Disclaimer: The views and wording of this post are my own (Big Fat Betty) and are not a verbatim account of the event, nor intended as a representation of the views of others; however, I have tried to recall and replicate the specific wording used by the panelists to some extent, but have only used quotation marks when I am certain that it is a direct quote. Should you have any concerns over the contents of this post please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image © Raquel Van Nice (Rubenesque Burlesque) | On Tuesday 19 November I attended the Fat Sexualities talk organised by Gender and Sexuality Talks (London), having responded to their search for a blogger to cover the event the organisers very kindly gave me a complimentary ticket (though I can honestly say that I would have attended regardless, being very interested in the topic and intrigued about what would be covered). Gender and Sexuality Talks is a non-profit organisation which aims to bring together academics, professionals and the public 'to provide a forum in which to broaden minds, educate and critically debate emerging and recurring issues related to gender and sexuality throughout wider society' (Gender and Sexuality Talks, 2013).
The panel consisted of Dr Charlotte Cooper, Bethany Rutter (of Arched Eyebrow and DOMO), Ingo Cando (of Wotever World) and Dr Caroline Walters; it certainly provided an interesting mix and a wealth of knowledge and experience. I also felt comfortable with the panel and that I could relate to them in some way, even before they spoke, and I'm honestly not sure why. Perhaps it was to do with the nature of the event and the physicality of the panel, or maybe it was their mannerisms, I am not sure; but it was certainly different to, say, an academic seminar. I felt en par with the panel in some way and part of the event as a whole, although I didn't participate in open discussion I felt that I could and would have felt comfortable in doing so. The event operated under the Chatham House Rule, meaning that participants could not be identified (with the exception of the panel members); whilst I have no issue with being identified, I can completely understand that others may not wish to be and think that operating under these rules goes a long way towards promoting a safe and accepting environment where participants can speak openly without fear of reprisal at a later date.
The Panel Discussion
The panel discussion was started by Dr Charlotte Cooper, who explained her understanding of fat sexualities by reflecting on her own experiences. The frankness and openness of her approach really appealed to me and gave me the opportunity not only to relate to some of the experiences that she expressed, but also to gain a better understanding of the experiences of others and highlighting that fat sexuality is not homogeneous (ergo sexualities). Dr Cooper also discussed other important points such as the domination of fat discourse by health (issues) and the difficulty of accessing resources and support for those not 'in the know'.
Ingo Cando discussed the lack of positive imagery for fat people, particularly in relation to sex and sexuality and, more specifically, pornography. She shared her experiences of supporting women to create their own pornography and I recall being particularly struck by part of a quote from one of the participants; 'I see what they see and I look beautiful'. This resonated with me, as someone who has been (and somewhat still is) on a journey to discover their beauty; it's something you have to see for yourself and, whilst pornography (or indeed creating your own) may not be everyone's cup of tea, it's one of many methods which can achieve that goal.
Bethany shared her experiences of her earlier years as an undesirable, unfuckable teenager (this is certainly how I felt as a teenager and even in early adulthood; in fact, pretty much all of my life until a couple of years ago), with no choice and no active role in her sexuality. She also discussed the difficulty of unlearning harmful and negative messages and society's portrayal of fat women as monstrous, desperate, disgusting and embarrassing to be attracted to/have sex with. Bethany has found that non-monogamy has been useful and empowering for her and that she now finds rejection less of an issue since she has debunked the mythical link between rejection and being fat.
Last but not least, I really enjoyed hearing about Dr Caroline Walters' studies and her current project, an edited book on fat sexualitues. She also highlighted the issues that she has experienced since losing weight, including the presumption of others that she is no longer able to research issues relating to (being) fat because of this. It reminded me of my recent blog post, 'Absence Makes...', and my own fears of judgement on the basis of weight loss. I await the release of the book with eager anticipation.
Question & Answer Session
I must admit that this was quite difficult to follow from a blogging perspective, but I shall do my best! Gender and Sexuality Talks (London) trialled a new Q&A system at the event, utilising post-it notes; I thought this was a great idea as it gave further anonymity and another option to those not comfortable with speaking for whatever reason, it seemed to work well. I racked my brains for a question myself and alas couldn't think of anything, but there was also the opportunity to directly ask questions during the session in addition to the post-it method. Here are a couple of the Q&A's that I managed to note down in full (or near enough)...
Are BBW and associated fetish scenes also a form of empowerment? Dr Cooper responded that yes, they are, and many participators become radicalised. It is an accessable environment where participants are able to experience their sexuality. Dr Walters highlighted the contributions to visual representations that have come from the scene.
How do you get started in fat activism? There is an assumption that there are a lot of groups out there waiting for new members, but there aren't. Fat activism is irregular, often ambiguious and experienced in micro moments (such as a conversation, wearing something, eating ice cream in public). Basically, the answer is to do something...!
There were many other Q&A's and discussions including questions relating to race, gender identities and sexual preference. I felt that this part of the event inparticular was very well balanced in terms of the variety of questions and responses.
I hope that this post is useful and interesting to those that didn't attend, and equally that those who did find it to be an accurate view. I must say from a personal point of view in terms of blog coverage, I will strongly be considering taking a recording device to future events in which it would be permitted, as there is so much more I wanted to share with you all but my notes are somewhat minimal on these points. Lesson learnt and I had an enjoyable evening!
I'd also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Gender and Sexuality Talks (London) on a successful, thought provoking event. There next event is 'Human Rights, Labour Rights and Sex Work' on Wednesday 29 January 2014. Tickets can be purchased here.