Keep Telling Your Story Until Someone Listens

Published September 25, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Let’s get something REALLY clear.

When someone says they “respect your choices” as a fat person, but continues to publicly vilify fat people in general… they actually DO NOT respect anything about you.

I know!  It’s a bit of a bombshell, isn’t it?

But this is the same thing I come up against every time I or anyone else in the Fatosphere (or our allies) challenge someone who speaks publicly about the fat stigma they are spreading.  It almost always goes like this:

  1. Public persona is published in the media talking about how unhealthy/sedentary/uncontrollable/irresponsible/costing the taxpayer fat people are and how society needs to take control/shame/tax fat people to make them “wise up” to the ZOMGBESITY CRISIS!
  2. Fatosphere says “Other people’s bodies are none of your business, and what you are saying stigmatises fat people.”
  3. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But everyone knows fat = unhealthy!”
  4. Fatosphere says “Health is not a moral imperative, and you cannot judge someone’s health by their size.  Shaming or hating someone for their own good doesn’t help.”
  5. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!”
  6. Fatosphere says “Help them by reducing fat stigma, and allowing them to advocate for themselves.”
  7. Public persona says “But I respect your choices!  I just wanna help those who need help!”
  8. Fatosphere says “By vilifying fat people in the media, you are not helping them, you are shaming them.”
  9. Public persona says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!  I respect their choices!”

See where I’m going with this?

I’ve said before, the problem we have here is that these people are not listening to us.  Oh they might be hearing the words, but they are not actually listening to what we are saying.  They’re not hearing that their words and actions are harming people.  They’re not hearing that they are hindering us, not helping us.  Whether this is because they don’t want to hear these things, or that they just cannot fathom that there is a disconnect between what they are pushing and reality or it is because they’re too horrified at the thought that they might have to be responsible for the things they say that harm people, I don’t know.  But I do know that when we see this pattern over and over and over, it is because we are not being listened to.

It makes me think of a friend of mine who is a school teacher, and she would say to her very small students “Now, do we all have our listening ears on?”

Just this week I’ve been reading the most beautiful book, Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.  It is peppered with the most wonderful quotes about oppression, justice and personal experience.  I particularly fell in love with this quote, that just fits perfectly with the post I am writing tonight:

The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name, and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it. But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.

Is that not the most beautiful paragraph?

I am struck with the thought that despite this being the words of an African woman sold into slavery over 200 years ago, it rings true for many marginalised people even today.  How many people SAY that they consider us their equal, be we women, fat people, people of colour, people with disabilities, queer people or any other marginalised people, but  yet they do not hear what we are saying, and cannot even identify us individually?  To how many people are we still the obese, the disabled, the homosexual, the blacks, etc, rather than people, their true equals?

While I would never compare my life to that of the character of Aminata Diallo from Someone Knows My Name, I too have long loved the written word, and understand it’s power.  I too believe that while people are not listening to us now, we can write our stories, share our experiences and talk about how we are affected by the behaviour of those who see us as “other”.  The more of us who do so, who put down our stories somewhere for others to read it, those stories accumulate and grow in power.  And they will also provide a record in later times, when people start to understand the damage being done now.  That while there may be many who do not listen to us now, we are reaching those who do, and by telling our stories we reach even more, and leave a legacy to those who follow us.

After all, marginalised people have spent their whole lives listening to those who oppress them.  We’ve had no choice but to do so.

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8 comments on “Keep Telling Your Story Until Someone Listens

  • There is a difference between a master and a teacher. They think they are trying to be teachers, but really they are being masters. The difference is, a master can tell you what he expects from you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.

  • So true, Kath, so true.

    It’s also true that our stories are so disconnected from the popular cultural mythos that many people will be simply unable to hear until they hear enough of us. How many is enough? I don’t know. I think it varies. Some will begin to hear after a handful of stories, some after a couple dozen, some after a hundred, and some will never be able to let go of the current popular assumptions. They will go to their graves clinging to the beliefs they were raised with, just as there are people now who will never listen to the voices of those who are queer, those who have disabilities, those whose skin is a different color from theirs, those who have found God along another path, and those who have found goodness without God.

    But it’s true that there are people who won’t hear for a long time… when their ears and hearts will suddenly open up. It happens. That’s the other reason we need to keep talking, keep being visible.

    Besides, this is the only life we get (unless there’s something to this reincarnation, after all, which might be kind of awesome). Where’s the point in spending it hiding in shame? And if we do get more turns on the merry-go-round of life, shouldn’t we enjoy those extra rides to the best of our ability?

    • I think you’re right Twistie – we’re so far from the popular cultural myth that it’s just unfathomable for many people. Every one of them will respond differently and in different times. Another reason we just need to keep telling our stories over and over.

  • Thank you for this. I recently had some dialogue similar to your example exchange and was actually told that I am unable to have a conversation with someone who has different beliefs and that I am “projecting my inner pain” (I mentioned my BED recovery) onto others and making up bias where it doesn’t exist. The in-laws who accused me of this are now refusing to speak to me. It was one of the most frustrating, painful experiences I’ve ever had–but it made me want to keep talking and advocating, and this post makes me feel like I made the right choice.

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