Toxicity and Fatphobia in the Expat Community

It was supposed to be a fun, enjoyable day out at the park with my husband and a few friends, but ended up being a huge eye-opener for me, and a smack-in-the-face reminder that who you surround yourself with can make or break your mental health and self-esteem.

So something important to know about me: I have always been a strong advocate and believer in leading with an open heart. Kindness and caring about others have consistently been tenets of my existence, probably because I grew up in such a cruel and violent home, with a drunk and callous man for a father; a man who had no qualms about demeaning me or my mother. Thus, being kind to others, and caring about people, have always been very important to me; I would never want to hurt anyone else the way I was hurt as a child.

I’ve never had trouble making friends until I came to Taichung. While I made friends over time, there was always this “crew” of expats in our community who appeared to run the nightlife and social scene, and who were generally unwelcoming and unfriendly. A group of people who seemed to be deeply entrenched in the nightlife scene– always the ones organizing parties and in bands– but who didn’t seem to take kindly to newbies like me.

I know what you’re thinking– maybe it wasn’t personal, right? Maybe I was just imagining their standoffishness; after all, I have been told I am highly sensitive. The thing is, I never thought it was about me. I imagined a thousand other reasons this “crew” (let’s call them the “Chungle Crew”) refused to speak to me (or, let’s be honest, even make eye contact with me if we were in the same room at the same event). I thought, It’s probably because I am not a heavy drinker like they are, and they think I’m a prude. Or maybe it’s because they’ve all lived here so long and don’t really let people in their circle until they’ve been around awhile. At first, I didn’t take it personal, because I’m a coolass person (duh).

Except that wasn’t it. My former roommate, a gal who no longer lives here, infiltrated their circle within a matter of months. Things didn’t even change once I became an active musician in the Taichung scene, joining a popular band in town and eventually starting my own band. I was still treated like I was invisible; not even a head nod, or smile in my direction. Where I’m from, if someone walks into a room, you greet them– you make an effort to include them and hope they don’t feel completely outcast and like shit. That was never my experience anytime I was around members of the Chungle Crew.

There are numerous stories to choose from where I was treated like a broken lamp in the corner of a house party, but one that sticks out happened about a year and a half ago. I went to my friend’s place (we’ll call her Maggie, to preserve her anonymity) to bake Christmas cookies. As she was walking me out of her building, one of the Chungle Crew’s beefiest members crossed our paths; I attempted to nod and smile and say hello, as most polite and normal human beings would do, only to be completely ignored by said gentleman, who we’ll call Beefcake, because, he’s like, really buff and super proud of it.

I kid you not. He wouldn’t even make eye contact with me and talked to Maggie like I wasn’t even standing there directly in front of him. I was so shocked by this rudeness, I didn’t even know what to make of it in the moment. Beefcake and I had never had a real interaction, so there was certainly nothing I could have done to make him hate me. And he didn’t hate me– but me and my fatness were simply beneath him.

Fast forward to today, nearly 8 years having been in the Taichung expat scene. I’m married now, and the lead singer of a successful local band. The members of the Chungle Crew absolutely know who I am– yet these (mostly white) cis-males still treat me like I am literally a ghost, non-existent. In 2020, Maggie and I had a joint birthday party where my band performed– Maggie has a lot of friends in the Chungle Crew, and of course they rallied for their girl and came to our event. Yet not a single one of them spoke to me that night; not a “Happy birthday!” or a “Great set!” Nothing. Like I didn’t exist. Like I, one of the guests of honor, the lead singer of the entertainment they had been dancing to, was not even there. And do you know why?

Because I’m fat. Yes, it is literally because of my weight, and no, it is not in my head. I know it’s true because they said it aloud. While I was within earshot.

Let’s jump back to that day in the park I mentioned earlier. The sun was starting to go down, and it was that beautiful golden hour. Maggie, her partner, myself, and my husband had all met at the local park to hang out, listen to music and enjoy a few beers. Soon enough, members of the Chungle Crew arrived. Used to being ignored by this point, I struck up a conversation with someone else on the side. A few minutes later, my husband pulled me aside, irate.

“I want to go home and I don’t fucking like any of those dudes,” he said to me.

“Why, what happened?”

Apparently, my husband had tried to join the Chungle Crew circle and had forgotten Beefcake’s name. My husband is comically bad at remembering names– he literally forgot a friend’s name who he had invited to stay with us once. He’s just really terrible at remembering people’s names, especially people he has had very few significant interactions with. So, when he tried to join their conversation and circle, they snubbed him, and he then overheard them making fun of me, his wife; making fun of my weight and suggesting he must not be happy being married to a fatty like me.

Yes, they said this all within a few feet of my husband and me. They insulted me, my appearance, and him, while we were standing within earshot.

The real kicker is that one of those dudes is overweight himself. That’s right. And another one of them, (we’ll call him B) had generally always been pretty kind to me, but still said absolutely nothing about their crude and cruel comments, despite us having had a positive relationship. He stood by and laughed along like he agreed with their rude, fatphobic comments.

Because here in the Taichung expat community, toxicity is not just tolerated, but accepted. You don’t call out members of your crew, even if they’re being racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, or even abusive. You awkwardly stand in silence, or you laugh along with them, because it’s just easier and no one wants to upset the status quo.

It was then I realized the true reason that all these years, I had never been “worthy” of a conversation with most of these men (there are some women in this crew, and although their involvement, while more indirect, is problematic for other reasons, they’ve generally been at least civil to me, if not friendly). It wasn’t because I wasn’t cool enough, or didn’t drink as much, or party as hard–

it was literally because I was fat, and thus, deemed unfuckable. And women who are unfuckable have no value to misognystic, fatphobic men.

It has never mattered how kind I am; how talented I am; how accomplished and intelligent I am. I am fat, and thus, undesirable; thus, completely unworthy of any time or attention or even a fucking glance.

Look, to be real with you, that shit hurt at first. How could it not? But that’s not why I am writing this. Upon more reflection, I soon realized I didn’t give a flying fuck what their opinions of me were or are. Homophobes, misogynists, douches of any kind, don’t have opinions worth a damn thing, because they are shitty and unworthy of my respect. What kind of person would intentionally try to belittle and harm another human being?

The kind of people who believe women’s greatest value and asset is her beauty, her ability to be pleasing to them. Any woman who doesn’t fit their standard is not even worth basic human politeness.

I digress. The real reason I am writing this is not because what those dudes said and did was shitty– yes it was, but people do shitty stuff all the time. The real issue here is the fact that this sort of behavior is completely tolerated within our community.

I love my friend Maggie. She is funny, witty, also hyper-organized like me. We love a lot of the same stuff, like cats and singing and sparkly things. I told her what had happened that day in the park. She, of course, was outraged and upset and embarrassed by the Chungle Douches’ behavior. I appreciated her camaraderie, but I also had to know, “Why are you friends with people like that?”

Why? Why are so many of the lovely women in our community still hanging out with cruel, unkind, sexist pieces of trash? Why?

The toxicity and unhealthy behavior that is tolerated in our community has really come to light lately, and it extends beyond the white men of the Chungle Crew– there are some pretty toxic females in that circle as well, in particular a woman we’ll call Amanda.

There are apparently numerous women in our community who could share stories of Amanda verbally harassing, attacking and gaslighting the fuck out of them. Maybe men too, but I don’t know about those stories. I have had Amanda lash out at me for minor mistakes (for which I was extremely apologetic about) before, only to have her block me, unfriend me, and then run to me with big hugs 2 months later at a show, acting like absolutely nothing had happened. The first time she behaved this way, I was terrified. It was like Amanda had no recollection of verbally berating me and cutting me out of her life– like it had never happened. But it had happened, and the unpredictability of her actions reminded me all too much of my childhood with my bipolar, manic, alcoholic father.

I used to work with Amanda’s “best friend” Melissa (not her real name, because I can’t just put everyone on blast in Taiwan without getting sued here). Melissa would frequently come into work in tears because of Amanda’s verbal abuse. “Why are you still friends with her?” I would ask. “She’s not always like this,” would come the reply, much like what battered wives say in defense of their abusive husbands.

Recently Amanda misread something I posted in a local Facebook group. She misunderstood my post and got very worked up about it. It could be said that she may have then sent screen shots from that post to one of the commentor’s bosses, which could have potentially gotten this third person fired.

The problem here? Two of said Admins were her good friends, also members of the Chungle Crew. These two Admins did not feel Amanda should face any consequences because “that’s just how she gets sometimes.” Nevermind that numerous women in our community have shared being harassed and verbally abused by her; nevermind that she violated a safe space and tried to get someone in trouble with their employer; nevermind that noone deserves to be humiliated and harassed for any reason. Amanda was their homie, their cronie, and her shitty, unhealthy behavior continues to be tolerated as I type these words right now.

In the past, before I knew better, I reached out to one of Amanda’s good friends and expressed my concern. I grew up with a bipolar, alcoholic father– I am no psychiatrist, so obviously i cant make an armchair diagnosis, but I recognize when someone needs professional help because I grew up in that. I can still taste what that energy feels like, sounds like, looks like. Yet, it’s like people are scared of Amanda, and rather than rock the boat by refusing to tolerate her abusive behavior, or insist that she get real, professional help for herself, the cycle continues and everyone looks the other way.

Because toxicity is tolerated in this circle.

I know this blog post is going to make me extremely unpopular, but I don’t care anymore. I don’t care about being liked– I care about doing what’s right. I care about people being hurt and abused– I care about standing up against misogyny and racism and all the other -isms out there that, in the best of times, make people feel like garbage, and in the worst of times, oppress and suffocate people.

If you’re reading this and you too have felt belittled, shamed, or bullied, it is important to have the courage to talk to someone about it. You’re probably not alone, and there is strength in numbers. More importantly though: if you hang out with people who treat others like this, you are part of the problem. Standing by silently does not excuse you simply because you aren’t the one doing the bashing– it just makes you complicit. A silent accomplice.

The “bro-code” within our families and friends’ circles thrives on mutual encouragement, complicit silence and, at best, looking the other way. By allowing every rape joke to go on unaddressed, by laughing and hitting high-fives for every fat joke, we have enabled one person to get one stop closer to being an abusive, entitled being. At the very least, I hope you will ask yourselves this: “What kind of person am I becoming through the behaviors I’m participating in?”

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4 thoughts on “Toxicity and Fatphobia in the Expat Community

  1. My husband and I lived in Taichung a few years ago and were lucky enough to have seen you perform. You are not only talented, but a beautiful person who radiates kindness and acceptance. I’m sorry you have to put up with this type of shit. It’s unacceptable!

    I’m also sorry about what you experienced as a child. I too grew up with an alcoholic, abusive parent who refused to get help for their bipolar disorder and did massive damage to me and my brother. I have bipolar disorder and OCD, but I work very hard in therapy to take responsibility for and manage my illnesses so as not to be a toxic person like my mother. It’s hard work, but it can be done!

    Thank you for writing about this issue. It is so important. Sending you massive hugs 💛

    Like

    • Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I so appreciate your vulnerability and honesty in sharing your similar experience. It is so important to face and deal with our wounds and issues and I commend you for doing so.

      I’m doing just fine and know how wonderful and beautiful I am! Thank you for the support and kindness 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a tough read and I believe every word. I’m in Yilan County where the social scene is a lot smaller and fragmented, but still prone to the same toxicity and misogyny, and surely fat phobia. I am reminded of the Charisma Man comic strip and Charisma Man’s archnemesis, Western Woman. With that ego boost of being a white man in Taiwan to the mix, Western women threaten to that comfortable, empowered/entitled space, and we star in some absurd narratives even if we aren’t fat. I’ve definitely heard comments like all Western woman are bitter and resentful because we don’t get any attention here! Nevermind that most of my female Western friends here are in happy, awesome relationships or marriages….

    I will say it can be hard to know how to stand up to it. We get a lot of pressure not to be “Debbie Downers” in social situations. I’m sure that plenty of people in the scene think I’m a bitch simply for not pretending to like similar local Chungle Douches. And yet we still try to be civil most of the time; it’s just inevitable that you will run into them here and there. I tolerate them, and they tolerate me. But I wonder where my line is. I do fantasize letting lose with my real feelings. but I am wary to affirm their narrative that “all Western women are bitter and resentful” where they’d inevitably gaslight legitimate complaints about their shitty behavior.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience and bringing attention to this phenomenon. It is gross, damaging, and unnecessary. Thankfully, I do know enough conscientious people in the expat community to not be close to jaded. I imagine you do, too. It helps to have a foundation of self-respect and dignity, and never hurts to have a wise, honest, fun, loving partner. 🙂 Cheers to you in Taizhong from Yilan.

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    • Hello, Yilan reader! My husband and I got married in Yilan in March of this year, so that little corner of Taiwan holds a special place in my heart!

      I appreciate you reading and taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. My hope is that by shedding light and speaking out on this type of thing, more people will find the courage and confidence to speak up and stop tolerating it. I completely understand not feeling able to confront issues in the moment, or wanting just to move on and distance yourself from these types of people.

      However, I am now in a confident, and empowered place in my life. I have a fantastic job, a husband who unconditionally loves me (AND my fat body, which is apparently incomprehensible to men who place such value on physical attributes), and my band is thriving (no thanks to any support from the Chungle Crew). I used to think I needed to get those people to like me and support my music in order to be a musician here, or accomplish things; with time I realized I didn’t, and never did.

      I’ve had everything I’ve always needed, I simply needed to find my tribe, which I did, but only after embracing myself and learning about boundaries. I am so thankful to all of the wonderful people I have met here, but hope sharing these kinds of stories inspires and empowers others to refuse to accept bullying and abuse.

      Thanks again for reading!

      Like

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