So apparently, some (incredibly insensitive and inhumane) folks out there just don’t like fat folks at all, as Anyone want a slightly used politician? over at Alas, a Blog illustrates. What kind of person would ever make that sort of comparison? Yeah, partway along the road to starving to death, even some fat folks will lose weight. This doesn’t illustrate anything useful about weight loss, or diet and exercise though. Colour me absolutely disgusted.
In other news (eventually related, actually, if you just keep reading), I had a houseguest over the weekend. My friend, D, from Portland. He’s a good guy, 58-ish years old, gay, an engineer. I like him lots. I somehow don’t think I like him as much as he likes me, but equity is not always guaranteed in relationships, so I guess that’s okay. The reason that I say that he likes me more than I like him is that, for some reason, he seems to openly idolize me. That’s very odd, and kind of uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of.
It gets played out in a number of ways, one of which is that I’m simply not allowed to say anything “bad” about myself in his presence. On Sunday night after doing social stuff with people all the time for the last three days I was just feeling peopled out. I was feeling crabby and easily annoyed by people, so after nearly chewing someone out at an over-stayed-at party I said, “Gah, I feel so crabby, I’m such a jerk sometimes.” or words to that effect, and he leapt to my defence and said, “No K! You are never a jerk! Don’t ever say that! You are the kindest and most compassionate person I’ve ever met! You’re not a jerk!”
To which my reply was, “Um, dude, sometimes I am, just like everybody else. And that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect.” But he wouldn’t hear of it.
It’s uncomfortable because I feel like I’m on a sort of pedestal for him, which actually makes me less real to him and less human. He has this idealized vision of who I am which bears, as time goes by, less and less resemblance to the person I actually am, both good and bad. I’m glad that most of my relationships aren’t like this.
As we were sitting in my kitchen drinking tea on Sunday evening I made the (jerky) mistake of criticizing one of the people he had travelled with. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had been in a better mood. I knew he didn’t like her and I admit, in my crabbiness, that that’s part of why I criticized her. Bitching about a common “other” seemed easier in that moment than having further conversations about how I wasn’t a jerk (despite ironically being a real example of jerkiness, ho hum).
I said, “She is the dullest conversationalist ever.”
That’s all it took to start him up on a tirade. I just sort of let him go, but then suddenly he started talking tangentially and sneakily about her weight. Of course, he didn’t just say, “She’s so fat! And that inherently makes her bad! Because fat people are bad!” Instead, he snuck up on it the way people do.
“She eats like a pig. She has no table manners at all. Were you watching her at the potluck? She just kept eating and eating and eating! We had to keep stopping on the way up so she could eat. She claimed she was hungry, well, yeah, I can see you’re hungry, honey, just by looking at you, but that doesn’t mean…”
At which point I said, kinda startled and unprepared, “Hold up. Look. I shouldn’t have started this, that was dumb of me. Criticize her for being irritating, I guess, or for being ignorant or loud or rude, but don’t feel like you can criticize her about her weight, not to me. My mother was a big woman when I was growing up and I’ve heard enough of that crap.”
Not helping his cause of making me like him more he said, “My sister’s big too. My sister eats just like her, just like a pig. My mom was big, but she had health problems, so…”
Said I, “No. Just stop. Don’t talk to me about this. That’s it.” By this time I was actually shaking with anger and all I wanted was to get away. I felt exhausted and disappointed and like I just didn’t want to deal with this or him. I just wanted him gone and I wanted to collect my thoughts and then I wanted to throw things. But when you have your friend visiting you from Portland there’s nowhere for them to go and when you’re me, you’re just not the storming out and yelling type. I turned on the kettle so I could think about things. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t stop the tears from starting in my eyes.
Having a firm eventual grasp of the obvious he said, “You’re angry with me.”
“Yes, I’m angry with you. That’s okay, I can be angry with you.”
I looked at him, took a deep breath and made a choice.
I said, “D, you have no concept of what it’s like to live in this world as a person who isn’t the socially prescribed size. No concept. You complained to me that you’ve gained 20 pounds in the last year, but still, no one would ever look at you and say, ‘That D is SO FAT!’ and feel they had a right to make a moral judgment about you because of it. You have no idea what it’s like.
“People have often said to me, ‘K, you’re not *that* fat.’” He tried to interrupt me (probably to tell me that in fact, I wasn’t *that* fat) but I cut him off, “No, they do. Do you know what that means? That means they want to let me off the hook for being fat because they like me, so that they can continue to hold a moral judgment about other fat people without having to apply it to me too. But you know, I weigh 240 pounds. I’m fat, just like she is. In fact, she and I probably weigh about the same, we just don’t look the same because we’re built differently.
“And how do you know she *doesn’t* have a health problem, if that’s your criteria for acceptable fatness? Why in God’s name would she confide in you, you’re obviously not her friend. And why would she even know about it, considering the state of your health system?
“I outweigh you by what, 70 pounds?” he mumbled that he weighed 160 pounds, “Okay, so, 80 pounds. I outweigh you by a 10-year-old. But I’m the fat person you *like*, so you wouldn’t think of criticizing me the way you criticize her.
“When I was just out of high school and all muscle from skating without a bit of fat anywhere I went to buy pretty underwear and asked for a size 14. The tiny little woman in the store said, ‘We don’t sell plus sizes.’ and said it with disgust in her voice. Well, I’m a size 20 now, D, and it isn’t any easier. So I bet it isn’t easy for her either and you have no concept of what that’s like or what it’s like for her to be the person she is.
“I started it by criticizing her and I shouldn’t have done that, and I’m sorry I did it. And you’re right, I’m angry. I’m the fat person you like, D, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not fat. She’s the fat person you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a person.”
There was a breathless silent portentous pause in the room. He was looking at me very intently so to avoid having to stare back at him I poured my tea and vigorously stirred in brown sugar and cream. I took a deep breath and drank a too-large swallow of too-hot tea, which, though painful, oddly calmed me down again and made my hands stop shaking.
I took another sip and another breath. Then I said, a little calmer, “To be clear, I like my body and I’m not interested in losing weight. But that’s not always easy either.”
Another silent pause filled with cautious tea-drinking, and then he said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying all of that.”
“Hmm.” said I, staring into my tea.
Said he, “I’m sorry. You’re right. It was wrong of me to say those things. I know it’s cliche to say ‘You’ve really changed my opinion’ right in the heat of the moment, so I won’t say that, but you’ve given me a lot to think about. It was mean.” Then after a pause, “Maybe that’s why I don’t have anybody.” which annoyed me a little because it sounded perilously close to self-pity and in the moment I didn’t have patience for that. I also wasn’t going to necessarily deny it, because maybe being a bit too judgmental and mean is a part of that reason.
And you know, if I’d thought it out more ahead of time I would have said more, or different, and perhaps I wouldn’t have made it so much about me. But in a way I’m amazed at how coherently and even articulately it all came out in the moment. So often when I’m upset I fumble with words and can’t say what I mean in the way I want, but for some reason this time it all tumbled out piece by coherent piece pulled along by my anger and frustration.