Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Binary Categories

"[When we try to subject people to binary categories]...we call into question the very ground beneath their feet. Gay or straight? Men or women? Male or female? Transgendered or intersex? We know the reality of the situation.....that every time you draw a line, it slices through someone's tender flesh."
-Raven Kaldera

"Wouldn't it be wonderful to take all the evil people and put them over there, then we wouldn't have to deal with them. And all of us good people would stay right here. The problem is that the line separating good and evil cuts right through the human heart."
-Alexander Solzenitzen

When I read the first quote (posted in March on Facebook by a woman I respect greatly, Robyn Ochs), I immediately thought of the second, which has been my friend Lianne's signature quote on our diet board for what feels like years. I think "the line separating" us into one thing (gay, female, etc.) from another (straight, male, etc.)--if it even exists--is just like the line separating good and evil. It "cuts right through the human heart." It's a lesson I learned early on in my journey into myself.

As I learned more about the T (Transgendered) and I (Intersex) members of our LGBTI & Q community, I discovered that I'm not the only one who feels safer when everyone can be categorized into a little, labeled box. In some sense, all of us are a bit "OCD"--we want everything to be black and white. We feel more comfortable believing that everything is binary and there are only two options. You are either one or you are the other. Period. No grey. You are either a man or a woman. You cannot be both, and there is certainly no "other" category. Or so we want to believe...

Of course, human beings are no more easily categorized as "gay" or "straight" than they are "good" or "evil." It takes time to come to understand that--to realize that whether we're comfortable admitting it or not, we all lie at some point on a spectrum, and that point can move (sometimes more than once) during our lifetimes. I believe our sexuality is fluid. To some extent, I believe our gender is, too (though our sex is not, at least not without help...). But it is certainly on a spectrum. There are those that take femininity to the max (I'm thinking RuPaul here, personally. ;) ). There are those that take masculinity just as far, and then there are those of us in the "middle." The tomboys, the metrosexuals, the butches, the femmes, the genderqueer, the slightly masculine women, the slightly feminine men. (For more info, check out these interesting charts comparing the western gender spectrum and the gender spectrum present in some other cultures. You might also find this article from the NY Times interesting.)

Though the concept of gender being on a spectrum like sexuality was new to me, that wasn't too hard for me to accept. I have super sporty girlfriends who are very masculine in appearance and personality, and I certainly knew my share of guys "in touch with their feminine side" in drama class. What was a bit difficult for me was the idea that one's gender doesn't, in fact, have anything to do with your sexuality. When I think about it, it does make tons of sense--while there were a couple of gay men in my drama classes (some of whom didn't come out until well after HS), most of the guys who were "in touch with their feminine sides" exclusively dated women at the time, and are now married to women. I can't tell you what they believe their sexuality to be, but I figure they lie more towards the heterosexual side of the spectrum in spite of being somewhat "feminine" in their gender expression. I've now come to embrace the reality that those who express a gender outside the norm are not any more likely to have a sexual interest in the same sex as those whose gender is inside the norm.

It's sometimes a lot to take in--the concept that things aren't black and white. I have a really hard time with it in my life in spite of the things I've learned. Some of my friends have personal interests that are anathema to me, yet I adore them, which is a big challenge for me. My affection for them forces me to learn to accept these friends as they are and admit that I can love someone who does things I think are bad. It stretches my soul and my capacity to love, and I think that's a good thing.

I think it's beneficial for all of us. But if you don't feel ready to do some soul stretching, please keep in mind that your desire to keep things in binary categories just might "slice someone's tender flesh," and act accordingly.


   I recently came across the following photo, which features Victoria "Posh" Beckham, posed to sell Armani lingerie.

Sexy? More like "scary!"
   I found the photo in an article entitled Victoria Beckham bends over backwards to look sexy in another smouldering Armani lingerie ad. Obviously, the marketing team at Armani believe that Beckham looks the way one would want to look while wearing their lingerie, since it's hard to sell clothing by featuring someone wearing it that looks awful. People tend to buy clothing that looks beautiful and sexy on others in hopes that we will look just as good, simply by putting it on. That fact, plus the title and copy of the article, lead me to believe that more than one person finds Posh attractive in this photo--some even find her "smoldering."

   Count me out. I find this photo incredibly disturbing. After I noticed the lovely contrast of shadows on her skin, the shocking realization hit me: those shadows were caused by the incredibly deep hollows of a human being's emaciated body. I immediately thought of the black and white photos I've seen of concentration camp victims during the holocaust. And of the body of one of my dear friends, who has battled anorexia and won, but still has trouble with feeling okay in her own skin, in spite of the fact that her wrists look like they could be snapped by a stiff breeze. In a word, this photo is scary.

   I shared it with a group of women I respect deeply, with whom I had bonded over a common dedication to losing weight in a healthy, slow way. Since we've expressed similar views on health being far more important than one's weight, I felt sharing this with them would mean sharing it with like-minded people. Much to my surprise, while some found the pose itself to blame for Posh's razor-like hip bones, the majority felt that the photo was not scary, as I believed, but very sexy. Some even expressed that they wish they looked as she does. This was enough to have me sobbing in my nutritionist's office...sobbing for me, for my sisters, for the young girls who are being influenced by this even now, and for these women, who, even in their dedication to health and feeling good about themselves, have been unable to exorcise the demons of media-defined beauty.

   Please know that I'm not saying that I find thin bodies ugly. Naturally thin and healthy bodies, such as my friend "M" has, are both lovely and sexy. I know M well enough to be fully aware that she eats regularly and healthfully, and that her thin body is a natural shape for her. She's an avid runner, and this ensures that she's usually very slim. M radiates health and peace from her willowy frame.

   I think, frankly, that there's beauty in every frame. As Eve Ensler said, we all need to "love our tree," whatever the shape of our trunk and branches. I don't want even Posh to feel bad about how she looks. But I find it difficult to believe that Posh's shape is a result of healthy living. I think, instead, that she's suffering from an eating disorder, and the media has chosen to glorify the results as the pinnacle of beauty. It's a standard which few can meet, and most who try will find themselves ill or even dead as a result.

   I am trying my best to feel good about who I am and who I will be when I reach my goal weight. I'll have hips--juicy ones, at that--compliments of my Eastern European ancestors. I'll have high cheekbones and chubby cheeks. I have large "curves" above and below. And though I'll have hipbones, they are unlikely to cut like a knife. I'll have thick, powerful legs with defined muscles, and my arms, though slightly flabby underneath, will be muscled too. I'm almost there in some areas and still working on it in the meantime. But I hurt when I think about how others feel about their own bodies as a result of photos like this one of Beckham. I wish there were some way for me to flood the industry wth images of beauty that show women's shapes in all their glory. Here are two images that do that...though the first is more inspirational (the second is just funny...):

Nike "Big Butt" Ad

Curves "Motivational" poster

   What do you think? Are you able to escape the media's definition of beauty? How can we deal with this issue? I'd love to talk about it!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Working On My First Post...

I'm a perfectionist, so, of course, I want my first post to be "just right." That means it's taking longer than I thought, but it also means that it'll be worth the wait.  I hope you'll come back soon to check it out!