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You enjoyed Nancy Pelosi calling Donald Trump obese because you hate fat people, not just him

That impulse to use those words, to express that hatred of fat people, to silence and punish us for existing, has always been in our culture.
Image: President Trump visits medical supplies distributor Owens & Minor in Allentown, Pennsylvania
President Donald Trump tours medical equipment distributor Owens & Minor in Allentown, Pennsylvania on May 14, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

Nancy Pelosi openly fat-shaming Donald Trump on national television illustrated nothing about the coronavirus pandemic, the real dangers of hydroxychloroquine for people with COVID-19 infections or the foolishness of taking it prophylactically when it seemingly has no effect on the virus. It simply reiterated for the thins what fat people have known forever: You hate us, and it's acceptable to do so.

There's nothing even interesting about how Pelosi deploys the slur, at least if you've ever been called fat. If we go back to the tape, you can hear Pelosi line it up, saying, "He's our president, and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group — morbidly obese, they say."

It's the "shall we say" that first gives the game away — a verbal wink that tells you she knows the knife is being driven in. She frames it this way because the intent and execution were to fat-shame and humiliate and to unify others who dislike Trump by their acceptable shared bigotry.

Pelosi is good at this type of fat-shaming because most people are. It's powerful because hateful speech always is — especially hateful speech that appeals to a lot of people, and a lot of you hate fat people. If you enjoyed it, you enjoyed it because you hate fat people. It's not complicated.

Pelosi isn't a modern George Bernard Shaw, discovering the boring fact that people love to insult fat people by saying that we are fat. She's just exercising ritual bigotries — you find something to excoriate in your opponent, you tell the crowd, and if it's something the crowd likes to hate, you have unified them. We're just all used to Trump doing it, instead, nattering on about "Chinese" viruses or Mexican rapists or "fake news" journalists.

I'm embarrassed for all the liberal thins I now see on social media doing what they usually like to judge Trump supporters for, applauding Pelosi's supposedly epic insults and justifying their personal bigotry (at length) with self-serving arguments.

Most of their justifications revolve around the simple excuse that, by calling him "morbidly obese," Pelosi is just stating a medical fact and expressing "concern" about his health. But one can't have it both ways: Either she is innocently commenting — which she is not — or she is a mastermind with her insults — which she is also not.

The reason everyone cheers this particular insult is that we live in a completely fat-phobic society. That's what makes people excited to see the insult land and salivate over what Trump's reaction might be. The bigotry against fat people is also entirely why it works as an insult while allowing Pelosi and her defenders to frame it as feigning concern.

Pelosi knew this; she likely chose to insult Trump in this manner, anyway, because, like many thins, she does not care about fat people's feelings. If she is now being forced to reckon with the connections between her behavior and Trump's, she will probably tell herself that he is much worse and that, as many thins say (at least privately), "it's not like it's a real identity, being fat — if they just lost the weight, they wouldn't have the identity ... and they could stop being so disgusting."

She seemingly calculated that fat people are already self-hating and silenced enough in our culture that no one will make that much of a fuss and the devastating own will have been be worth it. She did the math instinctively — like an experienced politician; I'm sure she's right that it worked out for her. In December, Joe Biden pulled a similar trick, fat-shaming a voter who had the audacity to ask him a perfectly reasonable question at a campaign stop. (His spokeswoman then denied he'd said it at all.)

Fat-shaming is a soft bigotry that even the Democratic establishment condones.

None of this is a surprise to my fellow fats: You wake up in the morning and you know what the world has been telling you every moment of your life. That I am considered less-than because I am more-than has permeated every moment of my life from birth; even in dreams, I'm not free of the weight — not my own physical weight, but the internalized hatred from a thousand sources and voices, woven into every square inch of our culture, as natural as breathing.

And you thins are basking in the same hatred. For many of you, it manifests a fear of contagion — that you will catch weight from us. Others frame it as a kind of puritanism — fatness is laziness, after all, because if we had better characters, we'd apply willpower and shed these pounds.

If I could say something to all the thins, I'd say: Stop and listen. Millions of fats read and heard the awful bigoted garbage about Trump, and about fat people, that Pelosi's words unleashed. There's a desire in too many of us to use those words, to express that hatred of fat people, to silence and punish fat people for existing. That impulse has always been in our culture, and as thins you don't seem to see it. Please try to stretch yourselves to see how it affects us, to feel the simple empathy that can make all of us better to one another.

Besides, there are many glorious ways to insult Donald Trump that do not belittle and demean anyone but him. Use those.

And to my fellow fats: Hey, here we are again. You know all this stuff already; I'm tired of it, too. I can't believe we have to explain it all again, either. But this is the work, I think — to try and be seen, so that our worth can be counted as equally and fully. Even I once had to be persuaded that my life as a fat man had worth. And in my life since I realized that, I've seen a few people listen, and then a few more. Maybe it takes a lifetime. Thanks for being here with us for yours.