Kitty Stryker is a contributing author to the fat positive anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. This piece is part of the one year anniversary of Hot & Heavy's release.
It’s “Hot & Heavy”’s one year anniversary.
It’s also been one year since my abusive fiance and I finally broke up for the last time, and I had a massive breakdown. It was for the best for multiple reasons, not least of which was because of the feelings of fetishization I felt under his gaze. The whole thing smacked of irony; my piece in Hot & Heavy was about being a fat sex worker, and I talked at length about how relieved I felt to not be objectified by my lover. Once the fog lifted, I could step back and recognize that the relationships I said on paper I felt so empowered by actually made me feel small. Every time I read my piece I felt angry at myself for putting up a facade and hiding behind it.
So here’s the truth. I had a girlfriend who was stunningly attractive, and was a sex worker, and who loved my body. I would wake up next to her stunned that we were together and in many ways it did wonders for my self esteem. She liked to treat me to nice things, and I, in turn, tried my best to be a good girlfriend- but I struggled to have sex without communication, and she would get frustrated with my desire to ascertain what exactly she wanted. I put up with emotional manipulation and passive aggressiveness because I felt like I should be counting my blessings, and maybe I was messing things up and needed to fix my approach.
It was later in our relationship that I realized that she was more interested in my body and sex with it than in actually engaging with me as a person. I still remember when she accused me of not putting out enough for the fancy dinners she bought, as apparently our relationship was transactional without her having let me know. The talking, apparently, was getting in the way of the fetishization. I felt, in turns, heartbroken and angry.
My boyfriend, meanwhile, was depressive, chronically unemployed, living with mum and physically abusive. But he was so pretty- so again, I would close my eyes, block my ears, and sing loudly to ignore all the issues in the relationship because having someone attractive want me made me feel better about myself. Bruises be damned, right? And he, too, loved my body… at least he did, until he stopped paying attention to me, preferring instead to gaze longingly at Tumblrs that made me wonder if I wasn’t fat enough to be attractive to him. I started to realize that my fat body was a symbol of maternal caretaking for him (and I was the exact same body type as his mother… figure *that* out for a second) and that his objectification was less about desire for me and more about being stuffed back into the womb.
One year ago, we broke it off for the final time. I finally admitted he was physically abusive and had been for three years. I had an anxiety attack and a mental breakdown. When you create facades for safety, having them suddenly ripped from you creates a sense of freedom- wild, horrifying freedom. I didn’t know what to do with myself when I was no longer covering for someone else. I didn’t know how to exist when I knew these facades existed, that even fierce activists like myself would construct them rather than be interrogated by a world that hates my sex work, hates my body, hates my queerness.
It’s really hard to admit you’re a survivor of an abusive relationship when you’ve spent years putting a spin on it so people accept you. I needed our love to be real, our partnership to be healthy, because I didn’t want to be seen as just another self-hating sex worker, or fat woman, or queer person. So I smiled, and was fierce, and pretended it was all fine. I just told myself that he was just struggling, that things would get better, that we could get better together. I think I needed it to be true.
When you’re an activist for particular issues, it can feel like there’s no space for you to have difficulties. Being a sex worker *or* a fat woman in a long term abusive relationship feels like a tired cliche. I didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on because admitting it would give people ammunition to claim I had self-esteem issues, that being a sex worker or being fat made me feel like I didn’t deserve better or something. No, I knew I deserved better, but I also knew how it felt to be abandoned because of stigma. I didn’t want to walk away from a relationship because he was having mental health issues and difficulty getting treatment for them, even if that exploded on me occasionally. Perhaps years of feeling depressed because of systematic oppression gave me a sense of empathy, even for someone who was trying to throw me down a flight of stairs when he was angry. I truly believed him when he said he didn’t want to be That Guy, even though his behaviours showed otherwise.
The line between a saint and a fool is blurry at times.
Anyway, I wrote about my experiences, and I recovered. I retreated from social engagements, and I recovered. I acknowledged what happened for what it was, and I recovered. I grew into my vulnerability and was made stronger through the acceptance of it… and I recovered.
Now I realize how important it is to be honest about where I was at, and how I felt. I deserve better than the fetishization and sexualization of my body. I deserve love that doesn’t hurt me. In a way, being a part of “Hot & Heavy” forced me to look into multiple mirrors, not only via the experiences of the other women in the book, but my own funhouse view of my own life. And while I don’t always love what I see, I am grateful to be able to honest about that. Because really, my activism and my mental health require embracing, not just the good days, but the sad days and the angry days as well. Just another fucking opportunity for growth, right? And grow I most certainly did.
Read Kitty's chapter, "Fat Sex Works," & support fat positive community and literature by purchasing a copy of Hot & Heavy and by liking us on Facebook!
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.