I first met Hanne Blank via the Internet. I believe it was on Livejournal. At the time I was fresh out of grad school, where I’d used her book "Big Big Love" as a reference in my Master’s thesis.
I’m not going to mince words: "Big Big Love" is a book about fat sex. It is not a book that simply covers the mechanics of fat sex, although that area is well explored, and usefully too. It is also a book about sexuality, self-esteem and relationships -- both with other people and with ourselves.
The original edition came out in 2000, and when it went out of print it turned into a bit of a collector’s item, a book that people borrowed and lent and passed around. "Big Big Love" was a revelation to me personally, as it was the first place I’d ever seen fat sex being discussed in frank tones, with the certainty that it was a thing that happened, and that it was even a common event. Indeed, I’d HAD sex as a fat person, and yet it took seeing it discussed in print to make it valid and real.
Hanne got the chance to do an updated version of "Big Big Love" (now subtitled "A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them") this year, which she has managed brilliantly, with a substantial (heh) survey and employing new interviews and quotes. In the interest of full disclosure, I am interviewed in this book, but you’ll have to buy it to find out what I said. No, seriously, totally buy it, because it is an amazing, mind-altering book about sexy good times for every body.
I demanded that Hanne let me ask her some questions about it, and ever the gracious lady, she obliged.
L: So, everybody knows fat people don't have sex. What compelled you to author this book of lies?
H: Well, as P.T. Barnum used to say, there's a sucker born every minute. I guess I just wanted to see how many people would fall for it.
Seriously? Well, what initially prompted me to start doing writing and activism around fat and sex waaaaay back in the Pleistocene when we still made things called 'zines using things called photocopiers was that I was a happily and enthusiastically sexual fat person who started to get a little irritated at the fact that she virtually never saw or read anything about other fat people who had active, exciting, interesting, varied sex lives. All I ever found for representations of fat sexuality, at that time, were a handful of rather sketchy porn and softcore magazines for straight men who were into supersized women. It was either that or you could do the good crunchy feminist thing and wax rhapsodic about the Venus of Willendorf, which was not my kink.
I knew lots of fat people who had great, varied, interesting, vibrant sex lives. (I slept with some of them, so I know firsthand.) We all sort of gritted our teeth that we weren't really included in the burgeoning sex-positive literature and art of the early 1990s, most of which sort of assumed without saying so that people cool enough to be sex-positive or sex-radical would also be thin. I don't think it was an intentional exclusion, more of a presumption that led to oversight.
So I decided to address the oversight. I started a 'zine called Zaftig: Sex for the Well Rounded and was asked, on that basis, to do some sex workshops for fat women. A publisher heard about the workshops and asked me if I'd ever thought about writing a book. I hadn't, but I will try most things at least once, so I said yes. And thus the first version of "Big Big Love" came to be.
L: What has the response been like?
H: Mostly it's been extremely positive. The first edition became a bit of a cult classic -- something that people shared with their friends, lent to their lovers, bought extra copies of for people they were dating. I have heard from a lot of people that they'd wished they'd bought several copies because every time they lent one out it would mysteriously never be returned. That's the very best kind of praise, for a writer: that people like your book so much they'll unrepentantly steal it from their friends.
Sometimes the response has been hard to manage and hard to take, even though it has been positive. When the first edition came out, to some people it appeared as a sort of lighthouse beacon in a huge sea of fat hatred, abuse, and all kinds of nastiness that invariably got blamed on fatness. You know, people who were raped and told they should be grateful that anyone would fuck them because they were fat, people who were routinely humiliated by partners for being fat, people who had been sexually abused as children and told it was because they were fat... as well as garden variety stuff like being turned down for dates or mooed at by evil teenagers or having a date dump them and blaming it on the fat issue.
As for the media, I've had a wide spectrum of reactions. I've done radio where I've had to go bare-knuckles with shock jocks who thought a book about fat people having sex was basically a 200-plus page punchline. I've been interviewed by guilty liberals who looked and sounded like they had a mouthful of sick the whole time they were discussing fat sex with me, but who couldn't bring themselves to say a single overtly negative syllable. I've had many interviewers who just couldn't seem to pry themselves away from the most fetishistic, sensational issues that can be found under the fat sex umbrella and essentially wanted to paint all sexuality involving fat people as the most outrageous fetishistic taboo-yanking weirdness ever. (I cannot physically roll my eyes enough to express my feelings about that.)
But you know, you can tell, as a writer, when your interviewer has actually read the book and when sie hasn't. I find it really interesting that I have never had anyone actually READ the book and be hateful, nasty or fat-bashing. I've had a number of interviews with people who had obviously just had their worldview upended and who were honestly incredulous. But they asked honest questions, which is legit as far as I'm concerned.
I also find it really interesting that I have had many interviewers begin their interviews with me by saying that they wanted to personally thank me for the book, because they, as private individuals, found the book so useful and illuminating and healing. This is not, in my experience, something interviewers often say, and I'm very honored and touched by it when it happens.
L: This book is extraordinarily mindful of a wide variety of sexual experiences and identities often ignored -- or at least given only cursory attention -- in many sex-related guides. Say a little about why the thorough approach was so important.
H: The spectrum of human sexuality is vast. Body size does not change this fact. I wanted as many fat people as possible -- as many people, period -- to feel that my book had something to say to them, regardless of what the specific and personal constellation of their sexuality might look like.
People need to know that the sexuality of other people is not, in point of fact, a completely foreign and unintelligible country, even if it is quite unlike their own. And people need to know that other fat people whose sexuality may not be familiar or comfortable nevertheless face some of the same specifically fat-related issues.
In the end, for me, it's about solidarity. It's hard to create a human sense of solidarity, to encourage a sense that we're all in this business of life and sexuality together in our bodies of so many different sizes and shapes -- and we are -- if you don't actively build inclusion into the picture.
L: True or false: the best ever response to a person who rudely demands to know, "Why are you so fat?" is "Because every time I f**k your mom, she bakes me a pie."
L: Obviously, you've written a whole book on this super complex subject, but if you only had 30 seconds or so to quickly assuage the fears of a person uncomfortable being seen naked or having sex, what would you say?
H: Your body is a miracle. It's the only body you'll ever have. You only get one chance to live in it and revel in it and all the amazing things it can do and feel. Don't waste it. No one, on their deathbed, wishes they'd only had fewer orgasms and hated their thighs more. You're fabulous. Dive in.
You can buy "Big Big Love" at your favorite bookstore. Hanne also has a blog where you can find information on her other excellent books, and she occasionally dispenses marvelous body-positive Twitter wisdom in the persona of Mrs. Avoirdupois, whom you should follow immediately.