AJ, my non-binary progeny, has had what you might call “difficulties” coming to terms with being a boy trapped in a girl’s body and has written about that on this blog. (“Toy Retreat,” October 8, 2021; “Dinner With Mom and Dad,” December 20, 2021; “Clothes Make the Man-Child,” January 14, 2022; and “Non-Binary Tennis,” August 31, 2022.) Today AJ continues to guest blog about perhaps the most difficult part of that journey–his struggle with body image, food, and the lapse in mental and physical health that made it clear that some critical life decisions were necessary. Here is the fifth and final part of AJ’s essay:
Bulimia nervosa: An eating disorder, “mostly in women” (says Merriam Webster) in which excessive concern with weight and body shape leads to binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or the excessive use of laxatives of diuretics. According to the Mayo clinic there are two types of bulimia: purging bulimia where one regularly self-induces vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas after binging, and non-purging bulimia where one uses other methods to rid oneself of calories and prevent weight gain, such as fasting, strict dieting, or excessive exercise.
So, I’m now eating almost nothing. I binge eat, skulk around in grocery stores and steal candy because I’m HUNGRY. Apparently, my body needs those binges in order to, you know, make my heart beat and keep my diaphragm moving. After a binge, I don’t eat anything for a few days. I’ve lost tons of weight, but I am HUNGRY! I no longer have the energy to exercise away those binge calories. I am angry at my body because it’s HUNGRY! It’s trying to make me eat, trying to make me more of a woman; my own body, that bitch! Exercise no longer suffices to balance the binges. I come up with a new strategy: I start to purge. ME! The one who was puke-a-phobic throughout my entire life. I must have thrown up when I was a kid (doesn’t everybody?), which must’ve felt so bad or scared me so much that I refused ever to do it again. Then as a teenager I threw up three times from drinking and stopped drinking altogether for ages because everything surrounding the upchuck process was horrifying. This is the me who now started to stick my own grubby finger down my own grubby throat.
I literally ate myself sick. I would just eat and eat and eat and indulge until I hit a threshold, and then I’d eat more to push myself over the edge and be able to puke. I felt crazy and out of control while doing it, but there you have it. I wanted to eat and taste the food, but not add to my woman wombum bumpum, so I turned to bulimia. As it turned out, throwing up wasn’t all that bad, and it got easier (finally…something!). Alcohol, I learned, aided the process to an extraordinary degree because it dulled my senses, further impaired my judgment, and made me want to puke naturally if I drank too much of it…in fact, I had to puke if I drank too much. Unfortunately, it was also an appetite enhancer and stimulant. So I would eat, then purge. It was a vicious merry-go-round, but I knew not to buy a ticket too often—I didn’t want to become a bulimic for heaven’s sake. Oh, and I also abused laxatives, but only in moderation! As they say, “everything in moderation…”
I was in complete denial about my bulimia. I reasoned (ha!) that because I wasn’t puking with regularity like I thought a bulimic did, I couldn’t possibly be considered bulimic. But I didn’t want to throw up or have diarrhea all the time. Neither was much fun. I was in a quandary: I did not want to binge and I did not want to eat. Thus, I employed my third and final tool: Windex. Inspired by the father from My Big Fat Greek Wedding who uses Windex as a cure-all, I used it to cure my lack of control around food. I rendered bingeable foods fresh-scented, sparkly, and inedible. My toxic condiment was used on sweets or leftovers that I deemed too calorie-laden. Without the Windex, I was doomed to endure the process of binging and purging, and that took too much energy—energy I no longer had. Spraying Windex on food was sacrilege to me because 1) I was wasting a cleaning product, and 2) I was wasting food when there were starving people in the world. Sometimes after spraying it, I dumped the food in the toilet and flushed it away. I felt guilty for that, too, but it was better than eating it, throwing it up in the toilet, and then flushing it away. Right?
A new fun game emerged: Grocery stores provided me a whole world of free buffets once again, but not from samples anymore. This time it was from their inventory turnover. I hovered on the pavement outside where stores deposited their garbage. The City is rife with unwanted or expired items, and I became fixated on them as some sort of basic instinctual survival skill. I became a character in Hatchet or contestant on Alone, except I wasn’t stranded anywhere in the middle of nature, didn’t have to live off the land or defend myself against predators, and could walk into one of those grocery stores at any time to buy and eat food. In socioeconomic terms this mania was completely unwarranted and unnecessary, and I knew it. I should have recognized that I was starving myself and going slowly mad in the process. But no. Instead I dabbled in picking stuff out of the garbage. I never ate garbage…not garbage like from a dish someone else had eaten from. I never hovered over a street corner garbage can waiting for individuals to discard bits of sandwich that I could rescue and eat. I did faux foraging. There I was in my Gap jeans and Urban Outfitters shirt rummaging through tidy bags of civilized garbage put out by local bakeries or high-end grocery stores. I was a bougie bandit: I’d slink away with loaves of multigrain baguettes. Baguettes I was terrified I was going to binge on! Everything was upside down, turned around, and backwards in my world.
There was a method to my madness (and it WAS madness): For example, I monitored a certain Citarella gourmet market because on certain days of the week they would put out their expired sushi. It was just a day expired, so I took the gamble and ate old tuna or salmon rolls. They never tasted too funky and I managed not to get sick. Another triumphant haul was at a Duane Reade that was turning over their inventory of expensive (and expired) cereal. It was Kashi Go Lean, so this was a double win because it was supposedly healthy. The Kashi lasted me for months as I parceled it out at work for lunch. It tasted horrible, which helped me not binge on it. I was probably poisoning myself because it tasted like chemically laminated bitter cardboard. Anyway, as I ate my way through it, lunch after lunch, I was happy and even proud of my resourcefulness, non-wastefulness, and “normalness.” I was finally not throwing away food, I was eating the food that was thrown away!
Even I knew that I needed help. I didn’t want to go to therapy, but I couldn’t stand myself nor could I continue living this way. Was I trying to kill myself? Passively, probably. Disappear myself? Yes. I was definitely trying to kill that feminine beast who kept trying to invade my body. And I did kill part of her because I had finally attained amenorrhea…let the choir sing! Amenorrhea is the abnormal absence of a normal monthly menstrual cycle. I had always had very regularly scheduled and very, uh, robust periods. A while before, I had noticed my periods getting less and less heavy (curious…) though still regular. But then they kind of became ghost-periods; like the first days were like the last of my “normal” periods. Then one magical month…I got NOTHING! What?! Huh?! What’s going on? (Obviously not pregnant, hahaha!) Then another month. What?! Huh?! What’s going on?
Honestly, I tried not to think about it too much for fear that even thinking about would bring it back. Like saying Voldemort’s name. But this was a magical time! Somehow, even in my non-lucid non-thinking-straight (always think gay, boys and girls! Haha.) I put two and two together…I did math! Not eating and not having enough calories to like, have thick hair and nails, also meant not having enough calories to drop eggs. Aaaaand done. I could never lay another egg again but I could also, *sob*, not maintain this. Period.
I knew I needed to get my shit together if I were to survive. To do this, I knew I had to eat again like a normal human being. But by doing that was I going to have to let the beast win? Talk about being between a rock and a hard place…or for me it was between a tampon and a pad, ugh. I needed help. Although I was out of my mind from caloric deficit, I was lucky enough to know that I was out of my mind and to know that I needed help if I were going to pull myself from the abyss.
I reached out to my best friend and casually told her that I kinda wanted to die, explaining only that that was the reason I had been “acting weird.” She came to my rescue by having her mother (a psychologist) refer me immediately to a psychoanalyst whom she trusted. Thank you, my friend. And my friend’s mom.
Recovery is another story. It involved the recognition that the feminine beast didn’t have to reign victorious. Did I need a tampon or pad again? Yes, but only a couple times, and things were looking up by then. I knew my paying the pink tax was moments away. Years have now gone by since I had surgery to remove my feminine “equipment” (ovaries, uterus, breasts). It has made all the difference…but I’m still kinda OCD, heh.