Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sex and Prejudice; The Intertwining of Bigotry and Attraction

"I even know thin "allies" who exclusively date and sleep with other thin people under the guise of "it's just a preference!" or "I just haven't found a fat person I'm attracted to yet". Guess what? We make up 2/3 of the population in the United States, but you haven't seen a single fat person who is attractive and willing to sleep with you? Give me a break. "

That quote appeared in my last post while discussing fatphobia in intersectional vegan spaces and intersectional spaces in general. I posted it in several intersectional vegan groups and, while people agreed with most of the article, there were several people who came out with excuses for their lack of attraction to fat people. It appears that the above quote, needs some explaining.

These are some of the reactions that I got:

"Romantic/Sexual attraction can't be controlled"
"Not being attracted to fat people doesn't make me fatphobic!"
"What if POC are only attracted to other same POC? Is that racist then?"
"Then lesbians are misandrists for not being attracted to men!"
"Asexuals are racist, sexist, fatphobic, etc for not being attracted to anyone!"
"Guilting people into having sex with people they aren't attracted to is problematic/oppressive"

Oh man, where to even start with these! I guess, from the top.

The idea that attraction is innate is false. With the exception of sexuality (which is more fluid than people think), who we are and aren't attracted to is something that's been drilled into our heads since we could understand human language- maybe even before as we witnessed relationship dynamics around us. Studies show that children as young as 3 already express bias and prejudice in who they want to be friends with. This has been demonstrated with both skin color and body size and it's not because children are born racist or fatphobic, it's that they are taught to prefer one thing over another. In other word, yes, attraction can be controlled. It is controlled, just not by you.

 Don't get me wrong, attraction is deeply socially ingrained and conditioned and it's not an easy thing to change, but it is possible to change because it's not a product of our biology, it's a product of social conditioning. Working through prejudices and biases can absolutely change who you're attracted to. Your attraction is greatly influenced by social beauty norms- this is one reason why different bodies were considered attractive at different points in time- because the beauty ideal changes based on social factors.

What is learned can be unlearned. Isn't that a lot of what intersectionality and allyship is about? Unpacking our previously held prejudices and understanding our own privilege as well as how oppression intersects across marginalized groups? Well guess what- fat people are a marginalized group and you don't get to just dismiss all of us. We're incredibly varied individuals. Maybe you're not attracted to all fat people- no one is attracted to literally everyone- but to say that no fat person could ever pique your interest is fatphobic at it's core.

So yes, not being attracted to fat people, any fat people ever, is indeed fatphobic. It shows that you see us as nothing but our fat, nothing but our bodies. It's not only fatphobic, it's also objectifying and dehumanizing. You have reduced us to our bodies and deemed them unworthy. What's more, you, as the thin privileged, don't get to decide what is or isn't oppressive or problematic when talking about fat people- we do. The voices of the marginalized will trump your privileged voices every time. Your job, as an ally, is to listen, internalize what we've said, and to work towards changing the attitudes that we've called out.

It's interesting that the white, cishet, male, poster decided to bring POC into the argument. As I pointed out in the last post, people who are fatphobic often have other prejudices they're hiding. This was no different. Here's the first thing you need to know: POC can't be racist. Racism requires a power over someone else on a systemic level that people of color just don't have. POC can, however, be biased and prejudiced (this is not the same thing as racism). If a POC doesn't want to date or sleep with their oppressor (white people) then that's fine. In that case, it's less about skin color and more about the people who are enacting violence against you every day. In the same way, I could refuse to date thin people because their privilege makes it harder to relate and, at some point, they're going to say or do something bigoted against me. Should I have to put up with oppression from the people I love and who are supposed to love me? I don't think so. But, let's be clear, marginalized folk refusing to sleep with their oppressors is not the same as the privileged refusing to allow attraction to the marginalized.

Speaking of dragging other marginalized people into it, it's again interesting that we couldn't just talk about fat people- now we have to drag queer people into it. Specifically monosexual queer people. Is it misandrist for lesbians to only date women? Well no. Firstly because misandry isn't real. Not anymore than "straight oppression"or "reverse racism" is real. As I explained above- oppression takes an element of systemic power that oppressed people just don't have. Women just can't be sexist against men.

But I get what you're asking- what you're really asking is if sexual orientation is a choice or socially conditioned the way thin preference is. The answer is a little complicated since a lot of people fall within the gray area of sexual attraction- the largest portion of the LGBT community, for example, are bisexuals who can absolutely choose who they want to date and sleep with. I would not blame a bisexual woman at all if she chose to not sleep with men (her oppressors), but, we've already talked about that. Strictly monosexual women are born with their sexualities already intact. If we're talking about social conditioning- we condition our children for straightness, not queerness. Sexual orientation is something we're all born with. Fatphobia isn't. And, may I just say, it's super shitty to try to compare queerness to socially conditioned preferences.

After discussing this- do I really need to go into the "asexuals are racist" argument? Innate sexuality vs conditioned preferences.. can we move on now?

But really, bottom line, can you not drag other marginalized people into the discussion? It derails the actual conversation and does a disservice to those people who deserve their own opportunity to talk and have their voices heard.

The last one was a big one for me because this person was trying to reverse the blame by implying I'm the problematic one. This is a tactic often used by abusers in interpersonal relationships. It's like saying "It's your fault I hurt you, you shouldn't have made me mad!" Reversing the responsibility is manipulative at best as well as a straight out refusal to recognize your own privilege and prejudices.

Yes, guilting people into having sex with someone, for ANY reason, is not okay. In fact, that's not even sex, that's rape. But that's not what we're talking about here. No one is forcing anyone to sleep with someone they're not attracted to. What we're arguing here is that if you weren't fatphobic, you would experience a wider variety of attraction, including to fat people. We're not saying to sleep with people you aren't attracted to, we're saying to sleep with people you ARE attracted to and that that attraction, free from prejudice, includes fat people. Excluding any entire marginalized group, outside of sexual orientation, as a possible partner will always be problematic.

Honestly, the amount of fatphobia that I experienced across the three groups that my last piece was posted proves my point about intersectional vegans or even just intersectional people in general. Many aren't actually intersectional. I also want to point out, in the same threads, I witnessed ableism, tone policing, racism and sexism. (I was actually told that my style of writing was "too dominant" and that I could make my point by being "less dominant"- tone policing and sexism all in one!). I do want to take a moment to thank the admins in each group who stepped in to shut the problematic people down- in one case the admins had to actually turn commenting off because it was getting so awful and out of hand.

So, if you claim to be intersectional, I suggest you start unpacking some shit and letting your bigotry go. Being intersectional means always striving to improve yourself and how you interact with marginalized people and communities. I expect better from you, starting right now.

I will be taking questions in the comments, which may end up on a future post.