During my very expensive
mistake sojourn in an Ivy League graduate theatre program, I got a lot of funny looks. Why? Because I often found myself openly admitting–often unprompted–that I felt like a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body.
You may laugh–most people did (and still do). You may even suggest that I start dressing like a man, as others were quick to offer as a solution. But I’m not talking about becoming a drag king. I don’t want to dress up like a man; I want to be a man who dresses up like woman.
This probably seems completely nonsensical. After all, I’m a woman–so I can dress up like a woman any time I want.
And that, my friends, is precisely the problem.
I love the idea of being a woman. I think that hips and breasts and strong calves in high heels are some of the sexiest things a person can posses and flaunt. I just don’t personally want to deal with the repercussions of ownership.
Part of my third relapse with ED stemmed from my fear of owning a female body. When I started dating Lysander, I was suddenly placed in the awkward position of wanting to be a sexual being and being vehemently opposed to the concept of sex. It was such a blessing when our relationship was forced into Long-Distance Mode, and the only connection we had to make was intellectual and over the phone lines.
It was about that time that I started lifting weights. I knew I had three months until I would see Lysander again, and I also knew that I had gained a considerable amount of weight in the few months that he and I had been dating.*
I decided that I would surprise Lysander the next time that I saw him by losing weight, building muscle, and looking like Jamie Eason, the Oxygen and bodybuilding.com fitness model who Lysander hinted was his favorite. The more I lifted, the more I started to enter the bodybuilding mindset of perfecting physical aesthetics and not just functional strength. And the more I was surrounded by the world of aesthetics, the more I realized that all I wanted out of my life was to become a fitness model, just like Lysander had wanted.
It was the perfect situation: I could be beautiful, sexy, and strong, but all of those qualities would be trapped on a page–cold, silent, and dead, in living color. Like a butterfly behind glass, I could be admired without being touched. I would not own my sex, it would belong to whomever purchased it. And yet, though my sex would be purchased, I would remain unblemished: Pristine prostitution.
When the Thanksgiving holidays began to loom, and I realized that Lysander was going to actually see and touch my body–in the flesh–I had a panic attack. It was one thing to talk on the phone about how strong I had become, one thing muse about the potential of being a fitness model, but quite another to have to do more than simply wear the image I had created. I called him hysterical, and we broke up that night.
In Fasting Girls, Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes that “among adolescents concerned with the transition to adulthood, an intense concern with appetite control and the body operates in tandem with increasing anxiety over sexuality and the implications of changing sex roles.” Writ simply, for whatever reason, some girls hit puberty and their deep-set fears about sexuality trigger the desire to return to the prepubescent body. The best way to do this? By losing the claims to womanhood that become embedded beneath their flesh: hips and breasts. Fat.
(Similarly, and several years beforehand, Hilde Bruch also wrote much on the connection between anorexia and fear of sexual development/sexuality. You can read a simplification of some of her ideas here).
What that means is that some (not all) anorexics are driven to the disease because a renunciation of their hunger transcribes itself upon the body as a renunciation of the sexual being. Starvation from food is a way to deny the body the fuel it needs to make hips and breasts and curves. Wasting away is a means of stalling growing up. And because food and sex and passion are often made synonymous in the metaphorical world, when you deny one hunger in the real world, it’s easier to deny the rest.
Especially if, even as a twenty-something-year-old woman, in the prime of her reproductive years, you have the body of a twelve-year-old boy.
In a way, my desire to become a drag queen is more than an intellectually-snotty, gender-studies-fueled joke: it’s a way to go back to that twelve-year-old body, playing subversive games of dress-up in my mother’s closet. From Victor/Victoria to victim, I let ED lead me out of the bedroom and the kitchen, and toward a much scarier destination.
Until next time,
*”Considerable” being a mere 5-ish lbs. I was hovering near 130, which was hugely upsetting to me at the time.
PS If you’d like to read the other posts in this series, check out: