29 June 2010

The XXL Racism Boycott

A shit storm is taking off over comments made by Mark Ames on his Facebook page, the settings for which have now been changed to private. Ames is the owner of XXL, one of the most popular Bear clubs in London.

The Pink Paper trumpeted an exclusive this morning: Club founder causes Facebook furore with Muslim boycott, which gives some background. There's also the inevitable Facebook protest page, which states: "Before you spend any money at one of the XXL clubs or parties, please be aware of the opinions of its owner... whilst he may not see his views as racist, anybody else with an iota of sense can work out that lumping Muslims and those fighting against allied forces in Afghanistan is backwards, silly and racist." It goes on to say: "Hit Mark Ames where it hurts: in his pocket," and "Stop going to XXL 'til he sees the error of his ways."

I've got more to say about XXL which is not about race but is about the club being a problematic space for fat people. Of the £50,000 raised by XXL Bear Pride in 2008 a percentage was donated to The British Heart Foundation. Ames told The Pink Paper in May of that year: "I, like many others, was unhappy about how HIV charity cash was being used, it didn't seem to be coming back to the people who need it or making a difference. So this year I am giving what we raise to charities that reflect my customers."

The British Heart Foundation are one of the biggest providers in the UK of weight loss publications for health professionals and the public, including children. They promote dieting through public information campaigns, advertising and the media. Their approach to fat and weight loss is one that has long been criticised by fat activists and proponents of Health At Every Size.

Given that XXL is a place where fat and big men are desired, it is perplexing that Ames thinks the BHF reflects his customers' best interests. By going to XXL, punters enjoy a space that celebrates fat queer sexuality but they also fund a charity that cannot recognise such a thing, let alone support it. The BHF is not a small, struggling queer initiative that could really use the cash, its total income was £170 million in 2007, according to CaritasData. They have no specific gay health programmes or information targeted towards LGBT people. I can't see how they benefit the Bears at all.

This blog has been quiet over the past few weeks because I've been busy interviewing fat activists for my research study. One of the things that has come up again and again is how fat is intrinsically tied to other social justice movements, how fat activism emerged from civil rights movements in the US in the 1960s, especially anti-racism. It is my belief that a truly liberating social space cannot exist where some forms of oppression are addressed whilst others are tolerated. So although XXL is seen as a fat positive space, somewhere that big and fat guys and their admirers can get together, a rebuttal of some kinds of oppressive lookism within gay men's culture, a party that supports racism is not fat positive, and neither is one that trades on self-hatred.

I think there's a mistaken belief that fat lib is a liberal movement. However, fat people are a diverse group, one that unfortunately includes racists. Other fat activists, most notably Tara Shuai, have talked about tacit racism within fat activism, yet depressingly few (white) fat activists discuss this stuff. I hope the outrage surrounding Ames' comments kick-starts some dialogue. Either way, it'll be interesting to see if protests against XXL trade on fatphobia, and/or if XXL punters decide to support racism, would they be willing to make such a compromise in order to keep the party going?

PS. This just in: Bears Against Bigotry - yay!


Anonymous said...

A screen grab of Mark Ames' Facebook wall post and replies can be found below:


Charlotte Cooper said...

Clapham Guy (claphamguy@hotmail.co.uk)
Sent: 29 June 2010 18:53:57
To: mail@charlottecooper.net

Dear Charlotte.

Your diatribe on obesity timebomb shows clearly how ignorant you are. Muslims are not a race and therefore Mr Ames comments cannot be racist.

Have you ever read the Quran or Hadith? Obviously not or you would be aware that ALL ISLAMIC SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT ARE AGREED ON KILLING HOMOSEXUALS. I have spent over a decade studying this so you could say I am an islamic scholar.

I would direct you to read the work of the acclaimed islamic scholar Mr Robert Spencer and before you cry "islamophobe" please remember that a phobia is an irrational fear.. my fears are based on knowledge and understanding.

Please read http://www.jihadwatch.org/islam-101.html and following that if you have any shred of decency left you will publish a retraction and publicly appologise to Mr Ames.

Call yourself a researcher? PAH!

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

Great article.

From a gay Muslim.

Anonymous said...

I am using these two quotes after reading the content of Mr Ames’s post and the subsequent dialogue that followed. Mr Ames called the extremists who were inflicting verbal abuse on British soldiers as scum – he did not refer to all Muslims as scum, but specifically targeted the individuals in the news story. If these individuals were shouting abuse at gay people who were on a Pride march how would we react then? Would we be angry, or mad, or frustrated?? I think we would and more.

He refers to Gandhi’s stance against the British. Gandhi encouraged Indians to boycott British goods and buy Indian goods instead. This helped to revitalize local economies in India and it also hit home at the British by undermining their economy in the country. Gandhi preached passive resistance, believing that acts of violence against the British only provoked a negative reaction whereas passive resistance provoked the British into doing something, which invariably pushed more people into supporting the Indian National Congress movement. Thinking about it, is this not a good way to protest? Were all British goods and people not tarred with the same brush in this statement?

It seems to me that there are a lot of extreme banner wavers voicing their opinion on this matter. They are shouting and venting their anger at a gay man who has a gay business who is standing up for what he believes in. And they have generalized a comment to make it “fit” their argument. Not all Muslims are extremists, and there are gay Muslims. Not all Christians, Jews, Hindu’s, Buddhists’ are extremists and there are gay individuals in these religions. To me this whole article, which is jumping on a facebook post over a week old is close to sensationalism and gutter journalism. It’s a shame. We’re meant to unite and be forward thinkers, but we cannot even agree with each other.

Anonymous said...

"...close to sensationalism and gutter journalism".

Please spare us the vitriol. It's a little strong. But why so strong?

Do you know Mark Ames or his partner James McNeil? It sounds as though you are one of them...

Anonymous said...


Because you've obviously attended them all, when I came out as Gay someone thought all Gays had AIDs, obviously this is not true and people's reactions to Muslims are very similar, I can't believe the sheer irony of someone who belongs to a group that gets stereotyped all the time.

One Islamic school recently held an LGBT event of which about 200 people attended. (note: the LGBT event was not about killing gays)

If millions of people have unanimously agreed to killing homosexuals why are we all still alive? And what about LGBT Muslims? I bet being an LGBT Muslim is really tough because they'll probably face some discrimination by both parties.

Personally I have never faced any homophobia from Muslims but unfortunately I have faced racism from LGBT people.

We need to wave our rainbow flags with pride but also remember what the flag represents.
The flag represents diversity and celebrating the fact that not all of us are heterosexual white Christian men and it's ok to be different.

Anonymous said...

From Claphamguy to anonymous...

There are only 5 schools of islamic thought (jurisprudence)and all of them agree.

There are thousands of schools teaching islam but they all teach from the same koran which has remained unchanged.

Whilst working for an islamic organisation a few years ago, I was subjected to verbal and physical attacks by young muslim men (this is in the UK) Where are they learning this hatred?

ALL faith schools (regardless of denomination) should be closed.

Anonymous said...

From the facebook page of Mark Ames: I would like to make an unreserved apology to all Muslims whom I offended by my post on my Facebook wall. Firstly, I was directing my anger at extremists and I should have chosen my wording more carefully. It was written in anger at what I had viewed, and I should have taken time to think about this and not be reactionary. I also went on to state ... See morethat I would boycott all Muslim businesses; again this was said in anger and in haste. Many people know that I have conservative views, but I must stress I am not a Racist, Xenophobe or anti Islamic. I have had a long term relationship with someone who has Middle Eastern origins and have mixed race family members. I wrote in anger and sadness at what is taking place in the UK and abroad and from having friends in the Armed forces who have been affected personally by ongoing conflict. Due to the fact that I have caused so much offence and hurt within this community I am making this public apology along with the profits of XXL Pride weekend to the Iraqi LGBT group in London in light of the recent LGBT safe houses being raided. I would also like to add that my partner has helped me type this statement as I suffer from Dyslexia. Mark Ames

Anonymous said...

XXL not even been good about promoting big guys either - the body fascism of promoting what are basically young muscle clones as THE image - one reinforced by porn - rather than actual big guys is what they've been doing for years and why I don't go there.

Contrast the ads from early XXL when David was involved, to now. Like with a lot of bear porn and magazines you'll see a total editing out of the older daddy types, the chubs, etc to a sort of micro goatee young 20-30s muscle bear with celtic tats.

Depressing, and not what attracted me to bears in the first place as a space for hairy/bearded/natural guys of all sizes to congregate, away from the stereotypes. It now has become a clone look, a stereotype.

Which is why I don't self indentify as a bear anymore.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Sorry to hear that.