by Jezebel Delilah X
It was a Tuesday evening in January. I was lying in bed, nakedly content, doing what I normally do when in a state of happy undress: fantasizing about my fingertips caressing the lusciously fat flesh of my girlfriend, YdeDios. Her body is soft and yielding, golden lobes of beauty, a peanut butter drenched heaven. When we make eye contact, share laughter, engage in prayer, and allow our bodies to writhe together, there is a magical cascade of queer-pan African-fat girl-goddess-glitter that eclipses the intersectional plethora of how hegemony, capitalism, and infrastructure like to intrude in my life. Her presence is a vacation from a lifetime of being othered and marginalized, and I was more than ready for my nightly retreat. However, before I could dim the lights, pour the wine, and turn Me’Shell Ndegeocello up loud enough to obscure our moans and whimpers from the moans and whimpers of our other sex-positive housemates, I received a facebook message from my dear friend, Mia.
“What are you doing tonight?” she asked. “I want to be social.”
Given that I have been a lesbian for ninety percent of my life (the other 10%, I tend to be bisexual), I knew that her message could have easily been translated into: “alert, alert, I need friendship and distraction, something is distressing me, help!” Because I love my friends with the same passion and intensity that I love YdeDios – albeit with less throbbing wetness – I put on my blackfemmehomie gloves and started searching for fun things to do. I’ll be honest, my search basically included examining my facebook invites and determining what was:
A) In Oakland,
C) Alcohol friendly, and
D) Politically accessible to queer women of color with anti-oppression politics.
“Eureka,” I squealed (in my imagination) when I came across an invite for Women’s Comedy at The Layover and immediately imagined the three of us sipping fancy beverages just to the point of semi-tipsiness, laughing just to the point of nearly having an asthma attack, and being nearly as sexy as Lauryn Hill in the late nineties while doing it.
I was deluding myself.
A part of me thinks I should have known I was deluding myself. I actively avoid stand up comedy, and I avoid it for a reason – damn it. It hurts my feelings.
I grew up with Def Comedy Jam and Comedy View blasting from my parents’ bedroom several nights a week, and I knew the generalized routine: laugh at anyone who does not fit into hegemonic social/community standards of normativity, degrade and belittle the parts of yourself that are considered socially unacceptable, reinforce all parts of colonization and capitalism-induced self-hatred, and chastise womyn for their unwillingness to be submissive, pregnant, punching bag, cleaning/cooking machines with misogyny and rape jokes. Such categories include, but are certainly not limited to, queers, fat people, dis/abled people, feminists, dark skinned people, other people of color from an xenophobic or islamophobic perspective, openly intelligent black people, sex workers, sluts, “ghetto folk,” etc.
I know these standards don’t apply to all comedians, routines, or comedy spaces. I know that there are incredibly feminist, anti-racist, smart comedians out there, such as Micia Mosely, Manisha Vaidya, and Marga Gomez, who make jokes that are not at the expense of communities already dismissed as stereotypes in the media and criminals in the prison industrial complex, but rather at the systems that benefit from compromising of our humanity, integrity, and basic human rights. And yet, those comedians still tend to be under-appreciated, under-celebrated, and under-funded. The masses ignore their brilliant hilarity, instead choosing to pay $60 to go see someone tickle them with a metaphorical lynch rope.
As an extremely compassionate, fat, dark-skinned, nerdy Black womyn who was once a thin-skinned, sensitive little bookworm growing up in a predominately Black community, going to predominately Black schools, and worshiping at an all African-Diasporic church, I know a thing or two about how subtle and discreet colonialism can appear. I know how easy it is to mistake oppression for things we’re supposed to celebrate, cherish, and aspire to, like religion, success, money, education, war victories, and stand-up comedy. I saw kids who lived in project apartments never do homework because they were too busy working in order to purchase a $120 pair of sweatshop-made running shoes and a week’s worth of Big Macs for them and their siblings. I used to be a radically Afrocentric Christian – both crying for my slaughtered ancestors and praying to the God that imperialist, genocidal, slave-mongering, terroristic Europeans used to validate the rape and pillaging of my people. I was raised to embrace the tool used to destroy my heritage. I was the kid that people told should marry a White, Asian, or Latino man so that my babies would come out pretty (as opposed to having two black parents and looking like…me). And lastly, as much as I hate to admit it, I was the kid who intentionally applied to colleges that were deep in the forest, as far away from anything that would even resemble the hood, and consequently as far away as possible from the Black people I was trying my best to escape from; or as I called it at the time, I was trying to focus on my educational success and bettering myself. It’s not pretty. I’m not proud. I was socialized, institutionalized, and mentally enslaved. Like I said, I know a thing or two about colonialism and oppression. I’m still trying to fight it within myself, within my family, within my communities, and in the border-free world I envision.
Consequently, I actively avoid spaces that I know will harm me the same way I avoid McDonalds, ex-president George Bush, Wal-Mart, Neo-Nazis, and shellfish (no offense to Sebastian the Crab – I’m just allergic). Stand Up Comedy shows fall into that bracket. But this time, I thought I was lucky. I thought I was safe. I thought I was going to see something brilliant, special, transgressive, feminist, and at the very least – funny. Instead, I just walked into the classic minstrel show bamboozlement of the oppressed oppressing the oppressed. It still took me a moment to realize what happened.
I am a shameless fat-activist: I’m fat, I’m sexy, people want to fuck me, blah, blah, empowerment, empowerment. If you’re reading this essay, chances are, you’ve heard this story before. But what’s especially empowering, especially for me, is that I have fallen in love with other beautiful fat bodies. There was a time, way back when insecurity was my first, last, middle name and horoscope sign, when I thought I had to validate my desirability by only dating more slender womyn. I was missing out.
The last several years of intentional self-loving has taught me the wonderful pleasure of appreciating and loving the bodies of other fat women. Or better, my quest towards self love and liberation has given me the supermagicpower of recognizing the autonomous and unique beauty of every individual and every body, as opposed to digesting a drab standard of beauty that Saved By The Bell and California Dreams taught me to pursue when I was five.
My love for fatness is not a fetish for appreciating what society tells me is unattractive, it’s more like me sticking my middle finger up MTV’s asshole and celebrating my own subversive hedonism: I pursue what feels good, what tastes good, what smells good to me. If I had my way, bellies, thighs, side-rolls, and chubby vaginas would be everywhere – ok, not everywhere, just spilling into my hands and straining against my tongue. Confident or not, femme-vamps or not, I love fat womyn. And my heart goes on a psychedelic acid trip of faerie mermaid dragon happiness whenever I see another fat womyn, looking fine and in charge, on a stage. And that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night, while I was sitting in the audience of The Layover, watching Lydia Popovich host Women’s Comedy Night.
Girlfriend walked on stage, stunning as she wanted to be, smiling like fire. I was ready to lose my breath and feel my body explode into laughter. I was ready to celebrate and adore her. I was ready to be enlightened, titillated, and screaming her praises. I was ready for her to bring it.
Only, she didn’t.
She didn’t bring the sangria-fierce IT I was hoping for.
She brought another sort of IT. A terrifyingly scary IT. A horror film without the film sort of IT. Ok, so there might not have been any alien clowns looking to eat young teenagers, but her IT was just as violent, just as cannibalistic, and just as disgusting.
She brought oppression.
She told a story about being annoyed when her taxi driver tried to engage her in conversation while driving her to a New Years Eve party less than thirty minutes before midnight (because seriously, we’re above the basic decency of acknowledging another human being when they are providing us with a very privileged service; kindness is overrated…duh), until she found out that he was a Little Person – insert sound effect: Dun DUN DUNNNHHH!!!!
I had already lost my smile when she openly confessed her tendency to be rude to service workers for no reason other than the fact that they are service workers. Elitism is boring and unattractive. It is also best friends with capitalism, class oppression, and sociopolitical power dynamics. I’ve never been a fan of that clique. In fact, my ancestors were kidnapped, tortured, and enslaved for several hundred years to ensure that a small collective of (European) people from a small collection of (European) countries and colonies were able to sustain their sense of elitism and economic privilege. Hundreds of thousands of Black men, women, and children are currently enslaved in the United States of America’s prison industrial complex to protect white supremacist, capitalistic elitism. Today, people have bombs and poison being dropped onto their lands, rainforests are being destroyed, chemical pollution is being poured into bodies of water that people are dependent on for survival, drone missiles are attacking elementary schools, people are killing brown people along the Mexican border, and the Violence Against Women Act, which has been a law since 1994, was allowed to expire because the House of Representatives didn’t want a version that advocated for queer, indigenous, and undocumented people…all to protect some hegemonic standard of privilege and power. So, no, I didn’t like her. I didn’t like her brazen sense of social hierarchy, and I had no smiles for her. But, when she began her Little Person narrative, my usually lusciously plump lips drew themselves into a haggard, exhausted grimace of a scowl.
Her face bunched up as if she were talking about the most adorable of babies. Her voice got sugary sweet, and she nearly cootchi-cooed at the audience. Then she launched every single infantilizing metaphor her imperialistic brain could find. She talked about his “tiny little hands gripping the steering wheel,” the “adorable little high chair” he used, and proclaimed that she was “being driven around on New Years Eve by Baby New Years himself.”
Can the Church of Liberation let out a “Holy fuck!” I was shocked. I was livid. I looked around, desperately searching the audience for a similar frustration and found a lot of gleeful giggles and a few less comfortable smiles. Fortunately, the faces of the womyn I shared a table with exuded the same incredulity and outrage I felt in my core. The entire purpose of her routine was to make fun of a group of people whom society already devotes countless energy to making fun of. She climbed on that stage just to regurgitate played-out degradation, bigotry, and basic-chick-haterade. She vomited her audaciously ugly spirit all over us, and didn’t even have the generosity to offer a clean towel to wipe off her socially sanctioned puke. She participated in a cultural tradition that also goes hand in hand with elitism and supremacy: invisibilization. By using baby-esque adjectives and metaphors to describe this individual based solely on his size, she created a narrative that erased his autonomy and lumped him into whatever cultural stereotypes and myths she and the audience had about Little People. Her story disallowed space for his individual history, for his strengths and weaknesses, or even the fact that he was a grown ass man simply doing his job. She didn’t allow him to have a voice, personality, name, facial features, or actual age – he was only a stereotype, a stigma, an other. Sounds a lot like oppression to me. But alas, and dear reader I apologize, the story continues.
When she realized that she might not make it to her party in enough time for the countdown, she exclaimed that this would be the perfect opportunity to do something seriously taboo. She could cross something off her bucket list. She could kiss a “midget”. She explained that she arrived at her destination with enough time to make the countdown, but instead, she sat in that man’s car and took up his time. When the clock struck twelve and he pulled out streamers, she grabbed him, without his consent, and kissed him.
She did what she wanted to his body, without his permission, simply because she felt entitled. She felt entitled because she did not see him as another human being with agency, autonomy, his own sexuality, and the right to say no. All she saw was the cultural myths she had been spoon fed her entire life. This is what objectification, invisibilization, otherization, and fetishism does. This is what elitism, supremacy, capitalism, and social hierarchy looks like. She saw him as an object to conquer, a thing to have at her disposal; and not only did she – in all of her internalized oppressive ableist supremacy – imperialize his body, she thought it was funny enough to stand on a stage and repeat to a collection of strangers as if they would all agree. Does this sound familiar? It feels a lot like rape culture to me. And rape culture is a result of hegemonic patriarchy…that thing us feminists try to avoid and combat.
Well, YdeDios, Mia, and I sat there, front row left, looking outraged and wilted. My shoulders were sunk in and I stared at the cracks on the table in front of me. Mia’s mouth dropped so low I could see her esophagus. YdeDios kept shaking her head, devastated at another demonstration of humanity’s lack of respect for itself and its beauty. We agreed to leave and abandoned our seat in the middle of her routine. Walking out, I laughed a bit to myself. I have seen so many comedy routines where the punch line was the disgusting brave audacity, pathetic desperation, or drunken stupidity of kissing a fat woman.
I have been taught that my sexual appeal exists only in a place of fetish, desperation, or other “sexual irrationality.” I’ve heard my brother and his friends’ talk about dating fat girls so they would buy them gifts. I’ve had men and women tell me that they were shocked by how confident or openly sexual I was because of my size and color. I have walked down the street and had people grab my ass, pinch my arms, touch my hair, and shout, “sexual chocolate,” or “chocolate thunder,” or “Big Bertha.” A couple of months ago, a man sat down next to me at the bus stop and asked me if my thighs had a phone number. I know what it feels like to be invisible underneath society’s stereotypes and objectifications of people who look like me. And I have worked hard to liberate myself and make art that allows space for the liberation and advocacy of other oppressed people. And, now, here I am, in all of my fat empowerment and self/community love, listening to another fat womyn talk about kissing a little person as if we’re supposed to be in awe of how daring and brave she is to kiss someone society tells us is subpar. She was doing exactly what someone had likely done to her to someone else. I’m mad at her, but I have empathy. I have done it before, and it’s been done to me.
I know that game people love so hard to play: marginalize someone else as a tool to secure yourself a seat in the strangled little circle of hegemonized normality. Identify someone else as the other, as a stepping ladder to social hierarchy. Be a predator instead of a prey. Be an oppressor instead of the oppressed. Distract people from seeing what they have been taught to hate or fear about you by reminding them of what society says is wrong with someone else different from you.
During a recent visit to her gorgeous house and eating her fresh, homemade, apricot cinnamon rolls (seriously, girlfriend can throw down in the kitchen), Krista Smith, also known as the Kentucky Fried Woman, told me, “Artists have power. Artists should use the stage to demonstrate how the world should be, not to sustain patriarchy and hegemony.” Krista’s perspective informs not only who I am as a writer and performer, but also who I am as an English Instructor, a partner, a friend, and a patron. I envision a world where people exist with the freedom of a reality of not being violated and oppressed, without violating and oppressing. In our discussion of fighting oppression, it’s important to remember the subtle ways we participate in oppressing, benefit from oppressing, apathetically allow for oppression, and even fight for the right to oppress. We must examine and reject the ways we have allowed for internalized oppression and institutional villainy to become not just normative, but revered and archived as cultural celebration and legacy.
By laughing at that bigoted joke, you may not be committing genocide, but you’re feeding fuel to the media powers that color those murderous maps pretty. You’re making love to the serial killer who is plotting ways to bathe in the blood of everyone you care about. In her Lilith’s Brood series, Octavia Butler explains that humanity’s greatest downfall is its need for hierarchy. In our desire for equality, our urge to assimilate into hegemonic privilege, our craving to eat amidst the elite and not be branded as the other, we dance on the graves of every murdered oppressed person, we dance on the graves of our murdered oppressed ancestors, we allow for the perpetuation of a violence that continues to kill. This is not a joke. I have no quirky side-comment to make my ominous message more palatable. There is nothing palatable about oppression. Heed my warning.
However, what is palatable, is the semi-healthy dinner I could have been having with my beautiful sun queen goddess, YdeDios, and beloved homie, Mia, as opposed to sitting in an audience listening to some womyn spew the same bullshit I’ve been hearing my entire life. I could have been swimming in the lush of my girlfriend’s beautiful brown eyes, celebrating all the magical medicine of her Afro-Latino diasporic goodness, breathing in the brilliance that sprouts from every anti-capitalist rant and freestyle hip hop song she sings. She and I could have been making a spiritual photosynthesis together. I could have been cuddled in bed with Mia, listing to all her QPOC angst, giving her the advice I recycled from bell hooks, En Vogue, and my momma. And all of that would have been so much better than anything else that bigoted comedian had to say. I want my life to be influenced by love, community, healing, art, and radical social justice. Not hatred.
Jezebel Delilah X is a fierce fat femme Faerie Princess Mermaid Dragon, Hot English Instructor, and contemporary urban hippie activist who uses literature, performance, storytelling, and flirting to advance her politics of radical love, socioeconomic justice, anti-racism, and community empowerment. She is co-host of East Bay Open Mic, Culture Fuck, a member of the performance troupe, Griot Noir, and a part of Deviant Type Press.