05 October 2009

Creating intersectional fat activism with The Fat of the Land

The Fat of the Land: A Queer Chub Harvest Festival is an event I co-organised, which happened in London at the weekend.

The Fat of the Land is a secular queerifying of a traditional harvest festival, with food and gratitude, but we used this format to promote fat politics amongst London's queer and trans communities, and created intersections between various entities, such as DIY culture, riot grrrl, fat studies, Health At Every Size, radical gardeners, slow food proponents, punk, craftivism, and more. We had minimal resources to pull it together, but plenty of enthusiasm and help from people. Around 200 people came to the event. It was a massive success.

You can find out more about The Fat of the Land, and the build-up to it, over on the dedicated blog, http://queerchub.blogspot.com (and you'll understand why it has been somewhat quiet over here recently).

My co-organisers and I come from different disciplines and communities, although there is a lot of overlap between us. We all had different ideas concerning what the Fat of the Land was about. This is usually the kind of thing that causes a lot of friction, and I have seen identity politics destroy organisations, time and time again. But instead of trying to force it into one kind of shape, that suited only a limited number of people, we had the luxury of being able to go with what we wanted (for me, it was about building community, sparking ideas, expressing queer-fat culture, and having some fun). This meant that the event was multi-dimensional and expansive, and it showed.

I think that it is good to mix things up, it makes things strong. There were people at the Fat of the Land who I doubt would ever show their faces at more orthodox gatherings of rad fatties. This is partly because they would not be welcomed, they might have the 'wrong' gender, or body size, or history, for example; but also because they might feel that such spaces are irrelevant to them. But the Fat of the Land had many intersecting points and ended up being a dynamic place where there could be a positive meeting of cultures and viewpoints. It ended up being bigger than any one group could have created by themselves. I was delighted to see, for example, a venerable activist from one sphere engaged in a long conversation with an up and coming fat activist; such a meeting would be unlikely elsewhere, and is sure to have sparked new ideas and relationships. It was like the Studio 54 of fat liberation!

These are some of the reasons why I do not support closed spaces, or segregated space. I think that mixing things up can be risky, but that with mutual respect it can be amazingly powerful. I believe that many people must have an investment in fat stuff for extensive positive social change to occur, and that making things welcoming and fun is part of the work of generating people's interest in the issues.

I accept that there are fears of 'the message' being watered down or lost by people who 'don't get it', but I think these fears are overstated. Being fat itself tells you nothing about how a person is, attitude is what counts. Nobody can own or control what people think about fat or any of its intersections, we should accept that people are going to come to this stuff with their own histories and ideas, which we might think about working with, rather than fighting against. I think that there is room in the movement for everyone, we can come to it with our quirks and idiosyncrasies, and that we don't all have to be reading from the same page.


wonderful woman said...

What an amazingly splendid event and what a great reflection and summary. It seems like a hazy moment that zoomed by in half an hour, not the 4 hours it was.

I recall...

The constant pouring in of people with smiles on their faces, taking it all in; the crowds who stayed right to the end; the enthusiasm, the shere madness of it all; JasonElvis jigging along with the Lady Morris Dancers; the wonderful morris dancing you all did for what seemed like forever!; seeing a child and then an adult earnestly entering with their veg monsters; familiar faces, new faces, extraordinarily magnificent people looking fabulous... this is what I take away from FOTL.

Thank you so much for organising it and all your mighty hard work. I do hope you've recoveredy enough from the exhaustion of planning and executing it enough to really appreciate what an outstanding, special and bloody marvelous thing you created and gave to people.

Charlotte Cooper said...