Monday, December 18, 2006

87. Appearances

So, I’ve been talking about this a lot lately… this thing I don’t talk about. It’s just that I’m having a minor identity crisis, but of the good variety, and it’s making rethink a lot of things. Or at least reevaluate the way I’ve thought about myself for years. It’s not really relevant to this blog… but I don’t know really where else I can express these thoughts, and I’ve gotten used to expressing these sorts of private thoughts so here you guys go.

I’ve grown up pretty much just hating my appearance. In Bermuda I was too white – at least for the kids around me. It’s not that they were very creative with the names they called me, but having anything chanted derisively while you walk by feels shitty. Despite the awkwardness of the chant, “Little white-yellow-mixed-up-girl” hurt. Then we moved to a nice, white little suburb in Canada and I had quite the opposite problem. Now all the things that I had taken comfort in, the things that had made me the same in Bermuda, made me different in Canada. I had funny hair, I talked funny, and now I got to be called new names.

All kids go through that sort of thing, I suppose. Some more than others. I don’t know where I land on that scale, but it sucked. Oh, I didn’t have a horrible childhood, I just know I internalized a lot of hatred about my body. And I hadn’t even gotten to the worst of it yet. Puberty hit, and I quite suddenly started putting on weight. It’s not that my life really changed, it’s just that my body did, and really quickly. And now that was all I seemed to hear about from both of my parents. My father, who hardly ever called, would during his infrequent calls ask me how much I weighed. My stepmother, who I had known for about a minute, would give me weight-loss advice. And my mother…oy. If I would only lose weight then the boys would like me. If I could just get down to my ideal weight then I would look good in my clothes. Every item of clothing I owned was evaluated on an “is it slimming?” scale, which meant that I often owned and had to wear clothing I hated because it was believed they would “minimize” certain things about my body.

And I got older, and I got bigger… and it’s not a passive thing, I know. I let it happen. There is the minor muscle disorder that stops me from doing a lot of conventional exercise, but there are alternatives. I sometimes wonder if I did it on purpose, at least at some level. Maybe to piss my parents off, maybe to stop myself from having to date guys, who knows. Maybe I didn’t do that at all. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve felt rather helpless though. Or hopeless. Actually, both. I couldn’t seem to lose the weight (maybe I didn’t want to…), but if I did would it actually change anything? I would still look like me, only smaller, so really, what’s the point?

Virtually every conversation I’ve had with my mother over the past decade has involved my weight somehow… heh, the same conversation for 10 years and she gets mad at me because I don’t sound interested. Actually, it’s been more than 10 years… I’m 31 now, so probably for half my life that’s the conversation I’ve had with my mother. It’s gotten a bit better recently, but she still calls me here in Korea and says things like, “Are you sure you’re drinking enough water? I’m sure if you drank plenty of water, you’d start to lose weight. Are you losing? What do your clothes feel like?”

And when she tries to be positive it’s actually worse. Because what she says is this: “You’re actually cute, do you know that?” – and she says it as if she’s surprised. “I was looking at you the other day and I saw that if you lost weight you’d be kind of cute…” or “I was praying and I had a vision of you thin, and you actually looked cute…”

It’s not that I have an aversion to cute, I don’t… but it’s the surprise. The use of the word “actually”, as if all this time she’s been convinced I was ugly, but… lo and behold, I’m actually not.

And my dad… I remember him trying to compliment me once… it was horrible. It involved him pointing to my chest and saying “Well, you’re busty. Some men like that.” There was also the “I’m glad you’re intelligent. It compensates.” That was fun.

I know it’s shallow to be so obsessed with one’s appearance, even if it’s a negative obsession, but this whole thing was a huge part of my depression… it got kind of tangled up with the gay thing, and I ended up hating myself from the outside in as well as from the inside out. The only way I got over that was the eventually come out of the closet and stop thinking about what I looked like entirely. And I do mean entirely. This is going to sound a bit odd, but I’m not really sure what I look like. I hate seeing pictures of me, not just because I’m not fond of what I look like, but because it kind of throws me off. I’m always kind of surprised. Not pleasantly, or even unpleasantly… just… surprised. Because in between the moments when I am forced to see myself, I forget what I look like.

This has actually been the problem with that conversation my mother and I have. It’s not so much that I’m bored with having the same conversation for years and years, it’s that I’m afraid to talk about it because I’m afraid to end up back where I was… hiding in my room so no one will look at me, sneaking into the bathroom at parties to stop myself from crying because someone did look at me… so when she tries to talk about it, I completely zone out. Self-preservation. I’ve told her this, but… she’s persistent, if nothing else.

But here’s the thing… I’m losing weight now. A lot. I have no idea exactly how much… I’ve never been a fan of scales. Even before I got big I always weighed a lot more than girls who were the same size as me. I’ve since learned that black people just tend to be heavier… more muscle mass or something, I dunno, but I’m still a little scarred from having doctors and nurses express shock every time I was weighed from when I was six on up. Anyway, at first it was rather unintentional, but it’s happening faster now because I’m really trying. Not that anyone really notices but my massage therapist, and her only because she probably touches my body more than anyone else in my entire life history. But it’s still weird. All those years of telling me that I needed to lose weight in order to be attractive, and it had no effect on me, other than to make me feel like shit. Now I’m doing it on my own (well, with help… but self-motivated) and do you know what is giving me the drive? The thought that I might actually already be attractive.

This has to be the most unexpected side-effect of this whole thing, this whole venture into the ‘lesbian world’. I’m reevaluating my opinion of myself, and it’s weird and kind of scary… a little unstable… but I think I like it. Maybe I’m not a freak. Maybe I don’t look all that bad. It’s not that (as my mother’s theory goes) I’m ‘too ugly to land a man’ so I’ve resorted to lesbianism through ‘sour grapes’ (not that I ever bought into her theory, but man, did I ever want to take a picture that first night at the club, just to show my mom all the gorgeous lesbian women who could certainly ‘land a man’ if they chose). I’m actually probably not ugly at all. It’s entirely possible that someone I’m attracted to might reciprocate. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen it happen, at least on a superficial level… and it’s not like I’m winning these girls over with my sparkling wit or personality, they don’t even speak English… so they’ve really got nothing more to go on than my appearance… which it seems that many of them like.

I know this sound so cocky, but I can’t stop thinking about this. I find myself replaying so many of the incidents I’ve had in the company of these women… being asked to dance, being flirted with, being bought drinks, and some other more… um… direct approaches. More than the basic pleasantness of these memories, I find myself trying to figure out what these girls wanted, what it was they saw in me and I can’t think of anything other than that they liked what they saw. Which means that what they saw must be likeable. And that’s a new thought for me. It’s going to take some getting used to.


Peterson Toscano said...

What an amazing post! You articulate so well what has been my own "coming out" experience. So many negative self-images got tagged onto my gayness, and once I emerged from my dungeon (also known as a closet) I discovered parts of me I never dreamed existed.

thank you for this post.

aaronjasonsilver said...


It seems to me that in the wake of so many men in high profile positions, even including very conservative members of the clergy that have been “outed” as of late, that condemning homosexuality does not work. It obviously will never work in preventing or stopping homosexual behavior given the fact that the clergy themselves can’t resolve the e phenomenon of “the closet” needs to be addressed and understood. I believe it is essential to discuss “the closet” to provide the necessary context from which to view this issue and the scandals. The closet, meaning the emotional place where people hide their true sexual orientation from others, whether one is a man or woman. Particularly now however I am speaking of men at this time. The reason being is because I believe men use the closet even more often than woman because of societies more narrow view and expectations of what behaviors are considered acceptable and “normal” for men. This discussion needs to be civilized, our knee jerk reactions and judgments held in check. We need to discuss this subject with compassion because there is a lot of emotional pain involved in living in the closet. We have to discuss this with a very sincere desire to try and understand why so many men are seemingly suddenly becoming gay. Of course this is an impression to some but far from the truth. These men have been living extremely lonely double lives, riddled with guilt in “the closet”. Woman can be tomboys much easier than men can be sissies. Of course not all gay men are effeminate by a long shot but that is a stereotypical image of gay men and therefore many men attempt to cover up any behaviors they may have and believe may bring unwanted suspicion onto them. Therefore men, whether they be gay or straight, will practice stereotypical masculine behaviors to thwart any suspicion out of fear and/or necessity. This is especially true if they feel pressure to do so to protect their careers, career advancement, fear of social denunciation or they have difficulties reconciling their religious views with their natural inner feelings and same sex attractions etc. These are however the most common reasons for men to join the astounding numbers of other men that are also hiding in the closet.

The fear of being discovered can be enormous and absolutely terrifying. These men will often then do whatever they believe society expects from them. They will marry and have children out of desperation in an always unsuccessful attempt at suppressing these natural longings and hoping that they will eventually go away. Since we have very conservative members of the clergy who are also unable to control these powerful inner urgings we perhaps need to at least try and understand these powerful feelings of attraction that we all know very well and have all experienced ourselves whether toward the same sex or the opposite sex, it’s all still the same. To Gays these attractions feel perfectly normal and are. Would we rather they try and unsuccessfully continue to hide by getting married and have homosexual secret liaisons with men and feel terrible guilt in doing so. They will do their very best to compartmentalize their lives the best that they can. However I believe and have found while researching my book that the longer one stays in the closet the more damage is done. It is generally very difficult to compartmentalize ones life for long without some emotional problems begin developing in varying degrees and manifesting in a variety of ways. Many closeted men develop coping mechanisms such as addictive behaviors of all sorts whether they are alcoholism, prescription or non prescription drug abuse. They may develop addictions to pornography, sexual addiction or other self-destructive ways of acting out. Once again unfortunately the longer one stays in the closet there will then also generally be more victims because of their closeted lifestyle choice. This is the only place where the word choice can be used correctly within the context of this subject. They can either “choose” to live in the closet or “choose” to live out their truth of who they really are. The victims may be their wives and children, their friends, parents and siblings. All feeling like they have been betrayed and deceived when the closeted individuals true nature is discovered as it was for ex-governor of New Jersey, Mr. McGreevy, ex-congressmen Foley and now the president of the Evangelicals, to name just a few of the staggering number of men that have also been hiding their true selves. I feel very sad for the victims as well as I very much understand the humiliation, despair, and profound depression that the closeted individual feels that soon follows once that door to the closet is flung open. For some, the shame and fear is just too unbearable and suicide seems like the only alternative to ending their unbearable pain and shame.

Society needs to take some responsibility with this matter of the closet by being more accepting of alternative lifestyles. Without the closet, try and imagine how much less pain many people and families would have to endure. Not only the ones that feel that living in the closet is their only alternative, but for the victims that find themselves feeling betrayed and the breaking up of families that soon follows. We as a culture have some soul searching to do on this matter and not be so self-righteous. There are a variety of ways of loving and living. We need to accept the fact, that which seems to be normal for some is not necessarily normal for all. However, as I said the closet can cause deep and very troubling emotional problems that can eventually manifest in abhorrent behaviors. Unfortunately homosexuality is still frowned upon by many in American culture, which in turn renders same sex marriage completely out of the realm of possibilities for especially the conservative religious right.

For gays that feel the need to come to terms with their same sex attractions, I generally do not recommend discussing these issues with clergy. The reason I feel this way is because it can cause further damage due to their religious agendas which can deepen one's guilt, shame and depression. This is a very complicated issue that society has to become more compassionate about. If we do not, we will continue to shame many people with same sex attractions enough that will perpetuate their confusion. It will also inhibit many from being true to themselves from the beginning and also prevent them from seeking the appropriate help for any specific personal issues in which they may be struggling with. Thank you, Aaron Fennville, Mi 49408

Liadan said...

*moving past the comment spam...*

I had a bit of the same experience-- not with weight, per se, and I didn't catch it nearly as hard as you did, but I know basically what it feels like to not be "pretty." I still hate mirrors and photographs for the same reason you cite-- I don't really recognize myself. (Oddly, I don't have this problem drawing self-portraits. I don't really know why this is, other than I'm used to regarding what I'm drawing as something other than myself anyway.)

It wasn't really until I came out and basically stopped *caring* whether I was "pretty" (read:attractive to men) that I realized I actually do look good-- on my own terms. Ironically, this is also when men started to hit on me with some regularity. Poor guys.

I think it confirms the fact that (yes, this is a cliche, but it's also true) confidence and contentment in one's own skin is really far more important than whether you match up to a "skinny blonde button-nose perky-boobed thin-waisted etc." beauty checklist.

Michelle said...


I haven't been as diligent in reading this site as I should be but I have read a bunch this morning and this entry really struck me.

I have known you over 10 years now and I know you have struggled with these issues for quite some time. I've heard some of it from you and I have sensed some of it, because I'm your friend.

You're far away right now so I haven't seen you in a while but I wanted to tell you (in a public way) a few things.

This post almost made me cry, I was so happy for you. Yes, there was sad stuff and stuff to make me angry about your crazy mom and kids in high school and all that stuff but that's not what stands out to me. What stands out the most is that you are finally feeling attractive. For those of us who know you, we know you're attractive.

The old you is probably still in there, thinking, "You just think I'm pretty because you think I'm so nice." Well, while that is always a part of how I view people's general attractiveness, I can also point to actual physical things.

You have great lips. You wear lipstick great. You know what colours to pick for your colouring and that brightens your face all the time!

You have great curves. You are totally busty and you have a big bum and let me tell you, that's as womanly as anything could be. Sexy lady!

You also have beautiful hands. You have slender, pretty fingers with very nice natural nails. That's a sign of health and wellness and is always attractive.

My dear, you have looked great many times. You once wore a green silk outfit that looked AMAZING on you and if you didn't have curves, it'd have just looked like a drape -no good. That night, you knew you looked good and that made it all the better.

That said, I happen to like you the best when you wear funny t-shirts, flared jeans, some funky heeled mules and your Superman ring. It's totally you and I think that's beautiful.

I'm going to guess that right now, you look the best you ever have and it's not because of your weight or clothes, but because you finally are coming into (or "out" -ha ha) yourself.

I've enjoyed seeing you get in touch with your sexuality and I'm very proud of you for finding resolution with your faith.

This is a great time for you and I wanted to just tell you as your friend that I love you and I look forward to seeing you continue to find your happiness.