Several years ago, my mom was out to lunch with some friends, and she started telling a story about a new hairdresser she’d been to. She embellished this story, as even reasonably liberal people of her generation so often did, with the standard lisping and wrist-flopping to indicate he was a male hairdresser, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
One of the friends gave her the stink-eye and said, “Oh, come on, Pattie. He wasn’t really like that, was he?”
Mom, mortified, had to admit he was not. She was just, you know, trying to be funny… and no, now that you mention it, being gay really isn’t intrinsically funny, but… well, people usually laugh when you do the lisping, wrist-flopping thing, so that’s something like funny, isn’t it?
There was no point. She was busted, and she knew it. The friend in question was one of the funniest women she knew — and that’s saying something, because my mom was the funniest woman most of her other friends knew. The joke utterly failed the funny test, which was almost as bad as the fact that it was homophobic. But not quite as bad.
Because the friend in question was Dan Savage’s mom. She wouldn’t stand for that shit.
I’ve never met Dan Savage, but the few times I met his mom, I adored her. So did my mom — I heard Judy’s name constantly while I was growing up, as well as updates on all four of her kids (none of whom I’ve met), which led inevitably to this conversation:
Mom: Danny Savage’s column is all over the place now!
Me: Yeah, Mom, I know. And, um, I’m gonna suggest that you just be happy for him and not go looking to read it, okay? Trust me on this.
Mom: Why don’t you have a nationally syndicated column?
Me: I don’t know, because I just started college?
Mom: You can already write circles around 95% of the writers in the Trib! You could have a Pulitzer by the time you’re 25 if you’d just get off your ass–
Me: Okay, I’m hanging up now.
So for the last 12 years or so, he’s loomed in my mind not as Dan Savage, Well-Known Sex Advice Columnist but as Dan Savage, Judy’s Kid Who’s a Real Writer, and What the Hell Am I Supposed to Tell My Friends Who’ve Been Waiting for You to Publish a Novel Since You Were Six Years Old, when You Never Send a Goddamned Thing out?
Even almost seven years after my mother’s death.
Which means I read everything he writes, and I really sort of want to hate him, but 99% of the time I can’t, ’cause he’s smart and funny and deserves everything he’s achieved.
Then there’s the other 1% of the time, when he talks about fat people.
When I read The Commitment last year, I got to enjoy 17 whole pages of not hating him before I got to this:
Two days later, in a water park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, I came to a couple of realizations: First, anyone who denies the existence of the obesity epidemic in the United States hasn’t been to a water park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (The owners of water parks in the U.S. must be saving a fortune on water and chlorine bills; floating in the deep end of the wave pool with D.J., Terry observed that there was an awful lot of water being displaced. If the South Dakotans floating around us all got out of the pool at the same time, the water level would most likely have dropped six feet.)
And when I read that, I really wished that I had met him, so maybe we could have lunch and I could give him the stink-eye and say, “Oh, come on, Danny. It wasn’t really like that, was it?”
Not to mention, that quote’s awfully mild, compared to say, this, which came after he wrote some fatphobic comments about “Girl Love Handles” and heard just what an asshole he was from a lot of readers:
Secondly, I’m sick of talking about GLH and obesity. I would dearly love to move on, but the mail–oh, the mail!–keeps pouring in. Some is from folks who’ve got my back (thanks, gang), but most is from ticked-off women like LARDASS. As of this writing, I’ve received exactly 10,547 pieces of e-mail–yes, that’s the actual tally–complaining that my refusal to take the self-esteem-boosting/public-health-shredding position that you can be obese and healthy somehow oppresses women. Interestingly enough, I haven’t received a single piece of e-mail about how, say, the Food and Drug Administration oppresses women.
“LARDASS” was the clever name he assigned to an anonymous woman who wrote in to say she was offended. (That’s why they pay him the big bucks, I guess.) And where he’s going with that last line is that we shouldn’t be concerned about fat hatred, because there are better things to worry about, like legislation surrounding Plan B. Because no one person could possibly have two concerns simultaneously, for starters. And no one ever dismisses people who concern themselves with social justice on the grounds that there are “better things to worry about.” Certainly, I’ve never once heard that there are more pressing issues facing the world than, say, gay marriage. Hey, what are you homos doing about the situation in Darfur? Huh? How about Iraq? Poverty? Animal cruelty?
And how about fat rights, you fucking bigot?
I will not make the argument that being fat is the same as being gay in this society, because fat people are not murdered by strangers for being fat, nor beaten up by cops for being fat, and fat people are free to marry each other in all fifty states. But you know what? That’s about where the dissimilarities end.
Here’s a partial list of fat sterotypes and arguments used to justify fat hatred:
- It’s a choice. (Never mind that diets have about exactly the same long-term success rates as ex-gay ministries.)
- It’s a sin. God hates gluttony. It’s right there in the Bible.
- It’s unnatural.
- It’s disgusting.
- You could change if you really wanted to.
- It will kill you.
- It’s creating a public health crisis.
- Being attracted to fat people is not normal.
- Only perverts could want to have sex with fat people.
- It’s fine if you don’t make a big deal about it — live and let live — but why do you feel the need to flaunt it? (Girl Love Handles, anyone?)
- Fat people (especially women) are oversexed, want to fuck every thin person they see, and will not take into account whether those other people express any attraction to them; all they can think about is getting teh sex.
- Fat people should not be allowed to adopt children.
- Fat people who already have kids should have their children taken away from them.
- Fat people make irresponsible “lifestyle choices.”
- People would stop treating you like shit for being fat if you’d just stop being fat.
- People get fat because their mothers fucked them up when they were children.
- We need to make sure our poor, innocent children don’t grow up fat, so they don’t have to endure the suffering that comes from being
around bigoted assholesfat.
Do I need to go on, or are you getting the picture?
Fat hatred exists because most people in this culture react with visceral disgust, based on Puritanical values, to who we are because of our genes. Sound familiar?
Yes, some people get fatter than their genes alone would make them, because they eat too much and don’t exercise enough, risking disease. I’m not sure if you know this, Dan, but I hear some gay people have anonymous sex with no protection, risking disease. That’s not the choice I would make in their position, but it doesn’t make them any less deserving of personhood, of civil rights, of respect as human beings. Health is not a moral imperative. And more importantly, wearing condoms and/or getting into a monogamous relationship would not make them any less fundamentally gay. Likewise, if you were born to be fat, you can choose to live as healthfully or unhealthfully as you like — you can even join an ex-fat church (literally) and spend a few years living like a “normal” person — but you are never gonna be permanently unfat. It is just what you fucking are.
So all that’s background to this: Dan Savage recently wrote a column about fat people that wasn’t completely hateful. People are e-mailing me about it left and right. Some people are cheering. Yay, Dan Savage stood up for teh fatties!
Other people are not impressed. And I gotta say, I’m with BStu on this one.
Here’s another quote from The Commitment:
If I weren’t so attracted to tall blond guys who look good in Speedos, I would probably have grown up to be an insufferable, judgmental prude, instead of the insufferable, judgmental libertine that I became — and yes, it is possible to be an insufferable, judgmental libertine. Respecting the rights of others to make their own choices doesn’t mean you can’t make judgments, or form and share opinions. This sometimes makes me insufferable…
No fucking argument there, dude.