Greta’s Pics for Skepticon Calendar 2012

Wanna see some atheist dirty pictures?

When I was at Skepticon 3 earlier this month, I got to do a photo shoot for the 2012 Skepticon pin-up calendar. I prepared for the shoot for weeks; I agonized over what to wear and what props to bring; I even bought a new Dark Garden corset and rushed the order so I could have it in time. (I had to keep reminding myself that this was, in fact, a speaking engagement/ conference at which I was incidentally going to be doing a photo shoot, not a photo shoot at which I was incidentally going to be speaking at a conference.)

All the planning was totally worth it. The shoot was hugely fun: the photographer was professional and friendly and really knew his stuff, the Skepticon volunteers were helpful and supportive, and I have never in my life had so much fun being underdressed in a freezing basement.

And I think the photos turned out incredible. It is now confirmed: I am officially, at age 48, hotter than I have ever been in my life. I’m just sayin’, is all.

The 2012 calendars won’t be available until next year… but you can still get calendars for 2011, featuring either dudes or dudettes. (If you get both, you get the special bisexual fencesitter’s discount.) All proceeds go to support Skepticon and help keep it going and free of charge.

And in the meantime, enjoy this preview! Click photos to enlarge.

Greta Skepticon 2012 calendar 1

Greta Skepticon 2012 calendar 2

Greta Skepticon 2012 calendar 3

Do not fuck with me. This basement is where I take people who try to tell me about Pascal’s Wager.

Happily Single, Happily Married

An edited version of this piece was originally published on AlterNet. This is the complete, unedited version.

Broken_heartHow long should you wait after a relationship ends to get involved with someone new?

And is that even the right question to be asking?

I write a lot about the hazards of making decisions about sex and relationships by default. I’ve written about the problem of default decisions in relationships generally, and I’ve written about the specific default decisions people often make in their relationships — when and whether to have kids, to get married, to be monogamous, and so on.

But there’s a major decision people typically make about their long-term romantic relationships — a decision that these particular questions don’t touch on.

And that’s the decision about whether to even get into a relationship at all.

Wedding_kiss In American culture, it’s generally assumed that everybody wants to be married, or to be in a long-term relationship. It’s assumed that everybody should be hitched up, and that everybody would be better off that way. Oh, sure, if you’ve just broken up with someone, it’s considered prudent to take a break between relationships. But it’s generally assumed that this break is just that — a break. A temporary pause in the normal, correct state of affairs: the state of being in love. It’s assumed that, once a decent interval has passed, of course you’ll want to get back in the love game.

And this assumption drives me up a tree. More so than almost any other default assumption about relationships.

This may sound odd coming from me. If you’ve read my writing at all — and especially if you’ve read my writing about sex and love — there’s a word you’ll inevitably see come up, again and again and again. That word: Ingrid.

Ingrid and Greta dancing 2 Ingrid and I are very happily married. We’ve been married for six and a half years (or five years, or two and a half years, depending on which of our three weddings in the shifting “same- sex marriage” winds you’re talking about), and we’ve been together for close to thirteen years. I talk about Ingrid, and about our marriage, in earnest, passionate, lavishly purple prose that sometimes verges on nauseating. And largely because of Ingrid, I am a huge fan of love, and of marriage, and of putting in the hard work of making love and marriage last.

And yet.

I was single for twelve years before Ingrid and I fell in love.

Very happily single.

And I am also a huge fan of being single. I am a huge fan of taking time after a relationship ends: time to consider, not just when to be coupled again and with whom, but whether to be coupled again. I am a huge fan of learning to be okay about being single: learning, not just to be okay with it, but to be actively happy about it. I am a huge fan of seeing our choices about romantic relationships include the choice, “None of the above.”

I’m not alone in this. According to Dr. Marty Klein, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist (and author of five books on sexuality as well as the Sexual Intelligence blog), the consensus in the therapeutic community is that taking time to be alone after a breakup is, if not essential, certainly very beneficial to making future relationships work. Klein thinks this time gives people the space, not only to grieve over the loss of a relationship, but to grow. Being single, he says, gives people room to rethink old habits — habits that may have caused problems for their relationships in the past. It lets them learn more about who they are, and what they really want in a relationship… and whether a relationship is even what they want at all.

But how does that work?

How can I be an advocate, both for happy marriage, and for happy bachelor/ bachelorette-hood?

There are two basic things going on here. They’re going to seem paradoxical, but they’re really not. Paradox resolution is forthcoming, I promise.

Thing One: Being single for so long was, in and of itself, awesome.

Thing Two: Being single for so long has made my marriage stronger.

Single silhouette Let’s get to Thing One first. Being single for twelve years was one of the best experiences of my life. It taught me self-reliance. It taught me self-confidence. It taught me an immense amount about who I was and what I wanted and how I felt about myself and the world. It taught me how to keep myself company. It taught me how to keep myself sane.

And for most of those years, it was just plain fun. I did what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it. I went to the movies when I wanted. I hung out with my friends when I wanted. I went out to nightclubs or sex clubs or nerdy folk dances when I wanted. I sat on the sofa eating ice cream and watching “Star Trek” when I wanted. I let the dishes rot in the sink when I felt like it. (And I felt like it a lot.) I fucked dozens of different women: casual personal-ad hookups, ongoing fuckbuddies who became genuine friends, women at sex clubs whose names I never knew.

I never would have known how valuable and fun being single was if I hadn’t thought to try it. As Dr. Charlie Glickman, AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and Ph.D. in Adult Sexuality Education, said when I asked him about this, “I’ve always said that the only way to know for sure if something works for you is to try it on. Whether that’s a shirt or a relationship, we can often make educated guesses but until we take it off the hanger and put it on, we don’t really know for sure. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who thought that a particular sexual activity or relationship structure wouldn’t work for them until they tried it.”

ShoppingAnd obviously, we can’t try out a relationship option — including the “None” option — unless we know it’s both available and valid. You can’t try on a shirt if you don’t know it’s on the rack… and you’re a lot less likely to try on a shirt if your friends are all telling you it’s ugly.

An important point to make here: For most of those twelve solo years, I wasn’t just happily single. I was consciously and deliberately single. I wasn’t single for twelve years out of bad luck or bad vibes or bad dating skills. I was single because I chose to be single. By the time I fell in love with Ingrid, I was beginning to question my singlehood and to be open to the possibility of a serious relationship… but for most of those twelve years, I actively resisted them. I made it clear to anyone I was dating, right at the outset, that dating me was not going to end with us walking down the aisle. My personal ads always said things like, “Seeking casual flings or ongoing sexual friendships; not seeking LTR.” Or, if I was in a blunter mood, “I’m happy being single and don’t want a wife.”

So why the hell did I get married?

That brings us to Thing Two, and the apparent paradox. Yes, being single for so long was a completely valuable and fun experience for its own sake.

And at the same time: My marriage with Ingrid is much stronger because of the years I spent on my own. Being single for twelve years laid the emotional foundation for my side of this marriage. A significant part of it, anyway.

Thinker Some of that is because, when I was single, I did a whole lot of soul-searching. About love, and about a bucketload of other stuff. Having room to just be myself for a few years gave me the chance to figure out some bad emotional habits… and to unlearn them. I learned how to sort out what I wanted and felt from what other people told me I should want and feel. I learned how to balance assertiveness and clarity with generosity and kindness — or, as I put it to a friend recently, how to find the window between being a demanding, high-maintenance asshole and being a doormat. I learned how to ask for what I wanted and needed and deserved, without alienating people or wrecking relationships. I learned why I kept being attracted to fucked-up, emotionally broken drug addicts… and I learned how not to be. I learned how to find the sexiness and the intensity and the compelling sense of fascination and intrigue — in sane, balanced, stable people.

And without all that, I doubt that my relationship with Ingrid would have lasted six months — much less thirteen years.

But there’s something else here: something more crucial, something that’s right at the heart of this apparent paradox I keep talking about.

Knowing that I can be happily single makes it easier to be happily married.

My marriage is stronger because I see it as a real choice. I don’t feel trapped into it. It’s not a default slot I fell into, and I’m not afraid that I could never be happy on my own. It’s a real choice — a choice between genuinely competing options, with real plusses and minuses to each of them.

VowsI’m not with Ingrid because I’m afraid of being alone. I’m with Ingrid because I want to be with Ingrid.

So when I’m feeling cranky about something that’s less than perfect in our marriage — a compromise we made about money that I’m not totally happy with, a party I promised to go to that I just don’t feel like coping with, an evening when we’re both tired and cranky and irritable and are snapping at each other, the fact that I have to do the dinner dishes even though I’m really not in the mood and really just want to sit on the sofa watching “Star Trek” — the upsets aren’t compounded by feeling trapped into them. The large conflicts and small irritations that come with any long-term relationship are much easier to deal with when I remember that this is my choice. Remembering that this is my choice reminds why I made it — and why I continue to make it. It reminds me that I make this choice because I am passionately in love with Ingrid, because I feel more like myself with her than I have with any other person I’ve ever known, because my life with her is richer and stronger and way more fun than life without her, because she is an extraordinary person and I am intensely lucky to have her in my life at all… and lucky beyond my wildest dreams to get to share every day of my life with her.

(I warned you. Purple prose, verging on nauseating.)

Ingrid and Greta at Dyke March And the flip side of that is true as well. When I’m feeling happy about our marriage — which is most of the time, by a significant margin — that happiness is enhanced by the freedom with which we chose it. Our happiness isn’t something we fell into by accident; it’s not a slot we got slotted into and that we were lucky enough to fit. We chose it. And we’ve worked our asses off for it. So it feels like ours. It feels like it belongs to us.

But as passionate as I feel about this question of choice — of making our own conscious decisions about our own damn relationships, and not letting ourselves get slotted into them by default — I have to admit that things aren’t always that simple. More choices don’t always make us happier. Some research suggests that having too many choices can make us as unhappy as not having any. It can overwhelm us, paralyze us, make us anxious about whether our choices are right, make us blame ourselves when things don’t work out, create a perpetual loop of second-guessing, raise our expectations to an impossible level. (Think about shopping for olive oil. If there’s only one kind on the grocery store shelf, we don’t much like that, especially if it’s a kind we don’t like… but if there are a hundred varieties, that can be just as frustrating.)

This is a point Dr. Klein was emphatic about. When I interviewed him about this question — about default decisions in general, and about the specific default decision of being coupled over being single — he pointed out that not everybody is as enamored of choice as I am. Personally, he also has a strong philosophical attachment to making his own free choices about his own life… but from a practical, clinical perspective, he recognizes that many people are happier, and better able to get on with their lives, when they let some of their decisions, big or small, be made by social consensus.

And while Dr. Glickman is another fan of tailoring our relationships to fit instead of just buying them off the rack, he also acknowledges the challenges to this approach. “The more you move away from the default option,” he says, “the harder it is to find role models, which can feel really unstable as well as making it more difficult because you might not think of a possible solution to the challenges you face.”

New_rules So I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here. I’m not trying to make a new rule that everyone has to follow. I’m trying to be a role model for an option some people might not have considered. As much as the demanding, high-maintenance asshole in me would love to tell everyone to live their lives exactly like I do, I can’t in good conscience do that. I’m not going to argue that absolutely everybody should be single, and should try to be happy being single, for X amount of time before they get coupled again. I know that isn’t right for everyone. (After all, while I’d been single for twelve years before Ingrid and I fell in love, Ingrid herself had only been single for five months. And while she’d had times before that when she was single for longer, she acknowledges that she wasn’t really happy about it. She made the best of it, but it wasn’t what she would have chosen.)

I’m not saying that the way I did it is the only way, or even the best way. I don’t want to replace the old set of Thou Shalts with a new one.

I’m just trying to say: Being single is an option. It’s a valid option: temporarily, or indefinitely. It’s one that some people are genuinely happy with. I was, for close to twelve years. If you tend to feel trapped in relationships — or if you get panicky and freaked-out when you’re not in one — it’s an option you might consider. It’s an option that might make you happy, just because it’s fun and cool and valuable for its own sake. And it’s an option that might do a world of good for any future relationships.

I’m not trying to say, “Thou Shalt.”

I’m just trying to say, “Thou Might.”

Why Religious Believers Are So Desperate for the Atheist Seal of Approval

Thumbs up “But surely you don’t mean my religion!”

If you hang around the online atheist world long enough, you’ll notice an interesting pattern. Many religious and spiritual believers who engage with atheists seem very intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs.

Typically, these believers acknowledge that many religions are profoundly troubling. They share atheists’ revulsion against religious hatreds and sectarian wars. They share our repugnance with religious fraud, the charlatans who abuse people’s trust to swindle them out of money and sex and more. They share our disgust with willful religious ignorance, the flat denials of overwhelming scientific evidence that contradicts people’s beliefs. They can totally see why many atheists are so incredulous, even outraged, about the world of religion.

But they think their religion is an exception. They think their religion is harmless, a kinder, gentler faith. They think their religion is philosophically consistent, supported by reason and evidence — or at least, not flatly contradicted by it.

And they want atheists to agree.

They really, really want atheists to agree. They want atheists to say, “No, of course, your beliefs aren’t like all those others — those other beliefs are crazy, but yours make sense.” Or they want atheists to say, “Wow, I hadn’t heard that one before — how fascinating and well thought-out!” Of course they understand why atheists object to all those other bad religions. They just don’t understand why we object to theirs. They get very hurt when we object to theirs. And they will spend a significant amount of time and energy trying to persuade us to stop objecting.

Why?

Why do they care what atheists think?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Religious Believers Are So Desperate for the Atheist Seal of Approval. To find out why I think many believers try so hard to get the atheist seal of approval, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Greta Speaking at Skepticon 3, Nov. 19-21 – and Brief Blog Break

SkepticonIII

One last reminder: I’m going to be speaking at Skepticon — the totally awesome, free- of- charge atheism/ skepticism conference — this weekend, November 19-21 in Springfield, Missouri. I’ll be speaking on Saturday, November 20, at 10:30 am, on Atheism and Sexuality. (“The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?”)

While I’m gone, I’m probably going to be pretty slammed with conference stuff, not to mention keeping up with deadlines, so I probably won’t be blogging again until I get back. (Today is going to be especially bonkers: I’m getting up at 3:30 am, flying to St. Louis at 6:30 am, driving to Springfield, getting into a corset and stiletto heels for the 2012 Skepticon pin-up calendar photo shoot, and then going to the Springfield Freethinker meetup for a Q&A. I know. I am out of my mind.)

Spaces are still available for this FREE conference. However, they’re filling up fast, so if you want to go, you should register now. Cheap lodging is available, and if you go to the Skepticon Forum, you might even be able to find a nice local who will put you up. Hosted by the MSU Chapter of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Skepticon 3 is happening Friday November 19 through Sunday November 21, at the Springfield Expo Center in Springfield, Missouri. Other speakers include PZ Myers, Amanda Marcotte, James Randi, Debbie Goddard, Dan Barker, D.J. Grothe, Rebecca Watson, Victor Stenger, Joe Nickell, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, John Corvino, J.T. Eberhard, and Brother Sam Singleton. I am so freaking proud to be on that list and in that company, I can’t even tell you.

So come to the buckle of the bible belt, and raise some non-existent hell with me and your fellow non-believers! And if you’re there, be sure to find me and say howdy!

And yes, Skepticon’s fundraising pin-up calendars, the Skepchick and Skepdude calendars for 2011, are still available! Chock-full of yummy photos of scrumptious skeptics of both genders! (intelligence is so sexy…) Sales help fund the Skepticon conference… which, as I mentioned, is being put on entirely free of charge, to make it accessible to folks who normally can’t go to these sorts of conferences. So support the cause, and drool over sexy pics of near-naked skeptics. Here are some images to tempt you.

Womens - APR Medium

Men - JAN Medium

Womens - DEC Medium

Men - DEC Medium

Womens - FEB Medium

Men - JUN Medium

Womens - AUG Medium

Men - NOV Medium

So help keep Skepticon going, and buy your Skepchick and/or Skepdude calendar today. Order both, and get the special “bisexual fence-sitter’s” rate of $2.00 off!

The Fat Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Phase 2, Part 2: How Do You Know When Enough Is Enough?

This is Part 2 of a two-part post. In yesterday’s piece, I talked about the process of switching from weight loss to weight maintenance… including the strange attraction of the process of losing weight, and the challenges of letting go of that process and embracing lifelong weight management. Today, I talk about how you even decide what a healthy weight might be… and how loving and accepting your body is part of that decision.

Done button So, like I said yesterday: I am officially done losing weight. I’ve reached my target weight. Or, to be more accurate: I have reached the bottom of my target weight range. Or, to be even more accurate than that: I have made a final decision as to what my target weight range should even be — something I wasn’t sure of at the beginning of this project — and have reached the bottom of that range.

But how did I make that decision?

Feet on scale Deciding when to stop losing weight was an interestingly tricky question. Much trickier than I’d thought it would be. I knew I didn’t want BMI (weight to height ratio) to be my only metric of healthy weight. I knew that BMI, while a fairly good measure of healthy or unhealthy weight in populations as a whole, isn’t the best metric for individuals. It can give some good broad strokes — I knew that at five foot three and 200 pounds I should definitely lose weight, and that at 160 pounds I should probably keep going for a bit — but when it comes to the fine-tuning, it’s really not the best gauge. There’s too much variation in how people of different heights are built — different frames, different muscle masses, etc.

So once I got closer to my “ideal” BMI, I had to decide when to stop.

And I had to decide how to decide.

Which metric of healthy weight should I use? Body fat percentage? Waist circumference? Waist to hip ratio? Should I use body mass index after all? Some combination of the above?

Yoni Freedhoff (of the Weighty Matters blog), an evidence-based doctor/ weight loss expert I’ve been following and whose work I greatly respect, advises his readers not to get too hung up on external metrics. Instead, he says, we should find a weight we’re happy and healthy at, one with a calorie budget we can sustain and not be miserable with. And there’s some real value in that. When I was hovering near my “ideal” BMI and trying to decide whether to stop or keep going, one of the factors I considered was whether I could be happy dialing down my calorie budget a little more to lose a few more pounds… or whether that would restrict my eating too much for me to be happy with.

Broken plate But there are also real problems with this approach. The whole point of this weight control project is that my own instincts about what is and is not a healthy weight are pretty broken, and I can’t trust myself to make that decision without some external metrics. After all, I deluded myself for years into thinking that I was happy and healthy at 200 pounds… and that eating any less than I was eating would make me miserable. And on the other side of those broken instincts lurk eating disorders. Like I wrote yesterday, the process of losing weight itself has a strange appeal, with its constant cycle of victorious accomplishments and new goals to reach for. I could see myself coming up with a rationalization for continuing the process, even if I had no earthly health-related reason to do so. And since even at a completely healthy weight, my body still isn’t the exact perfect body I’d choose if I could, it’d be easy to delude myself into thinking that more weight loss would solve that imperfection. I could see myself deciding that I’d be happier with my body if I lost just a little more weight… and then lost a little more… and then just a little bit more after that…

Target 1 So I knew this “decide for yourself what weight you want to be” method wouldn’t work. I didn’t just want to paint a target around myself and call myself “done.” I knew that my powers of rationalization would make that a dangerous path. It’d be way too easy, if my weight slid up again (or slid too far down), for me to just keep re-painting that target at every new place that I landed. I needed some other way of deciding.

But what else? BMI isn’t great, for the reasons I detailed above. Waist-hip ratio isn’t bad, it’s pretty strongly linked to health outcomes… but the problem is that you can’t really do much about it. Spot reducing (i.e., losing weight in one particular part of your body) doesn’t work — so if you want to improve your waist-hip ratio, all you can do is lose weight, and hope you lose more of it in your waist than your hips. Waist circumference? Seems a bit weird for that number to be the same for everyone, regardless of height or frame. But sure, I’d gotten that below the danger point. Was that enough?

I decided to go with a combo of BMI, waist circumference, and body fat percentage. I figured if all three were in a healthy range, I was probably fine. So when the first two were where I wanted them to be, I signed up with a hydrostatic body fat testing company — you know, one of those places that measures your body fat percentage by dunking you in a tub of water — and got that number.

And here’s where it got interesting.

Digital-23 According to the Tub of Water Dunking Company (no, not their real name), my body fat percentage is 23%. And according to the company’s calculations and categories, this puts me squarely in the “healthy” range. In fact, it puts me close to the bottom of that range.

I had my answer. I was done.

In theory, anyway.

But according to the Tub of Water Dunking Company and their calculations and categories, my 23% body fat percentage put me very close to the “athletic” range. And the moment they told me that, I found the idea almost irresistibly appealing.

Book_Nerd I have never, in my entire life, considered myself “athletic.” I’ve always been nerdy, indoorsy, a bookworm. Growing up, I was always a fat, gawky, “last picked in gym class” kid. Even when I lost weight in my teens, even in high school and college when I was taking tons of dancing classes and getting an A in fencing — hell, even when I was dancing at the Lusty Lady peep show fifteen hours a week and making a living being professionally beautiful and sexy — I never once thought of myself as “athletic.” And now, finally, according to the Tub of Water Dunking Company, if I lost just a few more pounds of body fat, I’d officially be in that category.

And I thought: Maybe I’m not done after all. Maybe I should lose a few more pounds, and get my body fat percentage into that “athletic” range. Maybe it would be worth it to keep going, just a little bit longer.

It took some time, and some thinking, and a bit of Googling, to realize that something was very wrong here.

The Tub of Water Dunking Company had ranges for body fat percentages that they considered too high — but they didn’t have any that they considered too low. Their categories were Obese, Overfat, Healthy, Athletic, and Excellent. They had no category for You Don’t Have Enough Body Fat. They had no category for You Are Dangerously Thin And Need To Start Gaining Weight Now.

And that was very disturbing.

Body fat percentage So I did some Googling. Mostly to get a reality check on my “Yes, a 23% body fat percentage is totally healthy, you can stop losing weight now” answer… but also to get a reality check on my disturbance. And I got both. Yes, the body fat percentage range that the Tub of Water Dunking Company called “healthy” is also called “healthy” by the somewhat more reliable World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health. I really and truly didn’t have to lose any more weight. Yay!

But here’s where it gets really interesting. The body fat percentage range that the Tub of Water Dunking Company called “athletic,” the WHO and NIH call “underfat.” Yes, many athletes have a body fat percentage in this range… but athletes often have serious health problems, and sacrifice their long- term health to reach short-term goals. Serious athletic training is about achieving extraordinary feats of performance — not about good health.

And I started thinking:

Why was I so eager to be in that “athletic” range?

Why was I so eager to keep losing weight?

A lot of it, I think, has to do with what I talked about in yesterday’s post. There is a powerful appeal in the process of losing weight, and in the sense of accomplishment and approaching a concrete goal that it gave me. That’s been surprisingly hard to let go of. I also knew how much harder weight maintenance is than weight loss, and I think I was nervous about embarking on this new leg of this project that everyone says is so much more difficult. So as relieved as I was at the thought that I was done, a part of me was disappointed, even somewhat scared… and eager to jump at an excuse to keep going. And again, even at my “ideal” weight, my body still wasn’t the perfect body I would choose if I could …and since weight loss had gotten me so much closer to where I wanted my body to be, it was seductive to think that a little more weight loss would get me a little closer to that ideal.

But some of the appeal, I’m embarrassed to admit, has to do with that word “athletic” — and the feeling of validation and approval I could feel in having someone else, someone with some sort of objective eye, apply it to me.

Even if it was just the guy at the Tub of Water Dunking Company.

War of the simpsons There’s a Simpsons episode that perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about here. (Because there’s a Simpsons episode to illustrate everything important about life.) It’s the one where Homer and Marge go on the couple’s counseling retreat, and Homer sneaks off to go fishing for the legendary giant catfish the locals are obsessed with, and thus be respected and admired. When Marge asks him, “By whom?”, he answers, “Those weirdos down at the worm store!”

Why on earth did I care about those weirdos down at the worm store?

Why on earth did I care whether the guy at the Tub of Water Dunking Company thought I was an athlete?

And this is where I come back around to Yoni Freedhoff, and his “whatever weight you’re happy with and can sustain without being miserable” metric.

Foot on scale The truth is that we don’t really know what a healthy weight is. A lot of research is being done in this area, but right now, we just don’t know. There are lots of different metrics, and not much agreement about which one is best, or where on each metric it’s best to be. The answer is almost certainly a range, not a single fixed number. The range is almost certainly different for different people. And we don’t really know exactly what that range is, or how wide it might be. We have some clear ideas of what a definitely unhealthy weight is… but we don’t have a clear idea of what a healthy weight is. We have some very broad outlines… but for any given person, the question, “What should I weigh?” does not have an obvious answer.

So ultimately, I do need to take responsibility for this decision myself.

Yes, I need my decision to be evidence-based, informed by the best available research I can find. Yes, I need to avoid denialism about the serious health problems connected with overweight and obesity. (And, for that matter, denialism about the serious health problems connected with underweight and disordered eating.) Yes, I need to be aware of my human ability to rationalize and justify decisions that I find comforting and convenient. And so yes, I need to find reliable outside sources that will give me a good reality check.

Biceps But I don’t need the guy at the Tub of Water Dunking Company to tell me I’m athletic. I know I’m athletic. I pump iron three days a week, most weeks. I’m doing bicep curls with 25-pound dumbbells. I can run up a flight of stairs without getting winded or breaking a sweat. I can dance for hours, and be disappointed and ready for more when the night is over. I can bench press half my weight. (Not that I would, usually: my trainer says bench pressing is a waste of time.) And when I flex my biceps, I look like a freaking Amazon goddess. I don’t need to get my body fat percentage below some essentially arbitrary line, above which I’m just an ordinary schlub, and below which I am somehow magically transformed into Martina Navratilova.

Greta full I know I’m athletic. And more importantly: I’m healthy. My body does most of what I want it to do, most of the time. In fact, lately it’s been doing things I never in my wildest dreams would have thought to ask of it. It’s not perfect, and it never, ever will be. But it’s strong, and it’s sexy, and it’s awake and alive and happy, and it connects me intimately with this universe I love so much.

And I’m learning to be okay with that.

Also in this series:
The Fat-Positive Diet, 7/28/09
The Fat-Positive Skeptic (Part 2 of 2), 7/29/09
An Open Letter to the Fat-Positive Movement, 11/11/09
The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet: An Update, 3/8/10
Weight Loss and Strange Emotional Stuff: The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 2, 3/9/10
The Fat-Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Part 3: The Actual Diet, 3/10/10
Some Evolving Thoughts About Weight and Sex, 3/17/10 (reposted here 6/28/10)

The Fat Positive Feminist Skeptical Diet, Phase 2: Switching from Loss to Maintenance

Done I’m done.

I am officially done losing weight. I’ve reached my target weight. Or, to be more accurate: I have reached the bottom of my target weight range. Or, to be even more accurate than that: I have made a final decision as to what my target weight range should even be (something I wasn’t sure of at the beginning of this project), and have reached the bottom of that range. My goal was to get my weight between 135 and 140 pounds; as of this writing, I weigh 135. I’m done. I am off of weight loss… and am now on what everyone informs me is the much harder project of life-long weight management.

As I always do when I write about this stuff, I promise yet again: This is not going to turn into a weight control blog. If you want to know the details of how I lost the weight, you can read them here: but I’m not going to bore you every day, or indeed every month, with the tedious details of what I’m eating and how much I weigh and how I feel about it all. I’d rather lock myself in a box with snakes. And as I always do when I write about this, I want to make it clear: I’m not evangelizing about weight loss for every fat person. I know that weight loss takes a lot of work, I know that it’s harder for some people than others, and I think the cost/ benefit analysis of whether that work is worth it will be different for everybody.

But enough of you have been interested in the other writing I’ve done about this project, so I wanted to update you on where I’ve gotten… and where I’m going from here.

Road_work_sign Or, to be accurate, where I think I’m going from here. Because everything I’ve read tells me that, as difficult as it is to lose weight, it’s more difficult by an order of magnitude to keep it off. Lots of people lose weight; relatively few people lose weight and keep it off. It does happen, but it’s less common by far. I do have some ideas of what I need to do (and not do) to make this work: I’ve done a lot of reading about this, I know what many of the pitfalls and success strategies are, and since forewarned is forearmed, I feel reasonably confident that I’ll be able to make this happen. But this part of the project is very new to me — I’ve only been on maintenance for a couple of weeks now — and this post is going to have a lot more questions in it than answers.

Lose it The first question, of course, is, “What am I going to do to maintain my weight?” And in an entirely practical sense, that question has a very simple answer: I’m going to do exactly what I did to lose the weight in the first place. I’m counting calories, and I’m exercising almost every day. The only difference — and I mean the only difference — is that my daily calorie budget is a little higher. I am not changing anything else… and I don’t plan to.

Couch_potato Everything I’ve read about maintaining weight loss says the same thing: One of the biggest mistakes people make with weight loss is that they think they’re done. They think that, once they’ve lost the weight, they can go back to their same old eating and exercise habits. And their old habits are what got them to gain the weight in the first place. As I’ve said many times when I’ve written about this topic: Our “natural” food instincts cannot be trusted. Our “natural” food instincts evolved 100,000 years ago on the African savannah, in an environment of food scarcity, and they are not capable of coping with a food environment where Snickers bars are easily and cheaply available on every street corner. Our “natural” food instincts are dummies. That’s just reality. Weight control isn’t something you do once and then forget about. It’s a permanent lifestyle change. Like any lifestyle change, it becomes less self-conscious and more automatic as time goes on… but it’s still a permanent lifestyle change, and not a one-time project. (That’s why it’s so important for weight loss programs to be sustainable: if you lose weight, but don’t learn healthy eating and exercise habits that you’ll be happy with for life, it’s not going to work in the long run,) When people stop consciously managing their weight, and go back to their old unconscious eating habits, they gain the weight back.

Peets-freddos And I can see exactly how that could happen. The day I decided, “I’m done,” one of the first thoughts that came rushing into my head was, “Woo hoo! Now I can go have a frappuccino at Peet’s! I can get a double cheeseburger with fries at the Double Play! I can eat anything I want! I’m not losing weight anymore!”

Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed. I knew this was coming. And I knew it was a bad, bad idea. I knew that this inner “Woo hoo!” was the siren song leading me back to 200 pounds. So I ignored it. I kept up my program. The day I decided, “I’m done,” I ate exactly as I would have if I’d still been on the weight loss program. I think I ate a cookie, and let myself go over budget by about 50 calories. (Both of which are things I did fairly often, even when I was on weight loss.) I’ve since dialed up my calorie budget slightly, and am still trying to decide what it ultimately ought to be… but the nuts and bolts of my program are the same. Counting calories; staying within a daily calorie budget; exercising almost every day.

Doll tape measure But weirdly, and very unexpectedly, the other thought that rushed into my head when I decided I was done was, “You could lose a little more.”

“Come on.” the voice said. “Keep going. Five more pounds, and you’d be a Size 6! Ten more pounds, and your body fat percentage would be in the ‘Athletic’ range! You can do it!”

This wasn’t about anorexia, or any other body image distortion. I didn’t think I was too fat, or even fat at all. This was about being weirdly attached to the process of losing weight. The little victories, the sense of accomplishment, the feeling of having a goal that I was getting closer and closer to every week… that’s been very deeply satisfying. And it’s been strangely hard to let go of. As difficult as this process has been, I’m going to miss it. I clearly have to find some Zen-like way of seeing ongoing weight management as a victorious goal in itself. (I’m thinking anniversaries. Celebrating six months of maintenance, a year of maintenance, two years, three years… those are goals, too. And getting to a year of successfully maintaining weight loss will mean getting to sign up for the National Weight Control Registry… and I’m enough of a nerd to think that will be loads of fun.)

Attention What’s more, the process of losing weight has been bringing me attention and compliments that ongoing weight management probably isn’t going to provide. There’s going to come a time when the people I’ve known for years are finally used to the weight loss, and they’re going to stop mentioning it. And new people I meet aren’t going to know that I ever looked any different. I do have seriously mixed feelings about the compliments — there is a “What was I before, chopped liver?” quality to them that annoys me — but they’re still compliments, and I know I’m going to miss them when they start to fade.

And some of it is just a mental habit I need to break. For a year and a half now, I’ve been thinking that losing weight was Good, and that maintaining the same weight was Not Good. I now need to unlearn that mental habit, and learn the new one. Maintaining Weight Good. Maintaining Weight From Week To Week = Success.

But there’s another reason the “losing weight” part of this project is proving hard to let go of.

It’s that I now, officially, have to accept my body the way it is.

Road ahead For many months now — for the year and half since I’ve been on this project — I’ve been very focused, not on what my body was like at the moment, but on what I was trying to get it to be. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been very happy with my body during this process. I’ve actually been happier with my body during this process than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve been getting tremendous pleasure out of my body, and I’ve had many, many stretches of being intensely present in it, and very much in the moment with it. But as much as I’ve been enjoying my body, I’ve also been very focused on the goal of getting it to a different place. And it was easy to displace any anxiety or unhappiness I had about my body onto my weight… and to assume that, as the weight dropped, the unhappiness would too.

And some of it has. A lot of it has. But it’s not like my body is now the exact perfect body I would choose if I had the power to. I still have a flat butt, droopy breasts, chronic middle- aged- lady health problems I won’t bore you with (nothing life-threatening, just annoying). Since I’ve been losing weight, a lot of my anxiety about my body has transferred from my size to my age — something I really can’t do anything about. And the weight loss itself has brought on a few changes in my body that I’m not thrilled with. (Have we talked yet about loose skin? Oy fucking vey.)

Peace So now that I’m officially done losing weight, I have to accept it: This is the body I have. Sure, there are a few things I can tinker with still — getting my abs stronger, my legs more muscled, my bicep curls back up to 25 pound dumbbells and maybe even higher. But when it comes right down to it, this is my body. It’s not going to change that much, except for a few gradual changes from strength and stamina training, and the gradual changes of getting older. I have to learn to accept it, and to love it, and to find peace in it. I am way, way happier with my body than I have been for years; it works better, it feels better, and I’ll admit that I think it looks better. But it’s not perfect. And it never, ever will be.

And I have to learn to be okay with that.

To be continued tomorrow. In the meantime: If any of you have been through this process, I’d love to hear what you have to say about it. If you’ve lost weight and kept it off successfully, I’d like to hear what maintenance strategies have worked for you; if you’ve lost weight but then gained it back again, I’d like to hear what you think made maintenance harder. Forewarned is forearmed.

Why Being Single Can Be Great for You — And Your Future Relationships

Weddingrings In American culture, it’s generally assumed that everybody wants to be married, or to be in a long-term relationship. It’s assumed that everybody should be hitched up, and that everybody would be better off that way. Oh, sure, if you’ve just broken up with someone, it’s considered prudent to take a break between relationships. But it’s generally thought that this break is just that — a break. A temporary pause in the normal, correct state of affairs: the state of being in love. It’s assumed that, once a decent interval has passed, of course you’ll want to get back in the love game.

I was single for twelve years before my wife Ingrid and I fell in love. Very happily single. I am a huge fan of taking time to consider not just when to be coupled again and with whom, but whether to be coupled again. I am a huge fan of learning to be okay about being single: learning, not just to be okay with it, but to be actively happy about it. I am a huge fan of seeing our choices about romantic relationships include the choice, “None of the above.”

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Being Single Can Be Great for You — And Your Future Relationships. To find out why I think being single can be an excellent and valid choice — both for its own sake, and for the health and happiness of any future relationships you might get into — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Why Atheists Are Better Prepared for Death Than Believers

Gravestone I write a lot about atheist philosophies of death.

I’ve written about how loss, including death, is necessary for life and change to be possible. I’ve written about death as a natural, physical process, one that connects us intimately with nature and the universe. I’ve written about the idea of death as a deadline, something that helps us focus our lives and treasure the people and experiences we have now. I’ve written about the idea that our life, our slice of the timeline, will always have existed even though we die. I’ve written about how things don’t have to be permanent to be meaningful.

In the last few months, I’ve been dealing with some of death’s harsher realities.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how atheism, and humanism, can help us deal with death — and with life. Not just in an abstract philosophical sense; not just in a “creating a meaningful frame for our lives” sense. I’ve been thinking about how we can apply atheist philosophies in a practical way. I’ve been thinking, not just about how these philosophies can help us face death, but about how they can improve the way we live our life.

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Atheists Are Better Prepared for Death Than Believers. To find out more about how atheist philosophies of death can be applied in practical ways, to help us make better decisions about death and life, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Vows

Five years ago today…

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VOWS

First part: Celebrant prompts and brides repeat sentence by sentence:

I, Greta/Ingrid, take you, Ingrid/Greta, to be my partner for life. I take you into my family, and take your family as my own. I promise to love you, honor you, and treasure you. I promise to trust you, and to trust in our marriage. I promise to savor our good times, and to have faith that the bad times will pass. I promise to value our differences as much as our common ground. I promise to give you my help and support, and to accept help and support from you. I promise to keep my promises, and not to make promises I can’t keep. I promise to always save you the last waltz.

Second part: Celebrant asks and brides say “I do”

Do you, Greta/Ingrid, take Ingrid/Greta, to be your partner for life, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in conflict and tranquility, in poverty and in comfort, placing her above all others, from this day forward? (I do.)

RINGS

Celebrant: Greta/Ingrid, repeat after me: With this ring, I thee wed. (brides repeat, exchange rings)

PRONOUNCEMENT

Celebrant: Greta and Ingrid have chosen to be joined in marriage, and have declared their choice to each other and in the presence of this company. They have given each other their promises, and have made their pledge by giving and receiving rings and by joining hands. Therefore, by the power vested in me by Greta and Ingrid and by the witnesses present here today, I now pronounce you partners for life. You may kiss.

*

I still do, sweetie. Happy anniversary!

Penitence as a Perpetual Motion Machine

Warning: This is not a nice story.

This story contains extensive sexual content — what with it being porn and all — and is not to be read by readers who are under 18, or who do not want to read adult material. In addition, this story contains content that some people may find disturbing, including references to non-consensual sex. If you don’t like that sort of thing, please don’t read it.

But if you’re a sick fuck like me — enjoy!

Penitence as a Perpetual Motion Machine
by Greta Christina
(Originally published in Fishnet)

“I’m here to see Sister Catherine.”

“Yes. It’s nice to see you again, Mary. Please have a seat. Catherine has just finished up with another — visitor. Why don’t we take care of business now. She’ll be with you in a moment.”

Mary Elizabeth nods. She hands the woman behind the desk four hundred dollars in cash, and sits, keeping her coat on and her purse clutched in her lap. She tries not to look at the lobby: the garish red and black decor, the velveteen curtains tied back with steel chains, the worn spot on the black leather sofa. It makes it harder for her to think of this the way she needs to think of it. She sits, and stares at her knuckles gripping the handle of her purse, and waits.

“Mary Elizabeth. Please come in.”

Catherine has stepped into the lobby. She is dressed, as always for their meetings, in a modified modern habit: the knee-length gray dress, the heavy hose and sensible shoes, the small, unimposing wimple. She has carefully wiped all traces of makeup from her face.

She takes Mary Elizabeth by the hand, and leads her to the now-familiar room, the one fitted up like a schoolroom. An office or rectory would have been better, but this was the closest they had.

“Sit down, Mary. We have to have a difficult conversation.”

[Read more...]