If I close my eyes, breathe deeply and extract myself from the corporeal world I can — just for a moment — imagine that I am eleven. I am a storybook kid from the sleepy white middle class: a sporty state gymnast who plays musical instruments, reads fantasy books and does well in the gifted class. I am unbelievably, unimaginably happy. It quickly becomes too painful to conjure as I imagine how adolescence would forever destroy that naive, trusting boy.
First, he realises that the bodies of other boys are far more interesting than they should be and learns that this must be concealed at all costs. Next, his own body starts to mature into that of a stocky, broad-shouldered six foot man; this ends his gymnastics career unceremoniously. He fails to perform acceptable masculinity in an all-male school and is relentlessly bullied; he learns to cope by sitting under a blanket alone and eating comfort food. He withdraws from trying in school or sport. He stops reading, maintains few friends, is deeply unhappy and blames himself.
In the three years I’ve been at university I have sought, with only partial success, to heal his wounds. I have become a fully realised homosexual who convenes the Queer Action Collective and does drag at Mardi Gras. I have surrounded myself with friends and family who offer me explicit, unconditional support. I have fallen back in love with words and with gymnastics, but not, as yet, myself.
Living in a body that is queer and plus size is a tremendous humiliation that is neither sufficiently discussed nor appreciated. Today, aged twenty, it is the greatest issue in my life. The queer community, especially the subset that grew up as men, amplifies social injustices prominently including fatphobia. Gay men are ten times more likely to have an eating disorder and report dissatisfaction with their bodies. In many senses, this is predictable: queer men are able to weaponise the male gaze against others and against themselves to punish overweight people more viciously than even cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.
The culture of body shaming amongst queer men is well known, as is its codification in terms like ‘twink’, ‘twunk’, ‘bear’ and ‘otter’. I have always felt alienated and marginalised by these terms, the betrayal by other queer people stinging more than the straight people I eventually learned to distrust. These casual labels are applied flexibly but usually with a common purpose – to punish and humiliate those outside of fatphobic masculine beauty norms. Sometimes I am a disgusting fat bear, other times I’m too feminine and I can quickly become an annoying twink who makes my whole personality about being gay. Either way I am undesirable.
In saying this, the world has improved drastically for some queer people in the last few decades. For some time now, a preoccupation of the gay rights movement has been assimilation with and ‘acceptance’ from heteronormative society. In this new social equation, thin cisgender gay men, the apex of intersectional privilege in the queer community, have easily been able to trade conventional attractiveness for the social currency of acceptance and validation. This development has been obvious in recent years as RuPaul’s Drag Race has exposed straight audiences to the narratives of marginalised queer people that play out in a culture that was pioneered by gender diverse people of colour. Despite this supposed progress in queer representation, a plus size queen has never won any of the show’s iterations, in which they are usually represented as untalented, bitchy or both. I am filled with terrible bitterness when someone points out this supposed ‘progress’ to me. This ‘progress’ has never made space for people with bodies like mine and has consistently pushed them down to uplift thin queer people.
Queer youth are usually told that in order to actualise themselves they must come out, perform pride in their identity and accept that they cannot change who they are. Fat youth are told the opposite: their bodies are the result of gluttony and are hence unacceptable. To win acceptance from society they must undergo rigorous physical changes in order to conform and be taken seriously. It is unimportant to fatphobes that this is virtually impossible, not to mention incredibly harmful. Medical consensus holds that the vast majority of dieters fail to maintain long term weight loss, that rapid weight loss and regain can be more unhealthy than remaining overweight and that moderate, slow weight loss can produce major health benefits.
Despite this obvious contradiction, queer fat youth are taught to be less ashamed of being queer and more ashamed of their weight. The most surprising thing to me is that many of the people who consider themselves politically woke and fluent in the language of university identity politics hold this belief. The same circles that have enshrined norms like pronoun rounds still regard gaining weight as a shameful admission couched in moralism about laziness. Radical left wing politics, at its best, is a subversive spotlight. Fatphobia, like homophobia, sexism and racism is an oppressive assumption that capitalism makes to sustain economic and social hierarchies; we must expose this and undermine it. Virtually no conversations are had about the political origins of fatphobia, among them colonialism and racism. This urgently needs to change. Fat bodies must be liberated and to do so we must identify, question and promote sedition against the colonial system of beauty in which we are engrained.
My laptop screensaver is a strange picture. It is a picture of my four year old self on my first day of school. I have a bucket hat on my head, a sparkly turtle tattoo on my cheek and a joyful smile from ear to ear. The best way you can tell it’s me is the big, kind eyes that have carried through with me to adulthood. You see, while my political diagnosis is resolute, I know that tomorrow I will still grimace at my fading adolescent stretch marks and pull at my shirt in the hopes those around me don’t realise that I am fat. I will still reflexively hate photos taken of me. I’ve saved this photo in the hopes that someday I can be that carefree again and see myself as inherently, naively beautiful.