Roxane Gay - Fitting Into the World in "Hunger" - Extended Interview

Extended - June 12, 2017 - Roxane Gay 06/12/2017 Views: 116,111

"Hunger" author Roxane Gay recounts the horrific childhood attack that led to her weight gain and describes the ridicule and unsolicited advice she receives from strangers. (7:22)

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Please welcome Roxane Gay.

(cheering and applause)


Welcome to the show.

Um, I know youfrom your writing,

I know you from your columns.

Many people know you from topicsthat range from feminism

to politicsto social commentary.

But this bookis something different.

-This book is a memoir-Yes.

that takes us through your life

in a way that I don't thinkanybody would expect.

It takes us through your lifethrough the prism of eating

and through the prism of being afat person living in the world.

-Yes. -Why did you chooseto write it in this way?

Because I didn't wantto write it at all.

But, um, as I was thinking

of what I wanted my nextnonfiction project to be,

I wanted to tell the storyof my body.

Because when you're fatin the world,

people-people have assumptions

about who you areand why you're fat

and they think you're stupid.

Like, yesterday,someone emailed me,

"Do you know that exerciseis required to lose weight?"


Never occurred to me.

And so, um,

you know, I thinkit's important to show, like,

what it's actually like to livein this world

-in a fat body. -Right.It's-it's a... it's a journey

that you take us on, and, um,

there's a part of the bookthat really caught me,

where you talk about theunderlying story of being fat

-that many people havethat no one knows about. -Yes.

You know? You talk in the bookabout Oprah and her journey,

and then what'sreally heart-wrenching

is the story that you tellin the book.

And that is you were gang-rapedat 12 years old.

Yes, I was.

And that led to a journeyof hating yourself,

hating your body.

How did that come to be?

How does your world collapse?

I know you writeabout it in the book,

but, I mean,how does that happen?

Uh, you know, when I was 12,this thing happened,

and it was so unexpected,and I was a good Catholic girl,

and so, I didn't even know,like, what sex was.

I mean, I knewthe technicalities,

-but I did not knowwhat rape was. -Right.

I certainly didn't knowthat you could be

with morethan one person, and so,

my world was shatteredin the aftermath.

And I just thought,"I want to be stronger,

I want to be bigger."

And so I thought,"If I eat a lot, uh,

"those boys won't do this again,because I'll be able

-to fight them next time."-Right.

"And they won't want to do thisbecause I'll be fat,

and boys don't like fat girls."

And so, in many ways,it was a deliberate choice.

And of course, looking back,I'm like,

"Girl, talk to Mom and Dad,"but, you know,

12-year-olds with secretshold onto them very tightly.

And that was somethingyou didn't do.

-You didn't talk to Mom and Dad.Why? -No. I was really scared,

because I believed everythingthat we learned in church

about premarital sexbeing a sin,

and I was absolutely certainthat I was going to hell.

And then those boys wentto school the following day

and told everyonea different story--

that I wanted it.

And so, everyone startedcalling me a slut.

-And I just knew nobody wouldbelieve me. -Uh-huh.

'Cause it was gonna bemy word against these guys.

When you tell the storyof how that changed your life

and how that became a partof who you are today,

you talk a lotabout the consequences

of living in a worldthat sees fat a certain way.

-Uh-huh. -Now I won't deny,as a comedian and as a person,

I've made a ton of fat jokesin my life, you know?

-Yup. Absolutely.-And there was a time

-when fat was seen as a novelty,as a choice. -Mm-hmm.

America's now gotten to a place

where people are realizingit's an epidemic.

-They're real... realizingthat there are effects. -Yes.

What are some of the effectsthat you've dealt with

living in your body?

Well, you know, there are a lotof things that you encounter.

Like at the grocery store,people make commentary

on what they see in your cart.

-They'll take food outof your cart. -Wow.

Uh... yeah. Realness.

And, uh, they send youunsolicited advice.

I'm a writer, and I do events,

and I've had people come upto the signing line

(laughing): and offer menutritional advice.

I'm sorry. It's just insane.

-(laughter)-Um... (clears her throat)

You know,the world doesn't fit...

-I feel you don't fitin the world oftentimes. -Yeah.

I write in the bookthat the bigger you become,

the smaller your world getsbecause, you know,

you can't necessarily fitin theater seats.

And airplane travelis such a pain

because those seatsare not roomy for anyone.

And so you eitherhave to buy two tickets,

and then the airline is like,"Why did you buy two tickets?"

Or you buy one ticket

and you encroachon someone else's space,

-and they're like, "Why didn'tyou buy two tickets?" -Right.

And so no matter what you do,you can't fit.

And the worldis not really interested

in creating a spacefor you to fit.

People just judge you,and they say, you know,

"You're gonna dienine years younger."

Which... Why do you care?

And then they...You know, they think

you're drainingthe health care system,

as they smoke a cigarette.

And so it's justa constant sense

that you don't belong,

and people feel no compunctionabout being cruel about it.

It's-it's interestingthat you tell the stories

in the way you do,because many people

will write a bookas a story of triumph,

as a story of like,

"And this is how, you know,the ending was happy.

-Yep.-And this is how I overcame."

This is an honest journeythat takes us through it.

You don't want usto feel sorry for you,

but you want usto know the reality

of the world that you live in.

Was there a part of you

that didn't want to write itbecause of that?

Yeah, definitely,

because generallywhen people write about weight,

there's, like, a woman standingin half of her fat pants

on the cover,and she's smiling like,

"Look what I've done."

And I couldn't write that book.


So I was like, "I couldn't standin my fat pants."

-And it'd just be that.-Right.

Uh, and people, you know,

they wanta triumphant narrative.

They want to believethat you have solved

the problem of your body.

Um, but my bodyis not a problem,

and it certainly isn'tsomething I've solved yet.

I'm still just tryingto figure out how do I have--

now that I'm as fixedas I've ever gonna be--

a normal relationshipto food and eating?

And how do I write my storyin a way...

It's not about self-pity.

It's just, this is my storyinstead of whatever it is

that you're gonna projectonto me.

-Mm-hmm.-So I was really nervous

because there isn'tthat triumphant ending,

like "Ta-da."

-I-It's a work in progress.-Yes.

It's very mucha work in progress.

If you could go back and talkto that 12-year-old girl...

-Yes. -If Roxane could travelback in time in the book...

-Mm-hmm.-What would you say to her?

Oh, my God.

I would just tell her,"Talk to your parents.

Trust them to help you."

If I had opened up at any point,

either then or later onin high school,

I think my life would have takena far different turn.

I don't knowthat it would have been, like,

-been significantly better.-Uh-huh.

But I knowthat I would not have turned

to the coping mechanisms I did

because they would havehelped me

get the kind of helpyou're supposed to get

when you endurethis kind of a trauma.

It's interestingthat the book is called Hunger

because when you open itand when you start,

you think that it's a bookonly about food.

-Mm-hmm. -But the hungerseems to transcend

-more than just the physical.-Absolutely.

It feels like it's a craving

for more than justwhat is on a plate

-Mm-hmm. -and what is servedin a restaurant and, uh...

It's-it's honestly...

It's an amazing story,and I can only thank you

-for sharing it with us.-Oh, thank you so much, Trevor.

-Thank you for being here,Roxane. -It's my pleasure.

Hunger will be availableJune 13.

Roxane Gay, everybody.

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