Fat, Black people with bodies like mine are ignored, fetishised or an unfortunate burden.
By Mary Brighton
I write this piece as someone who easily (and painfully) passes for cis, as a transmisogyny exempt nonbinary person. I write as someone who is neither very fat nor very dark-skinned, but is often the fattest/darkest person in the room. I write as an able-bodied person, as a naturalised British citizen and native English speaker. I write as someone who grew up in a decidedly middle-class home. These privileges, and doubtless many others that I have not considered, will inevitably shape my experiences.
I was a devout and traditional Catholic until my late teens, with many of the sexual attitudes that would suggest. Therefore, my early sexual imagination was shaped less by porn than by TV shows and advertising. It was formed in the extrapolation from the fade to black in a 12A rated film, or the racy scenes in YA fantasy novels.
Long before sex itself interested me, I knew what sexy looked like. I knew this just as surely as I knew that unremarkable brunette white boys are destined for greatness or being liked meant having no emotional boundaries. I knew that people like me, the fat Black people with bodies like mine, were either ignored, fetishised or an unfortunate burden taken on out of pity or desperation.
So, when my erotic fantasies featured thinner versions of myself with curly hair, lighter skin and light eyes, I was not surprised. Sexual fantasy mandates desire, and it was self-evident that my body is not one worthy of being desired. Later, when fantasising about these variations of myself triggered deep self loathing and little else, the obvious solution was to just stop imagining myself altogether. I simply replaced this unwieldy body and broken mind with someone else, someone thinner, lighter, cis. Every perfume advert, every TV drama, every romance novel I consume gives me another beautiful skin to put on, another way to peel off my own.
I know this is unhealthy. I know that living in a sexual Sunken Place relegates me to little more than a passenger in my head. I know, with the bone deep knowing of trauma mingled with self-awareness, that this feeds the depression, the anxiety, the dissociation, the self-hatred that colours everything I do. But I find myself with no other way to engage with my sexual self. My favourite books to read now are romance and erotica. But fat erotica, especially fat Black erotica, is too painful. I am barely able to read about Black nonbinary people having sex; their thinness (or socially acceptable thickness) makes it comprehensible.
I can comprehend chubby/curvy white women being desired and pursued. But someone like me, with breasts and skin and a stomach like mine, being at the centre of someone’s sexual fantasy is beyond me. Its confusing and alien, even triggering. In my mind, it is too close to the chubby chasers, the people on sexual safari, or worse, someone settling because I’m available and they’re desperate.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there’s fat Black erotica out there. I’m glad that fat Black people are carving out a space, however small, where they can centre their sexual selves. Fat Black people are desirable and desired, and deserve fictions that reflect their sexiest fantasies and hottest realities. It’s just that, at this point in my healing, I cannot bring my fatness with me when I masturbate and come away unscathed.
I hope one day I’ll be able to enjoy myself and my body as it is. Maybe one day I’ll be able to engage with these narratives and not recoil as a word, phrase or description triggers an anxiety attack. Perhaps one day I’ll come down from an orgasm, get up to clean my vibrator, and not be disappointed that the face in the mirror still has dark eyes and a double chin. I pray that one day the shock of reality won’t make me want to cry. I am determined that one day I’ll be able to wake up next to my partner and not wonder if they’re just settling for me.
Until then, I’ll wash my vibrator the morning after and disappear into my imagination whenever reality becomes overwhelming. It’s not healthy, but for now it’s all I’ve got.
Author Bio: Mary Brighton is a fat black agender femme in their mid-20s. They love romance novels, fashion and writing slightly off kilter poetry. Perhaps one day they’ll have the time and energy to become a “proper writer” (whatever that means) but until then, the odd poem and occasional essay will have to do.