Category Archives: Body Image and Clothing

Running from Femininity

what is femininity?I’ve written over 150 posts on this blog. I’ve never written about my own femininity.

Femininity. It’s a word I run from even if I can’t explain what it is. I’ve spent over 50 years resisting compulsory femininity. I know that everyone, from John Wayne to Dolly Parton, is a mix of masculine and feminine. No matter what your gender identity is, there is some femininity in it. I have a hard time admitting to mine.

In nice weather, Donna likes to walk with me to our local playground. She likes to point out how cute the girls are, and she wishes she could find outfits that are as bright and lively as what they are wearing. She’d gladly trade places with them. I tell her I understand how she feels, even though that isn’t what I feel. I remember what it feels like to be in a playground, at recess, wearing a dress. I’d gladly trade places with the boys.

My mother and my grandmother dressed modestly and neatly; they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They looked in the mirror before leaving the house to make sure their hair was in place and their make up was fresh. They looked down on women who dressed provocatively or flamboyantly and on women who tried too hard to be stylish. They looked down on women who “let themselves go”. Their notion of femininity was narrow and constrained. Continue reading

What Happens When You Stop Hating Your Body?

I don't need to be Charles Atlas...

I don’t need to be Charles Atlas…

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. Continue reading

We Are More Than Our Chests

Lifeguards, Australia, 1971

Lifeguards, Australia, 1971

I love my chest, but I don’t want to be defined by it or judged for it. For years, in-between puberty and top surgery, I hated my breasts (and my hips).  I didn’t know the word for dysphoria but I experienced it. I had a lot of body shame. Now, when I take my morning shower and get dressed, I give thanks for my top surgery. But my chest is not what defines me as trans.

I am tired of seeing articles (popping up in my Facebook feed) that feature some variation of hot young trans guys without their shirts on. I’m put off by the media obsession with trans men who have chests as sexy as sexy cisgender men’s chests. I’m put off by the search for the perfect trans chest. For trans torsos with a narrow V shape. For trans chests with no visible surgical scars or dog ears. For trans models with small nipples and chiseled abs. For guys who are young, ripped, and (usually) white.

Articles about trans men that show them going shirtless (or in boxer shorts injecting testosterone) are as obnoxious as articles about trans women that show them putting on their make-up. We are more than our surgeries. We are more than our make up. We need to see the widest range of trans possibilities, not just the ones that reinforce the stereotypes. Continue reading

Eat More Cottage Cheese

smart-points-2016-2

A few months after I finally admitted out loud that I always wanted to be a boy, I decided to lose weight. At the time, I was a very chubby butch. I was struggling with both dysphoria and body size/image issues. I did not want to be the Pillsbury Doughboy. I wanted to be a trim and solid boy.

I joined Weight Watchers in May, 2012. I hadn’t officially changed my name yet, and It was the first place I introduced myself as Jamie. Idiosyncratically, Weight Watchers is as big a part of my transition as changing my name. Part of making my body my body.

While some use undereating (or restricted eating) to keep from having feminine curves, I was using overeating to hide my hips and breasts. I also used eating as a diversion, to keep certain thoughts and feelings suppressed.

I started to eat smaller portions, and to cut down on butter and sugar. I tried to stop eating when I was angry or frustrated. I ate cottage cheese and yogurt. For the first time in my adult life I felt a little hungry in-between meals. It is still a strange sensation after years of stuffing myself into a stupor. It took a year and a half to get down to a weight that seems right for me.

Now I pay attention to what I eat, how much I exercise, and how much wine I drink. I like being free from overeating. I don’t frantically devour oversized poppy-seed bagels to calm myself down. Maintaining my weight is no longer an incomprehensible mystery, but it does not come naturally. I keep going to Weight Watchers meetings for reinforcement. Continue reading

You Don’t Need To Explain

Ever-widening-gulfLast week I went a Weight Watchers meeting at a new location. Before weighing in, I asked the woman at the front desk where the restroom was. She handed me the men’s room key and told me it was down the hall and on the left. I put the key back down on the counter without saying anything and picked up the women’s room key. When I came back, I weighed in at 139 lb. I want to stay close to my goal weight of 140 lb. through the holiday season. I don’t want to use food or wine to numb out my feelings. This post is my reminder.

You are valid. You don’t need to explain your identity. You can use as many labels as you need or no labels at all. You can use a label that doesn’t fit properly if the right label doesn’t exist yet. You can go back and forth between butch, queer, genderqueer, non-binary, and transgender. The label changes nothing.

You don’t have to prove anything to anyone else. You know who you are inside. You don’t have to match up exactly inside and out. You need to look in the mirror and see yourself in the reflection. You are both fine the way you are and you need to change. There will always be discrepancies and inconsistencies. You don’t have to be defensive about them.

Once you acknowledged your identity you began to transition. There is no starting line and no finishing line. There is no set of steps you have to follow. You don’t need to run as fast as you can. You don’t need to be constantly in motion. It is hard to speed things up, but it is possible to slow them down. It is not a race. It is not a competition. You are not trying to win a trophy. Continue reading

Learning How To Tie My Shoes

bunny-earsI don’t remember learning how to tie my shoes. I grew up before Velcro and I refused to wear Mary Janes or flats. All of my shoes were lace-ups. I’m pretty sure I was taught the “bunny ears” method before I mastered the adult method. I made a double knot to avoid tripping on my laces.

I am a walker. I started walking around the city when I was eleven. My school was 1.5 miles away; it didn’t take more time to walk than to take the M15 bus. I liked the independence and the adventure. I used my bus money to buy a pastry or a bagel at one of the bakeries on my route. I double knotted my shoes so I wouldn’t have to stop and re-tie them. The knot and I were both chubby and clunky.

I own 13 pairs of shoes that lace up (five pairs of sneakers, two pairs of light hikers, two pairs of work boots, two pairs of chukka boots, a pair of boots for my transmasculine soul (see below), and a pair of insulated snow boots). I am hard on my shoes. I either wear down the soles or wear through the padding on the back of the collar. I try to rotate my shoes so they will last longer, but I notice myself mostly reaching for my light hikers. The ones with the fat round nylon laces that keep coming undone. Continue reading

In Remembrance

Mourning all people who have died, Paris to Beirut

PHOTO: ANDREW RENNEISEN/GETTY IMAGES

Saturday afternoon I went to a vigil at the arch in Washington Square Park. I went in solidarity with all people; New Yorkers, Parisians, and Beirutis. It was a silent, somber, vigil. I overheard a smattering of people whispering in French. I stayed for an hour; observing, reflecting, and quietly mourning. Their losses and my losses.

I could not stop myself from people watching. It was cool, and sunny. A day for a jacket, gloves, and a scarf. No hat. I stood next to a French man who wore his scarf in a particularly French way; wrapped around his neck with the edges tucked under. Graceful, casual, natty. I made a note of it. I felt a flare of envy. I wanted to be a boy, to look like that man, and then it subsided. Five years ago it would have sent me into a tailspin.

Every loss is connected to every other loss. Whether I am mourning for someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for someone who could not find a way to live authentically in their own body. Whether they were killed by a suicide bomber, by AIDS, or by their own hand. Continue reading