On Saturday, Al and I went to the Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market, expecting it to be like one of our standard midwestern flea markets (Al was secretly hoping to find an old Atari), only to discover it was essentially an arts and crafts fair — and a pretty upscale one at that. I fell in love with Lisa Chun’s stuff and bought this to hang over my desk, but other than that, it was pretty much the same stuff we’d been looking at all week: turquoise and silver jewelry, handwoven scarves and blankets, fetishes (I had to learn there’s a whole other meaning for that word after walking by like five “Jewelry and Fetish” shops, and going, “HUH?”), etc.
So we hit the food tents to try some fry bread, which is pretty much a funnel cake — and a close cousin to the locally ubiquitous sopaipilla — but hey, it was TRADITIONAL NATIVE AMERICAN CUISINE; we had to get some. Al went to another booth to get himself a drink while I went looking for a table. They were all full. But two older men started calling out to me, all, “Ma’am, you’re welcome to sit over here!” (When did I become “ma’am” to men old enough to be my father?) I was stupid enough to sit down and engage before I noticed the one dude’s “Freedom Isn’t Free” T-shirt. They were from Texas. The “Freedom Isn’t Free” guy was up there on some sort of Baptist mission. (To stamp out all that Catholic influence, I guess?)
He turned out to be the one I liked better.
Because the other one — after making a “feather or dot?” joke on a fucking reservation — decided it would be hilarious to keep ragging on Al about his weight. “Boy, you’d better be careful! Looks like a stiff breeze might blow you clean away!” “You sure you need that fried dough?” “Well, you do look hungry!” It was like that was the only kind of small talk he could think up, after he’d realized we weren’t interested in slagging off Native Americans with him. (For the record, Al ate like two bites of the fry bread, which he was splitting with me in the first place. Between the two of us, we consumed about a third of the portion we were given. But hey, we all know fat people are not allowed to have a taste of anything that, you know, has a taste. What can I say? We were hamstrung by the lack of a celery and oxygen tent.)
And you guys, here’s the awfulest part: I didn’t know what to say. I mean, “Drop dead, asshole” was an obvious choice, but the words wouldn’t come out. I didn’t even think to say something like, “Hey, I love him exactly as he is!” I was just so totally flustered by it, because dude was insulting my boyfriend to his face, repeatedly, but it was all supposed to be a big joke, so it’d be impolite to tell him I hoped he fell off a cliff, right? ARGH. Why, at 32 years old, do I still feel the need to be polite to people who are anything but? Why, twenty years after beginning the phase in which I locked myself in the basement and listened to the Smiths obsessively, do I still give valuable time to people I’d much rather kick in the eye?
The upside of this experience, I guess, was that I got a good lesson in how things are different for fat men and fat women. ‘Cause here’s what I finally did say, which actually stopped the jackass in his tracks: “Hey, you’re talking about me, too!” I have no idea why that’s the only rejoinder that made it out of my mouth, but it did shut him up. He would have kept after Al all day long, but he didn’t want to insult a lady, apparently. (On the other hand, we left about 90 seconds later, so maybe he was just taking a breather.)
For as many times as I’ve argued that this culture is somewhat harder on fat women — if only because we’re all expected to be conventionally beautiful, while men can often get away with being merely smart and accomplished — I haven’t had to deal with anyone making non-stop fat jokes to my face since the seventh grade. People who are trying to give the appearance of friendliness (even if they ultimately give the appearance of passive aggressive assholishness) don’t generally greet strange women with, “Hey there, tubby! You haven’t missed too many meals, have you?” That’s pretty much reserved for men. (Though it’s excused, interestingly enough, with the exact same bullshit that’s frequently used to justify inappropriate comments about a woman’s body: Hey, it’s just a joke! I didn’t mean anything by it! Lighten up!) The fact that this dickhead finally stopped when I pointed out he was also insulting me kinda drives that home. You don’t do that to a lady! Ladies have feelings! It’s only men who have to suck it up and take it, because hey, I was just giving you a hard time, buddy.
I can’t speak for Al regarding how he felt about all that, but I can tell you a couple things I know for sure:
- This guy was being mean. I don’t care how much he was smiling or laughing or winking — he was a passive-aggressive dickshine of the first order. He was absolutely trying to make Al feel small (uh, so to speak). And when it didn’t work, he just tried harder.
- Men actually do have feelings. Or so I’ve been told.
In light of those two things, there is no fucking excuse whatsoever for sitting there talking shit about another guy’s body, under the guise of being friendly.
I mean, teasing among people who know and respect each other is one thing. I come from a family that expresses love most often in the form of (hopefully) witty insults, which utterly horrifies people who come from families that are actually nice to each other. And half the reason Al and I are made for each other is that we spend a great deal of our time together having conversations like this:
Al: Wow, that’s a gigantic zit you’ve got there.
Me: Here, did you want to get a closer look? [Accosts him with bezitted shoulder.]
Al: I… I think it’s got a face.
Me: Is it winking at you?
Al: It’s saying, “FEEEEED MEEEEE!”
Now, anyone who knows me knows that, in the history of Kate’s Body Image Issues, acne places a close second after fat, and for a while — like back at that seventh grade lunch table — they were running neck and neck. Zits ranked pretty fucking high on my Adolescent Self-Hatred Checklist. So even now, if some guy I’d just met said, “Wow, that’s a gigantic zit you’ve got there,” I’d either deck him or cry, depending on what kind of mood I was in. But when Al says it (and, characteristically, refuses to let it die) I end up laughing my ass off.
So I’m certainly not too sensitive or too proud to understand the concept of bonding by pointing out each other’s flaws. But that was not remotely what this guy was doing. He was swinging his old man dick, trying to put Al in his place. And if Al had said something like, oh, I don’t know, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up?” you know this guy would have attacked him for not taking it like a man, for being too weak to accept a barrage of insults in a good-natured manner.
Maybe I didn’t say anything because I was afraid of contributing to that impression: the Fat Guy has to get his girlfriend to fight his battles. The horror! Maybe I didn’t say anything because it just wasn’t a battle worth spending any energy on. Or maybe I didn’t say anything because I’ve been conditioned to believe it’s okay to speak that way to a man. Men can take it.
It was probably a little of all three. And there’s only one of those reasons that I’m not ashamed of.