Exploring the Intersection of Gender Identity and Body Positivity

posted by 
MD Spicer-Sitzes
November 12, 2017

I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Lindo/a Bacon’s revolutionary workshop, When Self-Love Isn’t Enough, in the Bay Area last week. If you don’t know, Dr.Bacon is the out genderqueer academic who wrote the internationally acclaimed book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. As a fellow genderqueer person myself, working in the field of eating disorders prevention and body acceptance with The Body Positive, I found the talk to be personally relevant and professionally discerning.  

Dr. Bacon talked about how some people diet to fit gender norms (sharing quite a bit about their own personal struggle with this issue), and about marginalization and its impact on health. Dr. Bacon said:

“Diets don’t work, but that doesn’t stop us from dieting...there is something emotional that encourages us to hang onto the hope. There’s a connection made in our life that the only hope for a happy life is to have a thin body.”

Short term studies that say diets work are not complete. This becomes especially apparent when we learn the damaging impacts of dieting in long term studies. Studies that show fat is always bad, according to Dr. Bacon, are difficult to trust because the data are interpreted through a fatphobic lens. Dr. Bacon also pointed out how we now know, through our collective, long term knowledge, that marginalization (such as poverty, racism, fatphobia, and transphobia) causes disease and sickness. These short term studies do not control for the effects of weight bias.

Dr. Linda Bacon at their East Bay Workshop on November 4th

To the predominantly white, cisgender audience, many of whom were professionals treating eating disorders, Bacon said, 

“We need to see people, especially around gender identity and race, and support them in genuinely inhabiting their bodies.”

Professor of Queer Theory at Antioch University Los Angeles, Dr. David Tripp said, “There are infinite ways to be a human being.” That statement has stuck with me over the years, and fuels my work. For anyone who is not thin, white, or any other conception of popularized beauty and body standards, such as genderqueer, aging or disabled; the world can sometimes feel like a cold and unwelcoming place.

Gender pronouns can be a tricky thing, especially when you realize it's time to make a change. Dr. Bacon spoke eloquently to this point. I personally love the gender pronouns they/them/their. To me it encompasses the many layers of identity I carry. I know it can seem a bit strange at first, but new things often feel that way, especially new language. Talks like Dr. Bacon's are so validating. They put a light on important conversations that matter, and give space for people to come together and learn.

I am often referred to as “she.” I do not find it, for the most part, offensive. In fact, from some people, like my mother, I welcome it because I know that her love goes/exists beyond any identity I carry. I’m lucky enough to feel safe with my family. 

I remind myself that there are infinite ways to be human and that my identity is inherently mine, no matter what others call it. As long as I feel respected and loved, I am fine being called different names or gender identities. It’s when those boundaries are crossed that I feel lost.

I remind myself when I feel like things aren’t changing fast enough, that language and culture are ever changing; until the 15th century in Europe and the U.S., all children were referred to as “she,” and pink was the suitable color for baby boys. Just this week a record number of openly transgender candidates took office seats across the U.S. I believe strongly that we will win against stigma and shame, as long as we are intuitive and prepared. The power of reclaiming intuition is a first step in that direction.

At The Body Positive, we teach five core Competencies to help people develop a more peaceful relationship with their bodies and one of them is Practice Intuitive Self Care. This Competency is about learning to find and trust your own innate wisdom, especially around understanding your body (and for me this includes gender identity). Another Competency I find crucial for the win against stigma and shame is Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty. This can be such a radical act! My authentic beauty is my fluidity and my adaptability. I’m content being seen one way by some people, and another way by others.

There are many of us who have a fluid definition of identity, but I do not speak for everyone. Misgendering someone can be highly painful, and it is never okay. It is especially up to us in the movement towards a body positive world to support compassionate change. Moreover, we need to do so by centering the most marginalized among us; black, brown, aging, disabled, fat, and gender diverse people. In a blog post last year, Sam Dylan Finch wrote about why they chose to do an unpaid segment at the Queer Love Body Series:

"I did this because I genuinely believe these are some of the most important conversions to be having right now, in a society which tells transgender people in particular that they are inherently broken, and as fatphobia and gendered ideals fuel disordered eating in our community."

I love my queer Body Positive community. It includes people like Dr. Bacon, a person doing the work of deep social change. There are amazing conversations bubbling over in the greater body positive movement too. Podcasts like She’s All Fat are literally flipping the script on body talk across race, ability, and gender identity. Organizations like the one I volunteer with, Building Allies, are training professionals, parents, and community members to become active allies to trans and gender nonconforming people, centering the lived experience of trans and genderqueer bodies. This is especially relevant considering the changing laws everywhere that increasingly support gender equity.

I want to continue breaking silos between being queer and being Body Positive. The Body Positive office is a constant safe and brave space for me. My colleagues are highly skilled in the art of mutual love and respect, especially of our different ways of being. It’s my hope to see that become a reality for all queer and trans people. 

With the political wins this week, and academics like Dr. Bacon pushing the glass ceiling, I have hope that we are shattering the mold and starting to build the world we want to see.  

If you also want to create a world where queer, transgender, and nonbinary people are liberated from body hatred and stigma, please join me at my October 2018 workshop, Queer Bodies: Applying the Be Body Positive Model to the LGBTQ+ Community in Berkeley, CA. CEU's are available for professionals, and everyone is welcome. Email me at md@thebodypositive.org to find out more.

A Note From History

Body positivity is rooted in the fat justice and feminist movements, and the recognition of that is important. These leaders ignited the fight against a singular body ideal and have opened the gates for the more dynamic representations we know today. Co-founders of The Body Positive, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, are among them. My colleague Naomi Finkelstein and I are among the many who will follow in the next generation of leaders, along with the magnificent Sonya Renee TaylorGloria Lucas, and so many more.

MD Spicer-Sitzes is Associate Director of  The Body Positive and a volunteer with Building Allies. MD holds an M.A. in Urban Sustainability and also enjoyed studying Queer Theory, Marine Biology and Solidarity Economics. MD loves growing and making  food for friends and family, hiking, storytelling, research, and a successful direct action protest. They live with their wife Cathy, and two rambunctious bunny rabbits in the East Bay.

MD Spicer-Sitzes
MD Spicer-Sitzes is Associate Director of The Body Positive and a volunteer with Building Allies, and organization that works to build active allyship. MD holds an M.A. in Urban Sustainability and also enjoyed studying Queer Theory, Marine Biology and Solidarity Economics. MD loves growing and making food for friends and family, hiking, storytelling, research, and a successful direct action protest. They live with their wife Cathy, and two rambunctious bunny rabbits in the East Bay.
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