A "Big, Fat Parade" Could Expand Livable Space for All of Us
In the 1990s when I was producing a print 'zine called FAT!SO?, a friend and contributor who provided brilliant stories that got reprinted in cool places like the Utne Reader always wanted her bio say, "Betty Rose Dudley is a fat, working-class dyke from Missouri."
Mark Richards Marilyn Wann
I'm thinking about Betty a lot because she died last week. Betty lived in a state of something called "intersectionality" (a fabulous term developed by African-American feminists). It's about claiming all aspects of oneself. In the Bay Area, people who made fat pride community were also making feminist, queer, and disability rights communities. Betty lived at that intersection. In claiming all of herself, she was gently, determinedly loving and activist as a result. It's a kind of activism that I imagine expands livable space for all of us, whatever our mix of differences. I'm so grateful for all I've learned from Betty and from local fat/queer community.
As Queer Pride weekend wound down recently, rad fatty Max Airborne (a founder of the Fat Girl 'zine collective) posted online, "First there was the pride march, then the dyke march, then the trans march. I wonder what march will evolve next for our communities?"
I vote for a big, fat parade for all of us! As a fat activist, I want people of all body types to waddle with me. A big, fat parade is also a sex-worker parade and an antiracism parade and a parade for gender diversity and a parade with people of different abilities and mobilities and a queer march and an all-ages parade, and more. Because that's who we are.
Instead of making long lists of outsider groups who deserve long-overdue welcome and then debating who's deserving and who isn't, what if we were all welcome all the time?
We learn about ourselves piecemeal, but we live one life in one body. We need to be all of the things we are, all of the time. That's how pride intersects with freedom. If you can't be at home in your own body, where are you supposed to go?
There's a chance to take on these questions and to practice intersectionality this weekend at a conference in Oakland created by the awesome fat/queer group called Nolose. The conference is called the Bridge to Fatlandia: Exploring Citizenship While Bravely Building Fat Pride Community.
I'll be there to continue learning what I can do. As a fat activist, I often want to say, "But I'm healthy! Look, I eat my veggies and exercise." While it's fun to flout stereotypes, social justice is unacceptably precarious if it depends on good behavior, or on access to other flavors of unearned privilege. For example, gaining respect for fat people who happen to be rich or healthy or white or able-bodied at the expense of other fat people is just more yuck, not yum. Human rights should be based on the fact that we're all here, not on some begrudging notion that some of us should or would change if we could.
Right now, weight bias mixes dangerously with racism, sexism, homophobia, class, and disability. A recent study found that thin women earn $22,000 more per year than average-weight women, with $15,000 of that advantage going only to the "very thin" women. Fat people who seek gender reassignment surgery are sometimes pressured to undergo stomach amputation (aka gastric bypass) because surgeons want their "after" photos to look "good." People of color tend to weigh more than the average population, too, so weight discrimination in the workplace provides another avenue for racism.
I appreciate that it's daunting to celebrate your body when the advertising industry, much of the mainstream news media, governments, employers, doctors, family members, and schoolyard bullies all decry weight diversity and call for a conformist paradise.
One of my heroes, Jonny Newsome, started a group called And Castro for All to confront racism and other forms of oppression in the queer community. He says, "The freedom bus doesn't leave until everyone gets on."
The big, fat parade heads to that bus.