"You're too cool to be a sad, fat girl" was said to me not once but twice, by two different casting directors.
I make a half-hearted joke about how there are some cool fatties out there. They say, "You're very interesting. Thanks for coming in."
I'm used to this. This is my grind as an actor.
"You're an actor?" the likely model says at the bar. She looks at my fat, soft butch body up and down, eyes lingering at my stomach for a moment too long, curious as to how that could be possible. The body and the profession. I am also used to this.
The life of an actor is difficult; you're constantly waiting, and your life feels so possible and so impossible day to day, but more than that, if you fall outside being white, thin, cisgender, and straight, you're constantly met with how the world sees you.
Me, I'm a sad, fat girl. This is my typecasting. I'm never cool. I never know how to dress. Nobody likes me, unless the main character runs under the bleachers and needs someone to unload on. I'm never in love. If so, it's unrequited and definitely out of my league, whatever that means. I never have a family. I'm never queer. If I have a friend, they don't talk. I'm not the main character. If I am the best friend, I teach them how to love themselves, because a cool-ish fattie has one purpose, and that's to teach the world you can love yourself despite being a fat woman.
That last part, that's what I take issue with. In a world where our humanity is constantly under threat, particularly for folks who exist outside of being white, thin, cisgender and straight, we run to art to find our safe place, to find our place of resistance; we too run to our televisions for escapism. But when the narratives that exist consistently exclude you, where is your place to run to? When you're constantly seen as a learning tool for someone else's advance and understanding, are you really even human? Or just a prop? When our stories exclusively focus on our violent histories, will we ever be able to be seen as just a person who lives a life?
There are stories we are allowed to have, and stories we aren't allowed to have because we've been consistently relegated to the sidelines over and over again. We are a punch line, we are a trope, or we are an element of someone's basic social justice learning. Yes, our histories are important and should be told; yes, we should confront the microaggressions we encounter for being queer, for being fat, for being differently abled, for being trans, for being a person of color. But that is not our starting and end point. We need to be given expanse; we need to be given a real life.
In accepting her Screen Actors Guild Award for Fences, Viola Davis talked about the beauty of August Wilson's writing: "What August did so beautifully is he honored the average man, who happened to be a man of color, and sometimes we don't have to shape the world and move the world and create anything that is going to be in the history books. The fact that we breathe and live a life, and was a god to our children, just that, means we have a story and it deserves to be told. We deserve to be in the canon of any, in the center of any narrative that's written out there."
This is the beauty of storytelling and acting the fact that we get to cultivate empathy and emotion and indulge in the emotional spectrum without shame.
When you see your story told, you feel valued. This is why art is resistance -- we can write visions of a world that looks like us, where our lives are vibrant, full of emotion, diverse, and real. You can see you in whatever way you exist, like me in my fat, queer, chronically ill body. This is us fighting back.
So let me tell you now, if you're writing scripts, if you're casting films, if you're directing, if you're a studio executive, and you aren't thinking bigger, you're part of the problem. You are a bystander. You are complicit in our dehumanization. You are who we are fighting.
So it's time.
Engage with fat liberation. Fuck with more radical body diversity -- cast fat actors and differently abled actors, those who buck the binary, who live queer lives, who aren't always the best friend or sidekick, whose ability to desire and be desired are real, whose storylines aren't about their fucking self-esteem issues, and if they are, treat them with care and bring forth a character who learns of radical resistance.
You too can be part of the revolution. Let's all do our part. I trust in myself and you to create bigger and better stories, ones told deftly and with such emotional precision that nobody can deny our value and our humanity. Let us bring about complex understanding and empathy. Let us rage. Let us learn together. Let us laugh together, get drunk together, dance until 4 a.m., talk about our crushes, cry together, fuck up together, figure it out together.
Let us tell stories.
PROVVIDENZA CATALANO is a multidisciplinary artist and organizer living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram at @provvidenzac and Twitter @ItsProvvidenza.
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