Sunday, August 21, 2011

Are queers mainstreaming fat phobia?

My mom came out of the closet as a lesbian when I was 13.  And with this, I became immersed in her cool new lesbian world.  It was a pretty awesome world, it seemed to me as a teenager.  Her friends were all hip, and they went dancing and drinking.  And sometimes I got to go hang out and dance at the local dyke bar with them, because my mama was cool like that.  And it seemed to me then, and also now in retrospect, that there was a welcoming of women of all shapes and sizes.  Fat women were everywhere, shaking their gorgeous big booties on the dance floor.  Fat women partnered with other fat women, with skinny women, with in-between women.  I remember it so clearly because I was a teenagers, struggling with my own body size, and being there, with my mama's friends, gave me hope that maybe someone might someday find me beautiful and loveable and sexy too.  (Though granted, at the time, I was thinking about (bio) boys still, which felt like more of a longshot, but I digress).And evenings where I sat quietly at the table listening to their conversations and stories, I don't remember a single one which revolved around moaning about fat thighs or diet woes.  Granted, I'm probably looking back with some pretty rsoe-coloured glasses.  But I really feel like the lesbian scene, or that one at the very least, was a fat-friendly (fat-loving even) place to be.

But when I came into the queer scene on my own, years later, things seemed pretty different.  Sure there were fat lesbians at the bar (me, say?)  But fat hating rhetoric was everywhere.  And I felt just as ugly,just as undesirable, just as invisible there as I did in the straight world.  Then later on, when I came into my queer identity as a femme, I felt fat-phobia even more acutely.  Butches, it seemed to me, were (are) more acceptable and more desirable as fat people than femmes were (are).  I'm not alone in this observation.  Zoe Whittall and Suzy Malik write about the very same thing in "Fat is a Femme-inine Issue," where they write: "[b]eing a fat femme at a dyke bar sometimes makes me feel like a straight girl at a perpetually bad prom" (142).  Um, yeah.  What they said.  Of course fat phobia affects everyone.  Straights, gays, bio and non-bio gender identities, butches, femmes.  But there is a very gendered nature to fat-phobia which seems to  throw itself very differently at people on different ends of the masculine/feminine spectrum.  Whitall and Malik feel the same way, sharing:
The tall skinny butches get to be 'boys.'  They look 15, they act 15, sometimes they fuck 15.  The big butches get to be 'daddies' the steady sturdy sexy symbols of masculine power.   Go through your high-femme social rolodex.  Who are they?  Probably tall, skinny, with some tatoos and a snap to her strut.  She's sex on wheels.  She's power.  She's who I want to be when I throw up my dinner (142).
Ouch.  And yes.  And ouch. (and, um, yes.)  Now, I guess I need to be clear here that I don't have a lot of experience in the gay boy community (back them or now really) and as such, I can't speak to any differences which may have occurred around fat positivity.  I am quite certain from speaking to friends who do have current experience in said community, that for the most part, it isn't highly fat positive (to put it mildly).

Regardless of how the gender lines fall in the queer community, it is crystal clear to me that what one (may have) been a bit of a haven for body positivity (and difference positivity in general) is no longer that haven.  And it seems so terribly sad to me that a commnity which is essentially built on the fact that its members are subject to oppression based on their sexual (and/or gender) otherness would lose its ability to act as spaces which are inclusive of all kinds of other difference(s). 

I often feel defensive when accused of being a 'mainstream' queer because I chose to make babies.  (Actually, defensive is probably a bit of an understatement.  It makes me want to punch people in the nose.  But I'm all bad like that).  I wonder how many of the folks that would call me 'mainstream' make fat jokes, date fat hot chicks/boys, or take fat phobia (and other forms of oppression) to task when they see it in their communities?

'Cause those attitudes... I gotta say, they're pretty fucking mainstream.


  1. Interesting someone who came out in the early '80's I would have to agree about the increasing fat-phobia. But then, if I put on my old school hat (which I try to do only occasionally!), I would also say that one of the refreshing things about being a dyke in those days is that no one talked about clothes, or shoes, or high fashion either - a huge relief from the pressure to wear make-up just so, have the right flippy hair and the sexiest one question might be, has high femme-ness taken on just another aspect of what some of us have rejected as a defining characteristic of the feminine. I'm sure those in feminist/queer theory have it all worked out the distinction, but it doesn't always feel different if you are the one that wear birks and baggy jeans...just a thought...

  2. Hhmmmmm. I think you and I are talking apples and oranges here. Yup - I'm a girly girl. I'm a girly girl who finds all kinds of girls hot, mostly those who don't, in fact, look like femme-y like me. I wouldn't ever say that all queer girls should be femme, and are somehow less beautiful or okay if they are not femme, and I don't know any other person who would, either. Fat phobia is an all-encompassing hatred against people, the belief that beauty can only look one way. If you read my blog very often, I think you'll find that my beliefs about femininity are a bit more complex than putting on a dress, wearing make-up and flipping my hair.

  3. (although I do really like those things :)

    Mama t.

  4. I in no way meant to question your expression of the feminine, as either simplistic or incorrect (it is not the choice that was problematic, but the pressure to make certain choices). and indeed, as I reread your post and response, in most ways I agree these are apples and oranges - thanks for checking my gut reaction ...but another thought struck me.... one could consider that there was a time when bucking the dress code could/would result in a similar exclusion, hatred, etc. But, and this comment is in light of my agreement that they are apples and oranges, if you consider that in only 20 or 30 years, there has been a change in the perception of the dress code, perhaps we will see such a change in the perception of body size. A hope perhaps we can both agree on. Thanks for taking the time to respond, and I trust you will let me know if you think I got that wrong. For the record, I do read your blog, enjoy it, and enjoy being challenged!

  5. Thanks anonymous - I actually like being challenged too (most of the time ;), and I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    Mama T

  6. I am constantly disappointed by the amount of people within the gay community discriminating in different ways against their own community. It is not the same, but I have often heard people (lesbians) express distaste when they see two men kissing. And I think - is there not enough hate for us out there already? Why the division?

    I think the same thing extends to the fat-phobia and the dress code issue as expressed above. I feel like we should as a community be a little bit above all that, but unfortunately, queers are still human with all the human fallacies attached. And I think it is more of a statement on society in general - the whole fat phobia that society has, which drives me crazy (and I do not consider myself fat, but think it's INSANE the pressure society is putting on all women and girls to reach THEIR ideal of perfection) Love yourself, and carry yourself with confidence, and I will think you are sexy. Regardless of size.