As fat, Black femmes: how can we navigate and decolonize the politics of desirability?
By Tina Colleen
Black queer women and femmes and female identify people (FIP), we are celebrating our natural melanin and manes more today than ever before. We demand equality, but have we truly broken free from European influences when we choose a partner?
Dating in the queer world feels pretty hopeless on a lot of levels. Especially for me as a black, queer, plus-size femme. In the last year, I have been going to ‘Meetups’. I first went to speed dating events that were queer-inclusive, yet they were not racially diverse. It wasn’t a fit, and I didn’t feel comfortable.
I began attending meetups and events for Black and non-white Latina women and femmes. At these events, there were always three extremes: queer women who were cliquey and had no desire to include you; women who had a partner and just wanted to be your friend; and/or couples. Again, I felt like I didn’t fit in, so I stopped going to these events.
I started dating online in July. I connected with this lovely androgynous black woman quite quickly. Despite my fear she would not accept my size, our dates went well and things seemed to be looking up. After our second date, she called it off. She was stuck between liking me and another woman at the same time. I came in second place.
Following this blow, I was lucky to have received tickets to the Afropolitan Insights: Self-Care Festival. At the festival, I attended a panel discussion. The topic of decolonization came up. One of the panelists mentioned that she was unsure if she was genuinely attracted to a specific type of man, or if she was experiencing undue European influence from decolonization.
BAM! The epiphany of why I was having a hard time fitting into the black queer dating scene slapped me in the face. I burst into tears. The panel asked me to share why I was crying.
“I’m noticing a trend,” I began. “You often see black masculine women, even full-figured ones, with slim, model-type girlfriends, but you rarely see it the other way around. As a plus-size, black, feminine queer, I don’t see myself in black queer entertainment and media. I’m not celebrated or told I’m desirable. I don’t fit in at black queer events because most of these females and FIP have the privilege of not being plus-size or full-figured (PS/FF).” The audience roared in agreement.
As the day went on, a non-binary full-figured femme-presenting person named Oskar approached me. Oskar’s black girl magic flowed through their ebony skin. Their look was girly-femme with an AG flair. They approached me about what I said during the panel discussion. I told them my tears came from anger and hurt; that although I’m active, and my vitals are good, I’m still seen as fat and undesirable by women and femmes in our own community, and I was tired of it. Immediately, Oskar wept on my shoulder — they suffered from the same reality.
As I began to truly reflect on everything, I realized that as a whole, we as black people are still so damaged by colonization within our community. White supremacy has led us to divisions within our own communities. Thick vs. plus-size vs. BBW vs. skinny; black queers vs. black heterosexuals; #teamlightskin vs. #teamdarkskin; black vs. African-American vs. Caribbean vs. African, the list goes on.
Chris Rock once said, “Who’s more racist, black people or white people? It’s black people! You know why? Because we hate black people too!” I laughed when I heard this years ago, but it is not funny. The world is slowly becoming more accepting of us. It is time for us to be more accepting of each other and ourselves.
My research to understand why led me to connect with Professor Aleah Ranjitsingh, a Gender and Development Research Consultant who teaches within the Ethnic and Africana/Caribbean Studies departments at two colleges. She helped me see how Europeans normalized heterosexuality.
“In 1863, when the [Civil] war was about to end,” Professor Ranjitsingh explains, and “you see the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission putting forward this idea of heterosexuality and monogamy and normalized this among the former slaves.”
Her perspective on the European beauty influence is that a body that is not heterosexual is viewed as “other, immoral or inferior” in society. Being plus-size is also seen as an “other,” because the plus-size body is outside of Eurocentric notions of beauty. When you combine plus-size and queerness, that body becomes the other to the other. Then there’s being black, queer, and plus-size…you see my point?
Obsessively, I began to search for black PS/FF femmes in images with an athletic androgynous (AG) black woman or FIP. As a queer society, you rarely see this. In my search, I found a couple, Ashley and Bri.
I traveled for an hour and a half and waited excitedly to meet Ashley and Bri. Ashley, a femme, plus-size beauty whose skin glowed a medium brown against the sunlight, slayed in her crop top and shorts. She is in a monogamous relationship with Bri, an athletic AG with short curly hair and a smooth dapperness. Bri identifies by her name. Here was the healthy black queer couple I wanted to see: my relationship goals!
The conversation was enlightening. We talked about Ashley’s dating experiences before Bri, and how she realized that she used to settle a lot, never fully committed to most relationships, and previously identified as bisexual until she dated Bri. What touched me most was I finally felt like I was talking to someone to whom I could relate, even though we were strangers.
I wanted to hug her as she discussed her weight struggles growing up and the tears that came when sometimes she hung out with her skinny friends. All of this has happened to me. I was happy to hear that Ashley did not endure negativity while dating as a result of her weight.
I appreciated the level of transparency Bri disclosed about her typical physical type. “To be honest they [women] have ranged. Before being in a relationship with Ash walking into a bar, I’d probably be like any typical AG and be attracted to a light-skinned/fairly brown-skinned, curly hair, nice smile, and athletically thick person.”
As I listened to Ashley and Bri, I couldn’t help cling to the words both of them kept repeating throughout the interview.
Said Bri, “Who you like or love depends on how mature you are as a person. In the past, when I was less mature, I let what I thought my friends’ perception of somebody play a big role in what I brought home… I think as you grow and mature the [societal] influence lessens if you are actually paying attention and looking at what’s around you.”
Ashley further brings it home:
“You have to know who you are and what you bring to the table. If somebody’s going to sit here and think that I’m not beautiful or I’m not worthy because I have a couple extra pounds on me, then you’re not the type of person I need in my life anyway. You have to go into a situation with the confidence of who you are, and go in there with an openness and say ‘this is what I struggle with.’”
So, I ask you, femmes, AGs, whoever you are: is your type your true type or do European standards influence who you’re attracted to physically?
“Yes, very subtly. There’s a lot of respectability politics that goes into the folks that I end up being with. As much as I want to hope that I’m doing better than that, it is what it is,” says Oskar. “Realistically they [women] were pretty different. Whether they were shorter or slender, they were always smaller than me, that’s saying something. It makes me wonder, have there been instances where plus-size femmes have sought me out and I ignored that? I have no idea. I feel like I swipe right on plus-size femmes and have matched [on Tinder] with two. I’m ashamed; the first step is acceptance.”
That is the first step, but what is the next step?
“In the short-term, we need healthy representation of black love. Not just black heterosexual love, but black queer love,” relayed Professor Ranjitsingh. A great example the professor used is the TV show Master of None, particularly the episode, “Thanksgiving.” She asserts that we must see a genuine representation of every black size, shade, and hair texture in entertainment and media.
How do we fight against undue European influences of beauty in our love life and life as a whole?
We need to re-educate ourselves, fight to change the tape that plays in our subconscious every day. We need to attempt to further break down the altered history that we have been fed our entire lives. Professor Ranjitsingh discussed Malcolm X and his philosophy of black nationalism. It requires re-education, learning to embrace our black shapes and love our hair texture. She suggests reading literature by authors such as Gloria Naylor, Cheryl Clarke, and Roderick Ferguson.
Where does this leave the “fat,” black, queer femme? Where’s our community, where’s our love? Since society hasn’t created it for us, let’s create it together.
Thank you to Sofiya, Belinda, Lerone, Lesbian Femmes on Facebook and all the people who participated within the article.
Author Bio: Tina Colleen is a writer, poet, activist, and educator. She is the Creative Director for The Black Queer Goddess Project, a photo series celebrating the black plus-size femme. She hopes to shed light on this group of queer black women, who often feel invisible within the LGBTQ+ community. Her aim is to create a safe space for black queer plus-size women to feel accepted and loved. You can join the community by contacting Tina on Instagram @antigravity3c.
Photo Credits (Instagram): T. Colleen (@antigravity3c), T. Cruz (@_twinns_hotmami_) L. Delva (@nomadkreyol1), R. Kelly (@rkellz89), V. Saint-Lôt (@her_twinnytwinntwinn), O. Sinclair (@dammit_oskar), Photographer (@divulgenyc), MUA (@iventtglam), Hair (@helene.marie), Headwraps (@ceeceesclosetnyc), Earrings (@andandnyc)