Charlotte Cooper is a zine maker, a writer, an academic, a trained psychotherapist and the bitch boss of a double hard gang. She has a sharp eye trained on society and plays a part in fat activism, which extends into her PhD studies, and is a keen promoter of transgender and queer culture.
She’s an established writer and commentator on culture, who had a saucy novel banned in Canada for being obscene, gossiped with Beth Ditto and told fat phobic cyclists to get on their bikes, and let her get on hers.
Charlotte and the Chubsters will be invading the BFI in London on 29th March as part of The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, buy tickets here.
What got you started?
Here’s a short list: the differences, and often lack of them, in the way my brothers were treated in my family and the way I was treated, and how this differed from the wider world of girlhood I encountered when I was very young. Meeting some amazingly liberated women when I was at an impressionable age; the scuba-diver, the psychologist, the guitarist, various freaks, I remember those early role models especially. Early explorations into feminism in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, wow, that opened my eyes. Reading radical, transgressive literature and hanging out with a load of queer punks around that time too, which led to an inevitable disillusionment with second-wave feminism or the idea of a sisterhood. A bit later, being excited by new possibilities for gender equality posed by transgender and queer people, who were beginning to get organised and were beginning to articulate their lives and concerns.
What are you fighting for?
Peace, ironically! That couldn’t be more broad so I’ll describe some of the current things that I’m actively involved with.
Fat is my main area of work. I am a fat activist, I write, lecture and organise stuff around this. I’m especially interested in fat activism history and fat culture. I’m doing a PhD around fat and health, looking at new paradigms and questioning fatphobia and obesity epidemic rhetoric.
I’m interested in local issues, mainly the gentrification of my neighbourhood, which is also host to the 2012 Olympics; police harassment of young Black and Asian men, which is a constant feature of life where I live, and also relates to oppressive “anti-terrorist” activities; obviously a lot of class and race and civil rights stuff is tied up in this.
Other bits and pieces involve promoting transgender and queer culture; doing anti-censorship work; fighting for sex worker’s rights; peace activism; disability activism; I’m interested in anti-colonial work, especially in relation to the USA, and initiatives that challenge corporate power, in fact I’m interested in the ways that people resist structural power in general; I love zines and will fight for DIY culture any day of the week, and I love activism that is fun and nuanced.
What is your greatest struggle?
I’m no fan of fundamentalism and unfortunately I find myself banging my head against it all the blimmin’ time.
What has been your greatest achievement?
My body is of a type that is massively stigmatised, maligned, discredited and discriminated against in 21st century Western culture. Through persistent ducking, dodging and diving I have been able to challenge those beliefs, both in myself and in others, and I have come to know myself as part of a movement of people who are united in similar struggles. Where most people see bodies like mine as pitiful, tragic, ugly, disgusting or wrong, I am able to recognise strength, power, history, culture, community and profound value. This all makes me sound like a pompous arse, but you did ask.
What is in your 10 year plan?
Finish my PhD, do some more therapy (I recently graduated as a psychotherapist), write another couple of books, be happy, play, have a good time, make friends, think big thoughts, grow more artichokes.
What is the worst position you’ve been put in?
Oh there have been loads, but they passed.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Well, I’d been thinking about this for a while, but then Kate Bornstein came along and articulated it beautifully: don’t be mean.
In a perfect world . . .
I would be really fed up. Have you ever met a perfectionist? These people are uptight, terrified of making a wrong move, stagnant and static, I don’t want to live in a world like that. Perfection is overrated, a waste of our precious time on earth, it creates a smug and safe vacuum. I like things that have ragged edges and are bodged together, and I seek colour, light, life, complexity. Besides, no one needs my clumsy totalitarian vision of “perfection” stamped all over the place, the world is already more marvellous that any of us can imagine and it can get on by itself.
What can people who are interested in following your career or your favourite campaigns keep an eye on?
Here’s a bunch of links featuring my stuff and some fat stuff that people might find interesting.
Fat Studies UK Yahoo Group
Fat Studies Yahoo Group
Fat Activist Network
Fat Fu Blog
FemmeCast: The Queer Fat Femme Podcast Guide to Life
Unskinny bop – Disco Dancing for Girls, Gays and Misfits