I don’t remember a time in my life where I haven’t been fat.
Or whatever word you want to use: chubby, husky, stocky. I’ve used them all.
When I look now at most pictures of myself as a kid, I don’t see a fat kid staring back at me. In most shots, I look pretty damn standard for a child — especially if I compare those shots to kids of today.
But I was never that rangy, thin kid who could climb, jump and bounce everywhere. I was never the kid who ran around from sunrise to midnight, a ball of burning energy.
And at some point, the numbers got out of balance and I was, indeed, fat.
My weight is something I’ve struggled with my entire life.
This particular post isn’t about having an online therapy session, or to elicit sympathy. It’s really not even about the struggle itself, or the cultural lenses through which we view fat and fatness in this country, at this time. (Another post, another day.)
What I’m examining here — what I’m finding interesting, what I’m finally acknowledging — is how much I’ve distanced myself from it.
I came out as gay many years ago, but I don’t think I’ve ever acknowledged the reality of my size, of my fat body, before.
It was such a source of teasing as a kid that disconnecting from it all was a survival tactic. (Helpful note for parents: if you think your kid might be fat, don’t name him/her with anything that rhymes with the word ‘fat.’)
That may have had a silver lining; shrinking into my own head helped my creativity and my storytelling capacities. While others were teasing or ignoring me, I was in another world, my rich inner world — writing and directing my own TV show in my head.**
But I’ve had an epiphany recently about my fatness and my creativity, and it’s this: that protective distance is getting in the way of a lot in my life, but in particular, it’s affecting my writing and my creativity.
There are so many fantastic, amazing writers I know that talk so honestly about their lives, or so bluntly about the shitty, messy parts of life just as skillfully as the joyful moments. They serve up that authenticity in a way that’s impossible to ignore.
Hell, Irby refers to her body as a “meatbag.”
But I’ve always had a protective distance in my writing. Every editor I’ve had in the last ten years told me that I write “too safe.” Or that I bury the lede.
My most recent journalism professor, a newsman with decades of experience, called me on it many times. He asked why I felt like I always had to explain everything before I got to the point — to the news, to the lede, to the focus of the story.
At some point in the last few months, it hit me: that’s also the way that I talk.
A guy I dated called it my ‘language’ – something he always had to interpret. I’m all metaphors and hints and setup, and only after I’ve set the stage — and determined that I have a trustworthy audience — does the lid come off.
This spring, when I professed surprise in one of my classes that anyone could see me as aloof, another professor offered this: “It’s clear that you’re thoughtful about what you say, that you consider it carefully before you say it.”
Well, she was right.
The pieces are coming together. I’m understanding it now.
I’m probably still doing it here. I can’t tell you how many times during the composition of this post I had to remind myself — no, force myself — to put the word fat in the first sentence, the first paragraph. Attached to me. I wanted to build up to that revelation, you see. (As if it’s a surprise to anyone who meets me!)
I’m sure it’s affected my career, my ability to start new friendships — in short, every part of my life.
And it’s all sort of hit me: I’m in the closet, with the light off.
It’s hard to write about ALL THE FEELS from an icy altitude, a huge emotional disconnect.
I’m fighting my fatness and working on getting healthier, because it’s something I want for me and for my partner. And if I can graduate from college after a hundred years of being away, then damn it, I can do this too.
But first, I have to come out, again. Into the sunlight. I have to acknowledge my fatness, own it, and understand it’s my reality right now.
And so, this post.
** Though my retreat into inner life was never so severe, it’s often been a tool others have deployed to cope with trauma or abuse. It’s not uncommon for gay men, in particular, to make arch humor of sad or challenging things in their lives. Films like Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation are examples of this sort of utter disconnect from the current moment, and framing events as something happening to someone else — or something you’re watching, not experiencing.
EDITED TO ADD: I just Googled “fat closet” and wow, there’s a lot of people who have had similar epiphanies. Worth checking out if you’re interested.