybe some solutions, but definitely not an exhaustive list of what is possible. This is a place to start.

This list is rooted in valuing humanity and rejecting certain forms of disposability. If we dispose of all the people who have done harm, there is no accountability. How can we hold people accountable if we do not stay connected to them as people who can offer care and support?

More Radical Reads: 6 Signs Your Call-Out Isn’t Actually About Accountability 1. Self-Awareness

One of the most important parts of being able to hold someone you care for accountable is to be self-aware enough to recognize when harm is happening and initiate the difficult conversations about it. This requires us to do hard work with the loved one. It also requires us to know when we can, and cannot, offer care or support.

2. Reflexivity

Along with self-awareness, the process of holding a loved one accountable requires us to examine our own values, beliefs, and ethics. Oftentimes we must do the hard work of unlearning harmful behaviors. If we are socialized in a similar way to a loved one, we must be able to examine those experiences that taught us what we believe to be acceptable. Accountability is also about unlearning how we all may harm others, and finding ways to support each other as we unlearn.

3. Ask Hard Questions

Sometimes people don’t know where to start. Here are some suggestions to get the conversation going:

    • What did you experience [in this situation]?
    • How are you feeling about the situation?
    • What are outcomes that could be positive, healing, painful, harmful?
    • Where did you learn to think / behave / respond in those ways?
    • What boundaries do you have, or need to create?
    • What may be a helpful approach to supporting you?
    • Who do you want to be?
    • Is your healing practice harming others?
    • What do you need to find healing?
4. Listen

The best gift you may be able to offer of support is to listen with compassion, curiosity, and care. We listen with our entire bodies, not just our ears and we communicate with more than our voice. We have the capacity to communicate and we can all deepen our capacity for listening.

5. Ask Harder Questions

One of my chosen family members, RC, taught me how to ask questions that pushed me to really consider power in a new way. When I was distraught at the reality that I had caused someone harm, RC listened and as time passed began to ask me, “What power do you have here?” and, “Who has the most power?” and it helped me understand choice and harm in a different way. One that I am deeply committed to and rarely get to experience because many of us are learning as we go. Here are some questions to go deeper:

    • What power do you have here?
    • Who has the most power?
    • Who do you want to be in the world?
    • What information does the pain and hurt offer?
More Radical Reads: Radical Accountability: Navigating the Abusive Habits We Perpetuate Towards Ourselves 6. Community Restitution

When there is harm it impacts so many of us. I’ve often witnessed community members become stunned and unsure how to act or move, and divisions are created. When communities are able to agree that harm has happened and each person involved is valuable, there is power to find a resolution for those directly impacted, and for the community. How powerful if community members gathered to share: “What you have done has caused harm, the response has been rooted in harm. The harm must stop on all sides as we will not allow it to continue.”

Accountability might mean being comfortable asking direct questions: “How is your healing process going?” or, “Do you need support attending the event?” It also looks like paying people a liveable wage for their care and support work, citing those who you learn from properly, and strategically using your privilege for less oppression and more shared power.

What is NOT Accountability

Saying, “I’m hurting and since I’m hurting you must do what I say” is not accountability. It is us using our power and so it becomes an opportunity for examining power. Many of us who experience harm want it to stop. However, if we do not have people supporting us it will not happen.

Safety is the responsibility of our communities, not only one organization, crew, or policy to restore. It takes all of us.

Specific Examples of Accountability

Accountability isn’t just about calling people in or out; it can look, smell, taste, and feel like many things. Here are some examples I find are often overlooked:

    • Don’t delete posts or comments on Instagram.
    • Don’t delete tweets.
    • Same with Tumblr and any social media: don’t delete your unlearning process.
    • If you must delete know there is already an archive of what you posted somewhere, so don’t rewrite or reimagine the harm caused. Offer a fair and accurate summary.

Instead use those as part of your archive of un/learning. Share it. Take a picture of it. Say you are working on it and invite others to hold you accountable by speaking up or direct message you or remind you of this or ask you how it is going. I have a thick virtual archive of my own accountability to unlearning and being corrected and reminded by youth, many queer youth of color, that I value as community members, intellectuals, and guides. This holds some of my most important unlearning of cis-supremacy.

Don’t gossip. Limit the shit talking. It really makes a difference. Focus on how you feel and why, and getting to the core of how you can heal from that pain when you are ready. This may seem odd or out of this world or basic or scary, whatever your reaction, it’s fair. It’s one option to consider. It’s worked for many.

CS is another friend who holds me accountable. CS chooses me as community and chosen family and thus their accountability pushes me in ways I have not been and in ways I’m more than ready for.

When people are not invested in me as a contributing member of our communities they are often not holding me accountable, but instead wanting me to do what they say. Often there is no follow up. When a close person to you who loves you and values you in their life holds you accountable it is an entirely different feeling. For me it’s a feeling of heat moving through my body, or feeling the center of my chest get heavy, and taking several deep breaths. Sometimes my palms sweat or other part of my body or my mouth goes dry. Sometimes I let out a growl from deep in my core. In short, I feel alive when loved ones hold me accountable, even if it is a difficult or challenging feeling in my body.

Starting the Work

As we remain human, we will fail. How we show up and heal from that failure is critical to our own understanding and collective healing. Learn how to genuinely apologize and decenter yourself. These are amazing life skills.

One thing I’ve learned as time has passed is to find compassion for those who I asked for help from and who remained silent. I understand that I was asking for something they may have never been asked before. As someone who is seen as having strong coping skills my harm was difficult for others to witness and it hurt them. I can find compassion for the way we do a lot of hard work quietly.

Finding the words to say to someone you care for, who is asking you for help, is difficult if we do not know how to help. Much of this we learn as we go along, because context matters and not everyone has the same path. There are more paths to support, healing, and care than we can imagine! Give yourself the gift of finding the path that best fits you!

[Feature image: photo of a person with light skin and light brownish hair on the left and another person with brown hair and dark hair in a ponytail on the right. The two people are sitting in a coffee shop and are engaged in a conversation with each other. The person on the left holds a white mug while listening to the person on the right, who has their hand up expressively and their mouth open as if they are in the middle of explaining something.]

Bianca I. Laureano is an award-winning educator, curriculum writer, and sexologist. She is the founder of ANTE UP! Virtual Freedom Professional Development School for Justice Workers, a Foundress of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network (WOCSHN), The LatiNegrxs Project, and hosts LatinoSexuality.com. She has written several curricula that focus on communities of color: What’s the REAL DEAL about Love and Solidarity? (2015) and Communication MixTape: Speak On It Vol 1. (2017) and wrote the sexual and reproductive justice discussion guide for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published in 2018. She wrote the forward to and offered medical support to Sonya Renee Taylor’s Celebrate Your Body And It’s Changes, Too (2018). Bianca has been on the board of CLAGS, the LGBTQ Center at CUNY, and The Black Girl Project. She currently resides in Oakland, CA. Find out more about Bianca at her website BiancaLaureano.com.

_______________________________________________________________________________

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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A menudo cuando el deseo aparece en las conversaciones, esta queda reducida a una experiencia personal o se refiere a la frecuencia con las que se tiene sexo, o con cuantas parejas sexuales, lo que es, desde luego, parte de la conversación pero no “la conversación”. Esto provoca un modo sencillo de clausurar el tema y de evitar que puedan aparecer otros aspectos no tan agradables, como la codicia, las exigencias y las fuerzas culturales que crean e institucionalizan nuestros deseos.

Pero nuestro deseo y lo deseados por otras personas que podemos ser, no es algo que se refiera solo a con quien tenemos o queremos tener sexo, o con qué frecuencia se tiene.  Tiene también que ver sobre el cómo tratamos al resto de las personas.

Hace unas semanas fui a tomar algo con una amiga, que como yo, está un poco gorda. Al chico detrás del mostrador que nos atendió, que era un chico gay, muy delgado, enseguida le noté como se mostraba visiblemente incómodo e irritado por mi talla y evitaba mirarme durante todo el tiempo que allí estuvimos. Mi gordura me ha entrenado a saber protegerme de las reacciones de los demás, a dónde dirigen sus miradas, si hacen esfuerzos para evitar mirarme o lo hacen más de la cuenta con un silencio de desaprobación. Me doy cuenta. Cuando nos fuimos, mi amiga me comentó que amigable y amable él había sido con ella y le conté mi experiencia con él. Se ofendió en mi lugar y me preguntó qué es lo que yo pensaba sobre él, como si yo pensara  que era una persona excepcionalmente desagradable y terrible.  Le contesté que sus acciones eran absolutamente comunes, era lo ordinario en línea con el poder social.

More Radical Reads: Dear Queer Black Activists: An Honest Letter About Desirability Politics Among Our Men

Sería sencillo describir estas experiencias como singulares y fuera de cualquier tipo de referencia, pero esas estructuras de pensamiento diseñan nuestras vidas. Es el modo en como se nos ha enseñado a tratar a alguien a quien se nos ha enseñado que son indeseados (incluso si de hecho, los deseamos) y este comportamiento tiene su apoyo en la sociedad.

Hace algún tiempo, no muy lejano, tuve que escuchar como mis amigos gays tenían sexo y planeaban sus citas amorosas. Escuchar sus experiencias podría conducirme a sentimientos de celos y resentimiento al comprobar como nuestras experiencias eran tan diferentes, en vez de que me alegrara por ellos. No quiero luchar contra eso y quiero estar con mis amigos. He intentado explorar de dónde vienen esos sentimientos y como ganan terreno en nuestros sentimientos y experiencias. De lo que me he dado cuenta es que no se trata de solo de escuchar cuanta gente consiguen ligarse en el bar o de cuánta atención pueden atraer allí o mediante las aplicaciones de citas que yo no puedo. Mientras esas cosas duelan como un adusto recuerdo de nuestras diferentes experiencias y del modo tan diferente en que somos vistos, apoyados y valorados (en mi caso menos valorada) e invitados a participar  en los círculos  sociales (y sexuales) ellos también podrán desaparecer, ya que esto supone un aspecto importante de sus vidas (aunque sea por una noche). Nuestra relación permanece a la espera de la subidas y bajadas de su capital sexual, mientras que la mía permanece más bien inactiva.

More Radical Reads: Let’s Stop Acting as if Queers Need to Look a Certain Way to be Queer

Este es el modo en como las políticas de la “deseabilidad” dicho de  otra forma, de lo deseable, son replicadas en las relaciones íntimas (y uso intencionadamente el término íntimo respecto a la amistad). Por eso hago esfuerzos (y a veces no lo consigo) de trata a mis amigos como amantes como un acto político  subversivo  contra la jerarquía del romance que se establece en nuestras vidas como principio. En cierto modo también porque esas relaciones me sustentan cuando no puedo contar con una amante o incluso con un potencial amante. Pero esto se convierte en en difícil de soportar cuando mis posibilidades de una relación íntima están en función de lo deseable que soy para los otros y ellos para mí.

Tampoco creo que todo esto sea específico de las relaciones del mundo gay y no es el único contexto en el cual he sentido un particular abandono en el nombre del sexo y del amor.  Y en cierto modo, me siento culpable en ocasiones, porque yo tampoco estoy exento de replicar esas jerarquías, esas políticas , por mucho que trato de ser consciente de ellas. El hecho es que esas estructuras del deseo informan como tratamos incluso a aquellos que valen más que nosotros. Creo que esto es un trabajo que debemos hacer, y como toda reconstrucción, necesita de cooperación. Se requiere trabajar sobre las experiencias que todos tenemos.

Independientemente de con quién o con quién queremos tener sexo o si no queremos tener sexo en absoluto, la sexualidad influirá de modo soterrado en como valoramos y admiramos a  a las personas de todo el mundo, tanto a los amigos como a los extraños. Eso es en lo que deberían centrarse las conversaciones sobre el deseo en general y el atractivo sexual de las personas en general.

Para mi es algo importante seguir interrogándome sobre el deseos, no entonces por si soy atractivo para alguien, sino ser consciente de los poderes que informan y componen el deseo y qué mantiene vivo mi deseo. Pero también que las personas que definidas culturalmente como feas o no deseables puedan recibir de modo justo el valor y la estima que merecen, especialmente en  nuestras relaciones más íntimas.

[Feature image: photo of a group of five friends of various genders, racial backgrounds, and fashion aesthetics having a party. They are actively engaged in conversation and looking at each other with joyful expressions on their faces. On the table in front of them are brightly-colored party hats, cups, and a pizza. Source: Zackary Drucker, The Gender Spectrum Collection]

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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As 2012 rolled into 2013, the following three things happened in the span of one and a half months:

  • The girl I thought I’d one day marry very suddenly told me she didn’t want to be with me anymore.
  • I went on anti-anxiety meds, which made me feel like I had the flu, and when I tried to go off them, I ended up in the emergency room.
  • My mother’s breast cancer came back after ten years of remission.

As I write this, I realize that it’s the first time I’ve identified that those three things all happened very closely together. It didn’t just feel as though my world had ended. It literally had. I came home from work one day to meet my girlfriend for dinner. I was in love and excited to see her. We had been dating for ten months and had talked about moving in together. I walked up my block, and there she was, sitting on the steps. She kissed me hello. We walked inside. I put down my bag and started to ask her what she felt like eating, but when I turned around, I saw the tears streaming down her face. I thought maybe someone was sick or had died or some other horrible thing had happened, and I rushed over to sit next to her.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, not looking at me. “But I have to break up with you.”

At first, I tried to convince her that she didn’t need to. When it became clear that she didn’t love me anymore, there was really nowhere to go from there, and I wanted her to leave immediately. I gathered up all the sweatshirts and jewelry and love notes from the past year, handed them to her, and told her to leave.

“Are you gonna be okay?” she asked.

“Not really, but whatever.”

“But… you’re not going to hurt yourself, right?”

My depression and anxiety always felt like a point of contention between us. I felt that she didn’t really understand and that my mental illness made her uncomfortable, so I tried not to talk about it. I hated thinking that she hated that part of me, especially since it was a part I hated, too. But I also knew I would have to live with it forever, and who wants to hate any part of themselves forever?

Medical Interventions

Even though my girlfriend didn’t blame my mental illness for our breakup, I did. So I immediately decided that I should “fix” myself by going on anti-anxiety meds and anti-depressants. I found an elderly man who might have been the most ridiculous psychiatrist in New York City. He couldn’t hear anything I said.

“How are you?” he would ask, and before I could even respond, he’d say “WHAT?” I’d end up sitting there, staring at him, wanting to laugh, and also wanting to scream at him, “JUST GIVE ME THE GODDAMN PILLS.”

More Radical Reads: Doctor’s Don’t Know It All: Being My Own Best Mental Health Advocate

He wrote me a prescription for Buspar and Prozac. The Prozac didn’t really affect me. The Buspar made me feel like I had the flu. I slept 10-11 hours a night and was exhausted all the time. I’d come home from work at six and immediately get into bed and fall asleep. My boss asked me to go on a work trip out of the country, and I couldn’t imagine doing that when I felt so awful. So I called my psychiatrist and asked what he recommended.

“Just stop taking the Buspar,” he said and hung up, eager to get to his vacation plans. I immediately stopped taking my pills. That night, I barely slept. My chest was pounding so hard I was convinced my roommates could hear it. When I stood up to get dressed for work, I felt dizzy and nauseous but still went in.

All day, I felt as though I were walking through thick water. Every tiny burst of energy, from climbing the stairs to opening a door, would cause my heart to thunder in my chest. I had no appetite, which is how I knew something was very wrong. I was supposed to leave for my trip the next morning. The organizers of the conference I was going to hadn’t responded to me with the visa letter I would need to enter the country and wouldn’t tell me which hotel I was staying at. They told me to just bring $800 in cash. I became convinced that this was a horrible idea and would probably lead to my death. That night, I somehow managed to fall asleep around 4 am and then woke up two hours later with my heart pounding louder than ever before.

“WHAT THE FUCK??” I yelled, and my cat leaped up and stared at me, wide-eyed. I Googled “Am I having a heart attack?” and became convinced that I was. I got dressed and walked to the hospital in my neighborhood. The ER was quiet, just a few men by themselves and one woman with a small child.

“No one will let me die here,” I told myself, and that calmed me a bit. I watched the TV in the waiting room without absorbing anything. Then, I watched the soda machine. Finally, the nurse came and brought me to a back room to take my pulse.

“You’re fine,” she said.

“But… what? Something is wrong with me. My chest is pounding, and I can’t breathe right.”

She sighed, and left, and then came back and brought me to a busy unit with doctors rushing around. I laid down on the bed and waited. Eventually, a man walked over.

“Hi, I’m the shrink.” He literally said that. “Are you anxious about something?”

“I’m anxious about the fact that my chest is pounding. This is not psychological. It’s physical.”

“Okay, but there’s nothing physically wrong with you,” he said. He left, and another doctor came by to give me an EKG. He sat in a chair next to the bed.

“You seem fine, but I can tell you don’t feel well.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. “I don’t. I’m supposed to fly internationally today, and I just can’t. Please. I shouldn’t fly like this, right?”

He was kind. “No, you shouldn’t fly if you don’t feel like you can.”

It was what I needed to hear. I called my boss, sobbing, and told her I was sick and at the hospital and that the doctor said I shouldn’t fly. I promised to get a full refund for the plane fare.

“It’s fine, Joanna,” she said. “These things happen. Just rest and feel better.”

There. I didn’t have to go. I left the hospital and started to walk home. My mom called. I had probably left her a disturbing voicemail earlier.

“Honey? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I told her.

When I got home, I talked to my friend about my trip to the hospital.

“Wait, your psychiatrist told you to just stop taking your meds? That’s really dangerous. You could call mine. He might be able to help.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that there might be a connection between quitting the Buspar and this whole episode. I called the psychiatrist, and he was amazingly generous. He listened to my story and repeated what my friend had said about the dangers of going off a drug cold turkey. He suggested that I go back on the Buspar and then taper off very, very gradually over a three-week period. I took a pill and, within an hour, all my tremors and nausea had gone away. I followed his plan and, by tapering off slowly, I was able to get off the Buspar without any other side effects.

Medical Crisis

A few days after the ER visit, my mom called to check in. I was much better. She was not. Her breast cancer was back after almost ten years of remission. When she told me, I felt the breath get sucked out of me again. But this time, I wasn’t frozen in place. I knew it wasn’t about me. And somewhere amidst the tangle of grief I was in, I knew the one place I needed to be was with my mother, holding her hand, making her playlists to listen to during chemo, and telling her jokes about screaming goats to make her forget she wasn’t hungry and to eat her breakfast anyway.

I was paralyzed with fear at the thought of losing my mother. Most of the reasons for my fear were selfish. Without her, who would have known or even cared that I was in the hospital? Who else would call every day at random hours to ask whether I wanted a bagel for breakfast when I came to visit in three months? Who else could I trust to love me unconditionally, forever? I didn’t want to tell her or my father how scared I was, so instead I called my sister. And whenever I could get time off work, I took the bus down to Baltimore to see my mom.

I put everything I could towards being there for my mother. And towards training for a half marathon. And towards planning a conference in Malaysia. And then, thanks to a $300 budget flight from Kuala Lumpur to New Zealand, towards my first ever overseas trip by myself — during which I performed poetry in a bar with my two friends on the other side of the world, rode a boat to a small town where I stayed in a expatriate Texan man’s spare bedroom, hiked through a National Park, and paddled a canoe by an island populated entirely by sea otters.

When they rolled over on their stomachs, it reminded me of my cat, and I laughed, and it wasn’t a moment when I thought, “Everything is going to be okay.” Because everything is never okay. But it was a moment when I didn’t have to push the pain out of my eyes to see.  Maybe because I was no longer trying to wrestle my pain to the ground or outrun it.

It was there, with me, in that canoe, and it’s still with me now, even though my mom went into remission (thank EVERYTHING) and I found love again (thank everything and Tinder), and I will probably never go on meds again (though, if they work for other people, then I absolutely support other people taking them).

And maybe I’m wrong to not take them. God knows I’m not “cured,” whatever that means. I worry that people are mad at me 95% of the time and, sometimes, I can’t sleep at night worrying that, when my parents are gone, no one will be left to love me. But I can’t blame all of that on my illness. I know some of that is fear, and fear is human, and I don’t want to apologize for it.

It’s scary to feel alone. It’s scary to grow older and to realize you have fewer and fewer friends, and that your parents are getting older, and that you don’t have a plan for starting your own family. It’s scary to think that it all boils down to me being there for me, and that my past suicidal thoughts mean that I was unsafe to myself, my own worst enemy.

More Radical Reads: Learning to Live with Wanting to Die

I forgive other people a lot of things. I forgive myself almost nothing. But then I remind myself that I was also the one who dragged myself back to my own life. I do that, time and time again, every motherfucking day. Am I mad at myself forever? Can I forgive myself for my own illness? Can I hold my own fear as I go through my own treatment, whether it’s a canoe ride or a therapy session or a run through the Brooklyn streets just when the weather starts to turn from freezing to perfect? Can I stop scouring my body or brain for imperfections to hate? Can I start recognizing that I crafted this one beautiful life? I made it for myself. I made it, for myself.

[Headline image: Photograph of a woman whose back is to the camera. She is watching the sun on the horizon as it skims the trees in the distance. Her head is tilted to the side. Everything is slightly blurry. The sun reflects off her plaid shirt.]

Joanna Hoffman is a poet and teaching artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She has competed four times on Finals stages at the National Poetry Slam (2006), Individual World Poetry Slam (2011), and the Women of the World Poetry Slam (2011 and 2012). Her work has appeared in literary journals and publications including decomPPANKUnion Station MagazineThe Legendary and in the Write Bloody Publishing anthologies We Will be Shelter and Multiverse. Joanna’s full-length book of poetry, Running for Trap Doors, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press and featured in the American Library Association’s list of recommended LGBT reading for 2013. You can find her website at www.joannahoffman.com.

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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In recent years, teen pregnancy in the US has been at an all -time low. From 2012 to 2013, teen birth rates decreased among 15–19 year olds by 9% for non-Hispanic whites and 11% for non-Hispanic blacks. If there are fewer teenage pregnancies, why is it that so many people still make it such a shameful thing to be pregnant as a teenager? I’ve heard people say that teenagers back in the day didn’t have the same opportunities that teenagers have now, so why mess it up by having a baby at a young age? I’ve also heard that today’s teenagers are just not as mature as teenagers in years past. Clearly, stereotyping teens who become parents at a young age has not changed through the years.

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a great group of teens who, with the help of their school, are breaking stereotypes. (For the sake of privacy, their names and the location of the school will not appear in this article.)

What is unusual about these teen parents is that they bring their children to the high school they attend. They are able to continue their high school education with assistance provided by the school through a literacy program developed in order for teen parents to graduate. These parents bring their children to school every day and drop them off at the daycare center while they go to class, but they also have to be active with their children during the school day. They still have to change their diapers, they still have to feed them, and they still have to participate in supporting their needs in between their classes. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been easy for these teens. They have heard it all, and they have gone through their share of struggles in order to achieve their dreams while they continue to provide a home for their children.

More Radical Reads: Being a Feminist Mother is a Liberating Experience

Each has a unique story. One became pregnant at the age of 15. Another had two children by the age of 18. A young dad had a son at 17 as the result of a planned pregnancy with his girlfriend. These parents might be young in age, but they had more wisdom than most adults I’ve spoken to. They have heard every negative comment you can think of — You’re making a mistake, your life is over, why don’t you have an abortion, you’re too young — and the list seemingly never ends.

They’ve been kicked out of their parents’ homes. Some have very little, if any, support from the other biological parent. Some live on their own, in their own apartments, and not only go to school but also balance a work life.

A photograph of a person with long dark blonde hair. They are wearing a grey and brown striped shirt and are holding their pregnant belly. Behind them is a grey sky and green grass with dead leaves scattered. Source: bradfordst219

One would think that with so much negativity coming at them, they would not be happy. But they are. Watching these parents with their children during a high school period was one of the highlights of my day. Listening to their stories and seeing the love that they have for their children was priceless.

They have goals and dreams, just as any other people. Is it difficult to manage all of the things they face? Yes it is, but if there is one thing that they have, it is determination. They don’t see their children as something to be ashamed of. In fact, the only dad in the group I spoke to said, “My son is a gift.” As I continued to listen to their stories, I saw myself in them.

You see, I too was a teen mom. I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 18, dropped out of high school and, just like the teens I met, was told some very discouraging things. I was considered a failure, my life over. I was labeled a whore for having sex out of marriage. I was made to feel that I didn’t know how to be a mother; just because I was young, my mothering was questioned. I was a Puerto Rican single mom from Chicago. I had every strike against me. For awhile I believed that my life was over, that I was destined to live only a life of changing diapers and running around after a child.

But ultimately, I used the very words meant to harm me as fuel to prove people wrong. The young parents I spoke with are doing the same.

More Radical Reads: 10 Radical Parenting Resources for Folks of Color, Part 1

We didn’t let a child stop us from achieving our dreams. We didn’t let the struggles stop us from living fulfilling lives and moving forward. We didn’t let our children be a barrier. In fact, those children, the ones that society tells us we should be ashamed of, are the incentive for us to work harder, achieve more, and keep fighting to achieve our goals and to give our children a good life. There is no shame in having a child as a teenager. Women have been having babies at a young age for centuries! There is no shame in going to school and being a parent while you are a teenager. What is shameful is when people stereotype young teen parents.

I have achieved every single one of the goals that I set out to achieve, even after having three more children. I achieved my dreams while having four children and being a single mom. Instead of feeding teens with negative thoughts and words that are hurtful, why not let them know they are doing a great job parenting and that they can achieve anything they want in life?

Having a child doesn’t stop a full-grown adult from living her life and achieving her dreams. It shouldn’t stop a teen parent, either.

[Feature Image: Photograph of a light-skinned woman with upswept brown hair holding a light-skinned child with blonde hair. The woman is planting a kiss on the child’s cheek. A blurred field is visible behind them.]

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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This article originally appeared in EverydayFeminism.com and is reprinted by permission.

“I’m just concerned about their health.”

“I’m a feminist, but I don’t think fat is a feminist issue.”

“I’m body-positive, but I don’t believe in glorifying obesity.”

“I think people of size deserve respect, but I think they’d find it easier if they were thin.”

“Studies have shown that obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death, so I can’t support that lifestyle.”

Stop.

Concern trolling – which is the act of a person participating “in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause” – is something we see all too often, even on our very own Everyday Feminism Facebook page.

And most often, we get these sort of “But isn’t this freedom actually kinda dangerous for society?” comments on articles that we post about fat acceptance and body liberation.

And to be honest, it’s disheartening to see feminists – people who we generally trust to engage with content and have their status quo boundaries pushed – rush to quote sketchy research and throw oppressive ideologies around all in the name of, supposedly, “health.”

More Radical Reads: Why is Fat a Feminist Issue?

But when we live in a world that so desperately hates people of size (um, hello, “War on Obesity”), we completely understand how these prejudices turn into truths in our minds.

But because fatphobic concern trolling is oppressive (and, on a more personal note, makes us cringe), it’s time for us – all of us, but especially feminists – to stop.

And because we generally see fellow thin people making these comments, we wanted to call you all in to discuss why this behavior is so harmful.

So if you need a little bit more convincing before you give your fingers, poised and ready to go on your keyboard, a rest, here are eleven reasons why fatphobic concern trolling makes zero sense.

1. Because Stereotyped Assumptions About Someone’s Weight Are Oppressive

You claim to be worried about a fat person, and the first thing you think about is diabetes.

Okay.

What about the negative judgment that they’re subjected to from people – both from individuals and society as a whole – and the impact that has on their lives?

Think about what it must be like for larger people – that is, most people living in the United States – to confront daily in the papers, magazines, television shows, and commercials that their bodies are unattractive and constitute a horrifying public health crisis.

To hear assumptions from dietitians and other healthcare practitioners that because of a physical characteristic, their weight, they must be unhealthy and engaging in poor self-care.

To then have people on the Internet dedicating entire comment threads to berating them.

Everyone – fat or thin – is severely harmed by this message. And as social justice activists, it’s first and foremost your job to show empathy to marginalized folks – and then look inward to examine your unchallenged assumptions.

As Marilyn Wann famously says in her weight diversity talks, “The only thing anyone can accurately diagnose when looking at a fat person is their own level of weight prejudice.”

2. Because Fat Doesn’t Kill

There is a commonly quoted statistic that people allow to fuel the fat-shaming fire, and that is this: that “obesity” is the second leading cause of preventable death in the US.

Let’s burst that bubble right here: It’s not true.

And yes, of course if you Google it, a bunch of health organizations will come up, quoting it as fact. But here’s why: because a 2004 CDC-sponsored study stated that approximately 350,000 deaths per year are related to being “overweight” or “obese,” second only to smoking.

But in 2005, the same journal published a re-analysis with more scientifically accurate results, putting the number closer to 25,000 – a 94% difference.

But because it’s much easier to fear-monger by telling people they’re likely to die, the fact that it was a mistake and that you have more or less equal chances of dying in a car accident and dying from disease related to “obesity” isn’t widely publicized to the American people.

So if you used to think that fat was deadly and that’s what you were using to help “motivate” people to thinness, you can stop doing that now.

In reality, if you want to use the oft-quoted BMI scale (more on that later), scientific evidence actually indicates that people categorized as “overweight” live longer than those categorized as “normal,” and most “obese” people live similarly long lives as their “normal” counterparts.

3. Because Fat Doesn’t Cause Disease Either

Right. So if fat itself isn’t the problem, then what about diabetes and heart disease, which we’ve been socialized to believe are “obesity-related” illnesses? Don’t those lead to death?

Well, yes.

And it makes sense that people think that fat, then, is the problem. After all, there are, indeed, diseases (like diabetes and heart disease) that are more common in heavier people.

But there are also higher incidences of death by drowning in places where there are more ice cream sales.

So, let’s have a quick lesson in stats, shall we?

Correlation does not equal causation.

Just because some factors, on the surface, seem related doesn’t mean that they have a causal relationship. It’s not an easy cause-and-effect equation, where situation A results in situation B.

Take the drowning-and-ice-cream scenario. People aren’t drowning because of ice cream, although it might seem that way on the surface. Rather, both drowning and the sale of ice cream are more likely to happen at the beach. The beach, in this case, is what we might call a confounding factor.

Similarly, there are confounding factors that complicate the relationship between fat and disease.

For example, one hugely important factor is that of dieting. And not that those who diet are more likely to be healthy – quite the opposite, actually.

Both dieting and weight cycling – that is, the process of going on a diet, losing weight, regaining the weight (and sometimes more), then going on another diet, losing weight, regaining the weight, and on and on and on – increase inflammation.

And inflammation itself is actually a risk factor for many diseases that are typically blamed on “obesity,” like diabetes and heart disease.

And who do you think is more likely to have lived a life of constant dieting and weight cycling? People of size.

Correlation. But no causation.

That is to say, it’s not as simple as it seems on the surface. And just because both fat and disease are present does not mean that the former caused the latter.

4. Because, If Anything, Fatphobia Causes Adverse Health Effects

Point-blank-period: It’s hard to be a fat person in our society. And if you’re a thin person, consider this: All other things in your life remaining unchanged, would you rather be fat?

Probably not – considering over half of people report they’d rather be dead than fat.

And in a world where weight discrimination is as prevalent as sexism and racism, it’s easy to understand that being of size is a stressful experience.

And that’s simply because we live in a society that hates fat people – as evidenced by the simple fact that fat-shaming (and the defense of it) exists.

And the stress level associated with this kind of discrimination – living your daily life ridiculed by people and with less access to resources and happiness – is also associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Here’s one way to look at this: Researchers have found that the gap between a person’s actual and idealized weight (that is, the extent to which they experience body dissatisfaction) is a better indicator of mental and physical health than the BMI scale (which is total bullshit anyway).

So the way that you feel about your body (and in a fatphobic society, no one feels good about their body, least of all folks whose bodies are seen as worst case scenarios) has a much more significant impact on your overall wellness than the actual shape and size of your body itself.

In fact, even the CDC reports that our day-to-day health behaviors, like diet and exercise, only account for less than a quarter of differences in health outcomes.

What matters the most, actually, is what’s called “social determinants of health,” and those include stuff like early childhood development, level of education, employment, food security, and access to housing and healthcare.

That is, what’s most likely to cause ill health is how oppressed a person is – not which behaviors they engage in.

So if you really, truly care about someone’s health, maybe instead of suggesting that they diet, you just lay off the fatphobia instead.

Better yet, as much we hate the term “keyboard warrior,” maybe instead of falling into that trope by angrily typing away at comment sections (a la Kermit), you focus your energies on social determinants of health by pushing for policy change that addresses inequities.

5. Because Mental Health Is Also Health

I’m pretty sure no one’s health has ever been improved by being ridiculed. In fact, there’s research to back up exactly the opposite.

Because when you ridicule someone, or a group of people, based on their social disadvantages, especially wherein you hold power, what we call that is bullying.

And beyond the aforementioned social problem of fatphobia, there’s also the individual, one-on-one kind, wherein people take their socially constructed implicit anti-fat bias and actively use it to tear down another person’s self-esteem.

This, of course, may take the shape of tossing slurs toward a person of size who’s out for a jog. It might be whispers and giggles in response to someone walking down the halls at school. It might be hanging up pictures of people you deem unattractive in their fatness to serve as your “thinspiration.”

Or it might take the shape of leaving comments on fat-positive threads, pounding into the ears and eyes of everyone who comes across them the same old BS rhetoric being espoused by the public at large.

But mental health is just as important as physical health. And if you’re really, truly concerned about someone’s well-being, it matters to not deteriorate their emotional and spiritual health.

6. Because ‘Glorifying Obesity’ Isn’t a Bad Thing

We do a lot of work in the eating disorder field – a place where we’re all too familiar with the notion of glorifying, of romanticizing illness.

The idea that you can take something that’s harmful and twist it into something that’s beautiful or, in the words of Blythe Baird, “the most interesting thing about me” is one that we concern ourselves with day in and day out in our work trying to rid the world forever of the hashtags #proana and #promia – or at least the damage that they can cause.

But there’s a line that we’ve had to learn to respect.

In the pro-eating disorder movement, there are two ways that the “promotion” can occur. The first is by advocating for restricting or purging as lifestyle choices and twisting the disordered thought and behavior patterns into active decisions being made by those suffering in order to feel more beautiful, healthy, or worthy.

The second is in spreading the message that eating disorders aren’t something that we need to hide, but rather, parts of ourselves that are equally worthy of respect as the rest of ourselves, thereby fighting against mental health stigma.

The first is what we might refer to as “glorifying” or “romanticizing.” The second, we’d just call “normalizing.”

But when it comes to “obesity” – which is not an illness (contrary to what the AMA might think!) or purported as a lifestyle choice, but rather, simply a state of being – what folks are calling “glorifying” can only be, in reality, normalization.

And if people of size want to take back the notion of glorifying obesity by saying “Fuck yeah, I am,” we’re all for that.

What we’re not for is concern trolls using the phrase to demean and discredit folks – and especially women – who, in a harshly patriarchal world, are accepting and owning (and even loving) their bodies, whether they fit into narrow beauty standards or not.

7. Because One-Size-Fits-All Definitions of ‘Health’ Are Ableist and Perpetuate Heathism

When people say that they’re worried about the health of others, we believe that they really do think that. After all, it makes sense, right?

If evolutionary psychology is your jam, then you probably subscribe to the belief that deep down, our survival instinct-driven mid-brain fuels the cultural universal of species propagation. And it’s hard to keep a species going if we’re dying all over the place from ill health!

And this foundation pushes the idea that of course we should care about one another’s health!

And okay. Sure. Let’s entertain that for a second (although, please let the record show that we are not of the evolutionary psychology camp – and don’t roll with feminists who are).

There are still a million questions that we have for you.

Like how the fuck do you define “health” in the first place? And who gets to decide what that is? And how is there any possible way to judge health based on a person’s size?

And is it even really appropriate to value health? Sure, again, from an evolutionary psychology lens, it makes sense. But evolutionary psychologists also believe in gender essentialism – and we threw that shit out because it’s sexist, cissexist, and transphobic!

And when we prioritize health as a quantifiable value that all people should strive toward, we’re being ableist. Because we’re implying that there’s a one-size-fits-all version of health and that anyone who falls outside of those parameters is unworthy of respect.

8. Because Weight Loss Doesn’t Actually Improve Health Anyway

Does eating well and engaging in exercise improve health? Sure. To an extent. But it hasn’t been proven that weight loss does.

For example: You could visit the great Google machine right now and probably pull up a million and a half studies showing that short-term weight-reduction interventions show short-term health improvements.

However, we have two problems with that. One is that they’re short-term studies, which don’t do much to show us anything substantial. Two is that in all of these cases, people are altering their behaviors in some way to achieve said weight loss. Those changes alone could account for improved health results, whether or not weight was lost.

So the studies don’t prove that weight loss itself is improving health. What they may be showing is something we agree with: that lifestyle changes – like eating more nutritious foods and getting regular physical activity – lead to better health.

And what happens if you omit behavioral changes from the results?

A liposuction study that controlled for behavioral change found absolutely no improvement in obesity-associated metabolic abnormalities, despite the weight loss that occurred.

In other words, no one’s health got better from weight loss alone.

Other liposuction studies, though they don’t explicitly control for behavioral change, support that weight loss doesn’t lead to metabolic improvements. While this isn’t conclusive, certainly, the war’s spoils – that is, the health payoff – are in question.

We actually don’t have any evidence to suggest that weight loss improves health long-term. To the contrary, most long-term studies actually suggest that weight loss increases the risk of premature death.

And even if you wanted to continue to buy into the myth that weight loss improves health, it would still be true that exercise and dietary restriction are not effective weight-loss techniques. Because you’re quite literally biologically wired not to lose weight past what your body has deemed your set-point.

So no matter what a person does, they won’t be able to keep substantial weight off long-term – unless they engage in dangerously disordered eating and exercise patterns, which kind of defeats the purpose of “doing it for health,” huh?

9. Because No, Being Fat Is Not At All Like Being a Smoker

Often, when people are called out for fat-shaming, their response is something to the effect of “But we shamed smokers until they stopped smoking! And that’s good for public health!”

But there are a few things wrong with that assertion.

First, purely historically speaking, it’s inaccurate.

In reality, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, an epidemiologist named Richard Doll published research suggesting first that smoking could cause serious health damage and second that there was a close link between smoking and lung cancer, which was repeatedly confirmed.

When the US jumped on board in 1964, this led to bans on particular tobacco advertising and warning labels on tobacco products, all of which eventually led to a decrease in the prevalence of tobacco use.

While it could be argued that the “War on Obesity” is, indeed, then, similar to the “War on Tobacco,” there are very major differences:

First, being fat is a physical characteristic, not a behavior.

Second, smoking has been proven to cause death and disease. Being fat, on the other hand, has not.

Third, the idea that pushing guilt and shame on people is effective in health behavior change has been proven wrong again and again and again.

So, while it’s likely true that people have used shaming tactics in both the “War on Tobacco”and the “War on Obesity,” it’s also true that the shaming itself is not what creates change.

So even if you hold onto the flawed notion that “obesity” is similarly dangerous to smoking and should somehow be eradicated by using similar strategies, shame will not work.

10. Because You’re Subscribing to a Harmful..
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When I was about seven, I remember going to a revival service with my grandmother. The preacher at one point launched into a sermon on women and makeup. He said, “Makeup isn’t bad, but remember, ladies: you paint the barn, not decorate it.”

Those words haunted me throughout much of my life. Even now I can remember them and the way everyone laughed. But it underlined the spirit of my upbringing in a charismatic church and how they saw women’s bodies. We were unclean and sexual. Our bodies led men to sin. We were less than men because of the many weaknesses our bodies contained. We must dress in ways that didn’t make men lust after us.

In some bizarre twist, I was also taught that my whole purpose in life was to get a man. And strangely enough, it wasn’t my purity that would lure men, but my purity coupled with beauty.  Thus I must dress in ways that made me attractive, but not sexual. I must be thin, not fat. I should wear makeup tastefully, not like a “tart.”

In essence, I was taught the duality of women: virgin versus slut.

I left the Pentecostal church when I was eighteen. But religion would continue to haunt me.

More Radical Reads: 5 Undeniable Reasons We Need To Talk About Christian Privilege

Finding the Feminine Divine

I went on to study religion in college and encountered religion as an academic as opposed to a practitioner. I found women all over the world in a variety of roles. Of course, I often found them regulated to the sexist duality I’d learned, but I also saw them challenging those roles while existing within them.

Figures such as the Virgin of Guadelupe challenged very simplistic ideas about women. While a representation of the Virgin Mary, she was also an aboriginal woman who came not to the colonizing priests but to an aboriginal man in a position of power complete with a list of orders. She has since this time become a symbol unto herself beyond the church’s definition. Guadelupe, like many images, can be interpreted in a number of ways, from a symbol of queer expression to a surfing goddess riding the waves. I learned that people shape religion in creative and unsanctioned ways.

Soon I realized that my yearning for religion did not have to be at odds with my desire for radical body acceptance. I could shape religion in order to create a new way for myself. I stood at a crossroads, one I suspect many who yearn for spirituality or religion as well as body positivity often find themselves at. In my case, I found myself at the not so young age of 43. 

Reaching Beyond Christianity

After I left my church, I spent a few months as an atheist. Even as I felt a cynical disgust towards religion, I also longed for something spiritual in my life. At the time, the idea that religion could exist outside of Christianity was, I’m embarrassed to say, a radical idea. But then I found neopaganism and Wicca (a nature-based religion incorporating elements of witchcraft, reverence for the cycles of the seasons, and Goddess worship).

I’ll admit my initial attraction to neopaganism was that it seemed like the polar opposite to Pentecostalism. But over time what I found was so much more valuable than a rebellion. I found a new way to think about my body as holy.

A photograph of a statue of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Her face is looking upward; in each hand she holds a circle. She has wings and her feet are bird’s claws. Beside her sit two large cats. Photo Credit: John A Schulze

In the safety of an amazing group of people, I learned to explore my body’s sexuality. My desire for other humans, both men and women, was not judged as sinful. Instead I was encouraged to celebrate sexual pleasure as a joyous part of my existence.

My earlier experiences with sex could hardly be called pleasurable; half the time they were barely consensual. I looked at them through a lens of shame and repulsion for an appetite I didn’t think befitted a woman. The first time I looked at a woman and realized I was attracted to her, I thought for sure I’d go to hell. I buried those feelings deep. But with neopaganism sex was a gift. My desire to give and receive pleasure, be it with a man or a woman, was never met with disapproval. When I realized my resonance with the goddess Inanna, also known as the Whore of Babylon, this elicited no surprise or judgment from my coven.

My body, instead of being a container of filth, seemed a thing filled with light—a gift that I could give to others as well as myself.

I left Wicca when I began to study religion. My studies made me question some of the teachings and I felt alienated. Learning how religion was a social construct challenged many of my mystical experiences. I turned away, but I yearned for that spiritual “something.” As the years passed, I realized I carried much of those early years with me. Neopaganism shaped me in ways that propelled me into greater ideas of acceptance.  

The Three Faces of the Goddess

As part of studying Wicca, I learned about the idea of the three-fold Goddess. The Goddess in many traditions has three aspects: maiden, mother, and crone. Just as I learned to move in tempo with the cycles of nature, I also learned to flow with the cycles of my body. I found myself celebrating my period (even though at times I bemoaned its coming) because it was a part of that cycle. When I became a mother for the first time, I mourned the maiden I left behind, but I also knew to look ahead towards this new shift. I’d become the Mother now, and my body grew with the roundness of my womb and my breasts filled with milk. Just recently I told someone, “I can’t wait to be a crone. Bring it on already.” I smiled to myself later, realizing I didn’t fear the aging of my body because that, too, was something holy.  

At that moment, I realized I’d never wandered too far from neopaganism. The sheer joy it taught me about my body was something I wanted to nurture and whose seedlings I wanted to hand to my own daughters. I could shape neopaganism, I realized, just as the women I studied shaped their religions to suit their purpose. I’d try to return to Christianity during the time I spent in study, but those wounds were too deep. The scars still ached and no matter how much reshaping I did, I could never find a comfortable fit.

Spirituality and Body Love

 As funny and odd as it may seem, accepting my weight came to be the focal point that pushed me back to the religion of my early twenties. For years being fat was something I saw as the worst thing ever. It was seen as something sinful in both my family and church to the point where they engaged in programs designed to help lose weight with god. But over the last few years, I find myself looking at pictures of prehistoric Goddess figures and seeing in them my own body. How can I fault a body that someone, sometime, thought divine? In my curves, I could see the vastness of the ocean or the solidity of the earth.  

Seeing my body as holy, even without the added benefit or baggage of belief, challenged me to not use words like “disgusting,” “ugly,” “clumsy,” “gross,” and so on. Those words do not describe this holy temple. When I am feeling down on my body, I think of the Goddess who destroyed the world beneath her dancing feet. The Goddesses who devoured men even as they spared the women. The Goddesses who loved without shame.

Of course, neopaganism is not perfect, and I don’t hold it up as an ideal. I hold it up as an example of how this one person constructed a bridge to a new spiritual path. In my studies, I did see women women as goddesses, women as spiritual leaders, women as saints, women as warriors in holy wars. But often those stories didn’t seem to translate into better treatment for real women in these various religions. A religion that revered goddesses seemed to have no issue with women being raped with impunity. A religion that boasted female saints saw no problems in laying restrictive laws on what a woman could do with her body. These mythological women stayed on their pedestals, unreachable to the women on the ground.
 
But I realized that just as I built a bridge to a new religion, so do many women of the various religions I studied. We women take these religious women and give them human faces. I also saw that it wasn’t just women. It was marginalized people world over. They took the images that could mean oppression and reshaped them in ways that gave them wings instead of cages.
 
 
Over time, I’ve realized that we don’t all have to seek new religions. For some people, the call of what they grew up with, the religion that shapes their culture, is not something they wish to leave behind. But there is still space in the traditional to seek new meanings. Reading about any religion can lead to discoveries about women, about LGBT people, and about radical body acceptance. Seek out new theologies and read them. Find like-minded practitioners and start study groups.
 
All too often I see religion tossed aside in a lot of progressive movements as a relic of an archaic past. But there are many, many people who want religion in their lives for a variety of reasons. Those desires do not make people weak. The yearning for ritual, for meaning, for the holy is a valid yearning, and it can fit within a progressive framework. Sometimes it might mean breaking away as I did, but sometimes it can also be about finding new within the old: the queering of a saint or a new reading of a goddess. We’re infinitely creative, and seeing religion as a human construct gives us permission to dream up new meanings.

It’s easy to see how religion oppresses; it absolutely does. It can be filled with shaming and damning ideas about our bodies and our desires. But we can also transform those ideas, shaping them into radical ideas about ourselves.

(Feature Image: A photograph of the profile of a woman, standing with her head raised up and her arms thrown back as if in ecstasy. She stands before a magnificent ocean sunset, her body visible only as a dark shadow against the brilliance of the pink and orange sky.)

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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There is a specific horror in being young and chronically ill. When you are young you are told your body is indestructible. Your body is at its peak.  You’ll never again be at this peak. Youth are painted as the picture of health. So when I was 16 and diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease, I was faced with a sort of paradox; at the height of my youth, at the time I was supposed to be my strongest, how could I be weak? What’s more, if my body was supposed to be the epitome of health, how is that my body has already failed me?

It felt like a sort of betrayal.

Chronically Ill and Young

In many ways a lot of people forget that young people can be chronically ill or chronically in pain. A lot of the erasure comes from the paradoxical combination of youth and illness. Often when I tell people that I’m sick I’m met with a lot of disbelief and even invalidation. Comments such as “You don’t look/act sick,” or “You’re young; you’ll be fine!” are common. It is even common for young people who visit doctors to be invalidated, especially young people who suffer from chronic pain. In fact, chronic pain in children is one of the most chronically under diagnosed, untreated and misunderstood medical conditions.

This sort of undermining behavior becomes increasingly dangerous when that invalidation translates into the kind of care the young and sick receive. When guardians, parents and other authority figures uphold these beliefs about youth, they ignore the cries of pain and claims of illness from children. When doctors dismiss and invalidate the feelings of their younger patients, they suffer silently. When culture dictates what bodies are and aren’t allowed to be sick and disabled, we put young people at risk.  

These cultural beliefs become even more perilous when internalized by youth. Youth culture has bred a mentality of invincibility and limitlessness and, as a consequence, a shaming of weakness and disability. It is in this culture youth pride themselves in staying up late to cram for exams, dangerously misusing drugs, and pushing their bodies to limits that are unhealthy even for abled-bodied people. Given these realities of youth culture, it becomes incredibly hard for people to come to terms with the realities of the young and the sick.

For me, my walk with being chronically ill has been long and in a state of constant evolution. I have been sick for a very long time. Most of my earlier memories are colored by my illness. As a kid I existed in a space of being very much disabled, very much sick, without words to describe it or understand it. I remember the effects of visual impairments that split my world into two. I remember the frantic worry of my parents, the doctor’s overzealous hands examining my foreign body, confusing surgeries and the sterile isolation found only within the walls of a hospital room. It was there in these moments that I faced a feeling that a lot of chronically ill and disabled people face: that overwhelming feeling that something about my body was inherently, unmistakably wrong.

Finally, when I was 16, I was given words to describe what I was going through. I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis. 

More Radical Reads: 6 Reasons I Struggle More With My Chronic Illness Than Being Fat (And How I Still Love This Body)

When you are young and chronically ill, you face and loathe the sympathetic yet wordless faces of your friends whenever you to try and talk about being chronically ill. You worry about things like medications and side effects and treatment options. During flareups, you watch your body change and shift in unrecognizable, unwelcome, or even in (what sometimes feels like) monstrous ways. You are faced with the possibility that one day, given the right push, your body might fail you completely, and the reality that if that happens there might be very little you can do about it.

How do you love a body that is sick? How can you love a body that is failing you, that is the constant source of fatigue, complications or pain? Radical self-love becomes hard when you feel like you don’t have much of a body to love.

I’m lucky enough not to experience the chronic pain that a lot of people with chronic illness experience, to function without daily medications and to experience strong symptomatic flareups pretty inconsistently. In the ways that I am unlucky, however, I’ve learned to cope, adapt and advocate the best I can. I am forced to remember my limits, that my body in some ways is a sort of time bomb. Given the right trigger — or no trigger at all — my quality of life could be drastically changed, even fatally.

It is at these moments when it feels like my body is falling apart, when I am faced with these realities, when I find it the hardest to love and accept my body at the place where it’s at, that I try and love it the most.

Caring For My Chronically Ill Body

When your body keeps you in and you watch your friends going out, partying and trying new things, take a moment to love your body and practice self-care. Watch a movie and get lost in a different world. Remember your worth and that you deserve to be in the world. Do what you can for your body and your mind to make yourself feel better. When you find your mind wander to the darker truths that accompany the reality of being ill, try and remember to stay mentally resilient.

Reach out to people who love and support you. Journal about your feelings. Cry if you need to. Love your body enough to be able to accept it for what it is at this moment rather than what it’s not or the fear of what it may become.

Most of all, it’s important to understand that it is okay to not be okay. It is okay to be tired, or in pain or scared or to feel broken. It is okay to feel because it lets you know that you’re still here.

More Radical Reads: “How Do You Love Your Body On Bad Days?:” 6 Lessons to Surviving Illness & Resurfacing Self Love

For the chronically ill and the young and the sick: maybe we won’t be okay. Maybe we will live out the rest of our lives sick, tired, struggling to function, but adapting. Maybe there will be no cure. Maybe we’ll have an episode so severe that it will end us. These are our realities. But today we are here, we are existing, we are alive and being and trying — always trying. And maybe for today, maybe for now, that’s enough.  

[Feature Image: A photo close-up of a young person with brown skin and black hair from the shoulders up. They have their head tilted to the side and are looking into the camera with a sad expression on their face. Their chin is resting on their hand.]

TBINAA is an independent, queer, Black woman run digital media and education organization promoting radical self love as the foundation for a more just, equitable and compassionate world. If you believe in our mission, please contribute to this necessary work at PRESSPATRON.com/TBINAA  We can’t do this work without you! As a thank you gift, supporters who contribute $10+ (monthly) will receive a copy of our ebook, Shed Every Lie: Black and Brown Femmes on Healing As Liberation. Supporters contributing $20+ (monthly) will receive a copy of founder Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love delivered to your home.  Need some help growing into your own self love? Sign up for our 10 Tools for Radical Self Love Intensive!
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