It’s December 2015, I’m looking in a mirror and my hands are shaking. I splash some water on my face and question my own existence. The words, “I don’t want to be here anymore”, echo in my head. If only I could take away the pain. Take away the isolation. Take away the abuse. I look up, eyes swollen from crying, and abandon the plan to take my own life. This time isn’t the first time I’ve contemplated my worth. As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I often feel things at such an intense level. One of my daily struggles is valuing and loving my body. Every day, I’m bombarded with images that don’t represent me. There are times I get so excited about a new platform to highlight trans voices and faces…and then, I open up the web page or the magazine and my heart sinks. Not one Black chubby or fat queer boi….again. So, what does that say about me? Am I truly valued?
I share such a deep and intimate story because I believe in the power of vulnerability. Much of my interests in style has stemmed from the reality that I didn’t see myself anywhere. And when I say see myself, I mean in all of my forms. Black. Chubby. Queer. A person with disabilities. Lover. Educator, etc. etc. How am I supposed to believe in what’s possible, if I don’t know what’s possible? As a young child, my mother always described me as eclectic. I always wanted to wear the brightest colors and the shiniest jewelry. And as a poor Black boi, while those options weren’t always available to me, I learned quickly what creativity could provide when planning a fit.
It was almost like my outfits became armor to deflect from bullying and feeling so out-of-place as a young queer person. A lot of people talk about self-love and, while I believe much of this rhetoric depends on your abilities and access to certain spaces, I did learn how to appreciate myself through adornment. My style has always been about protection. And it’s also caused me to be more vulnerable to harassment from people, including the police. I love wearing all black. It’s sleek and just super fresh. But, try wearing all black and walk around in your neighborhood. Because I’m a Black masculine person of size, I’m seen as a threat or possibly someone who could overpower someone else. And let’s be real, masculinity is a huge factor and the ability to take up space in general is a privilege I hold. In addition, being Black and masculine means I’ve also been followed around stores by employees, stopped by the police for simply walking to the corner store, and asked “where I was headed?” by locals who suspect me of wrongdoing in major cities across the country.
Size and fashion always seem to be at odds. When I think of Black trans identified fat and chubby models, I wonder, where’s the visible diversity? Because I know of some fly people of size all along the gender spectrum. Desirability is a real thing and when you never include us in the fashion industry, you’re sending a clear message of what bodies are seen as desirable and valued. So, quick story. One day, I was online looking at clothes from ASOS. I immediately thought more than likely they wouldn’t have my size but to my relief they did! I click on the image to select a sale item I found in my size and when I look at the model, there is a slender man wearing a size medium shirt. I look twice…wait this isn’t right. So, I click 2XL again. And nope, the same image of the same man wearing a medium. Now, how am I supposed to gauge how this shirt will look on my body? There really aren’t any models you could select to wear your own brand in the sizes you offer? This is just one example how sizeism happens every day.
I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to showcasing body diversity in fashion. But, I do know, if you want people to feel valued, let them see themselves. If you have the power and have control over a platform, it’s on you to make those adjustments and include us. For the people out there reading this, I want fat and chubby trans people to know, you’re handsome, you’re beautiful, you matter. I know systemically, people haven’t made room for us but I see you.
One of the reasons I love bklyn boihood is that we unapologetically make space for our community and we represent a wide range of bodies. We always are lifting each other up, complimenting each other, reminding each other that we are celestial. I hope to those you’ve read this, you’ve felt the love. For those who are curious about bklyn boihood, check us out on social media and connect with us. We would love to hear from you!
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About the author: Dr. Van Bailey is a member of bklyn boihood, a collective dedicated to spreading love through community-building events, music and art while sharing our journey as bois of color who believe in safe spaces, accountable action and self-care. Additionally, he is an educator, international speaker and diversity consultant. Van’s speeches and workshops relate to LGBTQ+ student resilience, pedagogical practice, and intersectionality. In 2014, he was included in the Trans 100 and in 2015 he was also included in the 100 to Watch LBGTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders lists noting his work in higher education. Currently, he sits on the Board of Directors for the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. His published work has been featured on NPR, the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, the Feminist Wire, and Buzzfeed. As a diversity specialist, Van has worked with constituents internationality in addressing LGBTQ inclusion on college campuses.
Photographer: Jenn Marquez