A couple weeks ago, the fat queer communities of nolose and Toronto lost someone dear to us. The loss is shocking and unfathomable – Luscious was only 32, and a much beloved member of her communities. I can’t know the utter heartbreak being experienced by her closest friends, though it’s palpable. I didn’t know Luscious well, but I always felt her to be a kindred spirit — she was a fellow member of our faux gang of rebel fatties, the chubsters, and like me, she was among the fattest of the fat: the superfat. My heart is broken, too, in a way I don’t know how to describe just yet.

The year nolose was in Northampton, 2008, Luscious came to the superfat caucus, a special meeting for the fattest among the fat to share our experiences, support one another and build some solidarity. We talked about the pain and isolation of being at a fat-themed gathering and still feeling like we were “too fat” to fit in. Luscious said afterward that the superfat caucus had been her favorite part of the conference, and it had clearly touched something important for her. It really got me thinking about how lucky I am to have other superfat friends and community in my daily life. Many of the other folks in that superfat caucus were more isolated, often the only superfatties in their fat-activist communities back home.

I don’t know whether the fat oppression a person experiences is actually proportional to how fat they are – I’m sure to some degree that’s true, but of course it’s more complicated. What I know is that some of the things that make it easier for me to deal with the fat oppression I do experience include having fat-activist friends and community of all sizes, and having fat-activist friends and community who are actually superfat like me. It helps not just to have allies, but also to be reflected back, to have people around me share this specific aspect of my experience in the world.

A year or so after that conference, Luscious had weight loss surgery. I didn’t know at the time, but it was obvious when I saw her this June at nolose, in a body that bore the signs of recent, rapid weight loss. We didn’t speak of it, and mostly it was just nice to see her smiling face and share a laugh. Then, just a few days after the conference, she was found dead in her home. I have heard that she had been sick for months, and that her surgery had caused some “complications.” However, the actual cause of death either isn’t known or isn’t being made public.

I noticed after she died that nobody who knew anything was talking about how. It’s typically the first question that comes to mind when someone dies, but everyone I knew, myself included, seemed afraid to even ask. The closest thing I heard initially was someone saying they were afraid that she would become a poster child against WLS. Then oh, the vast silence that has ensued, while my heart has been raging with anguish, such deep sadness, loneliness, and shame about my desire to know the truth. It has felt like there was some automatic collective agreement not to mention weight loss surgery, like it’s some kind of dirty secret. Can it really be true that we’re all unwittingly participating in minimizing the risks of WLS? Or are we all just confused and in shock? Oh, the ache of grief compounded by this eerie silence.

I want to talk about our hearts, and the collective heart of our precious fat queer community.

I want to talk about how someone could feel isolated as a superfat person in a society that hates fat people, seek a potentially dangerous and desperate way out of the immense suffering, and on top of that feel ashamed about it, like they had to be secretive with the other superfat people in their life about it, isolating themselves further.

Something here is becoming abundantly clear to me: horror of WLS notwithstanding, pushing away people who contemplate or choose it is not the answer for our liberation. Closing them out of our hearts is not the answer. When we shut people out because they choose surgery, we further isolate fat people who are in pain, and we help create the conditions that allow this silence to exist. I’m not saying that any individual or the community shut Luscious out of their heart, but I do believe she feared it, and I think the fact that people are afraid to mention it now is partly a reflection of that fear.

As fat activists, we surround ourselves with fat-positive community because it nurtures our ability to love ourselves and our fat bodies. We often push away people from our communities who seek WLS, in part because we need to take care of ourselves. WLS is the antithesis of a fat-positive world view, it’s the ultimate in fat = bad, the very message we’re trying to change, the tape loop in our heads that we are trying to erase.

What if our hearts and minds were big enough and strong enough to hold our own self care/acceptance/love AND compassion for someone who is so desperate to end their suffering that they’d risk everything to become thin? Oh, that pain and suffering is deep, and if you’ve grown up fat in this culture you probably know it well. Often, in our desire to create a fat-positive life, we try to sweep that pain under the rug. In our quest to survive, we shut out the pain of the daily onslaught of fat-negativity, the voices in our heads, the fears and the doubts. It becomes automatic, the simplest, most necessary tool for getting through our day. But it’s not enough just to escape the pain. Self love and liberation, the real, lasting kind, isn’t ultimately served by shutting parts of ourselves out. What’s denied becomes the proverbial shadow that just might be our downfall if the sun changes its angle, the dirty secret that forces us to constantly “protect ourselves” by trying to control where the light shines, lest our shadow be revealed.

In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear — fear of contempt, of censure, of some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live.And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. –Audre Lorde

I want to say that if we own our pain and stop silencing ourselves, they can’t hurt us. I know it’s not true, and as Audre Lorde said, “the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway.” But I do know that the more we embrace all the experiences and voices within ourselves (and our communities) with loving care and compassion, the stronger we become, and the less apt we are to be thrown off or threatened by the scary and painful stuff in other people.

When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. –Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde has been with me today, and I am deeply grateful.

I want a world in which we can grow up loving our bodies without question, a world that adapts lovingly to all our bodies’ changing needs. I will work to create that world until the day I die.

But I also dream of a community in which people aren’t isolated by their suffering, because the muscle of our collective hearts is so fiercely strong and vibrant that we can extend compassion to one another — even when it’s scary because it touches our own pain — without it rocking the boat of our own self care and self love. This is the community to which I will devote myself, this is who I want us to become: a community who is willing to shine the light on its shadow, a community that seeks to be whole, a community that is willing to make room for the complexity of truth.

May we learn to love ourselves, and may we show each other how. May we be free.

Your friend,