New York artist Jamal T Lewis releases the film ‘No Fats No Femmes’ in 2017 – here they talk to us about desire, body image and misogyny in gay male spaces
“The goal is revolution. The goal is not for a fat, femme or trans feminine person to be fucking desired – because we are desired. What I want is for people to turn inward and interrogate the source of their own desires. I want to deconstruct, decolonise and to dismantle beauty as a system of domination, so that one person is not to be held up as a standard of beauty when there is a multitude of possibilities.”
New York-based queer film maker, Jamal T Lewis, 25, is pulling no punches with their forthcoming film, No Fats No Femmes. Lewis recently crowdfunded the production costs and the film is now set for release in 2017. The title of the film will be familiar to many LGBT people, especially gay men, who have used online dating or hookup apps.
“No fats, no femmes” has become a conventional (if repugnant) way for guys on dating apps to pre-empitvely reject others based on body shape or femininity. Its coding is clear : “Ugh. I’m way too good for you, don’t even try.” For many gay men and trans feminine people who fall within the ‘fat’ or ‘femme’ labels, the phrase has become synonymous with all that’s wrong with the mainstream idea of gay sex and desire – its worship of sculpted masculinity, body fascism and its latent misogyny. Lewis is hoping to shed some light on the underlying reasons behind this.
Tell us exactly why you’re making the film and what it’s actually about?
Jamal T Lewis: It’s a film about desire and body image but also about misogyny in gay male spaces. I think often, in discussions around queerness, there is this piece around gender, size, and disability that is always left out or completely silenced. It’s a film around all of those things – I think it’s been a long time coming. Because LGBT politics was so focussed on gay marriage we focussed on ascending into normality and I think that silenced intra-community conversations. I just knew something about that “no fats, no femmes” rhetoric wasn’t ok. It wasn’t just about preference. This isn’t just about who you want in bed – it points towards larger conversations.
What would you say those conversations are?
Jamal T Lewis: Right, so it’s this investment in heteronormativity that erases the subjectivities of queerness – I think this is so important and there’s so many things I want to get at, like “What’s wrong with being a woman or feminine?” and “what’s wrong with being gay, or queer?” or “what’s wrong with being non-normative?” There is a divine blessing in being able to be non-normative. So much of heteronormativitiy is invested in normalising people and packaging us as a monolith.
The standard defence people use when challenged on this stuff in terms of sex is that sexual preference is just that – a preference, something that shouldn’t be questioned. What do you think about that?
Jamal T Lewis: In interrogating desire, I’m peeling back layers, investigating why people think this way. On one hand, I think it’s largely due to the media we receive – including porn - and how that shapes and determines standards of beauty.
What is fascinating is that a lot of gay male culture is shaped by the apps, even though people refuse to understand the personal as political. What you do in your private time is very much so reflective of how you move through the world in your public life. Not only do people put it in their dating profiles but also I’m sure in their public lives it determines who they hang around, who they invite into spaces, who they hire, who they deem disposable, and who they think is worthy of saving.
You’ve said on your promotional material the film is being told through the perspective of five real life people – can you tell us about them?
Jamal T Lewis: There are so many perspectives that I want to touch. I’m in the process of working on the site and will announce the cast I’m working with in the coming weeks. But just know that they are 5 dope ass people. And they’re all black.
Was your decision to focus on black narratives also a comment on racism on the gay scene? Is this something you’ve experienced?
Jamal T Lewis: I really wrestled with this – the first five people I considered were a really multicultural bunch but after sitting and really thinking about it more I decided I wanted an all black cast. I think it’s a really important piece in talking about desirability – to put a focus on race.
Yes, I experienced racism and still do. It happens on apps, in clubs, gay community spaces and events, too. I’m making a film about it to give a voice to those who have been deliberately silenced in the LGBT community. Though I deliberately disidentify with gayness [Lewis identifies as queer], I love the Black Gay 80s which I think was this really powerful political and cultural movement. Folks like Marlon Riggs, Joseph Beam, Assoto Saint and Essex Hemphill.
Essex wrote this poem called ‘Black Machismo’ and I’m gonna have somebody read that in the film. Its going to touch on how a lot of black gay men are quickly read as these hypersexualised, big cock mandingos by white gazes, which – in the film - will tie into the Michael Johnson case – a black gay male who is currently incarcerated for HIV criminalisation.
“Because LGBT politics was so focussed on gay marriage we focussed on ascending into normality”
The title for the film comes from dating app bios. Do you think these companies have a moral responsibility to consider these issues?
Jamal T Lewis: I think it’s going to take for Jack’d and Grindr etc to name and state how they are implicated - that their business ventures have created and enforce problematic things. Jack’d has been very supportive of the project and they even joined and participated in our No Fats No Femmes twitter chat. They pushed their audience to support the film.
The time is now to hold these businesses that profit off queer desire accountable – a lot of the executive teams are white cis men. The promotional media they use depicts lots of white, cis, able-bodied men. What does that say to consumers about what they should try to reflect as they create profiles? That this must be the standard if you want to be fucked? No, fuck that – I am not seeking to dequeer myself – I am a fag, I am a cissy. I am not seeking white validation or validation from any respectable institution.