While the LGBT movement has gained more support over the last few decades, some groups in the movement still experience discrimination because of the white cisgender groups in the frontlines leaving other marginalized groups in their shadow. Inter groups suffer from intersectionality because they fall under two or more social categorizations in today’s heteronormative society. These groups are often stigmatized and have multiple issues in society. The marginalized groups in LGBT movement often look for a ways they can feel natural and comfortable. The social stigma is so strong that they usually need to get away for a period of time in order to feel confident in their bodies.
Jason Whitesel, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Pace University, enters the stigmatized world of fat gay men in his book Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma (2014). Whitesel becomes member of a fat gay men group called Girth & Mirth. His ethnographic study of big gay men is mostly about the Ohio chapter of Girth & Mirth club but it also discusses about the issue more widely. It is a group that provides fat gay men a safe space and support. Stories of members joining when looking for a suicide hotline number for example are really powerful. Whitesel argues that the fat gay men are indeed stigmatized in the LGBT movement because of their size and it is the main reason for their feeling of being excluded. The big men face an awful lot of discrimination and stigmatization in their everyday lives because of their large size. He explains how big gay men are often excluded from the gay community spaces because they are perceived as disgusting and unattractive because of their size. The ideal gay male body according to Whitesel is muscular and skinny. It is a big emotional hit for big gay men that they are not accepted in their own sexuality group because of their size. Whitesel also attends two national fat gay men events with the Girth & Mirth group. One of them is called the super weekend and it is held at Cabana in Oklahoma. The other event is national Convergence in Minnesota. Both of these events have a same idea of creating a safe space for big gay men in our homophobic and sizist society. They need an environment where they are not judged because of their size or sexuality. Fat gay men are compared to other gay groups throughout the book and even though it ranks at the very bottom of the gay groups, it has a lot of similarities with a group called the bears. Bears are big gay men but their identifying feature is their hairy body type. Whereas fat gay men are seen as emasculate, bears are hairy big guys but are seen as “real men.” Whitesel mainly talks about fat gay men who are part of the Girth & Mirth group but he also talks about other fat gay men who attend the two events I mentioned earlier. Providing safe space is Girth & Mirth’s main purpose and it attacks the stigma of big men by usually gathering over coffee. The dining club method is one of the most effective ways to provide that safe space to club members because eating is the big men’s mutual interest. This works especially well because big men are usually judged when they go out to eat.
Whitesel attends two very different events as a part of his research. First he attends an event called Super Weekend. The event’s purpose is to create a fun and safe environment for big gay men or as Whitesel refers to them as Chubs. The Super Weekend is meant to make everyone feel welcome. The event is held in the largest gay resort in the Southwest in Oklahoma. The other event he attends is a national Convergence on Minnesota. The Convergence is more about promoting the big men’s status in society but it also has similar tendencies to the Super Weekend but on a different scale. Whitesel attended to both of these events as a member of Girth & Mirth club. At Super Weekend he did not reveal his researcher status because of the large group of people. He was perceived as a chaser, a term that the big men give to skinny gays who are attracted to them. At the Convergence he only told some people who he got comfortable with, that he was doing research.
The Super Weekend emphasized chubs’ role as a sexual objects. At the Cabana big men are encouraged to feel just as attractive as any other normal man, because they do not have the pressure of thin-obsessed gay community surrounding them. Partly because of this, the Super Weekend is a hypersexualized event, as we can see from a competition for the doorknob award. The doorknob award is given to the person who has had sex with the most people during the weekend. Things like this make the Super Weekend controversial. It is beneficial for big men to be able to get a weekend away where they can enjoy themselves and have fun both socially and sexually, but it can be over sexualized as well. A similar idea applies to their pool parties during the Super Weekend. When you can feel comfortable because you are with a group of big guys, you are more likely to take your shirt off as well.
The other event that Whitesel participated in was the annual Convergence of big men. It was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and had a larger number of participants than the Super Weekend. The Convergence’s purpose was mainly to improve big gay men’s status in the society. It also offered carnival atmosphere, but it was a lot more official than the Super Weekend. Whitesel talks how the class distinction among the participants at Super Weekend and Convergence was obvious. At the Super Weekend men were encouraged to wear comfortable clothes and the Cabana was a lot cheaper than Hotel Marriott, where the Convergence was held. The clothing manufacturers also bring out their big men clothing lines to the Convergence. The Convergence also offers big gay men an opportunity to feel included in events reminiscent of a prom night or a homecoming dance, because the Convergence has similar types of events. Whitesel talks how these men being able to live these events, even though it happens years after high school, has a significant role in their lives. The Convergence attempts to help big men to assimilate to heteronormative middle class living when the Super Weekend is all about fun and comfort.
Whitesel argues that big gay men are a fun loving group just as any other LGBT group and that they are facing a countless amount of criticism and difficulties only because of their physical size. His research goal was to give voice to big men, and he draws ideas from previous studies on both, fat studies and queer studies field. He uses especially Erving Goffman’s studies of the stigma and how stigmatized people try to find social places that provide comfort. Whitesel own status as a homosexual male helped him to fit in the Girth & Mirth group. He was considered as a chaser and this created some difficult situations as he was getting attention from big men.
Overall, Whitesel tries to give big gay men a voice, since they are often discriminated and silenced in the thin-obsessed gay community. Among gay male categories fat gay men fall all the way to the bottom, this is why many big gay men try to escape the discrimination to bears group. It is important to remember that our society is really size discriminating and even heterosexual big men experience discrimination because of their size. Whitesel does good job describing the injuries that big gay men suffer because of their size and sexuality. Because of their discrimination, big gay men have to come out twice and that is what some of the big men refuse to do. They refuse to join these clubs because the members usually embrace their size and are not shamed of it at all. Sizism and homophobia are problems of our society and big gay men have to face this adversity daily.
Whitesel, J. (2014). Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma. New York, NY: NYU Press.