To be fat in a thin-obsessed gay culture can be difficult. Despite affectionate in-group monikers for big gay men–chubs, bears, cubs–the anti-fat stigma that persists in American culture at large still haunts these individuals who often exist at the margins of gay communities. In Fat Gay Men, Jason Whitesel delves into the world of Girth & Mirth, a nationally known social club dedicated to big gay men, illuminating the ways in which these men form identities and community in the face of adversity. In existence for over forty years, the club has long been a refuge and ‘safe space’ for such men. Both a partial insider as a gay man and an outsider to Girth & Mirth, Whitesel offers an insider’s critique of the gay movement, questioning whether the social consequences of the failure to be height-weight proportionate should be so extreme in the gay community.
This book documents performances at club events and examines how participants use allusion and campy-queer behavior to reconfigure and reclaim their sullied body images, focusing on the numerous tensions of marginalization and dignity that big gay men experience and how they negotiate these tensions via their membership to a size-positive group. Based on ethnographic interviews and in-depth field notes from more than 100 events at bar nights, café klatches, restaurants, potlucks, holiday bashes, pool parties, movie nights, and weekend retreats, the book explores the woundedness that comes from being relegated to an inferior position in gay hierarchies, and yet celebrates how some gay men can reposition the shame of fat stigma through carnival, camp, and play. A compelling and rich narrative, Fat Gay Men provides a rare glimpse into an unexplored dimension of weight and body image in American culture.
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Jason Whitesel is Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Pace University.Review:
"Jason Whitesel is a leading star in the new academic discipline of fat studies, a field of scholarship that critically examines societal attitudes about body weight and appearance, and that advocates equality for all people with respect to body size. There is surprisingly little research on weight-related stigma and weight preoccupation among gay men. For this book, Jason spent two years conducting an ethnographic study of the Girth & Mirth gay male social movement, attending over one hundred events. I recommend it highly."-Esther Rothblum, co-editor of The Fat Studies Reader
"Fat Gay Men is fascinating look at the world of men who are doubly stigmatized by body size and sexuality. It captures the courage and humor by which they confront fat-phobia in gay culture as well as in larger society. An original, impressive contribution to LGBTQ, gender, body, and performance studies."-Kathleen Blee, author of Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form
"In his lively (and fabulously titled) Fat Gay Men, Jason Whitesel, a gender studies professor at Pace University, attempts to rescue these guys from the bottom of the homosexual heap." -Slate
"Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma captures the immediacy of the joyful and affirming performances that larger gay men use to challenge various aspects of fat stigma and the sometimes traumatizing life events that animate the resistance of ‘big men,’ while at the same time making all the necessary connections with the evolving theoretical literature. Ethnographers typically exhibit skill either in thick description or in theoretical interpretation. Jason Whitesel is the rare ethnographer who has clearly mastered both." –Peter Hennen, author of Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine
Whitesel “presents his subjects with respect and affection, and delineates his own path through their reality with appropriate circumspection... In his account of big gay men reinscribing their desirability, Whitesel adds to the sociology of sexuality, class and embodiment. It is a welcome divergence from the many representations of gay men that reduce them to (often mindless) Adonis stereotypes, and it is warmly recommended to all would-be ethnographers.”
—Times Higher Education
“The book...is a mixture of folly, self-incrimination and – are you surprised – sex. Large gay men are as much in need (and are as worthy of) love and sex as anyone else. But in our world, never the twain shall meet.”
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