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Fat Gay Men

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

Jason Whitesel
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Fat Gay Men
    Book Description:

    To be fat in a thin-obsessed gay culture can be difficult. Despite affectionate in-group monikers for big gay menchubs, bears, cubsthe anti-fat stigma that persists in American culture at large still haunts these individuals who often exist at the margins of gay communities. InFat Gay Men, Jason Whitesel delves into the world of Girth and 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 and Mirth, Whitesel offers an insiders 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, caf 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 Menprovides a rare glimpse into an unexplored dimension of weight and body image in American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2390-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: An Ethnographer among Girth & Mirthers
    (pp. 1-8)

    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...

  5. 1 Coming Together
    (pp. 9-26)

    Post-Stonewall, diversity within the U.S. urban gay community became apparent. This led to the formation of groups such as leathermen, associations for older gay men, and, most relevant to this discussion, the chub/chaser subculture.¹ Girth & Mirth was organized in the 1970s as a national social movement in response to weight discrimination in the gay community, with activities designed to transform big gay men’s experiences with shame.² The organization was founded by Dick Bernolt and Charlie Brown, a big man and his thin admirer, respectively. It was Brown who took out an ad in the alternative newspaperThe Berkeley Barb,...

  6. 2 Injuries Big Gay Men Suffer
    (pp. 27-58)

    Boys line up on the field, as the PE teacher yells, “On your marks, get set, ready, go!” They take turns shimmying up bamboo poles, except for a chubby kid who lingers.

    The teacher gently urges,“Oyeama, try.”

    Oyeama shies away from the task:“But I could never climb that pole.” Looking back at the pole, he hangs his head in shame.

    “Oh now, you shouldn’t give up before you try.” The teacher walks over to Oyeama’s best friend, a skinny, serious-looking boy, and says,“Komatsu, show him how.” “Okay.” Komatsu scampers to his friend, as the growing crowd of kids stare. In...

  7. 3 Performing the Fat Body
    (pp. 59-90)

    Every summer, Girth & Mirth holds a reunion together with other big men’s clubs, allowing big gay men a safe and supportive environment in which they can have an opportunity to sexualize the injuries they experience in the gay world. In this sexed-up celebration of the chub/chaser community and culture, big gay men gather once a year at the Cabana Inn,¹ the largest gay resort in the Southwest, to party and to maintain ties with other big men from around the country, rekindle old friendships, and make new ones. Within the confines of this alternative space, they feel free to...

  8. 4 Big Gay Men’s Struggle for Class Distinction
    (pp. 91-110)

    At the urging of a few members of the Ohio Girth & Mirth board, I made a point to also attend Convergence, which they thought would have a rather different atmosphere than that of the Super Weekend. Both events take place in a U.S. city annually—the former in July, the latter over Labor Day weekend. Unlike the joint effort of multiple groups that coordinate the Super Weekend, the group hosting Convergence changes every year, as does the location. Some of the same people attend both events, yet they sometimes dress and behave differently. Each event provides for big gay...

  9. 5 Shame Reconfigured
    (pp. 111-136)

    Members of Girth & Mirth reconfigure their shame of being fat by performing their bodies as objects of desire. Yet becoming objects of desire and feeling sexy does not necessarily have to culminate in sex. Big men simply engage in defiant, in-your-face behaviors in an attempt to construct meaningful lives and carve out a place for themselves within the gay community. At times, they also attempt to effect real structural change by challenging gay body politics and the imposition of derogatory labels.

    In this chapter, I focus on alternatives for reconfiguring shame other than the sexual objectification described in chapter...

  10. Conclusion: Beyond Simply Managing Stigma
    (pp. 137-142)

    Herein, I have thickly described some of the ways in which big gay men have reconfigured the shame of fat stigma, either by turning themselves into sex objects (the focus of chapter 3), or by seeking class validation (the focus of chapter 4), or by playfully disregarding their shame (the focus of chapter 5). Typically, people reconfigure fat as a disease or deviance, such as when doctors medicalize it as “obesity” or when people say someone is “overweight,” meaning he has deviated from some ideal measurement. Big men, however, have devised different strategies for reconfiguring the shame of fat stigma....

    (pp. 143-144)
  12. THEORETICAL APPENDIX: Analytical Framework of Stigma, Camp, Carnival, and Play
    (pp. 145-152)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 153-164)
    (pp. 165-172)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 173-176)
    (pp. 177-177)