On being fat and femme and ugly and unloveable
Falling in love is dangerous for brown boys, because under white supremacy we are not people to love. Falling in love is dangerous for brown boys because people don’t fall in love with brown boys. Falling in love is dangerous for brown boys until we can learn to love ourselves. How do I decolonize my desire so I can desire myself? How do I love myself in a world that tells me I am not someone to love, over and over again? How can I decolonize my desire so I will never again look at a skinny boy who will never see me as the goddess I am?
Being fat and brown and queer and femme means being ugly. Means feeling unloveable, being unloveable and no one disagreeing. Being fat and brown and colonized means to value, desire, prioritize a love that doesn’t want you, that will never have you, and not know how to cut yourself from the belly of the beast other than to destroy yourself from the inside out. The only way out is through, so the only reason you’re still here is because of cowardice and maybe resilience rather than commitment. And I say you because if I say me the pain and terror of these truths might break me.
The other week I was talking with my friend Ivette about fatness. “Fat according to whom?” she asked. She said her body is just like everyone else in her family’s; their indigineity forms a body foreign to white standards of height/weight/body fat distribution. Fatness is set against white bodies with no consideration for bodies of color and thus an identity irrelevant to her brown body. When fatness is posed as oppositional to beauty it becomes then, again, whiteness reified as a standard against bodies of color. At a historical moment when most fat people in the U.S. are poor and people of color, valuing and desiring thin, white bodies, loving these bodies takes on entirely new meaning. When the personal is political, these bodies are about white supremacy and class privilege.
And for queer men, the only acceptable (desirable) way to be fat is if you’re a bear. To be hairy and/or bearded (and thus masculine). But I can trace my hairless body back to my indigenous roots, so when you call out these qualifiers of acceptable fatness— beard, belly, body hair— and my brownness hovers over a single category, what you are saying is, “it’s ok to be a fat man if you are white.” Bear culture is centered around the celebration of a different form of whiteness through the valorization of white body hair patterns. It manifests its racism through an afterthought of inclusive subcategories— panda bear for east Asian bears, for example— and ignores the white supremacist structure of cataloging whiteness as the default. A white bear needs no qualifiers. He is just a bear. And bear cultures obsession with the pinnacle of masculinity in the form of body hair forms a misogynist community that leaves no room for desire of the feminine. And especially leaves no room for desire for the fat but hairless femmes. This is not a community I want to be part of, but it’s seemingly all a fat queer man has. And so what is left when you’re too brown, too femme, too queer for the bears? Where does that leave one?
I say I am anti-love because I cannot be invested in romantic love. Because this investment is dangerous for me. To maintain hope for something that will never happen to/for me is actively damaging to my mental health. For people of color, fat folks, trans and gender non-conforming people, disabled folks— our bodies are not valued, wherein value translates to desire and possibility with romance. Under these systems, brown bodies can’t be neutral, brown bodies can’t be erotic, brown bodies can’t be desired without being feitshized beyond context and recognition. Our bodies are not loved or loveable under white supremacy and its interlocking systems of fat hatred, cissexism, ableism and more. I am too much of these things all at once to be loved under these systems. To ask someone to do the work it would take to love a body like mine feels like asking too much. So I am not visible in alternate visions being created by those who wish to dismantle these systems, who are perhaps more invested in them than they/we/I want to admit or recognize. Is love obsolete? Why do I desire it so? If I am loved I prove everything wrong. Or if I am loved does anything change? If I am loved everything maintains, but in a different form.
I do not mean to say that absolutely no fat folks or people of color or trans folks or disabled folks et al. are loved or desired. I see many inspiring examples of this in my own community. But I am talking about larger cultural systems, that inform everyone’s decisions, and these individual exceptions do not and can not undo centuries of marginalization alone. And sadly I see just as many examples of marginalized bodies undesired.
I also wish to utilize an anti-love politic in the service of a decolonial project. What I mean is this: love as we understand it is colonial bullshit. Love as it is imagined for us, as an all-consuming, possessive, lifelong, monogamous endeavor is to be used in the service of capitalism. It is to be used in the service of white supremacist heteropatriarchy via the nuclear family. We are told that this is romantic love and we are told it is most important, forming it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Were we to sustain ourselves on self-love, platonic love, and love of community, the world as we know it would end. We would see the beauty of our interdependence, no longer see ourselves as individuals or competitors for higher wages and standards of living at the expense of each other. Constructions of family as we know it would fall away as we fall into community with eachother and the divisions between stranger and community and family dissolve. As more and more people choose their families and biology dies. Some radical queers work towards this goal through polyamory, open relationships, relationship anarchy, celibacy, and more. But what happens when these relationships ultimately replicate systems of oppression? Is it revolutionary for thin, able-bodied, white and light-skinned cis queers to love eachother, just because it’s more than one person at a time? Is it revolutionary for fat folks, disabled folks, trans folks and dark-skinned people of color to be loved and to love eachother? I believe this is what Marlon Riggs is talking about when he says Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act, and I don’t disagree. But I’m also curious about the revolutionary act of loving a body the world would have us believe is unloveable. Would a romantic love be revolutionary just because I was present? And what am I upholding by valuing ideologies of romantic love over the love I feel from friends and for myself?
When I name myself as unloveable and cite my body as this source, I do not wish to excuse myself from non-physical reasons that might distance others from me. I’m aware of my personality and its faults. But my personality is a product of my experiences, and I have seen on more than one occasion the faults of those much prettier than I (read: thinner/whiter/more masculine) forgiven much more graciously than mine. I do not believe this to be a coincidence.
I am fat and I am brown and I am queer and I am femme so I am ugly, and nothing has ever tried to convince me otherwise. So when I refuse to accept it, when I name my beauty, it is a reclamation. I am not giving you room to disagree. There is no room for dissent here.
But at the end of the day I know. Regardless of if I see myself as ugly (I don’t), ugly is how I move through the world. Ugly is how I am viewed by strangers, coworkers, potential employers, potential lovers, community members, family members, my peers, doctors, professors, service industry workers, et cetera, and this perception in turn effects my experience in the world, to varying degrees depending on my relationship to the person. I am still working through what it means to be ugly and be beautiful. I am still working through my investment in beauty. What does it mean? Mia Mingus pushes us her in piece Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability, something that has impacted me for years and something I think about now. Reclamation can be powerful, but is this a reclamation that is worthy, necessary? If beauty means “loveworthy”, if “loveworthy” means humanity, what does it mean for those of us who are not beautiful? What does loveworthy mean under a colonial construction of love and beauty founded on white supremacy and capitalism? When we reclaim beauty, is it radical or assimilationist? Does it mean something different for my fat, brown, queer, femme, body than it does for others? And who decides? Is there anything redeemable about beauty? And who are the ugly we are leaving behind? I am still working through these questions.
I am fat and I am brown and I am queer and I femme so I am ugly, and I am still trying to figure out how to move through this world in this body.
And how hard is it to land even a minimum-wage job? This year, the Ivy League college admissions acceptance rate was 8.9%. Last year, when Walmart opened its first store in Washington, D.C., there were more than 23,000 applications for 600 jobs, which resulted in an acceptance rate of 2.6%, making the big box store about twice as selective as Harvard and five times as choosy as Cornell. Telling unemployed people to get off their couches (or out of the cars they live in or the shelters where they sleep) and get a job makes as much sense as telling them to go study at Harvard.