Dear Readers, what follows is the first of what I hope will be many guest-posts by a friend I knew as a student. He has since gone on to become a professor himself. It is very much time that we began to speak of men’s bodies, too, on this blog. It’s good to be reminded that Civil Rights (Racial Rights), Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Native American Rights, Fat Rights–all movements to move excluded and oppressed sub-groups of humanity into full membership–are, first and foremost about the rights of the body. The rights to exist and to choose. Everything else proceeds from those two. All Rights movements, then, are movements about the sanctity of the body and the liberation of the body. Besides, Feminism always planned on liberating the guys while liberating the women of the world. So here goes:
I have to admit, when Devon asked me to write a guest blog, I was a bit surprised. As a feminist, I was happy that her blog was dealing with issues of women’s bodies in an interesting and sensitive manner, and I wasn’t at all concerned about the lack of focus on men’s issues. However, it is true that life isn’t easy for us fluffy fellers either. As a scholar of gender, race, and sexuality studies, I will offer the usual caveat that I’m not attempting to discuss a universal “male” experience of fatness (nor any other sort of grand narrative), but I hope that by sharing my own personal perspective, we might broaden the discussion about fat bodies.
Given that Devon first requested a guest column almost two years ago, I’ve had ample time to reflect on what to write, and I do have at least one other column in mind; however, to begin, I’d like to share a memory of being very publicly called out as fat.
Some time during my college years, about 14 years ago, a friend of mine who was an amateur stand-up comedian at the time (he’s now semi-professional) invited me to go see a show with him. I knew none of the comedians, but I like to laugh, so I agreed. As we walked into the hotel where the show was to take place, I noticed a lot of posters and t-shirts bearing the slogan “Roundboy,” sometimes accompanied by a photo of the headliner. As his act began, I discovered that “Roundboy” was this man’s schtick, much like Larry the Cable Guy’s “Git ‘er done!” Much like Mr. Guy’s catchphrase, I found Mr. Boy’s act incredibly unhilarious.
At various points during the show, the so-called comedian (His name is Jimmy Graham [http://jimmygraham.net/], by the way—I have no compunction about calling him out for his twatwafflery) would make eye contact with some of the more robust fellows in the audience and gleefully call out “Roundboy!”, and the other party would usually respond in kind, or at least with a good-natured chuckle. It seemed that there was some international brotherhood of Roundboys, and this was their not-so-secret handshake.
At this point in my life, I was somewhat fluffy and definitely round of face, but I didn’t consider myself fat, nor was I anywhere near my heaviest weight. I watched the proceedings as an outsider and found the ritual less amusing with each iteration. And then he made eye contact with me. He pointed at me and gleefully squealed “Roundboy!” I was so taken aback that all I could do was raise my eye in a way that—I hoped—conveyed both surprise and displeasure. But he didn’t get the message. Or if he did, he’s even more of a douchnozzle than I thought.
He pointed to me, turned to the rest of the audience, and loudly announced, “Oh, this one’s gay. If he hasn’t had one in his mouth, he’s at least gotten this close!” I won’t describe the gesture that accompanied this, but suffice it to say that the microphone required years of therapy to recover. My friend’s parents, who are already fairly awkward to begin with, spent the next ten minutes looking as if a porcupine had taken up residence in their rectums.
For those of you who don’t know me, let me assure you that I can take a joke, even an insulting one. (Hell, I’d love to be in the front row of a Lisa Lampanelli show, and I’d be disappointed if she DIDN’T insult me in at least three different ways.) But something about this rubbed me the wrong way, and I still can’t entirely verbalize it. I suppose the main issue for me was that Mr. Graham was making an awful lot of assumptions that didn’t sit well for me. He assumed that I would be okay with him calling me out publicly like that, which was probably based on an assumption that I was familiar with his routine. He assumed that fat men embrace their bodies in an uncomplicated way, or at the very least that they do so in public. He assumed that my reluctance to jump on his Roundboy bandwagon somehow made me a microphone-sucker. (For the record, his technique was horrible, and I could have taught him a thing or three.) He assumed that I’d be okay with him publicly speculating about my sexuality—for all he knew, I may have been there with my parents, and if I had, it would have been infinitely more uncomfortable.
I’ve since grown more comfortable with my rotundity, but I think that I still wouldn’t appreciate Graham’s routine. In this respect, I think Devon’s male reader was right—we do need to talk about men’s bodies, and we need to stop making assumptions like Graham did. We need to acknowledge that men and their bodies are much more complex and sensitive than prime-time sitcom stereotypes.
And Jimmy Graham needs to kiss my round ass.