What Happens When Your Femininity Doesn't Fit the Script?
This is another personal essay that I have poured some heart and soul into. These types of posts are common as I travel, because I’m often spending time by myself. These things are healthy for me to reflect on. By writing them (even in the throes of emotion), I hope to either open a dialogue, or to help someone else not feel quite so alone.
Trigger Warnings: Fatphobia, Eating/Food/Weight Talk, Suicidal Ideations, Mental Health Problems
I have made no secret of the fact that I was assigned female at birth. I also have often talked about my childhood as a tomboy. As a kid, I always stood out. My parents were older, and when my sister rejected me for the first 15 years of my life, I figured out how to be alone. Despite teachers consistently pairing me with other “loners,” I stubbornly refused to fit in with others. I did what I wanted for the most part, and I liked what I did. I would not let anyone else ruin that for me.
When I started Kindergarten, I was about average weight with the other kids. I was mostly happy to be in school, and even though I didn’t have consistent friends, I socialized well and I charmed many of the teachers. Somehow, for most of my childhood, I hid stress and sorrow, including from myself. A lot of these things had to do with the parenting style I was exposed to. In addition, I was witness to many family fights, and often subject guilt trips from my mother. Growing up, I didn’t have boundaries to set my life on a healthy track, physically or emotionally. It is by shear luck that I am smart as I am, which saved me in school.
However, as a result of this, and some genetics, I was overweight by the time I was in 4th grade. I remember hiding it under clothes as large as I could get. I have no memories of wearing Medium as a size because I moved to Large as soon as I could. I always reasoned that I would lose the weight and wear a Medium when I was in high school, when I was in college, as an adult. I spent years looking at diets, marveling at the before and after pictures. I wondered how those people had so much will power. And what did they have that I didn’t? I was smart and strong and committed. Why didn’t I just shed weight like them?
I was 9 years old.
My father passed the same year I hit puberty. I was 12. My feet grew two sizes in one summer, and the rest of my followed. Soon, I was wearing Extra Large instead of Large. I was taller than everyone in middle school, and I began to hunch, trying so hard to blend in. At the very least, I wanted to be ignored. I had a hard time keeping up with my growth. After 7th grade, all my pants were showing my ankles, so I chopped them into shorts, which also shortened to show my knees.
I learned how to live with unflattering clothes when my school adopted uniforms. Nothing fit right, and though colors didn’t matter, I felt more out of place than ever. I found small ways to break the rules. Colored socks, hats, wristbands. Anything to make myself feel like myself again. Because school was all I did. My depression and family loss made it impossible to be social otherwise. So I held onto my own identity desperately, even though I didn’t even know what it was. One day, I was called out by a teacher for wearing knee-high socks that were brightly colored. My very thin and attractive best friend was standing right next to me with fluorescent striped thigh-highs. She was ignored.
Now that I reflect, I understand my entire identity revolved around NOT fitting in. I embraced my height and my fatness as much as possible. I ate what I wanted and I took no shit from my peers. I became a master at charming teachers so I could be by myself as often as possible. While so many other girls were flirting and chatting, I was reading, or scowling into my lunch. Throughout middle school, a single person expressed interest in getting to know me romantically. He was cute and I would have tried, except that I didn’t believe or trust him. This narrative would be repeated until I was 20.
Physically, I continued to grow. I now stand at 5’10” and I weight roughly 290 pounds. I am intimidating. Friends often looked to me for protection, and I learned how to be the bouncer for us when we went out. These instincts later fueled a joke that I was the Dad-friend. They aren’t wrong. I continue to be intimidating to most people who don’t know me, and this leads many people to leave me alone. I have been cat-called a total of 4 times in my life. Two of those times I was with friends with friends (so I may not have been the target). I have been asked on dates only thrice. All other times, I have initiated. I hear people complain about being cat-called or bothered at bars, and I am envious. Cat-calling is not okay for anyone and I want it? What the fuck is wrong with this?
When femininity is measured by the response cis-men have to you, it leaves people like me largely ignored, and feeling isolated and unseen. To this day, I still wonder if people interested in me are just playing a cruel joke.
I heard about other women being flirted with, asked out, bought drinks, and cat-called. A lot of them learned to base their worth on these things, and they had been judged worthy (though it was precariously placed in the hands of others). However, without those things to deem me worthy, I adopted “worthless.” I lived my life in as much shadow as I could. No one could prove to me I was worth anything. Anytime one person tried, the rest of the system denied it. Entire social systems against one small, depressed girl.
I wish I could say it’s better now. But wherever I turn, I see more fat hate. I see more messages telling me I’m wrong for being non-binary. People DM me and are mad that I tell them up front “I am not a woman.” I hear friends say “You were a really cute girl, and it will be sad to lose it.” My only question is: By whose standards was I cute? Clearly not most of the men I met. Clearly not most of the women. Clearly not society at large. Because almost no one ever said these things to me when I was a woman. Only seven people in my life had ever visibly and openly demonstrated that they thought I was worth noticing.
My mother consistently asks me about my Testosterone shots. When will I stop them? Why do I need them?
Here’s the truth mom: I need them because I’ve never been a woman. I’ve been Othered even when I TRIED to be a woman. When I tried all the ways possible to be more feminine, I was still ignored. I use Testosterone to help me feel like I belong in my body because my body never fit any mold anyway. And honestly, I don’t have ANY idea what you think will happen when/if I stop testosterone. Will I suddenly be seen as “acceptable?” Will I suddenly find a man and settle down like my sisters?
NO. FUCK NO.
Because I am tall. Because I am fat. Because I am not traditionally pretty. Because even without testosterone, my body was deemed “undesirable” by the world at large. I finally feel at peace with that decision. I finally feel like I have control over that decision. Yes, I am having an even harder time than ever finding someone to love, and that makes me sad. But I finally love my hips and my curves. I love the beard that grows when I don’t shave. I love how my jawline is hardening. I love my hairy legs.
I still haven’t been deemed worthy by society, and that still stings. It always will. But I have been deemed worthy by myself. It’s the one tiny bit of hope that I’m using to stay alive, and it’s still precarious. Why would you ever want to take away that last protection?