This is the first essay in Anatomy Of A Mango, a series where Dani peels back the sweet, tart layers that have led to her “fruitful”, healthy sexuality.
In the summer of 2016, I was a young, fat, Black dyke on the hunt for community. I spent most of my time with the kids at the non-profit I was working at, and during my off time, I had been living with a slew of strange roommates that I didn’t get along with. When I finally found roommates I liked, who were brave enough to explore our community, they came back to me to rave about a community living house they had found with cool, queer, leaders.
I was the kind of roommate who kept to myself and my little room. After work, I didn’t really hang out much except to maybe head to a bar or share a bottle of wine every now and again. My new roommate, however, was in the service industry and so knew where every party was. He always brought home expensive wines and beautiful people. His girlfriend at the time was a friend from college so we would all hang out, talk shit, and get high. This particular community they had discovered, centered around food as a mode of connection. Members of the household would take turns making meals for themselves and members of the larger community of surrounding neighborhoods.
I notoriously don’t like to eat around others, and was originally skeptical of trusting (mostly white) strangers with preparing food for me to eat. Hearing that the community was headed by lesbians that used to be a couple was enough to get me off the couch and into their door. I sauntered into that house weeks later in a thrifted crop top, flowy shorts, and a necklace that read “Dyke” in bold blue lettering. It didn’t take me long to make that place a home or to start sleeping with the head of the community.
She was the type of woman that domineered conversations, often the center of attention, and happy to occupy that space. When we were just getting to know each other, I innocently texted her that I had gone to the grocery store and found some really good mangoes that I was enjoying eating. She replied:
“Don’t mangoes increase the length and intensity of your orgasms?”
On our first official date, we ate mangoes and drank wine on my couch and had hot, incredibly sweaty sex in my converted closet bedroom. We didn’t make each other orgasm the first time, but it was still one of the best sexual experiences I’ve ever had. When I eat mangoes, I still think about her. I can vividly remember that encounter: the touch and taste of another woman coupled with the tartness of mango still on my tongue. I can’t help but associate mango with sex in some greater way now. The dewy, tender texture of the fruit, the deep red or green skin, the way it gives to the fingers. I once had a friend text me and ask which fruit is more sexual: mango or grapefruit, and its mango, its mango.
I can vividly remember that encounter: the touch and taste of another woman coupled with the tartness of mango still on my tongue. I can’t help but associate mango with sex in some greater way now.
As a fat woman, summers are always hard for me. The heat makes me want to strip, but the size and shape of my body make me want to hide it. After college, I put on weight suddenly, due to battling an eating disorder for most of my teens and early twenties. Growing up as a fat kid, I had begun to tie my sexual attractiveness to my thinness. So, putting on that weight made me feel so incredibly vulnerable, so stripped and bare that I couldn’t be missed. My skin felt taut and a blazing red. Sudden weight gain, especially when coupled with an eating disorder, can be one of the most disorienting experiences for anyone to go through. It felt like my clothes had stopped fitting overnight, and that all eyes were on me when I entered a room. One of the biggest challenges I face to this day is that I cannot bear to be seen. It’s a constant fluctuation between attraction to myself and finding who I am utterly repulsive — with the latter coming on like strong, persistent blockades.
Overwhelmingly, the messaging we place on fat bodies is one that is diminishing. We are told that we are unattractive; when we eat what we want, we are scolded. When we eat within different dietary restrictions, we are laughed at out of a presumption of futility. The same goes for whether or not we are actively exercising or not. The general attitude towards fat people is that whatever you are doing it is never enough, because why would you be fat if what you are doing was working? Fat women are stripped of our sexuality through being made into mother figures, that maternal situating often paired with becoming an emotional dumping ground and a stripping of personhood. If we are not desexualized then we are fetishized by chasers who want to fuck is in private, but not claim us in public. Despite notions that we are more progressives and tolerant than our straight counterparts, these dynamics can show up in gay relationships too.
My first sexual experience with a woman was with another fat woman. She was my good friend’s sister, who had come to visit him while we were still in college. I remember her face was bright and heavy-eyed, she had lighter freckled skin with tightly coiled sandy brown hair. We stood on the steps of my college’s ABC house (Association for the Advancement of Black Culture) when I coyly asked if she was into women.
“I like girls, I like guys, I’m kind of into everyone.”
Later that night we partied hard as we usually did in those days. We ended up crashing in the basement of the house with her friend. Somewhere in the night, we laid down next to each other, each of us so aware of the other’s body. My head still lightly spinning from the alcohol and the drugs, I stared out the window as her fingers slowly started to trace my back down to my thighs.
“This is it,” I thought “I’m gonna have sex with this woman.”
I tentatively rolled over to face her. We kissed; it felt warm and natural, a kiss far above the many I had shared before. We stumbled to our feet still gripping each other and she led me by my wrists to the other room where there stood only a table and a deep-seated, rounded chair. I thought I would take control in the moment — my desire for her, and for the experience felt all-encompassing — but she pushed me into the chair without hesitation. Our clothes came off in a blur; when her mouth found my breasts I screamed and she quickly covered my mouth. Our bodies, so similar in shape and color, collided together and fit perfectly. It was like we already knew each other so intimately.
She touched and kissed my stomach and I felt butterflies instead of the intense impulse to recoil. I held her hips and pulled her deeper into me. When her head finally descended between my legs, I held it there as if my life depended on it. It was the first sexual experience I had where I felt okay in my body. Up until then, for whatever reason, I had only had encounters with conventionally thin people. This was not out of my lack of attraction to different bodies, but they seemed to be the only ones interested in me. Having put on weight, I thought no one would find me attractive again, and being proven wrong was blissful.
There is a different level of intimacy and affirmation that I have found when having sex with other fat people. Thin people approach the fat body like a series of insecurities. They see the swell of a stomach or rolls of fat on the back and assume that you hate those parts of your body, and so they touch those parts of your body with that malice or avoid them altogether out of fear and repulsion. It comes off as shame at being attracted to you and your body.
In the latter days of our relationship, the sex with the community leader became marred by this shame. She started making unwarranted comments about the way I ate and how much food I consumed. Suddenly, it was “too hard” to make me orgasm so she stopped trying. I would lie in the dark and touch myself next to her while she dozed off to sleep or lazily played with my chest if I asked her to. She was conventionally attractive in every way: white, blue-eyed, fit. She would often suggest we go on a relaxing bike ride, then spend the grueling twenty-mile ride out in front of me, not caring how far I fell behind. Our relationship had become toxic, she could only see the differences in our bodies instead of the powerful intimacy we had once shared. The dynamics in our emotional relationship filtered into our physical relationship which is when I knew it was over.
Many thin people can’t do so because that would mean letting go of the myth that they are more desirable, more deserving of love, and superior to their fat friends and lovers.
The fact that our sexual relationship was once fruitful is proof that fat and thin people can have good sex, but there has to be a fight to address internalized fatphobia. Many thin people can’t do so because that would mean letting go of the myth that they are more desirable, more deserving of love, and superior to their fat friends and lovers. Holding on to that superiority, in a way, makes sense. When you’re gay, you often feel disempowered in the world. If you’re fit and gay, you hold on to the thing that gives you access to power the most — just as white gays covet their whiteness. One of the issues with holding on to that sense of superiority in sexual relationships is that it makes you bad at sex.
I’ve had bad sexual experiences not solely based on my thin partner’s incompetence and narcissism. It also, in part, had to do with my own insecurities about my body. I was never more aware of the scope of my body than when I was with smaller people. Thoughts would race through my head: are they going to make a comment about my body, am I sweating too much, if I get on top will I hurt them? The messaging about fat bodies had gotten to me.
The intersections of my life as a fat, black, woman came to a head during experiences with sex and dating. With smaller people, I often relegated myself to the realm of a goofy Black friend and not someone that they could actually see themselves with in public. Having been a person that was once skinny, I thought I would be more attracted to me and so other people would fall in line. That wasn’t the case. Even as I went from a size 16 down to a 2, I couldn’t grasp on to the confidence I thought I had worked hard for.
When I made the slow trickle back up to a size 14, I would wear the same black hoodie and sweatpants in public even on hot summer days. I ate in secret and often in excess, I addressed my every move with derision. Being fat, I had to learn how to shrink myself, to become invisible in public spaces. That meant wearing nondescript clothing, curling into a ball on the bus so other people weren’t afraid to sit next to me, being painfully mindful of how I looked while eating in public spaces (and also more often than not, eating in private.) In sexual and romantic relationships, it meant completely ignoring thin and muscular suitors out of an assumption that they would never be into me. On dates, I would wear my best clothes but make sure my arms and legs were covered.
I’m not entirely clear on how I made the switch from black sweatpants to the bold woman that showed up to a stranger’s house in booty shorts. I think, in part, I was just hot. Sweating away the hours was miserable. I do know that one thing that helped change things for me was consuming media that had bodies that looked like mine. The body positivity movement really started gaining steam as I exited college.
Following Instagram and Tumblr accounts of fat women of color not only helped me to see my body type reflected in ways that were powerful and sexy, but it also began to chip away at the fatphobic idea that fat = not healthy (later on I would adopt the idea that whether or not fat people are healthy is of no consequence, that even if we only eat “bad” foods we are still deserving of respect and to be left the fuck alone.) Their bodies were struck into yoga poses or spread in glorious, sexy positions. It was like the world had begun to shift, or at least, the world I was creating for myself.
Not long ago, I had a hookup with another fat person. We met on Tinder, where the first line in my bio used to be “don’t talk to me if you hate fat people.” They responded, “who hates fat people, I will fight them!” which made me laugh because they had huge cheeks that gave their face that cherubic innocence. I had just ended a relationship and had my heart wrecked by a rebound. One night, they invited me over to eat Oreos and watch movies with them and their roommates, we were basically neighbors at the point so I walked over in dowdy dress, not sure what to expect.
The evening went on and eventually, their housemates trickled out of the room and to their own beds. I stayed, with my legs crossed, and decided to make my move. I plainly asked, “did you invite me over here to make out or not?” They seemed flustered by my boldness but quickly replied yes, and so they pulled me into them. In what was one of the most dyke-y sexual experiences I’ve ever had, we had sex on their bed with a dog and cat watching from their separate posts in the room. I straddled them, letting the plush curl of their lips find my neck, my nipples, the folds of my stomach. We had a brief struggle for the top, my desire to be explored and pleasured overcame me and I allowed myself to be put on my back.
I once wrote that the point of touch is to be made, to have your body outlined by your partner. When another fat person touches me, it is to be made whole.
On top of me now, they kissed me, and they were fucking good at it. Their tongue traced my lips and met my own. They hurriedly took their own clothes off and I could make out the glory of their body in the dark. All of it moving toward me in a way that made my stomach jump with anticipation. Our stomachs rubbed together as their fingers found the space between my legs, tickling and teasing until I begged for more. When they began to use their tongue it felt as though I couldn’t catch my breath. As if the bed itself were unstable and falling. It wasn’t long before I had an orgasm, screaming into a pillow so as to not wake their roommates.
These experiences with fat people are always grounded in a space of affirmation, whether moved by tenderness or roughness. I once wrote that the point of touch is to be made, to have your body outlined by your partner. When another fat person touches me, it is to be made whole. They do not try and leave out the rolls, the stretch marks, the softness, and dimples. There was no shying away from the form that night. There is nothing sexier than that: being fucked and fucking someone who is secure in both of your bodies.
Being that we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, I haven’t had any particularly grand hookups lately. The last one I had was probably in March before things really gained steam. I’ve gained weight recently, and I am again in a space where I am battling the impulse to demean myself — those old ideals do not disappear overnight. What I can do now is lean on my fat friends, look at our lives, and the communities we’ve built and feel joy. Here’s the thing: even in my worst moments, I know I’m hot. I know there are people who would fuck me at any weight just to say they got the chance to. It probably sounds arrogant as hell but I’m entitled to that arrogance. When you’ve been put down for most of your life you get to be a little cocky every now and again.
When I’m feeling a way about my body I take a long shower, put on some oil or body butter, and spend a good chunk of time in the mirror looking at the things I do love, and giving love to the things I struggle with. I put on my favorite lingerie and take nudes that I send to crushes, former and possible future lovers. These singular moments with my body are a way to view myself as sexy, not attached to anyone else, not basing my attractiveness on other people. That way, when I do come together with another body, it is with self-assured confidence that isn’t reliant on the assumed opinions of others. But it is in those moments, with others, where my body can become lively again. Where I can feel and be felt, realized and reddened with heat and sweat and slaps. Sex with other fat people is where I can begin to heal and decolonize my desire — to become more of myself, rolls and all.
When I touch the skin of a mango I think about the flesh inside of it, how my fingers press into it softly when it is perfectly ripe. I think about how easy it becomes to push back that skin to reveal the glorious fruit beneath, its fullness and tartness. Its smoothness gives way to the anticipation of being fed. The bright colors, how the red blends to marigold and surrenders into green. Just the gradient of color makes you hungry and expectant of something sweet. I’ve taken to thinking it’s synonymous with pleasure and weight. Its heftiness is so pronounced as it swells in my hand. Oftentimes, the heavier the mango, the sweeter it is, coupled with the sharp scent it emits from the stem. I try to take this attitude and turn it toward my own body and the body of my lovers, to treat us like fruit that is wanting to be tasted.