Dialogue with a Troll

A play in one act.

Cast: Fat Activist (FA) and Fat Hate Troll (TR)

Scene: Somewhere on the internets

FA: Fat stigmatization is unacceptable.

TR: I'm not stigmatizing fat. I'm just saying fat is bad.

FA: That's fat stigmatization.

TR: No, no. That's not it at all. I'm just saying its bad to be fat and you should do something about it.

FA: Which is stigmatization and unacceptable.

TR: Do I need to speak slowly? I'm not stigmatizing you. I'm just saying you are obviously unhealthy, a strain upon society, and need to be pressured into doing something about it. Also, you are ugly.

FA: I understand that you are saying that. That's why I'm objecting to it.

TR: Do you have comprehension issues? I'm just saying you're body is disgusting and maybe you should go kill yourself and spare society the immoral burden of yourself. I'm not prejudiced against you.

FA: What you just said was prejudiced.

TR: I never said I was prejudiced. You're putting words in my mouth.

FA: I know you never said that specifically. WHAT you said was prejudiced.

TR: But I said I wasn't prejudiced.

FA: What you said WAS prejudiced and stigmatizing and I won't accept that.

TR: I didn't say anything wrong. Now you're just being a vindictive liar.

FA: What you said. About fat being disgusting and unhealthy and ugly. All of that. That's what I'm objecting to.

TR: But you are disgusting, unhealthy, and ugly.

FA: I'm contesting that.

TR: But you are.

FA: No.

TR: Look, I'm not the enemy here. You should be mad at the corporations who made you fat. Lives are at stake, you know.

FA: As long as you are telling me that I'm unhealthy, ugly, disgusting, etc., then kind of are the "enemy" in so far as you are espousing viewpoints I strongly reject.

TR: You obviously are self-loathing if this bothers you so much.

FA: That does not remotely make sense.

TR: So you admit you have comprehension issues!

FA: Look, as long as you promote hate, bigotry, and stigmatization I will keep objecting to it. Fat people should not be stigmatized as immoral, unhealthy, or disgusting. Its not helpful and its not true.

TR: I never stigmatized you! I just said you were immoral, unhealthy, or disgusting. What don't you get about that?

FA: A lot, it would seem.



Because I SAID SO

Dan Savage has now actually responded to Lindy West after it was presumably pointed out that his assholery was showing when he Ctrl-V'd his last one. Not that he does much better here.

You see, Dan Savage isn't fat bigot. Its just that all the bigoted things he says about fat people are true. Case closed.

Its the all too common "because I SAID SO" retort fat people get when they try to stand up for themselves. Fat acceptance is wrong, because it is wrong. Such rotund logic is never questioned or scrutinized. Fat people are all unhealthy because everyone knows fat people are unhealthy. Fat people choose to be fat because everyone knows fat people choose to be fat. Its not bullying to stigmatize fat people. Its just the truth. And helpful. Or both. Its certainly not bad, though, because everyone knows its right. It creates a vigorous feedback loop of concern trolling on display in pretty much all of the SLOG posts about this. Lots of people insisting that its not an insult because its true. One person even called on fat people to kill themselves and turned around and insisted they weren't against fat people.

The dangerous thing is they believe this. They are utterly oblivious to the fact that all bigots feel entitled to their prejudice. All bigots use the same exact defenses. Its not hate, because its true. It not bad, because I'm right. All they are really doing is reminding us that progressives are in no way immune from self-righteous bigotry. A chore, frankly, we could do with less of.

Dan says that he's not the enemy. That's just more delusion. What he means is that he feels a level of entitlement which affords him no remorse for his action. He tells us he is not the enemy because he doesn't feel like the enemy. He just feels right. He says he is not the enemy not to extend an olive branch, but to slap us into our place. Its not an expression of humility, but a command. He is not the enemy because HE SAID SO. He is demonstrating his disinterest in listening to us and opting instead to just assert.

The irony of this is that this dust-up started because Dan made fat people into the enemy. He defended gay marriage by acting like fat people were the opposition. He made us the enemy, but is outraged that the same might happen to him with far more justification. He is right and fat activists are just a bunch of dishonest liars for not agreeing with him. And vindictive. And codependent. But none of that is mean spirited. Its just right. Because HE SAID SO.

Its too easy to satirize this by pointing out how much he sounds like the homophobic bigot he rails against. All the same techniques he uses to demean and defame fat people should be REALLY familiar to him. It won't work, though. Not, at least, if we define working as getting Dan Savage to see the error in his ways. He'll no sooner do that that vicious anti-gay bigots who hate him. Here is the real big secret that Dan Savage will never be able to recognize even as its right in front of his face.

This isn't about him.

Oh, I'm sure a few people harbor some hope that he'll come around, but none of us who've dealt with his reflexive bigotry for years allows ourselves such misguided motivation. No, DAN, this isn't about you. Oh, sure, you've gotten us to say your name a lot. DAN. You should know better than that. You mock the morality police not to sway them, but to shame them. To make them fools before us all. Guess what, Dan. Its your turn.

We speak out against your vicious hatred for ourselves. We speak out against you to speak up for ourselves. To show others that we don't have to accept "Because I SAID SO" as a reason to keep quiet. To show that you will not and can not shut us up. We speak out for the same reasons so many stigmatized people have spoken out. To claim our voice from those who want to deny it from us. We speak out for the same reason you do, Dan. Its a shame you won't see that because you are too busy flattering your sense of moral righteousness. Its a shame you can't see the irony of your moralizing crusade. Its a shame, but its still not about you.

Because I said so. Because I get to decide my voice. Because I get to determine my own beliefs. Because this is the one time that retort makes sense.

Dan Savage. Arbiter of Fatness.

For someone who hates fatties so much, its kind of odd that Dan Savage was appointed the Official Arbiter of Acceptable Fatness. I mean, I guess he was. He thinks he was. That's the only thing to conclude from his response to people objecting to his use of fat bigotry to argue for marriage equality.

Of course, he couldn't be bothered with ACTUALLY responding to Lindy West, so he actually just copied and pasted a response to Kate Harding from 3 years ago, so this nothing new except to remind us where he still is with dealing with the fatties. Kate Harding might be okay, but Dan Savage wants us all to know that he does draw the line. And that line is 400 POUNDS! (Bingo!) He magnanimously agrees to allow that people who are really fat shouldn't be harassed so long as they admit that they are horribly awful people who will die any second. Until then, harass away, presumably. Its a fool's bargain. He'll agree to let us have our self-confidence if we agree to be stigmatized. Such a generous compromise. And no comments.

Here's the thing, DAN. You don't get to be the decider of who gets to be fat. People who stigmatize fatness don't get to write the limits of what is okay fat and what is not okay fat. Oh, you'll think you get to, but I am under no obligation to care. Same as Dan Savage doesn't have to care when a homophobe tries to write the rules of acceptable gayness. Plenty of anti-gay bigots like appoint themselves arbiter of acceptable gayness, separating the deathgays from the tolerablegays. They do so to enforce their bigotry. The subjects of that bigotry shouldn't accept that.

I don't accept Dan Savage's attempts to dictate the rules of fatness on me or anyone else. He doesn't get to do that. I understand that he thinks fat people are obviously wrong. So do a lot of people. Its why I speak out. Its why Fat Acceptance exists. People like Dan Savage think they are proving us wrong by just saying we are wrong. All they prove is why we need to speak out. Someone disagreeing with Fat Acceptance is not a proof that it shouldn't exist.


Dan Savage. Again.

Ooooooooh. That explains all my stat hits relating to Dan Savage hating fat people.

Dan Savage has called for a ban on fat people marrying. Satirically, I guess, but he betrays a deep misunderstanding of what satire is. Some days I wonder if the world would be a better place without Jonathan Swift if only because there would be fewer assholes emboldened by an incomprehensible misreading of "A Modest Proposal". Swift's famed satire about eating Irish children made sense because Swift was, in fact, Irish. Had his writing career been instead made up of regular bouts of Irish baiting and anti-Irish demagoguery, the work would take on a different tone. Something would-be satirists like Savage often miss. Using your established hate to make a satirical point doesn't actually make said satirical point. It just reminds people of your established hate.

If the point is advancing the cause of gay marriage, why try to do on the backs of fat people? How does one have anything to do with another? You don't make a point about why gay marriage bans are bad by bashing fat people. You just end up bashing fat people.

I fully support marriage equality. It is a tragedy that we deny such basic rights to people because of their sexual orientation. I am proud to live in a state which has recognized this. I am proud to have friends and colleagues who were legally able to celebrate their love with marriage. My straight marriage benefited from gay marriage in a purely utilitarian manner due to an utterly fantastic wedding planner who started her business to meet the needs of gays and lesbians when they won marriage equality here. She was able to help my wife and I put together a wedding that represented our values and our wishes in a way I cannot imagine a planner accustomed to traditional ceremonies could have. Not only do many of us fat people support marriage equality, there is a dirty little secret Dan Savage wants to ignore.

Many fat people want to GET gay married. I know some. Fat people are not the enemy of gay marriage. They are beneficiaries. Fat people who get inadequate medical care because they can't go on their loved one's insurance. Fat people who become at the mercy of other people's desires for their health because their partner's aren't allowed to represent them to doctors. Fat people who want to be mothers and fathers but face extra hurdles in adoption.

Dan Savage, as usual, thinks he's being witty and daring by going after fat people. That by perpetuating hatred for fat people, he avenges hatred for gay people. Really, he's just acting as enforcer for the status quo. The same cultural status quo that demands gays and lesbians be denied their basic rights also denies fat people their humanity. The same culture which demeans him for being gay, stigmatizes me for being fat. Shame on anyone who trades off this culture of hate and bigotry. Doing so to fight a culture of hate bigotry doesn't make it okay. It just makes it a joke.

Here is a great piece by Lindy West at Dan Savage's home publication taking him to task. Living 400lbs has done a great job, too.


Fictional Fat Admiration

So, I've watched the Glee episode that saw one of its main characters find himself pondering fat attraction to a fat character. Its always tough to judge a TV show by a single episode, but at least thus far I find myself pretty apprehensive about how this is being developed. It can still go in a lot of different directions, and while it didn't go anywhere really bad, it was also steering very clearly of anywhere really good, too.

My concern is I felt like the arc of the episode had the man in question consider the possibility that he was attracted to a fat woman, try this one for size, and conclude that nope, he's not attracted to the fat women physically, just emotionally. Everytime we hear him pondering his feelings, he is weighing being physically attracted or emotionally attracted, as if this were sort of binary decision. And the turning point for him comes when he stops weighing the two options and commits to being attracted emotionally. This kind of concerns me as a message.

Mind you, the idea that fat attraction is bad is, at most, subtext, so things could have gone much worse. And genuine romantic interest in a fat partner is a pretty radical thing for TV regardless of physical attraction. Still, I think its fair to be sensitive to how attraction to fat partners gets portrayed. While subtext, I got a strong sense that the character was being chided for expressing physical desire for a fat person. Every time he tried to convey that, he gets slapped down. Granted, his expressions were pretty uniformly artless, but its not like the resolution was to express the desire better. It was to not express the desire at all. So, we only every see expression of fat admiration as something clumsy, blunt, and more than a little objectifying. Except, this has a powerfully stigmatizing effect by implying that there is something necessarily wrong about being attracted to a fat person.

There is a real problem in how our culture tends to depict fat attraction. Fat characters are often left with a binary choice. Be objectified by someone who desires you or enjoy the righteous tolerance of someone who'll love you "in spite of" your body. Which, to me, sounds like two shitty choices but always plays out as good vs. bad. And guess which side gets to be good. Fat attraction is a deviation. Something othered. This doesn't just impact fat admirers, though. Indeed, the brunt of this kind of perspective is felt by the fat people since it their body being othered. Their body that is stigmatized as deviant. The admirer is shamed for how they relate to fat bodies. The fat body is the point of difference.

The truth, I'd suggest, leaves both of those binary choices as being really lousy. Better options would be someone whose physical desire was just a part of what drew them to a specific fat partner, or a person who doesn't identify with any specific physical desire who can still incorporate physical attraction into their relationship with a fat partner. Those two scenarios are the cause of happy endings. Not the partner only interested in one's fat body or the one who tries to disassociate one's physical presence with their emotional engagement.

While Glee definitely had a subtext of showing the fat attraction to be foolish, it still wasn't the text of the show and there is nothing to contradict either non-binary scenario. I'd hope that he can recognize that he does desire fat partners, but that he's looking for more than a body, mostly because fictional fat admiration is pretty rare and it'd be great to see better examples of it.

Which got me thinking about other examples. One showed up tonight on the new Matthew Perry sitcom Mr. Sunshine. A young, conventionally attractive female references an as yet unseen character as "gorgeous" in a fairly breathless delivery. When the character is revealed as the identifiably fat Nate Torrence, its obviously played as a gag of misplaced expectations. THIS is gorgeous? Doesn't help that she's already been established as possibly mentally unstable, meaning her attraction might not be meant as a quirk but as a "symptom".

The quirk aspect reminded me of Dr. (Jo) Mahoney, the late addition to the cast of Scrubs. She's established as being interested in fat men, but this attraction is immediately regarded as necessarily suspect. It's "explained" as enjoying their insecurity and desire to please her. This actually worries me about Glee, too, as it often seemed to be trying to justify the attraction to a fat woman. Though with a more positive justification ("She's confident!"), I don't like the idea that wanting to be with fat partners always needs to be justified. Frankly, a lot of fat admirers themselves do this, deluding themselves into thinking fat women are just better people and not just fatter people. At any rate, she also had a totally meaningless fat attraction since she never really acted on it and entered a relationship with a thin male as soon as the plot demanded it.

Something also seen on "American Dad" where the CIA chief voiced by Patrick Stewart declares an interest in fat women to establish him as being a deviant, and then quickly forgotten about it. Less quickly forgotten was Debbie, the fat girlfriend written for Steve, the son on the show. Oh, it got forgotten about, but briefly it was actually a pretty decent way to show a character who isn't specifically interested in fat partners going beyond "in spite of" in their attraction. Steve is fully attracted to Debbie even if her body was not relevant to that. He wasn't shown as martyring himself and his interest was actually treated very respectfully. When they broke up several episodes later, her size was a total non-issue. Shame it was introduced and dispensed with so quickly.

Most of the time on TV, fat characters are only allowed love "in spite of" being fat and this is routinely seen as a good thing. Having someone "look past" one's body is a display of extreme nobility in this world. I remember several shows when I was a kid introducing a fat girl for a male lead to learn to woo in order to be a better person. And they never even had to do anything about it after the episode, either, so win-win. It was a textbook example of the lionization of "despite". If someone actually was into fat partners, they were always a deviant and more than a couple times portrayed as necessarily a feederist with the implication that desire for fat partners and feederist interests were one and the same. This is a backdrop that gives me a lot of room for caution with Glee's still being written treatment of the subject. I could see them going in several different directions here. Some good, some bad. I'm hoping to go for something really radical and let a main character be genuinely attracted to fat partners, but I'm apprehensive that he'll be another person just learning a lesson by dating fat partners.


A Spectrum of Privilege

My fat body is privileged. Not by by virtue of being fat, of course. But by a lot of other things that interact with fat prejudice and impact the way I am treated.

I experience privilege as a white fat person. I experience privilege as a fat male. I experience privilege being fat and straight. And in what is a tricky thing for Fat Acceptance to respond to, I experience privilege because I am thin.

Except, I'm not thin. Still, while I am not privileged by virtue of being fat, I am privileged by the comparative level of fat I am. As the male equivalent of a mid-size fatty, I experience a number of advantages over my fatter brethren. The chances of being of being publicly harassed are sharply reduced, I can buy clothes at many mainstream retailers, I can fit into most airline seats. I didn't ask to be privileged in these ways, but I am. This is what our culture has done and I cannot pretend that doesn't exist

Which doesn't mean I don't face challenges. I have been publicly harassed because of my size. While I can shop at many mainstream clothing stores, I can only just barely and even then only online for many. Fitting in an airline seat actually doesn't provide me much protection from being forced to pay for a second seat given that I am visibly fat. So, of course, there is a reason to speak out about the ways my fat body is stigmatized, but I still need to be mindful of the ways I am privileged compared to others, such as those who experience harsher fat stigmatization.

I feel like there is often an eagerness in FA to accept the false equivalency that a fat person saying something like "Skinny people are evil" is the same thing as the stigmatization that fat people experience. I always see haughty declarations about how this is about accepting all people. While that sort of declaration is profoundly nonconstructive and entirely unacceptable, we do a disservice to reality by treating it as two sides of a body hating coin. They aren't. To say that they are same thing is actually feeding into a culture of fat stigmatization by minimizing how fat bigotry enforces itself in our culture. Its akin to those who act like "reverse racism" or "man hating" are somehow equal evils to the subjugation of non-whites and of women.

I feel it is imperative that we follow the lead of other social justice movements and strive to respond to these kinds of resentments from the underprivileged without endorsing false equivalencies about them. That we find ways to express our dissatisfaction with these examples of resentment while still acknowledging that they are not a cause of what we are fighting, but a product of it. Especially when we are, ourselves, the subjects of this resentment because of where we might be on the spectrum of thin privilege.

As long as I've seen FA, I've seen smaller fat people complaining about how they don't feel welcome. As a bonafide smaller fat person, I don't buy this. I don't deny that some resentment is real and sometimes gets expressed in counterproductive outbursts. Still, I feel there needs to be some responsibility on the part of those of us who experience privilege to not make these resentments all about us. The privileged cannot put the burden on the stigmatized to make us comfortable. That is a very common dynamic but one which always serves to enforce stigmatization. This is easier to see when, say, straight people insist that the gay rights movement be more "comfortable" for straight people. It feels odd when you suffer stigmatization to realize that you can also be a beneficiary of the same example of privilege that stigmatizes you. This is the reality, though.

Its a challenge to find the right balance to respond to resentments that are ultimately counterproductive but still come from a very honest situation. It is a challenge we must take up, though. We cannot just lump in these forms of resentment from the underprivileged with the stigmatization from the privileged. They are not the same thing and cannot be responded to in the same way. I can get the allure of taking such a position, but it is not actually reasonable. Without the power dynamic seen with the privileged, this resentment simply doesn't mean the same thing. We do need to push past these resentments because they manifest in outbursts that are not fair or constructive, but we still must acknowledge the truths that produced them and recognize that they are a product of what we are fighting, not what we are fighting.