Chapter One – Recollections: A Memoir of Gender and Trauma in the Last of My Teen Years

Disclaimer: This chapter discusses weight, body image, and gender expression. 

Introduction

I decided to write this for a handful of reasons. Primarily, I rarely ever talk about my gender identity/expression. There have been so many twists over the last handful of years that I often find myself feeling like i just don’t know who I am. So really, documenting it from the beginning feels like the best way for me to track the changes i’ve been through. I hope that by sharing my experiences, somebody else will feel inspired – to share their own experiences, to pay a visit with themselves, to talk and to think about things in general.  

Chapter One: Body Image, Bicycles, and Boyfriends

Clear skies, autumn breeze, the green grass of the school’s field and the chalky red track. My white skin longed for sunscreen, turning pink to match the residual red dust on the whites of my sneakers. I always walked alone during P.E., my inconsistent breathing and inability to keep up even the lightest of jogs snuffed out any desire for companionship during my least favorite class period. My discerning teacher picked up on this; pulling me aside one day after a long game of handball in which, once again, nobody had passed the ball to me, she asked me to join her pilates class, instead. “There’s no talking allowed,” she offered, and that was all the persuading i needed – no talking meant i’d no longer be the only one hanging out alone; i’d be in a room full of people who were required not to interact with one another, and all i needed to do was to pick up a floor mat.

Elation quickly became regret as i discovered that my chubby body was ill-prepared for the intensity of our pilates workouts. Alternating between pilates and yoga, for five days a week i did an hour of strength training each morning, often skipping the following class period to recuperate. The girls in my class – there were no boys in this period – were all highly femme; thin and wealthy, they wore lulu lemon and perfect mascara. I felt fat, i only had my PE uniform to wear, and my bangs would always curl from the sweat beads on my forehead. Slipping down my mat during downward dog was embarrassing enough without also worrying about whether or not my petite classmates were judging my thighs, and my large chest that constantly got in the way during core exercises. I began to loathe my new pilates class.

Meanwhile, outside of school, life went on in new ways for me. I formed my first band and found friends in people i wouldn’t have expected to, i played shows frequently, drove my friends around on adventures, and thrifted my little heart out. I also succumbed to teenage jealousy; my friend, who was also the singer of my band, always seemed to get so much attention. Sometimes she’d interject while i was talking to someone, and end up leaving with them while i packed up our gear into my car. My low self-esteem entered into a complicated relationship with my desire to be on stage. I felt ugly and untalented at the same time as i needed to be looked at and praised. I searched desperately for anything to make me feel better about myself, including but not limited to promiscuity.

My friendship with our lead singer became as complicated as my self-image. She became the first girl i’d ever kissed, though our relationship remained platonic; and soon, her partying grew to be so invasive that we asked her to leave the band. I became the lead singer in her place, and formed a close friendship with our guitarist. This whole time period has become such a jumble in my brain. The ins and outs of friendships, bands, and relationships. I recall a pervading feeling of desperation, mixed with fearlessness and excitement. Everything felt so important, so huge, and so new.  Despite our old singer’s absence, though, some of the things she had said to me remained stuck permanently in my brain. I recalled her asking if i was a lesbian. She found it odd that i’d never finished with anyone, despite how many times i’d had sex. And, she noted, i seemed to be much more attracted to girls, anyway. After all, a girl was the subject of over half of the songs i’d written for our band. The same girl who i’d nervously made a mixtape for, carefully selecting the songs and playing them in order over and over to make sure it was exactly right, crafting the tape’s cover in my downtime during art class. I supposed that she had a point, and I brooded on this for a long time, finally pushing it away from the forefront of my thoughts.

 

The previous spring, i had picked up a bike at a garage sale – it sat largely unused in my mother’s garage, until my car broke down in senior year and i was forced to fix it up so i could get to school and back. In doing so, i grew an enormous love for my two-wheeled friend, lovingly named “Killer.” Speeding down the hill to school every morning and locking my bike up next to all the others was thrilling, a huge confidence boost. Even in the cold weather, i reveled in my bike rides to school. I’d lock it up and sneer cockily at the bikes i’d deemed less cool than mine, and peer jealously at the other road bikes, wondering whose they were. I hoped that whoever the owner was noticed my bike, too; a bright green affair, built originally in the 1970s. I’d restored the derailleur system and tires myself. I was enormously proud of Killer and its carefully placed stickers, and especially its original glittery green handlebar tape.

My riding, combined with daily pilates, gave me more strength and slowly i began to lose weight. A friend spoke of her decision to eat paleo, and i decided to join her in support. This quickly shifted to a vegan diet. The pounds melted off my body and within a couple of months i’d reached a size i’d never been before: small. My confidence on stage reached new levels, too; i felt better about my face, my posture, my presence. I was more energetic, yelling and jumping and rolling around on stage – behavior i’d never exhibited previously, always having been hunched over my bass as i tried my best to keep the crowd from seeing my face. Recalling my affection for punk girls and mod boys, i cut my hair short, and then shorter. In my spare time i was active on tumblr; it was 2012, after all. Through this outlet, i discovered chest binding and gender neutrality. Unable to afford a chest binder, i did something dangerous and wore duct tape over the top of my sports bra. It was uncomfortable and difficult to wrap around myself. The sports bra bunched up underneath the tape, and i was terrified of accidentally taping any skin. The result was astonishing though. Always having been a D or DD, the relative flatness of my chest left me elated. I wore a shirt i loved but never put on because the buttons around the chest would always pop open. But this time the buttons lay flat. I could’ve wept, i was so happy – my chest was the subject of most of my self-loathing. I was acutely aware of the dangers of wearing duct tape, however, and could never bring myself to do it again. I opted instead for sports bras in a size too small; still uncomfortable and less effective, but it would be another year before i could afford a proper chest binder.

I suppose my new appearance had drawn the attention of a boy i only barely knew, and before long we were conspiring over tumblr messages to plan our first date together. It was a wonderful date, and we quickly entered into a relationship. At certain points the words of my former singer would permeate my happiness with him; i’d wonder midway through sex together if i was really enjoying it, or simply going through the motions. Showing off my new body was a pleasure, and i was extremely proud to do so – and the connection we had overpowered all else at times – but sometimes i’d grow distant during our intimacy, as i considered whether my pride was the only reason i was participating in sex. The complicated nature of our togetherness resulted in an underlying darkness to it all. He sensed it; i could barely hide it from him, anyway. He and i knew one another better than anyone i’d ever known before. It soon became impossible to ignore. We broke up.  

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