Today is the anniversary of Heather MacAllister aka Reva Lucian’s passing. There is grief – and – this year I’d like to do something a little different with it.
I’ve been thinking about Heather a lot over the last year. It’s a conversation with her I had on a lunch date in 2005 which started me thinking about going back to school again, which reminds me how powerful a force she was for change and revolution — both in a big way and in small, personal ways in the lives of her friends. And, selfishly, there are specific conundrums I’ve faced as someone with a ‘big personality’ over the years (and lately as someone with a ‘big personality’ who is feeling quite timid and tempted to hide herself away) which I’ve wished that I could talk over with her. In a broader sense, I’ve also been quite sad that a new generation of rad fatties are coming up in the world without her voice. I’ve wondered what changes/shifts she’d have gone through, what epiphanies she’d have had that she might have shared with others. What her leadership would look like. What critiques she’d have added, what growth she’d have fostered. I feel her as a great loss, not just personally as a friend and confidant, but as an activist and a future elder.
I thought I’d share the major lesson(s) I learned from Heather over the years in celebration of her:
First and foremost, I’d be remiss not to point you to her own words. Her keynote from NOLOSE offers some brilliant insight into who she was. Re-reading it today, I see foreshadowing of some major shifts in NOLOSE itself since her passing. Always, she was ahead of her time. Most importantly, I want to challenge you to take the advice she so vehemently offers here and GET TO THE GYN. Go to the doctor for regular check-ups. Don’t let your fear of discrimination stop you from getting the healthcare you deserve. As Heather said: “They would rather see us dead so don’t let them win!”
Now, from my own observations, here is the most important lesson I learned from Heather:
To be a powerful woman is to be polarizing. There’s no way around this. To know what you want, why you want it, and to chase it with fierce determination is to be ripe for the projection of others. Surviving, especially thriving, amidst this takes a thick skin and a certainty of self that few are able to master. However, the flip side of this surety is that, while it may present outwardly as self-focus and while it may get you labeled a Diva, in actuality what this surety does is make room for an intense external focus.
By this I mean: if one isn’t constantly worried about how the self appears to others, or if one isn’t so concerned with what others think about the self that one is constantly on the defensive, the self can relax and *focus* on others instead. The self can weather critique (both productive and unproductive), even abuse, in a largely unruffled fashion, understanding that often the slings and arrows we throw at one another come from a place of our own wounding and not in reaction to some inherent, unfixable flaw inside the other. From this position, all we say and do become clues to the states of our own being and an other who is able to perceive this with compassion rather than defensiveness offers us the gift of loving insight. Heather had an ability to perceive others in a powerful way – such that she could spend an hour chatting with someone and then deliver a simple sentence that had the power to transform their lives in some small but memorable way. In the case of many, that transforming power was much larger. That is what her Diva-ness did for her, and for others. She not only took up space without apology, but she created space with warmth and a stern-but-loving maternality that required of others a challenge and critique of our own internalized oppression and an accountability for the way our movements in the world impacted others. She held space for flaw and imperfection, she let others be broken and loved. She had a passion for community and activism that, in some ways, transcended the individual (in ways that the individual sometimes found uncomfortable) in favor of the vision. It was not at all a comfortable role she held and the weight of it sometimes sunk her shoulders — but it never lasted long.
She was by no means perfect, but I’ve never known anyone like her and likely never will again. She was a one-off and I miss her all the time. And as the years go by and I grow and change, I come to appreciate what I learned from her all the more. Thinking of everyone who loved Heather today.