Institutional memory

(What follows is a lengthy rumination, long on perspective and contemplation but short on focus and conclusion. Consider yourself warned if this all seems lacking in purpose, but purpose isn't quite my purpose today, I guess.)

I've been frustrated with Fat Acceptance for the last couple of months and haven't really wanted to say anything. My reasons felt impossible to explain because I'd have to get into my institutional memory of fat acceptance. Over 10 years now of engaging in discussions about it online and the frustrations in seeing the same things crop up over and over again. The same attacks, endlessly replayed. I was encouraged when Kate Harding posted her frustrations with diet talk last month, but in the free-for-all that ensued, I saw the same patterns playing themselves out again and I found it discouraging. So much of the discussion that ensued was being controlled by people who never posted comments before and never would again. The dove in to deliver the message that opposition to dieting would not be tolerated. That's it. And yet, they were essentially allowed to set the agenda of the discussions, some even falling into overt fat bigotry. I'd seen it before so many times. People claiming to be allies of the movement. Offering their support if we just let dieters be. Asking why we can't just play nice. I've seen this before. I've seen these people with their pious attacks, and I've seen how they never actually offer anything to the movement accept attacks in support of dieting. The claim that we should be welcoming to them, but they do nothing to change the state of fat people. They do nothing to improve health care for fat people, to denounce discrimination, refute exaggerations and lies about fat people. Yet they still claim to be allies when all they have to say about fat acceptance is critical.

Its an attack. I get that. After seeing it dozens of time, I get that its all just gamesmanship. But so often, they are allowed to get away with it. They set up shop, pretending to be in favor of fat acceptance when all they care about is silencing criticisms of dieting. The proclaim themselves to represent "true" size acceptance as they distort of vocabulary beyond recognition. They fashion themselves as underdog crusaders against the evil oppression of fat acceptance. They offer a world-view detached from reality.

I've seen it so many times and I've seen how it effects discourse. Some people will try to engage them, going so far as to shame or silence anyone who doesn't given their thinly veiled hate a warm welcome. And then the hate loses some of that veil. More overt trolls creep out from the shadows and are embraced by these "respectable" critics. It happens slowly, but surely. A handful of supposed contrarians becomes a gaggle of naysayers and hate-mongers, snapping at any advocacy of fat acceptance. Those who tried to be nice at first are worn down by it all. And those who wanted to fight have given up and left. I can't tell you how often I've kept fighting this kind of fat hatred and found so much silent support. So many people weary of the distractions and wanting it over but unwilling to join the fray. I don't blame them for not joining in. The kind of bile and fear I've been subjected to isn't something I'd wish on someone else. But without support, I always ended up in a losing battle. See, the critics always seem versed in divide and conquer strategies. Pick one fat activist and drive them out. Demand that they be banned. Insist that we are the problem as a false olive branch to the powers that be. They always seemed to give in. At first anyway. But one down is never enough. Its always someone else. By the time the powers that be are clued in, its usually too late. What community may have once existed has collapsed. Too many people have been driven out or left in silent frustration. I've seen this happen again and again because there never remains enough institutional memory to stop it from happening again. Too few people are left to know this all happened before. That the trolls M.O. stays so much the same. That often, its the same dedicated trolls launching new attacks year after year. They might be immature pranksters. They might be frustrated dieters. They've got a dedication to subvert and pervert fat acceptance and they keep at it, always finding more help with each new year. Once, they tried setting up their own shop. Their own site so they wouldn't have to deal with us size-acceptance types. For about a month, there was a lot of hatred there. (Also a lot of capitulation from so-called fat activists. I guess they missed giving into the fat haters.) But without people to attack, hate to expose, the community collapsed in a few short months. Hundred of posters weened down to maybe a dozen, then to none. They don't have their own purpose. They just have their antagonism towards ours.

Its tiring. I don't say this to garner sympathy or praise. I just say it because its true. I'm weary of it. I'm weary of getting my hopes up only for everything to collapse. I pulled away from the new community of fat blogs because I was afraid it was all happening again. Complete with one self-righteous "ally" making a big self-serving ploy to compare himself to Martin Luther King at the expense of those he actually agreed with. I pulled away because this time, I didn't want to be fighting and thrown to the wolves again.

I maybe jumped the gun. Maybe this time, the crowds of sudden commentators criticising fat acceptance was just happenstance. Not a sleeper cell waiting to strike, or at least not yet. Just the all-too-familiar group of people who are committed to fat hatred in its most personal form and who don't want to be challenged to see the world and their bodies differently. But the institutional awareness led me to pull away. Afraid of the pattern emerging and reluctant to see it all play out once more.

I say this now because a blogger and commentator Kell may have had the same reaction. The same impulse. Where I drew away, Kell lashed out. Kell is a new name to a lot of my fellow bloggers (as am I and a lot of my fellow bloggers to each other), but she isn't new to me. She's probably been active in online discussions of fat acceptance as long as I have, and I'm sure she's seen the same patterns of attacks that I have. In the business with another blogger and commentator having WLS, Kell saw something familiar and I suspect had a very viseral remark. I don't think she was right, but I know what she lashed against this blogger. There have been patterns of attacks of fat acceptance from WLS promoters. They've taken over NAAFA discussion forums, coordinated USENET attacks. Even from within the movement, there have been agitation to make WLS acceptable in fat acceptance, to promote it to fat people. Kell has seen all this, and I wouldn't be surprised if she saw this all playing again.

I think she was wrong this time. I don't think this was an effort to subvert fat acceptance. I think this was one individual coming to the conclusion many before her had that WLS was the only answer. That's all I think it was. I don't affirm that decision. I don't have to. It was her decision to make and she doesn't need my approval. Nor should I need her approval to remain resolutely anti-WLS no matter what justifications she may feel she has. I didn't feel that this was a transformative battle. I'd be with Kell if it were, though, as it has been in the past. I know I'm speaking to someone else's motivations here and I'm sure Kell will disagree with that. Unfortunetly, after posting her anger towards her perception of a welcoming of WLS into fat acceptance, Kell took down her blog. I know where she's coming from there, too. I don't think she's right here, but I don't want to see Kell go, either. She has a lot she can offer the fat acceptance movement but she's spent a lot of time being told to shut up by critics and allies alike. Kell has had a very different journey in fat acceptance than some more recent bloggers, unfortunetly. The anger which a lot are understandably put off by didn't come overnight. I know she is something of a reactionary radical if you can allow that concept. I don't agree with that, but I understand it. I've gone through a lot of the trials Kell has gone through and I really do see how she could get to this point. I get frustrated by it because I know Kell can push people away from what she believes. With years of being pushed away herself, I understand it, though. And I hope there will be the day when she can be engaged in a positive and productive fashion.

The stakes are high with fat acceptance and WLS is a fight we need to take on. Is not against individual patients, though, which is a key area where Kell and I seem to differ right now. The problem is institutional and its damn sure something worth caring about. Its not exaggeration to remember that thousands of fat people die anonymously every year because of WLS. It isn't right, but attacking patients isn't the answer. It isn't productive. Look, I'm not saying that we shouldn't refute weight-loss promoters just because they are also practitioners. I'm saying we refute weight-loss promoters and not practitioners. This is made difficult enough when practitioners take attacks on the institutions as personal attacks. We cannot muddy the water ourselves by picking fights with every individual who wants to lose weight. We'll be distracting ourselves then, and I don't see that being productive any time soon.

Dieters shouldn't feel "safe" in fat acceptance circles. They should feel challenged. That is an influence fat acceptance needs to provide, but also one which is constantly threatened by those who don't feel contrary viewpoints should be tolerated. Claims of a fat acceptance orthodoxy are grossly exaggerated. No dieter has their rights to expression endangered by fat acceptance. Even from those fat activists fed up enough to want to threaten that expression. Its all a misdirection, and its a not a new one, either. Dieters aren't supposed to feel protected in the fat acceptance community. They have a whole cultural hegemony to feel protected in. Why do they need to be protected in the one place which challenges us to think differently about issues of weight? Because the truth is that disagreement won't be tolerated. That can never be a reason to give in. To agree to disagree. To silence ourselves in the name of inclusiveness. Fat acceptance is a radical concept, and its going to make some people uneasy. They need to. I'm not an advocate of invading non fat acceptance spaces to force unease on people, but I'll be sure to advocate for us not withholding our beliefs in our community, or own spaces. That's what has long been at risk, and I'm sad to say that fat acceptance has lost far more times than its won. If some of us seem weary or angry with this struggle, its because we've seen it before and in our own ways don't want to have to see it again.

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