I am fat. I am queer. I am Latinx.
I don’t know when you started thinking about Thanksgiving, but I started in September. Pecan Pie. Where to get it? Sam’s Club or a Groupon at Costco? I really didn’t want to fuck this up because the pie is the final element of Thanksgiving dinner. If you have a bad pie, it doesn’t matter how good the stuffing was or how silky-smooth you managed to get your gravy, it will ruin your Thanksgiving. Pie seals the deal.
Family holidays, am I right?
We all know that during the holidays some queers, fat and low-fat alike, aren’t welcome in their familial homes. When some of us are invited home, it’s especially troubling because our fatness serves as a target in addition to, or maybe even as a substitute for, our queerness.
Somehow it’s alright for family and friends to reach out to pat your belly. They give you “the look” with raised eyebrows when you reach for a snack that everyone else can enjoy without judgment. They encourage you to eat whatever vegetable is on the spread while others bathe everything on their plates in gravy. You are expected not to be fat or act fat while a table of tempting foods is literally laid out in front of you. Even the food you brought with you is suspect as if you have used that special butter that’s only available for fatties to use and you’ve loaded it into your baked rolls, hoping to give everyone else rolls of fat just like yours. To them fatties, like queers, recruit.
The fact is, some of us fat queers will simply order a pizza, maybe rent a movie, and treat this day like any other because we have nowhere to go and no one invited us into their homes.
Sometimes we’re invited by coworkers or acquaintances but we decline. Nothing is worse than being fat in someone’s home especially if they’re not fat.
We, the fat, know what will happen. We’ll unintentionally be given a chair that’s somewhat loose and it’ll break. Our hosts will apologize saying, rightfully so, that anyone’s weight could have broken it. Yet it’s our weight that did it and they will have a story to tell about how the fatty who came over for Thanksgiving and broke a chair or a glass or how our fat knocked over a vase or the picture of grandma.
There are also welcomed into homes filled loving family who, like their food, who may or may not also be fat who but provide a warm place, a warm plate, and a warm heart. I’ve noticed there are more of these than there used to be and I’m grateful.
Other welcoming spaces are the homes of fat queers themselves. They’re sharing their favorite foods with their favorite people some whom they’ve loved for years and some whom they’ve just met. I hope there are more of these homes than the others.
I also hope that no matter where you have your Thanksgiving meal, that you feel comfortable eating in front of others. Because that’s a thing for us fat people. Sometimes we pretend that we don’t eat fatly. We take larger portions of green beans and smaller portions of stuffing. We feign fullness and can’t possibly make any more room for pumpkin pie. Well, maybe just a sliver. Many of us police ourselves at Thanksgiving just as we do every time we have to eat in public. Yes, I said “have to” because there are so many social functions that incorporate food or snacks where we, the fat, are being watched and judged by the forkful.
Sides by Side
My favorite part of the Thanksgiving feast is pecan pie. I also like the stuffing (or is it dressing?) and you can never make enough stuffing because it’s delicious seasoned bread. If stuffing was just toast, which is kinda basically is, I’d still eat it with gravy poured on it which, I’m not gonna lie, I have done.
Oh, then there’s the mashed potatoes, like real mashed potatoes. Box mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving? That makes me so angry. One year, I got into a fight with my best friend because he made the mashed potatoes too runny.
“How am I supposed to put gravy on that lake of potatoes?” I said.
“That’s how my mom made them in my family,” he said.
“Your mom’s mashed potatoes suck.”
I immediately apologized because I clearly crossed the line by insulting his momma’s mashed potatoes. I might as well have spit on her tamales.
I’ll be honest and say that I even like the cranberry sauce from a can with its awkwardly molded ridges. I enjoy the processed sweetness and manufactured tartness when it’s chilled to an almost freezing point. I love how it’s curved edges holds back gravy and other juices while its coolness counteracts all the warm savory food on the plate.
But most of all, I like the first bite of pecan pie. That first bite. The bite through the tightly packed pecans locked together in a thin brittle-like glaze into a creamy nutty sweet filling and finally reaching a crisp, flaky, and almost salty crust underneath which seems to enhance both the pecans and the sweet filling. It’s not just the taste that I love. Pecan pie reminds me of Texas. Although I don’t really remember eating much pecan pie when I lived there and usually only have it on Thanksgiving or when I go back for visits which are rare.
And for those of you who are ready to tell me to go back to Mexico because I prefer pecan pie. I’ll usually get a pumpkin pie too. I mean, I’m not a total monster.
I admit it, even though I fully embrace my fatness, I’m a fat fraud. Sometimes I don’t have the energy or the confidence to be a fierce warrior defending all things fat. Sometimes I have trouble ordering and eating food in public when I’m with people I know who aren’t fat. And despite having Thanksgiving on my mind since September, I feel a little anxiety when I shop for the food. Is that bag of potatoes too big? How big a turkey should a fatso like me buy? What are the acceptable amounts of food for a fatty to buy? If I buy a diet coke will people walking by my cart laugh? Will the cashier roll her eyes?
Don’t get me wrong, I generally don’t give a fuck what people think, and I am not deluded into thinking that my 300lb body somehow looks like it’s 180lbs and that a can of Ready Whip will somehow shatter that illusion for me and for the public. It’s just that, sometimes, it’s too much.
I already get looks because people think I’m going to pay with food stamps or that I don’t speak English so, therefore, they don’t have to say “excuse me” when they grab food from a shelf in front of me or when the white guy at the cashier asks everyone “Did you find everything you need?” but he doesn’t ask me because why waste the effort.
“Spics didn’t come over on the Mayflower.”
We were in kindergarten at our shared worktable tracing our hands to make turkey templates to decorate. On my sheet, I drew both the pilgrims and the Indians with brown faces when my friend Kenny pointed at my drawing.
“What?” I asked looking up from my construction paper.
“Don’t hurt me,” Kenny said cowering away from me, “that’s what my brother calls them.”
I’d never heard the word ‘spic’ before and I wanted Kenny to explain it but he shook his head no and went back to decorating his turkey hand.
All I could think of was Spic and Span, which my mom sometimes used to clean the bathroom. Is that what he meant? We were spics because we cleaned? Why would he think I was going to hurt him because he said we’re clean people? Did white people not clean their bathrooms or kitchen floors?
I watched as Kenny colored his Indians’ faces red but left the faces of his pilgrims white. He drew his pilgrims tall with black hair but Kenny was the shortest in our class and had pale white skin with freckles and red hair. His pilgrims had pretty smiles but Kenny’s front teeth were crooked and large like Bugs Bunny’s. I stared at him and wondered if maybe his family didn’t come over on the Mayflower either.
I knew my best friend, Freddy Jo’s family didn’t come over on the Mayflower because he’s Chinese and he said his parents came from China. He also drew white-faced pilgrims but colored his Indians brown like mine, like me.
Kenny was from the country and didn’t speak English very well but he sounded like everyone else in the class so that meant he didn’t have to go to bilingual education class like Freddy Jo and me to learn how to pronounce sounds and words or learn the difference between “Sh” and “Ch,” which I already knew how to do but they made me go anyway. I could already read some of my sister’s books and she was in the second grade.
“What do they call us if we’re smart?” I wondered. I wanted to remember to ask my sister because she was very smart and she had probably heard all the names that white people call smart Mexicans.
As it turns out, there aren’t any.
Twenty-five years ago this November my mom died of breast cancer. This year for some reason, numbers were running through my head on the date marking her death. She was 46. I still have a hard time accepting how young she was. I was 24. The balance now shifts. From this month forward, l will have lived longer without her than I did with her.
Some of those Thanksgivings were just ordinary days. I made Hamburger Helper or whatever was in the fridge and watched people post Thanksgiving photos on Facebook until I had to turn away.
I’m still far away from my family but this year my friend and I will cook our own Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll still see all your Facebook posts but this year I’ll smile because my friends are having fun and I know that soon I will be with them at AWP or wherever we’re destined to meet. I’m, also fortunate that mom comes to visit me in my writing — almost too much. Sometimes I feel like I know her better now because I was young, selfish, and not ready to learn about her. At 24, I was just learning about me and I still am.
I’m thankful that I see her in the women in my family. Sometimes she and I have to take a quick deep breath to fight back the emotion of hearing my mother’s voice again. Yet what keeps her vividly in my senses is her food. The flavor profiles she created are the basis of my own cooking.
I wasn’t always fat. I was heavy, thick, husky, whatever you want to call it but I didn’t become fat until after she died. Everyone was concerned about me. My grief took a physical form. I didn’t know what was happening or why. All I knew is that my mom was dead and, despite having other family members who were also grieving, I was alone.
I used to think I got fat to protect myself from the loss of her unconditional love and that’s probably a big part of it but I now realize that perhaps I also embraced food to be close to her. She occupied my heart and my thoughts but that simply wasn’t enough. I needed her to fill my senses. I needed her food.
As long as we are talking about food, loved ones, and Thanksgiving, I want to let you know that I grew up working as a farmworker. Crop dusters regularly sprayed us with pesticides while we worked in fields. I’m certain that played a role in her developing cancer. The people who work year round to bring food to your market, they endure unfathomable danger, and the work they do is literally destroying their bodies.
I don’t say a silent prayer each time I put an onion in my grocery cart, but I do think about the hands that weeded, picked and packed the fruit and veggies I buy. The colorful shapes of the fruits and vegetables make me wonder about the difficulty in tending and harvesting them. Sometimes the inventory stickers will note from which state the fruits came. I think about the temperature there. What do they have to do to keep the hot sun off their backs? Do they have to wear extra socks and gloves to protect from the cold? What kinds of tools do they use? Bladed scissors or knives? Do they use nothing at all except their hands? Do they carry produce in buckets or bags slung across their bodies?
While selecting a frozen turkey from the meat cases, I think about the women and men who work in cold meatpacking plants. Many of them cannot afford the turkeys they’ve processed. My father worked in such a plant and came home with blood on his clothes when it seeped through his white smock. I think of other fathers and uncles on the assembly lines as carcasses move through the plant. Each worker slicing, cutting, chopping and packing hundreds of carcasses until sanitized meat reaches frozen cases like the one in front of me.
I really don’t mean to end this in such a depressing note but if we’re going to be honest about being fat, if we’re going to have a discussion about fatness, health, about the ridiculous notions of “good” food and “bad” food, we have to acknowledge how food gets to our tables and that it comes at a price we often force others to pay. I’m thankful for my time as a farmworker and I thank each one this Thanksgiving and each day beyond for what they do.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for so much and to so many for loving me and for showing their love in ways that support me and my work.
I also want to end by thanking Brian Kornell for inviting me to be part of Fat and Queer and to Ruben Quesada at Queen Mobs Teahouse for providing not just a home but a safe space for this essential work. Brian’s contributions to #FatLit give voice and strength to many in our community. More importantly, I’m witnessing an emergence–an expansion, if you will, in my friend that makes me smile.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Save me a piece of pie!
Miguel M. Morales grew up in Texas working as a migrant and seasonal farmworker. Formerly of ACT-UP/KC, Miguel is a Lambda Literary Fellow and alum of VONA/Voices and the Macondo Writers Workshops. His work appears in Hibernation and Other Poems By Bear Bards, From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction, Imaniman: Anzaldua Poetic Anthology, If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration, Older Queer Voices: The Intimacy of Survival, and in Green Mountains Review and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review.