Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma

Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma

Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma

Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma

Synopsis

To be fat in a thin-obsessed gay culture can be difficult. Despite affectionate in-group monikers for big gay men-chubs, bears, cubs-the anti-fat stigma that persists in American culture at large still haunts these individuals who often exist at the margins of gay communities. In Fat Gay Men, Jason Whitesel delves into the world of Girth & Mirth, a nationally known social club dedicated to big gay men, illuminating the ways in which these men form identities and community in the face of adversity. In existence for over forty years, the club has long been a refuge and 'safe space' for such men. Both a partial insider as a gay man and an outsider to Girth & Mirth, Whitesel offers an insider's critique of the gay movement, questioning whether the social consequences of the failure to be height-weight proportionate should be so extreme in the gay community.

This book documents performances at club events and examines how participants use allusion and campy-queer behavior to reconfigure and reclaim their sullied body images, focusing on the numerous tensions of marginalization and dignity that big gay men experience and how they negotiate these tensions via their membership to a size-positive group. Based on ethnographic interviews and in-depth field notes from more than 100 events at bar nights, café klatches, restaurants, potlucks, holiday bashes, pool parties, movie nights, and weekend retreats, the book explores the woundedness that comes from being relegated to an inferior position in gay hierarchies, and yet celebrates how some gay men can reposition the shame of fat stigma through carnival, camp, and play. A compelling and rich narrative, Fat Gay Men provides a rare glimpse into an unexplored dimension of weight and body image in American culture.

Excerpt

The coffee shop’s sidewalk seating area is packed with big gay men who weigh 225 to 350 pounds or more. A large man texts his boy toy on the phone and shares naughty messages with the rest of the group. Beside him, a couple of “big men,” as those gathered are wont to call gay men of size, scan the personals on their laptops while a few interested parties look over their shoulders, point, and suggest what profiles to look at next. The younger contingent sits off to the side, some reading tarot cards, others discussing comic books. An older couple talks about their horse out in the country, while keeping an eye on their Blue Great Dane. One big man, a chubby vegetarian with a wizardlike beard, is an animal lover and pulls biscuits from his pocket to give to dogs that walk by with their owners. Later, his partner, the adventurer, shares with me photos he took in Australia. Several vent about work; others talk about movies or celebrity gossip, frustrations with their workout routines, parenting travails, and church; one couple reminisces about their wedding day.

According to one group member, these big men have commandeered the coffee house for tonight, as they do every Friday night, for their own private clubhouse: “It’s our coffee shop when we’re here.” Many have . . .

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