When Activism Seems to Fail

Truth GI’ve been hearing from a lot of people who are really upset and hurt by the American Medical Association’s ill-advised decision to call obesity a disease, I’m definitely upset myself.  I think it’s particularly hard because first we found out that the Council on Science and Health that had been charged with studying the question for a year had made their recommendation that obesity should NOT be classified as a disease.  It was all over my Facebook, readers sent e-mails to me and there was such a sense of happiness and relief. Then the next day we found that the AMA had over-ridden the recommendation of their Science and Public Health council and it made the situation that much more painful.

Today as I was driving, a song came on the radio – the first lyrics were “When I was in the 3rd grade I thought that I was gay.” I was absolutely riveted – how was this going to go?  It quickly became apparent that it was a song in support of queer people and queer rights.  I started to tear up – a hip hop song supporting queer people on mainstream radio.  Then the lyrics “The same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit ins.  Human rights for everybody, there is no difference…I might not be the same, but that’s not important.  No freedom ’til we’re equal, damn right I support it.”   I just started crying in earnest, I pulled the car over to listen to the rest of the song.

I suddenly had the strongest memory.  When I was in college my friend Tom and I had a radio show on KVRX, the University of Texas’s radio station.  The show was called Out Loud and the slogan was “Coming in Loud and Queer All Over Austin.”  We did interviews and commentary about gay rights.  It was 1996 and in Hawaii the case of Baehr v. Miike was playing out – same-sex couples suing for the right to be married.

In December the judge ruled that the state had failed to establish any compelling interest in denying same-sex couples the ability to marry.  The next day he stayed his decision to prevent a situation where people would be married only to have his decision overturned.  On November 3rd, 1998 voters in Hawaii were deciding on an amendment to their state constitution to “reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”  They voted yes.  It was heartbreaking and that night Evan Wolfson (an attorney who was leading Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Marriage Project) was kind enough to be a guest our little radio show.  He sounded tired, he sounded disappointed, but he emphatically told two college activists, and anyone who was listening to our show, that we must not give up.  Soon after he formed Freedom to Marry, saying “I’m not in this just to change the law. It’s about changing society. I want gay kids to grow up believing that they can get married, that they can join the Scouts, that they can choose the life they want to live.”

As I sat in my car listening to the song again (having downloaded it immediately onto my iphone) the memory of Evan Wolfson hit me and I started crying anew, knowing that gay kids can join the scouts, and they can get married in 12 states.  There’s still lots of work to be done but it’s a lot of progress from the punch in the stomach feeling of November 3, 1998 to today when I heard a hip hop song supporting gay marriage on commercial radio

The thing about civil rights activism is that the minute you realize the need for the activism you step through a door and become ahead of your time – privy to the horrible acts being committed by those who either don’t know, don’t care, or who profit from the status quo.  Sometimes it will seem unbelievable that people can’t see what’s going on and aren’t convinced by argument, evidence, or tearful impassioned plea.

When it comes to civil rights activism, history is on our side.  But the victories can be a long time in coming and in the meantime civil rights activism can be fun, exciting, and invigorating.  It can also be painful, heartbreaking, and make you question your faith in humanity and yourself.  But for me, once I walked through the door, there was no other way to go.

Here’s the link to Macklemore’s Same Love

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30 thoughts on “When Activism Seems to Fail

  1. Good points. Thank you for posting and enjoy Macklemore and Ryan Lewis! If you download their album The Heist, you’ll also hear him tackle addiction, misogyny and being an independent artist. Much love comes from this man.

    Here’s to a day when equality isn’t something we have to fight so hard for but something we celebrate because we all have it.

    1. I love Macklemore and Ryan Lewis! I found this song a few months ago while YouTubing Mary Lambert (she sings the chorus on Same Love – and she’s fantastic!), and I was just blown away by it. I absolutely *love* their album, The Heist, just about every song touches me in some way. It’s about time we got an artist out there who speaks from the heart about more than just sappy love songs!

  2. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the AMA overturned this because they are ruled by the pharmaceutical companies and those companies have a lot to gain from this. They can push their pills for diseases and come up with surgeries and who knows what else. Same thing they do with our food. Over 90% of the people in North America want to know what is in their food but Monsanto has their own people running the country and they consistently pass laws regarding GMOs that run contrary to the science and wishes of the people. There is an awful lot wrong with this country and it is very hard not to be cynical.

    1. Yeah, I wasn’t surprised either. The AMA is bought and paid for by Big Pharma. They’ve ignored and suppressed any research that suggests obesity is not a Harbinger of the Health Apocalypse in the past, why would they listen to reason now?

  3. It was so strange yesterday. The whole issue about the AMA decision seems to be so muddled. I feel like people think we want obesity to be declared a disease, because then we have an ‘excuse’. So neither side wants it a disease.
    I know I felt hurt to hear of the declaration, but I just can’t sort the whole thing out in my head at the moment.

  4. Funnily enough, when I heard about the AMA’s decision, I had the same feeling I did when I realized how overwhelmingly Prop 8 (the no marriage for gays [anti] constitutional amendment in California, for those who don’t know) had won.

    In both cases, the first thing I thought was ‘time to fight harder.’ And dammit, that’s just what I’m going to do.

  5. Potential trigger for WLS talk:

    I made comment on my Facebook status about feeling like a cash cow because of this decision. Someone I know who has had WLS surgery took objection with my dismay. She thinks the new AMA stance is a wonderful idea because it will make the procedure more widely available to people who might not be able to avail themselves now. She didn’t see why that was my exact objection.

    I already face tremendous pressure to have WLS. It has been a difficult enough battle without the AMA deciding that I’m a disease that needs to be cured. If she is happy with her decision to have surgery and with her life now, that’s great. But don’t I want on the bandwagon and I don’t want to be ushered on against my will. It was everything I could do not to respond with, “Just because you swallowed the Kool-Aid doesn’t mean I have to follow.”

    1. I had WLS…. and it did not work for me. I endured humiliation, pain, hospital bills and ended up gaining more weight and hating myself for being such a failure. I blamed myself – and sometime still do – instead of looking clearly at the process and the money and circus surrounding bariatric surgery and its pre-care/after-care. For some, it is successful and they are happy with their result. But for me, six years later, I cannot drink liquids while eating and end up choking on food at random moments. I know I am not alone in my experience. I can see how your friend has gained her perspective because WLS is touted as the panacea for obesity. When the surgery does not work, the patient is blamed for the failure… and that is not even factoring in the ill effects, including and up to death, that those who do get the surgery accept as part of the burden/punishment of being fat in the first place.

      1. Been there done that 15 years ago and WLS was the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life (and I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, believe me). I’m fatter than I was before the surgery, my disability is much worse, and I have horrid complications with which I deal on a daily basis.
        So yeah, that decision by the AMA, against all advice of their scientific council, enrages me. I’m fat, I’m not a fucking disease, nor am I diseased because I’m fat. Like the public needs to be made even more aware of “obesity” and what a “problem” it is. The media isn’t screaming it in our faces millions of times a day as it is? Like the medical community needs even more incentive than they already have to push their weight loss drugs and surgeries on fat people (and even the smaller fat people are getting pushed into it now)? Like doctors need even more incentive to fat-shame us?
        The part of all this that I find saddest is that they say they’re doing it to improve the health of fat people, while totally ignoring the fact that thin people get these same so-called “obesity-related” diseases, but they aren’t worried about them because they’re thin and therefore “healthy” – and if they get one of those “diseases”, then they must have inherited it, but the fat person who gets one of those diseases, well, they just ate themselves into it. Money-grubbing wankers, all of them who thought this was a good idea.

  6. So this also means even more medical mistreatment- they are even more free to declare a diagnosis of obesity and not figure out what the heck is really going on with us.

  7. I so needed to read this today, particularly this:

    The thing about civil rights activism is that the minute you realize the need for the activism you step through a door and become ahead of your time – privy to the horrible acts being committed by those who either don’t know, don’t care, or who profit from the status quo.

    I have been in despair the last two days, wondering if I’m strong enough to continue to fight this battle, if I should just give up and try to make myself more acceptable, even if it’s only for a short while. Thank you for putting our struggle in a larger context. It helps.

  8. I just want to add a comment about WLS due to the fact I’ve gone through it a few times. I had my first one in 2006 after my father’s death, don’t know if that triggered it or not but I went through a lot of psychological judgement, of course the only physical judgement was my BMI but in order to get my insurance to cover it I needed to go through many steps.

    Also prior to surgery I had to get checked out for sleep apnea which they found out I had and have been using a CPAP machine ever since. Believe I’ve had it since I was a child and sleep disorders do tend to run in families.

    I also was on diabetes meds for Type II which was another easy in for getting the surgery and then they did a complete blood work up an found me to have hypothyroidism, on meds for that, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So needless to say I was the perfect candidate once I passed their standardized psych test.

    So all was cleared and I got lap band surgery and while in the hospital they removed me from my diabetes meds since there was no way I’d have that anymore and I believe insurance companies assume that in the long run WLS costs them less than the medications and treaments and “obese” person would be on.

    Well after a year on the lap band it’s trials and tribulations which I won’t go into I gained a new med for GERD and had my band removed. So then I found FA but also gained another 20-30 lbs due to the removal of the band and I had also gained weight while on the band but they starve your prior to your surgery to lessen the weight of your liver and also to sort of jump start your weightloss.

    I also suffer from anxiety and depression thinking the WLS would help with as would the doctors I saw. Of course that is genetic also but since I was the only fat kid in my family and my dad who had recently passed away was my only relative I looked like size and feature-wise I got more depressed and decided to revise to another more drastic surgery the Gastric Bypass.

    Went through the same hoops all over again including a more invasive psych eval which of course was necessary due to the fact “I” failed my first WLS and so on and so forth and I was again approved. So far I’m racking up quite a lot of money on hospitals etc…on what is seemingly a volunteer surgery.but I was at my highest weight ever and being as obese as I was at 259lbs and 5’6″ surgery was again deemed necessary to save my life and for the insurance company to eventually save money on me as an obese person now converted to a “normal” person.

    So let’s shoot up to today I am currently 215 lbs still obese, gained back 30 lbs after this second surgery, the RNY and am still on the CPAP machine, hbp meds, cholesterol meds, GERD meds, antidepressants, anxiety meds, so the only other thing I can think of now is that I should revise to the next more drastic WLS which would remove most of my stomach which I believe is called a DS. I do not plan on doing that so don’t get excited. I am a believer of HAES now and am happy with my size even though I still struggle with the self-love every other day or so but I’m working on it. It seems to get easier with age. Also hitting the menopause time of my life and know there are a lot of changes heading my way and need to be able to deal with all of that.

    Sorry to drag this on but wanted people to know what a normal person goes through with WLS or WLS(s) and it’s not all roses and I also take vitamins that cost $25 a month forgot to add those to my daily pill dosage. I was a fat kid and did all the diets and procedures that most desperate people do to fit in but they only backfire in the end and if we only were able to be supported by our families and friends to be loved as we are we’d be so much healthier physically and mentally, thanks for listening!

  9. When I first head Same Love it made me cry as well. I remembered being a kid and feeling so completely unlike all the other kids around me because I looked at boys and girls the same way. The line in that song, “..no freedom til we’re equal..” really struck inside me, it doesn’t matter if we’re LGBT, straight, fat, thin, any color or ethnicity out there, we all deserve equality, and until that day none of us are truly free.

    I was sad yesterday, sad to know my body size is now a disease and that the people who have pushed me to “do something” about my body are going to have this weapon in their arsenal. But, it doesn’t matter, I’ll still fight against it, still work to educate people, losing a battle doesn’t mean we’ve lost the war (to use their terms on this being a war), Ragen is right, history is on our side.

  10. I thought this was a beautiful message, one I have taken to heart. My arms got chill bumps as I read through it. It inspires me to keep working for what I know is right, and to accept that many people who are not forward thinking will not get it. I appreciate the encouragement and the truth in this post.

  11. Ragen, what a gorgeous and moving post today. Thank you for helping us all deepen the skills – and even more, the heart – for lifelong activism. Activism for Good.

    I find it so easy to take for granted the aspects of my life that other people fought for – it’s like a pain that stopped, life is just better. No big parade about it. So I try to remember that this better future I imagine probably won’t be one where fat people are walking around saying, “whew! Glad things are so great now!” but rather one where the energy they would have spent managing and trying to heal from weight stigma is available for the millions of other potential uses. I hope they get to sit outside under a tree with their dog companions like I am right now and notice the birdsong and the sounds of leaves and their own heartbeat nice and steady.

    Thank you Ragen, for creating this incredible community, and thank you all for your presence here.

  12. No matter how bad it gets, I always think of this Gandhi quote and I take heart and know, “We shall overcome”.

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
    ― Mahatma Gandhi

  13. Well said Ragen! I’ve been feeling pretty awful about this latest news and you helped to elevate my mood a bit. Thanks!

  14. I think the AMA did the wrong thing for wrong reasons but I’m thinking now that this could get very interesting. I imagine the diet industry may be licking their chops at all the money to be made but the thing is- they have to go through the insurance companies to get it. And insurance companies don’t like paying for anything ever and especially “experimental” treatments which is all the diet industry has to offer. When more physicians are compelled to sit down and talk to their patients about their “disease”, perhaps a few more will take a hard look at what is known/not known about obesity and start asking questions. Oooh- and what of those company “wellness” programs that wish to monitor the weight of their fat employees? How legal is that now with obesity classified as a disease? Does that make size discrimination illegal? I’m hopeful this could start changing the dialogue although realistically, I know we’re going to have to fight some battles.

    1. Beth, I’m glad you brought up all the flak that may, indeed, come down when doctors and insurance companies try to put this into action. I have been very disheartened by the AMA decision, but I did notice one slightly comforting thing, which is that there has actually been some controversy in the mainstream media about this decision. I can’t help but think that years ago there would have been no discussion and no publicity, just a quiet ruling by doctors, for doctors, that would have gone under the radar, just like DSM diagnoses used to do and don’t anymore. To me, the fact that the mainstream media is even discussing this is at least a sign that Americans are watching things that are happening in our healthcare system, and maybe some will eventually wake up to some myth busting.

      1. “I did notice one slightly comforting thing, which is that there has actually been some controversy in the mainstream media about this decision.”

        I was encouraged by that as well, until I started reading some of those mainstream articles that are against the AMA’s move. A lot of the articles are along the lines of “Oh great, this is just what the fatties need – now they have an EXCUSE to not eat healthy by blaming their ‘disease’.”

        An article by Forbes stated “calling obesity a disease gives a hall pass to many who either don’t care or who struggle with their food and lifestyle choices. It could cause even more of them to backslide into obesity.” LOL What?

        An article by The New Your Times, that actually seamed to support the AMA’s decision, stated “The American Medical Association has officially recognized obesity as a disease, a move that could induce physicians to pay more attention to the condition” ROFL For fucking real? That’s ALL that most doctors seam to pay attention to when an obese person walks into their office. A fat person could walk into a doctors office with a bullet wound and the doctor would be like “well, if you where thinner you would have made a smaller target and have been harder to hit”. Seams silly but it’s not far from the truth. No mater what I go to the doctor for, they always try to blame it on my body size. Got a cold? It’s your fat’s fault. Get migraines? It’s your fat’s fault. Lose weight and your health will magically be perfect and you’ll never be sick a day in your life. …Yeah ok.

        Anyway, sorry for the rant. lol I just was dishearten by the fact that most of the articles I’ve read that talk about the AMA’s move in a negative way are just as bad as those that are praising the AMA’s decision. It’s all a giant steaming pile of fat-phobic bullshit.

        1. Laughing sardonically at your example of the bullet wound–good one! Actually, I seem to remember a couple of places in the mainstream media where they questioned (if faintly) whether everyone who is fat is “diseased.” I think it was Whoopi Goldberg on The View, and also a NYT article (which mostly presented the other side, but at least mentioned that the AMA was going against the Council on Science and Public Health and that there were other opinions on this issue.)

          Has anyone else seen any negative feedback from the mainstream media on this decision?

        2. The bullet analogy isn’t all that extreme. I went swimming in the surf and cut my shin on some rocks. Went to the doctor with an infected shin and guess what – it was all caused by the fat!

          As for the AMA thing, it is all about money, it is not about me. I am much more than my fat: I’m also bone and muscle and heart and brains and soul. If they are too stupid and/or greedy and/or lazy to see that, the heck with them. I’m serious.

          Thank you for fighting the good fight Ragen, and for reminding us daily that those fools do not define us. I think Evan Wolfson is about to see the change he has worked for; may our day come speedily as well.

          I’m a disabled fat Jewish lesbian woman. Hell, it’s always something.

          1. I’d be interested to hear how the doctor worded this to you, Rabbi Adar, and Ragen, what the doc said exactly when he/she told you your strep throat was caused by being fat. I’d also like to hear from anyone else who is interested in elucidating on how doctors rationalize these insane diagnoses out loud. I have a doctor friend who doesn’t believe me when I tell her other docs have said these kinds of things to their patients, and I think it would be more effective if I could describe these interactions in more detail.

            1. I went to the doctor about my knees since I’m fallen on so many stairs, bike crashes, pushed into the pool by the other kids, etc. I just wanted to see what they looked like and how much damage getting hit by a bus did. He said I’ve got arthritis (they’re not in pain) and weightloss will cure that, so he sent me to a nutritionist who put me on an anorexic diet.

              I tried to report them to Alberta Health Services, but they said if they weren’t at a hospital, they couldn’t do anything.

  15. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Sometimes activism, especially when it pertains to size acceptance, is discouraging because it seems like a battle that can’t be won, for fat people to even be seen as human, let alone anything such as worthwhile or beautiful. But it’s something that has to be done, or the hate is just going to go unchecked.

  16. Excellent point. Loved this blog post. It also reminded me of my first days in the 70’s of becoming involved in animal rights and how few organizations there were. Now there are so many changes occurring to help animals, rescue animals including live stock and vegetarians and Vegans have become plentiful. Animal rights still have a long way to go but have also come so far.
    I am so happy that Gay equality is becoming a reality. Never stop believing that positive change can occur. The world does not hold still and we all make a difference. I am saddened that Obesity has been named a disease. But with blog posts like this, and people like all of us,
    that too will change.

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