How Martina Navratilova Saved my Life

This-butch-drank-too-much.JPGMy mother put me on my first diet when I was eleven years old. It was probably the Stillman Diet, but I called it the “cottage cheese and TaB diet” because that is all I remember about it. I didn’t lose much weight. I ate whatever she fed me plus whatever I could get my hands on. For years I wouldn’t touch cottage cheese, but I became a TaB addict.

I ate compulsively and unconsciously. I ate prophylactically, and opportunistically. I just ate. I couldn’t say why. And I washed it all down with TaB. Two cans for breakfast, a can with every snack or meal, a can when I was anxious or restless. Leaving a pile of bright pink cans in my wake.

I tried to switch to Diet Coke, but it was too sweet. There was something acrid and chemical in TaB that had me hooked. I drank so much of it that I stopped tasting it. I kept track of which grocery stores and deli’s carried it; I kept a stash to make sure I never ran out.

The incongruity of being masculine and drinking TaB was not lost on me. I ignored the screaming pink cans and sexist marketing campaigns. I wanted my fix.

My weight embarrassed me, but I didn’t diet. I felt awkward and ugly and frumpy; all of the negative butch stereotypes. Being fat was part my tantrum. I don’t want to be a girl. I don’t want to wear dresses. I don’t want to be pretty. I don’t want to fit into anything you are going to put me in. Eating made me stop thinking. Eating diverted my feelings. My brain went quiet while I was chewing and sipping. I knew there was something going on underneath. Drinking TaB helped me avoid it. Have a bad thought, reach for a can.

For years, TaB came with the following warning “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals”. I ignored it. I gloated when the regulators allowed Coca-Cola to remove the warning.

I was vaguely dissatisfied with everything in my life and I hated my body. Donna told me to join a gym because it might make me feel better. When I start a new project, I start by reading. I took out Martina Navratilova’s Shape Yourself. When Martina goes grocery shopping she reads the label of each package and can of food. If there are any ingredients in it that she doesn’t recognize, or are artificial, she puts it back on the shelf. Martina would put back the six-pack of TaB.

I decided to give up artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. I tried to stop drinking TaB, but I couldn’t go cold turkey. I read up on how to break your diet soda addiction. I switched to coffee in the morning and Diet Dr. Pepper with meals. Then I substituted seltzer for the Diet Dr. Pepper. It took a few months but I was able to stay off saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose. I feel better. I drink a lot of coffee and seltzer. I’m still wired and gassy.

Giving up TaB did not automatically give me access to my feelings or make me accept being transgender. It was one more thing that made it harder for me to short circuit my thoughts about wanting to be a boy, wanting to look like a guy, and hating how my body looked. They began to bubble up to the surface, eventually they broke through.

One of my parting gifts from my office mates was a can of TaB. I took it home, afraid to open it, afraid that if I took a sip I’d be addicted again. I put it in the fridge to chill. I reached for the can, popped it open, took one swig, and then another. I drank half the can and thought This is disgusting. Pour it down the sink and recycle the can. You’re not a TaB girl anymore.

Martina, with dogs.

Martina, with dogs.

Note: Martina Navratilova came out as gay in 1981, on her own terms, upon gaining her U.S. citizenship. She was the first major sports star to come out (Billie Jean King was outed). She talks about growing up, defecting to the U.S., and coming out on these videos on Maker.

24 thoughts on “How Martina Navratilova Saved my Life

  1. krisalex333

    Martina was my first “role model,” except that she was female. I’m still losing the battle of the bulge. 😦 Btw, your Martina link gives an error “martinanavratilova.com expired on 07/02/2014 and is pending renewal or deletion” – maybe still in your cache? (or TaB tin? 🙂 )

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    1. Lesboi

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the link. When I googled her and went directly to the website from there it said the same thing so the problem is with the website. My guess is that she hasn’t renewed her domain name and the website will work again once she does that.

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    2. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks, I fixed it. Too bad, it was working last night! The home page had a picture of Martina in the NoH8 campaign. The picture can be see at
      http://www.noh8campaign.com/photo-gallery/familiar-faces-part-6/photo/43004
      I have both male and female role models; when I was a kid I kept rejecting the female ones – when I got older I became more accepting as long as they were not feminine (no one ever accused Martina of being feminine).

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  2. Lesboi

    I was a big fan of both tennis and Martina growing up. Yes, she was a huge role model for me too and I still admire her very much. I always wanted to have muscles like she did. 🙂 Unfortunately I just don’t have the will power to follow her strict diet, but she at least made me more aware of all the chemicals that we put into our bodies. I never cared much for Tab but I have a close friend who is still addicted to it. Diet Coke and coffee are my vises but I always feel much better when I just drink water or ice tea instead. Thanks for making me think about Martina today. That always puts a smile on my face.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I like that Martina was not afraid to be out (once she got her citizenship) and that she is still political (see link in comment above to the NoH8 campaign). She also has better arms than Michelle Obama.

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  3. sheemu

    Life is such that you never know who or what is going to inspire you to do something you never thought possible. Your story is interesting and inspiring. Glad you overcame your addiction 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad too. I don’t believe that sugar free sweeteners help people lose or keep off weight – and I don’t think anyone understands the long term effect of drinking tons of diet soda. I feel better being off the stuff, and I have to believe that I am a healthier person for it. I hate to think of the effects of 30 more years of 8-12 cans of TaB a day on my system.

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  4. Mrs Fever

    I have been off all forms of corn syrup for four years now. It’s ridiculous how poisonous that stuff is for your body. I felt like a recovering addict for the first month. I remember feeling sluggish, getting headaches, literally craving a ‘fix’. I’ve never been a soda drinker, but with saccharine and caffeine as well as the corn syrup factor… I can only imagine how difficult it would be to kick that toxic cocktail. Good for you for doing so.

    The diet factor… Ufgh. I can relate. My mother put me on my first diet (per doctor’s orders) when I was 11 months old. 11 months!!!! And she did me no favors with it ~ Kool-Aid was substituted for milk. I will never understand how *that* makes sense. o_O But things were different in those days, and I was labeled ‘obese’ before I was a year old. I’ve been obese, according to the medical definition of the word, my entire life. Yet, oddly enough, I’m one of the most fit people I know. Go figure.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I was a chubby kid, and my mother always figured that I would have a growth spurt and my height would catch up with my weight. Never happened. I was always eating ahead of the curve.

      I’m not sure how it is related but I could not lose weight until I gave up the artificial sweeteners and corn syrup (and joined/followed Weight Watchers). I also had headaches and difficulty concentrating, some of which was eased by drinking coffee. I’m finally just under the top of the range for what is considered “normal” for being 5ft 4inches and in decent shape, but no where near svelte. It is a struggle, but I want to see what it is like to be in the normal range (so far so good).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Absolutely. She is unfortunately one-of-a-kind. I always found it interesting that so few other professional sports players came out after her – she lost the opportunity to have some corporate sponsors and she took some flak – but she was really outspoken and refused to make apologies for it.

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  5. Charlie

    I went from diet Coke to Coke Zero simply because the marketing was meant for guys. (Yes, call me shallow. I always went after the “guy version” of stuff, especially if the girls’ version was PINK.).

    I went on the Paleo diet that everyone is hung oh for these days, mind you a plant-based supplemented with meat and not one that is meat supplemented with plant food. Why? Most of the pushers of this diet are guys, from what I have seen. I don’t mean to appear sexist, but that’s how lots of us are, we go with the marketing that targets our demographic. Even when I identified as a butch, I always went with anything marketed towards guys—even my shampoo. (My tampons are the sole exception.)

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Hey, if they had made navy blue or Old Spice tampons I would have bought them too.
      Trans guys will know they’ve made it when Anheuser-Busch starts marketing a beer to them (Trans LIte?).

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      1. Charlie

        I stick with the scent-free tampons, actually 😀

        With other stuff, tho, I’d stick with the stuff just aimed for guys in general, if the market ever started targeting the trans community, like how some industries have been with gays over the past few years. I don’t mean to diss our trans brothers and sisters, but I’m a bit more old school and am focusing more on being seen as simply a guy, not a trans guy.

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      1. SARA

        Diet coke is not very famous in India and only some people drink it. I have drank diet coke only once and I didn’t like it at all. I am already very thin so I won’t drink diet coke. Well ,when did you visit India Jamie and which part of India did you visit?

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        My first visit was in 2004 (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner) and my second visit was in 2012 to Tamil Nadu and Kerala (Chennai, Puducherry, Thanjuvar, Madurai, Varkala, and Kochi). I would like to go back again and visit Mumbai and see Maharashtra and Gujarat. Someday…

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      TaB is to Fresca as Coke is to Sprite, which is to say they are both made by Corporate Cola. I haven’t had a Fresca in a long time and remember it as being vaguely grapefruity and not too appealing (why TaB was appealing is still a mystery to me).
      It is kind of hard to talk about flavor and taste when it comes to vintage diet soda – for me it was just a bad and expensive habit (if I had only invested it instead of drinking it away) that served some purpose that I still don’t completely understand (how our habits get in the way of our paying attention to our thoughts).
      Anyway, I’m glad that I don’t drink it anymore and can drink generic brand club soda and seltzer, and make my own coffee (and have an occasional Starbucks).

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  6. Georgeann

    It seemed for a while like I was never going to get to read this! I have been traveling a lot and have been in and out of Internet service but my trusty e-mail updates told me there was a new post! I liked your statement “I’m not a Tab girl anymore”. I remember weaning myself off of Coca Cola. Well actually that’s not true! I had to give it up when I went to Basic Training. Boy was that rough. After that I didn’t much care for sugary, carbonated beverages, and to this day I can’t drink more than a few ounces of a soda without feeling sick. It’s interesting how our drinks of choice kind of get a hold on us, and we can define ourselves through what we drink. I am a pretty hardcore coffee and tea drinker, but that’s about it. What does that mean? Crabby old lady? Ha ha!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Why would they make you stop drinking soda in Basic Training? OK, it is the military, it doesn’t have to make sense – but even so I hope they at lest allowed you to drink coffee.
      I would find it extremely difficult to give up caffeine. When I’ve travelled to countries where they don’t drink coffee for breakfast (only tea) I’ve been able to switch to tea, as long as it was strong (in Turkey they had two samovars, one with super strong tea to use as a base and one with very hot water to thin it out).
      I am a serious coffee drinker.

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      1. Georgeann

        I am trying to remember what it was at Basic (it was so long ago!)…We had to give up everything from “the outside world”, like candy bars (I was a huge Snickers addict, even worse than Coca Cola) and we couldn’t have any junk food until near the end when we got a special party day. I think it was more for the drill sergeants to laugh at hundreds of recruits with clean, newly purged GI tracts getting sick from binge eating greasy pizzas and guzzling gallons of soda. I think that rules have changed a lot since “the old days” and they probably allow soda now. The newbies just don’t know how rough it really was!

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