After I wrote about issues of thin privilege and Pagan fat shaming, I was following some of the conversation on social media. I retweeted T. Thorn Coyle’s post Sacred Body, Sacred Earth, saying that she wrote about bodies, not about weight. MadGastronomer raised some issues of her own with Thorn’s post, and was able to get me to think about the ways that I both appreciate and really dislike some of what Thorn wrote.
Victor Anderson, one of my beloved teachers, enjoined us to neither coddle nor punish weakness.
I don’t know what she means by weakness, but with my personal background, this sounds like either obesity is a weakness or the things that lead to obesity are weaknesses. If that’s not what’s meant, then starting this essay off this way is a very confusing choice.
Regardless of how poetically beautiful the following discussion is about walking a fine line with respect to the challenges and struggles we all face – and it is beautiful, and I largely agree with it in terms of how I’ve tried to approach my own disability – no one, not Thorn, not anyone, gets to call my disability weakness. Anyone who’s struggled with disability can tell you that disability demands strength in order to cope.
There are two other major problems, in my view, and they interact. Thorn talks about how her students all commit to exercise, and that they “must find their own relationship” with exercise. Fine and dandy; she can insist on that for her students, and people can decide whether or not to study with her. But then she says:
We all go through our struggles as best we can. We also help to hold each other accountable.
Sounds great…wait, what? Does that “we all” apply to her and her students, or the whole Pagan community? Because if she and her students want to “hold each other accountable,” go for it; free agreement freely entered. But if you are talking about the community as a whole – “us all” – then accountability is off the table. You don’t hold me accountable if you don’t know me and have a very, very specific relationship with me.
This, specifically, is what is the hardest for me. I have an invisible disability. Thorn writes that she has gone through some similar issues. I don’t know if she ever experienced the stares, the mutters, the grumbles and sighs about taking the elevator up one floor. I wouldn’t be surprised if her spiritual practice helps her cope with that. Mine does for me. But it doesn’t erase it, and those things get wearing. And that’s just the subtle stuff.
I don’t know if she’s ever been publicly confronted by a stranger who insisted that she demonstrate her right to use a particular accommodation. I have. It’s not fun. And yet there are plenty of people who think that doing so is some kind of public service, and actively encourage such hassling.*
I know that’s not what Thorn is calling for…well, actually, I don’t. I hope it’s not, and I don’t think it is. But since she doesn’t explain more clearly how, when, why, and where to – and more importantly, NOT to – do this “accountability,” she, like Dybing, is opening up the field to more shaming, more confrontations, more pain and heartache for people who already have their fair share and then some, thank you very much.
If she’s talking about just her and her students, fine and dandy. But the third problem is that it seems like she’s not – she talks about assessing other people, perfect strangers. She goes back and forth, saying more than once that we can’t know someone’s situation without knowing the person, and then says that she can visually assess someone’s overall health in a snap.
Bottom line is this: we cannot know what another’s life looks like on the inside, by observing it from the outside.
I don’t know if someone needs a ride to their workshop because they have fibromyalgia. I can look at someone and assess pretty well – fat or thin – how healthy they are overall, but I can’t really know without asking. … That won’t look the same from person to person. (emphasis mine)
Here’s the thing: I don’t really want to be asked for the umpteenth time. If you’re my teacher, that’s different. But otherwise, unless I offer, unless I open it up first, you don’t need to ask. Even if I’m requesting or using an accommodation. You don’t need to know.
So while Thorn is promoting an interesting philosophical/theaological approach which might even be similar to mine, there are parts of her post that continue to contribute to problems I experience.
Note: I am responding to this from my personal experience; I’m not assessing what she says about exercise, and I’m glad she clearly didn’t describe health in terms of weight, but she didn’t disavow it either. People with more experience discussing those things and more relevant lived experience will read those aspects differently.
*Yes, I know that the website promotes an app, and that the website has fine print saying to use the app and not get into a personal confrontation. That’s worth the pixels it’s written in. The site actively encourages users to report people based on a whole host of assumptions that will lead to massive numbers of reports of perfectly valid handicapped parking tag use and says that nothing bad will happen to handicapped people as a result. Bullshit.
For starters, it suggests leaving a note. That’s a bad thing right there – yet another reminder that other people think you’re a fake, a fraud, a lawbreaker. I’m not going to detail all the other kinds of fail caught up in their assumptions. As far as I can tell, the app is designed for California, but the whole point of the website (and associated Cafe Press materials) is to promote this kind of monitoring of other people’s behavior all over the place. That amounts to encouraging more confrontations like the one I experienced.