This has been the longest relationship I have ever been in. I can celebrate over three decades of this partnership; yet, I’m still trying to come to terms with what we actually have in common. In the morning in my nude, I am reminded by what I have. I am not haunted by all of it. In fact, there are some parts to my body that make me want to take it out to dinner and forego sleep in order to get to know it even better.
We’ve slept beside each other every night for over thirty years. We’ve been joined by another, though these were the times I lost track of its shift. You see, bodies never remain static. They shift in shape and desire. Sometimes, our bodies get loud enough in this displacement that alteration of clothes or vocabulary are not enough.
Initially, when we meet someone, there tends to be that immediate attraction that either let’s you know this is a possible friend or future love interest. Then, there are the ones we meet that remind us to keep walking. We cannot be expected to get along with everybody. When things don’t work out with someone you love, you break up. When things don’t work out with your body, it is far more difficult to walk away.
Recently, I was trying to explain my relationship with my body to my dad. He has seen me poke holes through various piercings, distract my skin in ink with tattoos, and alter my appearance with hair color and wardrobe. He wanted to know why I’ve been so afraid of the word, pretty. I stood beside him in silence trying to understand why he thought this and if he is right. Why might I be fearful of this simple word?
Beyond this adjective, I think about the parts of me that might attract such a word. Often, I am approached due to the boldness of my hair: knotty, red curls. My responses range from thank you to complete silence. Perhaps I shun this word because I prefer that my intellect and poems get approached, rather than the curvature in my hips or the flames in my hair.
As I officially slide into my mid-thirties, I recognize that I have been cheating on my body. I think of other bodies when we are together. At night, when it is just us in bed, if I am not too tired to be intimate with myself, I imagine my shape as something else. Not quite male, but not exactly female either. How to describe this?
Over five months ago, I started wearing a binder. There are many different versions to choose from, but the one I purchased is kind of like an extremely form-fitting tank top, that flattens my breasts and slurs away my curves. I’ve worn sports bras that have a similar effect, but I wanted something that completely smoothes them out. In addition, I have acquired a few more of various lengths and fittings.
My relationship with my breasts has been tumultuous like most love affairs. I desperately wanted them and then once they finally arrived, I eventually wanted nothing to do with them. Over the years, this detachment has grown more and more. Wearing this binder has been an experiment; I wanted to see if it would help the way I viewed my body. Now, I notice the way my button-down shirts, held captive by double-windsor tie and vest fit so smoothly over my paved chest.
Recently, a complete stranger called me handsome. When I was called this, I thought: perhaps this is how I am expected to feel when I am called pretty. Funny how letters pressed together have so much significance to us.
Here comes the possibly confusing part: I do not desire to be male and I do not view myself as transgender. If I must label, though I prefer not to, I see myself as gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and transgressing though consonants (M/F).
When I was fifteen years old, I started treating my body like a tree. I began carving my way in and through my skin, searching for a way out. I soon learned this behavior was called cutting and I also learned I was not the only one. Many years went by and the wounds healed, replaced by scars. As I made my way through adolescence and into young adulthood, reactions from lovers and strangers ranged from looks of pity to obscenely rude accusations and questioning.
Summertime in New Jersey at nineteen. I am filling up my green car, scratched up just like me, and as I pay the guy, he says: Yo, what happened to your arms? Why they all marked up? At an open mic at twenty-seven. A young poet approaches me after exchanging no other words with me throughout the night, grabs my left forearm and says: These markings are so beautiful. Were they part of an art project or performance?
In the beginnings of these self-induced hieroglyphics, my mom suggested vitamin E and other scar-reducing creams. I got angry with her, though now understand that she just wanted to make it easier on me. Humans have a difficult time with scars. They immediately want to know how they got there and then they want to know if there is a chance more might arrive (depending upon circumstance).
I refused the cream because a large part of me wanted to be reminded of these markings and these years of sorrow inside my body. I am no longer a cutter, though have relapsed a few times in recent years. When I look down at my arms and the few ghostly markings on my hips, I think of these lines as words. What was I trying to tell myself? I want to believe that I was digging my way out and toward the innards of not only my gender but the core of my self.
How true is this body? What will it take to fall back in love with it? Have we ever been in love or has it been like an arranged marriage? Would I choose it if I could?
If we all came with our own airbrush machines that the fancy fashion photographers clearly use, I wonder what parts we’d compress away or enhance. Would I leave my scars alone? Would I flatten my breasts out permanently? Would I leave my dimples, otherwise known as skin deformities? How about dead-ends left on every strand of my hair due to forgotten haircuts? Would I want my thin lips to be fuller and my collarbone to be bonier and more dramatic?
We exist in these bodies that grow and shift in ways we accept and in ways that can be deeply confusing and even painful. Some things can be controlled. If that extra weight on your belly overwhelms you, then a few months at the local gym or daily sit-ups may flatten it away. If the skin on your face sags in a way that disturbs your ability to feel pretty, you may choose a face-lift. What isn’t big enough, you can now make bigger. What is not small enough, you can pay someone to take away entirely. No one can really say what isn’t necessary, because no one is inside anyone else’s body but their own.
It’s not that I want to break up with my body. We’ve been through so much that I feel like no one else could possibly understand me in the way that it does.
It survived that faint from the deeply traumatic panic attack at age twenty-seven that left me with several cracked teeth, a scratched up face and nine stitches. It survived mental illness and more suicide attempts than I could possibly keep track of. It survived drug addiction. Deep into the night, it has begged me to remain. My body has allowed me to orgasm even when shadows of sexual trauma have crept its way in. My body has given me more love affairs than one should be warranted in a lifetime. My body has remained even after all the walk-outs (my self included).
However, even after all these years, there are still times like now, where I feel like we are still getting to know each other. I no longer wear dresses or bras with a clasp in the back. I prefer much simpler attire. Sometimes I have to remind it that what I wore last year may no longer feel right against my skin. So, we must unhang, fold and give away what no longer matches how I/we feel inside. It is not too late.
I want to give myself time with this binder just as I gave myself decades in these scars. I’ve learned to come to terms with the discoloration of skin on my body: war wounds from the battle between my body and me. This disconnection I have with my breasts may not be flattened away with assortment of binders. I may need to move forward and make a more permanent choice. My fear of telling others obviously ends here.
The need to speak out has been modeled to me each time I hear a poem or read a story that moved me enough to write or speak up. We all have these bodies that encapsulate all these stories. If we continue to speak up, more languages will form. More and more humans are realizing that they’ve been living in the wrong body and finding ways to rebirth themselves into their truest form. There is absolutely nothing more powerful than that.
(Thank you, Imogen Binnie for breaking my mind open with your transferring language, relocating my thoughts in so many directions with your incredible book: Nebraska. Other gender warriors: Ivan E. Coyote, Dhillon Khosla, Carter Dyer, Kate Bornstein, Tahrah, S Bear Bergman, Dylan Scholinski and the list continues)