Fat Revolution

I’ve struggled for most of my life with my weight – for awhile with trying to lose weight, with thinking that I had to lose weight, and eventually with learning to love my body as it is, however it is. This journey hasn’t been helped by all of the hate and abuse that I – and most fat people – get thrown my way. I get nasty messages. People retweet my selfies to mock my weight. It’s nearly impossible to find awesome fat YA characters, and people question whether it’s appropriate to include fat characters in books for kids.

This is one of my many attempts to fight back.I’ve had this piece kicking around for months, waiting and waiting to be read. I finally got that chance at the Ball State Writers’ Community’s first reading, and a friend was kind enough to record it.

I’m indecently proud of this reading, so if you like it, please share it.

Content warning for extensive talk about fat oppression/stigma/abuse, and for mentions of rape and rape culture.

How Do You Continue Enjoying a Book That Offends You?

TW: Mentions of homophobia, transphobia, rape, and victim blaming

Say that you’re reading a book and generally enjoying it – right until it hits you with some pretty offensive opinions. They aren’t the main message of the book and they don’t come up often, and there are definitely other messages in it that you love, but you still can’t get those offensive lines out of your mind.

So what do you do? Stop reading? Keep reading? Does it depend on how far into the book you are? Does it depend on how strongly offended you are?

Let me tell you about my situation and maybe you can tell me what you’d do – because I honestly haven’t figured out a good solution. Before I start, I want to say that I don’t expect to agree with every author that I read. I don’t expect them to be perfect and without their biases and bigotries. Everyone has them. However, that’s not going to stop the offense from bothering me and leading me to question what I should do.

stranger in a strange landThe book that inspired this post is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s classic scifi but just in case that’s not your deal and/or you don’t know what it’s about, here’s a quick Amazon summary:

…the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love.

My parents have been trying to get me to read it for years, and my boyfriend included it in a stack of scifi books that he thought I should read. Finally, I gave in. For the most part, I enjoyed it. It has some amazing messages about sex positivity and body positivity. I wasn’t super crazy about the obsession with female youth and traditional gender roles, and towards the end the characters all sort of meld into this same personality, but I was mostly digging it.

And then, with only about a hundred pages to go, Heinlein hits me with this:

…[Jill] had explained homosexuality…and had given him rules for avoiding passes; she knew that Mike, pretty as he was, would attract such…fortunately Mike’s male water brothers were decidedly masculine, just as his others were very female women. Jill suspected that Mike would grok a “wrongness” in the poor in-betweeners anyhow – they would never be offered water.

Ouch. I was really growing to love Jill, and then she says that? First, we have an idolization of masculinity and feminism when assigned to the “proper” or traditional genders, which would imply that feminine men or masculine women would be wrong. We don’t need to figure that out for ourselves though, because Jill goes ahead and tells us they’re wrong and calls them “poor in-betweeners”. What?

(For reference to those who haven’t read the book: “water brothers” are people that Mike has shared water with and essentially formed an intense, unbreakable bond with; “grok” is a Martian word that means many things, but in this context we can basically say that he’d sense it.)

I was just shaking that off when, less than a page later, Jill tells Mike this about saving her – or other women – from men making unwanted sexual passes.

“Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault. So don’t be hasty.”

Oh, god. Homophobia (and I would say transphobia) and victim blaming right after the other. Not only that but, “It’s partly her fault, so don’t save her.” Mike takes most things very literally and trusts Jill implicitly, and she knows it – so she knows very well that if he senses a girl being raped, he might not stop it because of what she’s told him.

It was difficult to keep reading the book. On the one side, I had really enjoyed it up to that point and was very near the end. These weren’t messages that had come up before and didn’t come up again (though admittedly I could have missed it; I was a little out of it when I finished the last 100~ pages). I also keep thinking – well, this was written in a time when these ideas were pervasive, and even then, they only come up this once.

But wow, they hurt. You probably already know that rape culture is a pretty big deal to me, and LGBT issues are right up there with it. I also find it much harder to handle women who spread rape culture. If we don’t support other women, who will?

I ended up having some other problems with the ending and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet – but this whole thing is what I can’t stop thinking about. That little bit of internal narration, that little bit of dialogue, completely overtaking my ability to really think about the book.

What would you do? Have you faced a problem like this before? Hit up the comments.

The Trials and Tribulations of Owning a Kindle

You might have noticed that part of Tuesday Reads is telling you whether I read the book in a physical copy or on a Kindle (there are other options, but those are the two I use). That might seem silly and needless, but I do have a reason for it.

I own a second-generation Kindle. I’ve had it for years. It’s been replaced twice, covered in stickers, and it’s not quite as shiny white as it once was. It currently contains 216 books. Its name is Hermione Danger. It often spends most of the school year in a drawer while I’m consumed by novels for school (I almost always buy those in a physical copy, because it’s easier for me to stay on track with my teacher and classmates), but months will go by where it barely leaves my side.

But there are days when I hate taking it out in public. Almost every time I read it before class or in the student center or outside, someone asks me, “Is that a Kindle?” I’m always hopeful at first, and I get excited. I love my Kindle. I love to talk about my Kindle. So I say yes, and I show them how easy it is to use, how many books it has, how I can send Word documents and PDFs to it (great for critiquing stories), and I talk about how great Kindle support has been over the years. Every once in a blue moon, the conversation will end with something like, “Maybe I should look into getting one.”

More often than not, it ends in, “Oh, that’s cool, but I could never get one. I love books too much.”

Excuse me?

Is it wrong of me to take away from that the implication that I don’t love books? That somehow the fact that I own a Kindle means that books don’t matter to me? I know that the other person in that conversation hasn’t seen my bookcases, where books are stacked on books in an attempt to squeeze them all in. They don’t know that I can’t go into a bookstore without spending all of my money on new books, or that donating 500 books in high school barely dented my library.

But why should that matter? They haven’t seen my personal library, but why should they have had to? Why does Kindle owner equal book hater in so many minds?

There are stories where the medium matters. I couldn’t read graphic novels on my black and white second-gen Kindle. If the picture quality was comparable to that of a printed graphic novel and the interface easy to navigate, I’d have no problem reading them digitally. There are stories where interaction with the book itself is an important part of experiencing the story – for example, Theodora GossThe Thorn and the Blossom is uniquely bound accordion style. Open the book from one side, and you read the story of Evelyn. Flip it over and open it on the other side, and you read Brendan’s story. In the case of that book, I suggest you read it in the physical copy.

Most of the novels we read, though, ultimately don’t need to be read in a physical form. Yes, I agree that the feel of a book in your hands and being able to flip through the pages and doggy-ear and make notes and bend back the spine (which plenty of people would scream at me for, but I love) is a beautiful thing.

But shouldn’t the story matter more? If the story is the same from paperback to Kindle, doesn’t it matter more that we’re reading the story than if we’re reading it on paper or a screen?

I know that contradicts my idea of telling whether I’m reading a book in physical or digital form. That’s related to another peeve of mine in this whole ridiculous debate. People seem to think that if I have a Kindle, I don’t read physical books, or if you read physical books, then you wouldn’t ever have an e-reader. It’s true that there are people who only use e-readers and people who only read physical books, and that’s entirely their choice. I’m not here to insult them. What bothers me is that there are an awful lot of people who can’t seem to grasp the idea that someone might like both. That’s why I’m going to tell you what medium I’m reading a story on. It’s entirely possible to use and love multiple reading mediums, and I’d like to prove it.

What about you? Are you a Kindle owner who faces snide remarks from your fellow book lovers? Are you a book lover who just can’t abide by e-readers? Or, like me, do you stand somewhere in-between?