by Lo Denmon
Atlanta Pride is the largest gay pride celebration in the southeast and one of the largest in the nation. Attendance ranges between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of queer folks arrive in Atlanta each October to join a community celebrating visibility and equality. The celebration prides itself in its diversity and representation, but are some identities more readily accepted as “equal” than others at Pride?
I’m no stranger to the event. I’ve attended eight times, eight different years, and I’ve learned a thing or two about body image in the process. Near-naked bodies abound at Pride, whether they line the streets of the parade or dance atop parade floats. Some women go topless, with duct tape across their breasts; others are covered in body paint. Some folks tape their chests down; others wear harnesses. And of course, there is no shortage of speedo. But most of these bodies have one thing in common, a trait which I do not share with them: thinness.
In his piece for Black Girl Dangerous, Caleb Luna discusses being fat, brown, and femme in the queer community, where male fatness is only acceptable in the bear community when the masculinity of a beard balances the feminization of being fat. I could not begin to adequately summarize his experiences or stance as a person of color, but his writing touched on many of my own insecurities, including my first romantic relationship beginning well into my twenties (after some of my peers had already been married and divorced more than once) and most of my romantic interests going unreciprocated, often because a thinner, more masculine presenting individual was in sight.
I’ve become desensitized to the lack of clothing on certain bodies at Pride, in part because of Luna’s same anti-romantic stance, knowing that those bodies are not meant for me and my fatness to desire. I am no longer surprised by the size and shape of bodies on floats; I’m usually more or less disinterested. They are chosen specifically for their thinness, especially those promoting LGBT bars and businesses, and they will probably never reflect me. Perhaps somewhere in that desensitization, I lost any apprehension I had about my own nakedness at Pride. Why should I need to be brave to bare some skin at this accepting and welcoming community event? For the last year, I prepared myself to wear what I wanted at Pride, to challenge those norms and feel as free as everyone else. I put on a cropped teal bralette and jeans, and at the last minute, lost my nerve and added a shirt. At some point during the day, I spilled chili cheese fries on my shirt; when I was unable to clean my shirt off, I took it as a sign that I should take the shirt off and wear what I had wanted all along.
What was the result? Lots of insecurity. Lots of apprehension. Lots of crossing my arms over my tummy. Lots of trying to cover up with a button up and being too hot. Lots of perceived side-eye. Lots of actual full-on not-even-hiding-the-fact-that-they’re-staring-at-me from gay men. A hostess noting my group as “teal bra.” Lots of reminders that “Fuck it, I am babely.” Lots of meditating on the tattoo on my ribs, near my heart, reminding me and everyone else “I am heaven sent, don’t you dare forget.” I didn’t end the day feeling great about myself, but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe I wasn’t getting side-eyed at all. Maybe someone else saw me faking my confidence, assuming it was real, and it inspired them to be fat at pride. But I did absolutely challenge which bodies are acceptable and welcome in queer spaces, and I hope the future brings more fat, fabulous, and diverse bodies being out and proud.