Reinforcing Sexual Hierarchies in Fat Positive Spaces

For a long time I have watched as the fat rights community has continued to reinforce problematic sexual and relationship hierarchies in fat positive spaces. As a community we whole-heartedly reject the notion that fat bodies are inherently unhealthy or any other stereotype attached to our fat bodies, but what we don’t address is what I feel is almost a compulsive need to prove to others that we are not those stereotypes. While doing this we ignore the reality that people do fall into the spaces we are trying to not fill by distancing ourselves from them.

This kind of distancing continues this notion of a ‘good fatty / bad fatty’ dichotomy that makes it so those of us without “successful” relationships, who may or may not want to be in a relationship, feel as though we are somehow lesser than. If we were to be truly revolutionary we would be challenging the stereotype all together. Who gets to choose where self worth or social acceptability comes from? Who gets to decide that any person, regardless of body size, must conform to what we deem to be acceptable forms of relationships or sexual acts? Who gets to decide where someone’s sexuality comes from or what kind of sex is better? If we want to be revolutionary we should be challenging all standards of living, not just showing exceptions to stereotypes.

When is comes to sex and relationships the discussion is almost always led by someone who is partnered, is about having sex with other people while being slanted toward the idea that being a good fatty means being in a relationship. Very rarely does sex talk involve personal experiences from those of us who are not intimate with other people. It very rarely involves breaking away from the normative standards of sexual experience, which deems relationships between two people to be the best kind of relationship to be in.

Because of the widely held prejudicial belief that fat people are unlovable conversations have often centered on challenging that. It isn’t abnormal to come across blogs that tell people that they will be loved, that they will have fulfilling sexual experiences that focus on multiple partners being involved. This sends the message that intimate relationships with others, sexual experiences and self worth are related. While I highly doubt anyone has meant for this to happen, the reality is that by not making space for people who are not intimate with other people we are continuing to exclude people from this movement based on pretty archaic sexual hierarchies.

Within sex positive discourse it isn’t abnormal to see discussion about how female sexuality in particular, though I would say any gender that does not conform to the traditional role of male sexuality, is seen to have their sexuality given to them. The idea behind this is that sexuality is taught to women by men, that their sexuality is not manifested from within but from other people. Even when we remove ourselves from this traditional thought about sexuality and move into being more sex positive we still recreate this same narrative when we only talk about sex between partners or make a distinction between solo sexual experiences (aka masturbation) and sex with others.

It isn’t abnormal for me to be discussing sex with other people and a distinction to be made by saying sex with a partner is better than being alone. The truth is that I have found just as many people who don’t see the difference and the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s sexual experience is different, I enjoy my sexual experience with my box of toys, and others might enjoy their sexual experiences to be with one partner or two or three. Some people do nothing, some do a lot. Every form of variation is valid, every form is good.

Discussions that center around only one kind of relationship or sexual experience, leaves room for interpretation that those are the only kind that matter. They continue to reinforce sexual hierarchies that are damaging not only to people within the fat rights movement but also to anyone who believes they are truly sex positive. Being revolutionary means speaking for all people, not essentializing aspects of people’s sexuality, relationships or worth.

For further reading,

“Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” Gayle S. Rubin

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Explaining Away Difference

For much of my life there has always been a major thread that I have felt links the way we feel about difference. We always want to understand it, to know why it exists but also to place it in a box that we can put it as far away from ourselves as possible. When we come across someone that is different from ourselves we have this irrational need to put labels on it. Often times this leads people into a pretty harmful discussion where we don’t accept that difference but we rationalize it away as the cause of something else, even when that isn’t the case.

I don’t talk about my sexuality often on this blog, over the past 6 years I have written about my virginity and what it means to me as well as a post about being socially acceptable. What I haven’t written about is why my sexuality is the way it is. This is something I have been thinking about in different a context this past week because of some discussions that hit a little too close to home in a class I am taking. The discussion itself centered on a certain form of sexuality and developed into a discussion about the reasons why people identify that way. What came out of it was language that has been used against me in my own life.

The last date I went on ended when the guy I was out with was told about my lack of intimate partners. His response is one that I have gotten often when people are told, “But you’re so normal.” Later via text he told me that I am ‘hyper-functional’ which were probably the harshest comments that I have ever received. Over the years people have told me how sorry they are, have tried to find a root cause for why I’m ‘damaged,’ etc. Most of the comments have centered on the idea that I should be pitied, I am mentally ill or the trauma in my past has caused it. At no point has there ever been a rational thought that maybe it just happened.  That it isn’t the cause of some strange sad horrible thing but that it just is.

Some of the most harmful discussions we can have about people who are different from us are ones where we try to pathologize or imply mental illness as the root cause. We place our own beliefs and judgments on those that are different than us because they have a different set of standards for how they live their lives. We imply that they are somehow defective, unhappy or not functional without taking the time to understand that they are people.

Some simple ground rules, don’t tell me you are sorry, don’t assume I am missing out on life, don’t act like my sexuality doesn’t exist, don’t reinforce normative standards of sexuality, and don’t assume that I have something wrong with me or that there is a cause for my sexuality. Above all else, don’t try to cure me or tell me why you think I am the way I am.