Ask Ashleigh: Dating Someone Thinner
Every time I leave the house with my thin, masculine Black partner, I get looks when we display or perform acts of affection/”couple shit” in public. When he kisses me in the aisle of the grocery store, I I get glares. Most would assume that it has to do with just being gushy/openly affectionate in public, but it’s more than that.
The interrogation around love and sex we are given as fat folks, specifically fat femmes of color/Black fat femmes, is inherent to our experiences navigating relationships. Rather than just hating us, it’s very clear that there is a deep voyeuristic nature of questioning, exploring and pontificating around why anyone would want to fuck us, let alone love us. Having a partner who is thinner than me is very political in the sense that people wonder why my partner would ever be with me, why he would ever fuck me, how he could ever like having sex with me, what’s so special about the sex with me that would make him stay or why he would be okay with showing me off in public. It all boils down to: Why is this Black fat bitch worthy of anything?
Black fat femmes/fat femmes of color are often denied sexual agency and sexualization. People have asked me, “How do fat people have sex?” or “How could anyone want to fuck you?” as a way of reaffirming that fat people are enigmas and have plummeting stock in erotic capital because we’re too ugly to fuck and too ugly to love. There are no healthy representations of fat sex in media that would normalize the fact that fat people have been fucking and loving. Because of this, our sexuality remains a question in the minds of fatphobic voyeurs (read: everyone who ponders or gazes upon fat bodies of color); they’re intrigued by our “disgusting” bodies and fascinated by our ability to find any sort of happiness involving the touch and affection of another person.
This happiness that is so often denied to fat folks of color — specifically fat femmes of color — is inherently a conundrum to the world around us. How could we ever be happy being fat, femme and of color in a world so strategically designed for us to fail, drown in sadness, be shamed, be denied protection and go unloved?
When my partner and I live our lives in public spaces, we are stared at together because no one understands why he would choose me when there are so many other people who deserve love before me. No one understands what’s special enough about me to offset the ugliness of my existence. It becomes a violent situation for both of us: my partner is seen as a size/erotic traitor for not choosing a partner who’s thin and attractive like him. Meanwhile, I’m seen as taking away from everyone else’s happiness because I exist and happen to have a thin, masculine significant other.
I find it very difficult to navigate life with a thin partner during periods when I feel hyper-aware of my body, the world’s hatred for my body and the people staring at me when we hold hands. It reminds me that even if my happiness doesn’t conflict with theirs, people will still question why I have access to happiness at all. That’s a deep cognitive and political violence that truly frightens me.
But my partner is great in these moments — he goes out of his way to clapback at people when he catches them staring or making comments about me/us. He fights for me in those moments and that’s very important to my own wellbeing. I don’t want to deal with violence alone if I don’t have to. He really does hold so much space for my humanity, vulnerability and right to take up space and demand respect wherever I go.
In the same regard, having a thinner partner is similar to when I was dating a white partner. I had more social capital because a thinner, masculine person wants me/fucks me/loves me, and that seemingly affirms that I’m worthy to the world around me. It’s an illusion of power in a sense, but still a sense of power to those who see me. In so many ways as fat femmes of color, especially Black fat femmes, our worthiness is always linked to the men or masculine folks who claim us or love us. And that applies when it comes to erotic and sexual capital. Because if I was dating someone who was also fat, and maybe not masculine, it would be a very different situation in terms of the levels of explicit violence interrogation we would receive.
There’s mad layers to how erotic capital works, especially within the context of the experiences of fat femmes of color and Black fat femmes. This complicates how we navigate our relationships and how our relationships are perceived by outsiders.
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