In response to a recent Salon article that compared anti-obesity to homophobia, Jenn Leyva argues that her fatness and her sexuality can not be separated so easily.
Last week, Paul Campos wrote an article for Salon claiming “anti-obesity” is the new homophobia. Campos has been involved in fat politics since the Clinton-Lewinski scandal and has been making this specific argument for years. I appreciate the work Campos has done, and really appreciate how he positions himself as a public figure. Straight white male law professors with a bit of a gut don’t experience fat hate like I do, and Campos owns that. That said, I don’t like this argument.
I see why this is appealing. The first time I heard the argument I liked it. I felt that I understood fat hate better by putting it in context with homophobia. And there are ways in which the argument is useful. There are substantive and structural ways in which fatness and queerness are similar. In both cases, there is a medicalizaton and a pathologization of the body and behaviors. There are still doctors out there who “treat homosexuality” and we really don’t have to look very far to see how doctors stigmatize, pathologize, and I’d throw in abuse fat bodies. The lay public doesn’t understand radical body politics, but there is a general understanding of homophobia and a consensus that it’s bad.
But I think Campos is missing something huge (fat pun always intended). My fatness and my queerness can not be separated.
Let me explain. My fat female body is queered by my fatness. It’s both hyper feminized and completely defeminized. I have big boobs and short of a turtleneck, there is going to be cleavage. And I’ve got a substantial ass. I also have a belly and rolls and stretch marks and a double chin when I laugh. The “acceptable” fat parts of my body are the ones that feminize and sexualize me. The “unacceptable” fat parts are ones that defeminize and render me gross and revolting. My fatness also complicates my sexuality. If I walk into a straight bar, I’m more likely to be hit on as a joke than as an actual advance. My body makes me revolting and unworthy of a sexuality. And at the same time I’m a big fat slut. Any fat chick is rendered “easy” because she’s so ugly and disgusting that she’s always craving sexual attention. And a fat chick is also a lesbian because she’s so fat and ugly that no guy would want to be with her, so she’s left with women as partners. Never mind the fact that she could just be attracted to women. It’s a complicated set of paradoxes, and this is the Cliff’s Notes version.
I can’t compare fat hate to homophobia because fat is a part of my queerness. My adoption of a queer identity followed my adoption of radical body politics. I realized that my body is desirable, that I am desirable. I see now that I used to desexualize myself and my body because I thought I was unworthy and undeserving of pleasure, especially pleasure through my body. As I began to explore different forms of femininity, I noticed I was attracted to people of many different genders. (There are more than two genders. I’m particularly fond of femmes, dandies, and sissies, but I can’t deny a soft spot for butches.)
My answer to all of this is to choose to be proud of my fat body and queer sexuality. Yes, I know there is a growing body of research showing that bodies have set weights and that dieting is significantly more likely to make you fatter in the long run. There are scientists looking for a gay gene or some other biological indicator. (It’s worth noting that while the search appears to be on for a fat gene and a queer/gay gene, the same search isn’t quite so public for a thin/straight gene). Some people argue that their fatness and their queerness is intrinsic. I don’t. I could diet and I could sign myself up for weight loss surgery. I could spend my days going on dates with clean cut guys, asking about their family and planning my wedding (the goal of all heterosexual dating, right?). Despite the cruelty of the Internet telling me that I couldn’t possible have a boyfriend because I’m fat, I assure you that this is possible.
I could, but I choose not to. My fatness and my queerness are not failures. I don’t have to spend my time telling you why I’m not straight or thin or otherwise traditionally successful. I’m going to spend my time being fat, fancy, and sexy as all get up.
When Jenn Leyva was 16, her dad told her that he’d buy her a car if she lost weight. She cried, finished her calculus homework, and is now a New York-based fat activist and recent graduate of Columbia, where she studied biochemistry. She authors Fat, Smart, And Pretty, a fat blog about social justice, feminism, science, health, and fa(t)shion.
Photo of the author by the author.