Please Come And Be Fat
“Hey, um,” he says, obviously trying to hide some urgency, “can I ask you for kind of a weird favor?”
I’m standing behind the Flamingo Rampant book table at this trans conference, in Seattle, where I have been standing for two days. I’ve been visiting with friends, greeting acquaintances, and talking to parent after parent after anxious parent of trans and nonbinary kids looking for reflections of themselves. I’m a little tired and a little hoarse, a little dry-mouthed and a little hungry, and I feel, standing here, like I have been in service all day but also I like this young fellow and I love to be helpful, so I nod: yes.
He pours it out: “We’re doing top surgery show and tell across the hall. It’s pretty packed, but everyone who came to show their results is, like, me-sized. But a bunch of the guys who are looking to check out results are more… you-sized. So I was wondering, if I watched the books and all for a few minutes, could you maybe…”
“Go in there and be fat?” I ask.
He laughs nervously, all 5'5" and 115 pounds of himself, compact and sleek as an otter, and nods. “Basically.”
And so I do.
I walk across the hall, into a remarkably large ballroom in which trans men and nonbinary folks are spaced evenly around the room along the walls, shirtless. Some of them are flexing and posing, some just standing, but indeed all of them are the approximate size of my young acquaintance — skinny, lean, trim, athletic, like the collegiate swim team for a small, liberal arts university with an unusual number of tattoos. A fair number of them seem to have waists the circumference of my thigh. I don’t pause, because I know if I stop I will quail, and so: I take a deep breath and walk directly to an empty spot, drape my shirt over a nearby chair and attempt to look relaxed.
I can’t, of course, but it doesn’t matter — in short order there’s a wave of rearrangement around the room, as though someone passed a magnet under the floor and drew all the bigger boys to me like one of those games where you use iron filings to put hair and a beard on the outline of a face. I take slow breaths, I try to find a place of comfort in being shirtless and hairy and more than a little sweaty here in the hotel conference room, and soon I am answering questions, different questions: how much do I weigh? Do I weigh the same as I did when I had surgery? Who did the work? Did they make me lose weight beforehand? Do I like my chest? Did I have a revision? Am I happy with my results?
Several of the guys are there with a lover or parents. One woman, whom I suppose to be a mother, reaches up reflexively to touch my scar line and then stops short, embarrassed, and laughs a brittle little laugh. “Sorry!” she says, obviously abashed, “It’s just…I’ve never seen this before.” She takes a step back and focuses on me, taking me in from head to foot, noting my beard and my wedding ring, the fur on my shoulders and the lop of my ample belly that eclipses my belt buckle. She looks from me to her son, who is also fat, probably not older than twenty and standing with the hunched, shoulders-rolled-in stance I know so well from years of binding. His shirt is a size too big, his binder is doing heroic work but doesn’t erase the telltale swell of his chest that he is obviously more than done with. She smiles at me, and says to him “I could see this. I could see you like this.”
I just stand there and take more deep breaths. I concentrate on my posture, on rolling my shoulders back and keeping my chest up and out. I don’t think about being fat and half-naked in a roomful of strangers, I answer questions and shift my weight minutely from foot to foot and try not to think about the failure of my right nipple, about the soft, rumpled patch in the center of my chest that looks like an unmade bed. I named it, after a while, I decided it was the guest bed of my heart, but that hasn’t made me like it much better so far. Oh, well.
It’s complicated to be doing this and I don’t like it at all, and in the same hand I’m grateful for the small-framed acquaintance who rabbited out of the room and came to get me. I’m glad he saw what was happening and found a way to solve the problem. I don’t want to be standing here as a model of fat transness but I am glad to be because nobody else is.
In the thirty minutes I stand there, a number of people come by to look and ask questions. Most often, they want to know if I’m happy with it. I make jokes: “Well, I was never going to be Channing Tatum, so…” “It’s not much, but it’s all mine!” and so on.
The truth is, I am happy with it, most of the time, even though there are days I would be happier to look like any of the guys arrayed around the room than like I do now. I am happy to be free of my binder, sticky and sweaty and always hot and itchy, even on a cool day. I’m happy to stand up straight most of the time, I’m happy to be able to wear swim trunks and take my kids to the pool and throw them around, even though that too brings questions (there’s a non-zero number of “What happened to you!?” that goes on). I’m happy to sweat and not be stuck in my cooling sweat for the rest of the day inside my sausage casing. I’m happy that my shirts, even the most disreputable falling-apart t-shirts, look right on me when I look in the mirror.
And so, when my nervousness starts to pass, when my sense that I am way out on a creaky and overburdened limb starts to ease, I stop joking and start telling the truth: yes, I am happy with it. I’m more in my body now than I ever have been, though that’s not saying much. This is okay for me. It took a lot of doing, but it was worth it.
The half-hour during which I have agreed to do this extremely peculiar community service passes very, very slowly. I try to decide if it’s more obvious to blot the sweat off with my shirt (ew) or just let the droplets roll down the dunes and rolls of my sides and fall to the floor (also ew). At length, someone else handsome and muscular with a great tan and fanciful tattoos gets back up on the small raised podium and thanks all of us who modeled (!) and says we can get dressed again and come up for Q&A, but I don’t. I bid the last of the lookers goodbye and put my shirt on and slip out and back to my work, making picture books that show kids who don’t usually see themselves getting to have adventures and solve problems and be loved. I get it, there’s a metaphor here.
Later, the same guy who asked me to come join the skin parade stops back at my table and asks if he can come around and give me a hug, to which I agree with good cheer. That’s when he says, quietly, that he’s been doing this show-and-tell situation for several years, and that there’s never anyone fat, and that he keeps noticing and he’s glad for once he was able to do something about it. He thanks me until I order him to cut it out, and we have the promised hug and he heads off to do whatever-and-then-some with the other twenty-five year olds while I sell more children’s books to more concerned straight moms of trans kids, who are still so hungry for any way to imagine their children into a real future, and not a sensationalized one.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, or even aggravated, at how much there still is to do and how many times a day being a possibility model, to use the brilliant Laverne Cox’s phrase for it, is demanded of us all. Sometimes I really and truly do not want it. And even still, fat and sweaty behind my table, in that moment I’m glad he asked. There is a lot of possibility yet to model, and honestly: the more of us the better.