I’m lucky in my life these days not to face a lot of explicit fatphobia. But what I do face, and I think all of us super- or infinifats face, is fat ignorance, fat invisibility, and a lack of fat accessibility.
This weekend I attended a large, many-hour event at an old public building. I was not the focus of the event, but I was supposedly a fairly important player. The experience, from the perspective of my fat-colored glasses, was pretty awful.
The venue had about 30 steps up to get in the main entrance. The elevator was in a different wing and required a long walk each way. I actually walk pretty well so the walk didn’t bother me, but what did bother me was that every time I needed to detour to the elevator I would be forgotten and left behind, or sent ahead and forgotten. The whole large party would do whatever it wanted and as far as I can tell not one person ever asked where I was or why I wasn’t there.
The one and only accessible bathroom was next to the elevator. So every time I had to pee, same story. Again, I’m not talking per se about handicapped accessibility–I don’t consider myself handicapped. I don’t need a handrail or a raised toilet, I just need a stall wide enough to fit my ass. (And I don’t mean that to say that it shouldn’t be more accessible to everyone, particularly the genuinely handicapped, but just to be clear about my needs.) This older building did not have full size stalls except in the handicap bathroom.
The venue did not have chairs. It had strategically placed benches, but those could not be moved. The chairs that had been rented for the event were not sturdy. They creaked when a six year old sat on them so I wasn’t about to try them. I am actually very lucky that the event facilitator had brought two chairs with her that worked for me. One of them was filthy, and I was wearing beige, so that brought us down to one working chair in the entire extremely large building.
The chair had to be carried around by someone everywhere we went. Sometimes the chair would vanish, and I would have to stand, in significant back pain (standing still is the worst for my back), for 5 or 10 minutes waiting for the chair to catch up. Sometimes the chair would be in the wrong place and I would have no choice but to stay with the chair so as not to lose it.
Eventually the people running the venue got pissed and put me in a wheelchair. This was humiliating. It was also very hard to get into and out of because it was soft and tended to tip over. The wheels ran over my dress, undoing my labor of refusing to sit on the filthy chair.
I lost it. I got tired and cranky and I started yelling at people. I was told to calm down. I tried. I felt awful. It was not my event and I didn’t want to cast a shadow on a joyous day. I didn’t want or need to be the focus of attention. So breaking down and getting dramatic about my needs only made me feel worse.
I’m not sure how I could have navigated the situation better. I am working hard to be expressive of my needs and I don’t think that hurting myself on narrow chairs with arms, tiny bathroom stalls, or long flights of stairs without banisters was the solution. I don’t think that not attending was the solution. I don’t think that losing it and throwing a fit was the solution. I don’t have a solution.
All I can say is if you have a fat person in your life and you are planning an event and you want them to feel welcomed and loved, please think of them when you’re planning. The event facilitator had been warned by the event hosts that I would need to sit down for any long stretches when others were standing, and that helped a lot, but that was far from enough to make me feel comfortable and, well, human, through the day.