Fat activists balk at the opportunity to explore being fat and single for myriad reasons, including a desire to empower fat people by imagining them having happy sexual, romantic lives.
I’ve wanted to see more writing from within the fat community about crafting a good life in the absence of romantic relationships/partnerships. It seems like a “hot potato’ issue that many FA writers don’t want to touch, even though it’s the reality of many fat people’s lives.
This is a nuanced issue, and I want to offer a deeper dive into the context that surrounds this issue before giving advice. So, I’ve decided to make this a two-part article. Part 2 will be released next Tuesday.
On the one hand, I think there are many fat activists who are committed to disrupting the dominant narrative that fat people don’t have romantic relationships or fulfilling sex lives. Because obviously that is not true. The cultural drive to create such a flattened narrative is a product of bigotry and exemplifies the absurd polarities inherent to oppressive belief systems.
On the other hand, often the desire to create that counter-narrative leads to a flattening of the ways in which anti-fat bias and stigma truly do affect a fat person’s romantic and sexual trajectory. Oppression affects fat people’s romantic and sexual trajectories in complex ways. Rejection based on body size can be an obvious manifestation of oppression, but there are subtler ones. For example, fat people navigate physical spaces where dating/romance might happen differently than thin people do, because we want to manage exposure to fatphobia. So fat people go to fewer public spaces and navigate the spaces we are in more cautiously, and that creates even more challenges to finding connection.
There is real evidence that fatphobia adversely affects the potential for meaningful romantic and sexual connection. It’s important to me as an intersectional feminist to point out that this is true of oppression more generally. Fatphobia — because it is so acute right now — manifests in particularly overt ways, but oppression makes meaningful connections with other humans difficult. Period.
I think fat activists balk at the opportunity to explore fat singlehood for myriad reasons. I will discuss two of them:
1. The desire to empower fat people to imagine their sexual and romantic futures as possible in the face of stultifying bigotry.
This comes from a desire to protect an acutely marginalized group of people. I understand this desire. However, it can, at times, lead to gaslighting (a sense that your experience of fatphobia is not real or accurate) and victim blaming (a sense that if you are unable to find a meaningful relationship as a fat person then you are doing something wrong since other fat people are doing it).
2. The drive to maintain an assimilationist future earned through boot-strapping.
As fat activism has morphed into the very confused/confusing pseudo-politic called Body Positivity, achieving normalcy has become more and more central to conversations that had previously been focused on liberation. Romantic coupling is central to maintaining heteronormativity, and I think there’s an increasing commitment to arguing for fat people’s ability to be seamlessly absorbed into society. It’s more challenging to make a case for assimilation if you remind the dominant culture that it is violently excluding you and further that you cannot “overcome” that exclusion through pure individual resolve.
I must add is that it’s important to distinguish between discussing queer vs. straight contexts. When fat activism was anchored in lesbian and queer politics, sex and romance were about radical self-love and a resoundingly fat-focused and anti-oppressive sexual and romantic practice
I remember going to a fat queer conference where there were multiple fat- and sex-positive spaces — including not only smaller play parties and speed dating but also something called the “Den of Desire” where you could enjoy a number of sexual experiences free of charge. It was offered as part of a community effort to promote healing, orchestrated by and for fat people. Like, literally, people volunteered to be pro bono sexual healers, offered whatever sexual services they felt compelled to offer, there was a binder that listed those services and you signed up for a timeslot and then had your dreams come true. Boom. Fat queer sex. It’s not the same as having a longterm relationship with someone but it was definitely super fucking magical and subversive. And in my own experience with the Den, I sensed the willingness from the femme I played with to negotiate something bigger and more long-standing.
Now, I’m not saying that fatphobia isn’t or wasn’t an issue in queer communities, but I am saying that it is often our commitment to an imagined heterosexual (and, yes, thin-centric) future that make the pursuit of sex and love feel so exhausting and hopeless.
I’ll be back next week with Part 2.