did my eating disorder force me to confront my gender identity? by misao mcgregor
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
a year into the pandemic, i have finally moved out of my parent's house to find some type of agency. yet all i can think about is how i’m 10 pounds heavier than i was a year ago and am at the heaviest weight i’ve ever been in my entire life.
i have new stretch marks over the left side of my belly and on the outer edges of my boobs. my thighs have remained relatively the same - stocky and short. but my so-called “feminine figure” is more undeniable than ever with the extra weight i’ve put on.
and between my multiple eating disorders and newfound non-binary gender identity, i'm really not sure how to view myself in the mirror anymore.
my hips alone used to be the dead giveaway that others claimed to be definitive of my gender. i can remember the very first moment they showed up too.
my mom put me in a cheongsam, a gift given to us from a family friend. its snugness fit over my 12-year-old pubescent figure but stopped at the bottom of my stomach. after a couple of stiff pulls, the cheongsam made its way down my legs as my mother gasped at the sight in the mirror.
looking straight ahead, i saw the curves that shocked her. it was as if suddenly a waist and hips had just sprung out from my body overnight. she fought the urge to coddle me like any asian american mother would and told me instead, "you're a woman now," exiting my bedroom and leaving me to ponder what this newfound womanhood was supposed to mean for me.
but i never had an issue with the idea of my "womanhood" until only recently.
as fraught as my relationship to my body has been, it has also always been one of ownership. i have owned the shame i feel for my body's shape and size. i have owned the disgust i hold for it whenever i dare to look in the mirror. and i have never questioned whether this body is my own.
i distinctly remember the first time i realized this ownership. i was listening to a friend in college describe their gender dysphoria as they hesitantly but curiously told me that they were trans.
they described always feeling like a woman on the inside, then finding a penis where they hoped a vagina would be. the cognitive disconnect they felt between their interior and exterior was of great distress to them. and it was truly something i could not relate to. in fact, i still can't.
in that moment, i thought i understood my privilege as a cisgender being.
i didn't have that cognitive dissonance they wrestled with on a daily basis. instead, i just had an overwhelming amount of shame for the body i inhabited but somehow could never quite control. and no matter what control i exerted over it, the result of my efforts never seemed to fully satisfy my cravings for something "better."
i have forced my body to mold into different shapes, postures, and sizes throughout my entire life. but it wasn't until we had to shelter-in-place due to the coronavirus that i started to consider who i was on the inside, apart from my body.
when i imagined myself as a soul, a being without a vessel, i felt at peace in a way that i have never experienced.
the thought that i didn't have to be defined by my body was a more freeing experience than i ever could have imagined.
and let me be clear.
it's not that i feel like i am in the wrong body. it's that i don't want to be defined by any body at all.
with light skin and white-passing features, my body has also given me an enormous amount of privilege in regards to race and ethnicity. but that perceived whiteness has also cost me the experience of being able to fully engage with others within the AAPI community.
feeling like i wasn't asian enough or didn't have the same phenotypical features as my peers once again distorted and dismissed my very lived experiences of racial and sexual harassment. as with any mixed-race person, my appearance and the ways in which i am perceived are highly disconnected between individuals who cross my path. depending on their own subjective experience, i could be easily recognizable as hapa (mixed asian), only asian, only white, or, to some, light-skinned mexican.
but the fact that my body is the very thing that's supposed to dictate my ethnic makeup and thus experience in this life feels reductive and dehumanizing.
and the same goes for gender too.
i went to an all-girls school for 9 years of my life. i was in an environment every day where my supposed gender identity was hammered into my head as a symbol of empowerment in relation to receiving an education and proving white, euro-centric historical understandings of women and their lack of access to education wrong and backward-thinking.
i didn't question my gender identity then. and i don't really question my gender identity now. because at the end of the day, i don't want to exist inside of a gender. because that's what gives people power over me. it tells others that i am theirs to define, dismiss, sexualize, racialize, whatever else they feel they have the authority to do.
throughout my life, i have wanted to run away from my body. but not because i felt that there was another body that would serve as my better-suited home.
i just don't want to belong to others in a way that they believe my body allows them to.
so yes, i'm ten pounds heavier than i was a year ago and have officially reached the heaviest weight i've ever been in my whole life.
my ed brain tells me that i'm a failure in this sense. but my non-binary understanding of self reminds me that i have no standards to fail.
because any standards that i hold myself up against, whether according to gender, race, ethnicity, fatphobia, or other, i am in charge of their definition.
and i am in control of how i perceive myself to be.
Misao is a queer, non-binary, mixed race, Japanese American writer, playwright, and singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, CA. She is also the founder of Sacrosanct.
Sacrosanct is a community blog that amplifies the voices and art of LGBTQ2IA+ BIPOC. As a digital space for marginalized folks to self-define, self-actualize, and heal, Sacrosanct is firmly situated at the core of intersectionality while also providing mental health and community resources made for and by LGBTQ2IA+ BIPOC. To fund these LGBTQ2IA+ BIPOC artists for their contributions to the platform, consider leaving a donation here and follow Sacrosanct on Instagram and Facebook.