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?
 

The DepressiOnion

Trigger warning: Talk of deep depression, brief mentions of fat-shaming.
This article is a late-night musing. I hope that it gives you a new idea of how my brain works, and I hope you can use this idea to relate to others. If this model works for you, I highly encourage you to use it too. 
This week, I had the opportunity to attend Playground Conference in Toronto. I had an amazing time, met a bunch of new people, and this will all be covered extensively in a blog post later. Right now, I want to focus on one moment that particularly stuck with me: I was talking to someone at length about personal philosophies and how their mind works through life. When it was my turn to share, I was at a loss to describe my own brain despite thinking about it almost every moment of every day.  I’m a Psychology student and I think about thinking a lot. I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t have this conversation. Some of it is because I’m too close to my own brain to summarize it properly. It’s hard to see everything at once. However, there is another layer at work here. I didn’t want to explore my brain because it scares me to talk about it.
The Problem
My brain is a hellish landscape of depression, anxiety and grief. My father passed away at a very important time of my life. My family was a wreck throughout my growing up. I didn’t really understand this until recently, but now I feel it very acutely as I try to work though my own mental problems with a professional. I begin tracing back the problems I have now to things that happened years ago, and were subsequently buried under life.
Someone recently described their default mode as “quirky and looking for innuendos.” At the time, I was baffled because that is the farthest thing from true for me. As I begin to think about how my brain interacts with the world around me, I am realizing that my default is “isolated.” I am consistently seeking out ways that I am special and different from others. I want to be seen as a commodity because I am unique. I also want to be independent, because my freedom is so important to me. However, I also default to a sense of loneliness. My brain automatically sees differences between me and the people I love. The differences that make me good come with other differences that (as my brain sees it) make me not-so-good.
The negative side of this primarily comes from a side of my depression that actively hates me. For every “Leo moment” where I love my hair, my skills, my humor, there is a moment where I feel obnoxious, annoying, awkward, or downright asinine. I play up my “Leo moments” because I want to believe them myself. I know this hateful part of me has existed for a long time, and I’ve learned to live with it. It got buried under careers, relationships, and other life. But now, I am working through those piles so I can live a healthier and fuller life. As this hateful side of me becomes more accessible, it becomes louder and more harmful.
If my default state is so easily tipped into the negative, what does that mean when I have social interactions? Well, thanks to insecurity, and a lack of being able to recognize social cues, I very often second-guess what I do, and the information I think I know. For example, I have a hard time believing that someone would be flirting with me. I let things go over my head because I’ll never be sure if they really were, or if I just wanted to believe that because I want to make sure I stay in a positive space that day. I usually walk away from parties and conferences fearing I missed opportunities (at best), or was downright awful to be around (at worst).
The New Idea
All of this sounds like very typical bad self-esteem. That certainly plays a big part. Why would I be sharing this when it’s nothing new? Well, there’s a new idea that came into my brain as I recover from Playground Conference.
The word intersectionality refers to a concept where differing identities cross, creating a more complete picture of someone. This most commonly gets applied to different types of oppression and/or prejudice. This concept is what I’m going for, but with depression. I refuse to use the word intersectionality for my depression concept because that is already associated with a movement and concept which is much bigger than my mental health. But I would like to borrow the basic principles and apply them. This is why I use the word DepressiOnion. It’s a really great pun (which is on brand for me), and it conveys this idea very well.
Let Me Explain
Imagine me holding a tiny onion sprout. It’s little with maybe two or three layers. This represents my base depression. It’s small but manageable enough. Not very trusting, a little less secure in attachment. With just this, I’m moving through the world differently already. I default to a feeling of loneliness, even when with a lover. I struggle to keep my head up on some days. But overall, I’m doing okay; I check in with a professional regularly just to make sure I’m on track.
Now add in some chronic issues like fat-shaming, transgender identity, weird non-monogamy spectrum, whatever applies. The onion is a bit bigger with a few more layers. It’s still easy to hold and work with, but it takes up more room and I have less space to hold other things (heh). I take on less of the outside world, and I need to check in more frequently.
Now, add in a life event, such as the recent break-up that I went through. The onion is even bigger, with more layers now. It’s still manageable, but requires much more energy than the first iteration. It’s takes up much more space than it used to, and now I have to spend all of my energy and space in one hand holding this onion. Each layer is built upon and working with the others. Again, my world view is different than before.
Now, with these three sets of layers, it’s much harder to feel good. I have a hard time feeling desirable. Maybe I’m better off alone, but then why am I lonely? Perhaps I’ll never be loved again. I worry that any time I date someone, they won’t see me for who I am. I worry that if I click with someone, I won’t be in a good headspace to date them at that time. I think that I am too much work/hassle/etc. But this is me, and I can’t get rid of it. I can’t change these identities.
So what if something else happens? Con drop? A new potential affection for someone? A friend being revealed as someone you’re not sure you can trust? All three in one week (which is what has happened)?
Well this onion is joined by more and more layers. That con is more isolating because I’m coming home to an empty bed instead of a partner. The new affection is highlighting how infrequently I feel seen (and loved) in my entirety. My untrustworthy friend reminds me why I don’t trust my own judgement in the first place. All of these layers are now related. They are intimately involved in one another. It’s hard to get to the core of the onion now. It takes up all the space and energy just trying to hold it.
Oh and you can’t put it down either. Because it’s you.