01 June 2010

What is queer fat activism?

Elisa Manici asked me these two really hard questions in an off-the-cuff way. This is what I said off the top of my head. Comments please!

If you should define fat queer activism in few words, what would you say?

A lot of fat activism is done by very straight people whose idea of social change is based on their very straight values and experiences. Queer people, who also happen to be fat, bring a different sensibility to their activism. Queer does not necessarily mean the same as gay or lesbian, or bi or trans. Instead I think of it as a series of values and ideas such as anti-assimilationism, autonomy and anarchism, punk, DIY culture, transgression, fluid identities. I think there's often a postmodern element to it too, it's quite chaotic, not united against a common enemy, or working towards a common goal, and it's rooted in popular culture. I'd define queer fat activism as doing stuff – any kind of stuff – that supports those perspectives.

When was fat queer activism born?

Please bear in mind that these dates and events reflect my own position as an English-speaking queer fat activist living in London. Don't take my word as 'the truth,' it is one of many truths. It could be that there are other events and organisations that pre-date these. If you know of any, please get in touch, I'd love to know about them.

The Fat Underground weren't the first fat activist organisation, but I think they were the first to marry fat liberation with radical politics drawn from their members' involvement with civil rights and personal development ideologies, as well as feminism and early gay liberation activism in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. I believe that there were a number of lesbians involved in the Fat Underground.

The Fat Dykes Statement, produced at the Fat Women's Conference in London, March 1989, is also an early example of the intersecting points between lesbian feminism and fat liberation.

Both the Fat Underground and the Fat Dykes Statement pre-date the emergence of 'queer' and queer theory. Perhaps it's FaT GiRL, the zine 'For Fat Dykes and the Women Who Want Them' that's the point where queer fat activism was really born. The zine was published collectively in the Bay Area from 1994-97 and was unapologetically queer. Nomy Lamm's zine, i'm so fucking beautiful, was also very queer and also starting to appear around this time.

Two good references:

LeBesco, K. (2004) Revolting Bodies: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Snider, S. (2009) 'Fat Girls and Size Queens: Alternative Publications and the Visualizing of Fat and Queer Eroto-politics in Contemporary American Culture', in: Rothblum, E. & Solovay, S. (eds.) The Fat Studies Reader. New York: New York University Press, 223-230.


Anonymous said...

I think I would agree with that definition. I definitley think that I have a different outlook because of my anarchistic, feminist principles and queerness. I think a variety of ideas and structures is healthy, and I think that we cannot all have the same ideas about liberation so accepting the differences in our activism and ideals, but still supporting each other, may be the only way that fat activism can work. Hmmm... food for thought.

Stefanie said...

Thanks for including me in your reference list Charlotte! I have a new article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies that takes a broader look at journals dealing with fat and lesbian imagery as well - Snider, S. (2010). Revisioning Fat Lesbian Subjects in Contemporary Lesbian Periodicals. Journal of Lesbian Studies 14: 2/3: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g921472470

I agree with your take on the Fat Underground; there is a lot on them and their origins and by them in Shadows on a Tightrope as well in Radiance Magazine, here: http://www.radiancemagazine.com/issues/1998/winter_98/fat_underground.html

Charlotte Cooper said...

Yay, go Stefanie!