Credit given where it’s due, this post came about in large part because of a thought process kick-started by a Twitter conversation I had with Fatheffalump a while back. She has a blog and you should probably already be reading it.
Ragen over at Dances With Fat made a post on her blog discussing the importance of Harvey Milk and his actions as an openly gay politician in shaping her approach to spreading the word about fat acceptance. The following quote stood out to me in particular:
You deserve to be treated well right now, whether or not you are trying to conform to the cultural stereotype of beauty. You deserve respect, and you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Right now. In the body in which you currently reside.
The reason that this post – and this quote in particular – really stands out to me, is two-fold. Firstly, while it might seem obvious to say this, I think that our (cultural) understanding of bodies plays an extremely important role in the denigration of fat; and secondly, I think that fatness and queerness actually have a lot more in common than we might first think.
There isn’t one particular way that we think about bodies. Gender, race, age, disability and class are just a few of the many factors that shape our expectations and assumptions about how bodies will look and/or function. However, a lot of the ideas that we have about bodies revolve around notions of bodily integrity and control (particularly around whether we have these things or not). The bodies of youthful, white, middle- to upper-class, heterosexual men are often held up, whether intentionally or not, as examples of the universal, unmarked ideal of humanity – that is, they’re the standard against which all other bodies are (seemingly inevitably) compared.
Against the standard of this type of body, female bodies are considered more permeable (they bleed, they are penetrated, they give birth) and more beholden to the whims of their biology (hormones, for example); the bodies of other racial groups are less civilised/more animalistic (black men are deemed more dangerous and aggressive), inferior (Asian men are assumed to have smaller penises), or exotic (black women are more sexualised, Asian women are smaller and more docile); aged bodies are assumed to be less capable of both fulfilling their roles and providing happiness; we focus on disability rather than ability; the poor are less healthy and able to look after themselves, so on and so forth. All of these are examples of the stereotypes that immediately position anyone who is not youthful, white, middle- to upper-class, heterosexual and male as an Other.
Enter the fat. As the stereotypes go, they are unable to control themselves and eat to excess; they destroy the integrity of their bodies by stretching them outward, creating unsightly lumps, bumps and ripples of flesh. They take up space and demand attention of their own.
Enter the queer. Again, going by the stereotypes, they’re unable to control themselves and go against the natural order of things; they destroy the integrity of their bodies by opening them up to new uses, making the should-be-impermeable into the actually-quite-permeable – and, in the case of the same-sex attracted male in particular, penetrable. They claim the space of their bodies as their own, put their bodies to their own uses and demand that the normative nature of heterosexuality be brought into question.
If there’s a sense of the grotesque coming through in these descriptions, it’s not because I feel that way. Rather, it’s because I think that both fat and queer bodies are seen as dangerous and frightening by those who seek to maintain the youthful, white, middle- to upper-class, heterosexual and male body (which I’ll henceforth refer to as heteronormative bodies) as the ideal.