10 July 2018

On Gender and Bodies and Penguins

My name is Katie, and I’m likely not a girl. Certainly not a woman. Probably a boi, but not a boy, and not a man. Definitely a penguin.

Yeah. That one I know for sure.

I have been planning this big gender post, where I would talk about my identity (penguin + ?), and my pronouns (they/them except when they’re not), and my journey of learning and discovery, and all that delightful jazz. I have been revisiting my adolescent music tastes recently, and I am full of Big Feelz about growing more and more into myself (shout out to Jewel, the somehow both over and under rated poet of my teen years). My brain is basically going through an existential second version of puberty at the moment, so I am a big ball of melodrama. Perfect timing to spread my arms and spread my legs and spread my gospel of gender queerness or gender fluidity or gender… oh shit… I don’t have the words yet. Right. That’s why I was putting this off. I knew there was a reason.

This being summer, though, and me being me, the need to talk about my body and my relationship to my body in general has cropped up much sooner than my desire or ability to talk about my wonderful but complicated new gender feelings. For the then moment let’s set those aside, except insofar as they relate to said body. So, actually, let’s not set them aside at all. Let’s tackle this shit, shall we?

If you’ve been following along for awhile now, you know I have a history of disordered eating. It has followed me for over half my life at this point, and at this point it is reflexively written onto my brain. Case in point: I am a happy and healthy and sexy and smart feminist person who “just happens” to peruse eating disorder websites from time to time. I tell myself it’s just as a reminder of how bad things can get if I’m not careful. That is a blatant lie. In the darkest little corner of my brain where the disorder still lives, I hope that I’ll trip and fall back into it. Out loud I tell myself wow, look what these girls are doing to themselves, I can’t believe I was ever that sick. And in the quiet, she whispers you could be again, you know.

So, yes, deeply sad, deeply tragic, deeply unpleasant. A constant battle between the various parts of my brain that tell me that, on the one hand, in order to be “good” (a good feminist, a good queer, a good body-positive ally) I have to be accepting of my own body no matter what, and the part of my brain that says in order to be “good” (to be pure, to be holy, to have the right body) I need to lose 10, 20, 50, 100 pounds by tomorrow, today, yesterday, stat.

So I am weak for wanting to be thin, and I am also weak for not being thin. Recently, I have been working on flipping the script. Could I maybe, just possibly, just-consider-this-for-a-minute, be… strong? For hanging on in the face of painful contradiction? For surviving a super shitty illness this long?

My brain lets me hold onto that thought for about .062 seconds before it fights back. But it’s a start.

I’ve talked before about my childbearing hips (so named by my sewing teacher in grade five, in front of my classmates, as she demonstrated why a pattern needed letting out to accommodate me). I do not want children, have never wanted children. I suffered horrific periods with endometriosis and PMDD from age nine onwards that went undiagnosed until my 20s. I started asking doctors to remove my uterus while still in my teens. My anorexic self sprang from any number of sources, but the desire to be rid of those hips was chief among them. We took health classes and learned that we were each on our path to becoming A Woman, and the word tasted metallic in my mouth.

“Woman” never stopped feeling wrong, no matter how old I got. I attributed it to not wanting to be a mother, not wanting to be a wife, not wanting to be a person with these awful organs and this awful body built for awful things I didn’t want to do. In undergrad I bound my chest when alone in my apartment, and I packed my jeans with rolled up socks and felt the bulge. I called it a sex game, or roleplay. I wore flowy or baggy clothing and no makeup. I gained weight because I was in recovery, and then I gained weight from my anti-depressants, and then I just kept gaining. I didn’t know what to do with my new body. I ran into corners with hips that didn’t used to protrude that far. My body become a thing that could not be denied.

Fast forward to Montreal. I chopped off all my long hair and suddenly found my curves more bearable. I met a charming and handsome man who let me call him Daddy, who would call me his little girl and keep me out of womanhood forever. This felt reasonably safe, and I poked my head back out of my shell a bit. I started buying big, frilly dresses and wearing cat-eye makeup. Hyperfeminine beauty ideals from the 1950s, clothing that accentuated my hips, that let me actively perform a gender role. In acting, I could control it. I could finally control how people perceived me. An anorexic’s dream, albeit realized in an untraditional (or very traditional) way.

Fast forward again, through my first spaces featuring queer grownups, through learning that Femme could be a designation for me, lo and behold, a name that didn’t hurt so much, a name that at least embraced the performance. Skip past my continued discomfort in those spaces, my simultaneous crushes on and coveting of butch individuals and their identities where I read only the crushes. Run quickly by the repeated disintegrations and careful rebuilding of my relationship with S that left me with a wonderful forever-friend and concert-buddy and cuddle-companion, but a realization that I couldn’t be his little girl out in the world anymore but still couldn’t bear the thought of being a woman.

Now slow down. Watch me start to date someone new. See them read this blog, and notice a throwaway comment from years ago about the binding and packing, and ask me to tell them more. Hear me whisper it at first, like I was telling an awful secret, then louder and louder. I have always had feelings like waterfalls, but now, for the first time, that wasn’t too much. I wasn’t too much.

Of course, I still have that same body that has plagued me since birth. I am dressing it up in different clothes, now. Strangely, I hate my hips less. It’s not their fault they’re attached to a boi. My small chest, a source of much teasing in school, fits nicely under button-downs without much assistance beyond a sports bra. Encouraged to wear flats, I suddenly care about shoes. I am still wearing makeup, but the cat eye has mostly been replaced with sparkles and experimental colour palettes. I have my dresses, and I wear them, and I enjoy the performance more knowing that I can take the whole thing off at the end of the day, not just the dress, not just the shoes, but the whole identity. Toss it over a hanger and crawl into bed naked, with a body that is frustrating and belligerent and undeniably mine.

I am not over my body struggles: because no one ever is; because I accidentally spent a decade and a half training my brain to hold onto them for dear life; because the patriarchy. Because because because. What poking about at my gender has let me/is letting me do, though, is to finally start to internalize, at least a little bit, the understanding that this is my body, that we’re stuck together, and that we might as well try to be friends. That all the time I have been starving it and hurting it, thinking I could run somewhere from it, I was fooling myself. That I might as well give being kind to myself a shot, having tried everything else.

Besides. That’s no way to treat a penguin. 

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