Why do we desire the bodies we do?
Where does our driving sense of arousal by one thing or another come from? Why is one of us incredibly excited by a certain human feature, while another person goes stupid at the mere provocation of some other bodily attribute entirely different and particular?
Though not my focus today, gender is the dimension where we talk and think most about these powerful human differences in desire. Faiths police several urges and pleasures, but reserve particular passion for homoerotic behaviour, beyond other points of doctrine about personal conduct. Deeply-seated notions about who and what we’re allowed to desire bleed into popular culture and even law. Until April’s court ruling, Government stubbornly retained on our books laws that – despite not having been used that way in decades – made adults acting together on mutual attraction liable to criminal imprisonment.
Yet – even with same-sex attraction – we still have pretty primitive understandings with little depth whatsoever of what shapes what arouses you, but not me? We’ve refused to let talk about the diversity of human desire into our children’s schoolrooms, failing to prepare them to embrace and manage desires that will inevitably inhabit their adult bodies. But, when we focus away from the physical attractions that most notoriously elicit policing,
why we like what we do becomes even more vexing.
I was almost 35 before I truly uncovered one of mine. Mutual friends invited a few of us to a post-Carnival lime at Ricardo’s, to introduce him to a new network. We exchanged numbers as I left, I called the next day to chat, made casual plans to lime, and suddenly realised he thought I was tracking and this was a date. He was smart and I single, so I played along.
Eventually, I spent the night. When he undressed, I gasped. Over weeks of torrid visits that followed, I unpacked a rich corner of my erotic self I hadn’t known before. I loved fat boys.
There’s a whole fetish community around size, I’ve discovered. Social activities and social media sites where big people and those who “chase” them (as it’s problematically framed) can connect. But moving within these islands of fat-affirming desire means having your human complexity reduced to how much you weigh. And some “chasers,” while legitimately sexually attracted to amplitude, nonetheless prey on the emotional vulnerability of people hungry for affirmation.
Because, for all the desirousness available to the full-figured in such spaces, outside of them, being fat remains one of the last legitimate areas where shaming remains culturally acceptable, comparable to or worse than LGBTI people face (some of whom face both).
Being big certainly can be – but isn’t always – a health risk; nor does size necessarily prevent agility. Yet western medicine has contributed to even small deviations above “healthy” weight being seen as pathological. For all our imitativeness, though, our slim thick-loving culture still holds some distance in its embrace of Euro-American ideals when it comes to modest size and beauty.
Loving fat people is hard, though. It means dealing with their insecurities, and the self-hate that says: if you really want me, then you too must be unworthy of wanting.
A media house’s social media pages this week posted video of a couple strolling together around potholes leading to “a beach in Trinidad.” The woman wore a red collar around her neck, the man casually holding a leash attached to it. “What’s your take?” the caption asked.
“The real issue is all dem pothole!!!” the top comment read. One poster shared concern, “This is unacceptable in the public eye especially where children are around,” and another, “If she’s a victim of trafficking, she’d be coached to act this way in public,” eliciting “I don’t think the human traffickers taking their vics on the beach to chill,” and in turn, a reprimand to those discounting trafficking, “Without further proof are just ignorant fools.”
But both literacy and tolerance about desire were on display: “In the BDSM world some are slave and some are masters – leave them alone,” “She probably his sub…Its whatever makes them happy,” references to 50 Shades of Grey, and “Not everybody boring inno.” So was playfulness: “It is sickening, disgusting, and vile…All those potholes make me sick” and, “The leash is for when she drop in them pot hole he could save she.”
Some critiqued copycatting the US and racial self-hate. One post suggested accepting homosexuality had led us here; another was fundamentalist: that wrong could never be right.
But in over 1,000 comments there was far, far less meanness than I anticipated. It made me hopeful. In Caribbean culture we’re simultaneously sexually sophisticated and illiterate. Rich cultural rituals like Carnival and picong brilliantly encode sex we draw into the public space, while our capacity for honest conversation about intimate desire remains puerile. Maybe that is changing.