The work of healing your relationship with your body is part of your work of healing the world. When you bring compassion, patience and grace to your body, you stave off the external forces of shame, criticism and oppression that come at you daily. A relationship with your body that is loving, relaxed and compassionate has the fluidity and flexibility to withstand the enormous challenges the world demands from you (and that we sometimes demand from ourselves). A relationship with your body that is demanding, punitive and internally screaming is not one that is well-equipped to withstand very much at all (not in the long term, at least).
That’s why the work and writing that I do is so much about the dialectic between inner and outer worlds. I know not everyone approves of this take or resonates with it. There are those people whose path on the journey of healing their addiction to dieting/disordered eating is very much about healing inner wounds and inner worlds. Then there are those who are far more interested in the political dimensions of this work, who are focussed on breaking down the systems of oppression that create the conditions for body hatred in the first place. I love and respect and see the necessity for work in both camps.
My own philosophy stands very much on a fluid movement between the two. To me, we can’t have one without the other. Moreover, the path of one leads to the path of the other:
It’s an infinity loop.
I think about this dialectic when seemingly unrelated things happen in the world, but that I know, deep down, are interconnected. The thread of connection between this work and so many world events is that of bodily autonomy.
I’ve had interplay on my mind since the shooting last weekend at Club Q, a gay bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Five people were killed.
If you’ve ever been to a gay bar outside of a major city, especially if you ever went to one before the new millennium, you know how very different it is/was from what it’s like today. Depending on the circumstances, it can/could/did feel distinctly uncertain. I clearly remember the feeling of unease I would often have in the ’90s being in the liminal space outside of gay bars in my hometown of Winnipeg. The minute right before I went into the bar and the minute spent right after coming out of the bar always felt vulnerable. Once you were in, though, you were good. Safety, community, family—all of that plus some good times were always on offer.*
It was a total 180 from the feeling of, for example, being in Toronto’s gay village, where your choice of venues—and the feeling of safety on offer—stretches on for blocks.
(As I write this, I realize that what massively would have informed my sense of un-safety at the time was the death of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death in a homophobic attack in 1998. This was a time when the phrase “gay-bashing” fell so easily from our tongues.)
The presence of barbarism in a space of freedom and self-expression is viscerally repugnant to anyone who has ever sought refuge in a gay bar. On some level, it the same quality of moral outrage as shootings at a parade, a grocery store, a mosque: they are repugnant, in part, because of the intensity of the contrast between the setting—a site of innocence, people just doing their thing—and the violence.
What sets this apart is that a shooting at a gay bar, like at Pulse in 2016 in Orlando, is an unfathomable attack on people who come together out of a particularly human need for community. A gay bar, no matter where it is in the world, is a place where so many people’s search for bodily autonomy leads. The fact that, for five people, it also lead to their death, is a distinct kind of devastation.
In this case, the shooter was subdued by two former Army dudes, and reportedly beaten in the face by a trans woman using her high heel as a bludgeon.
I have three university degrees in political science and “healing” was never a variable I included when studying social justice movements in history. But I do believe now that we can’t have individual healing without collective liberation, and we can’t have collective liberation without a sufficient measure of individual healing that serves as a catalyst that paves the way for the possibility of that collective liberation.
The human quest for bodily autonomy, then, on the streets of Iran, at an abortion clinic and at the LGBTQ+ drop-in centre in the town of North Bay, Ontario are all interconnected. And I believe that, flowing in this dialectic, is your own individual struggle against forces of oppression—yes, including the forces of racist, sexist, anti-fat bias that have told you that it’s not ok to have cream and sugar in your coffee, or pasta in your bowl.
If that seems ridiculous or overstated, I assure you, it’s not. Yes, the degrees of violence are obviously entirely different, as are the levels of personal risk. But the stakes, I believe, are the same: the cry for bodily autonomy within communal liberation.
*Yes, I am absolutely romanticizing gay bars right now. Yes, problematic behaviour can happen there, just like in straight bars. This is a blog, not an anthropological study of a place called The Manhole, ok?