This article was first published in Attitude issue 396, June 2018
Chances are you’ve looked at my picture and thought I was fat. You might have felt sorry for me, or stared at my tits, or wondered what that roll of chub under my chest is. Some people might not even be reading this, having flipped the page over after being turned off.
Some of you might have felt thankful that you are not me, that you don’t have my body or perhaps you’re grateful that I am not your partner because being fat in gay culture is, undoubtedly, one of the worst things you could supposedly “choose” to be.
I’ve never been desired by gay men and so these assumptions you may be making are not new to me, although it’s a weird headspace to exist in when you’re queer and fancy men and those men don’t fancy you.
But this isn’t just my thought; this is an experience I share with many of my fellow fatsos.
You might be surprised to learn that we fatties don’t really know what it’s like to be cruised or desired without fetishisation. We haven’t shared the freedom of taking our top off in a nightclub, or at Pride, or even on a beach because we’re often singled out and ridiculed for doing such a thing.
We tend to steer clear of gay clubs because we’re often mocked, ridiculed or worse — told to leave.
We don’t know what it’s like to start flirting with someone and not to have to ask: “So do you like big guys?” I mean we can’t even fit into a pair of aussieBums, which isn’t going to stop the world but I think it’s symbolic of where we sit within gay culture. We fatties live life being shunted to the fringes of gayness, often pushed out under the socially acceptable banner of “preference”.
When I was 18, I launched myself head-first into London’s Soho scene — full of ideas of a utopia fed to me by Channel 4’s Queer as Folk. I thought that little patch of land in the capital would be my Mecca. That bubble was soon burst.
Photography: Holly Revell
My recollections of being a teenager in a gay male space are of rejection, of queens mocking me loudly so the whole queue could laugh in harmony. I have memories of being removed from one of the UK’s biggest gay clubs, airlifted by four door staff, and men throwing shade as well as cans of warm beer, glasses of cheap wine and shots of whiskey, while threatening me with lighters, and all this because I apparently didn’t have what they had: aesthetic capital. I wasn’t fit, fanciable or fuckable. I was — and perhaps still am — redundant.
Understandably, a lot of my twenties was spent trying to unpick internalised homophobia after hoarding so much anger directed at me because of the way those most prolific in the community — gay men — had treated me. Luckily, I was taken in by the women, femmes, lesbians and radical dykes. These people knew all too well what it is to be pushed out and so they carved out their own space and with it began a conversation about body diversity; long before that became a fashionable thing to do on Instagram.
Unfortunately, it seems very little has changed in the decade I’ve been loitering around the fringes of homo culture.
Abuse is still thrown at me in gay male spaces, but I have learned how to shout back. Fat queer kids slide into my DMs on a daily basis telling me of painful experiences, being ostracised by the community. One beautiful fatty, aged just 20, asked me: “I was bullied at school and now I’m bullied by gays; how do you put up with it?”
Photography: Holly Revell
Another more well-heeled queer tells me how he plucked up the courage to go topless at a party, only to have pictures taken of him and queens sticking their fingers down their throats, miming being sick. So, it isn’t just me who’s experiencing fat-phobia in gay circles. It’s a culture.
Load up any of the hook-up apps and you will find profiles adorned with phobic preferences in among the racism and transphobia. That clichéd catchphrase “no fats, no femmes” exists because of how often you really see it displayed, although recently the aggression that adorns profiles has become more stealthy. I don’t know what’s worse: seeing it up front or having it hidden from plain view.
Now you might be thinking: well queen, get yourself down to them bear bars, get your tummy out at those masc4masc, well-groomed facial-hair parties that are awash with plaid shirts and beer drinkers. Unfortunately, these spaces can also be rife with naff body shaming. The bear scene can have an even more limited definition of who’s allowed in, and in recent years, with the rise of #musclebear, some in that scene have even lost their gut. What was once a fat-acceptance movement has now co-opted mainstream homonormative values.
Being a fat queer person in gay culture is unquestionably political, we go against the grain and pose a threat to what many people hold so dear: their looks. We represent an abandonment of having to fit in.
Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa
So, like all good pretentious artists, I thought I’d tackle this mess by putting on a show. Fat Blokes is my exploration of what it means to be fat, queer and considered Public Enemy Number One, and because everyone is so concerned about fat people not moving enough, it’s a dance show!
However, that doesn’t mean you can write it off as a fat show for fat people. This is a dare — a dare to those who fear fat, those who feel secure in their own bodies and those who don’t. Come see us throw our toys out of the pram. Who knows, you might just learn something...
The Attitude Body Issue is out now.