26 March 2010

Interview: Geleni Fontaine

I first encountered Geleni Fontaine doing fierce, high, martial arts kicks early one Sunday morning in New Jersey. I've come to think of those kicks a metaphor for hir activism, which is powerful, dignified, and always delivered with compassion.

These days you're more likely to come across Geleni practicing at People's Acupuncture of Brooklyn, which champions services on a sliding scale for seniors, families, people of colour, queer and trans folks, survivors of violence, and everyone in all bodies. Are you in love yet? Geleni's radical vision of the clinic should be a blueprint for all health practitioners and their places of work.

Before reading this interview, you might want to check out Geleni's 2008 Nolose keynote (.pdf, 204kb), which might help introduce you to understand where h' is coming from a bit more. For me it was a thrill to witness, a great, loving mix of culture, gender, activism and beauty, and really inspiring.

By the way, that's Geleni with h' mother in the picture.

Ok, let's take it away...

I have to say that delivering the keynote at Nolose in 2005 was a big deal for me, it was a turning point. Maybe I'm projecting but your own keynote in 2008 seemed like a significant moment for you too. If so, would you like to say a few things about that?

It was a very important moment for me in both public and private ways. It was like being turned inside out in that my identities and the way they interweave were at the forefront, and at the same time the community/ies I was speaking to and for became more intimate to me. That’s the best way I can explain it. It wasn’t necessarily comfortable, but felt good and transcendent.

At Nolose, you mentioned coming to fat community for the first time in the mid-90s. What was it that drew you there and what does fat community mean to you now? (By fat community, I mean places where fatness can be discussed, but not necessarily places where only fat is discussed)

It's funny how much this is all tied into my evolving identity/ies, but then that only makes sense.

I remember going to the pediatrician with my mother when I was a kid, and the doctor telling my mother we would both die young because we were fat. I internalised that message deeply. Until I was in my late teens I waged a really desperate war with my body that I felt I couldn’t ever afford to lose, or I would lose my life.

I remember the first time it occurred to me that being fat might not necessarily mean I had to die young. I was watching the Oprah Winfrey show in the late 80s and she had a fat woman aerobics teacher on stage who talked about being fat and healthy. (She sat on the ground in a wide V-stretch and the audience gasped, presumably because they didn’t think someone her size could do that.) Considering the possibility that I could live without hating myself and trying to change my body was such a new thing. I felt like my head was blown open and I had no one to talk to about it.

Technically the first fat community I found was through these dance parties for "fat women and their admirers" in New York City in the late 80s. (I was 19 or 20 years old.) These were slightly creepy events that didn’t fit me. I wasn’t out as queer then and these were very straight spaces which were sexualised in a mean and competitive way. I identified as a woman then and found myself having hard time relating to anyone else around me, but had a few brief affairs and eventually moved on.

I came out as a lesbian a few years later at a time when I was coming into my own body in different ways, especially through training in martial arts. At about this time I got hold of a copy of Shadow on A Tightrope, which was the first book about fat acceptance I’d heard of. It impacted me deeply. Something in me softened and hardened at the same time; I felt less alone, but more enraged at injustice.

In the early 90s I found an ad in the newsletter of the New York City LGBT Center for a group called, 'Fat is a Lesbian Issue.' It was a support and discussion group for fat lesbians run by Shira Stone and Gail Horowitz. I was at their next meeting and it filled a big gap in me at the time.

Today for me fat community is a space that honours me as a queer, trans, person of colour as much as a fat person. It’s also a place that supports my coming out – and maybe coming into – different identities. I look for and try to create spaces that welcome all of all of us. I’m most interested in communities that are both supportive and open to evolution. Like a lot of us I’ve been nourished well on identity politics, but identities shift and grow.

What are your favourite examples of fat activism?

Though I think organising and creating culture are in some ways the most crucial kinds of activism, I’m always astounded by the power of simple face to face or very personal moments that make people stop and question everything. I guess I also define activism pretty broadly.

I remember working with a feminist queer group and a bunch of us leading a training for thin women on the subject of fat hatred and thin privilege. As soon as they entered the room we had them try to take a seat in tiny kindergarten chairs (the only seating available to them) that were jammed tightly together with no room to pull them apart for comfort. They experienced what it’s like to be in a place that not only didn’t fit their bodies, but actually excluded them. Several of them had to stand. We had good conversations and education in that space.

I like simple actions that artfully upend assumptions and leave people groundless for a minute, like the 'Yay! Scale' created by Marilyn Wann and her friends. People are welcomed to stand on a scale, which instead of giving numbers for their weight pays them a compliment on their bodies. You can see that moment when people are flummoxed, and then they smile.

There’s a lot to be said for the power of interrupting someone in the moment and offering a different perspective, especially when face to face. When I’m able to do it I’m always surprised at how effective it can be. And there are certainly times when I’m not able to do it. I’ve learned from working with survivors of violence that we all do the best we can in the moment when facing oppression, and sometimes that means just getting through or past a particular incident, healing and learning from it while we build resources to make change – to me that’s as valid as any other activism.

I admire how you bring compassion to your work, even when raising things that would make a lot of people enraged. Is this a conscious strategy? How might activists adopt a more compassionate approach?

Thanks! Yup, this is something I try to do. My weird childhood with my family taught me to look at issues from different perspectives, including ones I don’t share, as a survival mechanism. I remember being a homophobic future queer as a little kid, and that reminds me that our own fears can be the source of hatred and limit and manipulate our perspective, but also that people can change. I teach de-escalation, assertiveness, and self-defence skills to queer people and people of colour fairly often and everyone I work with gives me ideas. Everyday people find brilliant ways of being heard and get stronger for it, and it often starts by relating to the other person as a person first instead of an obstacle. This helps me stay grounded.

I also try to give myself permission to take time and space to consider how to approach a person or respond to an issue. And once I address something the best way I can I try not to carry it around. Of course, this is all still a work in progress.

Could you say a little about how you address fatness in your clinical work? Perhaps as a fat practitioner, and also with fat clients?

From a purely logistical perspective I do things like use extra-wide zero gravity chairs that can support a lot of weight, but I also try to set a tone that questions people’s assumptions and labels about their own bodies and those of others, in regard to size and much more. I often hear people refer to pained part of their bodies as 'bad.' I challenge a lot of self-blaming ("I should have known better," "I was so dumb to do that.") The more I do this work the more I see that many of us are trying to atone for just being human.

One thing that I like a lot about doing acupuncture is that it approaches each person as their own landscape; unique but interconnected with everyone and everything else. This means that any two people have the same acupuncture point in the same location, but for one person it might be found in a dip in their flesh and for another in a rise. It’s all about learning individual geography in the context of a shared whole. This feels right and exciting to me because it’s a model that fits everyone.

Your mother sounds like quite a woman, could you tell me more about her?

My mother is 75 years old. She’s short and fat, with a very big smile. Some of my favourite self-defence stories feature her being brave when secretly frightened, showing confidence when not really sure how to proceed, and speaking to someone trying to terrify her (in one case a man with a gun pointed at her head) in a calm voice and tone until an incident was over. She voted for Obama in our last election and I suspect she has a crush on him. She’s a bit of a non-stop talker and a little crazy (she would only agree!) She’s the most charming person I’ve ever met and a fabulously bold knitter. And I’m her favourite acupuncturist

What else would you like to say?

Thanks so much for this opportunity! I’m so pleased *** And thanks for your own amazing work. You inspire me all the time. (Charlotte: blub! I love you!)

22 March 2010

Anti-obesity campaigns: Dyke Dollars and Fat Fivers

I saw a great film at the weekend, Laura Terruso's comic short, Dyke Dollar. It's based on a piece of 90s queer activism in the US. I'm paraphrasing but they wanted to highlight that queer people contribute to the economy and have as much right to the fruits of that economy as anyone else. They did this by writing and printing 'dyke dollar,' and probably other phrases too, on banknotes and putting them into circulation. It's amazing to think of someone in Nowheresville coming across a dyke dollar, which is the premise of Turruso's excellent and funny film.

The post about Donna Simpson has shown that the connection between fat and the economy is really contentious. It harks back to one of the fundaments of fat panic that was sparked by the World Health Organization report that set the idea of an obesity epidemic in motion in the early 2000s. That is, fatness must be stopped and managed because it costs the global economy too much money. This is a crap argument because it assumes that fat people have poor health and reduced mortality, despite evidence to the contrary. It's doubly crap because the WHO report was authored by people who have financial interests in weight loss industries.

Despite it's crapness, people are really invested in the idea that fatties are a drain on the economy and should do everyone a favour by losing weight (though never mind that sustained, long-term, healthy weight loss is an oxymoron in most cases, yes, there's evidence to support this claim too). Just look at the Centers for Disease Control's reprehensible Obesity Cost Calculator. Fat panic propaganda clearly works, and is especially potent when combined with ideological debates about who pays for health, brought to a head with the vote and passing of the Healthcare Bill in the US today.

The lie constructed by fat panic that fat people are social parasites is not true, fatties contribute to our respective economies just like anyone else, and are as entitled as anyone else to the benefits of those economies. In the UK this means that I contribute to the National Health Service through taxation, I am more than happy to do this, I'd rather my money went here than most other places. The money I contribute to the economy also pays for people's wages, social justice, and any product or service you can name. I think it would be great to highlight these contributions, just as the proponents of Dyke Dollars did, so I'm thinking of perhaps tweaking this olde worlde actyvyfm and exchanging them for Fat Fivers.

Fat Fivers can come in any currency. All you need to do is write 'Fat' on a five unit note and spend it, save it, do whatever you want with it. That's it. Easy eh?

One thing: there's more to liberation than economics, though understanding how money flows helps us understand where the power lies. Sometimes people confuse freedom with the freedom to buy and sell stuff, but I think that this is a false freedom based on a faulty ideology. It would be good to have a discussion about how Dyke Dollars and Fat Fivers contribute to and demolish capitalism, I could see them becoming a symbol of the value of wealth, rather than a criticism of a system that rewards some at the expense of many. On the other hand, who wouldn't be happy to come across a Fat Fiver some day? It might prompt further questions, such as on what and where would one spend it? On a box of Alli?! Or a set of Yay Scales? Fat zines? Put it towards a fat community event? What will you do with the power in your hands?

15 March 2010

Donna Simpson attempts to become the world's fattest woman

Whilst hands are raised in horror, I'm coming out to say that I support Donna Simpson in her quest to become the world's fattest woman. Need to know more? A news story about her is currently zipping across the wires, get ready to encounter her on a talk show near you soon.

It's questionable whether or not becoming the world's fattest woman is really her intention; it could be the Daily Mail's journalistic spin on running a random stereotype-filled story about a superfat woman on the eve of bikini season – always a crowd pleaser; or it could be part of Simpson's own marketing spiel for her website. Maybe it's all her anonymous husband's idea.

(I'm uncomfortable with the way that Simpson's daughter is being used in the photographs, perhaps to denote that she is a 'good mother,' a necessary defence against her likely demonising. Hopefully her daughter is finding the attention interesting, exciting and illuminating).

But supposing, against all odds, the headline is a genuine reflection of her true intent. The photographs accompanying the Daily Mail article show her sitting on a tatty settee, and shopping in a supermarket. Her circumstances look modest. It makes me wonder if becoming the world's fattest woman is a shorthand for making something of your life when you have very little. When you have very little, your body is something that you can use to make something. You can sell sex, you can fight, you can be in a freak show, you can sell parts of it. Simpson lives in a country that venerates individual enterprise, and here she is with a business getting people to pay to watch her eat; she's an entrepreneur of the body.

It's perplexing that such a body project should be presented within a set of ideas about fat. I suspect I speak for many when I say that I'm not interested in becoming the fattest woman in the world myself: I don't like eating massive amounts of food, I have no fat fetishist constituency to please, I try to maintain my health as far as I can, I have other skills that garner capital. Simpson is clearly ahead of the rest of us, operating in a rarified realm, yet her story is being used as a proxy for all fat people. The stereotypes in the news report reflect cultural anxieties about over-consumption, junk food, idleness, disability, 'the children', and whose tax £££$$$€€€ will pay for this!? She's apparently a symbol for us all, when few of us are in her league.

In seeking to become the world's fattest woman Simpson reminds me that bodies have no rules and that we can do what we like with them. Bodies are our connection to freedom (which might explain why they are so heavily policed). Even when one's rights have been eroded to nothing, one can hunger strike. I don't think Simpson's gaining project is about rights, but I do think it's about pushing the limits of human embodiment and probably about making some money. The celebrated French artist-philosopher Orlan does this through surgeries and gets exhibitions and monographs written about her. Simpson's body project is vernacular, so she gets trashed, but both unsettle notions of what constitutes a proper body. I think it's good to challenge propriety, even when it's work that I wouldn’t undertake, I think such challenges are heroic, I respect the pioneers that undertake them.

What would make this project really zip would be a collaboration of some kind with other superfat women. It's thrilling to read that Simpson rejected weight loss surgery, for example, and surely there are other similar accounts out there, proving that WLS dos not have to be default if you're very fat. Bring on the superfat visibility, be the authors and advocates of and for your own lives. And where's the current world's fattest woman? Surely she deserves a comment.

13 March 2010

Diet Songs: Diet Pepsi

The original jingle is a classic of the over-orchestrated, highly shrieked diet pop variety of the mid-80s. It starts off quite intimately before turning into a horrible, wince-inducing crescendo. There are too many words in it too, which adds to the feeling of breathless exhaustion when you're listening to it.

As always in diet songs, the lyrics are creepy and insidious. It all hinges on a teeny-tiny, elusive calorie. Food consisting of one small calorie is a good thing! I resent references to 'that great Pepsi taste,' it's a bit over-presumptuous, as though they're sure I already agree that this stuff tastes fantastic. Bah.

Simon recorded a track in a register that was a bit too low for my natural singing voice. The first takes sounded weak, but then we had the idea to layer a load of tracks to give it more strength. It gives me a monster voice, which I really like, and which suits the monstrous nature of the jingle. The whole thing reminds me of a somewhat obscure single by The Captain Howdy (featuring Kramer and Penn Jillette) called The Best Song Ever Written, which came out on Shimmy Disc in the early 90s.

Diet Songs: Diet Pepsi by Charlotte Cooper + Simon Murphy (.mp3, 473kb)

Diet Songs
New Project: Diet Songs
Nimble
Slim-Fast
Tab
Diet Pepsi
Nutrasweet
Diet Coke
Ryvita
Ayds
Special K

10 March 2010

Interview: Elana Dykewomon

Elana Dykewomon's essay, Travelling Fat, was one of the first pieces of writing about fat activism that I ever came across. In this work she talks about a series of everyday micro inequalities, the low level grind that many fat women encounter daily, those tiny interactions that remind us of our marginalisation.

What captivated me were her descriptions of fat-inclusive spaces. Ideas of how good things could be and how to create inclusion were greatly encouraging at a time when I was quite isolated from fat community.

Through Travelling Fat, and in others works by other writers, I went on to find a rich seam of fat activism in second wave feminism, in radical lesbian feminism and in lesbian separatism. I was often on the wrong side of these feminisms, painfully so; they offered a flawed frame for my own life whilst remaining powerful and relevant for other people, including many older lesbians. This comparatively extensive body of work offers a significant critique of fat hatred as well as possibilities for social change around fat that addresses systemic power. It means a lot to me and I'm grateful that Dykewomon's work helped lead me to it. Unfortunately this literature is surprisingly overlooked in Fat Studies, and hidden to younger generations of fat activists. I would like to see it made available for discussion whilst acknowledging the difficulties of that process.

Dykewomon is a lesbian novelist whose novels contain positive images of fat women and lesbians. Her writing engages with complexity, apparently fearlessly. Her writing on fat from the 1980s to the present is as fresh and nuanced as it ever was. She navigates multiple identities seamlessly through essays, poetry and fiction. If you've never read her work, order something from the library or your favourite bookshop today. It's hot stuff.

Anyway, I'm a fan and it's an honour to interview her here, she's a Rad Fatty and a half.

How did you come to have fat politics?

I must have read about the Fat Underground of Los Angeles in an early issue of Lesbian Connection – sometime around 1976 or 77. I ordered a photocopy of their papers (it cost a $1!), and hid it under my bed – the way I had with the first lesbian pulp novels I'd bought. The great secret: we can – we must – we do – love our bodies starts out as something we have to hide – not so much because we are ashamed of our desires (although that may linger), but because we are afraid of being shamed by others.

It takes a lifetime to deflect what gets thrown at us, as dykes, as fat women – as anything else we may be that makes others uncomfortable.

Reading those first Fat Underground pieces inspired me, and I began thinking and writing my own essays and poems. When I moved to the West Coast in 1979, I began friendships with other fat activists, most notably Judy Freespirit.

What can lesbian feminism teach people who are interested in building and creating fat culture?

One of the essences of lesbian feminism is its interrogation of power. Who holds power? Why? How? Those questions apply to everything we can think about our bodies, including size. One revelation I had, for instance, was while listening to a presentation given by the independent lesbian feminist historian, Max Dashu, on foot-binding. I understood that mothers willingly mutilate their daughters' bodies in order to make them more acceptable to upper- and ruling-class men. The more 'bound' a woman is, the more she has class mobility through her alliances with men in power. This works the same way for dieting.

What are the differences and similarities in the work around fat that was going on in the early '80s, around the time of Shadow on a Tightrope, for example, and what is happening now?

The web makes a big difference in breaking isolation for fat women – while Shadow on a Tightrope is still extremely relevant, research is much easier to come by, as well as community. Bloggers like yourself create new energy and possibilities. The NoLose conferences also have created a group of fat queer activists who engage in all kinds of tactics. Marilyn Wann stands out to me as someone who creatively engages people in many venues – from passers-by on the lake walk to doctors in training – around the assumptions, misinformation and truth about fatness. Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay have done a tremendous job of coordinating fat activists in academia (and its fringes) – their book, The Fat Studies Reader, has been getting mainstream attention – something unthinkable even ten years ago.

I'm interested in the way you describe yourself as a cultural worker*, I think of this as an aspiration that is politically valuable, a kind of activism in itself. Yet I also see that 'stars' are important touchstones for people, especially fat people. I'm thinking about Gabourey Sidibe, Beth Ditto, and activists like Nomy Lamm, how people find their charisma and star power exciting and inspiring. Got any comments?

*Someone whose 'product' is part of the community she lives in. The basic idea is that every lesbian needs appreciation and respect for the work she does, but no one needs to be a 'star'; and cultural work should serve the community it comes from. (Dykewomon, E. (2001) 'Changing the World', in Gartrell, N. & Rothblum, E. D. (Eds.) Everyday Mutinies: Funding Lesbian Activism, Binghampton: Harrington Park Press 53-62.)

Wasn't that my comment? But: Virginia Woolf wrote that we cannot become whole until we have accurate mirrors that reflect us. Many kinds of mirrors need to exist. Putting our talents forward is important – I see Nomy Lamm, for instance, as a cultural worker (though I'm not sure what she would say about herself in this context). Sidibe and Ditto will never be stars like Halle Berry and Patti Smith (well, maybe Ditto will, who knows?) – and 'stardom' is worthy of a complete essay in this context. Of course we need all the encouraging images we can get. It's important to keep stars in perspective, though – the few 'exceptional' fat women (dykes, disabled women, women of colour) who 'make' it can be used negatively to keep 'the rest of us' in our places, as well as positively to inform our self-images and activism.

What is a radical activist?

Someone who analyses power relationships and is committed to living as principled a life as she can among her peers. Someone whose principles included loving kindness as well as searching for truth. ('Principled life' also needs a separate essay.)

What advice do you have for people who are new to fat politics?

Read: the brand new Fat Studies Reader, the old Shadow on a Tightrope, old copies of FaT GiRL magazine, anything else you can find. Remember consciousness raising groups from the 70s? These might be particularly good to revisit for budding fat activists – gather a group of fat folks together and explore issues. (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change – OLOC – has been doing this around age-related issues for years now.) While the web is a great place to start, nothing beats face-to-face open-hearted discussion.

What else would you like to say here?

As I wrote at the end of the real fat womon poems, it's crucial "not to let our enemies win inside us." The older I get, the more I realize how sneaky our enemies are, how hard to root out. Centring, settling into our bodies, loving ourselves into our own power is a daily undertaking. Begin here.

www.dykewomon.org

Burgard, D., Dykewomon, E., Rothblum, E. & Thomas, P. (2009) 'Are We Ready to Throw Our Weight Around? Fat Studies and Political Activism', in: Rothblum, E. & Solovay, S. (eds.) The Fat Studies Reader. New York: New York University Press, 334-340.

Dykewomon, E. (2009) Risk. Ann Arbor, MI: Bywater Books.

Dykewomon, E. (1997) Beyond the Pale. Current editions available from: London: Onlywomen, and Vancouver: Raincoast.

Dykewomon, E. (1993) 'Introduction', in: Stinson, S., Belly Songs: In Celebration of Fat Women. Northampton, MA: Susan Stinson.

Dykewomon, E. (1983) 'Travelling Fat', in: Schoenfielder, L. & Wieser, B. (eds.) Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression. Iowa City: Aunt Lute, 144-154.

04 March 2010

Anti-obesity campaigns: Weight Watchers and McDonalds partner with NHS

Weight Watchers has come under fire for its partnership with McDonalds in New Zealand. Making health claims on McDonalds food is pretty ridiculous, as a couple of commentators point out; the food is salty, greasy and nasty. Reports don't mention the wider social context that has an impact on health, McDonalds' shocking environmental record, for example, or its use of cheap labour, its union-busting practices, or its colonisation of lower class neighbourhoods. The alliance is bad news in a lot of ways.

Yet Weight Watchers already have a business relationship with Heinz, who produce Weight Watchers branded ready meals and processed food-products. So it's not as if Weight Watchers are new to the game of shilling cheap-to-produce, high-profit-margin, ersatz food-shaped gloop to people. Why the surprise about McDonalds? If you don't like it, don't buy it, and tell the company why.

The partnership is horrifying if you think that Weight Watchers represents some kind of medium for improving people's health. In fact, its partnership with McDonalds is entirely in keeping with the company and the brand; weight loss multinationals have little interest in health, it's all about business. Fat hatred is a powerful marketing strategy, it's made for capitalism, and endorsed through the Global Obesity EpidemicTM.

This is what makes Weight Watchers association with the National Health Service quite chilling. Call me old fashioned, but I don't think there's a place for such a business in a publicly-funded and nationally-owned health service. The Weight Watchers Referral Scheme, as well as similar partnerships with other weight loss companies, means that "the obese" are shunted along to these services as customers. It doesn't appear to matter that Weight Watchers is selling a product that interferes with rather than enhances health, and whose own evaluative data is obscure at best. Even if I don't like any of this, as a fat patient I am likely to be pressured by my health providers in the NHS into going along with it and joining Weight Watchers too.

Working within the NHS validates the weight loss industry, it endorses Weight Watchers and subsequently their relationship with McDonalds. It's outrageous too that the British government has given a platform to the weight loss industry (check out these 2004 Minutes of Evidence, for example, where Weight Watchers is lobbying for a piece of the NHS action, and also featuring those loveable goofs from TOAST). Such alliances do not promote health, they promote business. I think these ties should be dissolved and official guidelines on treating obesity in the UK be revised, with an investment made in developing Health At Every Size instead.

02 March 2010

Radical sex and fat activism

Two long-standing fat activists, Phedre and Cholla, have issued a call for participants inviting members of the Nolose community to co-create an inclusive "late night intentional erotic space" at the forthcoming conference.

Volunteers are requested to take on the role of courtesans, who will make themselves available to offer a range of sexual services based on their own personal specialisations. Here, sex is conceptualised in expansive ways, it could include various kinds of "erotic touch," BDSM play, or other activities. Phedre and Cholla write: "Creating access to sex positive space is a political act especially when it fully embraces fat bodies and creates a place where disenfranchised people can speak their desires." So here sex is also understood as political, and generating collective embodied pleasure is activism in a wider social context where pleasure is regarded as sinful, and where isolation, denial and shame are sexual currency. It's not just activism, it's fat activism because it acknowledges the particular impact of discrimination and marginalisation on fat people and is doing something to redress that wrong. Right on.

As if my heart were not already singing, the call for participants goes on to say: "Our hopes in making this sex positive space is that all attendees at Nolose will have equal access to erotic touch, sensual exploration and the space to speak and experience their desires." The idea of an accessible sex-positive space, which prioritises participant's safety, is really special. The radical potential of shameless sex between shameless bodies as a community project is not being reserved for beautiful, popular, or cool people only; it's something to which everyone has the potential to contribute, if they so wish. Perhaps the subtext here is that everybody has the right to such experience.

I'm swooning at the sheer brilliance of this project, but I've got a few more things to add before I die of happiness...

Firstly, unlike the sex workers who set up business when a big convention comes to town, volunteering at the Den of Desire is being framed as a community service, services are offered for free, it is unlikely that money will be exchanged, though there may be a cover charge to manage costs. Anyone can volunteer to be a courtesan, and anyone can be a punter. Phedre and Cholla "especially encourage butches, transpeople, people of colour, disabled and superfat courtesans to apply," presumably because they are interested in creating a sex-positive space that reflects the Nolose community. The Den of Desire illustrates the varied contexts in which sex work might take place; it blurs the boundaries between play and work; and raises good questions about the identities and motivations of those who provide sex as a service, and those who consume. I think this is a good thing, it demystifies sex work, humanises those who do it, and it suggests that sex work can be a platform for radical social activism.

Next, 2010 will be my fourth Nolose. I have never experienced the conference as a place where I plan to hook-up with sexual partners; my interest is in community and activism, and hanging out with rad fatties. Yet isolation within the wider community, and the sheer energy of the gathering, makes it a sexy place for many people. One of the various things I love about Phedre and Cholla's proposal for an intentional sex-positive space is that it acknowledges and makes explicit the existence of sexuality at this conference. How could it not be so? Nolose developed out of gatherings of lesbians, and has blossomed to include many more genders and sexualities; desire has always been a part of it, why not make something of it?

Lastly, I'm not entirely at home with the courtesan idea, I live in a country where a monarch still holds court, the idea of sexing it up to a fantasy based on such an oppressive power system does not turn me on at all, not even in play. But I can handle that, it's a minor niggle, and I'm working on my application right now. I really want to be a part of this brave, experimental, imaginative, super-radical, utopian and mind-blowing project. This is what fat activism means to me.

Two books that have influenced the writing of this piece:

Agustín, Laura María (2007) Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, London: Zed Books. 


Califia, Patrick (2000) Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Cleis Press.


Application for Courtesans

Please answer the following questions. Your candour will help us make the Den of Desire a safer place for both you and your clientele.

Send your e-mail to denofdesire2010@gmail.com

1) Why do you want to be a courtesan for the Nolose community?

2) What do you hope to get out of it for yourself?

3) Describe your sexual style and skills.

4) What could you offer on your menu?

5) Describe yourself and your potential courtesan persona