posted by meowser
Once upon a time, before there was a Fatosphere, I was addicted to Pandagon. And most especially, to the writings of one Amanda Marcotte. She was funny, sassy, irreverent, and most of all, she had the thing that I so desperately wished I had — swagger.
Ah, swagger, the deep down feeling that you’re so right about everything, that you really are fundamentally all that and a 20-pound box of Macadamia nuts, and that that swagger was based on real, genuine talent and artistry (and popularity for same), not just Being Young and Looking Hawwwt. (Mind you, I really have no idea if Amanda actually does or ever did feel that way about herself, but for the purposes of what I am exploring here, it’s largely irrelevant.) I wanted that so, so much. I thought that if I read enough Amanda, some of that swagger of hers would rub off on me. I would learn the “good” way to walk, talk, and carry myself. She believed all women should get to have that feeling of cockiness, even women who were fat and dorky and clumsy. Didn’t she?
Ah, the feeling of always being right, of not even needing to pray in order to feel that way. That feeling that even on those rare occasions that you’re wrong, it’s only about something really piddly like bouncing a check to Safeway and knowing that you’ll be able to make good on it with tomorrow’s paycheck. I have known I had Asperger syndrome only since October of last year. Before that, I spent most of the hours of my day wondering why I just couldn’t “get with the program,” i.e. experience life the way neurotypical (NT) people did. Why? Why did I get so flooded, so overwhelmed, so weird about things? Why did the tiniest flash of anger, the most mild argument with people, make me want to die? Why why why? Why weren’t the meds doing anything to stop that? All I could think was try harder try harder try harder, fit in fit in fit in fit in don’t be such a wuss, such a doof, such a big baby, grow up and get over yourself already, on more or less an endless repeating loop.
If only I could absorb enough Amanda-ness, I thought, I’d be just fine. If I could only be confident and hip and cool and on top of things. Maybe someday, if I studied her Friday Random Tens enough, I’d write a song she really liked. Maybe she’d come to Powell’s on a book tour and I could really sell fat acceptance to her — she was close, so close, there were just a few little bitty inaccurate assumptions standing in the way. Maybe someday I’d be inspired to purge all the artists from my iTunes playlist she thought were crap and add bunches of ultrahip new ones I’d never heard before. Maybe someday I’d even find it in me to give up the god stuff — even though my god concept was the sort of neopagan/polytheistic/collective-higher-mind stuff that fundies don’t care for any more than they care for atheism and I was a passionate defender of separation of church and state, maybe she was right and even saying the word “god” was a sop to the Bible-beaters and I should really find it in me to cut it out. I would. Really. Someday. When I had swagger.
(My face is burning, so embarrassed am I to admit all of this. I could crack an egg on my cheek right now and it would be done in seconds.)
Over the past year or so, though, the Fatosphere started spreading like some species of uncommonly delicious and crazyhealing wild mushroom, and I started reading a lot more Shakesville after Kate Harding started contributing there, and that started eating up a lot of the time I used to spend on Pandagon. So when the controversy about the cover of Amanda’s upcoming book, It’s a Jungle Out There, first arose on Pandagon late last summer, I didn’t really notice. I didn’t read the comments, and I certainly didn’t take in the original cover concept — a huge black gorilla carting off a white girl, King Kong style — and think, “ZOMGRACISM.” I thought it was ugly and I didn’t care for it, and as a collegiate movie dork of old I did remember some film-criticism analysis of the movie (which I have never seen) as racist, but there had been lots of gorilla imagery in popular culture since then, and…and…no, at first glance I didn’t see it. Had I wandered into the commentary I certainly would have gotten an education — not only about that, but also about how Amanda responded to the criticism she got. Joykillers, she called the people who objected. To her credit, she ultimately did lobby with her publisher to change the cover, a gutsy thing for a first-time author to do, but it took a lot of pressure and arm-twisting to get her to do it, and her attitude was a whole lot less, “I’m sorry,” than it was, “OK, I changed it, are all you jealous whiners happy now?”
I would have gotten an eyeful of the limitations of swagger — that is, the problem with thinking you’re always right is, there’s no room in your mind to see it from anyone else’s point of view. Maybe I would have started to understand that wanting to join the Cool Kids Club — at my age! — was ludicrous and that such a club’s very presence meant that ipso facto some people would need to feel left out and hurt. After all, the very idea of sneering hipsterism buys into the idea that there are “right” things to like and “wrong” things to like, and there is nothing to be learned from anyone whose tastes fall into the latter camp — and they will fall into the latter camp if they are different enough from you in color, in socioeconomic class, in 200 different flavors of unprivilege. Even if not everyone in that personal hall of mirrors looks exactly like you, they still behave in ways you have already conscripted them to behave, there is no way to really be surprised. I knew in my bones that there was something dreadfully limited about this kind of thinking, but I wasn’t prepared to accept the fact that my lack of hipness was not the problem here.
My lack of readiness was. I simply did not want to know that Amanda Marcotte was not who I thought she was — someone who was as compassionate and deep and open-minded as she was slick and clever — and that I was not inferior to her. It was a set of data that would not compute.
I carried that sense of inferiority-to-Amanda-ness right up through the Brownfemipower appropriations controversy and the second set of blowups about the artwork for Amanda’s book after it was released. That is what it took to finally break the spell. (Amanda’s apology for the latter was a good start, but I’m still waiting to see what she and Seal Press do next.) And even there, I had to admit that until those hideous caricatures of Dark-Skinned Savages were shoved into my face pictorially I would have missed them entirely. They were from chapter inserts, not text, so chances are pretty good I would not ever have seen them otherwise because, like Feministe Jill, I haven’t tended to look at inserts very carefully. And I certainly was not looking for racist pictures under every single rock. Not, mind you, because I don’t care about such things, but because I absorb other people’s pain and suffering and anger like wooooaaah and there is only so much atrocity and hate my Aspie brain can absorb all at once without having a total, hard-object-throwing, suicidal meltdown.
(I would like it noted here that I have contracted with multiple people that I love not to harm myself under any circumstances, and I fully intend to honor that agreement and have very competent professional mental-health care. Please do not worry about me.)
Being a blogger means you have to learn to process things with lightning speed, and I can do that when the subject is fat and people being total shitbags about fat. Hell, I can even do it in most cases when the subject is sexism or racism. I’ve spent a pretty good chunk of my life being the only one in the office or in the classroom or on the bus or at the party sitting there stonefaced, or darkly mumbling, “That’s NOT funny, you should be ashamed of yourself,” when “ist” jokes and japes of all kinds are going around. (Earned me LOTS of jobs and friends and promotions…NAAAHT.)
But this was different, somehow. I had to ask myself just how much more immune I was to making an error that huge, and whether my own behavior under a condition of 24/7 flaming would have been materially any better than Amanda’s. I don’t mean that I would have been sneering and dismissive the way she was (particularly about the appropriations debate); I mean that my tendency would have been to go completely to the opposite extreme and tell everyone I AM THE WORST PERSON EVER I SUCK I WILL ALWAYS SUCK I DESERVE TO DIE IN A FIRE, which also would not have been particularly constructive. I keep thinking my reaction would have been not unlike the restaurant workers’ in the Dirty Fork Sketch, only not funny at all. Although I commented here and there, mostly on smaller, lower-traffic blogs, I could not bring myself to wag my finger too hard, because I knew it wouldn’t take very long for that finger, with longer and pointier nails than I customarily allow myself, to reach back around into my own mote-filled eye.
I believe Kate and Jill and other white people when they say they often don’t notice or try to avenge “subtle” racism because it doesn’t apply directly to them. But while I think that’s true of me to some degree, I don’t think that’s all of it. I will, after all, often ignore, or brush off, or dismiss evidence of bigotry — anti-fat, anti-Semitic, anti-Aspie — when it does apply to me, because I can only handle so much. Like my coworker last year who said, “I bet YOU want a really BIG slice of that birthday cake.” My response was, “Ehh.” I just didn’t want to get into it with him, to be honest with you. When Booker T. and the MGs guitarist Steve Cropper talked about the “cold Jewish eyes” of record producer/executive Jerry Wexler in a recent movie about Stax Records, it bugged me, but at the same time, I dissociated: “Oh, he didn’t really mean it, Steve Cropper can’t be an anti-Semite, he played guitar for one of my five favorite bands EVER, and besides, Jerry Wexler really is kind of creepy.”
And at the same time, I have a pretty fine radar for mistreatment of people who aren’t exactly like me, too. Since this is a fat-acceptance blog, I’ll give a fat-acceptance example: Back in February, when Wyclef Jean announced from the stage that girls could come up on stage and dance only if they were under 200 pounds, my reaction was NOT, “Oh good, I’m just under 200 pounds, I have the green light.” Or, “I’m under 200 pounds, but do I look it, would he kick me off?” No, my reaction was: “Goddess, what a festering cheesedick.” And my reaction would have been identical if the “weight limit” had been 300 or 400 pounds. I don’t care. These are my sisters he’s talking about. They do not deserve this.
So why would Amanda Marcotte intimidate me in a way Wyclef Jean — who is far more wealthy and famous — does not? Maybe because Amanda seemed more accessible, seemed more like someone I could be like and whose success I could actually attain if I really tried, neuroatypicality be damned. It’s funny to me to hear all the “they’re just jealous” talk, because I actually was jealous of Amanda, and while I’m not going to claim that absolutely nobody who attacked her on political grounds was influenced by jealousy or success-resentment in any way, in most cases there’s probably a world of difference between how I felt and how they felt. They knew something I did not — that the Cool Kids Treehouse was something best left behind in childhood, that swagger meant nothing in and of itself, because all swagger really says is, “I’m number one, and you’re not.” Both that and “I suck I deserve to die” are opposite sides of the same worthless coin, really. I did not ignore or brush off that artwork because I was so busy enjoying my warm bubble bath of social acceptance and respect that I forgot to watch other people’s backs; quite the opposite. Had I thought better of myself, I might have had more capacity to take in what I could not, to see people clearly for who and what they were and what they could and could not do, determine where my real shortcomings were instead of just seeing myself as one big shortcoming that could never be redeemed. I would have read those goddamned insert pages and not glossed over them, and I would not have needed anyone else to tell me how I “should” have felt about them. If I really believe feminism means women are not inferior, then that HAS to include me, or I can’t help anybody, ever.
Can you relate? In a way, I really hope not, because I’d hate to think huge numbers of people are running around being mentally tormented the same way I have been. But I tend to think I’m probably not a freak exception when it comes to this stuff. You don’t have to be Aspie — or particularly young — to be cowed by the notions of hipness and swagger, it’s pretty much a national disease if not an international one among white people. But seriously, if the worst thing that ever happens to us is that we don’t get invited up into the treehouse, we still don’t get half the shit most of the world’s people of color (especially women) have to endure. So let’s build our own treehouse, where there are no standards for “hipness” other than not being a hatebag, and we can invite as many POC/WOC as would like to to to come by and tell their stories, and go to their treehouses too if they’ll let us in, and we can listen to them and learn stuff we’d never learn otherwise, and realize that the learning curve is steep and lasts at least for an earthly lifetime and no cookies or gold stars or ponies will be given for staying with it. Then we will dance (or chair-dance) to Booker T. and the MGs.
Or…to whatever anyone likes.