About the FaT GiRL archive
May 31, 2022
I’m Max Airborne, the person who’s been driving and holding this archival project. In 1994, I was part of a group of fat dykes who decided to make a zine for and about fat dykes. There was an explosion of queer media happening, but looking at it, you might have thought fat dykes didn’t exist at all. It was so obviously fat hatred, and we were sick of it.
The San Francisco bay area of 1994 was home to two vibrant generations of fat lesbians, dykes and queers — the Baby Boomer-generation of (mostly) radical lesbian/dyke feminists, and us, their Gen X kid cousins, (mostly) queer-identified dykes, active in the bay area’s kink, punk and/or anarchist communities.
Empowered, I believe, by the combined forces of the fat activist-familiar environment created by the fat dykes before us, the strong presence of fat dykes in San Francisco’s kink communities, and the flourishing of zine culture, we formed a collective and made a big fat zine called FaT GiRL. We had so much to say, and it became clear that fat dykes far beyond the bay area were hungry to be part of what we were doing. FaT GiRL quickly became something much bigger than we’d dreamed. The collective evolved and kept it going for 7 big issues.
It’s a sad fact that in 2022, this vital, creative work we did is often missing from the historical narrative. FaT GiRL (and much of the fat-liberation work that came before us)1 has nearly been erased from history. Not just because it was analog, or because new generations tend to think we invented everything. FaT GiRL’s existence has been actively censored from many directions: feminists (too much kinky sex)2, queers (too fat?)3 and even fat activists (too queer and too kinky)4. As it was when we started FaT GiRL almost 30 years ago, it’s still true that if we want our existence to simply be acknowledged, we have to make our own media / community / archive.
For years folks have been asking when we were gonna put FaT GiRL online. The prospect was daunting, to say the least, because we hadn’t asked contributors for permission to put their work online. FaT GiRL was an analog publication, started back when many of us didn’t even have email. But a brilliant college student named Rose came along, interviewed a bunch of us (see below), and the seed started emerging out of dormancy.
I brought the idea of putting FaT GiRL online to former collective members, and with various caveats, everyone agreed it was a good idea. Going through the zines one page at a time, including both FaT GiRL and Size Queen, a similar zine I did with former FaT GiRL collective member Sondra Solovay in 2005, the list of contributors to contact totaled 174. Looking at the list and seeing how many contributors have died, my resolve grew. If we didn’t do it now, FaT GiRL’s erasure felt inevitable.
7 months, 30 volunteer transcribers, a bunch of excited supporters, and uncountable hours later, here we are, with an online archive of FaT GiRL and Size Queen.
The community around FaT GiRL wrestled with a lot of the same issues we wrestle with today. In some ways, the conversations have changed and developed over the past 30 years, and in some ways they’ve hardly changed at all. See for yourselves: This FaT GiRL archive provides a snapshot of the conversations one community was having in its era. It’s not everything, and it’s not perfect. But it sure was something.
WHAT’S HERE & WHAT’S NOT
I reached out to every named contributor I could find. I enlisted help finding and contacting folks via other people who might know them. A small number of contributors did not want to include their work in an online archive. In some cases, they requested their names be changed or anonymized.
When I wasn’t able to find folks to seek permission, I decided that if their contribution was visual porn, I would not include it. And if it was not, I would only include it if it could be reasonably anonymized. Given the size of this project it is likely that something, somewhere is incorrect. I ask your forgiveness for any errors I’ve made. If you want something different done with your work than what I’ve done here, please contact me: fatlibarchive AT gmail DOT com.
WHAT ELSE WE DID
Scanning and offering a PDF would have been a simple and straightforward way to put this online. But putting it online makes other kinds of access possible. And so everything in the PDF is also available with full text transcripts and image descriptions. Thank you to the 30 comrades who assisted in that work!
I realized in the course of doing this archiving that lots of other fat liberation work has undergone similar erasure. Some of it is gone. Some is yet to be uncovered. Some is closeted in physical archives that most people will never be able to access. I want fat liberation to be a living movement, a series of ideas and actions in conversation with (and learning from) past and future generations. So I expanded the project to start making some of that other work accessible, too. It is housed in the main site: fatlibarchive.org, and will keep growing. If you have things you want to add, please get in touch. fatlibarchive AT gmail DOT com.
- For some evidence of the fat liberation work done by previous generations, have a look at a Fat Lib Archive.
- Read about Charlotte Cooper’s experience having all mentions of FaT GiRL censored by the feminist publisher of her book “Fat and Proud,” (Size Queen, 2005).
- In 2019, the Oakland Museum did an exhibit called “Queer California: Untold Stories,” focused on who gets left out of the narratives about queer history. The exhibit included an archive of queer periodicals. Several people have told me that they mentioned FaT GiRL to the exhibit’s curators, who chose to exclude it.
- A variety of more respectability-oriented (and straight-oriented) fat publications of the 1990s found FaT GiRL offensive and shunned us or excluded us from mention as a resource.
On Finding FaT GiRL, Over and Over Again
May 31, 2022
I discovered FaT GiRL by sheer luck. It was sophomore year of college and my gender studies professor assigned me the first piece I’ve ever been given about fatness in any educational context, “No Fat Futures: The Uses of Anti-Social Queer Theory for Fat Activism” by Francis Ray White. There, dangling in a fateful tiny footnote was a reference to “the seminal fat/queer zine FaT GiRL” (White 2013:22). As a then twenty year old queer fat zinemaker from the Bay Area, I absolutely needed to learn more. Soon enough I managed to get a copy of FaT GiRL issue three sent to my school’s library and when it arrived I lied on my floor combing through the pages, fascinated with this snapshot of queer fat Bay Area life. I devoured the articles, stories, photos, reviews, and interviews, taking pictures of each page before I sent it back so I could have this history with me forever. There was something so magic about seeing work that not only centered unapologetic and multifaceted fat queerness, but that showed me that people like me have always existed, have always fought for justice and have always engaged with the world in the mediums I love.
After following the inactive Facebook page for FaT GiRL (in the hopes of finding my own copies) I soon saw a post: “Hey FaT GiRL fans, you should check out Fat Lib Ink! Rad t-shirts, zines and more!” I clicked on the Fat Lib Ink / Fat Rose website intrigued; what was this fat liberation organization that included my name in the title?? To my delight I found an application form for Fat Rose, an organizing home for fat people on the left seeking to embed intersectional fat analysis in all movement spaces. I applied and wrote about FaT GiRL for one of the questions, quickly receiving an email from the organization’s founders Max and Dawn that not only did we happen to live five minutes away from each other, Max was one of the original creators of FaT GiRL! I went to my first Fat Rose meeting a few days later and my life has never been the same.
The summer before my senior year of college I read a couple fat lib oriented zines and books which recounted a version of a movement history that completely neglected or excluded FaT GiRL. I thought, if even folks attempting to document our history don’t know about this, something has to be done. So I wrote my senior sociology thesis on it, interviewing six of the original FaT GiRL collective members, analyzing the zines and co-constructing an oral history of the project with them. That thesis can be found here and the oral history is pulled out here. It was such an incredible process to get to immerse myself in the world FaT GiRL created, to be in relationship and community with fat queer elders, to get to ask all the questions and tug on all the threads that interested me. I found myself holding so many things at once: a story of the gentrification of the Bay Area, a snapshot of a very particular moment in time in which our understandings of gender and sexuality (and particularly transness) exploded, a story of burnout and structural violence, and a reflection on the cultural memory of social movements. I was swimming in hilarious, angry, sexy brilliant media, peering through a fat, explosively colorful stained glass window which reflected the imperfect lens of its time and community. I wrote about the history of size discourse and documented fat liberation activism, the birth of Fat Studies, race & contesting what it even means to be a fat activist, cultural memory of third wave feminism, 1990s queer San Francisco, zinemaking culture, the .com boom & bust, how FaT GiRL is reflected in today’s world and so so much more (if you would like to read about any of these in detail, again). I knew these zines needed to be publicly available and accessible for our movement’s future, but respected that it was impossible at the time due to the complicated nature of getting so many contributors’ permissions. I am so eternally grateful that Max has put an inordinate amount of labor into giving this to the world once again.
It was an absurd amount of work to make this exist, but also a very fun collective process. Max and I dreamed up how this could happen in January 2022 over several zoom calls and though we had an extremely daunting amount of content to scan, transcribe and image describe, it was able to come to fruition in only 6 months! We knew the more hands the easier this would be to make reality. This archive (and the Fat Liberation archive at large) would not have been possible without the over 30 volunteers who spent their free time editing auto-transcriptions, double-checking spelling and figuring out how to possibly caption the rich (and often quite explicit) visuals of FaT GiRL. It was so fun to work with friends and strangers who were so excited to engage with the zines, many of whom came to our zoom transcription parties. In many ways, the material took on new life in the hands of these transcribers, giving many younger people (fat and not) a relationship and an entry point to this work, in the service of making it accessible to the world.
There is so much to learn from our history. I find so much power in intergenerational organizing/relationships, especially in the context of fatness and queerness. Our world constantly beats into us that the only way to have a long fulfilling life and find love is to shrink ourselves out of existence; to be a young queer fat person in relationship with older queer fat people is to know there is a future where you exist. Having access to the past also helps us make sense of the world we are living in, giving present and future activists a wider and stronger foundation, which allows us to more easily mobilize towards liberation. It reminds us that people like us have always existed, that we are not alone, and that change is possible. In a world facing overwhelming upheaval and collapse, it is so easy to feel that we will never be free of the systems that saddle us with stigma and enact endless violence on our bodies. However, as Elena Levy Navarro reminds us in “Fattening Queer History,” we are only stuck in this all-too-oppressive present “if we impose on ourselves the modern temporal logic in which the past is supposedly over and done with, in which justice and joy can only be achieved in some utopian future” (Levy-Navarro 2019:21). The fight is far from over, but joy and justice are possible. We can and we will survive, we can and we will thrive—in past, in present, and in future.