Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Tobias Houlton

Today’s reflection on body images comes to us from Tobias Houlton.

Born into a world where body image and the systematic portrayal of gender can be restrictive to most people at best, I found my trans identity a little stressful to say the least. Since my earliest memory, I understood that my gender did not conform with my body. The binary lifestyles that we are encouraged to lead meant that I could not enjoy the way of life of the boys around me. Puberty was a whole other rollercoaster. As boys appeared to luxuriate in becoming men, I got stuck with female puberty–complicated with polycystic ovarian syndrome… heck, that condition is something else! Facing issues with increased prejudice and an unhealthy body and mind, I became heavily disinterested in maintaining myself. I packed on the weight and gave up… until I discovered access to healthcare that would see my transition into manhood possible.

Since the moment I received hormones, I rediscovered myself. I felt a purpose to life because I was released from the shackles of a false identity. I began to pursue powerlifting – a sport that I had previously been discouraged in. It has seen me burn the calories and build up physical strength. I am now healthier and happier. I have become more outgoing and positive. I feel alive!! I no longer resent my past, but view it as a spiritual path that has enforced an awareness and consideration for different people. Not to judge and fear, but to appreciate and work to understand for the better good.

It’s not entirely a happy ending though. I still carry a great deal of frustration towards the closed mindset of society. I know my ability to bond with people has improved, not just because I’ve grown in confidence, but because I fit better into this gender-coded society. I am conscious that so many LGBTQ people suffer needlessly at the hands of ignorant people. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done across the world… but we can have faith that improved education and opportunity is on the increase. Tomorrow will be a better world!


Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Cash Warren

Today’s post comes to us from Cash Warren, a 27 year old transman who works as an Emergency Medical Technician. His goal is to coach and condition athletes.

My name is Cash and I’m a gym addict. I am committed and invested to self improvement. I’m insane about it. I enjoy going to the gym and working out all my issues. It gets downright dirty with the sweating and the grunting and all that nasty stuff. But I know that I’m in the right place to improve and work out all my issues. I encourage everyone regardless of fitness background to go, because once you walk out of there you feel better. Going to the gym improves health and well being. Go ahead and be a gym addict too.

BI4J Presents a Panel Discussion on “Supporting Our Child’s Transition”

Please join BodyImage4Justice, along with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, Greater Boston PFLAG, the Livingston Pangburn Transgender Access Partnership, and many others for a lively panel discussion on raising and supporting transgender children moderated by Corey Yarbrough of the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition.

This event will take place on Wednesday, December 4th at Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall at Harvard University from 6:00-9:00 pm. Light refreshments will be served, and short massage therapy sessions will be available before and after the panel discussion.

BodyImage4Justice believes that the foundation of health is a positive body image and sense of self, which is strongly influenced by our relationship with our parents and family. This panel discussion will help trans children who face challenges in coming out to their families, offer tools and strategies to build a supportive relationship between parents and children, and provide resources for both parents and children to understand each other and navigate the process of transition together.

BodyImage4Justice will also honor the parents of the Livingston Pangburn Transgender Access Partnership (TAP) at this event for their contributions to the Boston transgender community. TAP is a Greater Boston PFLAG initiative that was created in memory of Livingston Pangburn, a transgender Hampshire College student who was killed in a bicycle accident earlier this year. TAP seeks to both increase services available and reach out to underserved, disenfranchised transgender youth and their families.

We hope you and your family will join us for this event!

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Justice Roe Williams

Today’s reflection on body image is by BodyImage4Justice founder, Justice Roe Williams.

Body Image is a large umbrella that encompasses so many dimensions. I will start with how I see myself and then move into how others view me.

For a very long time, I could not move beyond my skin. It crowded me with mixed messages of hate and love. The dichotomy of this or that. I learned very early to hate the skin that I’m in and love the idea that light skin to white skin is beautiful.

I grew up a very dark child from the summer tar that winter wiped into charcoal grey. As was the feeling in my heart each time I was pushed aside, ignored, demonized because somehow I could not wash the hate away. Yet in my way I knew I was loved.

To unveil the layers of hate, my continuing journey of finding all of me has given me moments of divine joy, to know that I can be all that I am and still have love. Each day I find my strength in knowing that, no matter the challenge, the source to continue comes from a deeper space, which is a genuine need to love. I use this as my armor, although please remember that armor can be punctured–but I have become very skilled at the mending.

I didn’t think about gender at an early age. I saw me, and I saw me in this skin, no questions asked, just a sponge full of intention. And my intention was just to live the good life, better than “Good Times” at 939 Virginia Ave Court, I wanted us to “Move on up” in this world watching my mother struggle yet still being the rock for aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who all lived in our two bedroom project home.

There I observed and experienced a life so loving yet misunderstood. I wasn’t different, yet I so longed for sameness: to be light like my mother, to be bodied like my brother. I wanted value to my life. I wanted to feel worthy!!!! I wanted to feel like they did on TV, normal. In many ways, like Nellie Wong, “I longed to be white”, I longed for a mirror reflection of the same.

I connected Whiteness to everything right, clean and intelligent, and so far from who I believed I was. In Church, Jesus was white man living in Africa, the birth place of all shades of Black. This was reinforced by my mom, who hung white Jesus in the front room of our home. I was terrorized in school by illogical gestures of statehood when more people like me are placed behind bars, in bars, or under bars.

I tried to live my life in absences of gender, in absence of feelings I had no language for, so my revolution was movements in Black. In 1998, the death of Rita Hester changed me. I was no longer in fear of being exactly who I am. I came out fighting harder and more passionately than I have ever in my life before. I began stitching my life together bit by bit.

Black Trans man, revolutionary, lover, and so much more…. I am not the same, yet I honor this otherness I have. I honor all of who I am!!

– Justice Roe Williams

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Mark Williams

Mark (right) dances with a friend in a recent performance.

Mark (right) dances with a friend in a recent performance.

It’s been a long journey to reach the point where I truly appreciate my body for the miraculous things it does. For many years, I hated my body because it failed to measure up to the standards that were promoted by the people around me and by the omnipresent television and other media. I took in those negative messages and turned them against myself and others. I also dealt with gender identity issues throughout my childhood (although I didn’t have the words to describe it at the time), and struggled to create or find spaces where I could be myself—-my male self-—while also trying to meet others’ expectations of me as female so they would accept me, or at least leave me alone. As a fat, nerdy, smart “tomboy” who was more bookish than athletic, I had a lot of issues around my body and my self-image in general that only increased when I hit puberty.

In my late twenties and early thirties, I started finding body-positive essays and books that challenged the media images and messages I’d been subjected to all my life. I eventually realized that I had been denying myself simple pleasures and freedoms that had absolutely nothing to do with my size or appearance, on the basis that people my size didn’t do those things and certainly didn’t deserve them. So I began my personal rebellion by buying clothes that fit me, that I liked and wanted to wear, and then wearing them everywhere. Then I began going places and doing things that I used to enjoy but hadn’t done for years because of this internalized fatphobia. I was still fat, but I was much happier and more active than before.

In the mid-2000s, I discovered a fat-positive, size-diverse dance and performance troupe called Big Moves. Through them, I also found my way to the online “fat-o-sphere” of bloggers, vloggers, and photographers who proudly share their images and experiences of Existing While Fat and challenge the accepted “wisdom” of the media, the medical establishment, and other authorities. My experience performing with Big Moves changed the way I think about my own body and health, and the way I see others, for the better. Big Moves was also a major part of my transition, giving me lots of support as well as my first male performing roles after I came out as trans.

My relationship with my body, and with my body image, is still shifting and changing as I continue through the journey of transition and beyond, and as I age. My body and appearance have changed dramatically over the past several years, and I’m still getting used to it. Fortunately, there are now numerous Web sites, Tumblr blogs, and other places where I can see images and read the words of real people whose bodies look more like mine, and whose struggles and triumphs I can share and celebrate because I’ve been there too.

– Mark Williams

BI4J Presents “Conversations on Healthy Transition & Living”

BI4J November Event Flyer

  • How can we be our whole selves in a world that defines us as “other”?
  • How can we get the support we need to transition in a healthy way? How can we support each other in this effort?
  • What resources do we have in our community for better, healthier living during transition and beyond?

Please join BodyImage4Justice, the Mass. Transgender Political Coalition, and TransCEND for an evening of conversation on health and wellness for the trans community, where we will discuss these questions and more. You’ll come away from this event with information, resources, and ideas about how to take better care of yourself in the transition process and throughout your life!

Place: Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Ave. in Back Bay, Boston, MA.

Date: This Thursday evening, November 21, 2013.

Time: Doors open at 6:00 pm, introductions and conversation will start at 6:15 pm. The evening will wrap up at 7:45 pm and close at 8:00 pm.

Light refreshments will be served. The Club Cafe bar will be open for drinks. Bodyworkers will be available to provide short relaxation sessions for event participants.

Come share your experiences, bring your questions, and learn about resources for mental, physical, and spiritual health and wellness for members of the trans community!

We look forward to seeing you there!

This evening event is part of Boston’s Transgender Awareness Week.

Love Ourselves, Love Our Bodies: Damian Lima

I love ME

When I think of body image and my struggle with it, I think of two issues: the pressure to be a “pretty” girl growing up in El Salvador, and my desire to embody my real gender identity. I used to lift weights as a child because I wanted muscles, and I remember my cousin saying, “You don’t want to do that, when you grow up you are going to want slim arms. Girls have slim arms. I have big arms and hate them now”. That comment pushed me to exercise my arms more, and I continued lifting 15 pound weights to be more like a boy. I was proud to be the only female 6th grader who could do 30 push-ups in a row.

The pressure from family and church to not be a tomboy eventually got to me, and I started trying to “lose weight” in order to be more feminine. It was sad that being pretty and skinny was the only idea of being feminine I knew then. This way of thinking eventually led to an eating disorder that damaged the opening of my stomach, and as a result left me with a hiatus hernia for the rest of my life.

During high school in Los Angeles, I joined the cross country team. I loved it because I got the figure I was “supposed” to have at a time when I was denying my attraction to women and my desire to be masculine. As anything that is done to satisfy someone else’s expectations, this activity led to an injury of my legs which I still feel to this day.

My problem was not the way I felt about my body; my problem was the way I was led to believe that that my body should look like.

I think the biggest relief in the way I feel about my body has been coming out as a transgender male. It seems like an oxymoron to think that admitting the need to transition my female body into a male one eased the pressure to embody a specific type of body. The side benefit to transitioning my body is that breaking one of the ultimate taboos about bodies and identities helped me realize that there is no one right way to be me. It is only ME who can dictate how I will be happy. I have come to accept the things I can change and those I cannot, I have come to see that I can shape my body in ways that can make ME happy and healthy, and I have come to see that how I feel about myself can make ME happy while focusing on how others view my body makes me extremely unhappy. I have come to love ME enough to let myself be ME.

– Damian Lima