Welcome to season two of the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The Intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild of Doug Bletcher and Kelly Bron Johnson, created to discuss intersectional issues within the Autistic community and to give visibility to commonly marginalized, repressed, underrepresented, or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about, but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community allows you to feel seen.
Our guest today is Caleb Luna, who is a fat queer of color critical theorist, writer, and performer. Texas born and raised, they have lived as a visitor to Huichin Ohlone land since 2016 as a PhD candidate in performance Studies at UC Berkeley. Their dissertation, which examines the intersections of race, sexuality, and size in contemporary US media and cultural production. As an activist political thinker, they're interested in gauging body difference as a generative resource toward fatter understandings of cultural freedom. Caleb, thanks so much for joining us today.
Thanks so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here.
Wanted to start off and just learn, what would you say are the identities that you're mostly connected with?
Sure. I mostly identify as fat, Brown or Latinx specifically. I'm originally from Texas working class. I grew up working class, although my class position is in flux now as a graduate student, queer, nonbinary disabled, and neurodivergent, I think that covers it all. I've got quite a few identities.
That's what we love to see. And to be honest, I actually think it's probably more common. People don't think about intersectionality very much, but I think that we are the majority people are saying, even changing the terms around saying that we are the global majority people who are black, Brown, Indigenous. Anyway that's a whole other podcast topic for another day. Let's talk a bit about your PhD candidate in performance studies with the focus on historical right? I can't say this historic sizing. Did I get that right? Cultural representation of fat embodiment within the ongoing settler colonization of Turtle Island. So for those who are not familiar with the term, can you tell us what Turtle Island is and its connection to settler colonization?
Turtle island is a name that some Indigenous communities use to refer to the large landmass that otherwise is currently known as North America. I learned recently that it's not used by all Native communities and only some. So it's probably the language I'm going to shift going forward, but that's the language that I have been using to just refer back to the original stewards of the land and to denormalize colonization. So through solar colonization, we get nation States, just Canada, the US, Mexico, and then all of the Central and South American contemporary nation States that displace the traditional boundaries of Native communities and people.
i love using the words that were Indigenous to our land before settlers came. You know, I also love the term uninvited guests. That's pretty much what my father was very welcome. He immigrated to Canada in the 60s, but he was an uninvitedyet. But I think acknowledging that and normalizing. It almost when I introduce my city, I always say I'm living in, which is colonially known as Montreal. And just by saying the word over and over again until it gets into people's minds that, yeah, this is not mine. I'm living here, but it's not mine. And giving the original words back, I think it helps to kind of reclaim the land for who it actually belongs to.
Yeah, absolutely. I remember I visited Montreal a few years ago, actually, my first year in graduate school for a conference, and I was so sort of disoriented by the French everywhere. I had heard about it as French Canada, but I wasn't aware to the extent that it was structurally French. And all the street names are in French and the menus and building names and everything was in French. And I was there with a friend who is also autistic and native. They're black feet. And I was like, God, the French really highlights colonization for me. And they were like, oh, in English doesn't. And I was like, too she just because I did. So, I mean, I grew up speaking English, and so it had been so normalized for me, but seeing the French names on the land just gave me a different relationship to it.
I definitely appreciate using the traditional names when possible when I know it.
Yeah. We have a lot of names actually being renamed, so we had a major street here in Montreal that was renamed in a Mohawk word. And so we're all trying to get used to it because, you know, people, when street names change, you have to adjust. But it's just one of the small things that some communities are doing to start to rename the places where they should be.
Caleb, you talk and write a lot about fat embodiment. Can you talk about that in terms of the history for Indigenous people?
So there's been some work in San Francisco scholarship most recently, I think, probably most famously, Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings. That really traces the relationship between anti fatness and anti blackness historically, not only anti fatness as developed as a technology of anti blackness, but also thinness developed as a technology of whiteness, then this becomes a sort of value of whiteness and white supremacy through juxtaposing it and dichotomizing it against black and Indigenous people globally. When we think about the sort of development of racial hierarchies and racial categories, a lot of that was through categorizing bodies based on size. And we kind of know about this through. I think most people are probably familiar with phrenology, the practice of, like, measuring people skulls to try to figure out, like, their location on the evolutionary scale, but we are less familiar with the practice of measuring people's bodies and their body sizes to do the same thing, right. And that fatness was sort of associated with Black and Indigenous people around the time that these racial categories were developed as to be indicative of their permittivity and their lower places on the racial scales. And now we're, like, 500 years into this project, right?
And that sort of origin story and connection has been really disconnected and fat bias has really circulated into ancient culture and even into communities of color through conversations about, like, health and that kind of stuff. But the origin of it really is about pathologizing and uglfiying the bodies of Black and Indigenous people through saying that not only are they not beautiful, but that their bodies.
Are indicative of a sort of sensual indulgence, that fatness becomes representative of having no self control, having know, being gluttonous or lazy. And that thinness becomes the product of a certain kind of rigidity and control that mainly white men are able to execute, which then becomes indicative of their literal supremacy. Right. That's part of white supremacy is that white people are more rational thinkers that are able to perform a better sense of control over their central appetites and their thin bodies are often evidence of that. And of course, we're speaking in broad terms, and not all white people are thin. Not all thin people are white. Not all people of color are fat. But these are the sort of discursive histories behind these ideas and how we think about bodies, how we think about health and how we think about beauty.
That ties into ableism as well. Racism and ableism are connected. So we have that idea of certain bodies are going to be more productive. Like you said, the lazy is unproductive apparently, just by looking at people, you can tell this and I say that in a sarcastic way, not saying that in a factual way, but that idea of the body has to be productive or that a person has to be productive and they have to be this and that. And that's all part of white supremacy as well.
Yeah, absolutely. And capitalism. Right. That literally you need a body that produces, that produces capital, and it certainly ties into ableism
Yeah. This is a theme I have going on for this whole year, and I keep bringing it up in every conversation I'm having.
We're in this moment where I'm like, I never wear three years into a pandemic. And as a fat person, health is the thing that gets weaponized just right off the bat for everybody that health. It gets talked about as if it's like the supreme cultural revenue. And as a disabled person, I'm like, I push back against that because that's not my value. And some people are born unhealthy and their lives are meaningful and valuable. Right. But I just push back against this idea that we are in any way a culture that values health with the way that the pandemic has been handled right now. I just think that that fallacy has fully eroded and we can all stop talking about health in this way.
Yeah. And I've seen that moralizing this is whole value that's been put on people or like a moral standard or something when it comes to I've already seen the covid shaming. If you get covid, it's because you did something wrong. You're a bad person when it's like, well, no, probably not. You could do everything right and still get infectious disease and diseases are not a punishment for a sin. That doesn't mean you're a bad person.
Or that you somehow are less valuable now or whatever. And that people are also doing with food
With idea that's good foods, there's bad foods to eat this food, then you're a good person. If you eat bad food, you're a bad person.
Oh, my gosh.
So we can talk about more about bodies, too. And I want to talk about your book. So you wrote a book called Revenge Body, which is a debut collection of your poetry about fat, Brown, disabled, queer, survivor body landscapes. So I think this is really fitting. This is really tying in. So what do you hope that people who have those type of bodies, what do you hope that they get out of reading your book
I hope they feel seen.
I think that for me, I was not able to. I've been fat all my life, and I experienced a lot of violence. But it was violence that had been so normalized that it didn't occur to me that I could feel upset about it or that it was even wrong until I heard other people, until I encountered other people discussing, like, normalizing, not the violence, but normalizing, the experience of the violence, the experience of being angry, that we experience that violence. Right. And pushing back against it. And so I just hope people feel seen. I hope they feel less alone. And I think particularly because I am somewhat of a public figure. And as I've done talks and on podcasts and all this stuff, I've had this experience of people kind of like expecting me to have it all figured out or something or to have some sort of answer and to just sort of humanize myself a little bit and understand that we are all experiencing these kinds of violence and to sort of disrupt that the bridge or disrupt the gap that I think is developed whenever people see you as a public figure. Like, if you're a public figure, I think there's like a certain expectation that you have a certain level of answers or having it figured out.
And instead of just accepting that, to say that we're all doing our best and we're all working on it and recovering from these things. So, yeah, I just hope that people feel seen and they feel less alone.
Well, I get that too. I've got a lot of DMs that are and I don't even put myself on the level of public figure. I presume people are starting to know my name, but I'm not really sure. And I have to tell people I'm not a therapist, I'm not a doctor. Please don't dump this stuff on me because I am not equipped. I can give some advice, but I'm not equipped to help people through a lot of the trauma. And it's difficult for me. I get these messages that are super heavy, super deep, and I'm just like, I'm sorry, but I can't.
Yeah, it's hard because people obviously need help and they need resources. And it's wonderful to be that sort of like light and through all the darkness for people, but it's also like we hurt individuals figuring stuff out for ourselves too. We don't have all the answers right now.
Caleb, beyond your book, I've seen a lot of your writings on social media celebrating your body and sexuality. And when you've talked about these various topics, you mentioned how your posts are either reported or deleted on Instagram. Is there anything really that can be done to stop this from happening? Or ways to support you and other people who celebrate their bodies and sexuality when they are fat and queer?
I don't know what can be done other than not reporting those posts and following and liking them and sharing them. It's a real problem with the platforms themselves in terms of what they view as inappropriate and respectable. I see people with thin bodies and especially white people with thin bodies. The thing about my post is not necessarily true, but some of my posts aren't even necessarily like, overly sexual. They'll just be me shirtless or something or in my underwear. Not sexual, just like presenting my body. Right. And I'll see posts from explicitly sexual posts from thinner people that don't get reported. Right. And it's a real yeah, it's very challenging and frustrating because I think as a fat person, I've always been told to be ashamed of my sexuality and not hide it. And part of my social media presence has been about challenging that and reminding people that fat people do have sexualities. In fact, fat people are sexy and desired. Right. And not just in these sort of corners of the internet where we're fetishized or where we're followed as sex workers, but like everyday fat people as well. And so whenever I try to share that on my platform in the same space that I'm sharing my academic work or intellectual work or poetry, it's really disheartening for Instagram to repeat those sorts of violences, of disciplining expressions of sexuality.
While normalizing thin bodies, Instagram especially has no accountability to their users. Like when my account was deleted recently and it was such, it was so hard to even, like, contact anyone to be like, what the hell happened? How do I get my account back? The only way I got it back is because a friend of a friend of a friend worked at Instagram and on their end were they able to get in. So there's just like no accountability. And so I guess just like, if you see that accounts being deleted or post being reported, if you can make your own report on Instagram or these other platforms to just be like, this is unfair. Like, what's happening? What's going on? I think that would be really helpful, but it really is such a problem with just these platforms themselves and the ways that they are viewing what's an acceptable, visible body and what's not.
Yeah. I actually just came out of Facebook jail. I had 30 days in Facebook jail with my account restricted because they flagged a post. I mean, I'm talking about racism. I'm posting like news articles of things that are happening up here in Canada that are happening against Indigenous people. So I'm posting, like, actual stuff. It's not like I'm making it up. And I know when I post those things, I don't get as much. I get almost zero views or then after a while, I don't know who somebody gets tired of seeing it or something. And I get my account restricted. And I keep saying this and I post, I say, hey, my account is restricted, whatever. Like, oh, well, don't you fight it. Or I don't see anything wrong with what you're posting. And I'm like, that's great. But Facebook does and there's nowhere for me to report. So, yeah, just really relating to that, I think. What would help me? I don't know if you agree with this, but what would help me? I want people to share what we're sharing. If you see it, share it.
If there's something that people need to know about that people have not seen enough of. Right. We see skinny bodies all the time. So when you see something different, share it, like reshare it. Go ahead and reshare. I think other people are scared to reshare because they're scared that their account is going to get flagged or something like that. But if enough of us are doing this, eventually Instagram and Facebook and things are going to have to be like, well, crap, what do you do? What do you do when 20 people have shared the same thing? Are you going to ban them all? What do you do at that point? We have to have some sort of mass community effort in the sense of trying to overwhelm them almost with who we are and what we want to share?
It's an idea.
Sorry, Kelly, I just had a question. I was wondering because I've seen your account and you're talking about sexuality and being fat and queer. Are there other people that you follow that are kind of sharing about those same experiences that you think are also other good accounts for people to kind of like to check out?
Yeah, I think if you want specific names, certainly. I think Queer Lord, I don't know if there's a period in between those two words for that account, but I believe in Toronto a fat South Asian sex worker who does amazing photography work, the fat sex therapist, and another person who used to be fat g-a-w-t-h. Her account was actually recently deleted and she had a remake. So I don't know her new account. But Annie Rose, if you search on under Instagram, they're just like the people that come to mind in terms of being fat, like pro sex accounts that do wonderful work and also been targeted by these guidelines.
Yes, I can add another one to that list. I follow Jessamine and the account is my name is Jessamine and she's queer and black and does yoga. And she's just like totally amazing. And I find now she got what do you call it, the little checkmark there. They didn't put the little check mark on her now, but they should. But if she gets occasionally she'll have her pictures flagged and stuff like that. And I'm just looking at her timeline now. She covers the nipples. She's not like naked. I don't know. To me it's like totally normal. There's nothing like obscene. Apparently somebody or sent somebody.
She's like doing yoga in a sports bra as a fat person. It's inappropriate for some reason.
Yeah, apparently. Yeah. She's not really doing anything different from anybody else. Going back. I had mentioned it. We're talking about food and this moralizing of food, good foods and bad foods and this kind of stuff. I could go on to a whole other tangent about diets and maybe, I don't know, I'll let you lead. So what would you like to say? What would you like to say to people who are putting foods in these categories? What do you think when you hear these things?
Yeah, I think just like I was talking about at the beginning in terms of how we moralize sort of body size with these racial undertones. I think that they're very much connected. Moralizing food is very much connected to these projects of race and racism and thinking when we think about what our good foods and what are bad foods, oftentimes the quote unquote bad foods are historical foods from communities of color. Right. So it's another way of replicating racial hierarchy, racial prejudice. It's also just like, not true. When I think about there's definitely, like, foods that negatively impact your body in ways that you don't want them to. Right. Like, I'm lactose intolerant, so I try to limit my dairy intake. That's not true for everybody. Not everybody is lactose intolerant. And I know people that are gluten sensitive and can't take gluten because it negatively impacts their body. But that's not the case myself.
So I think the only I wouldn't even call them badk foods. I would just say foods that negatively impact your body. And sometimes and then sometimes people are like, yeah, I want this piece pizza. Pizza because I want it. And I'm going to deal with the consequences of that later. And those are like, I think perfectly acceptable choices. But when we moralize food, we're moralizing body size and that there is always a racial tone that underlies it. And I think something that was interesting for me is I got my autism diagnosis last year. I'm late diagnosed. But something that came up during my conversation was my food habits. And I love burgers. I eat burgers so much. And my practitioner was like, yeah, there's like new research coming out that autistic people tend to love dairy and gluten. That's what a burger is. And I was like, oh, my God, I had no idea. Right. That those things are connected. So I think that when we think about what's a good food and what's a bad food, and we often know with Autism that changing my eating habits is not simple. It's like there's foods I'll eat and there's food that I won't.
Right. And what's a good food is, a food that I will eat is a food where I won't go to bed hungry. And what the bad food is the food that I won't eat and that will just waste it because it'll sit my fridge. Right. And so when we talk about eating habits, there's just so many factors that go into it and that these are not universal ideals. And they're also not as easily shifted as I think people want to believe.
I think too, that part of the connected with that my experience, too, because I'm gluten intolerant. I'm also lactose intolerant. And so when I tell people what I cannot eat, sometimes I get the impression that they get the idea that I feel like I'm better than them because if it's an issue of self control or that I'm denying myself pleasure and I'm like, look, if I eat gluten, I'm going to have a massive stomache. It's just not fun. It's not cool. But you know what? If I'm not eating the bread on the table, that's more for you. Please enjoy it. I'm not saying that you're bad. If you eat bread and I don't just please eat it, I'll watch you eat it. I don't mind you tell me how good it tastes. Like there's nothing I can do about it. If it's a risk I want to take, if I feel like getting a stomachache tomorrow, then maybe I'll do it. But it's not a judgment on other people. It's just what I can handle. And that's it.
Yeah. And I think that's like a sort of byproduct of a larger culture, because I think people do oftentimes use their diet and restriction as a way of building themselves up for being better. And it's really hard to not experience that way. Actually, my roommate right now is vegan and sober. We just have very different lifestyles. And I've lived at people who were vegan and who were gluten free, who communicated those needs in a way that was really condescending like selfaggrandizing almost my roommate now. I just really value the way that she can communicate her dietary needs without I don't experience her as doing what you're saying.
I think it's really hard. Yeah. She's such a loaded thing because food is in a past life. I was going to write my dissertation on eating because it's such a fraud subject for me as a fat person. And it sort of fascinates me how it's something that, like, everybody eats and it impacts us. All right. But as a fat person, it feels so much more fraught. And I think this is one example of that is that all of our bodies have different needs. And that should also let us know that these prescriptive diets aren't going to work for everybody because we all have different needs and we all have different tastes.
Caleb, I'm interested what's kind of been your journey with that thought process? Because for me, what I've learned as I've gotten older is when I'm overwhelmed, I'm gluten sensitive, I'm dairy sensitive. So I, for the most part, will eat that type of diet. But there's many times when I am craving a burger and craving pizza that has gluten and dairy because quite frankly, pizza with gluten dairy just tastes much better than what without. And I've particularly noticed, like, when I'm overwhelmed, that those types of foods kind of are able to kind of balance me out in ways that some other things may not be able to. So I'm just interested in your thought process of kind of where you're at in terms of being like, okay, this is okay if I have this and I'm good with it.
Yeah. It took me a long time to really interrogate that because I think because of a culture of fat phobia, I was so afraid to really think about the foods that I was eating and how it was impacting me, because I have histories of being deeply pathologized and medicalized by doctors and just being told that all this bad stuff is happening to me because I'm fat and I need to change my diet in order to not be fat. And so that these bad things will happen to me. So it just made, like, interrogating the food that I eat really fraught. And now I'm at a place where I'm like, actually, I love ice cream, but eating ice cream isn't going to make me feel good. And I want to feel good, but I'm not going to eat ice cream. And so I think about it more in terms of that sense. Sometimes it's like a gamble and sometimes it's a risk. And I also think what you're pointing to is that food has, like, many places in our society and our culture. Right. And it's not just like substance, and sometimes it is comfort and it is pleasure and it is a reward.
Right. And it's perfectly acceptable to use it that way. That's not a moral feeling in that narrative around premium through it that way comes from these, like, white supremacist Protestant histories of the founding of the US and colonization.
So I love co hosting this podcast, and I especially love it because I have such a great co host. But I also love it because we get to talk with great people like you and kind of learn your stories and all that. But it's even more fun for me because something that you have in common with me and Kelly, is that you co host your own podcast. The Unsolicited Fades, Talk Back podcast. How can people listen to your podcast and what can they expect when they tune in?
Yeah, so I have four cohosts unsolicited. It's me, Mikey, Mercedes, Deshawn, Harrison, Jordan underhaul, and Brian Duffy. We're all fat, queer people. Most of us are trans and nonbinary. Most of us are disabled. Most of us are people of color. We respond to mainly advice columns dealing with size and weight, but really any sort of cultural moment or issue that we see where that people are being talked about and are not being listened to. Right. So that's been really fun. We're about halfway through our first season and you can listen wherever you get your podcast Apple Spotify. I believe those are the ones that I know for sure. I'm not going to say more because I don't want to be wrong. I'm not in charge of uploading it, but I believe that we are everywhere that you get your podcast.
I don't know either because I actually don't listen to the podcasts. Yeah, that's the difference. And Doug actually handles all i'm hard of hearing. If a podcast doesn't have a transcript, I don't try to access it. Yeah, but yeah, it's funny that I host a podcast, but I don't actually if it wasn't for doug, I don't know, I'd be podcasting. Okay. But moving along when it comes to, you know, we've been so blessed in being able to find so many amazing people and there's so many more out there who are the kind of people the kind of stories that you want to hear more of. Do you have suggestions of who we should be talking to?
Do you mean specific people or it could be like a type person or if you have specific people for sure.
I don't know if I can think of any specific people off top of my head, but yeah, I just think more queer, trans, nonbinary people of color, fat people, and then also people with more visible disabilities and diversity in that way. I think those are the gaps that I've experienced and I've sought out. I got my autism ADHD diagnosis last year and then began to seeking out resources and including podcasts on neurodivergence and I think those are a lot of the voices that I was missing.
Thank you so much.
Absolutely. We're going to continue to try to share those stories with everyone. Thanks a lot, Caleb. We really enjoyed the conversation.
Yes. Thank you for having me. I was so honoured, really excited to be, thank you.