Hello, it’s me, #IntersexyFat. Earlier this year, while my fat and tall intersex body was crunched up in an economy class airplane seat, I decided to let my guard down and publicly claim my fatness on twitter @georgiann_davis.
Surely my fatness was, and continues to be, attributed to both my professional and personal identities—evident in the countless fat shaming comments I hear from people that emerge in unsolicited dieting and workout advice at academic conferences or family dinners, “compliments” by peers about how I am photogenic which, to translate, means I know how to work a camera angle to appear less fat—but I never publicly owned my fatness despite my fatness owning me (almost) every moment of my life.
Unlike my intersex trait, I don’t have the ability to hide my fatness, not that anyone should want to hide being intersex or fat. But I’m also not outside the internalization of the “ideal” body which is real for all of us who are constantly bombarded with its message that the “ideal” body is healthy, able, white, not too thin but definitely not fat, straight, gender conforming, and more. And capitalists around the world profit off of countless products they’ve created, and we buy, to make us think we can get closer to achieving the “ideal” body they’ve helped fuel: skin bleaching creams, diet pills, energy drinks, detox diets, and so much more.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hate my fat body, not because my fatness directly harms my healthy (it doesn’t—my last physical and lab workup confirmed I am healthy), but because society repeatedly sends a loud message that fatness is unhealthy (wrong) and universally ugly as if attractiveness isn’t subjective. We hear lots of things about fat bodies from all corners in our lives, but rarely do we hear that fatness is profitable. For example, the diet industry is a gold mine, and bariatric surgeons, those who perform gastric bypass procedures, insert lap bands, and more in the United States where I live, have some of the best working conditions across all surgical specialties. They are rarely, if at all, called into the hospital to perform emergency surgeries like their surgical peers in orthopedics, cardiology, or urology. And their office staff don’t have to struggle with insurance reimbursement, as you aren’t even allowed to make an appointment with a bariatric surgeon until you go through months of tedious steps to obtain preapproval from your insurance company—that is if there isn’t a bariatric surgery exclusion in your insurance policy. And for those who don’t have insurance, well, never mind.
For those of you that made it this far reading my reflection, I imagine you might be thinking why is she writing about fatness on intersex awareness day? My reason is three-fold.
First, while flying that afternoon when I came out as #IntersexyFat, I asked myself if it is possible that owning my fatness could positively transform my life in a similar way that being out as intersex has improved the love I have for my intersex body. Is it possible that identifying as fat can assist me in learning to love the fat that surrounds my intersex body?
Second, it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that people I admire and respect for their pursuit of social justice in the world, be it through scholarship and/or activism, regularly perpetuate fatphobia in what they say (or don’t say) and what they do (or don’t do). By calling this out, will my fellow social justice warriors more deeply reflect on their past, present, and future actions?
Lastly, and the focus of my exploration here, aside from the inability to hide my fatness, being intersex and fat aren’t all that different for they overlap in the shadows of the “ideal” body which I will attempt to show below. While I’m still really struggling with my fatness, I’m hoping that I will someday look back on this piece as the beginning of the next chapter of learning to love a part of my body that I continue to hate.
5. Clothes: I wear what I like despite the clothes being labeled “men’s” or “women’s.” But as difficult as it is to find clothing that fits my gender queer and openly intersex identity, it’s even more difficult to find clothing that fits my fat body. Plus size (what does that even mean?) women’s clothes are way too feminine for me, and men’s clothing of all sizes usually leaves little room for my breasts. I’m sick and tired of finding myself in hidden aisles or sections of stores searching for clothes that will fit me, just like I’m sick and tired of buying shirts labeled for men and underwear labeled for women.
4. Airplanes: I find flying stressful. My fat and tall body is always crammed into a seat that is too small for many people, not just me. The armrests painfully constrain and confine my body, sometimes leaving small bruises on my hips and thighs. But even before I begin to wrestle with the seat and the tight seatbelt, I am emotionally forced into an arbitrary sex box while making my flight reservation. Am I “male” or “female”? It’s sometimes laughable, especially when I’m making a reservation to (painfully) travel (in economy) to a city to deliver a talk on what it’s like being intersex in the U.S. More often than not, it’s emotionally taxing and a harsh and visible reminder of one of the reasons why I feel compelled to continue to travel to conferences, both professional and personal, to discuss intersex issues.
3. Doctors: Fat-positive doctors are as rare as doctors who don’t medicalize intersex. I find it quite depressing that doctors regularly grab for their scalpels to fix intersex bodies by mutilating our genitals, just like they regularly recommend I seriously consider a surgical solution to what they’ve classified as my morbid obesity. It makes me wonder if surgeons would have offered my parents a 2 for 1 price when I was younger: “We can take out her testes, and 80% of her stomach at the same time for a discounted price!”
2. Parents: I’m not a parent, at least not to the human kind, but I can respect that parents want their children to be happy, healthy, successful, and more. However, these (even if well-meaning) desires for “ideal” children are intertwined with the “ideal” body that is either female or male. Most parents don’t hope for an intersex child when they learn of their pregnancy or plan for adoption. They usually (hopefully?) learn to accept their child’s intersex trait especially after connecting with intersex adults and other parents of intersex children, but they can struggle getting to that place. Similarly, most parents don’t want a fat child, and understandably so, for parents are often scrutinized for their child’s body as if they are doing something wrong as parents because their child is fat. I wonder what it’s like to be a parent who questions both the need for the “ideal” child and the assumption that it involves an “ideal” body.
1. Love: Years ago, when I was first experimenting with sexual intimacy, I worried my partners would leave me if they knew I was intersex. Like many other intersex people, I wondered if they could tell something was different about me because of the shape, feel, and appearance of my vagina, areolas, and more. Did they know I was intersex? Or, more importantly, would they still find me sexually appealing if they knew I had a vagina but no uterus, have XY chromosomes and had testes before they were surgically removed without my consent? My fat body has left me with many of the same concerns and questions. Will I be loved with my clothes off and the lights on? These days, when I’m sexually intimate, my intersex doesn’t get in the way of how I feel in bed, but my fatness does, figuratively and, yes, sometimes literally. And I’m sickened by it. How can I learn to love all aspects of my fat intersex body?
Ten years ago I wouldn’t dare to publicly identify as intersex, let alone say I’m proud to be intersex. But I got here by owning, personally and professionally, that part of my body. And now I wouldn’t change being intersex for anything in the world. Today I end this piece hoping it marks the beginning of a similar self-liberatory project where I ultimately learn to love being #IntersexyFat. Admittedly I’m not sure I will ever get there, but without owning #IntersexyFat, I can’t even begin to try.
– by Georgiann Davis. Georgiann is an intersex scholar and activist originally from Chicago, Illinois. She joined the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Sociology Department in the fall of 2014 after spending close to ten years studying the intersection of the sociology of diagnosis and feminist theories. In her book, Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis (2015, NYU Press), Davis explores how intersex is defined, experienced, and contested in contemporary U.S. society. She is also the former president of the AIS-DSD Support Group (2014-2015), and a current board member for interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth.