From the moment we met last August, I knew Katy Cousino was a kween after my own heart. I had already heard her praises sung on the lips of Paul Cunningham so I was ready. We have spent the year absolutely intoxicated by each other’s company. We serve the community together, we eat together, we get faded together, we rage together, we shower Paul with affection together, we throw shade together, we get real real tearful together. She’s my first fat gurl love, she makes it easier for me to love myself.
I’ve had a lot of “friends” and people I care for who have brought fatphobia and body shaming into our relationships and it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to feel secure in the love you are supposed to be sharing when that is the case. I feel like I’ve met few people as bold and confident as Katy, fat or otherwise. So to celebrate our great love affair I wanted us to spend a day showing off in the kitchen, looking fabulous and talking about important things.
SM: Do you ever feel like people take you for granted or underestimate you?
KC: Sometimes people are shocked by my confidence as in HOW CAN A FAT GIRL POSSIBLY BE SO CONFIDENT? And then they do something even stranger with their fatphobia; they use me as some kind of personal model for confidence, like: “if she can do it, I can, too!” I don’t really allow this to happen anymore, but oh did it ever. I also hate the whole “confidence is beautiful” thing. No, bitch, it is I who is beautiful. Me in my body. Going a bit deeper: certain people in my life have made me feel like my higher emotional intelligence wasn’t as important, or valued, as my intellect, something, in their opinion, which needed “worked on.” This is something I am still trying to undo. That inferiority complex results in my terror of saying something “stupid.” I try to battle this by saying whatever the fuck I want, but it’s trying nonetheless.
SM: How long have you been writing poetry? Who was your first inspiration/who are some of your current influences?
KC: I’ve been writing poetry since I was 11, when my dad died. I think it’s worth mentioning that before his death, I wrote only fiction: silly stories I executed for the enjoyment of my friends. I hadn’t written poetry until he died. Then, poetry happened spontaneously and hasn’t stopped. I’m embarrassed to answer this second part honestly, but you’re my kween, and so I can’t lie! Honestly, Bukowski’s poetry enamored me as a teenager. UGH I KNOW, WHATEVER. Srsly, his poem, “Bluebird” is one that made me feel at home in a cave of sadness and grit. I’ve read it many times.
SM: laughs Oh gurl. Listen even I have loved many a basic white man poet. I wasted a lot of time in high school loving e e cummings. But I also loved Sylvia Plath and people made fun of me for that.
KC: Naturally, I read Ariel a thousand times and even named my dog after the book. (It’s only appropriate, then, that she was eventually killed by coyotes, right?) Audre Lorde’s poetry left my ovaries steaming for years. I think my new favorite book is Aaron Apps’ Intersex: A Memoir. I’m amazed with his vulnerability, how it morphed into a switchblade pressed to my throat. His rage and loss makes me feel so much. Admittedly, the amount of bodily fluid between those pages stole my heart, as well. Sarah Fox. Not only is The First Flag an amazing testament to the female body, wronged and manipulated by man’s medicine industry, but she visited Notre Dame for a reading last fall and is such a kind, funny person. Her soul astounds me. A few more: Lara Glenum, Suzan Lori Parks, Jean Genet, Antonin Artaud, Amiri Baraka, Gilles Deleuze, Marosa di Giorgio, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) FOREVERMORE. In addition, I’m reading The Sugar Book now and laughing with a mouthful of puke.
SM: How long have you been watching/a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race? How you do you feel about drag overall, in terms of the lack of appreciation fat gurls get and also in terms of drag’s relationship to the grotesque?
KC: Oh goodness. Maybe five years? While I do anxiously await those Mondays, there’s a lot of body-shaming amongst the queens and in the judges’s attitudes. I hate how the skinny girls are termed fishy because of their thin bodies. I’m plenty fishy and have lots of flesh, too; why isn’t my woman body woman enough for Rupaul?
SM: I know, I really struggle with the way in which the drag on Drag Race is informed by dominant beauty standards while at the same time being an act which inherently bucks against the norm. And if the best woman wins, then sometimes that is a woman of color but it’s never a fat woman.
KC: Before I watched Rupaul’s Drag Race, though, I had Divine, John Waters’s muse and drag creation. Divine was a fat girl, so I immediately felt connected to her. She needn’t ever be fishy, just herself. That meant a fat man with a receding hairline and high-arching, drawn-to-heaven-eyebrows with a slab of ham between her thighs. She means everything to me; she taught me filth. I see drag operating most within Bakhtin’s carnival: the most abject things are brought to the surface, including tucked, flaccid cocks, shape-shifting humans, the malleability of gender, the collapse of the phallus/hyper-masculinity, etc. My favorite queens are the campy ones, the comedy queens; shared laughter is a big part of Bakhtin’s carnival, as well.
SM: Speaking of Bakhtin, talk to us a bit about THE GIRDLES.
KC: THE GIRDLES is a grotesque retelling of my upbringing as a fat girl by a fat mom. Together, GIRDLEBABY and GIRDLEMOMMA navigate a world of decadent lard. In the project, I aim to glorify the spectacle I have been my entire life: the lazy, unhealthy, gross, amoral, monsTRUOUS FAT GIRL. Thus, the assorted girdle-bods are large, girdled, oozing super-mammals. In glorifying the spectacle, I turn the gaze unto my spectators: fatphobic, unfeeling beings. The Humanoids play this role, speaking in cruel riddles and stalking GIRDLEBABY for scientific research. Modeled after cruel middle school girls, the Humanoids are sisters, each one identical, working toward a despicable outcome that GIRDLEBABY must overcome. But no spoilers! I’ve needed to write THE GIRDLES for a long time, but could never find the right format. Finally, within the verse-play, I’m provided a physical space but am still allowed the contaminant vocabulary I’ve longed to use. Its landscape is something like sci-fi mixed with B-horror gore. Its heart is something like my very own cut open; GIRDLEBABY learns to masturbate, attempts suicide, desires deeply to fillet her thunder thighs into the crossed legs I could never (and still can’t) manage. There’s even a poem about going to Curves with my mom, a truly traumatic series of events. It’s still very much a work in progress; at this point GIRDLEBABY is practicing sexual cannibalism and having a ball. I hope for her a happy ending.
SM: In your essay, “A Grotesque Introduction to THE GIRDLES,” you say: “Only recently have I allowed myself the power of spectacle, of being seen.” This reminds me of when I told Sarah Smith that I was in drag as a visible person during AWP. How is it navigating the tension that comes with different intersections of visibility, as a woman, as fat… as someone who wants to just be seen for who they are?
KC: I mean, we live in a world where our fat, luscious bodies are abhorred. For a while that really used to get me down. And of course it still does in a way. But more recently I feel very powerful inside of this fat body. Oh, to be a source of abjection for thin bodies in perpetual repulsion! Do they not realize the power they’ve given us?! It’s revolutionary to love your fat body, and it pisses a lot of people off. Weirdly enough, the toughest visibility I’ve been dealing with lately is allowing myself to be seen as a poet. Obviously I’ve identified this way for a long time, but actually sharing my poetry is a different story. Being in Notre Dame’s MFA program is such an amazing opportunity for community and learned comfort in my craft. I’m lucky to be a part of such a nurturing program.
SM: We’ve been doing writing workshops with the JJC gurls. Tell me about some of your social justice passions and how you came to be involved in them. What’s your idealistic vision for the world?
KC: The first social justice-y thing I ever did was performing in The Vagina Monologues at my undergraduate college. Followed shortly by performing a slam poem at Slutwalk: Baltimore (2010?). I deeply care for girls and their self esteems. Writing with the JJC girls always means the world to me; I want them to be heard. As a teenager I felt heard by very few adults, but the ones who listened and took interest in me changed my worldview entirely. My ideal world is a new world, devoid of capitalism, racism, sexism, body-shaming, where there is no “normal” body or state of being. A world like that, I think, would offer an individual the chance to be just that: an individual. I don’t have a lot of hope that we’ll get that world out of this one, but all we can do is try.
SM: What is your favorite thing about your body?
KC: That it is so, so soft.
Here is an excerpt from THE GIRDLES, “Light Reading”
GIRDLEBABY is thumbing thru the ancient
cosmos of Vogue. A blonde humanoid once humanish is displayed
in spectacular body part: 4 red lip & 2 white leg.
7 males crouch around her in gangbang formation.
The photo female is prey; a pulpy vacancy
levitates between her parallel white legs.
GIRDLEBABY, to herself: Is this what phallus hunts?
Her oval fingers fumble madly along inside the magazine.
HOT-TIPPED THIGH GAP
34 WAYS TO BURN FLAB
THE BONELESS GAPE
74% ORGANIC FLESH SPACE
GIRDLEBABY looks down at her own 8 legs
erupted along the room.
Her outward corpuscles swallow
every remnant of donut
& tear. She jiggles her thighyams.
GIRDLEBABY: I am haunted.
GIRDLEBABY wobbles to the kitchen. She chooses the fillet,
left on the counter & stabbed thru a swordfish.
The tool is both flexible & precise, she thinks,
wiping its fish-crud between her wristfolds.
GIRDLEBABY, whispering to foreign femurs: I will dig to you.
(Digging sequence :
very gory w/lotso
yellow blood cackling &
bone exposure madness)
Satisfied, she flaps her gutted thighskin over the other,
performing the crossed leg.
GIRDLEBABY, yearnburning: Do you sense my vacancy?
This week’s Lonely Britchlist
- Dead Housekeeping. I was lucky and honored to be invited to contribute to this new project started by fellow shouty britches Lisa and Meredith. For now I’ll be contributing photography to accompany the essays. So far my favorite post is, “Dress Like a Lady.”
- I watched the film Girlhood to celebrate my first Menless Monday (see explanation below). I loved it! It made me tearful. The streak continues. I feel like I’ve never seen so many black girls on screen ever. In my life. They are carefree, they are dangerous, they are vulnerable and it is so so beautiful.
- Late night Skype dates with Jamey (I consider him my first true friend, we’ve been friends since sixth grade. He’s getting ready to start his third year with the JET program) & Eunsong Kim (we talk while I do my hair and then we read each other poems and go on and on about how much we love each other.)
- CA Conrad continues to slay over at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation’s Blog. Especially excited to read the most recent post which features a new untitled poem by my poetrybae, Lucas de Lima.
- Gabourey Sidibe is the face of body positivity for me. Here’s her 2014 speech at the Ms. Foundation Gala.
- Rachel Dolezal. Please, just stop it. Listen… I’m not going to do this. Was this not enough? I feel like I’ve been putting up with blackface all fucking year and I HAVE HAD IT. White people come get your folks. This is your responsibility. Stop whining, stop ignoring and do the work. Shed your fragility, examine your privilege. Because what I won’t do is waste another moment recentering whiteness. I want to know how Dajerria Becton is doing. I want to celebrate Aaron Rushing. I want to dance to playlists for carefree black gurls.
- Video of me and Nikki reading at Sector 2337, dutifully recorded by Steve Halle.
- Menless Mondays. I’m instituting this. I’m tired of (cishet)men, I’m tired of seeing them everywhere, having to hear their (unsolicited) opinions. I’ve had it. Especially with the way that they want a fucking cookie for doing shit any decent person would do while most women can’t even give themselves credit for the multiple incredible things they do and contribute to the people around them. And I don’t believe that I have to say this but I obviously don’t hate men, some of my very best friends are men, but they also aren’t drunk on their male privilege, they don’t interrupt me when I’m talking, and they don’t bore me and anyone within earshot with basic ass unoriginal mediocre male thoughts. What’s so disgusting to me about men has nothing to do with their bodies and everything to do with the stench of unchallenged privilege they wallow in. Don’t fucking “notallmen” me. So every Monday I’m going to ban men, not all men.
- Excited to read this article and this interview over at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I am a huge fan of Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s poetry so I can’t wait to read this interview and be slayed.
Tata my lonely britches, Harrison this is for you.