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I got Gold in Queer Mental Gymnastics

One of the psychological byproducts of growing up queer that nobody really talks is the amount of mental gymnastics you have to do to compensate for the body your brain is stuck inside. It's not always a matter of looking at yourself in the mirror and having a breakdown, or avoiding looking at yourself altogether to avoid the breakdown (though that is a very real effect of body dysmorphia). Sometimes it's a more nuanced web of interactions with your own body created after nuanced interactions with other people. In fact, when I got older and finally came out as queer, I found myself completely prepared to deal with the fall out because I’d grown up constantly dealing with the negativity that comes with having a female body that wasn’t stick thin. Once I came out, I realized that growing up queer is a lot like growing up fat. In both situations, you’ve got people in your ear constantly telling you how to fix something that just is and doesn’t need fixing. In both situations you’re told how to alter yourself and fit in with other people. You get small comments and looks, you get big statements and cruel laughter. You grow up around adults who never questioned what they’d been taught and carried those judgements onto the next generation of children who eventually become new adults and carry on those judgements without questions. There’s a cyclical hatred of queer people and fat people that’s so deeply ingrained into people that you don’t even need to belong to either group in order to set off people’s alarm bells that you might be one of them. Personally, I was assigned to the fat group and the queer group growing up.

Now, as a mandatory note: I was not a fat child. I say that not with a fatphobic fear that people will think I’m fat, but because I need it understood that people’s hatred of fat people is so deeply ingrained, and so harsh that even me, someone who was a midsized kid, was treated like I was fat. By the time I was 9, people were already constantly in my ear pointing out (often with a great deal of malice) I wasn’t a skinny child, whether it be by making fun of me for it, or reinforcing the idea that fat is bad and instilling a fear that I don’t want to be fat. There’s a parallel to what I experienced with being a queer person. When I was 13, a group of boys my age started calling me “Carl”. It was only made worse when I got a pixie cut. To this day I don’t know at all how or why referring to me with a boy’s name was the thing to do (they’ve somehow only gotten stupider with age so I doubt they were smart enough to be able to see that I was queer as hell, but I suppose anything’s possible). I’m now a publicly queer, midsized adult, at a weight reached by healthy eating habits, and a body I’ve reclaimed with piercings and hair dye, and if there’s one thing its taught me it’s how colossally we have fucked up culturally when it comes to kids and their bodies. Referencing them, talking about them, being insensitive about them, making kids feel better for problems that don’t exist. All it does it make the very healthy, normal, potentially queer kids afraid to ask questions about who they are, or engage with the idea of a changing body.

I grew up as a nonbinary kid so far in the closet I thought I was in a room without a door. I didn't have the vernacular to describe how I felt about my body, I just knew how I felt was bad. It took me a long time (well into my teens) to be able to identify the feelings I had were those of inadequacy. I'd been told that I was a girl, but more and more as I grew up I wondered if maybe I'd undergone some top secret experiment to swap my brain with a female body and see what would happen (CIA If you're reading this and I'm right that is NOT cool and I'd like my settlement money please). While I still side-eye the government these days, I've accepted that I most likely was not baby nabbed for a conspiratorial experiment (I said most likely).

Going into puberty, I was already a chubby kid. As a four or five year old, I was extraordinarily skinny; my mom told me she couldn't get me to eat. By the time I reached nine or so, I turned into what I can most accurately describe as Ham Porter a la Sandlot, but with a mullet. I wore a purple paisley bandana around my head like it was 1998, and I had this pair of basketball shorts I wore in the summer because they were comfy. In third grade I had to get two teeth pulled and it rendered me looking like a bunny until I got braces in high school and had stand-ins put in place. Starting from when I was about six years old and ending around twelve, I played softball. I wasn't particularly feminine or masculine, and I wasn't fat or skinny. I was basically a baby dyke. When I was in second grade I tried smooching one of my childhood best friends who was a girl, but I also had a massive three-year-long crush on a boy named Austin (He did not like me back. He told me to my face. During recess. I was crushed. Wherever you are, Austin, you’re a bastard and you ruined my young, second grade life.) so I knew I wasn't completely straight either. I lived in this awkward purgatory in my own body with too many puzzle pieces of my own identities that I couldn't fit together. To make matters worse, I lacked equal amount of connection to what I knew "boy" and "girl" to mean. If middle school boys taught me anything it was that I did NOT want to have any part of being one of them. It was impossible to see, but on a daily basis I was taking mental notes of how girls acted and how boys acted. Making sure I was saying the right things, doing the right things, trying hard to stay under the radar by developing this social butterfly personality to hopefully create an image people could have of me that would reflect exactly what I wanted them to see.

I made this as a joke but when I squinted I saw myself.

Baby Charlie for all you fans out there begging to see my baby photos.

Not being able to know who you are at some of the most fundamental levels of yourself doesn't give you the armor you need to protect yourself against the game of comparisons. Women are already up against it when it comes to being compared to women of certain body types, skin tones, facial characteristics, etc. Its already so easy to grow up feeling like you don't stack up because your body isn't right, your hair isn't right, your nose is too big, and your laugh sounds like a screaming husky. So when all of this is piled on top of a pre-existing set of feelings that your mind doesn't even match the body you see when you look in the mirror, that makes for some serious burnout. It creates feelings of inadequacy that are amplified by the fact that you're so bad at being your gender that you can't even feel like you even ARE your gender. There's a disconnect so vast you become untethered to the principles of what even makes you a person at all; it can become dehumanizing really quick. It leaves you playing a constant game of catch up while everyone else is making great strides. It eventually piles up so high that while you and your peers are struggling with the same given set of skills, you've got a backlog of skills you haven't gotten to develop that, while not always needed, make your life a hell of a lot easier if you've figured out. Middle school puppy love is a whole lot harder when you haven't figured out how to be a girl in even the most basic ways. It just becomes this very weird combination of knowing what parts and pieces your body has, but not knowing how you're supposed to move them or hold them, and not knowing what's important in a relationship. You just become a baby handing a lego covered in mushed banana to your parent thinking it'll help in the given situation, and your parent half-heartedly saying "ooooh thank yooouuuu" while slowly wiping the lego banana off on your pants hoping the baby won't notice. Except in dating, I was the baby, and boys were the parent. Don’t think too hard on the baby-parent dynamic. Moving on.

These feelings of inadequacy can also manifest in the form of disordered eating, which I found out young. I learned that being a woman means commiserating over your faults and flaws. I grew up like Kady Herron listening to the plastics list off their body flaws, trying not to list morning breath and draw attention. In a weird way, I was elated that I had something wrong with me that other women were told was wrong with them. Part of any eating disorder is this twisted sense of willpower that makes you mentally stronger than others, because they're so committed to not giving up that they'll literally never eat before they give in. I had that bit down because I already had the willpower muscles built up from being insistent on fitting into the woman-shaped box. If I could just make myself small enough, I could fit into at least some gender role that was expected of me as a woman. And while yes, losing weight did make me look hotter than Ham Porter with a mullet, it also developed body dysmorphia and eroded my sense of what "big" even looks like. I went through my jeans recently from when I was in my early 20's and they all look like doll pants. What's weirder is that I vividly remember them all fitting me. loosely. I'm in a healthy place with myself now where I'm able to look at smaller items of clothing I used to wear, and look at older pictures of myself and see myself for who I was at the time, rather than feeling depressive inadequacy that I'm not that skinny now. I was rounding out the edges on my square peg to fit into the round hole when I was younger. That was a heavy mental load to bear and I respect that person for trying so hard to be a girl she was never going to successfully be. Now I'm an old man sitting on his porch whittling it back into a square so it can fit into the square hole it was meant to go in from the beginning. And I gotta say, old man clothes are comfortable as hell.

Salute, Mi Familia

- Charlie

I have quite literally never felt cooler in my entire life.


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