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Queer Performance Artist and Fat Activist Heather MacAllister Dies at 38
Obituary of Artistic Director of Big Burlesque and Fat Bottom Revue, anti racism and trans advocate, Heather Macallister
Heather MacAllister died February 13 in Portland Oregon as a result of
Ovarian Cancer. She was 38 years old.
That's how the Times Obituary begins. I didn't know Heather well. But I know some of the women and trans folx who knew her and who loved her and who I bet are crying their fucking hearts out right now. So I am taking the time to post this here. Because sometimes it takes the one who has the driest eye to write it.
Heather was a fucking sexy fat wicked smart intense and funny fierce femme. SHe was sexy and knew it. She worked it. She shared it. She delighted in it and glorified it in it. She made her body at once both sacred and profane- the way many women who work in the sex trades do and when you are fat and do this you are, let's not kid ourselves for a second- full of a kind of chutzpah that is remarkable. She was making a revolution that Emma would have delighted to dance at and perhaps might have gone on stage , in all her anarchist glory to shake a booty with- Heather made for that kind of space in the world.
She did this with a consciousness that connected the struggles of trans people with fat people with people with disabilities as people who were challenging system of normalcy. She did it with style and she laughed as she did it.
She was loved by many and friends and allies across movements. Fat grrls and transboi and anti -racism activists across coasts and cities were linked by her work. I am thinking tonight of the people I care about who I know loved Heather. I am thinking that the world did not need another dead lesbian, who died far too young from cancer- another dead fierce, outrageous political femme.
Below are two writings- one written by Heather and friend as an obituary and another written by Justin Kolling after attending the Fat Bottom Mama's Benefat
Ms. MacAllister was the founder and artistic director of Big Burlesque
the Fat Bottom Revue, the first burlesque act exclusively featuring
large-sized performers. Tours included New York, San Francisco, Canada,
Los Angeles and various venues in the Midwest, east and west coasts.
Aside from her career in the performing arts, Ms. MacAllister had a
in Anthropology and worked for many non-profit groups such as Triangle
Foundation, Michigan's statewide civil rights organization for the gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. She also committed a
deal of time to anti-racism training.
Ms. MacAllister was also an advocate for the transgender population and
also for the rights of large-sized people. She helped to inspire the
anti-size discrimination law passed in San Francisco in June 2000. One
proudest achievements was to help coordinate a summit that included
mainstream conservative Muslim and Arab organizations at the same table
radical gay rights organizations in order to show and share common
in the civil rights offenses that occurred post 9/11. She also served
the board of Directors of Al-Fatiha, the nation's only national
for sexual minority Muslims.
In 2005 Leonard Nimoy photographed Ms. MacAllister and her dance troupe
for his exhibit "Maximum Beauty" which opened at the Bonni Benrubi
on 57th street in New York City.
http://www.leonardnimoyphotography.com/7body.htm (if you look at the
where they are clothed, Heather is on the right)
Ms. MacAllister is survived by her Grandmother Doris Simion and her two
sisters, Hope MacAllister and Holly Jones. Memorial services are taking
place in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, and Michigan.
Justin Kolling wrote after attending the Fat Bottom's Mama's Benefat
I found my community on Saturday night - Fat-Bottom Mama's Benefat
I went to have lunch with couple of friends, fellow transmen and genderqueer folks, and afterwards my pal asked me what I was up to for the night. I had no plans so he asked me to come with him to a benefit. It was for a person whose name I didn't recognize, but sometimes I'm embarassingly out of the loop on things.
The event turned out to be Fat-Bottom Mama’s Benefat for the Founder and Artistic Director of Big Burlesque and The Original Fat-Bottom Revue, Heather MacAllister. We met up with a few more of our friends on the way. A lesbian couple who just got pregnant and are so beautifully in love. A cute, brainy dyke who just moved here from the East Coast and is on a courageous journey of pursuing her dreams.
When we got there, we recognized so many friendly faces. The show itself was amazing. Spoken word, acapella, musical performances, comedy, vaudeville, striptease, lip syncing, story telling, dancing, performance art of all kinds done by beautiful people of all shapes, sizes, identities, backgrounds. All connected in one central point - knowing and loving and being a part of the community of Heather MacAllister. So many people were there, we overflowed into a second room with closed circuit TVs of the show. No one minded. No one complained. We were so well taken care of. Lady Monster, who (I believe) was the show's organizer, was the most gracious hostess one could ever ask for.
It wasn't just the impressive list performers that made the show so wonderful. Yes, there was Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, Carol Queen, Scarlot Harlot, Big Burlesque, Kitten on the Keys, Big Moves’ Phat Fly Girls – West Coast, Creamy Goodness, Jennifer Blowdryer, the Diamond Daggers, Kelly Beardsley, Kelli Dunham, Lori Selke, Marilyn Wann, Big Boys' Ink, TransFams, TransAms and appearances by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. That was amazing but that alone wasn't what made the night so magical. It wasn't even the performances themselves which were charming, beautiful, inspiring, moving, funny, educational, uplifting, innovative, soul-stirring. The most precious thing was the underlying feeling that swelled in the room, filled us up inside, and overflowed much like the crowd overflowed into the hallways and adjacent rooms.
It was community. Our community. The one we kept hearing about. It was real. We came together. The acronym was actually meaningful. The Ls and the Gs and the Bs and the Ts and more than that. And we weren't off in our own clicks not talking like high school. We weren't resenting one another for infringing on our space. We were smiling at one another and laughing and crying together and hugging and putting our money together to help Heather in her fight against cancer.
Everywhere I looked, I saw shining eyes and full hearts. I saw fears and judgments stripped away to reveal love and connection and cooperation. This is where I found my community, on Saturday night, packed into a room above Harrison Street in San Francisco. This is where I found a space big enough to hold us all.
The evening seemed to climb and crescendo and climax until the feeling was palpable in the room. Until we all looked as energized as we did exhausted by all that we had witnessed and been a part of.
And then Heather was invited to the stage and as she thanked us and expressed what the evening had meant to her, her tears became our tears and her gratitude became our gratitude. As she spoke, I felt that tingly feeling I get sometimes when I know a memory is being made. A memory I'll reflect back on over the rest of my life and tell stories about. I'll remember the time I went to the Fat-Bottom Mama’s Benefat for Heather MacAllister. I'll remember when she got up at the end and said, "I know it's hard for us all to take care of our bodies. It's especially hard with our medical care system being what it is, but please, please, *please* take care of your bodies. It is *so* important." And she went on to say, "I almost died six weeks ago. It is nothing short of a miracle that I stand here before you tonight, and it's because of you that I'm still here." (I'm paraphrasing from memory but this is what I remember her saying.)
As the evening wrapped up, we all milled about and embraced and talked about what we'd just seen. How important and hard it is for each of us with our lesbian bodies, gay bodies, trans bodies, fat bodies, differently abled bodies, bodies that don't look like the stereotypical image of so-called beauty, bodies that we've been taught to be ashamed of or that we have been taught must look a certain way... how important it is for us to learn to love the bodies we live in, and to truly occupy them, and to take good, good care of them.
Thank you Heather MacAllister for being so courageous and sharing your bright spirit with us. Thank you Lady Monster for organizing the show and being such a gracious hostess. Thank you to all the performers for putting your heart and soul into your art in order to support Heather in her fight against cancer. Thank you to all who worked on the show to make it such a success. Thank you to everyone who showed up and added your love and support to the event. Thank you to my community, for existing, for being everything I ever hoped you would be and more, for giving us all a place to come home to, to fit into, to feel accepted and embraced in. Thank you for being right where we all needed you. Let's not forget we can do this.
In the midst of our arguing and fear and debates about who belongs where or what it means if someone changes this or calls themselves that or has a body that looks like this or that, let's remember we can lay aside those differences long enough to come together and perform miracles.