I was at the gym, doing seated overhead dumbbell presses (shoulders). I looked up at the full length mirror to check my form and I didn’t flinch. I didn’t judge. I didn’t wish I had bigger muscles or less flab. I didn’t wish I was using a heavier weight. I didn’t wish I was a boy. I straightened my left wrist and shifted my forearm to get back on course. I did a few more reps and finished the set. I wiped down the bench and racked the dumbbells.
It occurred to me that I don’t hate my body. I’ve stopped running the old tapes through my head.
When I first started telling my women friends that I thought I was trans, and that I didn’t know if I was going to take testosterone or get top surgery, they asked me why I couldn’t just accept my body the way it is. They’d tell me there is nothing wrong with me, that I am fine the way I am. A big strong butch. They were coming at it from a body positivity view. From a we don’t exist for the male gaze view. That you shouldn’t hate your body, you should hate the social construct of body image and beauty.
I didn’t know how to answer them back. What they said was true. Like them, I was taught to scrutinize my body and to judge it against everyone else’s. To fix my imperfections. To strive towards an unattainable standard. They weren’t wrong, but they were missing the point. I used to think that I hated my body. I said I hated my body. Now I realize that hate is the wrong word. I used to hate lima beans. I still hate liver. My body caused me pain.
If someone tells you that they are in pain, chances are you won’t tell them to love their pain, or to love the part of their body that is causing them pain. Chances are you will start asking them questions. Where is the pain? When did it start? How much does it hurt? You may start throwing out alternatives: herbal supplements, pharmaceutical drugs, diets, exercise, or surgery.
There were years when the tape ran continuously and the only way I could stop it was to eat or go to sleep. I wish I were a boy. Eat a bagel. I wish I wasn’t fat. Eat a slice of pizza. I wish I looked like that guy. Eat a knish. I don’t want to look like this. Eat a granola bar. I wish some one would pick me up and hold me. Eat a cherry-cheese Danish. Sleep and repeat. In between, I went to work and tried to be a good partner to Donna. I was distracted and disconnected.
I wish I could offer a flow chart for how I changed, but it was incremental. I tried several times to stop my chaotic/binge eating. I joined a gym. I talked my way through my childhood traumas. I accepted that wanting to be a boy meant I was trans. I told Donna everything. I read everything. I cut down on my drinking. We went to couples therapy. I went to Weight Watchers and lost weight. I changed my name. I started this blog. I bought some new clothes. I went to a trans support group. I had top surgery. And while top surgery was life-changing, I don’t think it would have had the same effect if I hadn’t done some work before it.
What happens when you stop hating your body? Who am I if I don’t feel that pain?
I’m still the same person but with a somewhat different shape. My head is a lot quieter. There are fewer distractions, and I know when I’m distracting myself. Sometimes I feel a loneliness, or a restlessness, that I could not tolerate or feel before. I’m not sure what it means, or how much work I have left to do to figure it out. To find a way to live in this body, in this culture, in this time and place.
Notes: It turns out that February 21 to 27 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This article by Gloria Lucas on eating disorders and marginalized communities (from The Body Is Not An Apology) highlights some queer and trans related resources and has lots of interesting links.
I’ve linked before to Anagnori on tumblr. I like their post, The more subtle kind of gender dysphoria , which addresses coping mechanisms for dysphoria.