Originally published on 12/10/2007. Slightly edited from original version.
Apparently Dan Savage, the odious sex pox columnist, has reiterated his oh-so-radical stance that fat people are ugly and eat too much, and therefore deserve whatever mistreatment we get–unlike gay people, of which he coincidentally is one, who are just “born that way,” poor them, and don’t deserve to be persecuted.
As you all know, I’m both REALLY fat AND a lesbian, and I’m here to tell you that my lesbianism is absolutely a choice–one that I renew daily, by focusing to the best of my ability my love, energy, time, intellect, sexuality, and financial resources on the adult women in my world. I love my lesbian life, and no amount of social rejection or pressure is going to change my mind or my priorities. I wish straight liberals would finally get it that there is a significant difference of opinion among lesbians and gay men about whether we choose homosexuality. To unthinkingly accept the “I was born that way!” party line may make straight liberals sound hip and cool, but it also ignores the complex relationships and experiences of many lesbians and at least some gay men, who have partnered with both men and women, and who refuse to retroactively label huge portions of our life histories “not who we really are.”
On the other hand, the issue of whether I’ve chosen my body size is much more murky, as it is for most fat people. Certainly there’s plenty of evidence out there which plainly shows the relationship between food, fat, and health is nothing like as simple as popular opinion would have you believe. Of course, you have be a good writer who actually cares about getting things right and not being a bigot, and go out and find said evidence before reiterating the tired old stereotypes about how all fat people ever do is sit on the couch stuffing Twinkies down our pie holes. Riiiiiiiight.
I discussed fat, sexual orientation, and the idea of choice in this post and I stand by the conclusions I drew way back then:
I believe quibbling about whether I’m a big fat dyke by choice or nature is a waste of time better spent fighting for liberation. I am a big fat dyke, and even if you think I should choose to be something else, that doesn’t make it right for you to scream at me in the street, take away my job, evict me from my apartment, refuse me a motel room, beat me up, put me in prison, rape me, or kill me. Arguments for tolerance based on genetics are actually undermining our efforts towards the just society we really want; if we reserve decency, dignity, and human rights for those we think can’t help themselves, we unwittingly justify the mistreatment, marginalization and oppression of those that popular opinion, science, or society’s elites assert could conform if they only tried.
I’m also reminded of this story from Shadow on a Tightrope which bowled me over the first time I read it, almost 20 years ago now, and it continues to strike to my core every time, so well does it describe my experience as a fat lesbian:
…I would talk circles around what was really bothering me before I would admit to a thin person that I felt oppressed around being fat, for fear she would say (or think), “Well, why don’t you just go on a diet?” When, in fact, I mustered up the courage to speak of my oppression to a friend, someone I love very much, she responded just so: “But isn’t there some choice?” she said. “Choice” is not the issue. The “problem” is not my being fat. The problem is how I am treated because of it. You don’t solve racism by bleaching everyone’s skin the same color (white, of course). Remove the offending characteristic and everything will be peachy. Make us all the same and we’ll stop oppressing each other.
I responded to my friend’s question with considerable antagonism. “Why don’t you just go straight if you feel so fucking oppressed as a Lesbian?” I spat into the phone. “I’m sure you could pass if you really tried. All it would take is a little willpower.”…I had jeopardized that feeling in our relationship, our basic shared struggle as Lesbians facing a straight world, by exposing another oppression which we don’t share, and which is so great that by comparison I hardly feel my oppression as a Lesbian.*
Yeah. I’ve gotten picked on, harassed, ridiculed and rejected daily since I was a tiny child, because of my socially unacceptable body. Because of the increased acceptance of lesbianism in major parts of the urban US over the last 30 years, and because I was not out in high school, I’ve been harassed for being a dyke exactly twice that I can recall. This is not meant to minimize lesbian oppression, which is alive and kicking. But in contrast, fat hatred is everywhere. You can’t open a magazine, go to the grocery store, or turn on the TV without being assaulted by the onslaught of mainstream fat hatred. And I’m tired of it. I’m especially tired of it from liberals. Because to hear thin liberals talk, all of their choices about what they do with their bodies–watching porn, buying women and children for sex, beating up their lovers for an orgasm, screwing in public toilets–are completely and totally off limits to criticism. But when it comes to my supposed “choice” to be fat, then it’s open season on me for not being on a perpetual diet.
Anyone who’s okay with that kind of hypocrisy has a standing invitation to bite my gloriously snack-cake-enhanced left butt cheek.
And to the commenters who are horrified at the thought that, if we say being fat’s okay, we’ll all somehow have to suddenly find fat people attractive? Don’t worry about it. My girlfriend thinks I’m totally hot so I’m all set, thanks.
Anyone who cares about social justice needs to get over the whole choice/no-choice thing. It’s a big red herring. The only choices that should have any bearing on civil rights and common courtesy are the choices of rapists, child molesters, white supremacist lynch mobs, gay bashers, rulers who start wars, and anyone else who injures others by acting out ideologies of violence, dominance, and oppression. Until all y’all liberals get over your cowardly belief that anyone minding her own business deserves to be hated for her personal characteristics or relationships, whether she chose them, was born that way, or anything in between, none of you will have an ounce of credibility with me.
*From “Fat Politics” by Laurie Ann Lepoff, in Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression, edited by Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser (1983, Aunt Lute), p. 206.