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!