How to respond to fat-hate has been a lively topic of discussion lately, it seems like. There have been been humorous approaches, blunt calling-out, and calm dissection. But, of course, what I’ve really been thinking about is anger.
Getting angry, really angry, and showing it in our language, isn’t a really popular tactic in FA, certainly not to the extent that it is in some other social movements, such as LGB rights, feminism, trans rights, and anti-racism. But it’s still a useful one.
Look. We are victims of injustice, and we have every goddamn right to get angry about it. We are insulted, discriminated against, shamed and hated on every day, pretty much everywhere we look. If that’s not worth getting angry about, what the hell is? If you won’t get angry on your own behalf, how about on behalf of all the rest of us?
My therapist likes to say that anger is a secondary emotion, that we get angry because we are hurt, or frustrated, or scared. And fatties, like other disadvantaged people, have every reason to be all of these things, and therefore have every reason to be angry. Anger is an entirely appropriate response.
There are, of course, people who insist that anger is never, ever appropriate. They are wrong. Anger is a natural human emotion, and as such has its place in our lives. Anger also has its uses.
Anger can drive us to defend ourselves instead of flee. It can drive us to defend others instead of stand by and watch, seeming to lend our approval to attacks on them. It can drive us to succeed against great odds. It can drive us to do things, good things, great things which we otherwise might not achieve.
Anger can also serve as a warning. When we get angry, it lets people know immediately that whatever they have done is not acceptable to us, that there is a real problem here, that they have hurt us. It draws a line: You may not treat me that way. And it does it in a way that no calm way of saying it can do.
I was recently in a restaurant with some people, having a casual conversation with a friend of a friend, another geek, about cartoons. He said something about “girl cartoons” that sounded extremely dismissive and sexist. It turned out that he had just phrased it really badly, but if he had really meant it that way, disagreeing with him calmly would have been taken, as it generally is in geek culture, as a signal that I thought he was wrong, but that it was ok for him to say something sexist. But when I said, “Fuck you!” and flipped him off, he knew immediately that he had crossed a line. No amount of polite debate would have gotten that point across to him. He knew, without question, that he had done something wrong. (My partner talked him through what he had really meant, and what was fucked up about what he had actually said, and why I was mad, and how he could better phrase that in the future so that he didn’t sound like a standard misogynist geek boy. I calmed down and we patched it up later and talked books. Happily ever after. Not the point.)
There will always be people who respond better to calm, reasoned, measured discourse, and there are plenty of people in FA who are happy to provide that. But there will also always be people who will actually listen better when someone gets angry at them, because they simply won’t see that there’s a problem with something until someone gets upset. Until someone shows their hurt and/or anger, it’s all good fun, and it’s all just a simple disagreement that couldn’t possibly actually affect anyone’s life. It’s all theoretical. Getting angry shows that fat-hate has real consequences for us, that it actually affects us, and gets that across to these people. And so I say that FA needs more angry fatties, and I am here to be one of them.
Anger can be used to convince people of the rightness of your opinion — I have personally convinced religious anti-choicers that abortion must be legal by cussing them out and explaining exactly how even limits on abortion impact me, personally, and how they cost women’s lives, and these people have admitted that no other approach had or would have convinced them — but it also performs another function. There are people who will not be convinced by any method, not by anger and not by calm reason, and to them anger says: You may not do this here. Most people don’t want to provoke that anger, and so they won’t say whatever it is that sets it off. That removes the unacceptable opinions from the conversation — people eventually stop saying, or say less often, the bigoted and damaging things, just to avoid the confrontation. That makes the space where it’s not spoken safer for the people who are hurt by it. If no one will say fat-hating things around me socially, then fat people who are around me don’t have to hear those things, and have a little respite. And I have a little respite, too. Is it as good as convincing people that fat-hate is wrong and bad? No. But creating safer space is a good goal in and of itself.
Online, we may never even know that there are people who feel safer in these spaces when we make them places where fat-hate may not be spoken. Hell, we may never know it offline, either, although we’re at least more likely to be aware of the fat people who are present. But even when we don’t know, making space where fat-hate may not be spoken is a good thing.
I get a lot of hate for being someone who gets angry. I get told I have psychological problems, that I’m a bully, that I’m a sad human being who should be pitied, that I’m bitter, that I’m all sorts of foul names (most of them deeply misogynist). And sometimes, it really really hurts me. But I know that I am making a stand, that I am letting the fat-haters know that there are proud fatties, that fat-hate is not ok with us, that fat-hate will not go unchallenged when I see it. I know that I even convince people, sometimes, and that’s good, too. And so, while sometimes I have to take a break and step away for my own health, knowing that I’m accomplishing what I am is enough to keep me going.
There’s one other way that anger is really useful to me. This is pretty personal for me, so bear with me here. I was raised a Nice Southern Girl. It wasn’t acceptable to show anger, or it was only acceptable to do it in certain ways. And when I let that rule me, I spent a lot of time hurt and scared. I cried a lot — every single day for a couple of years on end, in fact. Because people were mean to me, but I wasn’t allowed to get mad, I wasn’t allowed to say mean things back. I was depressed, I was sometimes suicidal, I was terrified to be anywhere around the people who said these things to me, and since they were both at home and outside, that meant I was constantly terrified. I had no way of dealing with any of it except to retreat. There was no reasoning with them, no responding calmly, and if I tried, they actually treated me worse.
Finally, I gave myself permission to get angry. I gave myself permission to say, “Fuck you, you piece of shit. You don’t get to treat me that way.” And it helped. The more angry I got, the less terrified I was, and the less I froze up when I was terrified. I fought back, usually verbally, but occasionally physically when I was physically attacked. I let people know that they couldn’t treat me that way anymore. (And, finally, I got out of the home situation where I was emotionally abused and bullied, and cut contact with that family member for quite a while, until they learned to treat me better. Our relationship is now healing, because they finally understand that there is a limit there.) I discovered the power of my anger, and I learned to use it.
I am, of course, told often that as a woman, I must absolutely not get angry. Only men are allowed to show anger, I hear from so many people. It’s a nasty bit of misogyny, and one that too many women have internalized. Indeed, I hear some form of this — usually by implication — from women even more often than from men. I must not, ever, get angry, or even stand up for myself, because I am a woman, and women must always be soft-spoken and gentle and reasonable. It’s our job. Anger is for men. And besides, it’s much easier to ignore a woman who is soft-spoken and gentle and reasonable. Anger is so much harder to ignore, and hence is unattractive, and a woman must never be unattractive.
There are, of course, ways to express anger that aren’t constructive and aren’t ok, but there all things that aren’t ok to do when you’re not angry, too. Harming people, saying bigoted things, doing damage. Many people think I cross those lines when I call people names — asshole, piece of shit, douche canoe, etc — but I, obviously, disagree. What all of those terms connote is a bad person, someone who harms others, someone who does things that are unacceptable. And people who hate on fatties are bad people, are harming others, are doing things that are unacceptable, and I will say so, because that it what I do. And because I get angry and I express that anger how I like, and not just in the way that people who want to silence me are comfortable with, I will use angry and foul language to communicate that.
Telling disadvantaged and oppressed people that they shouldn’t be so angry or that they should be nicer or that they should only use certain language, and if they don’t they won’t be listened to is called a tone argument. It is a derailing technique, a silencing technique, because derailing a conversation about injustice means that the conversation stop exposing injustice. Other people have written about it in other contexts very very well. I suggest The Privilege of Politeness. If you appreciate a good satire, Derailing for Dummies gives step-by-step instructions on how to derail conversations with marginalized people, including spot-on descriptions of the arguments You’ve Lost Your Temper So I Don’t Have To Listen To You Anymore and You Are Damaging Your Cause By Being Angry, both classic variations on the Tone Argument. Oh, and while I’m linking to things, Kinsey Hope has an excellent piece on the tactical uses of anger and peacemaking, and how both are necessary for an activist movement or group to be successful.
On the other hand, some people are very triggered by anger. I’ve been accused of scaring them off, and not leaving room for them. But there are a lot of places where angry or forceful language is not allowed, spaces where they can be safe, and honestly not all that many spaces where anger like mine is permitted. There needs to be space both for people to be safe from anger and for people to safely express their anger. And while people who need to be safe from anger are entirely real and their need is entirely valid, too often I have seen it used as an excuse to silence other people’s anger, as another kind of tone argument.
My anger is my own, and I will not let anyone deny it to me. I will not be shamed for my anger, because my anger is not shameful, but appropriate. I will not be told how I may and may not express my anger, because I will not be silenced. My anger is powerful, and it is useful, both to me and to others.
And if you don’t like it, you can fuck off.
[Standard rant warning: New readers, please read commenting policy. All new commenters go straight to moderation, and I will not let any fat hate, fat hate apologetics, tone arguments, bigotry of any kind, or any attempt to explain anyone’s “intent”. Really vile hate will be posted to a separate page with the troll’s email, IP, and any other information I have available to me. Along with a troll-eating goat.]