Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gay Reactions to a Fatty's Weight Loss: Ramblings from the Yo-Yo Universe

Between 1968 and 1970, I was living in an apartment off campus (SUNY Albany) with three friends and having the time of my life; who cared about classes? The culture was fomenting contentiousness...generational social values stretched like fragile rubber bands. Fraternities and sororities were heading OUT. Free love, hippies, Steal This Book and Chicago were coming IN. My left brain development increased exponentially and my right brain's progress was seething and fomenting on Mars. I had changed my major a few times, doubled up on my minor, Theatre and Art and looking toward graduation, didn't really know WHAT I was "good for" or what I wanted to do. All I was attuned to was the revolutionary spirit of the age.

Our apartment was constantly awash in friends and acquaintances coming to hang out. All were accepted. Through our social network, there were a number of gays who were "out." One friend who was straight in HS, came out during this period of the Stonewall Riots in NYC's Stonewall Inn. The Gay Rights Movement was burgeoning and "Gay Is Good," was the motto. I did have a few friends who were not as accepting as I. I can understand now, looking back. One was intensely afraid and had to be in the presence of a man every second; she was a free lover before the term was coined (beginning at the tender age of 16-17...which was not as prevalent for teenage girls in 1964 as one would think. Gays rocked her world of "look how beautiful I am." They could care less about her.)

I became close to a few gays, particularly one gay who was OUT and another who was "on the down low" and deciding whether he liked men or women better. Both numbered among my many straight male and female friends. I often wonder to what extent my weight made the gays feel more comfortable with me. I obviously wasn't interested in them physically, and my weight and hippie appearance (hair very long down my back and granny glasses) was certainly non-threatening. If the culture made them feel of lesser worth because they were homosexual, then I could "dig that vibe" being overweight/obese, a trait the culture also found loathsome. We were the "inferiors," "the outsiders," and we were gaining acceptance from the cultural revolution which embraced everyone: fat, thin, black, poor, gay, straight,  animal, vegetable, mineral. If you were alternative then you WERE! It was Love, Peace, Joy...Jesus Movement, Black Is BEAUTIFUL, You Are BEAUTIFUL!!!  My God! How did we lose these sentiments, culturally???? Thank you Mr. Nixon, Hard Hats, Jerry Falwell and the Self-righteous, Republican, Conservative "Religious" Political Movement spearheading Regan, and the rise of the self-absorbed, solipsistic, YUPPIES (me, me, me, me, me) further embraced by platitudinous films like The Big Chill (What a joke!). (Back in my day, gays were poor; they were not a "lifestyle" and they could give a damn about being upscale. They were mensches! And Lesbians were well...I only knew one and she was messed up and trying to straighten up and "fly like a lesbian" {which means?} maybe that was the problem.)

The second semester of my senior year, my body shifted. Hanging out one day, the gay guy who was "on the down low" made a comment to another roommate and me that appearance was important; "When you look good, you feel good." I argued that appearance was secondary and that spirit was more important; you could feel great if your spirit was in the right place...something to that effect. He and my female roommate ended up agreeing and this prompted their brief relationship which lasted a week and ended dismally.  By the winter I was motivated to lose weight and slid down my mountain of flesh losing about 55 pounds. My mother was nowhere to sabotage me; I rarely went home to Long Island, only going two days at most for a holiday; I spent Thanksgiving (1969) with college family. We were very tight and I felt it was perhaps the best Thanksgiving I had ever experienced; truly, we were thankful and happy that our values, our spiritual development and our belief in principles of decency, honesty and goodness trumped materialism, meretriciousness and our parent's and the current political generation's obvious hypocrisy...saying one thing (America the right and true!) and doing another (America, the imperialistic, self-serving, murdering.).

With this weight loss, my friends encouraged me and I felt great. That is except for the two gay guys who were silent about it. No compliments, comments, nothing. I took it that it didn't matter if I was fat or thin. They accepted me despite my appearance. But looking back, I realize something had changed. Their silence was like my Mom's silence. (click link) What was up? Then it happened and I am not sure how, but I had a gradual falling out with both, first with the one on the "down low." After the abysmal relationship with my roommate sent him over the edge and he OUTTED himself (The old Carrie Fisher joke fits: she turned him gay.) we didn't hang out nearly much. There wasn't the former closeness, camaraderie and friendship sharing of thoughts, ideas and feelings. I do remember an incident with the one with whom I was closest. We were out walking and clowning around like kids. (It was a strangely touchy relationship for someone who was not physical with women; he was Italian, perhaps that was it.) He took me and swung me around and then let go. I fell into a mud puddle He laughed about it and mocked my upset that my white and pretty poncho got dirty. I was furious, but I held it in and said nothing. But something broke inside me. We were still friends but he was cooler to me. I found he warmed up when I began gaining weight again and somehow we found things to share as of old. Clearly, he was more comfortable with the overweight version of me than the thin, more attractive version. By the time I had gained all the weight back and was working full time, he had moved to Boston and we lost touch and I had lost touch with the OUTTED no more "on the down low" gay guy.

A year later, I was teaching full time. Again (3rd Yo-yo... in between little yos) I became motivated and rolled down the mountain of flesh I had accumulated and lost another 55 pounds. I looked and felt great, though I never had returned to that "skinny, skinny skinny" 138 pounds, but I was close. Friends were encouraging. My friend's father commented, "You look like a different person. You look great." (Men always noticed, that is straight men.!)  And I felt great. One day dressed in my latest 1973 short skirted dress and cool platform heels (New version on an old theme.) coming from teaching (Yes, we wore dresses then.) I ran into the former "down lower."  We both said, "Hi, how are you?" He smiled and just looked at me and said nothing. He couldn't even get out a, "What have you been doing?" or "Have you seen or heard from so and so?" The conversation I made dropped into the dungeon where dreams die a death, never to be heard or seen again. We parted and that was the last I saw of him. When I reflect back to that argument we had about appearance, I have to laugh. Funny, I was feeling great when I ran into him three years afterward. I was living proof that "When you look good, you feel good." But he acted like those words had never dripped from his mouth. And there was that creepy, staring silence, thoughts whirling the mouth tight lipped, dry. He was past feeling comfortable with an old friend, clearly unnerved and ill at ease. I wonder. Would he have been more responsive if I were fat?

For some, fat people are comforting. For others, they are to be mocked. Fat is political and it has a greater power than we perhaps are consciously aware of. Strange and weird, isn't it? That makes losing weight all the more imbued with symbolic significance. Whether you are the one losing weight or the one watching, a dynamic is changing and it is a directional paradigm shift. Don't underestimate the impact when it's over. The fat lady is not singing again!

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