“No Fats, No Fems, No Blacks, No Asians”: Interrogating Whiteness and Its Collusion with Thinness and Hyper-Masculinity in Queer Communities

I have a t-shirt that says “More Fats More Fems.” It is a direct confrontation to the “no fats, no fems” rhetoric that is used in many gay personal ads or app profiles. I have seen this for many years. In addition, “no Blacks, No Asians” is also frequently used, along with an aversion towards transgender people.

Most of these ads emanate from white, cisgender, gay men. White supremacy, thin supremacy and cis supremacy are huge problems in the GLBTQ community. I have found this out the hard way through my own experience. I am oppressed by two of these axes of oppression and privileged by the third. I will talk about the oppression first and then end with the way I am privileged.

I am fat and femme. In 1973, I was assigned male at birth. Growing up, I always knew I was not a boy. I was a feminine-acting and a gender nonconforming child. My gender creativity did not sit well with my peers or even my own family. For my first six years of existence, I was just me and living life with my parents and siblings. But as soon as I went to elementary school, I was thrown to the wolves. It was like a trial by fire. The playground was a battleground for me. I was brutally bullied from grades k-12 and grew increasingly aware of the fact that I was femme. When I came out into the gay community as an undergrad I was shocked by the level of femmephobia or effemiphobia. Fem gay men were completely marginalized. There was a tremendous emphasis on being masculine. Masculinity was seen as sexy and male-assigned people who were fem/me or feminine were seen as sexually and socially undesirable. I was shocked because I erroneously assumed that a group that was discriminated against would not discriminate against members of their own community. There were lots of fem/me gay and queer men that I met and they too faced marginalization from the community. When I came out as trans the anti-femme hatred only intensified and I realized how much misogyny, sexism, effemiphobia and transphobia there was in the gay and lesbian community.

I was also a chubby child and was bullied for being fat. I look back at chubby photos of myself as a child now and think I look cute. At the time, having my appearance mocked was devastating. I was already being teased mercilessly for being a feminine boy. Being made fun of for my weight and appearance dragged me down even further. I am not a lifelong fatty. When I hit puberty, I zoomed up in height [eventually reaching a height of 6’6”] and became really skinny for about 15 years. However, when I hit 30, my weight started to shoot up. This was similar to my other family members. I went from my lowest adult weight of around 200 to my current weight of over 400 pounds. I doubled in size. I have seen the way people treated me then versus the way they treat me now, including in the queer community. One time at a trans event, a skinny trans woman gave me the dirtiest look because apparently I was taking too much food from the buffet. I could no longer enjoy the event and felt like crying. The standard in the LGBTQ community is thin. The community as a whole is thin supremacist. The beauty standards for trans women or transfeminine people is the same as dominant culture: thin, dainty and petite. As a 6’6”, 425 pound transfeminine non-binary person, I am a TransAmazon. I do not fit the dominant beauty standards of cis or trans communities. It is very difficult to realize how marginalized I am in this society.

Transmisogyny and Fatphobia are issues that I care deeply about. I am affected by both problems and am the victim of these forms of oppression. However, I am also white. As a white person, I receive white privilege. This refers to unearned benefits and advantages that a person receives simply for having white skin. I first became aware of my whiteness in 1992. I was taking a Black Studies course and it was also the year that there were riots in Los Angeles due to the fact that the Black motorist Rodney King was brutally beaten by cops and the cops were exonerated by an all-white jury. This was done even though there was a video of the assault. I could not believe this injustice and was embarrassed to belong to a race that was so hateful and so dedicated to spreading white supremacy and dominance.

When I first came out, one of my best friends was a Black, bisexual woman. Her coming out paralleled my own coming out as queer and trans. We were both in a white, cisgender, gay and lesbian community and organization. As I began to experience transphobia, I noticed that she began to experience racism and biphobia. White lesbians and gay men treated her differently and made inferences about her identity. She got sick and tired of the racist treatment and had me read a letter to the LGBT group addressing her mistreatment. Her experience sadly was not unique. Beginning in the 70s and 80s, women of color began to speak out and write essays about racism in Women’s Studies, feminism and the lesbian Community.

Women of color and lesbian of color feminists sounded the alarm about racism in white-dominated feminist and lesbian spaces. Audre Lorde emerged as a leader who wrote and spoke extensively about racism in the women’s movement and in the lesbian community. She wrote that “your silence will not protect you” and encouraged women of color and queer women of color in particular to speak out about racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

It was through my friend’s experiences and then through my immersion in Women’s Studies that I learned about racism and my own white privilege. I realized that I have white privilege in the LGBTQ community and that there are many ways in which white people receive better treatment in both the mainstream and in the subcultures. LGBTQ people of color face racism in the white dominated LGBTQ community and sometimes homophobia and transphobia in communities of color. This means that it is often hard to find a home where they truly feel valued. It speaks to the need for queer and trans people of color communities to have their own groups and spaces that are safe and inclusive.

In conclusion, the “no fats, no fems, no Blacks, no Asians” phrase is absolutely despicable. This phrase speaks to the need to combat racism, fatphobia and femme-phobia within the LGBTQ community. One of the things that has truly helped in the past several decades has been the emphasis on intersectionality. Now people are looking at what it means to be a queer person of color or a fat feminist or an Asian trans man etc. because they are putting together multiple forms of identity and analyzing multiple forms of oppression. My hope is that people will analyze both how they are oppressed and how they are privileged and work towards a community of diversity, inclusion and respect.

Paris is Burning

I have probably seen the film Paris is Burning [PIB] close to 100 times. I can quote sections of it and know what scene is coming from one to the next. What is interesting about PIB is that I share some things in common with the subjects of the film but also have many differences. Through these differences, it is a film that has given me hope, strength and resilience. I write about it here as an homage, even though there are very real problems with its production.

Growing up as a queer, transgender teen in rural NH, I was in search of role models, of history, and of affirmation. I believe it was around 1992 when PIB was released on VHS. I quickly procured a copy and watched it over and over again. It was a whole new world. I was excited by seeing life in New York City, and I was excited by the whole subculture created by Black and Latinx Gay Men and Trans Women based in the Ballroom Scene. I liked the language, I liked the style and I liked the honesty of the people who were interviewed. As mentioned, I grew up as a white, working-class, rural child and teen in the 80s and early 90s. My first icon was Boy George from the group Culture Club. I was transfixed by his gender variance, beauty and music. Finally, I saw a reflection of someone who looked like me. It was not until I was 19 that I first learned the word “transgender” but when I did I knew it described exactly who I was. I knew I was also queer as fuck and did not fit into the cis-hetero world whatsoever. The subculture portrayed in PIB was one that glorified queerness and gender transgression. Nothing made me happier than to see subjects in the film “queening out” in public, making hyper-feminine gendered movements and articulations to shock cis-het onlookers and to amuse themselves. PIB helped me to realize that I could be myself, even though there was often a steep price for being one’s self.

I love the glamour, fashion and drama in PIB. These sisters, brothers and siblings are really into walking the runway, into performing vogue and to working the different categories. PIB reminds us that gender is a performance. In fact, many different things are a performance, as evidenced by categories such as executive realness, banjee boy and school boy, military, etc. As grand dame of the balls Dorian Corey says, if you can look the part, you can be it. In many ways, the film engages with difficult Butlerian gender theory but in a much more relatable way. In fact, Butler writes about the film and the film has become famous for its exhibition of intersectionality in action: looking simultaneously at race, class, gender, sexuality and more. As a professor, I have used the film many times to cajole students to look at the politics of performance and the ways in which intersectional analyses are vitally important in understanding the construction of contemporary society and culture.

As Fabulous and Amazing as the world within PIB is, it is also a world beset by multiple forms of oppression, including racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia. Given my identities I could understand some of these forms of discrimination. I could certainly understand homophobia and transphobia, and I could understand classism to an extent given my working-class background. But I could not understand extreme poverty and homelessness, nor could I understand the extreme racism that people in the film experienced. This was where my differences from the people in the film emerged. But it was also one of the first times that I learned about Queer and Trans People of Color [QTPOC] and the multiple forms of oppression that they face. The subjects of PIB often formed families of their own due to parental rejection and many others had run away from home. They formed “houses” of their own to form community, support and in many cases to forge basic survival.

The oppression can be so bad that it can cost people their lives. Transgender people face massive levels of employment discrimination. This means that people are forced into the underground economies and get by through doing things like sex work, drug dealing and boosting. The woman above in white was named Venus Xtravaganza. She was a Latina Trans Woman and a Sex Worker. This was how she survived in the brutally homophobic, transphobic and racist time of 1980s NYC. She was killed by one of her johns and discovered in a sleazy motel room three days after she had been murdered. Learning about what happened to Venus was the first time I learned about anti-trans hate crimes. I was horrified by the ending and cried many tears over it. A beautiful young woman who had the whole world in front of her had had her life stolen away by a bigot. Her story is one that I have never been able to forget.

PIB is not without controversy. The director Jennie Livingston is a white, Yale-educated cis woman. She has been very tone deaf over the years about her own privilege vis-a-vis her documentary subjects. While she did well financially and professionally from the film, the subjects of the film continued to deal with oppression, poverty and a lack of opportunities. I am sad to report that all of the principles of the film have passed away, many of them quite young. This controversy reminded me of the obligation of a documentarian towards the people they represent. Certainly Livingston failed to give her subjects the money and assistance they needed, even as she cashed in on their lives, experiences and stories.

At any rate, I do not love PIB for its director. I love it for the brilliant people profiled within it. The film will always have a very special place in my heart for showing what is possible, how things are socially constructed and how people can create a fabulous world even within the harshest of circumstances. The film is a queer classic and one of the first that shows the realities of QTPOC. Over 25 years after its release, it still packs a wallop and reminds us that we can be whoever we want if we are willing to fight for it.