Monday, 28 December 2015

Wishing for a different body

Content Note: Weight, gender dysphoria

I remember the time before I had breasts. I used to stand in front of the long mirror in my parents' bedroom, made sure to keep the door shut. And with a bare chest and skinny legs, in nothing but a pair of shorts, I'd hit out at my reflection. This was before puberty hit, back before my body had curves from stomach to legs to hips to breasts. I was a tiny little kid. I pretended I was a boxer.

My body grew up too fast for me. By the age of 11 I'd started my period, and by the age of 12 I had a bra size of 32D. I quickly had to grow out of pretending to be a boxer, or at least I felt like I did. I pushed breasts into bras that my mum helped me pick. I cringed in horror as hairs began to spike across my legs. I started waxing when I was 13. By this point I had switched from boy's clothes to women's clothes. And even though I cut my hair short and only ever wore the trousers of my school uniform, I was still hurt when strangers called me he.... I have huge breasts, and I shave my legs - I'd think. I was never all the things they told you a woman should be on TV, but I was half of them.

I was always into comic books. I grew fond of half creatures - centaurs and mermaids and werewolves and valkyries. Even years into the feminist campaigning, singing power to the women at marches and protests, I still felt like an odd half. Like my words were void because I wasn't a stereotype of a woman - a proper woman. I always saw other women as more of a woman than I was. I didn't want to devalue their experiences.

I stood in front of the mirror. "She" I'd say out loud, and shake my head. "He" I'd say out loud and shake my head too. I've tried other pronouns, but none of them seem to fit. The language doesn't feel right to me. But I still correct people - it's she. I feel more she than he, anyway.

Femininity and masculinity are complicated things. I don't really know where I stand with gender, but I do know that I've always wanted to be physically more masculine and mentally more feminine. Does our gender reside in our mind or our body, or both? Which is stronger? What gender is my soul?

I stand in front of the mirror. I'm wearing a bra, and boxer shorts. I've sewn the front of the shorts together because I don't have a cock to fill out the space. This is a masculine feature I'm fine without. I love my vagina, I'm a hardcore feminist in that sense. But as I look at myself I poke the curve of my stomach, and I notice how I notice it.

I had this dream when I was a teenager, that I'd have a six pack like so many of the comic book characters that I worshipped. More muscle, more muscle, more muscle.

I don't remember when I first started struggling with weight. Everything else sits neatly on a timeline, but this doesn't seem to have a beginning - or an end. I didn't want to lose weight because it was seen as feminine. I wanted to lose weight to be less feminine. The flatter my chest, the flatter my stomach, the smaller my hips and butt and thighs - the more androgynous I'd look.

But as I thought about weight, it wasn't really weight I had a problem with - it was fat. I wanted my body to be flat and straight, like they showed men's bodies to be in magazines. But I didn't want to be thin. I'm a short person, and I often feel weak, and I still look a lot at my tiny body and think, I wish that I was stronger.

My body doesn't really want to be much stronger though. It has always been tiny. And it constantly tries to remind me that strength doesn't equal muscle and muscle doesn't equal strength. And I should really stop worrying about not looking androgynous enough, or masculine enough, or feminine enough. Because I just am.

I'm about to go on a trip. 10 weeks in South East Asia, miles away from where I'm writing this, in my bedroom in London, sitting next to my cat. I've never been away from home for this long before, but I'm not worried about many things. Except already I'm worried about my body. About not getting enough protein, and how wearing a swimming costume will inevitably highlight all the curves, and how my confusion about gender will make other people uncomfortable.

This time next week I'll be in Bangkok, and I'll try to keep writing.

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