Content Note: The following article is written by two authors in separate vignettes exploring their individual narratives. Please know that if you are struggling with an eating disorder, there is help. In the US, dial the toll-free, confidential National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You are not alone.
by Teo Schlögl:
I am a white non-binary trans person with German citizenship. Eating disorders have been a part of my life much longer than my active knowledge that I am trans. And since I came out as trans, I’ve been wondering if there’s a causal relationship between those two things.
It seems so obvious at first. Science says so. Therapists say so. Disordered eating is about having issues with your body. Being transgender is about having issues with your body. If you are trans and suppress it, you try to (re)gain control over your body through restricted eating. Sounds simple.
But I think it’s a little more complicated. The more I understood about my trans identity, the more I started to doubt this narrative and its very presumption: that I, as a trans person, am genuinely at odds with my body. Because I am not, not genuinely at least.
I was pretty happy living my body until the age of 12, maybe 13. I wasn’t perfectly happy, but I was happy enough. But when I started becoming a teenager, society’s expectations started crashing down on me. I was expected to “become a woman” now, a thing that I understood meant a lot of things that I had not the remotest interest in being. So that sucked. It actually sucked in two closely connected respects: I didn’t want to become a woman, and I was completely unfit for the image of how a woman should be that media, educational institutions, and relatives bombarded me with.
So I decided to quit becoming a woman and stopped eating. But I didn’t do so because I hated my own body in the first place, but because I was taught to do so. I was taught to hate my own body by a society that is ruled by cruel beauty standards and mortally scared by the thought of genders beyond the binary, a society that brutally punishes bodies that in any form deviate from a white cis hetero abled norm.
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Being a child without any analytic tools available to me, I internalized society’s hate against both the femininity ascribed to me and my non-conforming identity as a trans person. I nearly killed myself with it. I’ve been through every form of disordered eating you can possibly imagine. But I am still here. And this might sound very pathetic, but yeah, this is a life and death issue for me.
So, let’s get to the point. Being trans and having eating disorders is closely related, but at this point of my life I just don’t care anymore about any causal relationship. I’m not interested in what scientists and therapists have to say about my existence. What I do know is that as a trans person with an eating disorder, my body is telling a story of being doubly terrorized and damaged by hetero- and cissexism, by misogyny and fat-hate. As long as people’s bodies are being terrorized and policed by any -isms, there will be eating disorders. This is not an individual issue or a question of biology and genetics. It’s a structural problem and a social justice issue.
As for me, I have spent a lot of time in my life hating and controlling my own body. It takes time to unlearn and it is especially hard with all the societal fueling mechanisms still in place. I honestly do not know if full recovery is possible under these circumstances. I am aware that it is fancier to be a person who has recovered from an eating disorder. I know there is a huge stigma attached to actually living with one. But I am done hiding. This is where I am at.
by Cory MacKenzie:
I am a twenty-three year-old trans man living in Dartmouth.
When I was barely sixteen, I wrote an easy-to-follow “how-to” article and submitted it online. This article received comments which told me I was a brilliant inspiration, how my writing made it easier to live, how I was someone people looked up to. The article I wrote was about how I had covered up my bulimia from my family, how I “did it right”, and how others could follow by my shining example.
I explained, at great length and in painstaking detail, about myself and my habits as if I were sent to educate the masses. It was a relief to me that others felt as I did. I felt this was the only way I could matter as a human being.
I wonder now if my progression into this mad circle of consumption was truly in my hands. I remember, as early as I can, being called “Two Tonne Tony” by my mother and grandmother, having my upper arms pinched and giggled at as a young child, turning away from the “Truffle Shuffle” on a television screen with a face so hot it felt like melting wax. I remember my mother berating me for my lack of a flat stomach and how I could look like Britney Spears’ taught, toned, oil-slicked body gyrating on screen, if only I started to work out.
“Pilates,” she said, “before your gut looks as disgusting as mine.” She would then produce yet another cheese- and carb-rich dish (the only meal I would eat that day) and double my portion compared to hers. My mother would pick at her food and then make a show of dashing up the creaking stairs to the bathroom, while I would sit silently and eat to the percussion of her haggard coughing filtered through the floor boards.
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My aunt, a young woman herself, was bulimic. I recall family stories of my paternal grandfather having to pull up her bedroom floor boards to uncover Ziploc bags of month-old vomit. I remember her almost skeletal frame, her vacant expression and wistful, acid-torn voice, how the metal in her mouth glinted the same chrome as the silverware at the Chinese restaurant as she shoveled food past crackled lips.
The year that I wrote my “how-to” is what my family and schoolmates look back on as my great year. I was dropping weight, was elected vice president of my high school, was holding down a job as well as placing Queen in a beauty pageant that achingly hot summer. At the time I was eating five hundred calories a day, avoiding showers because the heat and activity had made me faint on more than one occasion.
Dressed in sparkling azure taffeta, spread before the meager entirety of my town, with steamed curls set into my hair, I pined for rest, and for something I couldn’t bear to put into words at the time.
Thinness was equated with femininity, with attractiveness, with validation, even intelligence. Without my disorder, I wondered, without my fallback, what would I become? Would I be that chubby, stifled girlchild who had walked the school halls as boys trumpeted behind me and laughed in my face? I didn’t know.
I could not comprehend the agony of releasing that level of control, of deleting that article, still intact years later, and looking at myself a bare year ago. Of seeing and understanding that I was closer to the stocky child who was asked “Are you a boy or a girl?” on preschool playgrounds time and time again. Closer to freedom from myself with every step, every break from that rigid, bone-cracking schedule.
Now, this year, I have appeared in photographs of my own consent. I have danced. I have worn what I wanted and when I felt like it. I have smashed myself open and found a beautiful boy inside, and outside. And for that I give all the thanks I can for all that has lead me here.
[Feature Image: A transmasculine person with a furry blue coat sits outdoors with a cup of coffee at a small blue table. They are looking down and have a sad expression on their face. In the background is a brick wall and a blurred city sidewalk. Source: The Broadly Gender Spectrum Collection]