Body Acceptance in Trans Day of Visibility
By Eric Dorsa, Mental Health Advocate with Eating Recovery Center
Whether we see it or not, diet culture and the shame we are taught to feel around our bodies is directly tied to the shame of gender. Being trans nonbinary has been one of the most liberating experiences of my recovery. While it once was a source of tremendous pain and isolation, my journey with gender has helped free me from the shame derived ways we have been taught to view gender and the ways in which gender is used to reinforce ideas of worthiness and self-love.
Recovery from my eating disorder was not possible until I began to challenge the shame around gender and accept myself for who I really am.
Facing Ignorance & Fear
There are still people in my life, some in my own family, that believe my gender identity is incorrect and that I just need to accept that I am male and that I was born male. Let me state for the record that this is a judgement full of ignorance and fear. The same judgement and fear that kept me trapped in an eating disorder cycle for most of my life.
When I was little, I was taught boys don’t feel, boys don’t like what girls like, boys don’t sound like you, and walk like you. My body, and my gender were sources of fear and pain in my life that left me feeling unworthy of safety, respect, and love. I was not the correct boy and the first shame I felt in my body was gendered. Then add gender dysphoria, the feeling that would get knowing my gender assigned and birth and the gender I know myself to be do not match, and my body became the perfect battleground for disordered eating.
I used my eating disorder to punish myself for not feeling “boy” enough, I used my eating disorder to hang onto the ungendered body of an adolescent, and I used my eating disorder to avoid sexuality and identity.
Gender & Eating Disorders
When my eating disorder was severe enough that I needed medical intervention, it was my gender again that prevented me from receiving the lifesaving care that I desperately needed. My parents were told by provider after provider that they do not treat adolescent males with eating disorders. Treatment center after treatment center said the same thing. “We do not treat males”. Most of my eating disorder recovery has been gendered in this way.
It wasn’t until 6 years after my first medical intervention that I was able to find a program that was willing and able to take me in with my male assigned gender. In treatment I was never able to discuss my issues with gender and sexuality. It was assumed to be straight and cisgender. I was never able to talk about the pain I felt around my body, gender-dysphoria, and sexuality in the treatment setting. This is still true for so many trans and non-binary people today.
It wasn’t until years later with an LGBTQ+ outpatient provider that I was able to express and confront this painful part of my story. Once I did, I began to believe that recovery for me was possible, and I began to find my authentic voice. Today, I know that my recovery is only possible because of my acceptance of my authentic gender identity.
My journey with gender has shown me that shame is used to manipulate our feelings around our bodies and our identities. Everything is gendered from toothbrushes and deodorants to colors and fashion. We are taught from a young age that boys should be touch and girls should be sensitive. Boys should be strong, and girls should be petite. These gendered shame tapes teach us that our bodies are a currency and that our safety and value come from how well we can conform to these gendered standards.
While our bodies and the standards are different based on gender the tool is the same. Be ashamed if you are not man enough or woman enough. One argument I am often faced with is that I make everything about gender. I say the contrary is true. I am simply pointing out how our society makes everything about gender and says that what is masculine is inaccessible to what is feminine and what is feminine is unacceptable to what is masculine. It places masculinity and femininity in opposing opposites rather than compliments.
Being trans and non-binary has shown me that there as many ways to be a man as there are men and as many ways to be a woman as there are women and there as many ways to be non-binary as there are non-binary people. It has taught me that gender is a personal to each person and that it is simple to respect it.
Mental Health Advocate