I clearly remember the first time I experienced discrimination based on my body. I was 10, talking to a friend about a girl I liked. We were all watching a fashion show in a group: she was behind us and the friend was next to me. I remember him immediately giggling when I told him. Then, he told her.
“He’s an ugly, fat fucking monster,” she told him.
I can still hear her tone in my head. I remember immediately crying to myself throughout the rest of the fashion show. Rejection and betrayal are a toxic couple, and a duo that plagued me as I grew up.
14 years and a sexual orientation realization later, I’ve come a long way since being the boy that cried into his own arm. I’m loving, I’m open and I’m empathic. I went to school, got my degree, got an incredible job and have a beautiful web of friends. I’ve gained more weight since that age, but also a lot more self-love. I’ve faced a fair share of rejection since then too, but I’ve also learned to let go of people’s words, and sometimes their projections. I’m beautiful, inside and out, and I respect myself.
But sometimes that toxic duo of feelings resurfaces into my head.
Being a fat, queer man comes with a new set of pressures. Socially, fat people are devoid of sexuality. We’re told and shown that we’re not desirable, seen as less intelligent and lazy. Gay men are often stereotyped as being gym-obsessed, vain and shallow. My experiences tell me that there may be some truth but most cases point false. Still, stereotypes serve as a foundation for our own thoughts to bounce off of, making us more susceptible to believing in the stigmas.
However, I’ve realized that my acceptance in queerness catalyzed my acceptance of fatness.
There’s something unique to identifying as “queer.” Maybe it’s the reclamation of the slur people have used to long oppress us, or maybe it’s because it actually lives up to its textbook definition of “peculiar.” In fact, the word arguably means “special.” Regardless, the beauty of “queer” is that we have the ability to redefine what a lot of these structures, notions and conventions mean to us. To be queer is to find the beauty in difference. It’s to find the beauty in the unconventional and harness it.
For me, to be queer was to find the beauty in my body. One of the first moments I really appreciated my body was the first time I did drag. I organized and performed in my school’s first-ever drag show in 2014. That experience led to me performing several more times at my university and in my community.
Through drag I also realized my love for fashion and I began experimenting with different pieces, trying many plus-size women’s clothes that would work with my men’s pieces. The androgyny of my fashion stirred something inside me. I did more shoots, bringing women’s pieces or even heels to style with my outfits. I began using more colors and prints – all conventions of fashion that fat people are deterred from experimenting with.
In a community where men are particularly shamed for being a person of color, feminine or fat, I’ve found solace in the trifecta. I’m different and I don’t really fit in – in the figurative and literal sense of the word – and I realized that I don’t need to. How “queer” is that?
The duality of these identities strengthen me because they’re symbiotic. The more I accept my body, the more I dismantle the notions of beauty I place on myself as a queer man. The more I’m rooted in my queerness, the more I see my “unusual” body as a place of beauty.
It’s not easy to make this conversion. It requires a lot of work, a lot of unpacking and a lot of patience, but it’s also worth it. Society, in many ways, isn’t built for us and that’s a hard pill to swallow. We aren’t all given the rights, access, protections and representations that we deserve, but we do have a choice in being complicit with that. In this case I could either be complicit with the standards of beauty that society has, or I can reject it and redefine what beauty means to me.
Personally, I don’t believe that anybody should strive for conformity. Every person in inherently different, from our psychology to our physiology. So why would we fight to be the same? We weren’t built to have these conventions of beauty yet we fight so much to uphold them because we find safety in the bondage. But breaking these restraints is necessary to our survival, growth and healing.
As a close friend once told me, “We have nothing to lose but these chains.”
The same way that queerness gives us the ability to redefine our relationships, identities and expressions, we too have that ability with our fatness. We have to claim it and wield it, but it is there. We already don’t fit in the box, so let’s reshape it. Let’s take down the walls and make a whole new shape, or abolish the shape as a whole. It’s 2019, we cancelled Kanye, we can cancel the conventions of body acceptability.
I’m fat, I’m femme, I am powerful, I am beautiful and I am incredible. You are too.