Shared Struggles in Fat and Transgender Law
Dylan Vade and Sondra Solovay
People who are transgender, fat, or both encounter significant obstacles to full participation in mainstream U.S. society. These obstacles include attitudinal, physical, and policy barriers that affect ordinary, daily activities like using bathrooms, going to school, and finding or maintaining employment. When attempting to overcome these barriers by using the legal system, not only are fat or transgender people expected to share a goal of assimilation, but they are coerced into reinforcing fat-phobic and transgender-phobic norms in to secure basic legal rights enjoyed by their non-fat and non-transgender peers. This is a cruel cycle: oppression necessitates the legal intervention, yet the person must participate in that very oppression to receive legal protection.
This ironic duality presents a dilemma for the targets of discrimination and also for the social justice-minded attorneys fighting to secure rights not only for the immediate client in current crisis, but also for the larger communities that will continue to exist over time. The authors of this chapter are not only attorneys but also members of, and allies to, the groups we are assisting—our own rights are also on the line. We are in a unique position: we want to reject strategies that further entrench prejudice against our communities; we know we are among the few who can help; and yet we know what “helping” entails. We cannot in good conscience turn our backs on abhorrent legal strategies when no alternatives exist and legal policy change is slow, arduous, and uncertain.
A little more than an hour's drive separates the California cities of Berkeley and Santa Cruz. A pair of weight discrimination cases demonstrate how even geographic neighbors may be judicial strangers depending on the legal tactics used.
Both John R. of Berkeley and Toni C. of Santa Cruz faced employment discrimination because they were fat. Toni applied for work at a grocery cooperative; John worked for an auto parts company. Toni was turned down for the position—the collective members told her that they thought her weight might interfere, citing the experience of a collective member who reported difficulties climbing ladders when she became heavier due to her pregnancy. Down the road in Berkeley, John, who weighed