My 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.
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.
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.