I want other fat, Black women to feel like they don’t have to settle as many of us are taught to. I want dignity during my dicking, quality in my quivering, and consideration in my cumming.
This essay contains mention of sexual assault
By Ashleigh Nicole Tribble
“When I get a boyfriend, I’m going to wait three months and then I’m going to let him take my virginity. I’m going to be the best girlfriend ever because I’m not going to complain, I’m not going to fight and I’ll do everything that he wants because I want us to be happy and I know that I will be happy because I will finally have a boyfriend.”
This is the exact conversation I had with my sister during my senior year of high school as we walked around our neighborhood together. I had gotten to the point where I thought that something was inherently wrong with how I had been approaching this whole “boyfriend” thing because I noticed it was working out for everyone else but me; my friends had serious relationships, and multiple opportunities to express their sexuality with willing partners who found them desirable enough to publicly lust after. Meanwhile, I was meeting random guys from other schools on MySpace and hooking up with them in secret.
At this time, I was still not very well aware of how to accept my sexuality since, in my house, it was frowned upon and not discussed outside of reprimands and scare tactics. So I kept it to journal entries and literotica, within which I was able to create my own worlds and desirability, one of the few spaces in my life where I had complete control of my narrative and how I saw myself. This had always been my method of expression, as it was very personal and entertaining for me. I even used sharing it with others as a way to connect, but it was usually in an admittedly creepy way—instead of telling a crush that I liked them, I would write literotica involving them and give them the finished product, proud of my filthy little gift filled with my aching desire for them. Obviously, this didn’t always go well, and being in 7th and 8th grade exhibiting this kind of behavior was more frowned upon, even more so than the other 12 and 13-year-olds that were actually engaging in sex acts.
While this is certainly not a unique experience, I feel that a lot of conversations surrounding sexuality and romantic relationships are geared more towards people who are easily able to see themselves within them—it’s easier to understand desirability and participate in sex and romance culture if you’re someone who is socially-accepted as desirable. You’re given better tools to navigate what your expectations are and to know that you should have them in the first place. If you stumble in your journey, you have ample representation of what decisions you should be making as it pertains to your happiness and overall fulfillment—something that has yet to be commonplace for fat, Black women like me.
Black women as a whole are still in a position where we are fighting for our right to sexuality and sexual autonomy due to the severe lack of it upon our kidnapping and arrival to this country. Bred like cattle, used for leisure, we have never been seen as people, let alone capable of being protected, cared for and loved. And for fat, Black women, there has always been an added layer of this misogynoir. We were used not only to breed the largest and strongest children on the plantation, but also as caretakers of everyone else’s children, inside and outside the house as The Mammy—an archetype that to this day follows us around in nearly every speck of representation we see.
“The Mammy” was characterized as being strong, kind, and loyal, and her image was also that of an overweight, unattractive, and often illiterate household slave (see: Aunt Jemima, Big Mama, etc.). This reinforced racial stereotype of inferiority and servility has been held onto for hundreds of years and continues to dictate the value placed on fat, Black women as a whole. We are usually seen as aggressive, difficult, and void of any desirability whatsoever. We purely exist to fulfill the needs of everyone around us and to remain subservient to a fault, even within our own community. We’re supposed to be raising everyone’s kids, solving everyone’s problems and putting ourselves last, and that extends to our sexuality.
When the concept of being sexually desirable is brought up concerning fat, Black women, it is seen as a joke or an impossibility because of how we’ve been socialized to completely ignore our own capacity for sexual expression and everyone else has been socialized to either exploit or ignore it as well. The truth of our reality becomes even darker when we consider that fat, Black girls also often become the target of others’ sexual perversions early in life due to how our bodies develop.
I was never taught that the way my body grew into its young adult frame would be such an issue. Hell, I had a mother who didn’t even know how to dress it properly. The sexual advances and trauma I dealt with from an early age forced me to internalize how everyone else experienced my pre-pubescent body and justified their perversions and violence towards it. Holidays spent with family in Evanston were littered with instances of grown men catcalling and violating me without remorse, for which I never received any protection, not even from the Black women in my life. This meant that I was on my own in determining how I was supposed to navigate my womanhood and my sexual availability; I was taking cues from popular culture, my peers, and my family.
After learning that Nikki Parker (of 90s sitcom, “The Parkers”) was the closest thing I was expected to achieve in terms of fully realized womanhood, I began to actively work against every trope I felt was being projected onto me. Nikki Parker was a caricature of fat, Black woman who was so desperate for a man who did not desire her back that it was regularly suggested that she was mentally unwell, and had no integrity or self-respect. It was also used as the premise of the entire show and continued the “joke” of fat, Black women being supposedly undesirable. Because I didn’t want to be like Nikki Parker, I didn’t let myself be emotional, I didn’t allow myself to be vocal, I never afforded myself the right to be feminine or to express my sexuality, because I saw all of these things as being conflated with everyone else’s internalized feelings towards larger, Black, femme bodies—overdramatic, aggressive, weird, subservient, licentious, unintelligent, and Oprah. I was literally compared to Oprah as a 16-year-old girl.
But I still wanted to feel desirable and desired. Fueling my strong need to feel this was an entire subset of guys who were very aware of how to take advantage of my socialization. They benefited from me being sexually subservient in hopes of feeling seen or being “liked”—something that thin women don’t necessarily have to deal with on this deep of a level, as they are usually afforded humanity and personhood from the jump. The trope of the “desperate fat girl” is something a lot of people acknowledge, and benefit from but don’t want to admit they perpetuate. This is why, every time I hear thin, Black women talk about how “all the guys in school only wanted the curvy/bigger girls,” I roll my eyes into oblivion and ask them why they think that is.
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The first time I sucked a dick, I was 13 years old and it was attached to a high school sophomore who lived in my neighborhood. Each time we would meet up in one of the empty, unfinished houses, it would literally just be me sucking his dick—not even to completion, just sucking. I remember even in those moments how “sexy” I felt, which makes me sad now because that feeling came from a place of disassociation from myself. I always imagined that I was someone else, someone attractive enough to be able to “land a highschool boy while in middle school,” someone who was attractive enough to be loved in public, someone who was attractive enough that being used every so often as “just a hole and nothing more” wouldn’t be seen as my only option for exploring sex and sexuality.
I’m not saying my sexual awakening as a fat, Black woman is a universal story, but it is a very common one. Trying to establish a sexual standard for myself was never going to happen until I was finally able to understand that sex is something that I can and should participate in, not something that just happens to me. Even after being sexually assaulted during my freshman year in college, I didn’t fully grasp this truth until I later achieved my first orgasm with a partner who was a little more advanced. No one taught me this.
At this time in my life, I was literally fighting with my boyfriend about whether or not he should wear condoms because I was not on birth control. I wanted to be very cautious, especially because of my parents’ reaction to me telling them I was having sex, but he wanted me to prove our monogamy and my “love” by letting him engage with me unprotected. Not only was I the only Black girl in my friend group, but I was also the only fat, Black girl and my friends wouldn’t have cared what I was going through as the “grenade” of the group. Nothing I wanted mattered, and up until I was 23, this “take what I can get” mentality followed me everywhere; inviting guys over for head, sleeping with random strangers for the fuck of it, letting partners treat me like shit because I considered myself lucky to even be having sex at all, and allowing myself to be treated as less than. This cycle had a tremendous effect on my self-esteem and I felt that I deserved all of it because of how I existed in my body—this had been the case my entire life so why would I expect anything different?
Attending my first feminist meeting on campus was a real turning point for me, because it made me realize that my voice actually meant something. I was able to vent my frustrations surrounding my “dating” life, and other people experiencing similar issues began coming up to me after meetings and thanking me for sharing because they’d felt alone in their problems as well. Through attending more meetings, building community, becoming the event coordinating officer of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance on campus, and learning more about feminism, body positivity, and intersectionality, I was able to finally unpack a lot of shit—the main things being internalized misogynoir and fatphobia. Things started to make sense and began to slowly feel like they weren’t my problems anymore. Do you know how liberating that is—to finally understand that the body you’ve been fighting with all your life isn’t the problem? I became an even better person.
I like to call age 23 my “Jordan Year.” I wore the things I wanted to wear, I fucked the people I wanted to fuck. I started going out more, this was the year I began to feel my oats for the first time, even though I wasn’t necessarily having better quality sex. Cis-het men still mostly suck in bed, but I was able to finally speak up about it and make my needs known.
Shortly after, I started dating Adam, and we were inseparable. He was someone who genuinely cared for me and was attracted to me, and I had never felt that before. I wasn’t used to fucking people who cared about me—which is fucking sad, especially considering that, before I met Adam, I had been fucking my “best friend” for over a year. Adam and I skipped classes to sleep, cuddle, and fuck, and although we weren’t very good at it at first, I still felt a connection. I enjoyed spending time with him, enjoyed being seen as an entire person and treated as such. Having him tell me that he loved me and actually mean it changed my life. He always affirmed my feelings towards my sexuality and when I let him know I was queer he was very accepting of that.
This is why finishing my six-month internship away from him in NYC was tough, even though we agreed to open up our relationship. I was quickly reminded that Adam was an anomaly, and outside of him, a romantic or sexual relationship with full autonomy, consideration and respect most likely wasn’t going to happen for me, because I have yet to have this experience outside of him. I’ve had many lovers while here in NYC, but never felt that I was truly cared for. I found myself once again putting my needs to the side just to feel the thrill of a new playmate. I started feeling the same way I’d felt before my “Jordan Year” in college. And even after I began working as a Domme in a dungeon, I felt the familiar sting of not being afforded sexuality outside of fetishization.
Further exploring my sexuality led me to other women who were doing the same, but many of them looked nothing like me. This was made even more apparent when I attended a “Pillow Talk” panel at Melissa’s Gallery Space last summer and was not only ignored by the photographer but was also the only person in the space who looked like me. I’m used to this in professional settings, but not in a sex-positive one. It was very intimidating, and trying to get over the urge to shrink myself while sitting in the front row was unbearable. I was the last person to ask a question, and when my turn finally came, I asked the rest of the panel about size inclusivity within their work.
The host, flustered, likened talking about size inclusivity to, and I quote, “talking about things that aren’t always sexy, like queefs” and promptly ended the Q&A. I threw a bitch fit. I realized that this was once again an instance in which I was going to have to speak up, but this time it wouldn’t just be for myself, because I was the only person who looked like myself there. Did other fat, Black women not feel comfortable enough to show up in these spaces? Were they even invited? Why are more of us not present where these conversations are happening? Why is the sexual liberation of fat, Black women such a taboo topic that it was likened to queefs and caused the host to end the discussion altogether so abruptly?
I write all of this to say that there is a socially agreed-upon manner in which people understand how fatphobia and misogynoir work, even if they don’t know how to articulate it. Fat, Black women and our sexuality are always seen a joke, a consequence to be settled for romantically, or a tragedy. As someone who has experienced all three of these circumstances, I feel that rewriting these narratives is imperative to our progression within the sex positivity and fat liberation movement.
I have been sexually assaulted multiple times, and what contributed to my vulnerability was that I was never taught that I deserve sexual autonomy. Hypersexualization, fetishization, dehumanization, and masculinity have been projected onto me in an attempt to make sense of my existence outside of a cotton field and breastfeeding white babies. The silence surrounding this is daunting, as it can easily be dismissed as a self-esteem problem, which people love doing to fat women. But when you start unpacking internalized fatphobia and misogynoir, it becomes harder to remain silent. Once I started being heard at 23 years old, I did not shut the fuck up. And once I started domming at 27, I refused to shut the fuck up.
I want to get to a point where I stop saying “I’m not sexy” and start asking myself why I think I’m not. I want to feel validated in my softness, femininity, sluttiness, and in my expression of these. I want other fat, Black women to feel like they don’t have to settle as many of us are taught to. I want dignity during my dicking, quality in my quivering, and consideration in my cumming. And I want to fully feel and have it be known that I fucking deserve it.
Note: All photos in this essay belong to Ashleigh Nicole Tribble
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