Non-Binary Tennis

I am the “non-binary progeny” of my dad’s blog. Non-binary, should you not know (and I don’t mean to imply that you are unaware, but a whole lot of people don’t know this), means that I identify as neither a woman nor a man. However, my gender “assigned at birth” was female, and I was raised as a girl. This proved to be complicated for me growing up. Playing tennis revealed some of the issues that a regular girl might not have encountered, but I was not a regular girl.

When I was nine my parents started renting a summer place in Pennsylvania. It’s a really “nice”—er, I mean “civilized”–place: A small community of about 300 families, it has 27 holes of golf, a beautiful Olympic-sized swimming pool, and 10 tennis courts. As a kid, I hated it. There were almost no kids there my age. I was a year younger than one group of girls, who, of course, formed a clique, and I was a year older than other girls who, of course, wanted nothing to do with me. I played mucho tennis.

At 11 or 12 I was still playing tennis at our summer place. I had rather longish hair at the time, and it was very thick. That’s what girls had, after all—long, @#$%& hair. However, “hair things” (ties, scrunchies, elastics), those things designed to tame your long hair, seemed like accessories or jewelry. I hated accessories and jewelry, so I wouldn’t have one of those “hair things” touch me. No matter how hot I got, I would keep my hair unbound. My hair would, of course, fall into my face and stick to the sweat there. Pleasant. My mother, seeing me struggle with my hair with sweat pouring down my face and neck tried to convince me that boys and men would put their hair in pony-tails–“like Andre Agassi,” she said. Well, even though he was one of my idols, I wouldn’t budge. For years I wouldn’t yield to a hair thing. For some unfathomable reason, neither would I allow my hair to be cut. I must have been in a constant state of dehydration.

And then, of course, there was the issue of tennis clothes—more specifically, the dreaded tennis skirt. It was common in the 1990’s that girls wore tennis skirts, or worse, tennis dresses. Some got away with wearing shorts, but skirts were more common. Personally, I think it’s absurd to wear a skirt for anything athletic. In tennis it seems totally nonsensical, and it’s plainly uncomfortable to stick a ball in your tennis underwear when you could so easily put it in a pocket. So I wouldn’t wear a skirt. I don’t think I ever in my life wore a skirt. (Under duress, I once or twice succumbed to culottes or gaucho pants in place of a skirt, but that’s another story.) I only wore shorts; that, after all, is what boys wore. During the school year I played in various tennis clubs around the city. The main one in which I trained enforced an all-whites rule. (Dress codes are the sacred cows of tennis clubs; after all, even Serena wears white at Wimbledon.) You could wear any combo of tennis attire, even t-shirts without collars, but they had to be all white. We always checked before coming to a given court, but luckily, none of the courts where I played enforced a skirt rule for girls.

So now I’m 16 and a pretty fair tennis player. Dad thought it would be fun for me to try out to be a ball-person at the U.S. Open–you know, hang out with the stars, get a few autographs, pick up a few souvenirs. I had a thrower’s arm (thanks to him) and could easily loft a ball across an entire court, which was a distinct requirement.* If you couldn’t throw a ball the length of the court, you were cut. I was also good at fielding balls (Dad had trained me well), so after the first round, I was accepted. It was a rule, of course, that all ball-people had to wear the uniform of the athletic sponsor (e.g., Fila, Izod, Ralph Lauren, whatever). Boys got shorts and boy-cut shirts. Guess what girls got? I declined the acceptance into the ball-person ranks. There was no way that I was going to be seen in a tennis skirt by millions of TV viewers.

Much as I hate the idea of tennis skirts, I do greatly and deeply thank tennis for allowing me to wear sports bras all the time. Sports bras aren’t all frilly or lacy. They are made of sensible, non-chafing material. And even though I had no chest to speak of, I wanted to hide what there was of it, and sports bras were tight enough to serve as a binder. They made me look flat-chested, and because I was coming to realize how much I wanted to rid myself of feminine attributes (no skirts, no lace—no chest), they were perfect.

My high school didn’t have a tennis team, but I continued to play tennis outside of school and got to be a better-than-pretty-fair player. College coaches were impressed enough with the video I sent (heh, VHS) with my application to want me on their team or at least wanted me to try out, and, of course, it didn’t hurt when the coaches nudged their Admissions Office to give me the thumbs up.

I chose to attend an all-women’s college, which, not surprisingly, promoted feminism and female power—intellectual, societal, political, athletic. (Plus, dude, I wanted a girlfriend, and they are more queer-friendly institutions.) Imagine my amazement, then, when I learned that the girls on the tennis team were required to wear tennis skirts. The field hockey team, a group of women who looked as though they could take on Roman gladiators, also had to wear skirts. I just didn’t understand. It made no sense whatsoever. What was this skirt tyranny all about? (Sorry; that was my own personal little rant there.) I resented not having the option of attire. If a woman wants to wear a skirt to play, then she absolutely should be able to (and, likewise, so should men). On the flip side, however, she should also have the option of wearing shorts. Today, happily, these choices are more accepted. This is good; people should be able to choose what they wear without taboos and prejudice being applied.

Needless to say, I didn’t join the team. I just couldn’t.

The game figured prominently in my youth and young adulthood. I don’t play tennis much anymore, but I do continue to hit tennis balls, mostly against walls. It’s good exercise/therapy after all, and I have to get some use out of all those white shorts.


* These days kids roll the balls rather than throw them…a change that irritates my dad no end (see his blog on Labor Day).

Non-Binary Tennis

( Guest post from the NBP)

I am the “non-binary progeny” of my dad’s blog. Non-binary, should you not know (and I don’t mean to imply that you are unaware, but a whole lot of people don’t know this), means that I identify as neither a woman nor a man. However, my gender “assigned at birth” was female, thus I was raised as a girl. This proved to be complicated for me growing up. Playing tennis revealed some of the issues that a regular girl might not have encountered, but I was not a regular *gulp* girl.

When I was nine my parents started renting a summer place in Pennsylvania. It’s a really “nice” er civilized place: a small community of about 300 families, it has 27 holes of golf, a beautiful Olympic-sized swimming pool, and 10 tennis courts. As a kid, I hated it. There were almost no kids there my age. I was a year younger than one group of girls, who, of course, formed a clique, and I was a year older than other girls who, of course, wanted nothing to do with me. I played mucho tennis.

At 11 or 12, I had rather longish hair, and it was very thick, or thicc as they say now. That’s what girls had, after all (*^%*$%$*). However, “hair things” (ties, scrunchies, elastics) seemed like accessories or jewelry. I hated that kind of stuff, so I wouldn’t have one of those “hair things” touch me. No matter how hot I got, I would keep my hair down. My hair would, of course, fall into my face and stick to the sweat there. Pleasant. My mother, seeing me struggle with my hair with sweat pouring down my face and neck tried to convince me that boys and men would put their hair in pony-tails, “like Andre Agassi,” she said. Well, he was one of my idols. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t budge. I wouldn’t touch a hair thing. I must have been in a constant state of dehydration.

And then, of course, there was the issue of tennis clothes—more specifically, the dreaded tennis skirt. It was common that girls wore tennis skirts, or worse, tennis dresses. Some got away with wearing shorts, but skirts were more common. Personally, I think it’s absurd to wear a skirt for anything athletic. In tennis it seems totally nonsensical, and it’s plainly uncomfortable to stick a ball in your tennis underwear when you could so easily put it in a pocket. So I wouldn’t wear a skirt. I don’t think I ever in my life put one on. (Under duress, once of twice I would succumb to culottes or gaucho pants in place of a skirt, but that’s another story.) I only wore shorts; that, after all, is what boys wear. During the school year I played in various clubs around the City. The main one in which I trained enforced an all-whites rule. You could wear any combo of tennis attire, including t-shirts, but they had to be white. We always checked before coming to a given court, but luckily, none of the courts where I played enforced the rule that girls had to wear tennis skirts.

So now I’m 16 and a pretty fair tennis player. Dad thought it would be fun for me to try out to be a ball-person at the U.S. Open. I had a thrower’s arm (thanks to him) and could easily loft a ball across an entire court, which was a distinct requirement. If you couldn’t throw a ball the length of the court, you were cut. I was also good at fielding balls (Dad had trained me well), so after the first round, I was accepted. It was a rule, of course, that all ball-people had to wear the uniform of the athletic sponsor (e.g., Fila, Izod, Ralph Lauren, whatever). Boys got shorts and boy-cut shirts. Guess what girls got? I declined the acceptance into the ball-person ranks.

Much as I hate the idea of tennis skirts, I do greatly and deeply thank tennis for allowing me to wear sports bras all the time. Sports bras aren’t all frilly or lacy. They are made of sensible, non-chafing material. And even though I had no chest to speak of really, I wanted to hide what there was of it, and sports bras were tight enough to serve as a binder. They made me look flat-chested, and because I was coming to realize how much I wanted to rid myself of feminine attributes (no skirts, no lace), they were perfect.

My high school didn’t have a tennis team, but I continued to play tennis outside of school and got to be a better-than-pretty-fair player. College coaches were impressed enough with the video I sent (heh, VHS) with my application to want me on their team or at least wanted me to try out, and it didn’t hurt when the coaches nudged their Admissions Office to give me the thumbs up.

I chose to attend an all-women’s college, which, not surprisingly, promoted feminism and female power—intellectual, societal, political, athletic—plus, dude, I wanted a girlfriend and they are more queer friendly institutions. Imagine my amazement, then, when I learned that the girls on the tennis team had to wear tennis skirts. The field hockey team, a group of women who looked as though they could take on Roman gladiators, also had to wear skirts. I just didn’t understand. It made no sense whatsoever. What was this skirt tyranny all about? (Sorry; that was my own personal little rant there.) I resented not having the option of attire. I’m happy if a woman wants to wear a skirt to play; then she absolutely should be able to (and likewise, so should a male). On the flip side, however, she should also have the option of wearing shorts. Today, happily, these choices are more accepted. This is good; people should be able to choose what they wear without taboos and prejudice being applied.

Needless to say, I didn’t join the team there. I just couldn’t.

The game figured prominently in my youth and young adulthood. I don’t play tennis much anymore, but I do continue to hit tennis balls, mostly against walls. It’s good exercise/therapy after all, and I have to get some use out of all my shorts.

Demise of America–Tennis Edition (concluded)

I expect when I go the U.S. Open in a few days the experience will be similar to previous visits: I will get lost coming out of the parking lot and I will wonder where we are going to find dinner in Queens. But one thing will have changed since we first started going to this tennis tournament—the role of the ball people. Each tennis match has six ball people: two stationed behind each base line and two at the net. Their basic job is to scoop up the loose balls when not in play and get them to end of the court where the server is.

 When I started watching tennis, the American ball kids threw the balls. Those at the net only had to toss them from mid-court to the back wall, but those behind the baselines threw the entire length of the playing surface. To be a ball person, one had to be able to throw the ball, and I thought that was right because, in my opinion, real American athletes should be able to throw. In contrast, ball people at tournaments in other countries rolled the ball as if they were involved in some sort of kiddy bowling game. The ball kids beyond the baselines would bend down and roll the balls to the net boys and girls, who would then collect them and turn and roll them to the kids who were going to supply the servers. Of course, I thought, those Italian, French, English, and even Australian people had to do this because they could not throw. That thought made me proud to be an American where we can do so many things.

 The NBP has always been able to throw well and knows and played tennis. A natural to be a ball person at the U.S. Open, I thought. So one year I took the NBP to the ball-person tryouts at the National Tennis Center about six weeks before the Open. I had brought a ball for the NBP to warm up with, and we found a vacant court on which to practice. I had injured my shoulder long before and could not throw well, but I could get the ball back well enough for the NBP to be ready for the tryout. (I have written about how my damaged shoulder affected various aspects of my life, including not being drafted in the Vietnam war era, sexist health insurance, and having the shoulder replaced with an artificial joint. See For Preexisting Conditions, Spouse Means Wife – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog); Dominance – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog); Big Government Makes Killers – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog); When Government was BIG – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog)

The person in charge of the tryouts explained that people who could only throw from the net to the baseline and not the full extent of the tennis court might still be hired, but their odds were lessened since they would have to be stationed at center court instead of being able to fill any of the six ball person positions. The NBP did well and was better by far than most of the tryouts. Part of the reason was that the progeny was a gifted athlete, but also because many of the kids could barely throw. I had expected that many of the girls might not be able to loft the ball from one end to the other, but I was surprised at how few of the boys could. When I was growing up, almost all the boys I knew could throw reasonably well, but perhaps my memories were distorted. I hung out primarily with guys who played sports; maybe there were lots of boys I did not know who could not throw a ball sixty or seventy feet, but I still think they were not the majority. At the U.S. Open tryouts, however, it seemed that maybe only a quarter of the male teens could throw adequately.

 The NBP was going to be a shoo-in to be a ball person, and I already was trying to figure out transportation and other logistics, but then I started to feel some guilt. Unlike the progeny and me, many of those seeking the position seemed to be from the less affluent classes, and probably the weeks-long pay could be important to them and their families. Was it right that the NBP took a position that otherwise would have gone to one of them?

 At the time the NBP was identified as a girl, and as a ball girl she was going to have to wear a tennis skirt designed by one of the sponsors—Ralph Lauren or Puma or Adidas. And here I failed as a father. Even then, I should have known that skirt-wearing was a problem. The NBP, although not then openly identifying as non-binary, fiercely resisted skirts or other “girls” clothes. I should have gone to those in charge and at least asked if the NBP could wear shorts, but I did not think of it. A few weeks later, the NBP got a notice of the final tryouts but declined the invitation.

Somewhere between those tryouts twenty-five years ago and today, however, the role of the ball kids at the U.S. Open changed. They no longer throw the tennis balls, but as in Europe, awkwardly roll the balls as if they were in some sort of hurried, miniaturized lawn bowling event. They no longer seem American but Frenchified, fussy, foreign. I don’t know precisely when the change came or why. Of course it could be that wild throws might endanger spectators and it’s the fault of the insurance companies. But I believe that at least part of the reason is that fewer and fewer American kids can throw a ball as well as American kids ought to be able to do. Abilities have changed, and, apparently, so must American standards.

 Alas. I mourn the result.

(I urge you to read the guest post from the NBP on September 1 where he narrates some of his tennis experiences including the U.S. Open tryouts. I hope that I will not be blamed too much, even though I feel as if I could have been a better father.)

Demise of America–Tennis Edition

I will be going with the Non-Binary Progeny to the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York, on the first Friday of the two-week event. As with baseball, football, basketball, and soccer, the venue has a large stadium where spectators sit in assigned seats to watch the action. I don’t remember the first time or how many times I have attended the Open (always with the spouse and/or the NBP), but I do remember that I have seen some great tennis there, even if some of the details are hazy. I saw Federer stave off defeat in a close, exciting third-round match, but I don’t remember his opponent. I saw Agassi play a match where his opponent (I don’t remember him either) could not control his toss and his frequent intoning of “Sorry” echoed through the stadium and Andre became increasingly irritated. I saw what I heard later described as a match for the ages as Venus Williams was beaten in a tiebreak in the third set (her opponent?). In one great match I do remember both players. It was Boris Becker against McEnroe, but in this case, it was Patrick McEnroe. Long and close. It started late in the afternoon and extended past the start of the evening session. Those folks with the night tickets were kept waiting until the match concluded. The family was with me. The tennis grounds are near Long Island Sound, and as can happen, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. It was cold, and the wussy members of the family kept asking, demanding, imploring, begging that we go home, but I made us stick it out. (They have forgiven me or forgotten about it or have repressed it or have made it into a silent volcano of resentment that might erupt someday.) Patrick, who had beaten Boris earlier that year at the Australian Open, lost in four sets, three of which went to long tiebreaks.

Our seats were seldom outstanding. The best tickets were unaffordable and even if we could have dug deeper into our pockets, almost all the good seats were snapped up in some mysterious process by fat cats and corporations before we plebians could even think about buying them. However, through the years, I have learned where I could get seats that seemed to work best for us—behind the end line with the sun to our backs in the section just above the tickets for the 1%. When I first got those tickets, they weren’t cheap, but not so extravagant that I thought I was buying a high-end used car. In recent years, however, the cost for this location has gone up and up. Even if I could afford them, their outrageous cost offends me, so this year the NBP and I will have tickets in the upper altitudes where the ball is aspirin-size and the plunk of a struck tennis ball seems to take a few moments to arrive.

There were some glorious years that were different. An acquaintance worked for a company that hosted hospitality tents for sporting events, including the Heineken Pavilion at the U.S. Open. Knowing I was a tennis fan, for several years she offered me Heineken tickets to the Open. There were great advantages to this. The seats were much better than any I had bought, and the tickets granted admission to the Heineken center. The tennis center grounds are asphalt or something like it, and if the day is warm, it can be brutally hot at ground level during the day sessions at the Open, as it was one year that the NBP and I had the special tickets. The Heineken beer pavilion, however, is air-conditioned. Stepping inside for only a few moments to get a break from the heat and humidity was blissful. Because we often stay eight hours or so at the Open, bathroom breaks are necessary. There is often a line…but not at the Heineken tent. Food is also necessary; there are concession kiosks under the stands, and food stalls around the grounds. They are pricey, and often the lines are long. But those of us blessed with the Heineken connection are greeted with long buffet tables with goodies for which we do not pay. Besides that you might get to hobnob with–well, gawk at–famous tennis players of the past. The Heineken tickets, thus, had many benefits topped by being FREE. Of course, we were spoiled by them, and everything since has been a bit of a letdown.

Watching the matches in the main stadium is only a small part of enjoying a trip to the U.S. Open. A major tennis tournament is different from other sports because in addition to the action in the center court of the large stadium, the tennis venue contains many lesser courts where several matches are going on simultaneously. Some are in smaller stadiums, but many of the courts are like those in a public park with a few rows of bleachers along the sidelines. Spectators can seek out contests throughout the grounds and from a few feet away see some of the best athletes in the game. (At one of those courts, I caught a ball that flew over the three-foot fence. Before tossing it back, I noticed string marks on it and other wear and tear unlike any of the balls I have ever played with. Not surprisingly, tournament balls are changed every nine games.) In addition, the outer grounds contain practice courts where spectators can watch stars getting ready for their next match.

On these outer courts where the NBP and I spend most of our time at the U.S. Open, we have watched singles with high-ranked players and those not seeded; doubles matches; junior matches; senior matches; wheelchair matches; and practice sessions. Much of this has been highly entertaining including a women’s doubles contest with players I had never heard of. One of the players was an attractive blonde–I believe from Lichtenstein–who was drawing special attention from both the NBP and me.

The tennis tournament is also different from other sporting events because the players walk through the grounds and the spectators to get to and from the outer courts. After a mixed doubles match, Martina Hingis, one of the NBP’s favorites, walked a few feet past him. Hingis shook his hand. The NBP was thrilled, reporting, “It was soft.” And I will leave for another day our encounter with Andre Agassi.

(concluded August 30)

Feed the Monster (complete)

I have been asked by readers to post AJ’s entire essay, which has been posted in consecutive sections over the last five posts, in its entirety and in order. I am doing that today.

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 AJ: 

 

My eating disorders began as a child. I was always an emotional eater and lived out my hedonism via Hostess and Hershey’s and all that good stuff. I’d always eat as many cookies as the parents would allow and drank orange juice (aka, “healthy soda”) by the gallons as well as soda soda whenever I could get my grubby paws on it. Food was one of the places I could get a hit of tasty dopamine and lose myself at the same time. It was sublime to come home after school with a big bag from the bodega of a mix of sweet and savories. Junk food was a friend. I guess I had a killer metabolism at the time and was also, ahem obliged, to play tennis all the time so my activity battled all those snackies. Another metabolism booster was that I picked up the lovely habit of smoking cigarettes somewhere along the way as a teen. Ahhh, another oral fixation to take me away and out of myself. Sorry, I’m not advocating smoking but oh man, it was disgustingly amazing.

But then, as much of the population, I was dropped off at college…and LEFT! Among the very first things that first-year students are required to figure out—besides where the bathrooms are—is how they are going to handle their new independence when it comes to eating and drinking behaviors. I am now a strong advocate for requiring all entering students to take Nutrition and Eating for Oneself 101. (Oh, and also, Financial Literacy 101 in which one would learn all about money management.) It’s so easy and tempting to lose control with Frito-Lay and Froot Loops around. Realization that one no longer has to eat what they don’t want to eat is revolutionary, and potentially belt-loosening or gut-busting. Moreover, vending machines and 7-Elevens present new collegians with cornucopias of “food” laden with fat, salt, and sugar and processed beyond recognition. Also, beers can be chugged ad nauseum (literally).

I, however, being a nervous wreck, ended up taking the opposite route. I still had the palate of a little kid and wanted hamburgers with fries and broccoli all the time (at least the broccoli was healthy). Sauces that weren’t fire engine red like ketchup or Prego were to be feared. I wasn’t eager to experiment with food when it was presented. Alternate versions, unfamiliar offerings, or unidentifiable foods weren’t appetizing. At this New England school, for example, there was a lot of mystery fish. I had eaten fish sticks and canned tuna fish in my previous life but that was it (not even the Fillet-O-Fish sandwich at McDonalds…not that that doesn’t count as mystery fish). Here, on the other hand, was a fish called “scrod.” Surely that was a joke. What kind of stupid fish, or stupid anything, is named “scrod”? In any event, I was overwhelmed trying to remember how to get to class and where to go to the bathroom at any given moment. So, naturally enough, I stopped eating regularly scheduled meals.

I wasn’t playing tennis multiple times a week; I wasn’t walking around Brooklyn; I wasn’t doing anything to keep my muscles intact, so they atrophied. It was a slow process that I didn’t even notice because I didn’t know atrophy was a thing! I always had a pretty static body comp so why would it ever change? I also didn’t like to think or look at my body because as a transgender person, I HATED my body and never wanted to think or deal with it. So, I just went on smoking and drinking Coke, which, along with ramen noodles and potato chips, had become my main source of nutrition (I use the term loosely). You’d think I would have learned that basic nutrition needed attention…eventually I did when I got so unhealthy I literally got sick. Yup, I got mononucleosis and not the fun kissing kind; just the lacking nutrition kind, sigh.

Years pass.

 

I have graduated. I’m technically an adult. I’m working. I’m living alone, but I am trying hard to become a social being…you know, going out with friends and exploring life a bit. But my relationship with food continued to be a ticking time bomb. Restaurant food always meant larger portions, alcohol, and fried things. And at home, well, I never ate an organized plate of food, only a mishmash of whatever I had around, standing up in the kitchen, arms flailing toward a cabinet or the fridge door and back again grabbing for more and only stopping when I was beyond full and tired of eating. I might go to the trouble to cook chicken or tilapia (surprisingly healthy lean proteins)—while intermittently grazing on other items—pour ketchup on the protein, eat it and then do the process all over again because I wanted more, more, more even though I didn’t even think, know, or care if I was hungry.  Veggies were scarce and fruit was nonexistent. As they tend to do, all those calories added up, especially since everything seemed to end up doused in ketchup.

Not surprisingly, due to my Henry VIII-ian ways in food consumption, I easily packed on an additional 20 pounds. This was not good. Looking at the reflection of myself in my now too-tight clothes was not a pretty sight. And I say “pretty” because the snugness of the clothes made me more identifiable as a woman with curves and soft spots. My one body blessing had been that I didn’t have a womanly woman figure; I was not curvaceous nor endowed with a big chest. My hips weren’t noticeable, and my waist was relatively straight up and down like a guy’s. But with this added weight my womanly figure started to make herself known. Let’s face it: I was a plump, chonky female…my inner-dude was weeping. I had always liked being lean and looking as physically male as possible, but all of a sudden, I was looking doughy, soft, and…feminine.

When finally even a doctor said that my cholesterol was high and that I was not all that fit, it seemed time to stop wallowing in misery, candy, and ketchup and to take control of myself. The second ginormous shock came on the day I went down into plank position to do a pushup. I went down but couldn’t come back up no matter how I struggled. I had never not been able to do a pushup, and being able to do them always signaled self-sufficiency and masculinity to me. Men were expected to be able to do pushups, even if women were not. That I had grown too heavy and/or had become too weak to accomplish a single pushup was a blow to my masculine ego. To find that I couldn’t lift my weight off the floor made me feel like a floppy, flabby seal.

This new feminine look was simply not me. I needed my boyish figure back!

In Sesame Street-ese, my letter for the year became E. E as in “Eating” and E as in “Exercising.” In my mind now Eating was to be forever deemed E as in “Evil.” And Exercising became E as in “Extreme.” All effort went into exercise in order to mold, erase, and punish my body. Given my personality, it wasn’t hard for me to overdo it. I stopped going out with friends, and instead came home every evening after work to exercise. Not being able to do that single pushup had been emotionally distressing. But now I had a physical challenge and a goal to reach. I felt purposeful and less lost. It took quite a while for me to again be able to do a full plank pushup, but the build-up process was wonderfully satisfying. I incrementally increased the goal: do 5; now do 10; ok, do 15; 20; now do 2 sets of 20.

As exercising ramped up, eating had to be curtailed. I didn’t want to feed the hedonist anymore. She had been eating too much dough and spending too much of it, too. I wanted to put a stop to my self-indulgent eating and spending habits. Such hedonistic behavior needed to be punished. Nothing good had come of it. Pretty soon my obsession with [not] eating and [not] spending money joined my obsession with working out. So I started punishing myself on an extreme dieting and budgeting bender while working out incessantly. I was putting my life in order. Yeah, right.

 

I’m on a mission to lose the pounds that have produced this highly unwelcome feminine body. Excessive Exercising on an Elliptical (E had become the letter of the month…so Sesame Street), but I was making sure that my daily intake of calories was far less than the ones used to exercise. The Evil Elliptical had a calorie counter that I kept at a constant display. (Watts, who cares? Distance…mildly interesting. Nah, calories expended was where it was at). I wasn’t trying to get fit; I was only trying to shed flab. Another fun obsession was that I would check the calorie labels on foods, do some math (then redo it correctly), and ensure that I didn’t eat more than I would expend in a day.

Unsurprisingly, I became obsessed with calculating calories. I was a label looker and Googler of all foods and their nutrition vs. calorie payout. I collected nutrition label information like baseball stats. I watched predominantly all food shows, which was easy thanks to the Food Network, Travel Channel, and Cooking Channel. Food blogs were also a key escape and a form of foodie voyeurism…come on now, they call it food porn for a reason! And I was a dirty dirty viewer and drooler. I could literally be watching Hungry Girl, Lisa Lillien, while being on my iPad looking at local restaurant dishes on Yelp or looking at one of the many junk food, or cooking, or rating and tasting food blogs on my iPad. Food porn for the win.

Back to reality, I had a small stock of food left in my cabinets, but I managed to finish that off quickly, so I could start with a clean slate. My fridge became pretty much barren except for milk, condiments, and carrots—bonus: it was nice and tidy and just the way I liked it.

At the beginning of this “diet” I still had my wits about me, and I was intent on taking control. I also sought serious punishment: Punishment for my past bad eating behavior; punishment for spending too much money; punishment for being in a woman’s body; punishment for my mind telling me I should be a man. I sought that serious punishment by walking hours a day and ellipticalling (sure, that’s a verb now) away as many calories as I could. Working out had the double bonus of being robotic and zombie-like while also being painful…everything I could want.

I was feeling in control-ish, so I ventured back to the grocery store to buy some non-coffee related items. I went with the directive in mind to buy the “healthiest”—and cheapest—food I could find. “Healthy” meant low-cost, low-calorie, non-processed, non-fat, low-sodium, ready-to-eat foods. What does that equal? Canned vegetables. I had an affinity for cans because of their handy, portion-controlled rations and tidy uniform containers. Admittedly, they were a splurge. Canned foods were more costly than a giant sack of dry rice and beans, but they were so user-friendly and stacked so neatly (labels facing out…labels always facing out; OCD; OCD; OCD!). Frozen veggies were probably cheaper, but they were not portion controlled, and required preparation. Yes, dear reader, defrosting is preparation. No, I wouldn’t heat them on the stove or even microwave them. Yes, I’d merely set them in the fridge the night before like thawing meat, or leave them out on my counter all day so they would defrost to room temp. No, I didn’t want them hot; I actually like room temperature foods. Canned food fit the bill in all categories.

Eating at work was an issue. I figured I couldn’t just eat stuff out of a can for lunch without looking like a super weirdo sociopath. I did have some caloric leeway for lunch because it was the middle of the day, so I’d have plenty of opportunity to burn those calories away after work. I had to eat (dang it) and I was getting progressively hungrier watching coworkers go out and buy yummy food and then smelling it all around me. At first I let my wallet dictate my path and sought out the cheapest food that I could buy for the week—like 5-pound bags of tomatoes that I could store in the fridge at work and eat with mustard throughout the week. I don’t know why I thought that looked “normal.”  Somehow eating fresh produce was less embarrassing than eating canned stuff. Apples continued to be consumed for snacks. When tomatoes were unattainable, I pre-cooked kabocha squashes or sweet potatoes (both of which I could buy in bulk) and portioned those out for the week.

My plan was working! Those excess pounds started to melt away. My clothing fit differently, and I felt in control of my body and my life…slightly.

I liked the direction I was going, so I upped the ante and worked out every free moment I could. I wanted to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, I just didn’t know how to accomplish that in a healthy way, so I went with my own version. I was aware that a woman my size and age required a basic 1,600 calorie diet to maintain organ operation and all those basic life activities like working, typing, talking, walking, and going to the bathroom. 1,600 seemed like a pretty high number to me so I took my intake down to 1,400 and then 1,200. These numbers still seemed high to me, so I took it down to 1,000. On my 1,000 calories-per-day diet, I spent at least 500 calories walking, another 300 ellipticalling, God knows how many doing pushups.

I never didn’t eat for a day. I knew fasting was a “bad” thing and would eventually kill my metabolism, and I didn’t want to be “unhealthy.” I never considered that I was moving myself into the realm of anorexia because I was always eating something, and anorexics didn’t eat anything, right?

I soon came to the realization that the only path to truly not eating was to not buy food with the intent to not eat it (triple negative word score!). Deeper down the rabbit hole I went. Pretty soon 1,000 calories a day sounded like a lot. I mean, 1,000, that’s a big number! I was still functioning, wasn’t I? So obviously I could function on fewer calories. My figure was responding nicely. I was getting my androgynous body back, but I still had my infernal breasts and tummy pouch. Needed to cut more calories.

By now my caloric intake had decreased to maybe 800 calories at best and I was in the beginning stages of starvation mode. My body began to fight back; I was really hungry! There’s a cure for that. It’s called binge eating. I started binging on “healthy” things like jars of tomato sauce or 32 oz. tubs of Greek yogurt—non-fat, of course. Anytime I got food near me, I would snarf it down like a desperate dog or a top of the line Dyson vacuum cleaner. I tried to play coy, but I was just plain friggin’ hungry. I once demolished a block of uncooked tofu standing in the kitchen, pouring soy sauce over it so that I could pretend it was sushi. Clearly, I was turning to the dark side. Only it wasn’t yet clear to me.

 

My “very healthy” dieting was making me HUNGRY. I needed to be around FOOD. Going to grocery stores became a secret pastime. I ogled all the food that one could buy. I got addicted to just being in food’s presence and basking in it. There was so much…aisles and aisles to peruse and even touch. So illicit. And trust me, it did not escape me that walking around in grocery stores meant that I was actually spending calories which made this form of voyeurism doubly attractive.

There were other motives to going to grocery stores. Food at home was not safe. It was too easy to eat. But at the store, it was different. In grocery stores there were……samples! Moreover, samples were only weekend treats since stores would make the most business on those days, but that was perfect for me because it was a form of portion control right there. I quickly learned which stores had the best delicacies, so I could easily map out my weekend rounds.

Then one day I lost control and ate half a jar of Biscoff spread, many many handfuls of trail mix, cheese cubes, and finally bread with marinara sauce right in the middle of one of those stores. I walked out with my head hung in shame and my belly protruding, but I wanted more! I was afraid of being called out as a weirdo sample hoarder, but, well, I was a weirdo sample hoarder!

Even I knew that I couldn’t keep this up. Grocery stores entered the category of “feared ones.” I thought about stealing from stores. In my fantasies, I wouldn’t put things in my pocket, but rather, I would just open boxes and eat stuff in the store and walk out. I thought/hoped I’d get away with it because I didn’t look homeless or criminal-like (yes, cuz I looked like a girl…I’m so sexist). I never actually built up the courage to do it. Not that I’m having a proud moment right now. I was just too afraid of getting caught. (I was always a fraidy cat about rule-breaking.)

I decided I needed to find a more inconspicuous target. And there was the answer: Target. Shamefacedly, yet electrified, I made trips to Target around the holidays when candy was on special display because kids (I assume kids) would go and bust open packages of bulk candies and eat some. I figured if they were already open, they were fair game because they couldn’t be sold damaged. So, I’d go pilfer candy. Worse, I’d go to just drive myself more insane because I knew candy was so bad for me and such a devil’s food (mmm, devil’s food cake!). I’d go and literally stare and pace around an innocent, lone, loose snack-sized KitKat bar that had been dislodged from its KitKat kolony and engage in a battle with myself about whether it was ok to pocket this mini Kat for energy and life or would it destroy me by adding to my stomach wombum bumpum? Control and rational thought were in short supply. And conveniently, it gave me more reason to hate myself.

Some epic binges (not stolen but acquired through some legitimate means): I ate an entire jar of peanut butter; six chocolate croissants and two donuts I found on the street; an entire tray of Italian cookies; a giant Tupperware full of venison (yes, venison of all things); an entire box of Russell Stover’s chocolates (duh). These were not my finest moments. Sometimes I ate leftover food that was supposed to last for days, and sometimes I ate all of these things with some chips on the side! I couldn’t even do the math anymore on the number of calories I consumed during a binge because I went into zombie mode while eating and lost count of what I ate in the blur of movement from hand to mouth.

 Even with the binging, I had lost 35 pounds in 8 months. However, it was becoming clearer that I was losing my mind, my body, and ummm, my hair. My hair—one of the few bodily aspects of myself that I was ok with.

Of course, my body cried out in other ways to tell me to end its punishment. My nails grew fragile; I was pasty white; and all of my muscles were breaking down. Though I still worked out all the time, I never gained any muscle, only lost it. My joints started cracking. I stopped being able to use the elliptical; it took too much effort. Most things took too much effort…even thinking. I was getting light-headed, and my thoughts were muddled and confused—even more so than usual. I couldn’t make decisions, but I could still muster a fake public smile, and  an inward smile when I felt my hipbones jutting out.

I was becoming very, very shaky. I felt rattled physically and mentally. All that joint clicking and clacking echoed the rattle. I had no energy. After I walked to work (3.4 miles, but who’s counting?), I would plunk down in my chair and barely be able to move. Getting up literally started to hurt. My joints were coming apart. It became a production to walk to someone else’s desk or to the bathroom. When I returned home and freed myself from my work clothes, I would wobble and wave around pretending to do my exercises (think: air dancer a.k.a wacky inflatable waving guys in front of car dealerships), and for dinner eat my ration of canned veggies or black beans. Sometimes I added ketchup because I love ketchup and I needed some extra sugar, but I justified ketchup because it contains lycopene, and I felt more grown up “seasoning” my veggies. I took a look at myself and saw that my bones were protruding. I was becoming a skeleton, weeeeeee.

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.

Feed the Monster (concluded)

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.

Feed the Monster (continued)

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 fourth part of AJ’s essay: 

My “very healthy” dieting was making me HUNGRY. I needed to be around FOOD. Going to grocery stores became a secret pastime. I ogled all the food that one could buy. I got addicted to just being in food’s presence and basking in it. There was so much…aisles and aisles to peruse and even touch. So illicit. And trust me, it did not escape me that walking around in grocery stores meant that I was actually spending calories which made this form of voyeurism doubly attractive.

There were other motives to going to grocery stores. Food at home was not safe. It was too easy to eat. But at the store, it was different. In grocery stores there were……samples! Moreover, samples were only weekend treats since stores would make the most business on those days, but that was perfect for me because it was a form of portion control right there. I quickly learned which stores had the best delicacies, so I could easily map out my weekend rounds.

Then one day I lost control and ate half a jar of Biscoff spread, many many handfuls of trail mix, cheese cubes, and finally bread with marinara sauce right in the middle of one of those stores. I walked out with my head hung in shame and my belly protruding, but I wanted more! I was afraid of being called out as a weirdo sample hoarder, but, well, I was a weirdo sample hoarder!

Even I knew that I couldn’t keep this up. Grocery stores entered the category of “feared ones.” I thought about stealing from stores. In my fantasies, I wouldn’t put things in my pocket, but rather, I would just open boxes and eat stuff in the store and walk out. I thought/hoped I’d get away with it because I didn’t look homeless or criminal-like (yes, cuz I looked like a girl…I’m so sexist). I never actually built up the courage to do it. Not that I’m having a proud moment right now. I was just too afraid of getting caught. (I was always a fraidy cat about rule-breaking.)

I decided I needed to find a more inconspicuous target. And there was the answer: Target. Shamefacedly, yet electrified, I made trips to Target around the holidays when candy was on special display because kids (I assume kids) would go and bust open packages of bulk candies and eat some. I figured if they were already open, they were fair game because they couldn’t be sold damaged. So, I’d go pilfer candy. Worse, I’d go to just drive myself more insane because I knew candy was so bad for me and such a devil’s food (mmm, devil’s food cake!). I’d go and literally stare and pace around an innocent, lone, loose snack-sized KitKat bar that had been dislodged from its KitKat kolony and engage in a battle with myself about whether it was ok to pocket this mini Kat for energy and life or would it destroy me by adding to my stomach wombum bumpum? Control and rational thought were in short supply. And conveniently, it gave me more reason to hate myself.

Some epic binges (not stolen but acquired through some legitimate means): I ate an entire jar of peanut butter; six chocolate croissants and two donuts I found on the street; an entire tray of Italian cookies; a giant Tupperware full of venison (yes, venison of all things); an entire box of Russell Stover’s chocolates (duh). These were not my finest moments. Sometimes I ate leftover food that was supposed to last for days, and sometimes I ate all of these things with some chips on the side! I couldn’t even do the math anymore on the number of calories I consumed during a binge because I went into zombie mode while eating and lost count of what I ate in the blur of movement from hand to mouth.

 Even with the binging, I had lost 35 pounds in 8 months. However, it was becoming clearer that I was losing my mind, my body, and ummm, my hair. My hair—one of the few bodily aspects of myself that I was ok with.

Of course, my body cried out in other ways to tell me to end its punishment. My nails grew fragile; I was pasty white; and all of my muscles were breaking down. Though I still worked out all the time, I never gained any muscle, only lost it. My joints started cracking. I stopped being able to use the elliptical; it took too much effort. Most things took too much effort…even thinking. I was getting light-headed, and my thoughts were muddled and confused—even more so than usual. I couldn’t make decisions, but I could still muster a fake public smile, and  an inward smile when I felt my hipbones jutting out.

I was becoming very, very shaky. I felt rattled physically and mentally. All that joint clicking and clacking echoed the rattle. I had no energy. After I walked to work (3.4 miles, but who’s counting?), I would plunk down in my chair and barely be able to move. Getting up literally started to hurt. My joints were coming apart. It became a production to walk to someone else’s desk or to the bathroom. When I returned home and freed myself from my work clothes, I would wobble and wave around pretending to do my exercises (think: air dancer a.k.a wacky inflatable waving guys in front of car dealerships), and for dinner eat my ration of canned veggies or black beans. Sometimes I added ketchup because I love ketchup and I needed some extra sugar, but I justified ketchup because it contains lycopene, and I felt more grown up “seasoning” my veggies. I took a look at myself and saw that my bones were protruding. I was becoming a skeleton, weeeeeee.

(concluded October 19)

Feed the Monster (continued)

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 third part of AJ’s essay: 

Binging became a way of life, but the binging benders became menacing. Here was my M.O.: after eating, say, a 500g tub of raisins (which equals about 1.1 lbs. of those purple suckers) I’d have to punish myself by exercising excessively and skipping meals for the next three days. I’d skip meals, and when I did eat, I would only allow myself fruits or veggies—nothing more, only hopefully less—and I’d force myself to jump on the elliptical and burn off as many calories as I ingested…or, better yet, more. I started to subsist on a cycle of binges. Even I knew it wasn’t really what you’d call, ahem, healthy.

So, I figured out a new way to binge. This was known as “social engagements with parent(s) or friend(s).” I would concoct opportunities to go out with friends pretending to be all human and social-like. In the guise of broadening my palette and under the pretext of being adventurous and enjoying the foodie revolution, I allowed myself the ingestion of extra calories. Obsessing over restaurant menus became a food porn fun fixation. Once a plan was made and a date set, I would eagerly look at the restaurant’s menu online to calculate the caloric and nutritional makeup of dishes I might realistically consume. Then I would obsess over pictures of each and every dish. I wouldn’t just look at the menu once, no no no, but many times and on an increasingly frequent and frenzied scale as the time of the outing approached. I looked at the pictures of my projected dish and checked its nutritional facts for the nth time. I also perused what dishes my friends might order and got off on that, because I would probably be granted a taste of their food (everyone knows to this day to give me their leftovers).

There were strict dining rules I instituted for myself. Rule 1: never order a restaurant’s “special” because it wasn’t in the original plan, and I hadn’t been able to research its calorie count. Rule 2: never eat meat at restaurants because you never knew where the restaurant got its meat or how much butter they cooked it in—too much fat of unknown provenance. Thus, Rule 3: never eat anything fried. Rule 4: never eat pasta or pizza, or pretty much anything Italian-American or Asian noodle-y. Pasta and noodles were pure evil with no nutritional redemption. Rule 5: eat small plates and portions. Rule 6: eat only a vegetable dish or salad or a low-fat seafood dish, bivalve or crustacean preferred (!). Rule 6.5: dressings were always “on the side” (thanks, Lisa Lillien). Rule 7: eschew the bread basket and dessert menu (sob). Rule 8: drink only red wine or hard liquor; beer was too caloric and white wine had no redeeming value. Rule 9: have fun (LOL). Rule 10: remember that tomorrow you will pay for this.

I was lucid enough to realize that I was barely subsisting on my home rationing of fruits and vegetables, but this binging pattern came as something of a surprise. Why, I wondered, did I need to binge? My answer was an all-American one: I wasn’t getting enough protein, of course! Restaurants became my sole protein source, and because I was afraid of restaurant meat, I started eating seafood in all its frightening forms: bivalves and crustaceans (a.k.a. sea bugs and slugs), and regular old run-of-the-mill terrifying fish (fish have faces only their mothers could love). I ensured that none of my fish was ever cooked in butter, never ever fried, and I naturally eschewed the fatty fish skin (what a waste of nutrients). And fish, well, I could exercise him away. A leafy green salad, and I was all set. Dressing on the side, please.

It appeared to me that I was sculpting a more masculine physique, but looking back, it was only the physique of a skinny little boy or, more aptly, an anorexic pre-pubescent waif of a girl. In thinning myself out, I did decrease my womanly fat pockets, but I still saw them…big and bold. They were still there because that was how I was built. I hadn’t accomplished exercising/exorcising the girl away. She still mocked me in my inner thighs and womb bump (in latin, wombum bumpum).

Shockingly, I wasn’t able to accomplish nearly as much exercise as I previously could. All forms of my calisthenics were looking more like little twitches of movement. I was vaguely aware that I was no longer building muscle, but I didn’t think I was losing any. I was boyifying myself, you see, and that was what was important.

The problem was that I was still friggin’ hungry! Eating a real-ish meal once or even twice a week at a restaurant wasn’t cutting it. Food. Food. Food. Food, glorious food! I needed it. Virtual food wasn’t enough. I needed to see it. I needed to be around it. Mostly, I needed to EAT it, but my mission wouldn’t allow that.  So—new strategy—I became a grocery store voyeur.

(continued October 17)

Feed the Monster (continued)

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 second part of AJ’s essay: 

I’m on a mission to lose the pounds that have produced this highly unwelcome feminine body. Excessive Exercising on an Elliptical (E had become the letter of the month…so Sesame Street), but I was making sure that my daily intake of calories was far less than the ones used to exercise. The Evil Elliptical had a calorie counter that I kept at a constant display. (Watts, who cares? Distance…mildly interesting. Nah, calories expended was where it was at). I wasn’t trying to get fit; I was only trying to shed flab. Another fun obsession was that I would check the calorie labels on foods, do some math (then redo it correctly), and ensure that I didn’t eat more than I would expend in a day.

Unsurprisingly, I became obsessed with calculating calories. I was a label looker and Googler of all foods and their nutrition vs. calorie payout. I collected nutrition label information like baseball stats. I watched predominantly all food shows, which was easy thanks to the Food Network, Travel Channel, and Cooking Channel. Food blogs were also a key escape and a form of foodie voyeurism…come on now, they call it food porn for a reason! And I was a dirty dirty viewer and drooler. I could literally be watching Hungry Girl, Lisa Lillien, while being on my iPad looking at local restaurant dishes on Yelp or looking at one of the many junk food, or cooking, or rating and tasting food blogs on my iPad. Food porn for the win.

Back to reality, I had a small stock of food left in my cabinets, but I managed to finish that off quickly, so I could start with a clean slate. My fridge became pretty much barren except for milk, condiments, and carrots—bonus: it was nice and tidy and just the way I liked it.

At the beginning of this “diet” I still had my wits about me, and I was intent on taking control. I also sought serious punishment: Punishment for my past bad eating behavior; punishment for spending too much money; punishment for being in a woman’s body; punishment for my mind telling me I should be a man. I sought that serious punishment by walking hours a day and ellipticalling (sure, that’s a verb now) away as many calories as I could. Working out had the double bonus of being robotic and zombie-like while also being painful…everything I could want.

I was feeling in control-ish, so I ventured back to the grocery store to buy some non-coffee related items. I went with the directive in mind to buy the “healthiest”—and cheapest—food I could find. “Healthy” meant low-cost, low-calorie, non-processed, non-fat, low-sodium, ready-to-eat foods. What does that equal? Canned vegetables. I had an affinity for cans because of their handy, portion-controlled rations and tidy uniform containers. Admittedly, they were a splurge. Canned foods were more costly than a giant sack of dry rice and beans, but they were so user-friendly and stacked so neatly (labels facing out…labels always facing out; OCD; OCD; OCD!). Frozen veggies were probably cheaper, but they were not portion controlled, and required preparation. Yes, dear reader, defrosting is preparation. No, I wouldn’t heat them on the stove or even microwave them. Yes, I’d merely set them in the fridge the night before like thawing meat, or leave them out on my counter all day so they would defrost to room temp. No, I didn’t want them hot; I actually like room temperature foods. Canned food fit the bill in all categories.

Eating at work was an issue. I figured I couldn’t just eat stuff out of a can for lunch without looking like a super weirdo sociopath. I did have some caloric leeway for lunch because it was the middle of the day, so I’d have plenty of opportunity to burn those calories away after work. I had to eat (dang it) and I was getting progressively hungrier watching coworkers go out and buy yummy food and then smelling it all around me. At first I let my wallet dictate my path and sought out the cheapest food that I could buy for the week—like 5-pound bags of tomatoes that I could store in the fridge at work and eat with mustard throughout the week. I don’t know why I thought that looked “normal.”  Somehow eating fresh produce was less embarrassing than eating canned stuff. Apples continued to be consumed for snacks. When tomatoes were unattainable, I pre-cooked kabocha squashes or sweet potatoes (both of which I could buy in bulk) and portioned those out for the week.

My plan was working! Those excess pounds started to melt away. My clothing fit differently, and I felt in control of my body and my life…slightly.

I liked the direction I was going, so I upped the ante and worked out every free moment I could. I wanted to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, I just didn’t know how to accomplish that in a healthy way, so I went with my own version. I was aware that a woman my size and age required a basic 1,600 calorie diet to maintain organ operation and all those basic life activities like working, typing, talking, walking, and going to the bathroom. 1,600 seemed like a pretty high number to me so I took my intake down to 1,400 and then 1,200. These numbers still seemed high to me, so I took it down to 1,000. On my 1,000 calories-per-day diet, I spent at least 500 calories walking, another 300 ellipticalling, God knows how many doing pushups.

I never didn’t eat for a day. I knew fasting was a “bad” thing and would eventually kill my metabolism, and I didn’t want to be “unhealthy.” I never considered that I was moving myself into the realm of anorexia because I was always eating something, and anorexics didn’t eat anything, right?

I soon came to the realization that the only path to truly not eating was to not buy food with the intent to not eat it (triple negative word score!). Deeper down the rabbit hole I went. Pretty soon 1,000 calories a day sounded like a lot. I mean, 1,000, that’s a big number! I was still functioning, wasn’t I? So obviously I could function on fewer calories. My figure was responding nicely. I was getting my androgynous body back, but I still had my infernal breasts and tummy pouch. Needed to cut more calories.

By now my caloric intake had decreased to maybe 800 calories at best and I was in the beginning stages of starvation mode. My body began to fight back; I was really hungry! There’s a cure for that. It’s called binge eating. I started binging on “healthy” things like jars of tomato sauce or 32 oz. tubs of Greek yogurt—non-fat, of course. Anytime I got food near me, I would snarf it down like a desperate dog or a top of the line Dyson vacuum cleaner. I tried to play coy, but I was just plain friggin’ hungry. I once demolished a block of uncooked tofu standing in the kitchen, pouring soy sauce over it so that I could pretend it was sushi. Clearly, I was turning to the dark side. Only it wasn’t yet clear to me.

(Continued October 14)

Feed the Monster

As you may know from his guest blogs, AJ has had what you might call “difficulties” coming to terms with being a boy trapped in a girl’s body. (“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.) The following five guest blogs recount 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 AJ: 

My eating disorders began as a child. I was always an emotional eater and lived out my hedonism via Hostess and Hershey’s and all that good stuff. I’d always eat as many cookies as the parents would allow and drank orange juice (aka, “healthy soda”) by the gallons as well as soda soda whenever I could get my grubby paws on it. Food was one of the places I could get a hit of tasty dopamine and lose myself at the same time. It was sublime to come home after school with a big bag from the bodega of a mix of sweet and savories. Junk food was a friend. I guess I had a killer metabolism at the time and was also, ahem obliged, to play tennis all the time so my activity battled all those snackies. Another metabolism booster was that I picked up the lovely habit of smoking cigarettes somewhere along the way as a teen. Ahhh, another oral fixation to take me away and out of myself. Sorry, I’m not advocating smoking but oh man, it was disgustingly amazing.

But then, as much of the population, I was dropped off at college…and LEFT! Among the very first things that first-year students are required to figure out—besides where the bathrooms are—is how they are going to handle their new independence when it comes to eating and drinking behaviors. I am now a strong advocate for requiring all entering students to take Nutrition and Eating for Oneself 101. (Oh, and also, Financial Literacy 101 in which one would learn all about money management.) It’s so easy and tempting to lose control with Frito-Lay and Froot Loops around. Realization that one no longer has to eat what they don’t want to eat is revolutionary, and potentially belt-loosening or gut-busting. Moreover, vending machines and 7-Elevens present new collegians with cornucopias of “food” laden with fat, salt, and sugar and processed beyond recognition. Also, beers can be chugged ad nauseum (literally).

I, however, being a nervous wreck, ended up taking the opposite route. I still had the palate of a little kid and wanted hamburgers with fries and broccoli all the time (at least the broccoli was healthy). Sauces that weren’t fire engine red like ketchup or Prego were to be feared. I wasn’t eager to experiment with food when it was presented. Alternate versions, unfamiliar offerings, or unidentifiable foods weren’t appetizing. At this New England school, for example, there was a lot of mystery fish. I had eaten fish sticks and canned tuna fish in my previous life but that was it (not even the Fillet-O-Fish sandwich at McDonalds…not that that doesn’t count as mystery fish). Here, on the other hand, was a fish called “scrod.” Surely that was a joke. What kind of stupid fish, or stupid anything, is named “scrod”? In any event, I was overwhelmed trying to remember how to get to class and where to go to the bathroom at any given moment. So, naturally enough, I stopped eating regularly-scheduled meals.

I wasn’t playing tennis multiple times a week; I wasn’t walking around Brooklyn; I wasn’t doing anything to keep my muscles intact, so they atrophied. It was a slow process that I didn’t even notice because I didn’t know atrophy was a thing! I always had a pretty static body comp so why would it ever change? I also didn’t like to think or look at my body because as a transgender person, I HATED my body and never wanted to think or deal with it. So, I just went on smoking and drinking Coke, which, along with ramen noodles and potato chips, had become my main source of nutrition (I use the term loosely). You’d think I would have learned that basic nutrition needed attention…eventually I did when I got so unhealthy I literally got sick. Yup, I got mononucleosis and not the fun kissing kind; just the lacking nutrition kind, sigh.

Years pass.

I have graduated. I’m technically an adult. I’m working. I’m living alone, but I am trying hard to become a social being…you know, going out with friends and exploring life a bit. But my relationship with food continued to be a ticking time bomb. Restaurant food always meant larger portions, alcohol, and fried things. And at home, well, I never ate an organized plate of food, only a mishmash of whatever I had around, standing up in the kitchen, arms flailing toward a cabinet or the fridge door and back again grabbing for more and only stopping when I was beyond full and tired of eating. I might go to the trouble to cook chicken or tilapia (surprisingly healthy lean proteins)—while intermittently grazing on other items—pour ketchup on the protein, eat it and then do the process all over again because I wanted more, more, more even though I didn’t even think, know, or care if I was hungry.  Veggies were scarce and fruit was nonexistent. As they tend to do, all those calories added up, especially since everything seemed to end up doused in ketchup.

Not surprisingly, due to my Henry VIII-ian ways in food consumption, I easily packed on an additional 20 pounds. This was not good. Looking at the reflection of myself in my now too-tight clothes was not a pretty sight. And I say “pretty” because the snugness of the clothes made me more identifiable as a woman with curves and soft spots. My one body blessing had been that I didn’t have a womanly woman figure; I was not curvaceous nor endowed with a big chest. My hips weren’t noticeable, and my waist was relatively straight up and down like a guy’s. But with this added weight my womanly figure started to make herself known. Let’s face it: I was a plump, chonky female…my inner-dude was weeping. I had always liked being lean and looking as physically male as possible, but all of a sudden, I was looking doughy, soft, and…feminine.

When finally even a doctor said that my cholesterol was high and that I was not all that fit, it seemed time to stop wallowing in misery, candy, and ketchup and to take control of myself. The second ginormous shock came on the day I went down into plank position to do a pushup. I went down but couldn’t come back up no matter how I struggled. I had never not been able to do a pushup, and being able to do them always signaled self-sufficiency and masculinity to me. Men were expected to be able to do pushups, even if women were not. That I had grown too heavy and/or had become too weak to accomplish a single pushup was a blow to my masculine ego. To find that I couldn’t lift my weight off the floor made me feel like a floppy, flabby seal.

This new feminine look was simply not me. I needed my boyish figure back!

In Sesame Street-ese, my letter for the year became E. E as in “Eating” and E as in “Exercising.” In my mind now Eating was to be forever deemed E as in “Evil.” And Exercising became E as in “Extreme.” All effort went into exercise in order to mold, erase, and punish my body. Given my personality, it wasn’t hard for me to overdo it. I stopped going out with friends, and instead came home every evening after work to exercise. Not being able to do that single pushup had been emotionally distressing. But now I had a physical challenge and a goal to reach. I felt purposeful and less lost. It took quite a while for me to again be able to do a full plank pushup, but the build-up process was wonderfully satisfying. I incrementally increased the goal: do 5; now do 10; ok, do 15; 20; now do 2 sets of 20.

As exercising ramped up, eating had to be curtailed. I didn’t want to feed the hedonist anymore. She had been eating too much dough and spending too much of it, too. I wanted to put a stop to my self-indulgent eating and spending habits. Such hedonistic behavior needed to be punished. Nothing good had come of it. Pretty soon my obsession with [not] eating and [not] spending money joined my obsession with working out. So I started punishing myself on an extreme dieting and budgeting bender while working out incessantly. I was putting my life in order. Yeah, right.

Continued October 12)