16 March 2011

Queer Hapas, fat activism and weight loss surgery

I've been reading Jackie Loneberry Wang's excellent zine Memoirs of a Queer Hapa #2, which takes a look at the author's queer-biracial identity. Hapa refers to people who are "mixed-race and of Asian descent". I especially like the author's Concluding Thoughts from an essay entitled The Emergence of Queer Hapa Identity in the United States, where she applies Queer Theory in a super-accessible way. Basically she talks about identities that transgress boundaries and expose the limitations of those boundaries. She says that Queer Hapa people confound others who ally themselves "to the notion of identity as fixed, immutable, and formed around a logic of separation and differentiation" (p14). Wang goes on to say that even though Queer Hapa is an uncontainable identity, naming and inhabiting it enables people to organise strategically and politically in ways that are anti-assimilationist and complex.

Wang's zine has helped me not only think about Queer Hapa identity, but also about another group of people, who may also include Queer Hapas. I think the ways in which Wang writes about identity is helpful in thinking about what tends to be the thorny relationship between fat activism and weight loss surgery.

Apparently, as someone smart told me recently, the situation is changing and people who have had weight loss surgery are no longer drummed out of fat activist community. But my experience is that weight loss surgery continues to represent considerable anxiety in terms of how to address it in fat activism, and that bullying, shaming and shunning are still everyday tactics. Even where people have moved on from using these strategies to police the boundaries of fat activism and critique weight loss surgery, their previous use continues to hurt and has not been resolved.

I am not an advocate for weight loss surgery, I would never choose it for myself, and I discourage people from choosing it where I can. I think it is more likely to deplete than enhance health, I mourn the deaths of people who have died as a consequence of surgery, and its marketing rhetoric is invariably fatphobic, full of lies, and profoundly problematic. But neither am I an advocate for boundary policing or bullying. I am looking for helpful and human ways of thinking about this stuff that goes beyond a condescending 'love the sinner hate the sin' tolerance within the movement for people who have had surgery or are contemplating it. I would prefer a world where weight loss industries did not exist, but I do not live in that world, and am unlikely to as long as capitalism exists. Instead I am part of communities of people where some have chosen this, including a number of excellent fat activists who I love and respect.

Anyway, so Wang's work has helped me think about this and my tentative thoughts are about fat activists who have had weight loss surgery also inhabiting a space that transgresses and exposes the limitations of certain boundaries and classifications. For example, that to be a fat activist always involves resisting weight loss, or that there are sides to be chosen where you are either for or against weight loss. Fat activists who have had weight loss surgery, especially unrepentant people for whom it was a positive long-term choice, inhabit a space that shows there are other ways of being, that fat activism doesn't have to be an either/or proposition, and that it can be really diverse. I'm mindful of the postcolonial concept of hybridity, you can be a mixture of things, even things that are supposed to be incompatible, and you don't have to make a choice between one state of being or another, you can be all of them.

Going back to Wang and thinking about the possibilities for organising around fluid and complex identities, I feel excited for the potential opportunities for fat activists and weight loss surgery in challenging dogmatism and pioneering new forms of fat activist embodiment. It gives me hope that people who are currently shamefully denigrated within the movement might no longer have to skulk around in the shadows like a dirty little secret, waiting in vain for an invitation to come and sit at the table, it could be that they've already got their own thing going on and that everybody else should take note.

Wang, Jackie Loneberry (2009) Memoirs of a Queer Hapa #2


notblueatall said...

Thank you for this post. I needed to read that today. I am not one to bully or shame, but I do think at some point I did, possibly, shun someone because I couldn't handle hearing about their WLS. We weren't friends and we're cool now, but at the time it felt like a betrayal. How selfish! It wasn't about me or my FA journey/experience at all. I think more activists need to hear/read this message. I am so glad that I did.

Charlotte Cooper said...


Is it a betrayal? I don't know. Maybe sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. I really think that it's not so useful to make negative or judgmental generalisations about people that currently have little voice of their own.

But I think it's helpful to own "I can't handle hearing this" rather than making it someone else's fault, doing the work to think about what it is exactly that you can't handle.

erylin said...

i am a bbw bisexual woman. two of my regualr play partners (a plus sized couple) are in the process of going through gastric bypass (aka non reversable) i have tried to argue them out of it but they have bought the marketing hook line and sinker. he is already tired all the time and LOOKS sick but lost 54 lbs in a month... so they are extatic. (she goes in next month) im realy hurt by the whole thing. they act like i dont know my number.hes in schol to be a nurse and that is what they are teaching him. it fels like such a betrayal. i dont know if i wil even find them atractive thin.

lilacsigil said...

While I think there's certainly reason to bar discussion of WLS in particular communities - just like banning discussion of dieting behaviour - I think the idea that we should shun people who have had WLS is as bizarre as shunning fat people who have tried dieting. FA should not exclude.

Charlotte Cooper said...

I don't think censoring discussion is very helpful.

lilacsigil said...

You think all spaces should be open to all kinds of discussion, including pro-diet, pro-WLS, anti-FA and fat hatred? That seems to me like a recipe for the destruction of FA space online. There are lots of places to talk about dieting - why is it censorship to disallow it in a particular FA space?

Charlotte Cooper said...

I don't think silence makes anything better, that dialogue is how people get past difference, and that I don't want to be part of a movement where speech is policed.

SamM said...

Lilacsgirl - I don't think Charlotte's post said anything about advocating for the use of fat activist spaces and discussions for the promotion of weight loss practices or WLS. Rather, I think what is being foregrounded is the political potential of a dialogue that involves fat activist participation by those who have undergone WLS and want to speak about their own anger, discomfort and situatedness within a fat-hating culture without being assumed to be traitors attempting to threaten the political aims of fat activism more generally. Couldn't this dialogue be a useful, productive thing, rather than an erosion of fat political aims by complicating a particular, singular vision of an ideal fat activist identity?