I resisted going to the Big & Tall stores for years. “But I’m not big and tall,” I’d say. And it’s true: I’m fairly short (though not for NYC, weirdly enough; it’s a city of mostly short people). I’ve always had a big ass. Even at my skinniest, when I was a practicing athlete (high school football, nothing glamorous) I only got down to a 38″ waist, because of that big ass of mine. Now that I’ve got a big belly to match (and big thighs and big arms and so on), I’m way, way beyond that, though not as big as I have been in the past.
This weekend Joe and I went to the Casual Male Big & Tall on 86th Street in Bay Ridge. I bought myself a light canvas-colored jacket for Spring (can’t wait!) and some shirts. It’s nothing for me now to go there. I even like the place. Truthfully, aside from the actual largeness of the clothes, I find that they’re better put together. These clothes hold up! They’re also expensive. I think maybe fat people are rougher on clothes than other people. A fat person just sitting down and maybe rolling a little left and right as the subway jolts probably puts more pressure on the seams of a pair of pants than a skinnier person’s pants would have to put up with, right? So that’s the difference in going to an actual Big & Tall store and just shopping in the Big & Tall section of a regular store: the clothes are industrial strength. Or maybe I’m imagining things. Joe thinks I am.
In the blue-collar culture of north Alabama, where I grew up, a successful man is supposed to be a fattie. I’m only two generations removed from tenant farmers, after all, who worked off every calorie and then some in the fields. I’ve seen pictures: gaunt, blank-eyed men in ragged overalls. To have enough surplus food to get fat on them would have been a privilege. I know that this is no excuse for me to be as fat as I am. It does explain my grandmother, though. For years and years I was annoyed by the way, every time she saw me, she’d laugh and rub my belly and say I was getting fat. From her perspective, that was a compliment.
It’s different, of course, in the gay community. I was sixteen when my best friend Marc (then fourteen) started telling me that I looked fat. I’ve got pictures from then: I wasn’t fat. I was kind of a hot husky football player, actually, now that I look at myself with creepy old middle-aged man eyes. What I wasn’t was model-thin. The “bear” subculture didn’t exist then, so that easy category wasn’t available for Marc to put me into, and he was very interested in putting people into categories, especially gay people. So was I, actually. I knew better than to listen to Marc: he was the kind of boy who curled his eyelashes with his stepmother’s eyelash curler and obsessed over Vogue Magazine. He was a “queen.” I didn’t have any problems with queens, but I knew I would never be one of them, and I was glad of it. I just wasn’t sure what kind of gay boy I was. I wasn’t a bear, either, by the way, and still am not. I was/am just a redneck. In New York, in gay circles, that gets you mistaken for bear. But I guess, in the gay community, it’s better to appear to be part of a category that others can fetishize than not. Maybe? I dunno.
What I do know is that I love my new clothes. I can’t wait to wear them. Joe and I are going to a Broadway dance show next Friday (I forget the title — it’s Twyla Tharp’s dance company’s interpretation of Frank Sinatra songs). Even though it’s probably still too cold for this jacket, I may just wear it anyway. I mean: come on. I may not know what kind of gay I am, but I am gay after all, and a new clothing item just burns a hole in my wardrobe until it has actually been worn.