Fat liberation for all! “Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives,” edited by Bruce Owens Grimm, Miguel M. Morales and Tiff Joshua TJ Ferentini, continues the work of the fat liberation movement and charts its current approaches.
I didn’t have a framework for thinking about race, fatphobia, gender and sexuality until I started learning about the fat liberation movement in my late teens and early ’20s, mostly through Tumblr.
On social media, I was able to see photos of fat queer and trans people; read essays, poems and blog posts by fat queer and trans people; and learn about a social movement that challenged the concepts of fatphobia, diet culture and the conflation of thinness with success. This exposure changed my life and the ways I thought about my body. I learned from fat liberation activists — who every day were told their bodies were a problem — that you could throw all that stigma and judgment back in the face of dominant straight society and claim your own glamour, beauty and power.
“Fat and Queer” includes 42 pieces by 33 writers. Poetry, personal essays, fiction and analysis are presented next to each other, with no divisions by theme or content. Some authors have more than one piece included in the book; pieces by the same author can be back to back but sometimes are spread throughout. This made the collection overall feel a little disjointed to me. However, I appreciated the sprawling, abundant style and the informal and conversational tone.
The collection features many pieces by writers of color about navigating racism as fat people. Including many writers of color was intentional; editor Miguel M. Morales writes, “I especially wanted to hold space … for fat and queer and fat and trans BIPOC to stand in their shades of melanin, their ethnicities, their immigration status, and their other intersectional identities.”
Another major current is the experience of children growing up with parents or caregivers who abusively pressured them to be straight and thin. Three writers, Leah Propp, Edward Kelsey Moore and Tiff Joshua TJ Ferentini, write about being brought to Weight Watchers when they were as young as, in Ferentini’s case, 10. Ferentini remembers, “I felt as if I was in Alcoholics Anonymous for fat people that it was bad enough I needed … to feel ashamed for not only being in a fat body, but for being a child who loved sweets.”
The recurring thread of parents bringing their children to Weight Watchers reminded me of straight parents sending their children to conversion therapy and how young people aren’t granted autonomy or consent over their bodies and identities. Too often, young people in our society are told there’s something wrong with them and forced into abusive “treatment” to “fix” their problems. “Fat and Queer” lifts up the need to support queer youth and fat youth and young people’s self-determination.
One of the most memorable pieces for me in the book was “A Fat Lot of Good That Did: How an Art Studio Transformed My Eyes” by Jerome Stuart. Stuart is a visual artist whose essay details the impact renting a private art studio had on his relationship with his body and sexuality. The author explores learning to photograph himself in the studio. He takes naked pictures of himself for the first time and sends them to other men. He also writes about dancing around in his studio and wearing sexy clothes that make him feel good. Pleasure is central to his essay, and the writing is extremely personal and vulnerable — one of the strengths of the anthology as a whole.
Speaking of pleasure, there’re a lot of sexy, erotic experiences related in the anthology. The poem “Cantaloupe season” by LJ Sitler opens, “My lover—/ They say they love to watch me eat,” and continues with lines such as “I am not fat solely/ because of my joy in eating.”
The book also includes essays by authors who identify as gainers, a term for queer men who derive sexual pleasure from the erotic acts of eating and growing larger. “Dropping Fictions and Gaining Visibility” by Bruce Owens Grimm and “Large and In Charge” by Fletcher Cullinane explore the authors’ relationships with gaining, dating other men and constructing a positive self-image. Grimm writes, “I want the world to see how fat I am. I do not want to be a secret.” In Cullinane’s essay, he describes his forays into online dating and finding community with other gainers and encouragers. These pieces provocatively challenge the ideas that being fat is a tragedy instead of sexy and inevitable instead of a choice.
The anthology highlights the power in deciding we deserve to take up space and to ask for what we want. In the piece by Moore, “Lessons Learned and Unlearned,” he writes about eventually realizing that people’s comments about his body and weight were all attempts to make him smaller: “[T]hey are saying that I should be less successful, less gay, less black, less smart.” But Moore rejects the idea that the problem is with him; instead, he writes, “I have learned that whatever amount of space I take up, I have the right to occupy.”
Queer and trans people are commonly told to hide ourselves, to not flaunt our differences, to try to blend in — and even more so for queer and trans people who are also fat. It’s powerful and striking that many writers in this book have managed to reject the pressure to shrink themselves.
“Fat and Queer” is an important new collection, with voices speaking to gender, sexuality, race and fatness in ways that are vulnerable, surprising and affecting. The book is a valuable reading experience for anyone who has ever felt that their body makes them different or even wondered what it’s like to have a body that’s considered “different.” The anthology invites us to come vulnerably and joyfully into a fatter, queerer world where our entire selves can be treasured and celebrated.
Jed Walsh is a writer living on occupied Duwamish land. Find him on Twitter @jedwalsh0.
Read more of the Jan. 12-18, 2022 issue.