Regarding the Pain of Others
I have borrowed this title from Susan Sontag’s brilliant essay about war and violence. I borrowed it because I like the title, not because I am necessarily trying to compare my subject with war.
I want to write today about Fat Shaming, the general Intolerance of Disabled and Different Bodies, and General Shittiness in America. (It is not that I believe this phenomenon is unique to the United States; rather, it is that I have little basis on which to speak about other cultures than my own.)
I am fat, and I am disabled (by Multiple Sclerosis and other chronic diseases, such that I walk wobbly with a cane). These two facts are not related in the way people imagine (that the fat caused the other conditions); if anything, these other conditions have encouraged the fatness that was already my genetic predisposition because I’m fairly unable to diet and exercise like a proper 1980s Aerobics Maniac with a thong excersuit up my butt and a side pony tail (I’m writing about the image, folks, not actual people here). But, really, it doesn’t matter why I am fat to the jerks on the street, and it doesn’t matter for my point, either; I appear to be working hard to exonerate myself of the Great Shame that is being a Too-Fat Woman, and that’s counter-productive. If the fat is in your boobs or lips, that is fine (so long as you use that for the greater (straighter) good), but if it collects in other, less heterosexually-useful areas, God help you. Actually, to hear some folks tell it, God hates Fats as much as God hates Fags, so God probably won’t help you. After all, Greed and Sloth are mortal sins, and we all know that fatness is the clearest expression of Greed and Sloth (the movies tell us so).
Forgive me; I’m cranky and thus sarcastic. What spurred me today was a woman waiting in a medical treatment waiting room loudly lecturing the rest of us about Fat Adults being lazy and making Fat Children because you let them eat whatever they want, and “FatfatfatfatfatEVILfatfatfatPIECEOFCRAPI’MSOSUPERIORTOALLYOUfatties.” (I may have tuned out at some point, so my quotation may be inaccurate, but that was the gist of it.)
The whole waiting room was silent, though I made have loudly grumbled about bigots and fat-shaming and stupidity, and some folks may have smiled and side-eyed me conspiratorially.
I may have also fantasized about whacking this idiot with my cane, or shouting her down, or insulting her somehow. I thought of so many smug come-backs I might hurl at her. And let’s not call me virtuous for holding back; let’s acknowledge that I had a small epiphany. This asshole was probably speaking loudly about this because she needed to. Maybe she needed to feel better than someone else; maybe she was angry about something and lashing out; maybe she was scared (she was, after all, in the waiting room of an MRI place); maybe she was demented. It’s also possible she’s just a really horrible person, but the point is that I didn’t know, and in those situations, it’s best to give people the benefit of the doubt, I think. Kindness in all things, friends, is hard but most often best.
Thing is, it’s still culturally ok to shame people for being fat. It’s also okay to be shitty about disability. It’s still okay to knock a “Cane Lady” (as I refer to myself) out of the way to get a seat on the subway, or carve “Citizen Cane” into the snow on my car’s windshield because you think it’s funny (granted, it IS) and don’t imagine how it might make someone like me feel targeted or vulnerable. It’s still okay to “fag-shame,” too—especially for those among us who are Men-Too-Feminine or Women-Too-Butch or just Too Dang Gay to Function. (I’m not even getting into all the other stupidities that are condoned, like racism and sexism…) Point is, shut up.
My body is not your business. Nobody’s body and nobody’s personhood is your business, unless you are invited by that person to consider it so.
And this is where, I think, intersectionality happens: there maybe be different results, or different instigating factors, but at the base of it, women, disabled people, LGBTQ folk, colored folk, immigrants, fat folk–I’m going to get myself in trouble (with myself) if I try to list everyone here, because I will forget to include someone—we all share the similar problem of not being recognized as human (and thus the result of economic and social sanctions). Or, more properly, perhaps, not being recognized as AS human as other people get to be.
There’s another point, too, that I just figured out today: operate with kindness. Not in a turn-the-other cheek kind of way, and not out of the hope that the haters will suddenly see the light if a Fat Queer is nice to them, but because it would be nice to live in a kinder world, one in which we all recognize the value of other living things. One in which we recognize that others have pain that may not be apparent to us, and though we can’t see it, we can treat it with care. One in which my value doesn’t depend upon taking something away from someone else.
A world in which all of us are afforded a little dignity and compassion.
Except fat chicks. No fat chicks.