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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Coming Out As Fat

This past weekend, one of my three younger sisters invited me to join her on a float in our city's Pride parade this weekend. It was, of course, fabulous to the extreme—especially since my sibling had recently won the title as the exquisite Mr. Gay Vancouver Island (in her drag king incarnation as Eddi Licious). She honoured me by asking me to participate with her.

I've been a lover of Pride festivities for years. I've enjoyed them in Montréal and Toronto, and find the celebrations here in Victoria to be particularly charming for reasons that are hard to articulate. Maybe it's because the crowds are smaller; the participants, too, seem so legitimately joyful, and not at all jaded. So when I was invited to be on an actual float in a parade that would take me throughout the downtown core in full view of a large population, I decided to go for it, no holds barred. I have a not-so-latent drag queen living inside of me, as evidenced by my passion for all things sparkly and flamboyant. Being on the gayest float in the Pride parade was sure to be a peak experience. And it did not disappoint.

When the music started, and when we pulled out into the street, I felt deep emotion well up inside of me. I actually got choked up as everything came together at once. People danced in the street! They waved flags and clapped! There were smiles and bubbles and cheers! It was so free and fun and beautiful, and it was sparkly and joyful for its own sake. It was as childlike and sweet as playing make-believe, and believing it. I felt like a kid again. I wasn't thinking about what I looked like on that float; I felt completely caught up in the moment, in the people around me, and lost myself in the bubbles and the waving and the laughing and the music. I looked over at my sparkly friend Jodie who also came along with me, and we smiled at one another in agreement: This. Is. Awesome!

I thought of my grandmother, who was in love with drag queens well before the time I was even conceived, and who raised me amongst people from all walks of life. One of my best memories of her in her final years was when we took her a drag performance in Montréal. She was pulled up on stage by the performers, and she made a short speech about how she loved them all—everyone, she said, including the performers and the audience. People lined up after to give her hugs, with lots of young gay men telling her about how their own grandparents had disowned them. Some even cried in her arms.

I love my LGBTQ friends and family. I hate the idea of my loved ones being discriminated against because of who they love and how they express themselves. And so it was an honour to be in the parade. The sight of such care and planning and jubilation and abandon speaks to a place deep inside of me. I love, love, love seeing people be uninhibited and unashamed, especially if they've had to overcome inner and outer pressure to walk in that freedom. It's the stuff that brings me to tears.

So that's why it was a kick in the gut when, upon seeing my picture all over Facebook (and even in a news clip) I felt ashamed of myself.


Because I saw the unfiltered truth: I am fat.

(A quick caveat here: I don't mean to say that "fat" is my identity as a human being. I'm being as straightforward and un-philosophical as possible in this context.)

I didn't have control over the pictures that were taken of me. I couldn't hide my body with angles, highlighting my face and cleavage whilst avoiding my midriff. So the whole city could see the truth: I am fat. BIG. Not theoretically fat—actually fat. Officially fat. And on top of it, I was bedecked in the most ridiculous gear possible. So I was flamboyantly fat yesterday. In a parade. Through the city. On the most conspicuous float possible.

Everybody knows I'm fat now. It sounds silly and obvious, but it's true.

This is not a surprise to me. I know I'm heavier than is healthy for me, and have known this for some time. I don't actually have body dysmorphia. I don't think I'm skinny. But what's a mind-twist is how easy it is for a fat woman to find a million tiny reasons to hide from themselves and others. How profoundly I hide from my husband, my friends, my neighbours, my family, the public, from the world, from myself, in a million tiny ways.

And I realized yesterday, with the pictures on Facebook, that I hide.

See, I untagged myself on my friends' pictures. And I looked away. Even as I sincerely affirm other women as beautiful—and feel it and mean it!—I hide from myself. Even as I see attractive and desirable attributes in others of all genders who are not thin, I rejected myself.

I can't hide anymore. And really, I wasn't fooling anybody. My husband knows I'm fat. People on Facebook who have known me since I was half my size know I'm fat. New friends know I'm fat. People whom I don't know know I'm fat. And yeah, I know I'm fat.

This isn't one of those "Oh my god—I'm fat and I'm going to KICK MY OWN ASS for it and lose all the weight and be victorious!" moments. As I've been saying of late, I've given up on trying to "fix" myself. It just doesn't work. My current goal isn't to lose weight—counter-intuitive, I know—but my goals are to be able to hike again. To run again. To wear anything I want again. To kayak. To dance. To be healthy and happy in my own skin, and to not try to squeeze myself into the image of what I think other people want because I'm desperate for their approval and acceptance. And most importantly, to heal whatever it is that makes me eat to numb the pain and anxiety that has been there for many years. What my body does in reaction to all of those things remains to be seen. Moving more and getting to the emotional roots of my eating habits will probably result in weight loss, but it's important right now that, for reasons I will write about another time, weight loss is not the primary goal.

My reaction to seeing myself in gloriously unflattering pictures—on parade, in every sense of the word—well, there is a lesson in this. It's going to take me some time to work it out without over-thinking, but one thing I know beyond a doubt is that the outcome must be compassion and love, not judgement or shame.

So I thank you, Pride parade, for celebrating diversity and freedom and acceptance and inclusion with such bold abandon—and for giving me the opportunity to recognize exactly to what extent I deprive myself of those very same blessings.