Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to let yourself intersect

Intersectionality was originally put forth as a feminist concept, but has since spread to many other sociological arenas.  Essentially, it says that none of us live any part of our lives in a vacuum.  When we talk about fat discrimination, our gender, race, height, coloring, socioeconomic level, immigrant status, and a million other aspects of ourselves affect both the discrimination and our reaction to it.  A fat gamer has a different experience of discrimination than a fat lawyer, who has a different experience than a fat mother. 

One thing I see most people do if they are part of a subculture or non-mainstream identity is to segregate each aspect of their experience and create entirely separate lives for each one.  I am a different person when I am a gamer.  I have a specific set of gamer friends, a specific vocabulary, and a specific demeanor that comes out when I am gaming or around just gamers.  Erving Goffman and other theorists within the dramaturgical perspective would say that I have a specific gamer "mask" that I wear when I am in that environment.

A sociological mask is very different from what people call "posing."  This isn't attempting to act like someone else in order to fit in.  My gamer mask is ME.  It is an essential part of myself, with certain attributes that are emphasized and others that are de-emphasized.  For instance, I swear more.  I don't avoid swearing normally, but for some reason dice bring out the F-bombs in me.  And the aggression. You have masks of your own, unless you are extremely unusual, have certain developmental or personality disorders, or experience poor audience awareness like that which comes with the Autism spectrum.  You probably behave differently at work than at a party with friends, or with your grandparents.  You are still you, but you have adapted to your social environment.

One of the effects of this is that I keep different parts of my life separate.  If I have a party and invite both gamer friends and co-workers, I will have an internal conflict as to which mask I am in. So I don't.  I don't talk about work around my Pagan friends.  I don't talk about gaming at work. 

And here's the important bit:  I don't talk about FA much in either place, beyond "not interested in hearing about your diet" comments.   

But I am still fat at a game, at work, and at a festival. 

FA is applicable.  I just don't always overcome the barriers to talking about it.  Maybe I don't want to be seen as the "oversensitive, aggressively politically correct activist."  After all, many of the groups I'm in are not exactly socially aware and it's easy to come across as overly strident.  Maybe I just feel it is too personal.  But every now and then, something happens to remind me that it's not always personal.  Every circle of friends has people who are miserably uncomfortable in their own bodies because they have internalized hateful messages. 

So, if you're looking for a way to become more of an activist (and no one is obligated to do so), why not look close to home?  Could you start a forum or Yahoo Group for body acceptance geared specifically towards your spiritual group and invite your friends?  Could you start something for people with common interests?  Wouldn't it be cool to see an FA tattoo group called "Fat Ink"?  How about a motorcycle group called "Big Wheels"?  How about a Pagan HAES cooking group called "Magically Delicious"?  Of course these are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but you get the point.  More and more, our society is fragmenting into very specific interest groups with the power of sheer numbers on the internet to provide specific community within those groups. 

By reaching out to people who have very specific interests, you can really target your message to them.  If you have a Christian FA group, you can talk about FA in the language of Christianity (i.e. God's love for bodies and how we should love the bodies he created for us).  If you have a Pagan FA group, you can talk about FA in the language of Paganism (i.e. appreciating your body as a spiritual warrior, nurturing it as a healer, loving the strength and pleasure it gives you to experience the world.)  If you have a crafter's FA group, you can talk about altering or creating sewing patterns for people of size, or body acceptance issues in scrapbooking (i.e. dare to be in the picture!!)  You don't have to worry about alienating others by using language specific to your identity, because others in that forum share that identity. 

Here are some specific tips for starting a topic-specific FA group or thre

1.  Don't hijack existing forums.  This is important, because going into a "Dieting Vikings" forum and preaching FA is called trolling.  Create your own forum.  If you don't want to run a full forum, ask an existing group owner if you can either start a thread or send an invite for a face-to-face meeting group with like interests. 

2.  Check for interest first.  Just send a shout-out:  "Would anyone here be interested in a (thread, forum, meeting group) to talk about body acceptance and size diversity within our community?"  I did that in a local forum and got over a dozen enthusiastic responses (and no trolls).   

3.  The best part of starting in new territory is that none of it has been said before!  You can go through archives of any FA blog and find discussion topics.  Ask blog owners for permission to print copies of posts (or link to them) for reading and discussion.  Re-visit the topics that are well covered in the Fatosphere but entirely new to this group.  What a fantastic opportunity to start fresh!

4.  You don't have to be an expert to start a group.  Let people know that this is something you're just getting into and ask if anyone wants to explore it with you.  Sometimes it's even less intimidating for them that you're all new together. 

So let FA intersect with other parts of you and your life, if you feel safe doing so.  I think you'd be surprised at how relevant it really is. 


Colleen said...

What a wonderful subject, and very very topical. (I am SO THERE if someone creates a Pagan FA cooking group!)

In fact, it immediately brought to mind some place I can use your advice.

Colleen said...

And, wow, do I need to not post comments while listening to a meeting at work. I'm reading my previous comment, and I promise I'm not a "great article, very interesting!" with a link.

Sheesh. The caffeine has not hit my system yet.

JoGeek said...

I believe you! And not just because the link didn't show up :-)

It's on my list of "I'd never have the time," but I think a Pagan FA cooking group would go over like crazy considering how many rituals and events are potluck.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I similarly have different Me's for different groups of people, and I don't like to mix friends either--it makes me quite uncomfortable! But a lot of people I know have no problem mixing friends; do you think some people alter more with their environments than others? I've always felt like more of an adapting person than other people.

JoGeek said...


It makes sense that this is an aspect of personality that's going to vary by person. It could have something to do with the variety of social circles involved, how far those social circles are from the mainstream, and other factors. If you are part of subcultures that are tight-knit, far from the mainstream, and somewhat secretive about their activities, those associations may not mix as well.

If I put my conservative co-workers in the same party as tatooed viking warriors who use assumed names, they would both be very uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if someone's social circles don't vary that widely and tend to contain the same general personality types with similar paradigms and interests, they'd mingle pretty easily.