October 27, 2010

It Gets Better

Dear Maura Kelly,

I don't remember much about my uncle John's life. I remember him always teasing my sisters and me, asking us for hugs and kisses, which we always jokingly turned down.codfish I remember thinking he reminded me of Disney's animated Captain Hook, so whenever he got mad after we wouldn't give him kisses, I would call him a codfish and I'd run off. I remember him making peanut butter cookies with perfect fork-pressed crosses, and zucchini bread that I can still close my eyes and taste - it was practically the only form of a vegetable I could be convinced to eat.

I don't remember much about Johnny's funeral. It was in June 1996, so I was about 9 and a half years old, and the things I remember seem so basic. I remember going with my mom to Caldor and getting a black sundress with sunflowers on it. I remember sitting with my maternal grandmother during the Catholic service, and her pointing out to me that we were seated right near the stained glass windows depicting Mary and Elizabeth (my first and middle names). I remember it being the first time I saw my dad crying.

I very vividly remember my parents sitting me down three months earlier and telling me that Johnny had gone missing. My sisters were too young, so it was just Mom, Dad, and me. We were at the kitchen table, it was a morning before school. from the newspaperMy dad told me that someone had seen Johnny on a bridge up in Vermont where he lived, and that the man in the car said that Johnny was walking barefoot in the snow. And then, suddenly, he jumped off the bridge. The police were investigating and they would let us know when they found the body.

My parents had always been pretty honest with me, and so I knew that Johnny was gay, even if I wasn't entirely sure what that meant. I knew we were Catholic, and that my dad's parents weren't speaking to Johnny, nor were most of his brothers or his sister. After the funeral, I remember hearing people talking about how Johnny was cremated due to the nature of his death, and about the exorbitant cost of getting a gay suicide buried in the Catholic cemetery.

A few weeks ago, the Director of the Office for Access and Equity at the university where I work sent out an e-mail to students, faculty, staff, and other community members. The subject: "A Message Concerning Harassment, Bullying or Discrimination." It was pretty brief, but the gist was, and I quote, this is a safe zone"I want to send a strong message to the campus community that UIC supports the security, well-being and dignity of all LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students, faculty and staff." I know their intentions were good, but I was really kind of bothered by this e-mail.

I know that, in light of recent gay suicides in the news, they wanted to set forth the message that LGBT people should feel safe on our campus. And maybe it's just me, but shouldn't everyone feel safe here? Yes, every year there are gay suicides - but there are also straight suicides. And black suicides, and white suicides, and Asian suicides, and Muslim suicides, and Christian suicides, and tall suicides, and short suicides, and thin suicides, and fat suicides. It's the 11th leading cause of death in the United States - and no one, regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or any other characteristic, is immune to the feeling that this might not be a life worth living.

Bullying, especially with children and adolescents, adds pressure to situations already ready to burst - those being bullied are so focused on the pains of the present that they cannot rationally look forward and understand that it ought to get better someday. The "It Gets Better" campaign is a positive and strong message, and I really hope that for any LGBT teens on the edge of making a permanent decision, they realize that this is be a temporary problem, and there's hope for a better future. And I honestly wish that when they grow up, it's true.

But what about the rest of us? In spite of a widespread (and rapidly growing) obesity epidemic in the United States, there's still an awful lot of hate out there. I'm not asking for a fat acceptance movement - in fact, I very firmly disagree with many of NAAFA's opinions - but I don't think asking to be treated with common decency is asking too much. van gogh - the good samaritanI know it's simple, but "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a pretty good philosophy for judging what you're about to say or do if you're not sure it's hurtful.

So, Ms. Kelly, I'm not sure of you checked your facts, but two-third of Americans are overweight or obese, and that number is expected to be closer to 75% within the next ten years. You're the minority, Ms. Kelly. Would you like someone telling you that they're disgusted by your mere presence? Would you like someone to become physically ill at the idea of you being loved by someone? I certainly hope not.

I shouldn't have read your essay. I know I shouldn't. I knew it could only make me hurt. But still, I wasn't sure it was true unless I saw it with my own eyes. It was hard getting through middle and high school with the teasing, the cliques, the locker room before and after gym class. And now, as an adult, it's hard getting through the day-to-day with people staring, with the snickering and the finger pointing. But, like you, these people are strangers who do not know my struggles at all. You don't know my story, or anyone else's, really. You're judging based on an exterior. You're hateful because of stereotypes. And to think that you got paid to publish what is, essentially, an essay exposing your prejudices and bullying millions of people whose stories you don't know ... it's heartbreaking.

So I must affirm that I believe the claim that it gets better. Because I'm losing weight, Ms. Kelly, so you can count on having one more person in your thin minority - and sooner than you think. And with my knowledge, compassion, and empathy, I'm determined to help more people like me - if not with losing weight, then with knowing that not every person out there is a jerk. That some people are sincere, and see souls before bodies. That not everyone out there is going to make others feel bad for the things that they cannot control (be it ever, or just yet).

As a writer, I'm sure you're aware, but just a final note, Ms. Kelly: the word essay comes from French: essayer, a verb meaning "to try." The origins of the French word come from the Latin noun exagium, meaning "a weighing." Attempting to put your skills to the test, to measure intellectual progress, and to weigh your knowledge. And unfortunately for you, I'm afraid it appears you're coming up slim.



Life as a Caterpillar said...

Hate is hate is hate.


Brilliant article Mary


Anonymous said...

I am so happy that I gave your blog a shout-out on #fitblog last night. It's because of posts like this one. You are a wonderful writer and I FEEL everything you write. I have read about a dozen blogged responses to Ms. Hateful's essay, and I think yours is the best. Great message you are holding up at the end. I'm going to put that idea into my kid's head "stronger than hate". I have talked to them so many times about self-esteem and bullying, etc. About being strong. But your note card is a concise thing for them to keep in mind. Thanks.

Amy said...

Excellent post. It's so true. I hate when people judge even though they don't know. What bothers me about her article right off the bat (which I sought out after reading this) is the fact that she clearly has never seen the show, and I definitely don't get the impression they're trying to promote obesity. The main issue with Mike and Molly is clearly the amount of one-liner stupid fat jokes.

I'm not sure if you've read it lately because she actually updated the post with an apology at the end(http://www.marieclaire.com/sex-love/dating-blog/overweight-couples-on-television.

Ann (-50 lbs in -60 lb challenge) said...

I like the photo message.

Katy said...

This gave me chills...kudos for you for sharing the story in such a powerful way.

Sara said...

I love this. Well written. Great point. Just found you today. You've gotten a new follower. Can't wait to read more.