So I’ve heard that on Monday night, two clever artist-types pulled off a guerrilla circus act when an aerialist performed without a harness from the supports of New York’s Williamsburg Bridge. “My goal is to face my fear and to inspire others to face their fears,” said the performer, before climbing 200 feet straight up and commencing with some whimsical lawbreaking.
These wacky kids are currently in jail, but we can learn a lesson from their bravado, beyond the obvious. (“Don’t resist arrest.”)
A popular bit of one-size-fits-all advice is to “Do one thing that that scares you every day.” It’s not bad advice, per se, but it’s a little aspirational, and not the kind of advice that makes you feel better. Sometimes it’s all you can do to just manage the things that make you vaguely uncomfortable. And sometimes everything scares you. It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough, or you’re not moving as quickly as you should.
But you don’t have to be an inspirational death-defying force of chaos every single day in order to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Sometimes it’s enough to keep breathing and moving and surviving.
That’s why I prefer our Williamsburg acrobat’s pre-flight assertion. It acknowledges that facing our fears is difficult, and that facing our fears is a process, not something we can complete in a single instant of courage. Facing our fears doesn’t necessarily mean those fears will immediately dissolve. We all get a little bit braver, in time, by continuing to confront the things that frighten us, the things that make us feel alone and helpless and vulnerable. We need to face these things on our own terms, and if by doing so we help others to feel strong enough to try it too, and eventually build a community of support, then all the better.
Whether you’re scaling the Williamsburg Bridge, or dressing in a way that makes people uncomfortable, or speaking up to a cruel friend or family member: courage is courage. Give yourself credit for all of your daredevil stunts, no matter their context, even if they only happen in your living room.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Dreamy BBF art by Hannah, who Tumbls at http://ladymalstroem.tumblr.com/
My BFF (best fat friend) recently lost a fug-ton of weight, started an affair, and basically told me right out that she would rather die than get “like that” again. This is not someone who was unaware of the cultural biases, the FA movement, any of it. She was the one person whom I felt really understood. At first I talked to her like she was that same person, but then she made it clear to me that she was not, that she had chosen to lose weight as a value judgment on herself and on fat people in general. I am sad, I miss her, and this has all made me feel a lot worse about myself.
I thought, maybe it isn’t necessary to have a BFF if you have other enlightened friends. But I am not finding it to be true. Hate blubber, love shark cartilage? I am so confused. I am an adult and I don’t think I should be this bothered by another person’s choices. But I am. Sincerely, BFFless
I suspect that your hurt feelings here aren’t so much a result of you being “bothered” by her autonomous choices on their own, but rather how they seem to have altered her from the person you knew. It’s one thing for a friend to decide that they want or need to change their body for their own reasons. It’s something else for those choices to represent their disdain for any individual who does not share their priorities.
What you’re feeling is the loss of a kindred spirit, someone with whom you could really connect about the complicated business of fattery (and other things too!). Yes, it’s wonderful to have other friends who care about you and who support your right to live in your body, whatever its size, but they can’t empathize in the same way as a BFF can.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want you to let her decisions and opinions affect your feelings about yourself. I know this is difficult to resist, especially with a BFF with whom you’ve got a lot of simpatico, but really, it’s not about you. Given her sudden about-face and her affair (I’m assuming you mean an illicit or extramarital one), there are probably a bunch of other things going on with your ex-BFF, of which her weight loss and sudden fat-hate are but symptoms.
It sounds like you’ve made the decision to sever the relationship, and that may be the healthiest option for you; only you can decide that. Your ex-BFF may yet sort out her issues and come back to you, or she may not. You’ll probably mourn the loss of that relationship for awhile; it’s always painful to lose a close connection. But it’ll get better with time, and you’ll ultimately be happier without her sudden negative influence in your life.
And hey, if you’re ever in Greenland, or that northerly bit of Canada with all the caribou and lemmings, look me up! We’ll eat my homemade squid-flavored ice cream and watch America’s Next Top Model, but only to make fun of it. It’ll be grand.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Inflatable BBF drawing by Tyler, who blogs at www.artsyfartsyy.blogspot.com and Tumblrs at www.tylerfaith.tumblr.com.
I have a question about how to relate to one’s parents during that awkward transitional phase between dependence and independence. Wikipedia tells me that as a beluga, you were only dependent on your mother for about two years, but while you may not have firsthand experience of this predicament, I feel confident in your ability to give excellent advice.
I am a legal adult, but I’m still the dependent of my parents. I’m in college, but I live in their home rent-free during the summer and on breaks. When I’m not working, they give me an allowance. I also have a brain disability which means I need a little more help than the average college student — I can’t drive, so they give me rides; I have trouble planning, so they help me make schedules, etc.
Mostly we have a great relationship, but I’m often troubled by how much they nag me. I feel like they’re micromanaging what I do because they’re worried that my disability will keep me from leading a successful, independent life. They alternate between backing off (this behavior is accompanied by warnings that this time they’re going to let me “learn from my mistakes”) and constantly giving me instructions (accompanied by warnings that if I don’t take their advice, I will be a failure to launch).
This is frustrating for me and I have had some success in asking them to take a consistent approach. However, they feel that I’m trying to have it both ways — make my own life choices, while still being dependent on them. Is this an unreasonable thing to want? How can I resolve this situation while I’m still in college and can’t move out of the house?
Sorry for the long ask. Seeing your advice always brightens my day, and I thought I would try it out for myself.
This is absolutely not unreasonable! But I suspect you already know that.
“Adulthood” isn’t something that springs up overnight, much less on a particular birthday. And adulthood as a concept is itself kind of nebulous, defined only by our idea of what we’re supposed to feel when we’re no longer children. Does having a job make us adults? Paying rent? I think we’ve all known folks who did these things but who still behaved like irresponsible teenagers.
I suspect what we mean by “adulthood” is often “independent,” and you note this connection above, but even then the lines are not clear — independence is subjective. As an introvert, I can be “independent” to a fault, swimming off on my own for weeks on end, sharing little of my thoughts with anyone. More extroverted types may require lots of social contact to process ideas and solve problems — but they’re not more dependent than I am. They just function in a different way.
Your quandry above is actually a very adult one. You understand your own circumstances and the conflicts felt by your family, who are caught between encouraging you to fly free on your own, and keeping you safe in the nest. Your family is sorting this out too, you realize — they want you to be self-sufficient, but they also don’t want you to fail, nor do they want you to feel neglected.
Your adulthood isn’t in question here. You are already being an adult by setting forth clear expectations and needs, by recognizing that you need your family to be consistent, and by expressing this need to them. You are working hard to vocalize where you need help, and to recognize where you can handle shit on your own. It might help to ask your family not to volunteer their assistance unbidden, nor to assume that you will automatically fail at a new responsibility without lots of hand-holding and meticulous instruction. If you need help, you will ask for it. If you don’t ask for it, they should assume you are handling it unless you say otherwise. If you succeed, yay! If you don’t, that’s okay too! You’ll do better next time.
Everyone fucks up at this in-between stage of life. Fucking up is natural and inevitable, not to mention necessary and educational. You’re just on the cusp of figuring out who you are as a separate entity from the people who raised you, exploring what you are good at, what you love, and what you want to do with your life. It sounds to me like you’re doing an outstanding job.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Playful BBF drawing by Lara! Send your frolicking BBF artwork to lesley at twowholecakes dot com.
You know, the world is full of cynics. Chock full! You know the cynics —- you might be one. The cynics can find nothing positive in life; instead of seeing the stars, the cynics are constantly training their eyes at the broad voids in between.
There’s a lot of darkness in the world, and sometimes we do have to eviscerate some assholes for being unthinkably evil and bringing us down. Snark and cynicism have their place, for sure, but we can’t let their bleakness take us over. When we spend too much time under those shadows, they can suffocate all the things that make us sparkly and amazing creatures.
There’s something to said for living earnestly in each moment, and finding contentment in simple things, and appreciating each other, foibles and flaws and all. We can only sparkle when we let the light reach us, after all. Nobody sparkles in the dark.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Tea-drinkin’ BBF drawing by the wonderful Ted, who Tumbls at http://lachrimaestro.tumblr.com/. Send your beverage-enjoying BBF art to lesley at twowholecakes dot com.
Dear Beluga Best Friend:
My current partner and I are very happy, and have not, as of yet, chosen to have sex with each other (I identify as asexual and they just have a low amount of interest in sex). How can I get my friends to understand that them asking if we’ve “done it yet” and/or making comments that imply that our relationship is somehow less important than one where there’s sex really upsets me, even when it’s done in jest, without coming across as a total drama queen?
Man, what is UP with people?
Obviously, what’s happening here is that folks are imposing their own ideas about what makes a “real” relationship on top of your actual individual needs. As a culture we privilege sexual contact over pretty much every other expression of love and affectionate regard. It’s true that for lots of people, sex is a major driving influence in their lives. But the assumption that this is so for everyone —- or that it SHOULD be so, and if it’s not, there’s something wrong —- is limiting and damaging to folks like you who just don’t feel that way.
Belugas are extremely social, and we live in tight-knit pods of up to 25 individuals. Like many animals, we don’t mate for pleasure but for reproduction, and so we really only do it between March and May once we’ve reached maturity. The strongest relationships amongst belugas are not between mates, but are the asexual relationships between mothers and their calves; mom belugas whose baby belugas die or are killed (orcas and polar bears specifically prey on baby belugas) will sometimes grab a stray buoy or a bit of styrofoam to treat as a surrogate baby. This is painfully sad but also illustrative: humans and belugas both are capable of extremely deep, close, and meaningful relationships in which sex is simply not a factor.
While your friends may never fully understand your feelings, they can certainly be made to understand that their behavior is upsetting you. Be forthright with them as you have been with me; explain that you feel as though they are being dismissive of a relationship that is important and real to you, regardless of whether it would be so for them. Let them know that even joking about it makes you feel as though they are not taking your relationship seriously. True friends, even if they don’t fully grasp your identity, will restrict their intrusive behavior on the basis of not wanting to upset or hurt you. Friends who refuse, or who argue that your relationship can’t be real until you do the deed —- well, they’re got their own issues to work out, and you may not want to hang around for them to exorcise their sexual fixations on you.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
BBF art by the amazing Nicole Lorenz, who websites at http://www.nicolelorenz.com/! Send your BBF renditions to lesley at twowholecakes dot com.
BBF: how can I deal with control issues????? I get weirdo anxiety whenever I mess up one little detail or things slide just outside of my control. it is RUINING THINGS 🙁
Oh, I know how that is. For many of us, control issues stem from experiences or environments in which we have felt helpless. We develop a need for control as a protective or coping mechanism. Control becomes a habit. Even once we no longer need absolute control to survive, we still fall back on it because we’ve learned to feel safe that way. Breaking the control habit is tough because it requires us to give up behaviors that may have kept us alive in trying times.
I can’t give you a simple answer on how to get over that. But here is a thought for you, something to carry inside your head when you start to feel like this anxiety is intruding on your life.
Your anxiety does not power solutions.
If worrying were the fuel for making everything work the way we want it to, we could just worry ourselves along knowing that at least that energy was driving our security. But worry fuels nothing but more worry, and more anxiety, and more unhappiness.
I know anxiety is not rational—-if it were it’d be easier to talk ourselves down! But you really don’t need to worry about every little thing; our lives have a remarkable way of carrying on whether we are anxious about them or not. It is okay, and even useful, to occasionally stop trying to steer the ship, and just see where the ocean takes you.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Thoughtful nightswimming BBF drawing by Ted, who Tumbls at http://lachrimaestro.tumblr.com/!
My Dearmost Beluga Best Friend
I wonder what your thoughts are on the cannibalistic nature of social justice dialogues? I dont know any other more diplomatic way of putting it. I mean, people, with the best intentions can sometimes be really unkind with eachother! It reminds me of that song from Hair, Easy to Be Hard.
I get that its the internet and therefore, much like the ocean, it’s mostly uncharted territory and its rules are still an evolving mystery to humans. I dont really expect you to know WHY people can be such hysterical shaming jerks, but my question is more about how you, my jolly, smooth faced pal, manage to stay do dang jovial and above the fray as it were? I dont see you launching random personal attacks or ascribing motives to people or parties that may or may not exist, you dont seem to let the turkeys get you down! Im fairly new to fat/body acceptance circles, and even in the real life groups Ive tried to access, Ive been confronted by huge amounts of anger; ranging from trembling rage to one-uping pissing contests, from the very activists who I believe do sincerely want to effect positive change…
For myself, I believe that changing myself is the best way to change the world and although I long for a strong community either online or irl of people who share my desire for a better world, and I know that can and should be challenging, I find it sad and upsetting to be confronted with other peoples rage unleashed on people who are themselves struggling to be allies or working through the same issues themselves. How do you not let it get under your glossy luminous skin?
Also, you totally rock.
There is a huge pressure for solidarity within any movement. Social justice movements of all sorts are almost exclusively populated by angry people, because we join them as a result of anger over injustice. Not everyone expresses their anger in the same way, and lots of folks find ways of working that angry energy into more publicly palatable forms, while others like to keep a-ragin’ with all the tender loving care of a hurricane.
Anger is good! Anger is motivational. But it can make us edgy. We’re so used to having to defend ourselves on our own that old habits die hard, even in groups of otherwise-supportive people.
I try to remember that differing opinions do not automatically make us enemies (even when they come from belligerent puffins), and differing experiences do not throw up impossible obstacles. Ignoring these differences does not strengthen a movement but rather weakens it. The strongest movement is one that can withstand criticism from within, and one in which critical conversations are not one-sided affairs. No one learns from that. We learn when we have room to flounder and talk and stumble and grow. Yes, leaving space for internal criticism of a movement makes a hard task even harder. But better to do a hard task well, than to let an easier approach disappear the experiences of the people being marginalized even within this marginalized movement.
Finally, I assume that everyone has good intentions. Always. In other words, I tell myself that not every polar bear only sees me as a potential meal! I know the worry is that this approach makes one gullible, but my experience has been the opposite. Assuming good intentions makes me happier, and more optimistic, and a better builder of bridges. Usually when comrades are shouting at one another it’s because they expect not to be heard. It’s not an aggressive posture; it’s a defensive one. Such conflicts can pretty much always be solved if all parties can agree to listen to each other with the same attention and respect with which they’d like to be heard themselves. We are all in this ocean together, after all.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Joyfully gesticulating BBF drawing by Flo, who blogs at http://proclamationsovertea.blogspot.com/ and arts at http://flodickerson.weebly.com/! Send your BBF drawings/cartoons/doodles to lesley at twowholecakes dot com.
Dear Beluga Best Friend,
How do I swim past (pardon the pun) compulsive overeating alongside feelings of shame, guilt, regret, and self-loathing?
P.S. Please don’t ever go extinct — you make my day 🙂
Hi anon. I wish I had an easy answer for you — or a delicious formula you could mix up and drink (or pour over your head or whatever) and then !POOF! these issues are no longer a part of you.
As it is, sometimes you can only tackle them minute by minute. When you feel yourself sliding into compulsive behaviors, you can try to pause, even for another ten seconds, and tell yourself I CAN STOP. Even if you don’t stop, that time, it’s okay, because every time you pause and say I CAN STOP then you’re doing better than you were.
And when you feel the shame crashing over you, you can go, NO, SHAME, I DON’T DESERVE YOU. Because you don’t. You really, really don’t. And you hold the shame off for that minute, and when that minute’s past, you try to hold it off for a minute more.
The amazing thing is, you’re doing this already. I can tell because you wrote this question. Many days just interrupting the behavior or the shame may not seem like enough; it may not seem like much at all. But hey, while the force of a single snowflake seems minimal, the cumulative impact of an avalanche of snowflakes can easily crush whatever is in their path. So all your efforts? They add up. Even on days when you’re feeling sad or desperate or like it’ll never end.
You’re already awesome for keeping on. For doing what you do to get through each day. You’ll get there. It’s working. I promise.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend
Effervescent BBF sketch by http://antoniatsangaris.imagekind.com/. Want to contribute some art to this project? Send your own beluga drawings to lesley at twowholecakes dot com.
Dear Beluga Best Friend,
Sometimes I feel like I’m about to fly out of my head with anxiety. I want to build a presence for myself online but often I sit down with all the Tweets, e-mails, and Google Reader hits and just want to cry. How can I be relaxed and chill like you?
Hi Avory! I am too familiar with the miseries of head-flying-out anxiety, believe it or not. And what helps me most of the time is just being, y’know, a beluga. I make lots of time for swimming, and for memorizing all the words to “The Rose of Tralee”, and for debating politics with puffins. I suppose you can file these things under practicing good self-care, which is important for everyone, you included!
My suggestion for you is to make small but measurable goals. Oh, I know this sounds obvious, and you’ve probably thought of it already, but actually doing it can make even big ideas (like, say, building a bigger online presence) seem manageable. Maybe start by aiming to respond to five different people on Twitter each week, or say you’re going to take care of three emails today, or you’re going to read your feeds for thirty minutes and that’s it. Sure, this may seem like a drop in the ocean, but the idea is to be more efficient with the time you DO spend on this stuff, instead of getting anxious and overwhelmed and thus avoidant. Setting and meeting even small goals can be a huge morale booster! Better to be methodical and diligent for the long haul, rather than working in explosive bursts that burn out fast —- that’s what I say.
Also? Accept that you can’t do everything, not at once and not as fast as you’d like. Remember that taking care of yourself is just as important as Getting Stuff Done, because doing the former will ultimately help you kick ass in the latter. It’s about balance, my friend.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend.
Soothing blue and violet crayon BBF drawing by Ted, who Tumbls at http://lachrimaestro.tumblr.com/!
I’m a junior in high school, and I don’t know how to go home without crying. I have the most amazing, supportive friends in the whole wide world, but sometimes it feels like my family does nothing but make fun of me and put me down. I expected coming out as a gay boy would make my school life harder, but it turned out that my family was worse than any of the school bullies. They outwardly support LGBT rights, but they joke about me to my face and laugh at me if I ever mention a cute boy or do something gender atypical. I don’t know how to get them to stop. My teachers feel safer than my parents.
I don’t know what to do, BBF.
Coming out is traumatic even in the best of circumstances. It demands an incredible amount of courage on your part. You probably don’t even know how brave you are right now, but when you’re thirty you’ll look back and go DAMN I WAS SO FUCKING BRAVE! So first of all, big warm mushy blubbery flipper-waving hugs for you, for getting this far. You are completely amazing, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The thing about family: they can love us, but that doesn’t mean they understand us. It doesn’t even mean they know how to do what’s best for us. Your family may well believe in justice for GLBTQ folks in theory, but a gay person in their everyday lives will force them to confront their deeper unexamined prejudices. It’s one thing for them to assert that faraway and invisible gay folk ought to be treated like full-fledged human beings. It’s something else when it hits closer to home.
Another possibility may be that your family is reacting to your actual real-life queeritude with laughter because they’re worried that if they “encourage” you to be queer as fuck, it’ll make you a target for hatred, or even violence. This is the kind of thing loving parents worry about, even if they don’t vocalize it to you. They may be laughing because they’re uncomfortable and scared and they don’t know what else to do.
Regardless of the possible explanations, nothing excuses their behavior. You are fully justified in asking them to stop. No, it is not okay for them to laugh and make jokes about your identity. No, it is not okay for them to make you feel unwelcome and unsafe in the home they share with you. If they keep doing it, remind them that it’s not funny, and leave the room/area if possible. I know this sucks. I know. But sometimes we have to draw and defend boundaries, even with our families, to cope and take care of ourselves.
Your conversations with your family on this subject may take a long time, and things may never work out exactly as you’d prefer. They might never be fully comfortable with your gayness, and the best arrangement you can reach is a truce.
Then again, they may surprise you, in time. Even though your family has been aware that gay folks exist in theory, the fact of you being gay is still somewhat new to them. Know that you can also rely on other support systems, like friends or teachers or even Tumblr. I’m really glad to hear that you have awesome friends; good friends can save your life, take it from me. Try to remember you are never truly alone. There are so many other kids out there dealing with the same struggles as you, and many adults who have lived similar experiences and survived. You will get through this.
And if it helps, this beluga loves you to tiny little pieces, for being smart and brave and strong, anonymous or not.
Love, Your Beluga Best Friend