The Wide Angle: Goodbye Heather MacAllister

One of the key people in the queer fat community died this year and I want to memorialise Heather MacAllister here, because more people ought to have known her.

Feature by Charlotte Cooper | 11 Apr 2007

Heather Mac lived in Detroit, Tucson, San Francisco and, finally, Portland. You can probably tell by her name that, although she was an American, her family had Scottish roots - they emigrated from Edinburgh. Heather cut her activist teeth working with local LGBT organisations, including Al Fatiha, the queer Muslim group. It was with fat liberation, however, that she really got into her stride.

Most of her admirers knew Heather through The Original Fat Bottom Revue, performed by Big Burlesque, the only full-time fat dance troupe in the US at that time, which she founded. Big Burlesque shows were characterised by bodacious femmes teasing the audience with shimmies, feather boas and racy moves. The group acquired fans from every walk of life including Leonard Nimoy – yes, Spock! – who photographed the women for his Full Body Project.

Heather's activism stretched beyond the work that she did onstage. Friends remember the time she hosted a barbeque outside a weight loss clinic. She co-hosted Fat-a-tat-tat, a pirate radio show. She was the keynote speaker at last year's NOLOSE, the annual gathering of fat dykes where, weak from her illness, she delivered her speech from a throne, with her beloved boi at her feet.

Heather had a fierce personality. She could be a super-diva, and difficult. But that's often the way with visionaries. She had an affinity with underclass people and turned many of us on to the possibilities in our marginalised bodies. Thankfully her legacy will continue, but Heather herself is gone now. She died on 13 February 2007, aged 38, in Portland by assisted suicide following a three year fight against ovarian cancer. Her last wishes were: "Please remember to love each other, and to love ourselves. Take care of our minds and bodies, without fail and against all odds. And know, beyond doubt, that we are all beautiful, amazing beings. Never forget. This is what I lived for. Take care of yourselves, you beautiful beings."

Upon her passing Mayor Gavin Newsom declared her birthday, 25 February, to be Heather MacAllister Day in San Francisco.