I’m a huge fan of the gay pride movement, and how it became an equal rights movement. I even love the overtly-sexual pride parades. I also really love the feminist movement these days, with it’s smart attacks on subtle assumptions about sexism. I’m a supporter of these things in a selfish way…they will result in good things for me and everyone I know. I’m not a woman, and I’m married to a woman, so that might not make sense to some of you. And you might also be wondering if I’m going to be talking about swordfighting today or not.

This morning’s over-coffee interweb reading was a bit of a rarity in the world of martial arts, being an attempt at an actual journalistic approach to an issue. An actual attempt at a story, with implied press badges and everything. I’m a sucker for that. Ask me, the world needs more of that. The article, here, was the first part of a series on the extra challenges women face in mixed martial arts competition. I was a bit tempted to skip the article, expecting the usual sorts of fluff, but it was posted on the Invicta facebook feed, so I took a chance.

It turns out, with no real surprise, that some of the women who train like monsters and fight like beasts, who endure so much agony for a fleeting chance to test themselves in the ring…feel a bit frustrated that the media tends to focus on their looks. Fight your heart out against someone else doing the same, earn a W through luck and insane effort, and someone wants to jabber on about how hot you are? And then instead of asking you meaningful questions in an interview, treats you like a beauty contestant, waiting for you to give a “I just want world peace!” quote. Yeah, I can see that causing a bit of frustration.

Blood, sweat and tears poured into your life’s ambition, and all people seem to give a crap about is how you look. The ugly meme of it these days is that it’s okay if the recipient of the empty praise is a pretty woman. Or sometimes, just a woman with the rare grace to not be completely ugly. It’s a compliment, right? What’s the big deal?

You’re probably fat.

Most people are, in the demographic region that makes up most of the readers of this blog. And to be stupidly blunt, if you aren’t fat, you are probably tall, good-looking, naturally athletic, and never earned a bit of those benefits.

Being told you are fat stings. Being told you didn’t earn what you have stings.

It’s a rare fat person who really thinks of themselves as being fat. We are each the person we are inside. Fat people who dislike mirrors don’t do so because they hate the way they look, as much as they feel a powerful subconscious disconnect with how they feel they look, and what they see in the mirror.

What you see in the mirror, there is no way on earth, will not disappear before you step out the door to work. It’s not a bad choice in clothes. It doesn’t matter what you ate or did yesterday, or will do or eat tomorrow, you can’t just up and change your body today. And every single person who so much as glances at you will feel free to judge you based on that. But it’s not who you are inside. It’s not the you that you still feel like, the athletic teen who ran and played for hours, the you that you still think you will get back to being once you find the time.

Getting back to swordplay for a moment, you know who the hardest students to teach are? The tall ones. The ones really built for the art of rapier. The ones with the natural advantage. The ones who have had years and years of being commenting on their tallness. The one’s who’ve had every small victory they’ve ever achieved dismissed with a wave of the hand and comment on “of course they won, look how tall they are!” When I take on someone tall as a student, I take on the need to fix the damage caused by years of a tall person trying to shrink down to being a more normal person, of trying to cram their frame into a less admired height.

As fighters, we carry the weight of a lot of words and opinions into battle with us. When we go to war with our drills and exercises, when we battle against our teachers expectations, we are buoyed or crippled by the words of friends, families, co-workers and random strangers. Every blow bends and twists our bodies, latches a weight onto us that we have to overcome to move correctly.

As a teacher, I have to find a way to overcome all of that. I have to look past the skin, the clothes, the attitude, the language…I have to see into the bones that were meant to be, and grow the student out from those. The art of the sword demands nothing less than the most perfect a person can be. I’ve learned to look deep , and ignore what is visible…and in doing so I’ve learned to look at myself the same way. Eventually I’ve learned to try and see everyone around me in the same way. The world really is full of beautiful people. And most of them have been covered in other people’s crap.

So yes, I love that the pride parades challenge people to accept overt sexuality, because that means those parades are fighting for all of us. They are challenging us, not to live the drag lifestyle, but to open up and have a healthy relationship with our own “normal” sexuality. It’s a fight that we may not engage in or celebrate, but can benefit from because it alters our perceptions. It turns us away from looking at the outer form of a thing, and seeing the people underneath. When a gay man is just a man who prefers other men, and the “gay” label makes about as much sense as “serf” and “noble” do to our modern world? Everyone benefits. Labels are a limit, and a burden. They get in the way of communication and understanding.

Modern feminism, having already hit the “big” questions like voting, education and work, is now hitting on the deeper questions of assumptions. The new ugliness isn’t in policies, but in opinions. The rot has sunk into comments and forums, where men argue for the right to label a woman on her looks. There is a terrible sadness in hearing people try to claim one last fleeting attempt at feeling righteous in bigotry. Racism has been stolen from them, and now sexism? How is this fair? How can there be humour without the easy labeling that assumption affords? How can anyone make it through life without conveniently profiling everything into neat little slots?

It sucks when you can’t be lazy anymore, when you actually have to understand the person you are talking to, when you have to put the work into actually seeing them for who they might really be. Maybe that’s why I like martial arts, and martial artists so much…we all work at trying to see the truth under our opponents lies, and it gives us the tools the see the people around us in a new light. Not everyone chooses to use those tools, but at least they have some practice with them.

At the least, it gives me the hope that when I am amongst a group of martial artists, they might see past my ragged beard, my scars, my old and worn clothes, my wrinkles and my weight. I’m always more comfortable with people that might really see me, people that might talk to me and not the shell that they have built around me. I might as well be a swimsuit model to everyone else. Just another shell.