13 October 2008

How to document fat activist histories

Please remember to document the things you do. Without documentation our history is lost, we are none the wiser, and we start to believe things that aren't true.

Some ways in which you can preserve the things you've done:

  • Publish a zine or a pamphlet and lodge it with a library or archive. Lodge your old publications in the same way. Look for local, national, or specialist places, or send your work to all of them. If you have a collection of personal letters, diaries, or other fat activist-related papers, look for archives that accept that kind of material too.
  • Try and get things published. This could be anything from a letter to a newspaper to a three-volume encyclopedia of fat. try and put things in the public domain in such a way that they can be viewed and referenced.
  • If you give a talk or a workshop, make sure there is some kind of documentation that can be published somewhere.
  • If you publish things online, try and make sure that your pages are archived somewhere, on The Wayback Machine, for example http://www.archive.org/web/web.php
  • Be imaginative, create a paper trail for your activism, create evidence that it happened.
  • Don't keep things to yourselves, consider the people of the future, across the world, in outer space, who will need to know that you existed and that you did the stuff you did.

Jamie Oliver's fatsuit is an insult to us all

It was bad enough when he lumbered around in a fatsuit for cheap publicity. Others have pointed out that the fatsuit shares a lot in common with blackface (check out Marisa Meltzer's essay in Bitchfest, for example), so I won't go on too much about that, I'll just say that it's clear the man hates fat people from his nauseating and stereotyped performance.

Maybe I should temper that to hatred plus disgust plus pity for fat people, as illustrated in his latest obesity intervention TV programme. I know there's a lot of fatphobia on the airwaves but I haven't seen such a condescending depiction of "the obese" since Jonathan Ross described fat people as (I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the source in front of me, but I'm not far off): "stupid, dopey, loveable friends" back in the 90s.

Oliver comes across as some kind of wannabe Dickensian philanthopist, I'm surprised he doesn't have a nosegay to protect his delicate nostrils from the stench of poverty as he does his rounds amongst the tragic and ignorant fat poor.

Here are some alternative ways to improve poor people's health:
  • Free education at all levels
  • Access to the same housing, education, jobs and healthcare that middle class people have, without anyone actually having to become middle-class
  • Strategies that target stigma and discrimination and encourage assertiveness, self-expression and pride
  • Coalitions between oppressed groups
  • Well-funded community-generated Health At Every Size projects
  • Or, nothing. Leave poor fat people alone, stop making them a moral crusade and give them space to get on with their lives.

Fuck off back to your organic garden, Oliver! Fuck off to Tuscany! Stay the fuck away from the estates, nobody needs you, you are part of the problem!

08 October 2008

Introducing NOLOSE

I was going to write a long and considered post about NOLOSE, but for various reasons that's unlikely to happen soon. I'll say a few things, however.

It's hard to describe what NOLOSE is, it started out as a US organisation by and for fat lesbians, and was a product of NAAFA's Fat Feminist Caucus, so I believe. But identity politics are a shifting surface on which to build an organisation over time, and now NOLOSE welcomes dykes of any stripe, including bisexual women, female-ish queers, and trans people. Cisgendered men (bio men? men-born-men? sorry for the clumsy and problematic definitions) are unwelcome at the moment, but NOLOSE is a flexible entity striving for inclusivity, so who knows what might happen as time passes.

I want to point out that NOLOSE is very US American, but there is usually a strong Canadian contingent, and there have been delegates from the UK and South Africa, maybe other places too. By American I mean that the organisation's culture is, to me as an outsider anyway, quite specific and certainly unlike fat activist events that I've encountered in the UK.

NOLOSE supports a number of smaller projects, for example last year they helped fund Big Bums, but the main event is the more-or-less annual conference. This generally consists of workshops, a keynote speech, events, dances, meals together, and other stuff. Look at the NOLOSE site if you want an idea of what goes on there. Anyway, mere words cannot do justice to this complex, thrilling, eye-opening, maddening, amazing, weird, inspiring event, it is so much more than the sum of its parts. I had the privilege (and I don't use that word lightly) of keynoting the 2005 NOLOSE and it's no understatement to say that it marked a turning point in my life.

The 2008 NOLOSE has just been and gone in Northampton, Massachusetts. This year the theme was intersectionality, that is, the ways that fat is a part of a number of complex personal identities, and that these identities intersect with each other within us, and in the way that we live amongst others. Radical concept! Which reminds me that NOLOSE is probably one of the most progressive and challenging fat activist experiences I've had in my life. At NOLOSE I get to meet the fatties that made and make a real difference to me, we talk about hard stuff, somehow we manage to create visions of how things could be. There is a lot of fun too. It is life-enhancing at a profound level. I'm generally sceptical of intentional spaces based on shared identities, but there's something about being with a bunch of lawless fat queers that makes me feel as at home in myself as I ever do.

Here are some links:

Geleni Fontaine gave an incredible keynote (.pdf, 196kb), which you can read but which won't be as great as seeing her deliver it in person.

Want more? Check out Heather MacAllister's powerful 2006 keynote, and don't forget to register and visit the new boards.