Fear, Fat, and Fabulousness:

The Pleasures and Anxieties of CripGay Eating

 

"I've got a body that should be donated to science fiction!"
Rodney Dangerfield, in Back to School

 

One: Enjoyment

"It's a pleasure to watch you eat!" These were my grandfather's words every time he would see me demonstrate my interest in food. Gobbling my way through baskets of bread and multiple courses proved that my stomach was one of the better-functioning parts of my body; consistently ordering off the adult menu marked me a sophisticated diner, truly my grandfather's descendant.

Years before, he had started a restaurant equipment company. As a result, we spent many evenings in restaurants, often enough to consider upholstered booths a key part of our habitat. As my grandfather and uncle ate, I noticed them taking mental notes and making overt inquiries of the staff, not just about the food, but about the kitchen equipment, the counters and the chairs. I began to take in such details too, but I was more focused on trying new food, especially desserts. Everyone teased me that I checked the last menu section first, and that the real reason I used crutches was not cerebral palsy but the need to support the hollow prosthetic limb connected directly to my digestive system.

Food was clearly a key part of the public world for my mom's family; for my dad's side, eating was more private and domestic. Grandpa Kodmur was a milkman, and some evenings he would come home bearing an extra brick of ice cream. This was the signal for my dad and my uncle to get out their spoons, as each of them would start at one end of the brick and try to beat the other to the middle. As you might imagine, no one in the family was exactly skinny.

Ice cream bricks cannot be made to carry the entire burden however, regardless of what toppings might have been used as mortar. In later years, Grandma Kodmur used to boast that there was no food too good for her poodle Susie, saying proudly that she treated and fed the dog exactly like a member of the family. Well, Susie ended up overweight, with high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, marks of her Kodmur inheritance. I didn't pay any attention. I was too busy enjoying cookies, borsht, and stuffed cabbage to worry about the future health of any Kodmurs, whether they walked on two legs or four.

Two: Peril

In 1978, just before my Bar Mitzvah, my father had his first heart attack. He had been chubby his whole life, but he had also been active, so it was a shock for me to see him struck with a coronary. As I prepared for my religious and communal rite of passage, my father was adjusting to the impact of the ritual he had just endured. Life as a heart patient meant privation, especially for a man who so loved his food and still remembered the ice cream races of his childhood. It meant a strict reducing diet of 1000 to 1200 calories per day.

Such a regime would be difficult enough, but it would have been impossible to follow in the midst of a family's eating normally, so just as people nowadays might shave their heads in solidarity with friends and relatives on chemotherapy, our family decided to Eat Like Dad. No salt, cholesterol, or other fat. Portion control. More limited food choices. Lamb chops, formerly a staple, were out. Prime rib, a mainstay of my slim, healthy restaurant-residing relatives, was history. Liver and onions may as well have been drenched in cyanide gravy.

I don't know whether our change of diet made my dad feel supported or guilty, but I do know we all started to worry a lot more, about him and about ourselves. We became Food Cops, monitoring all family eating harshly, fearfully, obsessively. Since my sister and I helped with the shopping, we became savvy detail-drenched label readers, taking our unconscious cues from our dad's doctors and our mom the former nurse. If both sides of the family, regardless of weight or shape, had tried teaching us that Food was Fun, the message we all internalized post-parental coronary was that Food Kills.

At around this same time, I was already in my third year of walking with crutches. Trying to be helpful, one of my PT's mentioned that with all my walking and my evident love for food and sweets, keeping my weight down would be a good idea. What he meant was: "Listen, you're short and you love to eat. You need to be careful that you're not hauling around thirty or forty extra pounds on those crutches someday!" His hint was more tactful and gentle and therefore many times more insidious. Ripples in a pond would have been one thing, but this statement added me to the Food Cop watch list, and planted, perhaps permanently, an anxious weight monitor inside my head. It was a classic case of context-ignorant medical advice, and despite my documented love and respect for PT's, I wish I'd muzzled the guy mid-sentence. Even now, when the "food thing" acts like the 800-pound gorilla inside my psyche, I feel like the exhausted and put-upon Irving Berlin infantryman who dreamed idly yet sincerely of murdering the reveille bugler.

Three: Accommodation

Years of depression and other health problems have reminded me how powerful and unspoken my ideas and assumptions about food have been. When I am feeling pretty balanced, I allow myself to take joy in food and in sharing it with others; however, even on a good day, I find myself worrying: Will eating this meal make me fat? Am I in danger of switching sides of the family, morphing permanently from skinny to chubby?

Depression mobilizes my inner Food Cop, and is nurtured by it in return. When I am alone, I guard myself zealously, lest I inhale everything in the refrigerator, like the Tasmanian Devil or some enormous half-starved Muppet. I tell myself I am eating carefully and sensibly, especially given my lack of exercise and my latent stubborn desire to look fetching and desirable. That's not true. What I am doing is committing my usual suicide in slow motion, through stealthy withdrawal, quiet erosion, and inexorable decline.

I know this is not my irreversible lot in life, because I behave and eat differently when I share space with others. I eat normally, even extravagantly, as if my grandfather is still at the table kvelling and egging me on. All Food Cops go off duty, maybe to scarf multiple donuts with other, less specialized law enforcement professionals.

I don't think I will ever be able to stop treating food labels like treasure maps or hieroglyphics, nor to keep the pride and satisfaction out of my voice when I discover my favorite frozen lunch entree has only three grams of fat. Such reactions are overkill, perhaps even oddly insulting to those around me for whom weight loss is both a cherished goal and an onerous burden.

The point is for me to get and remain healthy, by developing a more relaxed and comfortable relationship with what I ingest. Living in the Berkeley area has shown me, often through negative example, that food should not become a drug, a fetish, or a permanent orgasm trigger, but that doesn't mean I need to treat it like a fearsome weapon or a perennial threat to my health and survival.

That's what I can try to do for myself, but what of my community? What if every gay establishment currently offering booze-saturated activities like beer busts or drinking contests started sponsoring food-related events as well? Bear Dim Sum Buffets, Leather Daddy Ice Cream Socials, and S & M Picnics sure sound like more fun for the teetotallers among us; such eating events would also serve as clear evidence that we as a community are not afraid of food—six-packs, plastic images and gym bodies be damned.

Let's eat! I wonder how we should start, with what, and with whom ...

©2005 Danny Kodmur

 

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Danny Kodmur lives, writes, and tries to figure his life out in the Bay Area. His work is featured in "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories" (Haworth Press), a 2004 Lambda Literary Award winner. Writing this has left him happy and hungry; meal invitations can be sent to dkodmur@comcast.net

 

More by Danny Kodmur

A Soul Clothed in Shining Armor~5/00
How Much Does it Matter? Wrestling with the Metaphysics of Disability ~11/00
On Being (Un)Representative ~1/02
Testing My Faith in Romance ~3/02
No Need to Kick My Tires ~5/02
Balcony Scenes with a Twist ~7/02
Productive Confusion ~7/02
The Music and the Mirror ~9/02
The Music and the Mirror:II ~11/02
Life Under the Spotlight: Disability and Depression ~1/03
On Getting Stuck ~3/03
Of Cities and Closets ~5/03
So How Old Are You, Anyway? ~7/03
Socializing and Sobriety ~9/03
Walking in L.A. ~11/03
Wedding Bell Blues ~3/04
Fortress of Solitude ~7/04
Sound Bodies ~9/04

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/May 2005