The Fat, Black, Femme, Queer Chronicles: Demanding to Be Seen
'What about this theory. The fear of not being enough. And the fear of being "too much."
Are exactly the same fear. The fear of being you.'
— Nayyirah Waheed
I wanted to start this column for a myriad of reasons. In my experience as a black, queer, plus-size feminine woman, we rarely have a platform of our own, where we can be seen and/or heard.
For most of my life, I felt invisible. I grew up as an only child with a single mother. Although my mom tried her best, she worked a lot and I was often left home alone to entertain myself. I grew up in a very small town in the south where I was usually the only black person in the classroom. Thankfully, I have been privileged enough not to experience violent racism, but, in an effort to not make me 'feel different,' people ignored my blackness. In turn, so did I.
For over 20 years of my life, I experienced a lot of self-hatred. I wanted to be white. I wanted the long, straight hair. I often wore weaves, or chemically straightened my hair to achieve this, and was always embarrassed when people asked if the extensions were my real hair. My answer – truthful or not – depended on how 'natural' the weave looked.
My weight was also an issue for me. I didn’t have my first romantic experience until I was 19 years old and I had moved up north. As a result, I struggled with not feeling desired and or being seen. Other black girls I grew up with had boyfriends, but all of those girls were very slim. My plus-size friends who were white also had boyfriends. Yet dating as an adolescent never came for me.
As an adult, I still battle with the trauma of self-hatred from adolescence. Within the black community in general, self-hatred is very real as a result of years of mental slavery caused by trying to live up to European expectations. I have come across people who refuse to date black women, period. Sometimes, this refusal was a result of a negative experience(s). Or, sometimes, these folks just never found black women attractive. Whatever the reasons may be, when you combine being black and fat, navigating the world while fighting to love yourself is a war each and every day.
I always knew I was attracted to women, but I never explored that within myself until fairly recently. Society usually makes women and gender nonconforming (GNC) people feel like it’s okay to be attracted to a woman as long as you aren’t actually a lesbian or queer. That narrative played a large part in the denial of my sexual orientation for over 20 years.
In 2013, I fell in love with a woman for the very first time. Unfortunately, throughout the course of our pseudo-relationship, our interactions served only to increase my insecurities. Most people I come across tend to assume that women and GNC people are less superficial than men. In my short experience as a queer woman, it has been the opposite. I think this is because society holds women to significantly more unrealistic physical expectations than men. As a result, we as women or GNC people internalize our perceived failures to conform to these standards, and it impacts the lens through which we view beauty.
My journey toward making myself visible began in September 2017. I realised a lot of the struggles I had in my queer dating life were the result of my weight. While attempting to develop meaningful romantic connections in my life, I came across a lot of superficial masculine-presenting women and GNC people. I was often friend-zoned. These women and GNC people would swear they weren’t looking for relationships, but would then frequently end up with a slim/skinny woman. This crushed my heart every time.
Throughout my journey, I also realised I wasn’t seeing any representation of myself anywhere – not in print, on TV, in the movies, and often not even in ever-influential social media. The body positive movement is doing a great job of providing representation for plus-size women; however, it is a crusade that still seems to be almost entirely hetero-normative. And, while there are body positive champions of colour out there, the movement could still use an influx of racial diversity.
So, I channeled my anger, frustration, and pain into directing, producing, and modeling in a photo series. The project celebrated queer, black, plus-size, feminine women. I wanted to see myself and other women like me in images of us appearing desirable, sensual, vulnerable, and powerful without being reduced to sexual objects, as we so often see women depicted in the mainstream media.
The photo series gave me confidence in my physical presence and increased my personal visibility within the LGBTQ+ community where I live. Yet, I realize true healing requires a deeper touch, which is why I decided to turn my focus inward and back to writing. I have learned that frequently, we feel alone in our struggles, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We are all more alike than we are different.
This monthly column will cover a variety of topics that I personally struggle with such as: weight, race, sexual orientation, trauma, cycles, self-esteem, addictions, relationships, friendships, etc. I’m solutions-oriented, so my articles may at first seem like rants going nowhere, but there will always be suggestions for solutions.
I welcome you to suggest topics, and I ask you to be patient with me as I continue to walk through my journey to heal and love myself. But most importantly, I challenge you to walk through all that uncomfortable pain you may have, be patient and compassionate with yourself, and work on healing as well.