“Health” as a Truncheon

At least one religious right organization is already jumping on the report of higher rates of fat among lesbians as ammunition for tired “homosexuality is unhealthy” propaganda. Having long been disappointed by the low rates of HIV and STD infection among lesbians, it looks like these groups are now trying to link fat among lesbians to HIV rates among gay men:

A study to be published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health has found that “lesbians have more than twice the odds of overweight.”…Another study in the same edition of the journal, found that homosexual, bisexual and “homosexually experienced heterosexual men” …have a far higher prevalence of HIV infection. …The studies provide further evidence of the dangers involved with the homosexual lifestyle.

The propaganda then goes on to associate everything from syphilis to cancer to addictions with “the homosexual lifestyle.” 

To a fat person, the routine is familliar. Data that should only be referenced to empower and improve health becomes nothing more than the means to portray us as ailing, disease-ridden creatures, whose miseries are the tragic but inevitable consequence moral degeneracy. Tsk Tsk.

The data itself is sometimes true, sometimes false. Usually distorted, and always selectively culled to create the most dramatic and catastrophic picture possible.

767406_police_truncheon.jpgThe use of “health risks”  as a cudgel against fat people (and now lesbians by association) is not so different from the use of HIV/AIDS as a cudgel against gay men.  Too often epidemiology is recruited for ends that have nothing to do with human health and happiness. Instead they become nothing more than weapons to blame, shame, stigmatize, and pathologize. Sometimes it’s Fred Phelps, and sometimes it’s the American Medical Association.

There’s another parallel here. “Dieting” as a public health response to to health risks associated with fatness has a lot in common with “Abstinence Education” as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Both are ineffective means of improving public health. Both pit public health against the people they presume to “help,” putting them in hopelessly moralizing and paternalistic relationships. But both “solutions” are tenaciously clung to and promoted by certain quarters, for reasons that are political, ideological, economic, or some combination of all three.

And both of which have the larger effect of shaming and victim-blaming than they do of making anyone thin (or abstinent). And least of all making us healthy.  


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