They Don’t Know Fatties

Motivate FinalI was thinking today about how often we are told that, as fat people, everyone who is not fat is a better witness to our experience than we are.  How often someone is considered an expert in weight loss, or becoming thin, simply because they happen to be thin.

We are told that we’re not competent witnesses to what and how much we do or should eat, or how much we do or should move.  Our bodies are held up as proof that we must be lying or deluded and that we can’t possibly know, or be doing, what’s best for us. We are told that, because of how we look, we should be subject to more scrutiny than those who don’t look like us, we should lose our right to speak for ourselves, we should be stereotyped and stigmatized and bullied and war should be waged against us  – that the way we look means that we shouldn’t get to choose how highly we prioritize our health or the path we choose to get there like everyone else does.

We are forced to listen to people like Jillian and Bob on The Biggest Loser prattle on insufferably about how fat people think and what fat people do and what it’s like to be a fat person as if we are all walking around under the guide of the same brain just because we share a single physical characteristic. We, and the rest of society, are told that everyone from Dr. Phil to Dr. Oz to random people on the internet know more about how and why we think and act, and what it’s like to be us, than we do.

When we tell people that constant social stigma is damaging to our health, we are told that it’s for our own good and we should be grateful to hear that our bodies are socially unacceptable more often and more aggressively than we already are. When we tell people that we are not suffering from obesity, but are suffering from stigma and oppression, we are told that we are responsible for solving bullying and social stigma by changing ourselves.

We are told that if we don’t accept someone else’s account of how we think, eat, and exercise, then we’re “in denial”.  It’s a system designed to make us powerless.  Our oppressors (well-meaning or otherwise) get to tell the world who we are and what we do and how we think and what it’s like to be us, and if we disagree they call us liars, and claim that we are not capable of speaking for ourselves. Not only are we denied a place in discussions about us, we are actively silenced and shouted down when we attempt to speak up.  People have managed to successfully stigmatize and stereotype our bodies, and then argue that those stereotypes make us unqualified to advocate for ourselves.  Successful stigmatization and oppression should not become self-perpetuating by virtue of self-justification.  In other words, this is seriously fucked up.

So if you start to question yourself, to wonder if Dr. Oz really is a better witness to your experience than you are, then I implore you to stop and consider this possibility:  You are not wrong, it is not you. It’s a system set up to make us feel that we are not the most credible witnesses to our own experiences.  It’s wrong, it’s oppressive, and it shouldn’t happen.  The next time somebody feels the need to tell you “something you don’t know” about being you – your body, lifestyle, behaviors, thoughts or health – feel free to tell them (out loud or in your mind) that it’s not you, it’s them; that you know everything you need to know about being you, and when you want their opinion they will be among the very first to know.

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Published in: on November 5, 2013 at 6:08 am  Comments (43)  

43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. One thing I love to do when people start bringing up those extreme low-calorie diets that would ‘solve’ my problem is Auschwitz. No, really. I do this.

    They tell me said diet is the best way for a fat, fat person like me to lose weight in a healthy way. I ask them if the diet at Auschwitz was good for all those prisoners. Of course not! Those people were starved and worked to death! That’s not healthy!, they protest. That’s right, I say. And the diet you just recommended for me involves LESS calories than a prisoner at Auschwitz was fed.

    At that point, one of two things happens. Either they tell me I’m clearly deeply confused in which case I know there is no point discussing anything at all with them ever again because the sky on their planet is Loud MacCloud tartan (eye-searing yellow and black, like a giant Scottish bumblebee, for those who aren’t of Scottish extraction), or they look utterly shocked and ask if I have that right.

    The ones who ask for more information can sometimes be teachable, even if they aren’t ready to completely accept the truth right then and there.

    • Interesting you should mention Aushwitz. I actually had a doctor tell me, ‘all the people in concentration camps lost weight, now didn’t they?’ – As though he were advocating starvation and torture as a weight loss technique. From that moment on I called him Dr. Quack.

      • Oh. My. God. Are you kidding! I think I would have reported him to the AMA.

      • Dear God. I would have just started calling him Dr. Mengele to his face, then and there.

        • I second this with extreme prejudice. Mengele was one fucked up bastard. (But amazingly not as scary as what went on at Unit 731.)

          • I still wonder why what happened in Unit 731, doesnt get talked about much. That was some jacked up stuff

            • I think it’s because American forces weren’t directly involved in its liberation. Unit 731 was in Manchuria, and so information regarding what happened there came to us after the end of the war, when people were busy trying to rebuild their lives. OTOH, the Russians, our allies at the time, were the ones to liberate Auschwitz-Birkenau, and American showed up not much later to assist in the process. We documented the Zoo and the camp firsthand, as well as many other camps. Mengele and his staff left a lot of notes behind, never mind some surviving experiments, including one set of twins that managed to make it through. I don’t even know how both girls did it.

              Unit 731 was very different in that it was military-run rather than overseen by doctors. (The SS had little to no say in the Zoo.) The head of 731 was General Shiroo Ishii. The Russians found the main facility, though it took into 1946 to put all the pieces together, and by that time, Americans and Europeans didn’t want to hear ghastly details of biological warfare and vivisection. After that, it was just a matter of letting history take its toll. Time scours slates clean, and people are good at forgetting.

              Ahem. Sorry. I’m something of a history dork, with a particular tendency to study and remember the darkest of times, especially the ones people often forget. (Tulsa Race Riot? What’s that?)

              • I love history dorks. Thanks for the ramble

                • No problem. :) You should hear me rant about Indian Territory and the Trail of Tears!

      • The sheer grotesquerie of an alleged professional trying to make a case for a “Healthy Concentration Camp Diet” is something else, but on top of that, according to this TITP post by the granddaughter of a WWII survivor, the answer to his question is actually no.

        http://thisisthinprivilege.tumblr.com/post/64715024165/fat-shaming-is-a-ridiculous-social-construct-based

        To summarize, while living in the worst enforced starvation conditions in recorded history, this poster’s grandmother still knew fat people.

  2. This hit a nerve today. I’ve gotten this “eat less, exercise more, you must be lying about what you eat and don’t eat” from the last three doctors I’ve gone to over the last seven years.
    Full disclosure: I used to be a thin person. Then my weight went up about 50% over the course of six months, and my energy levels plunged. That’s when I started actually NEEDING medical care, and exactly when I stopped getting it. Until last month, I hadn’t bothered going to the doctor for two years – after all, they were just going to diagnose me as ‘fat’, and I already knew that.
    Three months ago, my mom died. She was a drug addict and a smoker, which were her choices to make, but it still obviously hurt when she died so young. What got my attention was that she was taking medicine for her cholesterol and her thyroid. I decided to go get mine checked. First, I got my old blood work from the last doctor who diagnosed me as fat; then I started looking for a doctor who was fat-friendly in Orlando. I couldn’t find one in any of the online resources, so I then settled for finding one who had a reputation for at least listening to her patients. *POSSIBLE TRIGGER FOR DIETING/STUPID BEHAVIOR* Then, for the next three months, I tracked every bite that went into my mouth and logged it. Weighed, measured, the works. Same with the amount of exercise I do. I didn’t change my habits, just quantified them as much as I could. Yes, it irritated me to do something I don’t agree with as a means to an end, but since I’m no longer thin and don’t get the benefit of the doubt, I wanted to be ready for the “you’re delusional” attitude.*END TRIGGER* I also used my university account to find as much clinical research as I could on heart disease and thyroid problems. In short, I did all my doctor’s homework ahead of time so that I could advocate for my own health as an expert witness.
    At my appointment, the doctor did start to draw baseless conclusions, until I handed the data to her and explained, calmly and unemotionally, what I’d done and what I’d found out, as though I was reporting on a research project for school. It worked – she paid attention and agreed to run the blood work I asked for, even though I had to tell her which tests she should ask for outside the run-of-the-mill. Then she decided to take a poke at my throat, and her whole demeanor changed. All of a sudden, I was being scheduled for a thyroid ultrasound. This was last week; I go in this Thursday to discuss my results.
    It’s hard to get anyone to understand that I don’t really care about whether or not my thyroid made me gain weight. I care about the fact that a malfunctioning thyroid might contribute to my own early death, regardless of what I do or do not do to take care of myself. The day after my appointment, I stopped treating myself like a lab rat and started being a person again. It felt wonderful. I wish that I could get the professionals who are supposed to help care for me to treat me like a person, too – for that matter, I wish the world would start treating us all like people. It feels like the establishment is killing us for our own good.

    • Good for you! It took me a long time to get thyroid treatment and I’m just so angry at the medical establishment for turning their backs on people who need them and angry at myself for not standing up for myself.

      I avoided doctors like crazy, but then developed a condition that requires several doctor visits a year, it was only then I was ready to once again take up my own cause and finally get treatment I needed.

      • I’m just angry at the medical establishment, full stop. Neither you nor I should HAVE to make it our job to properly diagnose and treat ourselves just because we’re fat. I’m glad that you finally got the treatment you needed, but pissed that it took so much effort to get it.

        When I was thin, my statements about my health situation were taken at face value. Acquaintances didn’t feel free to give me unsolicited diet advice, either; I’m considering dropping a kid I’m tutoring because his mom won’t stop bugging me about SlimFast and salads and fat-burning exercise girdles. No, that is not an exaggeration.

    • Hear, hear! You kick ass!

      It took years for my hypothyroidism to be dx’d because my numbers were “normal.” However, they’d been rising steadily for a long time, and I had symptoms like mad, including constant sweating and my eyebrows falling out. Finally, I asked my (new) doc to go ahead and treat me, ’cause my Mom had hypo and had even had a goiter not too many years ago. Within a month, I was fine. The only problem now is that my perfect Grace Kelley eyebrows have been permanently thinned to something more like Amanda Palmer. NOOOOOOO!

    • Wow, you are totally awesome! Having to self-advocate to that level sucks but you kicked ass at that battle. I hope you get the answers you need on Thursday.

      And I join the others in being very angry with the medical establishment. A 50% change in your body weight (up or down) in short period of time is a danger sign that doctors should pay attention to – not because of the weight itself but because it is a drastic, unexplained change in your body.

      Sudden, unexplained diversions from what is normal in your body are symptoms regardless of the social acceptability of those changes.

      Sympathy grrs

    • I am so sorry that you were treated in this manner. It just isn’t right and I’m afraid that it’s going to get worse as our healthcare system spirals out of control. Some of the things I read really point to the fact that it is a general belief in our society that people with weight issues as pretty much fat, lazy blobs who are sucking all of the healthcare money out of the system and if they would just try “hard enough,” they could be thin and healthy. I’m not sure how to combat this absolute fallacy, but you did an awesome job. It’s too bad that you had to go to such extremes to get get good treatment, but I’m surely glad you did. I hope your health improves very quickly.

      • I didn’t expect everyone to be so nice; guess I should have known better. :) Thanks for the encouraging messages; it looks like there’s a nodule my doc wants tested before we’ve got any definitive answers. She seems to get the message and is being very careful and thorough; she’s referring me to an endocrinologist after the biopsy is done because she feels like she’s a bit out of her depth. (My thyroid antibodies are pretty crazy.) I will keep my fingers and toes crossed for all of us that are trying to get through to our doctors; the world WILL start treating us as people eventually.

  3. I had completely forgotten until I read this today, but in college, part of our general-health course required us to keep a food diary for a week or two. It was supposed to be helpful for us, but it was also used as a training exercise for the teaching assistants that we had to sit down and review our logs with.

    What I remember most about the experience is that the T. A. I was assigned to was absolutely stunned when he read my food diary. He didn’t exactly question my honesty, but I could tell that he was completely unable to reconcile my food intake with my weight.

    Looking back, I realize now that he was already being brainwashed to believe that being fat only comes from a mixture of ignorance, laziness, and general-moral-deficiency-bordering-on-mental-illness. And this was a guy looking to have a career in keeping people healthy! I can only hope he occasionally thinks back on that and questions what he was taught to some extent.

  4. One ridiculous thing: Even if we shut up and “do as we’re told,” what they’re telling us to do doesn’t work and isn’t health-based. But those failures aren’t the fault of them or their thinking/prejudices. Nope, we get the blame because, well, dethfatz.

    • They don’t care…if we don’t get THEIR desired results then either we’re not doing it right or we’re cheating. Those are the only two valid reasons they can fathom. Just. pisses. me. right. off!!

  5. This was fucking brilliant.

  6. I agree with this whole-heartedly.

    Let me share my experience of this- or at least, the time this happened that sticks in my mind most. It has happened many times, but this is the one I will always remember.

    I should start by saying, I am transgendered. I transitioned many years ago now, but on this particular occasion I was early on in my transition and was visiting a doctor to discuss my situation. The subject of the visit was whether or not I was mentally suitable to undergo physical transition. The doctor in question was not a dietician, nor would he be prescribing drugs or surgery at that appointment. It was literally just to discuss my mental health, and his speciality had nothing at all to do with bariatrics.

    He spent the first 45mins of that appointment telling me how if I ate one less curry a week or had one less take-out, and did 20mins more exercise a day, I would lose weight. At the time I was walking 2 hours a day (to and from work) and I do not eat takeaways regularly- and certainly not often enough to be able to cut out one a week.

    I told him this three times, and he carried on as if I had said nothing.
    I eventually stood up and told him that if he didn’t discuss the issue I was there to speak to him about, I would walk out because my weight was not for him to comment on. He conceded, but then wrote a very aggressive letter to my GP suggesting that I was not serious about transitioning and aught to ‘reconsider’ due to my behaviour- a letter that I am sure he wrote out of spite, knowing that it would delay me (which it did) because I challenged him.

    I made a complaint about that doctor and the PCT found in my favour. It did not stop him from screwing up the early part of my transition, however, and even when I swapped to the care of another doctor he continued to comment on my weight whenever he saw me at the clinic.

    The sad thing is, I know he is not the only one. I now work in healthcare and I have seen doctors and other professionals do this time and time again to other people, and even if I speak out every time it happens (which I do), my view is discredited simply because I am fat, and hence, ‘in denial’ about how medical professionals ‘really’ treat fat people.

    I can assure you all, I am most certainly *not* the one who is in denial.

    • If there was any way to just walk away from that jerk, it would have been worthwhile. He probably wouldn’t have noticed that you left during his weight-loss tirade. I’m guessing that wasn’t an option, though.

      FWIW, my last psychiatrist prescribed weight loss as treatment for depression. I’m glad she did – because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have dumped her and found the wonderful psych I’m going to now.

      • Sadly, he was a gatekeeper for the services that I needed to access. I did refuse to see him again after that appointment, but it was difficult and delayed my transition by over a year, once everything was said and done. I dread to think how many other people he has messed around in a similar, petty manner. He is what my grandmother would have called a ‘very small little man.’

        I have had psychiatrists and others also suggest weight-loss to help with depression as well, and it’s very annoying. My current support worker (who is a lovely woman) did’t do that. She said that exercise can help by releasing endorphins, but she has never suggested losing weight. The same is true for my diet- she actually listens to me when I tell her what I eat, and the only changes she has suggested have been based on the issues I have with wheat- again, she has never suggested weight loss plans. I like that- I feel it is a more healthy approach to lifestyle. :)

        • That’s the one issue I have with the healthcare systems in places like Great Britain and Canada – if you get an asshat for a doctor, you’re semi-stuck. I’m glad that your bad experiences had happy endings, though.

  7. I have a couple of people that I consider on my side when it comes to my fat issues and one is a nurse practitioner and one my primary but there are times when you do need to be sent out to a specialist. Now I’m still trying to figure out what is causing my “ailments” the symptoms of which are too long to list. I myself have “researched” because of the symptoms seem to mimic so many diseases and disorders but I keep track in my diary so that when I see a specialist I can give them all the info they need or maybe don’t need. And also a list of drugs and people I have seen prior.

    Not only do I find being fat as a treatment blocker but also being a woman of a certain age, over 50. Once you have certain symptoms they tend to look at me with either well you’re fat, or you’re menopausal or peri-m or your just crazy! I also have the problem of having had RNY surgery over 4 years ago so I still don’t know if my issues are related or partially related to my deficiencies and other issues that come along with it. It’s hard to find a doctor that is a specialist who can deal with the fact that you had gastric bypass also if that make sense.

    So in some instances like when I saw the endocrinologist and he saw that I had weight gain after my RNY surgery which is proably more average than anything he thinks of this as “bad behavior” and that I can change this behavior. I want to explain to him that I was large as a child and most of my life until the constant yo yo dieting but it goes in one ear and out the other and he finalizes our appt. with “calories in calories out” and I’m leaving with a feeling of despair because what I really wanted from him was a “diagnosis” of why I was feeling like crap and not the “fat lecture” that I’ve heard numerous times in my life and really don’t want to hear again and feel a mixture of steam out of my ears and tears in my eyes.

    It’s not as easy as it sounds to say to a doctor/specialist “hey pretend I’m not fat and treat me like you would a thin patient” cuz they’d look at you with cray-cray eyes!

    Anyway I’m still waiting on this most perfect doctor, Dr. House without the “I hate fat people attitude” and the next is a woman rheumatologist and once again not sure to have high hopes or low expectations but if I don’t get a diagnosis by the end of the year I may give up and just live life like a 53 year old woman who feels like an 83 year old woman. Sorry it was long but I needed to “vent”.

    • I’m so sorry about your issues with doctors. Can I suggest you take a look at your trans-ferrin saturation and your ferritin levels? There is possibility for certain conditions to show up during menopause that would be a full range of nondescript symptoms. The rheumatologist should be able to check these levels in your blood for additional inflammation sources. All the best in your quest for health!

      • Thanks my iron is low but I’m upping it and seem to be absorbing it now but I’m hoping since I haven’t had much luck with other specialists that the Rheumatologist will be my savior!

    • Ugh, I feel your pain. In my personal experience, endocrinologists are the least likely to actually listen to fat patients.

      I too feel like there are several different things wrong with me, in a way I’m fortunate because I have one very obvious disease, but I have other things that may or may not be related, but so many of those symptoms are just written off as fat symptoms.

      Good luck with your rheumatologist, there are good doctors out there, they are just hard to find.

      • I have had the same problem with my endocrinologist. Since I was getting nowhere fast, I just quit going to him and moved my endocrinology care to my GP. He prescribes all the meds I need for my diabetes, along with all the testing and labwork, etc. It’s a lot easier. I still have to do a lot of my own research and request the blood tests that I want and then try to figure out what to do with the results, but I started going to a naturopath as well and he helps me to understand things and what to do about tests results that are a bit off. It’s the only thing I could do. Otherwise, I would be over-medicated and getting sicker by the moment. I have come off of several drugs by going to the naturopath – he is the one who found out that I was allergic to gluten and rice. Damn, that was a blow! An Italian woman allergic to wheat – WHAT??? I am in the process of eliminating those two items from my diet and I feel a whole lot better. No, it hasn’t caused a miraculous weight loss, but I wasn’t expecting it to. I have accepted who I am and feeling good (or at least, feeling a bit better) is really an awesome thing! I hope everything goes well for you!!!

  8. Your words bring me to tears again. After years of being patted on the head and sent home “fat” for every medical complaint, I still avoid doctors. I wait now for that critical event, a stroke, or aneurysm, which they will of course blame on being fat.

    • I’m in the same boat. All I’ve gotten from doctors since I was a child onward were condescending headpats and diagnoses of fat with prescriptions of calorie restriction, so as soon as I had the autonomy to stop going, I did. I could stand in the mirror and tell myself what they’re telling me without having to pay through the nose for it.

  9. Sassykas,

    “Hugs” and don’t put off something if you think you need medical attention. Being honest and upfront with them about your fears of mistreatment might even help. Like “I’ve put off going to the doctor because all they ever do is criticize me for my weight” and then they tend to back off and be more “caring” like you really want!

  10. All these stories touch my heart.

    • Me too. Sending everyone good vibrations!

  11. So, first, this triggered a very heated diatribe with Dr. Oz for me. Yes, I talk to people when they are not there sometimes. But I know they aren’t there, so it’s all good.

    Second, in reading other folks’ comments I am reminded that I have an upcoming MD appointment for med review, etc. I’m dreading it for two reasons. One, I can’t really afford it and not having the money that I have to spend on it for things like gas and food is anxiety provoking. But two, I have lost weight and I’m am bracing myself for the inevitable “that’s great…how did you do it?” nonsense.

    Here’s where my losing weight is problematic…I haven’t been able to eat the kinds and quantities of food that I want because I’ve been poor. This is stressful and not a situation I plan to maintain or welcome in my life. I am very close to the point of needing new clothes, which I cannot afford and really is kind of a pain in the ass because I know that when I am able to eat three meals a day that I will actually gain some weight and those new clothes I invested in will need to be moved on again.

    So I will be sitting in the MDs office with someone who has likely never known poverty or being fat trying to explain how all this actually really bites and is not a situation that I am hopeful will continue. And I get to pay out of pocket for the privilege.

    Bah…I need to blow off more steam. I think I’ll take a shot at a diatribe with Dr. Phil…

    • When the doc asks you how you lost weight, look them straight in the eye and say “Poverty. I can’t afford to eat.” Most folks will sputter and backtrack.

      Wishing you all the best in your endeavor!

      • Seconded. When I was on methotrexate, people would ask me how I lost weight. I answered, “Chemo.”

        That always shut ‘em up.

    • Hon, I know the feeling. :( For a while, my ex spent all our money on dates with other women, or taking all his coworkers to lunch every day, and I had to choose between buying food for myself (I have a very restricted diet), or buying my prescriptions. I tried going without the prescriptions for a while, nearly died, and simply opted to eat one meal a day, maybe every couple of days. It wasn’t pretty. Asshat, OTOH, ate four, five times a day, every day.

      Second best day of my life was, in retrospect, when he kicked me out. (Best day was when a woman in one of my fandoms started yelling and screaming at me in a chat room because I was a BNF and she was next to unknown. We’ve been dating for over a year now. :D)

  12. A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that she is finally seeing weight loss results after two weeks of eating practically nothing and running on the treadmill. She does this because she hates the way she looks and doesn’t want anyone to tell her to eat something.

    Not even a claim of trying to be healthy, just a desire to change her appearance. She’s been heavy since high school. Her mom was heavy, and I know she did not have a good relationship with her mom, and that is probably part of it. I’m sure the other part is being ‘teased’ for being fat.

    I’m having another round of wanting to be thin, but I refuse to give up a reasonable amount of food. Not only would it make me miserable, I’m interested in making sure I get all the vitamins and minerals and whatever else I need.

    I feel kind of bad for her, but I will keep my mouth shut.

    Then I remembered my other friend from high school who has Chronic Vomiting Syndrome which she has to take medication for and occasionally go to the emergency room when she can’t control it. Despite suffering this, she has grown heavy as she’s moved into her 40s. She sometimes complains about her weight, but is more excited to go on walks with her friends.

    I feel bad for her, because she is dealing with a chronic illness that sounds pretty miserable.

    I think I am rambling now, but nobody I personally know who has tried to lose weight has ever kept it off. I try to remind myself that when I am feeling bummed about my weight.

  13. I may have mentioned this before on another post, but I have found it VERY helpful to write a letter to a new doctor beforehand outlining what I’m expecting. I ask the receptionist to put the letter in my chart and I always bring a copy with me. You can weed out a lot of wasted time this way. I have at times written, “I am looking for a provider who can do x. If you think we would not be a good fit as a team, please let me know immediately.” That “x” could be “advise me in a weight-neutral context” or “discuss the evidence for and against mammograms for a woman of my age” or whatever. For those of us who are anxious around doctors, it also helps because we’re not having to introduce the issues face to face.

    Of course, I still have had bad treatment occasionally from providers. But I feel more in control and better placed to develop a professional relationship.

  14. I was whippet thin (and had numerous health problems) my whole life, which were always blamed on my smoking…..always. So after 27 years of trying to quit and finally succeeding, I gained 60 pounds. I’m sure you’ve guessed what they blame all these same health problems on now. Yup. ( And I eat about 1/3rd of what I used to, but can’t lose the weight.) We are such complex creatures, but they still want to apply a mathematical formula to us (calories in minus calories burned equals weight gained or lost) and it just doesn’t work.

  15. I wish all of my friends would read this.

    It’s frightening that each of theses stories has happened to me. Some of them nearly step-for-step.

    One day, I hope to be treated as a human being instead of a too-big-a-sack of meat.

    You can actually see them write you off when you walk in the door. Something changes in their eyes, and suddenly, you know that whatever you need or whatever you say won’t matter.

    Sending mighty love for all of us. Love and courage.


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