Fat activism, trans literature and Sam Smith

Plus more queer culture curations to get you through chilly times

Chilly greetings, my hoarfrosts and rime ices and sundogs, as we grapple with what feels this week like a truly endless winter, with no end in sight. While I hope that this column introduces you to some work that warms your heart, and perhaps some of your other blood-rich organs, it remains true that there is a meteorological chill in the air to match the political one, made of icy, shrivelled hearts and unbearably frosty demeanours. Nonetheless, with our usual dose of queer magic and a side order of sass, I’ve got a hot list here on Queer Culture Catch-Up of things to love that love us right back. 

Activist Love Letters

Multi-hyphenate Syrus Marcus Ware, known for his art, playwriting, childrens’ books, books for grown people, fabulous outfits and more, began a project in 2012 called Activist Love Letters. The installation encouraged visitors to take a moment and reflect back to activists and cultural workers, using paper letters, the ways that those activists’ work had impacted their lives and then made sure those letters of appreciation reached their intended recipients. It’s been shown around the world and the effects are seismic in disrupting the isolation and constant critique some activists in the public eye contend with daily, while also inviting people to consider what qualities they possess that might help them to take action. 

The exhibit isn’t showing anywhere right now, but considering the incredible number of queer and trans people currently forced to show up daily to defend us all against malicious foolishness in media, law and public conversation—and taking a daily boatload of shit for it on social media—I have been thinking about this exhibit often and I want to say that this option is always available to you: email or tweet at an activist you value, whose work you admire, who is working for your rights, who is at it hammer and tongs trying the stanch the rising tide of homophobia and trans-antagonism and send them some love, praise or encouragement. Because I assure you, haters are at it all day, every day and the few minutes you take means a whole lot. 

Aubrey Gordon in conversation with Hanne Blank Boyd


Powerhouse cultural worker and absolute dreamboat Aubrey Gordon, author of What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, writer of Your Fat Friend, the co-host of the paradigm-busting podcast Maintenance Phase and general fat-ass badass recorded this conversation with column fave and fellow badass Hanne Blank Boyd (author of the Object Lessons series volume Fat, as well as a number of others) about Gordon’s new book, New York Times bestseller You Just Need to Lose Weight (and 19 Other Myths About Fat People). Holy side rolls, friends, it’s just hot buttered love with a side order of bracing myth-busting. Hosted by venerable queer booksellers Charis Books and More, this is one of the best book launch events I’ve ever gotten to enjoy (and not just because of the adorable tiny dog also visible in the frame, though also that). Gordon and Blank Boyd explore and explode a lot of oft-repeated tropes about fatness and fat people, model some ways to speak back to concern-trollers (including your mother) and generally both advance the cause of body positivity and trouble so many old tired ideas as they do it. 

The “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” video by Sam Smith

And speaking of body positivity, are we all aware that the delightful, delicious and d’lovely Sam Smith has a new album out, including a video for banger “I’m Not Here to Make Friends (ft. Jesse Reyez)” that has tongues wagging (and lolling out awooga style, because damn). Apparently, a certain segment of the population would like to yell about how people of Smith’s size, gender and/or sexual orientation shouldn’t be parading their assets around in a luxurious Edwardian-themed video, licking champagne off people and singing “I’m a blessing of a body to love on,” with their pasties out and shimmering. If you’ve been around this column for a minute or even just read the items above I imagine that, you know, is, uh, not a value I share. The spectacle of Smith, surrounded and adored by many genders of lavishly corseted courtiers, is a delicious instance of queer joy, and I, for one, would like a lot more of that, rather than less (catch Smith talking about queer joy and self-love this week on Q with Tom Power).

Muxes, Mexico’s Third Gender

Recently, after I gave a talk about trans and non-binary identities and how we are not, remotely, new, a participant sent me a link to this amazing documentary about muxes of Oaxaca, Mexico as an additional example of pre-colonial genders that have continued to be welcomed and celebrated despite the attempts of colonizing forces to suppress or erase them. This short doc includes several interviews with muxe (say: MOO-shay) about their experiences, and avoids, mostly, the trap of spectacle replacing substance. After you watch, check out this digital exhibit from the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, Beyond Gender: Indigenous Perspectives, which also discusses muxe as well as other Indigenous genders that have persisted through colonization, like Samoan fa’afafine and fa’afatama and Chilean Mapuche. It’s an excellent series to send anyone you might happen to know who insists on acting like trans and non-binary people are some sort of new fad in the world. 

Trans Literature Now

When I read the title of this symposium, I first read it as a rallying cry, like What do we want? Trans Literature! When do we want it? Now! and I felt so seen that I’ve decided to read the title in the imperative every time I discuss it and I encourage you to do the same. Collecting some of the smartiest-pantses in trans literary arts to discuss the current moment of trans literature and co-sponsored by the National Book Critics’ Circle and Barnard’s Center for Research on Women, Trans Literature Now includes Electric Lit editor Denne Michele Norris and one of my longtime literary brain-crushes, Casey Plett (also a founder of new trans-led press Little Puss), among other notables. I will be in the digital front row with my pencil sharpened on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. EST and I encourage you to join me for this free event

There you have it, beloved friends, a collection of the things I have loved in queer and trans culture recently (or that I look forward to loving in the near future) and with them my hope that you also feel loved, both now and in the future. I hope you too have a fanciful cape to swirl or a parasol to twirl and someone to admire you while you do it; I hope you feel embraced as much as you enjoy and celebrated even just the tiniest touch beyond what you feel comfortable with, because if I know one thing about queers it’s that our expectations are too damn low, and we are all blessings to love on. Meanwhile, if you’re making something new under the rainbow, drop me an email or DM—I love to hear your news. 

S Bear Bergman

S. Bear Bergman is a writer, educator and advice columnist. His ninth book, Special Topics In Being A Human, was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2021.

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