Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember and memorialize people killed as a result of anti-transgender hatred. The list of names for 2009 is available here and relisted by Melissa here (in a slightly easier to read format). Liss’s post, Fillyjonk’s post at Shapely Prose, Kate’s post on Salon, and Meloukhia’s post all articulate the importance of observing this day, and I encourage you to read both the list of names and stories and those posts.

I’ve read that something like 1 in 12 people who identify as transsexual, transgender, genderqueer or intersex are murdered. That statistic is staggering, and the list of names for 2009 is therefore as long as you might expect. And as Kate points out, these victims of violence disproportionately belong to other marginilized groups. Recognizing the severity of threat of violence that transgendered people face is incredibly important; without that wider recognition, it’s not going to change.

Fat at college

A friend alerted me to this article in the Chronicle today. I am super mad! The gist is that students with BMI > 30 have to take an additional fitness class geared towards weight loss, and if they fail to lose enough weight to reach an acceptable BMI, they must pass another additional fitness class.

“There’s an obesity epidemic,” Mr. DeBoy says. “The data are clear that many young people are on this very, very dangerous collision course with heart disease, diabetes, and stroke—health problems that are particularly bothersome for the African-American community.”

This is not an epidemic, so can we please stop calling it that? Magazine headline writers made that up because they thought the hyperbole sounded sexy, and they didn’t care what the words actually meant. And okay, look. People stopped getting fatter here a decade ago. That shift was actually relatively minor, and correlated with an increase in height. Both height and weight have similar levels of heritability (about 80%); neither can be changed significantly through force of effort for any reasonable length of time (> 2-5 years) except in a very small minority of cases (which are thus exceptions and probably usually have something else going on, like severe malnutrition in youth, illnesses, medications, etc.); and the weak correlation between certain health risk factors and increased BMI is pretty well balanced by similar weak correlations between other health risk factors and decreased BMI, such that all-cause mortality rates of BMI classes are similar (and lowest in the “overweight” group). When it comes to those correlations, the assumption of causation is made without second thought, leading to methodologically poor studies and false conclusions. BMI is a flawed, white-European-centric, shorthand way of assessing whole populations and is next to meaningless when evaluating the health of individuals. And health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are particularly “bothersome” for the African-American community for reasons that likely have nothing to do with body size, and everything to do with availability of and access to good treatment.

On the question of whether or not obesity is a disability, as with all levels of ability, that’s a question of context. In the context of a plane seat that is 17″ wide, everyone whose seated hip dimension exceeds 17″ has a disability (which has got to be more than 50% of the population). In the context of a building with stairs and no elevators, ramps, or stairlifts, a person without the use of their legs has a disability. In the context of a store where the top shelves are too high for me to reach, like my local Whole Foods, I have a disability and need to get assistance from store employees to complete my routine shopping. So in the context of a discriminatory school policy that requires 1-2 additional pieces of coursework from anyone with a body over a certain size, those bodies present disabilities — and in this case, it’s because people created that context on purpose, which is worse. This isn’t hard.

As for the question, “Will enforced wellness like this work?” the answer depends on what it means for the program to “work.” Some students will probably lose weight temporarily, so it will appear to meet some arbitrary weight loss goals. Simultaneously, the stigma and shame associated with being singled out and made to complete additional course work on account of factors mostly beyond the student’s [long-term] control will likely negatively impact her emotional and mental well-being, and not just in the short term. Rates of depression are not potentially higher among fatter people because they’re inherently more depressed; it’s because we treat them like shit and then tell them it’s their fault.

My grandmother [probably] had breast cancer. If they had made me take on extra coursework about proper breast health in college (which then stigmatized and blamed me for my heredity!), I would have righteously fucking sued the goddamn school. And I’ve said this before, but all of you folks whose insurance covered your wisdom tooth extractions, because your puny genetics meant your teeth came in all wrong? You drove up my insurance costs. Based on my happily intact third molars, I am confident that you should have taken some wellness classes on proper dental care, you unattractive-toothed loser. Because I care about your health.

Oh god.

I can’t even find the words to comment on this horrific tragedy. Things like that shouldn’t happen. Damn the fucking rape culture to hell. I’m so done with the world right now.

FA in the news

Daniel Engber of Slate has an interesting article up today about fat politics. Engber has written previously about anti-fat discrimination in our institutions and culture, so I know he’s pretty well-read on the topic. His question is whether bigotry will cost Chris Christie votes in the NJ gubernatorial election, and his answer is, well, most likely. That’s not really a big surprise and I don’t disagree with him.

There are some issues with how he gets there. For one thing, he cites Nate Silver’s ridiculous article as though it represented actual data on the body shapes and sizes of our nation’s governors, even though Silver evaluated their sizes by eyeballing photographs. (All that great statistical analyses he was known for leading up to the 2008 election seems to go out the window when it comes to certain subjects.) He also speaks authoritatively about what makes people fat — either overconsumption if you’re rich, or eating the wrong foods if you’re poor — even though the statistical differences in body size between those groups is poor, and even though any real correlation would still say nothing about causation.

Also, Engber, major fail on the oppression olympics front with this:

As a fat man, he’d get none of the deference afforded to women, homosexuals, blacks, Latinos, or any other marginalized group with its own identity politics. Never mind all the evidence of body-size discrimination in employment, education, and health care. Weight bias may be just as prevalent as racial bias, yet we’re reluctant to assign any political status to obesity.

Yeah, dude, no. Don’t even go there.

The interesting part for me was that he presents some aspects of the fat acceptance movement with some reasonably fair analysis. I think he could stand to be even harsher in his condemnation of people whose response to FA is to fling angry insults, and the internet really deserves a much bigger plug — places like Shapely Prose and Fatshionista are much more the face of fat acceptance than anything related to NAAFA (and thank god). But overall I like reading things like this in my news feed:

Thin people tend to think they’ve controlled their weight through hard work and strength of character…That makes the idea of size acceptance seem like a personal affront to anyone who’s not severely obese. If we’re all OK with being fat, then there’s no pride in being thin….Most of the country is overweight or obese, according to government standards, yet there’s no constituency for a fat politician. Conservatives see excess weight as a sign of moral failing or a breach of personal responsibility. Liberals sneer at the bloated American lifestyle, even while imagining the war on obesity as a fight for social justice.

!!!!!

Oh my fucking god, you have got to me kidding me. No really, what? Seriously?

Well, at least he lets them use his bathroom. Totes not a bigot.

Okay okay.

Right, the internet, that thing that I read and where I actually have a blog of my very own. It’s still out there! I’m thinking I might almost be ready to make a comeback, because after 2 days of fall break I’m starting to feel like I might be treading water again. For what it’s worth, I’ve been enjoying my semester a lot, but the amount of work it’s requiring has not made me want to go online and give myself more writing assignments in my moments of rest. I can still talk to a wall with the best of them, but lately I just haven’t wanted to use a keyboard for it. Actually usually it’s the kitties.

To continue my avoidance of any extra responsibilities, I’m not posting anything of particular substance right now, but I’ll link to the things I’ve been reading and that have been on my mind lately. First, Kate Harding had a series of brilliant posts about Roman Polanski on Jezebel and Salon, which have now made her a minor celebrity. Then Sweet Machine, also of Shapely Prose, posted a critical analysis of an xkcd cartoon, and the internet exploded because that’s like insulting your best friend. In a great follow-up to that discussion, Starling guest-posted the most heavily commented-on post at SP to date, about Schrödinger’s Rapist, and the internet exploded some more. Overall it led to some great discussions of rape culture, public harrassment, and drawing and respecting personal boundaries. And also some guys got super angry when they were told that when they approach a woman cold on public transportation, she’s assessing the risks. Those crazy feminists!

So it’s been cheerful here in volcanistaland, thinking about rape culture and all that. Oh also, fatties are ruining the mitten industry and Barbie is too fat. hahahahahahaha. No, we don’t use fat people as scapegoats, what are you talking about? lol.

wow

The list of people for whom I no longer have any respect is just getting longer and longer.

Grad school and abortion

There have been a couple posts and comment discussions over at Dr. Isis’s place about a question that was posed to her:

I found out I am pregnant, we want a child but I just accepted a PhD position. Should I have an abortion?

Isis does not want to get into the ethics of the question, but has instead expressed sadness that the question was even raised. Her second post clarifies in more detail that since she believes there is no “good” time to have children, if you want to have a child, you should have a child.

But while I agree with Isis that no one can answer that question for anyone else, and there probably isn’t a good time for children, I am not sure if folks would put out the same argument if the question was, “We want a child but I just accepted a PhD position. Should we use birth control for now?” I mean, Isis very well might feel the same way, I can’t say. But I feel like people’s eyebrows shoot up when it’s suggested that someone might consider something as drastic as an abortion.

And I mean, please. It only seems drastic because the rhetoric has painted it that way. My answer to this woman is that no one can answer that question for you, and if you want to have a child you should have a child, and if you want to wait because it’s not the right time in your life, then you should wait. Plain and simple. There’s nothing especially more shocking or dramatic about it because it would involve a termination instead of birth control. You choose if and when to have children, and that’s all there is to it. You might regret the decision whether you choose to have a child or not have a child right now, which is the risk with, you know, making a decision, so just do your best to make the right choice for yourself and your family. To repeat: many women regret having children.

After Isis’ post, drdrA wrote in response:

WOW, just WOW. To me the decision whether or not to bear a child and start a family should be based on whether or not one wants to be a parent. Period. If the answer to that question is yes, then you just figure out how to work around everything else. Is it going to be tough? Yes. Is it going to be stressful? Yes. Can it be done- OH FOR SURE!

Sure, it can be done, but this is not a question of whether or not to have a child, period. This a question of whether or not to have a child now, which is completely different.

I really don’t know what is up with all of the commenters who feel that it’s just so sad that a woman might consider putting off childbearing until a better time in her career. Ideally everyone would have access to reasonably long parental leave and good health insurance coverage and health care — and even then, many people will still decide not to have children during a particularly busy part of their career. That’s not all that sad. Some of those commenters seem to be coming from a position of having had children and been happy with that decision. But what made you happy won’t necessarily make someone else happy; you are projecting.

Weight loss

There is a lot of talk in the science blogosphere about weight loss these days. People are talking about their own personal experiences, which are interesting and can start up some good discussions. I have stayed out of them because 1) I’ve been busy and 2) it’s not my place to judge what other people do with their bodies. But bloggers are also posting some questionable scientific support for the benefits of weight loss and dangers of being fat, which are murky at best*… Anyway, I have confused feelings about the whole thing. I support FA and believe pretty strongly that the scientific evidence is much more mixed than the one-sided story generally pushed in the news. Lots of the studies that are spun to present evidence of extreme dangers/costs/impacts from being fat are actually very inconclusive without the spin. A lot of the statistical methods used in the studies that appear more conclusive are pretty much crap. We just don’t know that much, and there is a vested interest in keeping popular opinion firmly in favor of one point of view, science be damned. And scientists are people and are products of this society, too, and it’s hard not to mix your personal experiences into your scientific viewpoint. But a lot of people read science blogs (and Scienceblogs) as a kind of non-peer-reviewed scientific source on many subjects, so I wish other results were getting a little more attention there.**

* I’ll just link to Sandy’s whole series, if that’s all right with you.

** Though I kind of wish that about peer reviewed literature, too. When you design a study to examine possible relationships between health risks and obesity, and deliberately choose a sample pool of fat people with health problems, ignoring all of the healthy fat people (most of them), it’s awfully easy either for you or a journalist to turn around and lazily conclude that all fat people have health problems. There are some methodological problems there.

Just a joke OMG!!

Oh hey, look, Jack Shafer is an asshole. But it’s not like he gets the joke or anything, since he “is not a fan of any kind of humor.” So since he isn’t offended, what’s the problem? Are you just all hysterical bitches or what?

FYI, Shafer, calling a woman a “mad bitch” is a nasty, bigoted slur. Last I heard those were generally considered unacceptable in public discourse in a great many circles, not just among those hypersensitive people who are always looking for things to get mad about.

But hey, don’t let me stand in the way of the humor you don’t like or anything. It’s clearly important to you to protect your right to make tasteless, offensive jokes without criticism, even though apparently you don’t like or make any jokes, because in principle that kind of criticism curtails one of your many entitlements as a white dude.

Also, how funny is it that the first line of the article is, “Will nobody stand up for Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza’s asinine horseplay on the July 31 episode of their Washingtonpost.com video feature ‘Mouthpiece Theater’?” Because god forbid that for once it might go uncontested when a white guy calls a woman a bitch and actually gets called out for it. ha!!

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