fat = gay?
December 13, 2004 10:08 AM

Last week a story about taking diet pills being linked to having gay kids circulated around the net quite a bit. The articles annoyingly never seem to highlight any biological reason why the study's hypothesis would even be considered [Presumably there must have been some - was it just too complex for the press to grasp?], which leaves you with just a vague idea that not having "control" over your weight might be somehow linked to not having "control" over your kids' queerness.


But improved by Ampersand's couple of posts relating the bias against fatness to the bias against gayness (though I would substitute "queerness", as the same questions apply to bisexual and genderqueer folk). It's not a new comparison to make - both are characteristics for which a person may face discrimination; both are also subject to a lot of inconclusive research as to their cause. But Amp starts by presenting research showing why fat isn't as simple as calories in/calories out (a good summary of the research, and important, given that his audience seems to be completely unfamiliar with the subject) and continues on to analogize fat and gay (intriguingly, he doesn't have to present research about the "why" of gay - which implies that his more "mainstream", largely liberal, audience is much more familiar with the debate over the root of homosexuality than with the debate over what makes a person fat).

It's clear when I read these discussions elsewhere that I am shockingly radical. Much more radical than I ever think of myself as being.

So, Amp's presentation of the research is - as always - tremendously useful. But he wades too far into the idea that one's discrimination-inducing characteristics must be unchallengeable and inalienable in order to be defended against discrimination. Not true! I believe the queer community made a pretty stupid political mistake when it took the route of saying gayness is something one is born to (although this remains a key point in individual queer identities - it's not a useless idea, just a bad political gambit). What if it isn't? What if gayness is as much about behavior as identity? What if identity is mutable? What if one can choose to be queer?

Does that make it okay to hate queer folk? The people who answer "yes" to my rhetorical question are going to think that way no matter what the community argues about the cause(s) of queerness. Positioning gay as the new black (racially) made the debate less about civil rights and more about whether a group deserves civil rights on the same grounds as racial identity.

What the fat movement could bring to this debate is to fight from a whole different angle. Prove that simply being fat doesn't make you a drag on the economy, maybe - because that undermines the favorite argument for anti-fat politics. But don't get bogged down in the "how did we get here?" science. It doesn't matter. If people get fat by choice, and being fat doesn't hurt others (and maybe even if it does - asshats of any size still get rights, and they hurt everyone), then there is no reason to discriminate against fat folk.

Really, the most effective argument in favor of any minority group's rights is more analogous to the right to religious freedom than anything else - one chooses one's religion, and that's a defended choice. Period. No "are people born Catholic, or do they choose it?" debate needed.

On a personal level, I almost can't handle reading the damned comments on posts like this. When people argue that I'm flat-out lying about how much I eat and exercise (and that any fat person who stays fat is doing the same), the urge to verbally gouge out their eyes is too great. But it would accomplish nothing - these are people who wouldn't believe me if they lived in my house for a month; they'd assume I was bingeing undercover or something, because they mysteriously have some part of their identities caught up in the idea that fat people are morally inferior. Arghhhhhhhhh.

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your wicked thoughts

Actually, I totally agree that it's not true that "one's discrimination-inducing characteristics must be unchallengeable and inalienable in order to be defended against discrimination." I should have made that clearer in my posts - a flaw in my way of approaching these debates is that I tend to lose track of the forest by arguing too much about trees.

I'm planning to post a lot more about fat in the near future, and I hope my view will become clearer over time. Politically, you and I aren't as far apart as you may think.

But I DO think it's important to point out that fat people can't (by and large) choose to be non-fat, not as a hedge against discrimination, but as an argument for why a health-based approach to diet and exercise makes far, far more sense than trying to no longer be fat. The widespread myth that, with just a little willpower, most fat people can become non-fat is enourmously damaging to thousands of fat people, both physically and mentally. It's worth fighting the myth on that basis alone.

these are the thoughts of Ampersand on December 13, 2004 11:16 AM

Oh, having read both of you for quite some time, I don't think you two are far apart politically at all. I don't think either of you fundamentally disagrees with anything the other has posted, actually. :)

But, damn, so right on the radicalism. Sheesh.

Amp, will look forward to more posts.

these are the thoughts of Dorothea Salo on December 13, 2004 11:48 AM

Amp, I could have been more clear in my post that what I was debating was your choice of argument in this case, not your overall politics. I think you've said many things in the past that make it clear you're staunchly anti-discrimination whether one can choose to be fat/queer or not.

I'm totally with you on tackling the health/fat debate with counter-information; the fat movement has to concern ourselves with this not to defend our rights (which I'll forgive you for implying ;)) but because we're the only voice supporting a health-based approach in a sea of messages about the mystical tie between weight and health.

And the commenters on Ampersand -whew! I don't know how you stand it.

these are the thoughts of april on December 13, 2004 12:15 PM

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