Fat, Black and Queer: Learning to embrace my intersectional identity

“Do you see yourself as a woman?” my mum asked, curiously, looking over at me. This was in autumn last year. We had been sat outside enjoying the pre-winter sun, eating ice-cream from our favourite small business, and our conversation had turned to non-binary identities. My mum is a straight, cis-woman, and I am so thankful that she is always open to developing her understanding of queer identities, so that she can better understand me.

Nonetheless, I was surprised by the question; despite us having had a few conversations on gender non-conformity before, my own gender identity had never come up as a topic of discussion. I shifted slightly in my seat, my legs uncomfortably wedged into a chair that was built for thighs much smaller than mine, and absent-mindedly ate a spoonful of ice-cream as I considered the question.

“Yes…” I replied, slowly. “I think so. Mostly, anyway.”

I’ve yet to find the words for how I see myself in the context of gender. It is only in recent years that I have even had the capacity to consider my gender identity at all. Up until now, all my mental processing has been overloaded by trying to understand, accept and explain all the other aspects of my identity. After all, it is hard to define yourself when you are used to being defined by other

Fat. Aka, lazy. Unkempt. Unhealthy. Undesirable.
Black. Aka, not white. Different. Other. Less than.
Bisexual. Aka, not straight. A phase. Greedy. Unnatural.

These are the lessons I learned about myself growing up.

Sometimes, these external opinions are made known to us. We hear them in slurs, muttered words, and whispered laughs. We see them in dirty looks, being watched closely in supermarkets, or people crossing to the other side of the street to avoid us. We feel them, sometimes through physical attacks, yes. But also in that constant, distinct tightness in our chests. It is a fear that takes hold, knowing that we might be confronted or rejected at any moment, simply for being who we are. Other times, these perceptions are more subtle. The words that people say, or the looks that they give us, might seem on the surface to be perfectly pleasant, but the tone beneath them is fraught with meaning. The petting, prodding, and pulling of Black hair tells us we are a novelty to be examined. The overfamiliarity, groping and sexualisation by straight people in queer spaces, which teaches us we are nothing but entertainment for their consumption. These are the ‘small’ events (or micro-aggressions) that teach us that we are different. That we are not enough as we are. And it is these internalised negative perceptions of ourselves that we have to go through the painstaking process of unlearning to fully understand (and accept) ourselves. Which is why it took me a long time to consider myself as anything other than straight, even when it was obvious that I was not. I already had two identities that made me different to my peers, being Black and fat, and I did not have room to contemplate whether I might have more. I could not escape my Black fat identity, though I did my best to. I separated myself from Blackness as much as possible in my adolescence, internalised racism driving me to correct people when they called me Black. “I’m brown,” I would say, not understanding as a child that I was perpetuating the harmful narratives of colourism and denying an important part of my heritage and identity in the process.

I did everything in my power to ‘overcome’ my fat body too. I’ve yo-yo dieted since before I was even old enough to understand what that meant, let alone the harm it would cause to my mind and body. Anything is better than being fat, though, right? But nothing was ever enough. I was that fat Black girl. I tried to shrink into the shadows, becoming a quieter, more introverted (more miserable) version of myself; but no matter how hard I tried, I could not escape the otherness of my identity, or the punishing stereotypes that came with them. Even though I ‘came out’ when I was 20, I had to do a lot of healing on my fractured perception of myself before I could fully accept myself as queer. First, I had to learn to let go of the self-hate centred around my fat body. After discovering self-love and fat-positive spaces online, I took a ‘fake it until you make it’ approach to loving myself. It helped a little, but it was more of a band aid than a salve. What this phase of my life did do, was introduce me to body positivity. In its hay day, #bopo was a marginalised-body liberation movement championed by fat Black women living unapologetically in their bodies. In them, I found the representation I had always craved, and a platform and community I did not even know I needed. Not only did body positivity help me learn to love my body, but it also helped me to grow a greater respect for all bodies, and fuelled a fire in me to reject the bullshit that is the western ‘beauty standard’. Then, and only then, did I start uncovering what being queer meant to me. Personally, I love the term queer.

I know not every LGBTQIA+ person identifies with it, particularly older generations who have a closer relationship to its negative connotations, and experienced a trauma is never going to completely go away. But for me, a baby gay with the privilege of rarely having had the term queer used as a weapon against me, it embodies the way I have felt my entire life: different. While I identify with being bi+ well enough to describe my sexuality to others, for me being queer is more encompassing of the nuances of my entire being. I don’t feel I have to explain or label every part of myself under the queer identity. It celebrates my otherness, rather than diminishing or boxing it in. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, finding my identity in queerness gave me permission to free the parts of me I didn’t even know I’d locked away. I finally felt comfortable enough to accept other parts of myself too.

Next, came accepting my status as a disabled person, and learning to understand my body’s physical needs better. I stopped hiding the daily pain I was in, and started demanding help from medical professionals, until I finally received a diagnosis that confirmed that I wasn’t just lazy, after all. More recently, after seeking out help a year ago, I also received a diagnosis of ADHD (which honestly explains so much about my life – but that’s another story). Both my physical and neurological differences were ignored my whole life because people were more concerned with what I looked like, and how much I could contribute to a capitalist society, than how comfortable I felt within myself. It was only through unlearning the negative (and untrue) lessons I had been taught about myself – that I was lazy, unhealthy, unnatural and less than – that I came to understand myself enough to seek a diagnosis.

Since receiving my ADHD diagnosis a few weeks ago, I feel like I have more autonomy over my life than ever before. I no longer worry about standing out too much. I’m no longer concerned about seeming ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’. I’m no longer afraid to discover things about myself that might other me further.

Because I am other. In reality, we all are. Our otherness is our individuality. Our gift.

I am fat. I am Black. I am disabled. I am neurodivergent. I am queer.
I am me.
And I’m fucking awesome.

And if you are any of these things, or any type of ‘other’, then you’re fucking awesome, too.

By Jade Elouise

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