27 September 2010

Charlotte Cooper and Judy Freespirit in conversation, June 2010

Charlotte Cooper and Judy Freespirit, June 2010,
in the art room at the Jewish Home for the
Aged, San Francisco,
photographed by Esther Rothblum
Three months before Judy Freespirit died, Esther Rothblum took me to visit and interview her at the Jewish Home for the Aged in San Francisco, where Judy had lived for the past three years. Judy was in poor health but none of us knew how little time she had left.

I have a lot to say about this meeting but I'll save it for a separate essay.

I'm posting the raw interview transcript here as a resource for people to cite and analyse. I consider Judy to be an important figure in the history of critical understandings of fat and it is my hope that her work becomes more central to the discourse. I've edited the transcript slightly to remove some references to other people.

I offer my deepest gratitude to Judy and Esther.

Please visit Remembering Judy Freespirit for more information.

Judy Freespirit Interview, 7 June 2010

Charlotte: Ok, so we're going, and I can hear me, so that means I can probably hear you. I'm just going to prop that right there.

So I guess, I told you a bit about how I became radicalised around fat, and the stuff that I was reading, and I was wondering how you got the idea that fat could be a political thing.

Judy: I think the first real bang in my head that said: "Oh my god! This is more than you've been thinking" was, I was a student at Cal State LA and there was going to be some kind of a big demonstration there because the administration was allowing prejudice against students of colour in the area of housing. And so I was a member of CORE, you know CORE?

Charlotte: Mm-hmm.

Judy: I don't know which organisations were...

Charlotte: CORE is a pretty famous organisation, so, yeah, yeah.

Judy: Ok. So I was a member of CORE before they threw all the white folks out and we decided to demonstrate against the administration and force them to start not allowing people to discriminate in student housing. So I was picketing the administration, and there were maybe ten of us picketing, and there would always be twenty or thirty people making fun of us and laughing and saying things, and it was on a hill and further up the hill there were men with hats, you know, obviously some kind of government agents, taking notes and...

Charlotte: Oh.

Judy: It was during, you know, the J. Edgar Hoover period. So that was my first real activism. And the funny thing that hit me was the things that people were shouting had to do with my being fat. I was picketing and it had nothing to do with fat, it had to do with the administration being wrong in their discrimination, and people would try to get me by making fat jokes.

Charlotte: Right, so you were in this very politicised situation.

Judy: So all of a sudden I realised: "They are so angry about my being fat, why are they so angry? I'm too heavy and big them." You know. I mean. But it's like: "Ah, this is the way we can get her, because this is the thing that nobody's gonna disagree is not ok." So that's sort of my first rememberence.

Charlotte: Wow. That's an amazing moment, a lightbulb moment.

Judy: Yeah, a lightbulb moment.


Charlotte: So, before you became a student, you were involved with student politics, involved with politics around race and racism. What about your family background, I mean, did you come from a politicised household at all? Where did it all start?

Judy: I don't come from this kind of family. In fact people keep saying: "Where did you come from?!" [Judy and Charlotte laughing] They hear about my parents.

Charlotte: You're an anomaly.

Judy: So strange. My parents were Depression, teenagers during the Depression, and they were very afraid, their families had lost everything and so they were very careful to try to fit in, and I think that's what they were worried, that I was gonna catch some flack because of my weight, because I didn't, because I stood out.

Charlotte: Something about not being respectable.

Judy: And my mother had been a fat kid and had gotten teased terribly and did not want me to have to go through with that. So that by the age of five she started putting taking away food, putting me on diets and not letting me have ice cream when the other kids had ice cream. And it was during World War Two when I was growing up. She started taking me to doctors to get me to lose weight and they put me on amphetamines at the age of eight and I would be like a kid on speed.

Charlotte: Which you were.

Judy: I was, I was climbing the walls. I was, I couldn’t sit still, I was anxious. I never was a very good student, I always thought I wasn't very smart.

Charlotte: Humph.

Judy: I always thought I was like a C, C student, which is what I was [laughs] I couldn't sit still and-

Charlotte: Hmm.

Judy performs,
poster on display in Judy's room at the Jewish Home
for the Aged, San Francisco
Judy: and do what I didn't want to. But politically my parents had no political interests, they never voted. My father finally voted in the 70s because he wanted to vote for Reagan.

Charlotte: [groans and laughter]

Judy: And he couldn't vote for Reagan unless he was registered so he registered to vote. [Charlotte: woah] My mother never registered, my mother never voted. And you know as I started to be in these groups and the groups would get asked to be on TV, I'd say to my mother: "I'm going to be on television, you might turn it on," she'd turn it on. Three or four days later I'd talk to her, she wouldn't say anything about the show. I'd say: "Did you see the TV show I was on?" and she'd say things like: "Oh yeah, you coulda used more lipstick."

Charlotte: That breaks my heart.

Judy: Or: "Yeah I saw it, you know why are you always so angry?"

Charlotte: That's a good question. Huh.

Judy: She didn't really want to hear the answer.

Charlotte: Yeah.

So you were doing politicised work as a student, you had this lightbulb moment about fat on a demonstration. What awareness did you have of other, or fat being politicised, and I'm thinking about pre-1970. So you had your own experience, were you aware that other people were thinking about fat in a political way before 1970?

Judy: Not in a political way; in a commercial way.

Charlotte: Yeah. I'm wondering about the kinds of conversations you had with people about it.

Judy: No, everybody agreed that you shouldn't eat; "Oh, look at me, I shouldn't have that;" "Well, if I have it now, I just won't eat tomorrow because I really want that piece of cake." And talking about it all the time about how much they weigh, and "Oh, I've got this little round thing here and I've gotta get rid of this tyre." It's been years since, people don't really talk about that, not in front of me.

Charlotte: You've made it that way [Judy and Charlotte laugh].

Judy: I don't know that they don't do it other places, but lately where I am [Judy catches someone's attention outside] Sorry, I needed to catch him about something. Um. [exhales].

Charlotte: So there wasn't much going on. And was it through radical psychiatry that you first started to meet other people? And through your involvement with the Women's Center?

Judy: I hadn't thought much about it. You know, I hadn't found much about it, and then Aldebaran went to the library and she started thinking and she started writing and she came and presented a writing to the Radical Therapy Collective, and what she said was: "We're not to blame for our weight," that it's not as simple thing as calories in-calories out. And that all of the literature she had gone through, particularly the dietician's literature, didn't think that it was how much you ate that makes you your weight.

Charlotte: Yes. What was it like hearing that?

Judy: I said: "I don't believe it". That means that for the last thirty years or so, I have been doing things and suffering for absolutely no reason. I don't like that. And I said to Aldebaran, "You know, I don't want to accept this," and a week later I was a convert. I could, you know, sometimes the truth sticks its face in your face and there's no way you can get it out of there. Can't you see it? It just is. And much as I wanted to hide my head in the sand like an ostrich, I couldn't.

Charlotte: It was undeniable.

Judy: It was undeniable. So then we started teaching it, and we invited people to come to groups. The interesting thing was that there were several groups of people who listened to this information. There were fat people who were never going to let go of the possibility that they were going to be thin, they didn't want to hear it at all. There were thin people who had never been fat in their lives, who thought it made perfect sense and didn't have any complaints about our saying that. And there were the, the hardest people to convert were the medium-sized people, because they were closer to normal and had the fantasy that they could make it if they could just get it right, that they could be normal. And Lynn McAfee, Lynn Mabel Lois as she was called there, said something about, she made a tape that was beautiful that got lost, we lost a lot of documentation. In it she said: "I feel like a freak, and I'm getting proud."

Lynn Mabel Lois/McAfee: "I feel like a freak and I'm getting PROUD"
from an uncredited Fat Underground video from Judy's archive
at the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco

Charlotte: Yeah! Right! Woah!

Judy: And she said: "I feel like a freak and I'm getting PROUD" She lifted her arm that was sleeveless and [shakes fat arm].

Charlotte: Wow! Oh dear!

Judy: It was moving, very moving.

Charlotte: I'm moved now thinking about it, really.

Judy: She's done amazing things.

After the collective broke up and we didn't have Radical Therapy any more, one half of the group moved to the East Coast. She started doing Lone Ranger stuff in Washington and she was very, I think she was, she probably did more good.

Charlotte: Yeah. Oh well. A different kind of thing.

Judy: Yeah, different.

Charlotte: Now, I've always suspected that The Fat Underground were mainly dykes, is this a correct assumption to make?

Judy: Well, The Fat Underground started out with, I believe, six people. One man, who was a John Birch Society member.

Charlotte: I don't know what John Birch is.

Judy: Right wing, right right right right wing. And we had such a hard time getting rid of him [laughter] he wanted to be in that group. We had no politics to share, just the idea of fat and he was really upset when we kicked him out. In the beginning we were all, I would say 'questioning', or considered ourselves straight. And as time went by, I'll tell you a specific story of when the idea came up. Ariana was reading a book called, [long pause] god, I know what it is, it'll come to me, I know the author, and I know the book. Anyway, she was reading this book and it occurred to her that a number of us were saying that we were presenting ourselves as lesbians, that is we were going to lesbian events and doing lesbian activism, but none of us had girlfriends. Stigma!

Charlotte: Oh, the Goffman book.

Judy: Erving Goffman.

Charlotte: Yeah yeah.

Judy: Erving Goffman, Erving Goffman. I knew I'd [unintelligible]. Stigma, she'd been reading Stigma, and she said, she was saying that stigma had something to do with the fact that none of us had girlfriends, that two of us was much more scary than one of us alone. So we talked about why aren't any of us sleeping with each other?

Charlotte: Oh ho ho! [laughter]. What happened then Judy?

Judy: Well, a few of us got together. And I became lovers with Ariana for about six years. And we're still, you know, family. So that's that.

Charlotte: Ok, I'm glad I had these assumptions.

Judy: Some of us started sleeping together. And Lynn McAfee wrote an article that was in The Lesbian Tide, do you know that magazine?

Charlotte: I've seen it and I think I have a reference for that article somewhere.

Judy: Ok because, it was called 'I Came Out and Nobody Cared'.

Charlotte: Wow. Huh.

Judy: She laid it right out there.


Original copy of Fat Underground writings, including The Fat Liberation Manifesto
from Judy's archive at the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco
Charlotte: What do you think The Fat Underground achieved?

Judy: [long pause] Propaganda. And, um, nobody really knew how many of us there were.

Charlotte: Yes! [chuckles]

Judy: And they thought that we were lots of people, and the people in NAAFA were so curious about us, and they wanted to be connected, you know they wanted this other organisation. And so the guy who was the head of NAAFA asked to meet with the Fat Under-, came to LA and said: "I want to meet with The Fat Underground" and so all of The Fat Underground people went out to lunch with him, to a restaurant, and he said: "Is this all there is?" and they said: "Oh no, this is just all the people who could come today, other people have other things, we can't all be eating at the same time, we've got work to do." So he was under the impression that we were this massive organisation. And they were scared of us because we were so outspoken and we were saying things that they were not prepared to say.

Charlotte: Apart from NAAFA being a straight organisation and The Fat Underground having these other politics, why do you think, what was that difference about between the– sorry I'm not phrasing this very well. I'm interested in the cultural differences between NAAFA and The Fat Underground. Why do you think they existed, what were the differences about?

Judy: Just off the top of my head, the first thing is that NAAFA was more of a social organisation. It was for women who wanted to meet men and couldn't find any, and they would have parties, and men would come and they would get to meet men. So that was a big part of it. And they also had that pen-pal club. So I would say the social part of it. The other one was not social, it was political, we wanted to change the way the world sees us, and what can we do to make things better.

Charlotte: So you're thinking of making-

Judy: Little by little we started being able to work together, it took years.

Charlotte: Oh really? Yeah, yeah, I see that now.

So, I mean, propaganda. But I mean, when I think about The Fat Underground I think about how much more you achieved than that, it wasn't just propaganda. You basically created community, you created a politicised vision of fatness that I don't think NAAFA could do at the time and is still struggling to do now, but the work that you did – and I mean you personally and you as part of the collective – you know, has repercussions today, 30, 40 years later. I mean, I think you're being quite modest on The Fat Underground's achievements.

Judy: Well I think the intent was to change the world.

Charlotte: Yeah. I think you did, actually.

Judy: And that what we did to do that, initially, was propaganda. It was the technique, right. We did demonstrations that you've heard about.

Charlotte: Yeah. In fact I've got something to tell you. I don't know if you're aware of an artist called Allyson Mitchell, she's based in Toronto, she's recently done a re-enactment of the Mama Cass eulogy and has made a film of it, and I could certainly put her in touch with you and she could send you a copy of that film.

Judy: I would love that.

Charlotte: Yeah. I haven't seen it myself but I'm really looking forwards to seeing it.

Judy: I was there.

Charlotte: Yeah! Can you tell us what it was like being there?

Judy: What it was like being there?

Charlotte: Being at the Mama Cass eulogy.

Judy: After a couple of years of Fat Underground I took a leave and I was on leave at that time. I was at that event but I wasn't part of the demonstration because I was on leave. I was too busy coming out. It was this space. That was a heady time. It was International Women's Day, there was a celebration in a park in LA, a lot of people were there, there was a stage, and people were getting up and speaking and there were performances. And I didn't know, I didn't know the plans for this, I witnessed it like everybody else who was there witnessed it. Suddenly all The Fat Underground, and there were now more women had joined The Fat Underground, they had expanded. They were wearing black armbands and each was carrying a candle, and they just took over the stage, they didn't, they weren't supposed to be there and nobody tried to stop them.

Charlotte: How could they stop them.

Judy: Well, but, nobody really wanted to, I don't think.

Charlotte: Ah, ok.

Judy: The audience was very supportive at that point, it was years in to people having gotten information and so they got up on the stage and they were all looking very sombre, and this went in a kind of semi-circle behind Lynn, and then Lynn came forward and took the mic, and she talked about that they said she had died eating a ham sandwich, and she said, that was the first time this was said, these are the kind of things that make people remember us because NAAFA never would have said it, "I blame the doctors." For putting her in this position where she felt, you know, she had to take all this medication.

Charlotte: You know I'm thinking again coming back to this thing about NAAFA and The Fat Underground, NAAFA seemed very assimilationist kind of an organisation, Fat Underground are very angry organisation.

Judy: Um-hmm.

Esther: One thing that I want to add that is so unusual for the US, I think, about The Fat Underground, is the Socialist perspective, which is almost never seen in the US in feminism. So The Fat manifesto, even the word, and the take-off on that, but that radical psychiatry, which is also Socialist, Marxist, I mean that is very very unique, I think.

Charlotte: Ok, thanks for that.

Judy: And it has filtered into all therapy now. You can't tell it's a radical therapist from the other therapists.

Charlotte: Right. Systemic working.

Judy: They've taken on all of the good stuff that we added. And we didn't invent that either, that was, ah, what's his name.

Esther: Lenora Fulani? She was radical psychiatry.

Judy: Oh no no no no no. Way before her. Um [long pause] Eric Berne.

Charlotte: Ok, I'll look him up, I don't know him.

Judy: I'm OK, You're OK?

Charlotte: Oh yeah yeah yeah.

Judy: And there was a manifesto of, Radical Therapy manifesto, so there was a, you know, a template, kind of.

Charlotte: I'm getting a picture of The Fat Underground being a kind of, although the Mama Cass eulogy was serious, but just the playfulness about the organisation as well, like making out there were more of you than there were, and, I dunno, taking things from pop culture and making them your own, a kind of lawlessness actually.

Judy: We saw ourselves, um, lawless.

Charlotte: You didn't ask for anybody's permission.

Judy: No, that was the whole point of feminism, right!

Charlotte: Right right right!

Judy: [laughs] Up until then we had to ask somebody, some male person, usually. And as feminists we got to make our own decisions, and were just running with it, and it was SO FREEING. Like I, ah, at some point, whoever I was became somebody completely different. And there have been a couple of major changes since then, so that I'm about three people away from who I originally was. But at that point it was one and it was a good move. We were taking RISKS. I was taking risks. I was really unhappy, I had a job I really hated, and everybody said: "Quit! We'll take you in, we'll help you." So I quit! And I had a, I had a car, and I had a foam mat that was pretty comfortable, I could put it on the floor and sleep on it like a bed, and I took that with me and I got twelve friends to sign me up to stay with them for two weeks each, and that way I wouldn't have to pay rent, and therefore I wouldn't have to have a job. I had Food Stamps, you know in those days. And um, that ended up lasting a long time, and one of the things I did was I lived with Aldebaran for two weeks, she had a, she had twin beds in her bedroom and I slept in her bedroom. [sigh] Some of us tried to come out with each other and it didn't work, some of us just were not lesbians, and there was some pain around that.


Fat feminist symbol enamel badges
from Judy's archive at the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco
Charlotte: Yes.

I'm interested, I understood The Fat Underground to have disintegrated, I mean, I suspected that, you know, there were political differences within the group as it went on. But also Reanne died as well.

Judy: Who?

Charlotte: Reanne Fagan? Is that how you say her name?

Judy: Oh, Reanne.

Charlotte: Yeah. I mean what was, how did it end for you? And what happened after that period?

Judy: We're talking about years. Reanne was years, it wasn't right at the beginning. She wasn't one of the originals, she came a couple of years later.

See, there was a Radical Therapy group that was made up of fat people that were, they were doing a group for fat women, and Reanne was in that, when all the people that were in that one ended up becoming part of Radical Therapy. So that's like a couple of years after.

Reanne, yeah, Reanne was sad. She uh, she was a woman with two husbands.

Charlotte: Oh!

Judy: And they all lived together.

Charlotte: Yeah?

So I understood The Fat Underground to have ended around 1983, and then it kind of morphed into The New Haven Fat Liberation Front, and there was a-

Judy: Well...

Charlotte and Judy: It split.

Charlotte: Yeah.

Judy: Um, the LA group kind of disbanded, but the bits and pieces from the other groups that we had led got together and tried to keep the group going, and the New haven group went off together. But things were so bad. There was so much, I can't go into all the details.

Charlotte: No, of course.

Judy: But there was a lot of, do you know what folies à deux is?

Charlotte: Yeah.

Judy: Well this was like folies à quatre [laughs].

Charlotte: Oh!

Judy: And, uh, there was a time when a whole group of them just didn't sleep for days and started accusing the other half of us of things that just were not...

Charlotte: Right, so there was a lot of acrimony and...

Judy: Yeah, only it was not true what they were saying, they were angry and they were saying what their feelings were, but they weren't saying why. They were saying the wrong thing. Anyway.

Charlotte: Oh. Oh well, things end, right?

Judy: Ha. But the whole things split up and then, uh, then as soon as they got to the East Coast, within a year they had all split up and gone [makes ripping sound] on the East Coast.

Charlotte: Yeah. I wonder if it's something to do with, you know, the changing political climate in the early 80s as well, about, you know-

Judy: I thought it had to do with who was in love with who.

Charlotte: Oh ok! It was very personal.

Judy: And who, she was in love with her, who wasn't in love with she, but was in love instead with her, and it just kept going around like that, there was this little group and everybody loved somebody else, we've seen it, it's not new.

Charlotte: What happened to you after the split? How did your fat politics evolve post Fat Underground?

Judy: I burned out.

Charlotte: Yeah.

Judy: So for a while I didn't do anything. I got sick, physically sick, and I, uh [pause] I think I think that was about the point, I mean not too much longer after that, that I moved up to Sonoma County.

Charlotte: Space.

Judy: You know, people scattered. Yeah. And I didn't expect to do fat politics there, but it had already gone before me.

Charlotte: Right, because of the groundwork you had already done with other people.

Judy: Yeah. So they had slideshows and things that they were giving me credit for before I even wanted it [Charlotte laughs] You know, "I don't want that identity, I want to start fresh!"

Charlotte: Uh-oh!

Judy: Too late! Yeah.

Charlotte: Ok, so you were living-

Judy: And now most people don't know me as a fat activist. Here.

Charlotte: Oh, so how do people know you here?

Judy: The people out there that are fat activists know I'm here, but the people here don't know I'm a fat activist, and I've been here three years. Because they know I'm a lesbian activist, and how much can one person take! [laughs and coughs]

Charlotte: Yeah, ok!

So you had a period of burnout, and I dunno, but yet people wanted, wanted stuff from you in some way.


Judy's sculpture at the Jewish Home for the Aged,
San Francisco
Judy: [coughing] It was too much. I was pretty sick. I had a really bad asthma attack and I couldn't hardly breathe for a long time, and I started doing my political work, started being something else, I started reading from The Women's Blind Press, because it was something that I could do in my own time when I felt well enough and when the, when the, you know, when there was a little not so much background noise, you know I could get up at midnight in my apartment and it would be quiet, and I could read a book. So for ten years I did Women's Blind Press, and I did another Jewish newspaper that, uh, for the blind, and uh.

Charlotte: And you were also involved with church business as well?

Judy: The church thing started, didn't start until about fifteen years ago. I moved to a new apartment when I got a little money, I accidentally came across a deal that the county of Alameda was giving first-time house-buyers special [pause] what is it when you buy a house?

Charlotte and Esther: A mortgage?

Judy: A mortgage. Special mortgages where, if you're a first-time buyer you only needed five per cent down, and somebody, I, somebody found out about it for me, a realtor I knew found out about it for me, and she knew I had been thinking about moving, I had been living in Berkeley in a rental for years and the Berkeley rental rules were getting tossed out and my rent was going way up up up and I thought I had a little money that my mother gave me, I might as well try and find something to buy because at this rate the rent is gonna just wipe me out. So she found me this place and that was a Friday, and on Saturday she took me to see this place, I decided I wanted it on Sunday, we signed the papers on Monday morning and at Monday noon the thing ended, the offer, so I just lucked out, I got in just under the wire. And I lived there for about ten years.

While I was there, my apartment was on the bottom floor, it was like under the ground [laughs] I like that.

Charlotte: You were still The Fat Underground.

Judy: [laughs] That's true! I hadn't thought about it! I like cosy, cave-like. I don't need like a lot of sunshine. I like cosy. So my apartment, you were in my apartment? T was a nice little apartment.

Esther: Yeah. It was wonderful.

Judy: A little cosy apartment, a little one-bedroom place, and it was very cheap. At that time it was $68,000. That was really cheap. And I bought it and then when I went to a doctor and they said I, that I was going to die, five years ago, yeah five years ago, I went to the doctor for about the tenth time and they said: "There's nothing more we can do, for you you've got two weeks to two months to live, get your affairs in order." So I started [makes industrious/exasperated noise] you know and trying to get all my paperwork in order and I had to sell my condo, and my friend wanted it, so we worked out a deal. And we were both happy with that, we've never had any problems.

And, um, well this apartment, because I was underground, you could drive into the driveway, go down and park, and you would be on the floor that you were living on, so there would be no stairs, no elevators, it was better for me, I was still walking then but, not much, and I was, you know, canes and stuff.

So then I was on the bridge during the Lomo Prieta earthquake.

Charlotte: Yes, yes, you said.

Judy: And then [long pause] I started thinking a lot about dying, because I had been on the bridge, and I thought "What do I want done with my body?" and I couldn't decide. So I thought "Who do you go to when you need to decide such things? You go to some religious place." And I didn’t have any affiliation with any religious place, but I am Jewish. Um, so I started looking for a synagogue to see if I could find a Rabbi to talk to about it. But all the synagogues around me where I could, that were accessible, only had Friday night services, they didn't have Saturday morning, and my apartment building, there was no parking on the street really after about five o'clock, because they'd all be filled up.

Charlotte: Right, so it would basically be inaccessible to you, places where you could have gone to discuss-

Judy: So I had to find a place where I could go in the daytime. So then my friend Cathy Cade, who I knew from something else, said: "You ought to try my church, it's got a lot of Jews, and a lot of gay people, and it's a really good place," "Ok". So I went once, I'd never belonged to a religious organisation before, I sat in the back of this church and listened to one whole programme, it was an hour, and I cried through the whole thing, and I never cry, I mean I was one of those people, I hadn't cried in ten years. I went for ten years and never did cry, just-

Charlotte: Stoic.

Judy: Stiff. Upper. Lip! [makes lip-smacking noise]


Poster for Judy's play, Polly's Phat Phollies,
in her room at the Jewish Home for the Aged,
San Francisco
And I sat there in that church and I just cried and I just didn't know why I was crying, but I was very moved by it and so I just started coming back every Sunday and I ended up joining and being very active there and I did a lot of, I did a lot of things there, I led worship, I taught classes, I took classes, I, um, and I never well, I did one summer session on fat with another woman who was a fat activist and it happened, we did it, nobody ever said anything about it, nobody ever commented, it was like a stone that had been thrown into a well that had no water in it, no bottom! [Charlotte laughs] But the people there were pretty good in the sense that, when there would be food, which was often, there'd be potlucks and things, big eating community, nobody would say those things, like "I shouldn't eat that because it's fattening," I didn't hear it in that church. So I felt ok, I didn't push it.

Charlotte: As time went on were you aware of other fat things starting to blossom and bloom, even though you might not have been involved with them directly? Were you aware of other-

Judy: In the church?

Charlotte: Not so much in the church but in other, like were you aware of the growth of fat community perhaps during this period, were you directly involved?

Judy: Yeah, the fat community has been growing, it's been growing and it sort of stopped for a while while we got some younger folks in because there was a period where there seemed to be an interest in an age group that younger went with down there – thank god! Thank god for that.

Charlotte: So you knew that there was stuff happening elsewhere even though you weren't directly involved.

Judy: Oh yeah, there was always stuff going on, there were things like somebody would throw a dance once every couple of months, lesbians dance, you know, there were people, there were other groups, there was a group called [pause] now what was it called? [pause] It was a San Francisco group [pause] Max

Charlotte: Fat GiRL.

Judy: Airborne. No, this was before FaT GiRL. Um. And then there was Marilyn Wann.

Charlotte: With Fat!So?

Judy: There were things going on, you know, and the listserv, and this HAES stuff was happening on the internet. At first it wasn't called HAES but it was-

Charlotte: That's what it turned into.

Judy: The same people.

Charlotte: So, I suppose yeah, we've been talking for quite a while now, I'm just sort of wondering how you think the, well, what would you like the future of the fat movement to look like, or fat queer, or LGBT movement to look like? What does your utopia look like? How do you think?

Judy: Well the best movement looks like it isn't needed. So I'd like there not need to be any fat movement or gay and lesbian movement. Everybody's happy with everybody as they are, and isn't trying to change them, and isn't discriminating against each other for various things.

And meantime we've got the damn TV to fight with every day. Commercials that are forcing opinions, talk about propaganda. Ugh. How do you fight that, all those millions of dollars in TV advertising?

Charlotte: Well, there is a punk saying: "don't hate the media, become the media."

Judy: [laughs] Well, it's not so easy. I would just, as things came along I would do them, like when this woman was being on trial because they were saying it was her responsibility that her daughter died.

Charlotte: Yes, the Christina Corrigan case.


Image from one of Judy's notebooks
held at GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco
Judy: I just went to the court every day, I didn't have any official position there, and every time the news media would see me they'd come grab me because I'm obvious. And I went to the whole trial and I wrote about it and I don’t know how helpful I was but I was in connection with other people who were in various ways, including Sondra Solovay [pause].

One of the things we used to do early on, were a lot of just sort of like wanting to do this to them [pulls fuck you face] you know. So what we would do is we-

Charlotte: I really love that face! Get them!

Judy: Yeah! We would get a big group of fat people, women usually, a lot of fat women, and make a reservation at a nice restaurant, and we would go to one of those places where they would have a big round table, and we would all sit at the table in this restaurant and talk and laugh and make lots of noise, and be really happy [both laugh]. Drove them CRAZY!

Charlotte: I love those, the everyday, the everyday actions that you do with people, they're so powerful and so beautiful. And fun.

Judy: Yeah, I mean you can't really plan on them even, sometimes you just do whatever comes to your mind.

Another thing I used to do, and I used to do this alone, just because I couldn't get anybody to do it with me, but I would sign up for various conferences, medical, nursing, whatever was appropriate, not necessarily a fat topic, but just people that worked with people and were abusive, you know. And I would go to the conference and I would get dressed up and, you know, I would be official. Usually I got them to pay for my entrance, which was nice, and they would have these fancy rooms, you know, with glasses piled up with [pause]

Charlotte: With champagne coming out of it?

Judy: Well it didn't even have to have champagne, but it had the glasses. One time I accidentally caught my wheelchair on a [Charlotte: Uh-oh!] tablecloth [Charlotte laughs].

Charlotte: Whoops!

Judy: Brought down the house. Everything fell on everybody's lap, they turned and looked at me and I said: "Now here's a person who knows how to make a surprise entrance!" [laughter]

Charlotte: Oh Judy, that's beautiful!


Judy's t-shirt, from the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco
I think I've run out of questions that I wanted to ask you, but I wondered if there's anything you wanted to say, or maybe Esther has questions, or stuff that-

Judy: There'll be more, you know I think we need to talk again another time because we skipped around timewise, there's whole areas we skipped, and uh.

Charlotte: Perhaps as I come to write this up if I could, you know, well I'll send you what I've got and we could continue a discussion through emailing perhaps, or I could call you.

Judy: When are you leaving?

Charlotte: On the 27th. I've got a couple of weeks here.

Judy: Do you want to come back again?

Charlotte: possibly I would like to, but I'm also quite busy interviewing other people and, to be honest, I feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment, so I think it might be that I need time to digest.

Judy: Ok.

Well. If you wanted me again in person, call me. You know my number.

Esther: I'll give you Judy's information.

Charlotte: Ok, thank you.

Judy: And, if not, we can find another way. I'm not very good at doing email.

Charlotte; that's fine.

Judy: because it's access to the computer that's a problem for me.

Charlotte: But if I wrote you a letter you'd be able to respond? Or phone is better probably.

Judy: Phone is better. Do you have a tape recorder that'll tape the phone message?

Charlotte: Yes, this, I can plug it in.

Judy: You can plug it into the phone?

Charlotte: Mm-hmm.

Judy: How about that?

Charlotte: So there's, yeah, I understand that there are bits that were skipped around and to be honest, you know, my knowledge of your activism is also very bitty and I kind of think "Well, so be it." You know, you know I can't reproduce your amazingly rich lived life in an hour when I've only just met you, it's not going to be like that, but it's really thrilling to hear your stories.

Judy: Well if you've got what you think you need, that's fine, but if you think of anything else, call me.

Charlotte: Yeah.

Oh, I suppose I wanted to ask you a bit more about your Jewishness and how if there's, I don't know, I'm just, it's amazing hearing about your family and their disinterest in your activist but also, again, I'm really interested in these moments of awakening and I'm wondering if your Jewishness was also a part of that, because I'm aware of, you know, a radical seam of Jewish people, I'm just, all those worlds, I'm wondering how they-

Judy: We're everywhere.

Charlotte: Yeah!


Judy's things in her room at the Jewish Home for the Aged
San Francisco
Esther: But they also voted for Reagan. That's what's so amazing about your dad.

Judy: He wasn't the only one. We're not monolithic. Even the gay people have it.

Charlotte: Yeah.

Judy: Lincoln, what is it, the-

Esther: Log Cabin Republicans.

Charlotte: Ew.

Esther: Well I could take a picture of the two of you.

Charlotte: That would be really kind.

Esther: It's so moving to me, you know I'm not an activist, I'm a researcher, to see the founding foremother and then the new – to me you're very young – the new generation, it's very moving.

Charlotte: Well, I'm just thrilled, Thrilled, THRILLED to bits to be here, absolutely!

Ok, I'm going to turn this sucker off.

9 comments:

susanstinson said...

Beautiful. This is great. I almost cried when I was talking about Judy today. I think I've been at one or two of those big, loud happy tables, and I didn't know that they had a history as intentional activism. Thank you for doing this work.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your work today.

Stacy Bias said...

Thanks for making this available, Charlotte. It feels IMPORTANT. I have read through 1/4th of it, and will be coming back as i have time to take it all in. Thanks for this, and so much else. <3

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic. Thank you, Charlotte. So great to get to read a personal account of the history of Fat Politics.

Caitlin O'Reilly

abigail.s.vines@gmail.com said...

It does feel important... I feel very lucky to even come into contact with this conversation. Your meeting with Judy seems like it was written in the heavens : )

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks folks.

Ally said...

Thank you for transcribing and putting this on the internet, Charlotte. It really packed a punch for me. I am relatively new to FA and I feel like so much of what I know/engage with is based on blogs and bloggers. This interview made me think about the need for our canon.

Bri said...

This is amazing stuff. Thankyou for posting it.

Sarah said...

I can't believe you don't have more comments on this. This was a really beautiful, important interview, especially for someone like me who has just started to enter this fat activism realm, but it also seems like great personal insight to Judy Freespirit for someone who is already very active. Thank you.