Why do we fear fat trans bodies?

In an exclusive extract from Issue 3 of The Fat Zine, Sylvia McCheyne unpacks our culture's uncomfortability with transfeminine bodies taking up space.

by Sylvia McCheyne
01 March 2022, 4:58pm

It is clear that further research into trans people’s involvement in and/or exclusion from fat activism  would be welcome, and may help to explain…the seeming absence of trans feminine voices in Fat  Studies.

- Francis Ray White, ‘Fat and Trans’ (pg. 80) The Routledge International Book of Fat Studies.

A seeming absence. I remember stumbling upon this anthology, excited to see more works in the field of  Fat Studies, a whole essay on fatness and trans people. Reading it, it just reminds me of the lack of  scholarship and representation of trans women and trans fems in fat activism, despite how beneficial and vital fat liberation is for us in particular. This short, informal essay is a personal address at the seeming  absence of trans women, trans fems and transfeminism within fat activism despite an increasingly fearful and distressing time for us in Britain.

Another time, I was checking out a new anthology on the intersections of fatness and queerness, I open  up the PDF reader and search frantically for words and phrases like ‘transfeminism, trans feminine, trans fems,’ even ‘trans women,’ to see if there’s any acknowledgment or even an author who can share and  relate to the specific interactions between transmisogyny and fatphobia, or even attempting a  transfeminist analysis of fat activism. I come up empty-handed, with only one or two words and phrases  at best that usually don’t go in depth. These anthologies have been welcome and exciting opportunities  for trans narratives surrounding fatness, fat activism, fat studies, fatphobia and fat liberation, the more  the merrier. I ended up tweeting about this:

Fat studies discussing trans people seems to focus almost exclusively on TME people. It's so strange to me because there's so many aspects where you can connect fatphobia and transmisogyny and yet the few  studies on fatness and trans people that are around don't seem to do this?

- @SilbheUiG, June 3 2021

This tweet was a reaction to the lack of trans women, trans fems and TMA (transmisogyny affected) non binary people within fat studies literature. Meanwhile, there has been significantly more narratives from  trans men, trans mascs and TME (transmisogyny exempt) non-binary people in acknowledging the  intersections between fat and trans. Any voice is better than nothing at all and there is clear intra community solidarity between fat trans people, regardless of gender. However, fatness has specific  gendered (and racial) dimensions which seem obvious to fat cis feminists. Then you add trans  womanhood to the discussion and those unique realities are often ignored. Our dysphoria is different  and how we experience that in relation to our own fatness through the various interpretations of (trans)  womanhood can’t be understated. In the UK right now, we had the national broadcaster endorsing  ‘studies’ conducted with transphobic hate groups, including one participant who actively calls for the genocide of trans women. We are almost always the targets of these transphobic, transmisogynist hate  groups and individuals, consistently upheld and promoted in mainstream media and an increasingly  fascistic Tory government. Fat trans women and trans fems not only have to deal with these constant  threats alongside the inconveniences and discrimination other fat women deal with, only heightened by  the daily reminders of transphobia, transmisogyny and gender dysphoria in our lives.

I check out a local queer hiking group online, thinking how inclusion can mean anything if you accept our  existence, but it doesn’t go much further when I try and go on any activewear website and every review  of the few pieces of clothing that could potentially fit suggest going up one or two sizes despite maximum  sizes of UK 20. Shoes are just out of the question, being just over the highest sizes for women (UK 8), I  don’t even have a choice but to get ‘mens’ shoes to have comfortable feet, meaning bland/neutral designs  that never match what I wear. Being a fat woman is already stressful enough, but as a fat trans woman,  the duality of both internalised fatphobia and gender dysphoria means shopping for clothes is beyond  stressful, eventually giving in to buying ‘men’s’ clothing for t-shirts and shoes because choices are so  limited. I see ‘plus-size’ vintage fashion groups where the only way to get more ‘ethical’ choices is to be  on social media (e.g. Instagram); be ready at the specific time; hope to pay a fair amount and react in time for something that can still be unavailable in your size. Sometimes it feels like the lack of effort with  makeup or expressions of femininity is just from pure exhaustion, meaning going out less if at all for days or weeks at a time. Fast fashion is an option, with many websites at least having clothing in my size that  can be stylish and cheap, but for every post decrying people for still using them, there’s the everlasting  thought that for fat trans women, especially those of us who are poor/working class, where else can we  go? I still avoid fast fashion and buying too many clothes, understanding this is more systemic rather  than individual blame on fat people trying to look nice. Still, our narratives and voices are nowhere to be  seen, a seeming absence.

A recent article by Jackson King in Pink News discussed fatphobia within trans healthcare, including  being at a certain BMI for gender identity clinics (GIC) in order to access gender affirming surgeries. The  reasons for restricting what is life-saving healthcare for trans people is usually for no other reason than fatphobia. Private providers of gender-affirming surgeries here or abroad will have higher thresholds for BMI, meaning you can pay your way out of this. Working class/poor fat trans women and trans fems  don’t have that option, instead deciding to either forgo life-saving surgery or get a NHS approved eating  disorder in order to access it (in a community where eating disorders are already disproportionately  higher than the general public). Medical fatphobia doesn’t end just there, ‘trans broken arm syndrome’  means going to our GPs could mean blaming not only our fatness, but also our hormones for any medical issues we have. Hormones are another thing in itself, one side effect of trans feminising hormones being  weight gain in the ‘feminine parts’ and breast growth. Whilst your mileage may vary, for me it was  gaining weight over time, sometimes much quicker than others and the stretch marks to prove it. Support networks for fat trans women are nowhere to be found despite knowing beforehand that this is expected  of hormones, it’s still a shock and scary to deal with alone.

Even with all of that, I still have mixed feelings about it. Yes, being fat and on hormones means my Adam’s  apple is pretty much covered up and my boobs are bigger, but then there’s always the fear of passing less because of the association of fatness with grotesque or lesser, even in women. When I see fat cis women, there’s an internalised feeling that they just look better and their fatness somehow matches them. It makes me wonder how I can celebrate fat women whilst being confused, alienated and frustrated by my  own body, pressured by a press and politicians constantly dehumanising us. Where fatness has been co opted by ‘body positive’ marketing where our fatness is only viable to a certain extent and to sell us  products to match a cissexist standard of beauty. What if my boobs aren’t big enough for a fat woman?  What if my hips aren’t right? What about gender non-conforming or butch fat trans women?

This is why transfeminist fat liberation is so vital, to build bridges between other women dealing with  medical fatphobia and misogyny within healthcare and in wider society, as well as expressing  solidarities that can enable us to achieve fat feminist victories. I wish I didn’t have to sometimes fear my  fat trans body, but until we’re able to have ways of organising between ourselves and each other, this  path still continues to be a lonely, alienating one full of contradictions and worry.

You can read Sylvia’s writing and buy Issue 3 of The Fat Zine here.

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