On The Edge of Seventeen

They tell you that going on hormones is like a second puberty, and it is. But lately I’ve also been feeling like I’m going that teenage gawkiness where my mind hasn’t yet caught up to changes in my body.

Admittedly, my body has been through a lot of changes during the last 16 months, with some another major change coming in two months.

There’s definitely a bit of cognitive dissonance every time Facebook surfaces old photos of me. A big part of it is seeing my face pre-facial feminization surgery. I mean, I know it’s my face, but at the same time, I don’t quite recognize the person in the photo. Especially as some of the facial changes have been accentuated by losing a lot of weight (which I’ll get to in a second).

The other big body mod obviously is my breast augmentation back in January. Even though it’s only been a few months, it’s getting hard to imagine a time when I didn’t have them. That image of my body has gone down the memory. (And we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.)

OTOH, I’m now about a cup size smaller than when I wore breast forms — and while my breasts look really natural, I also think they’re a little small for my frame. No one’s fault, all the surgeons I consulted agreed on the recommended size of the implants, and my surgeon even went a size larger while I was on the table because he could tell my chest muscles were acting like a giant sports bra to schmush things down. But disappointing. Obviously, I’m not the first woman to be dissatisfied with the size of her breasts, but it’s especially disappointing given I paid a lot of money for them (not covered by insurances), and there’s no easy fix,* and because I was used to being a size larger when I was wearing breast forms.

But probably most of the feeling of being out of sorts with my body has been due to the weight loss — 35 pounds so far, and I need to lose another 15 in the next two months for bottom surgery.

It’s meant that I’ve dropped from a size 20/22 down to a size 14/16. Which has meant constantly not having clothes that fit right — either too baggy, or a bit tight, since I’m trying to avoid buying too many “interim clothes.” It’s suddenly having rings become too loose, and knowing that I’ll need to get the heirloom rings resized, but not until I know what my new weight will stabilize at. On the plus side, now that I can fit into misses-sizes clothes, and that opens up a far wider range of clothes than when I was plus-sized. But it’s still a bit odd to realize that stores I hadn’t even bothered to look at previously now have clothes that might actually fit me. (And yes, I’m well aware of the thin privilege that I’ve now gained.)

But the biggest challenge is coming to terms with being “big bodied” but not necessarily fat. I’m not squishy like most women my size. Admittedly, I’ve always been built that way, and it was hard to love my curves when I didn’t have any. Well except the one curve from my belly that makes me look male, and is fraught with gender-related body dysphoria issues.

Which is where a lot of the language of the body positivity movement has fallen flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe one should be able to embrace one’s curves. That you should love your body, no matter the shape or size. But you don’t necessarily need to love it “exactly the way it is.” As Sam Dylan Finch points out, that sort of language is definitely off-putting for trans people. Because, as Finch says, “no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

More to the point, it’s damn hard to find — even within the body positivity movement — positive images of women with bodies like me. I’m glamazon-sized. With wide child-bearing shoulders, no hips and not much of ass (which makes it really tough to find jeans that fit). Big hands, big arms, big feet.

Laverne Cox may have reached a point where: “I am not beautiful despite my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my height, my deep voice and all the things that make me beautifully and noticeably trans. I am beautiful because of those things” but reaching that level of self-love is a helluva lot easier when you look like, well, Laverne Cox.** Personally, I’m still struggling.

Especially because as I’m settling into my identity as a woman living as a woman, the stakes are changing. For years, my sense of being attractive came with an asterisk — pretty good for a crossdresser, pretty good for a drag queen, pretty good for someone who was gender queer. The asterisk was always there because I just assumed I was “visibly trans.” I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily always the case. So the goal posts have moved significantly…. Now it’s, how attractive am I as a woman? Especially one of a certain age, an age when many women become invisible.

And yes, I realize I’m falling into the “beauty myth” trap, and so I’ve got that layer of self-criticism going on too (i.e. why can’t I shrug it off). But it’s hard to avoid, as a women living in our culture, and especially as a woman in burlesque, where I’m putting my body on display. And where, although there’s lot of talk about body positivity and beauty at all sizes, there’s also still a strong undercurrent of preference for a certain body type, and certain plus-size body type (hour-glass), that I don’t have, that I’ll never have. Testosterone wreaked changes on my body that can’t be undone.

As I said, it’s complicated. I’m still doing a lot of processing.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remind myself there are women built like me. Going to Kansas City last year, I saw a number of large, stocky women, ones who shared a heritage of being the daughters of German peasants, with bodies suited to working the farm. I’ve looked for role models. Olympic hammer thrower Amanda Bingson, who was featured in the famous 2015 Sports Illustrated “Body” issue, with its photos of naked athletes of various shapes and sizes. I’ve seen myself in crew members of collegiate rowing teams. I’ve seen myself in Xena (even if I’d much rather have the body of Gabrielle).

One day, I hope to be able love all the things that make me “big bodied” (and probably “visibly trans” as well). To internalize it. To truly believe it. But for now, it’s one day at a time.

*The FDA currently only has approved silicone breast implants up to 800cc in size, which is a size larger than what I have now, and at most would maybe add a half-cup in size. To go larger, I’d have to switch to saline implants, which I’d prefer not to do. But it’s all moot at this point anyway, since any potential redo will need to wait until 2019.

**No disrespect to Ms. Cox, who I adore, and who’s made it clear it took her years to reach that level of self-acceptance. But fact of the matter is that she’s also beautiful in ways that fit the cis-het norms.