by Caleb Luna
Falling in love is dangerous for brown boys because, under white supremacy, we are not people to love. Falling in love is dangerous for brown boys because people don’t see us as individuals to love.
Colonization indoctrinates us into the romantic idolization of thinness, whiteness, and masculinity—in ourselves and others. How do I, as a fat, brown, femme, decolonize my desire so I can desire myself? How do I love myself in a world that tells me I am not lovable? How can I decolonize my desire so I won’t ever again compulsively glance at a skinny boy who refuse to see me as the goddess I am?
Under colonial constructions of beauty and desire, being fat and brown and queer and femme means being ugly. It means feeling unlovable, being unlovable, and no one disagreeing. Being fat and brown and colonized means to value, desire, and prioritize romantic love—a love that doesn’t want you, that will never have you, and to not know how to liberate yourself from the belly of that beast.
Ugly is how I move through the world, how I am viewed by strangers, coworkers, potential lovers, employers, family, community members, doctors, professors, service industry workers, et cetera, and this perception affects how I am treated daily. I have been denied job opportunities because of my body. I do not fit into restaurant booths, airplane seats, or school desks comfortably—which serves as a constant reminder that this world was not built to accommodate me.
As I have developed romantic feelings for people over the years, they have rarely been reciprocated, though the people I have developed feelings for have consistently been close friends, who appreciate and, maybe even, love me in other ways. It does not escape my observation that they often, instead, choose to date people who are thin and/or white rather than me or people like me. I entered my first romantic relationship shortly before my 27th year, and it does not escape my attention that, by this age, many of my peers have had several relationships. Nor does it escape my attention that many of us have not and may never.
I do not mean to say that absolutely no fat folks or people of color are loved or desired. On the contrary, I see many inspiring examples of this in my own community. However, larger cultural systems that inform individual decisions and desires have been sculpted by centuries of intentional privileging of particular bodies and the marginalization of others. Consequently, I still see just as many examples of marginalized bodies being undesired.
I was talking with a friend, Ivette González-Alé, about fat identity and she asked, “fat according to whom?” She said her body is just like everyone else in her family; their indigeneity forms a body foreign to white standards of height/weight/body fat distribution. Fatness is set against white bodies, with no consideration for other groups, creating an identity irrelevant to her brown body.
Because so many fat people in the U.S. are poor and people of color, and because the personal is political, valuing and desiring thin, white bodies becomes a (less than) subtle investment in white supremacy and class privilege. Men, especially, seem invested in these constructions, as evidenced by almost meme-like, yet somehow un-ironic, declaration of “no fats, no femmes” and “no Blacks, no Asians” on queer men’s hook-up apps.
Fatness, in queer male communities, seems to only be desired in hairy, bear bodies, as the beard provides a confirmation of masculinity to offset the feminization of fatness. But, I can trace my hairless body back to my own indigenous roots, so when qualifiers of bearness are prattled off—beard, belly, body hair—and my brownness hovers over a single category, what is actually being said is, “it’s ok to be a fat man if you are white.” This is a community whose covert racism and misogyny leave me uninterested in participation, but it’s also the only place where a body, even remotely, like man can be appreciated or even desired.
There was a brief period when other men—predominately other fat men of color—were interested in my body. It was an incredibly liberating and healing to participate in sex with men who had bodies like mine. But as my presentation has shifted, and I’ve embraced femme identity, these communities have lost interest. What is left when you’re too brown, too femme, too queer for the bears? When that was your only resort? When—even in radical queer of color spaces—thin, masculine, cis, non-disabled male bodies are preferential? And while I make active attempts to interrogate, challenge and expand my own desire, I am not exempt from perpetuating these things either. So where does that leave people like me?
I have become anti-romance because I cannot be invested in romantic love, because this investment is dangerous for my mental health. It is perpetual and intimate exposure to the interlocking systems of white supremacy, fat hatred, cissexism and more. Under these systems, my body can’t be neutral, or erotic, or desired without being fetishized beyond context and recognition. Further, my body is invisible in the alternate visions being created by those who wish to dismantle these systems, who are perhaps more invested in them than they/we/I want to admit or recognize.
Romantic love, as we understand it, is a colonial construct. It is an all-consuming, possessive, lifelong, monogamous endeavor that works to sustain capitalism and white supremacist heteropatriarchy via the nuclear family. We are told that this romantic love is essential, shaping it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Were we to sustain ourselves on self-love, platonic love, and love of community, what could change? We could see the beauty of our interdependence, rather than individuals competing for higher wages and standards of living at the expense of each other. The formation of families, rather than communities, creates hierarchies of which people are worthy and deserving of our attention, protection and devotion. With a restructuring of romantic love as comparable to community/platonic/self-love, we begin to prioritize the care and livelihood of entire larger groups of people as equally important as our romantic partner/s.
In her piece “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability,” Mia Mingus pushes us to transcend a beauty binary and move towards what she calls magnificence, an embracement of the Ugly and the diversity of the body—of every body. Mingus frames beauty as an inherently exclusionary construction that erases people of color, trans and gender non-conforming folks, and disabled folks, specifically. With this in mind, I am still working through what it means to be ugly and be beautiful, and better understand my investment in beauty. If being “not beautiful” means not being or feeling “love-worthy” and if “love-worthy” means humanity, what does it mean for those of us who are not beautiful? What does love-worthy mean under a colonial construction of love and beauty founded on white supremacy and colonialism? Under these systems, is reclaiming beauty radical or assimilationist? Does it mean something different for my fat, brown, queer, femme, body than it does for others? Who decides? And who are the ugly we are leaving behind?
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