Monday, February 26, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
SAN FRANCISCO/Friends mourn Fat Bottom Revue creator/Pagan march, service
for performer, activist who ‘didn’t see differences’
Delfin Vigil, Chronicle Staff Writer
Nearly 150 people attended a memorial service and procession Sunday
for Heather MacAllister, the “Reva Lucionary” San Francisco underground
goddess and creator of the Fat Bottom Revue burlesque act.
Many were able to attend the funeral only because MacAllister helped
them avoid theirs. On what would have been MacAllister’s 38th birthday, members of the
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community gathered to say goodbye to
the performer and activist who ended her life Feb. 13 in Portland, Ore.,
through assisted suicide after a battle with ovarian cancer.
“Heather literally saved so many of their lives. She helped people
who were suicidal and felt worthless and showed them for the first time that
they could be powerful and sexy, even if they were fat,” said Cholla,
the officiating priestess for Sunday afternoon’s ceremony, which included a
procession to El Rio bar led by a woman playing bagpipes.
Cholla wore a black robe and wielded a ceremonial knife to cut a
passage in the air to help send off MacAllister’s spirit. Like many in
the crowd, the priestess went by one name only.
It was a misty afternoon at Precita Park in the Mission District when
the elaborate pagan ceremony began with songs and words of tribute to the
performer’s activist work. An enlarged photo of MacAllister was placed
against a tree.
“We waited for Heather to change the world. We cannot wait any longer.
Go out and change the world,” Cholla said to the grieving crowd, nearly all
of whom described themselves as fat.
“It’s not obese — that’s a diagnosis. It’s not heavy. It’s not
overweight. It’s fat, and Heather helped reclaim the word ‘fat,’ ” said
Deva, a 46-year-old San Francisco woman who helped direct traffic as the
procession slowly made its way along Precita Street to the neighborhood
bar on Mission Street.
MacAllister, a Michigan native, moved to San Francisco in 2005 to
create the Big Burlesque and Fat Bottom Revue, featuring and celebrating large
women. The revue not only received critical acclaim but also had a
profound effect on her audience, according to Julia Caplan, an Oakland
woman who came to pay her respects.
“She was a beautiful, brilliant and bold visionary who was courageous
enough to fight for people who don’t have many allies,” Caplan said.
At El Rio, the mourners signed farewell cards to MacAllister and
shared stories of captivating first impressions. In the patio area, people took
turns bowing their heads at her memorial altar. Holding back tears, Anderson Toone, a 48-year-old drag king, paid his final respects.
“What made Heather such a special activist is that she didn’t see
differences in people,” said Toone. “She saw connections between them.”
E-mail Delfin Vigil at email@example.com.
Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle
I just received this in my inbox:
“It’s official, Kathy and I were able to obtain a formal Proclamation from
the Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, declaring Sunday, February 25,
2007, to be Heather MacAllister Day in San Francisco.
Oh, how Heather would have loved it. Can’t you just see her “strutting
her stuff,” while complaining that she still couldn’t afford to live in San
She is honored for being a strong advocate for the transgender population
and for the rights of fat people, for being the founder and artistic
director of Big Burlessque and Fat Bottom Revue, “the first burlesque act
exclusively featuring large-sized* performers”, for helping inspire the passage of
San Francisco’s anti-size discrimination law, for helping coordinate a summit
to bring Muslim and gay rights organizations as a symbol of solidarity
against the civil rights offenses that occurred after 9/11, and being a member of
Al-Fatiha, the nation’s only national organization for sexual minority
Muslims, and of NOLOSE, an organization for human rights and culture for fat lesbians
and transgender people, and to honor this inspiring community leader and
performer who passed away at age 38 on February 13, 2007, after a 3 year battle with
For folks who don’t know this tidbit, I work in a sorta healthcare facility generally helping folks who have active addicts, desperate poverty and/or nasty mental health issues.
I spend a lot of time in doctors’ offices, clinics and labs.
So, imagine my flurry of emotions when, for work, I had to take one of our clients to the Women’s Clinic at the local hospital. The clinic where I went when I had to meet my surgical oncologist for the first time. The next time I met him, we were all in those blue gowns and all of us had stupid bandana type things on our heads. Errr, the rest of it is kind of a blur for me, but you could ask the good doctor about it, he may still remember. Though probably not. I expect he has tossed quite a few scalpels in the sharps container in the last couple of years and my innards may or may not ring any bells for him.
Still, there I am, in his office, but not there to see him.
The receptionist called the name of the client I had brought and she trotted off to see her doctor. And I sat there for about a half hour.
I looked at the enormous number of files they had behind the counter and wondered if one of them was mine.
My surgeon wasn’t a terribly chatty guy, but I am fine with that.
In my flood of emotions, one of the things going through my overworked brain was that I’d like to see him again. Shake his hand and say thanks. Thanks for staying two and an half hours for a surgery that was only supposed to take 45 minutes. Thanks for staying late on a Friday afternoon, when I am sure you had some sweet young thing waiting for you on your sail boat down at the harbour. Thanks for explaining all that bad stuff to Elaine, and for writing it down and drawing little diagrams that I still find floating around the house from time to time.
Thanks for doing however many extra years of training it took to become a surgical gynecological oncologist. Thanks for being one of only 5 in my city. Thanks for apologizing when my incision got infected. I really don’t think it was your fault, I blame the rat-bag government who had just got the cleaning staff’s wages by 15% that very week.Besides, it seems to delight more than a few people that I now have 2 belly-buttons.
I work in a crazy ass job where I get burnt out, don’t get enough support, sometimes people throw things at me, sometimes it’s worse than that.
I do that because I really do believe that what we do with our lives is important and trying to help folks who are having a harder time than you is really what it’s all about.
Thank you for deciding to help other people.
What we do, sure, it’s really different, but it’s really the same.
I just, you know, don’t have a boat.
Another one of my OVCA cancer buddies died this week.
That fact fills me with so many emotions, I find it hard to say anything at all or to know where to begin. But I have heard the beginning is a good place to start, so let’s let the unfolding of time be the determining factor in how this story gets told.
When I got diagnosed in May of 2004, a friend of mine said she had a friend in San Francisco who also had some sort of gynie cancer and we could talk/swap e-mails/morbid support if I wanted. And that’s how I came to be cancer buddies with Heather McAllister.
She had been diagnosed 3 or 4 months before me and so was a good resource and mentor for me when I was right there at the starting line, terrified of what to expect. It was really important to me to be able to talk to someone who had done the procedures I was about to endure. Cancer patients/survivors get their love and support from their friends and loved ones, but the support one can get from a fellow patient/survivor is precious in its own way.
When I had bad side effects, and couldn’t sleep for days, Heather told me what drugs she had been given and what worked for her. That made a huge difference because sometimes information passes more quickly on the ground, among us in the silly blue gowns, than it does higher up, among the white lab coat set.
My chemo brought my CA 125 count down.
Heather’s first chemo didn’t take as well and she had to go back.
About a month ago, I got an e-mail saying she had decided to stop chemo, and that with that decision, the doctor’s thought she had 3 to 6 months to live.
On Monday of this week, I found out that she had arrange for an assisted suicide for the following day. By mid-Tuesday afternoon, I was receiving e-mails saying that Heather had taken the treatment and her fight was over and folks wished her well on the other side.
For me, it’s all so sad and strange.
We were cancer peers in many ways.
Diagnosed around the same time with the same stage of the same cancer.
I am sad, very sad that she died and profoundly aware of how easily that could have been me. I guess it’s a bit like having been in the trenches with someone.
Heather was a Fat/Social Justice Activist and the founder of the Fat Bottom Revue, a burlesque troupe full of really hot fat grrrls.
The thing Heather wanted to say, that message she wanted to leave us with, is that we should love our bodies, just like they are and appreciate all they do for us, and that we should love each other.
How about we all try that? How about that for a post-Valentine’s Day idea?