Tag Archives: body image

Connective Tissue

I am honored to present Connective Tissue, about Samson’s experience with unexplained lactation. Samson is a genderqueer, transgender androgyne living in the southeastern US. They are an educator, a communication junkie and a lover of many languages, programming and music included. They blog at the Felt Fedora and tweet at @feltfedora.

Connective Tissue

(This post references my hormones and my history with medical professionals’ reactions to them. If you need more context, this previous post will help.)

I had nightmares last night. They were confusing, fluid, and at times nonsensical, the way my nightmares tend to be, and in an odd narrative spiral, so that each event is continually revisited, never completely allowed to rest.

In the lulls between, though, my nightmares gave me an odd gift. I dreamed I was nursing a child.

It was lactation that finally pushed me to find a trans*-friendly doctor. I went off of birth control last year, back to the hormones my body produces on its own. (I have noncongenital adrenal hyperplasia, so I have higher-than-”normal” levels of androgens, although this was still undiagnosed at the time.) I expected the boat to rock plenty as my body readjusted; I was expecting facial hair growth and irregular and painful cycles, the same as I had before birth control, and I got that. As a bonus, my voice also dropped. I was not, however, expecting to lactate.

I thought my hormones would be swinging toward androgen-heavy, so I couldn’t figure out how that would make me lactate. Was the cause, instead, the fact that I was regularly binding on weekdays? Was it a temporary effect of withdrawal from birth control? Was I sick–did I have cancer?

I recognized that I needed to see a doctor about this, and about my hormones in general, something I was dreading after the experience that left me on birth control in the first place. I knew I needed a trans*-friendly doctor. It was mostly a matter of practicality: I thought it could be binding that was making me lactate, and I needed a doctor who wouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction of, “Stop binding. Problem solved (and even if it isn’t, you shouldn’t be doing that anyway).”

So I set out to find a trans*-friendly doctor. I found one. And when I brought up binding, he flinched a moment, but continued calmly as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.

“That kind of compression wouldn’t be causing it,” he said, and simply went on.

Over the next several months, I went through a battery of blood tests. Samples and smears. Manual exams. And this all just for the lactation–none of the other hormonal issues being diagnosed. The whole thing was highly pathologized–not that I can blame anyone. I was (and am) a trans person, never pregnant in my life, possibly infertile, no partner to stimulate lactation. What could it be but disease?

As it turns out, there appears to be no reason at all.

My prolactin and progesterone levels were both nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing suggested cancer. There was nothing I was physically doing to my chest that should be causing me to lactate. My doctor and I settled on not worrying about it; he had ruled out anything frightening, and the only cause for concern was any discomfort it was causing me (I assured him there was none). He instructed me to “leave it alone,” and that in time it might wane.

I’ve discovered that I will be very sad if it does wane.

There’s something about it that sits right with me, despite all odds. I am very much not a woman, and used to experience quite some dysphoria about my chest. It surprises me that something characterized as so essential(istical)y female and “woman” is something that I find now familiar, comfortable… organic?

Today I was linked to a collection of stories on breastfeeding and weaning. Leafing through the parents’ stories of breastfeeding, weaning, and the close relationships they had with their children surrounding those things, I felt both a kinship with and a confused distance from the relational experiences described.

Lactation has changed my relationship with my own body. In an endeavour to explore and mend my relationship with my body, lactation somehow made my chest safer to me. (I remarked one day, to a friend, “If I have to have breasts, at least they’re functional.”) I’ve developed a comfortable sort of relationship with it; counter to my doctor’s orders, I don’t “leave it alone.” I manually express. I look at the milk–never more than a few drops–and marvel at how swirled and pearly it is. I’ve tasted it. (Reading stories of weaning and unweaning reminded me of a memory: me at four, not long after my sibling was born, asking to nurse again just to remember what it was like, and my mother, palpably uncomfortable, shortly refusing. I was disappointed, but didn’t think anything odd of my request.) Somehow my chest feels more organically interwoven with the rest of my body; it doesn’t feel like the strange interloper that it used to, the one that showed up uninvited at age nine and started messing things up at skin level. It feels rooted, somehow. Part of my experience. Part of me.

I’m left with a sense of how much it is not a part of anyone else, though. I don’t have a child or a partner that shares this with me. Reality is really much like a reduced-capacity version of my dream: nursing was a connective experience, but it was one that connected me with myself–not with my dream-child, who was not characterized as much more than an animated doll that I carried with me. It’s an open loop, somehow: everything about lactation, nursing, breastfeeding seems to imply a relationship, a purpose, a person or persons for whom the milk is being created. As much as it connects me with myself, I’m missing that other piece, that other who is connected to me through the experience.

I have wondered about how to broach the topic with partners (which has, so far, been avoided by relationships fading before they become that intimate). How do you explain to a partner that if they touch you in the ways you’re asking them to, you will–I mean, you’re going to lactate on them and you don’t mind and actually find it kind of sexy. As a trans person. As someone who is not a woman. Who has never been pregnant. Who has no reason to be lactating.

I’m left puzzled by the whole thing, this unexpected gift. I do consider it a gift–one that many people (I’m thinking of trans women in particular) sometimes go to great lengths to have, that others inexplicably don’t have, and here I inexplicably do. It’s just puzzling to be sitting alone with a gift that seems, by default, to be meant for more than one person.

Fat and pregnant: 30 weeks

Since it’s been a while, allow me to present a selection of pictures in payment for your patience.

27 weeks, in the same position as the baseline:

Yup, everything's growing

29 weeks, taking video of the three most adorable vow-renewal attendants you could imagine (I haven’t gotten permission from the parents of two of the three to share any of the pics of them, so you’ll have to trust me):

And two days ago, at 30 weeks (little did I know when I bought this dress it would make such a fabulous maternity top):

(You can tell which picture me and my dinky camera phone did NOT take, aye?)

And now, a wordy tangent:

All the clothed pictures you’ll see of me from here on out (until the Fetus decides to come out, at least) are likely to be either in a dress or wearing a dress-as-top, for the simple and pragmatic reason that that’s all I have that fits. It’s a strange feeling, to dress so femme, not on the occasional whim, when the mood strikes, but every single day, because there aren’t any other choices that cover these gawdawful belly panels.

And it’s all the stranger because I’ve long had a complicated and difficult relationship with femininity. Internalized misogyny thanks to a second-wave era upbringing, the micro-culture of my nonconformist family, having my body take on a woman’s shape before I was ready to let go of a child’s life, a lifetime surrounded by fat shame and fat hate, including in my own family, and a deeply hurting psyche that said (and, as we’ll see, says) I’m not good enough, worthy enough, beautiful enough for beautiful things: these all contributed to a discomfort with anything “feminine” and especially with any desire of mine for femininity, for “girly”, for pretty, for nice. Wanting these things is a sign of weakness, these factors conspire to inform me, a deviance, an acquiescence to colonization by patriarchy.

It pains me to write these words, and know that some part of me still — always? — believes them to be true, for all I can see their falseness.

It’s getting better. I can buy make up now without wanting to hide it (though I will never want to wear it more than twice a year). I can ask for recommendations for and schedule an appointment with a hair stylist (though I will never buy Product, for a variety of reasons not least of which is I can’t be arsed). I can shop for and say I want a gorgeous, versatile dress (though I will always pull jeans on by default).

But when the dress shows up wrong: I can’t stop from hating myself for how much it bothers me. I can’t admit how much I care. Because it’s wrong. It’s weak. It’s shameful. It’s just a silly dress, and I shouldn’t be bothering with them anyway, it’s all foppery and femininity and I’m too good and I’m too ugly for such frilly finery.

It’s just a dress, and if I care, then I’m just a girl.

My brain is not always a stable or comfortable place to be. (But then, whose is?)

I care. And there’s a girl inside of me, who hated pink but wanted to sometimes, just sometimes, love it too, who hurts like hell when she’s finally allowed something pretty and it all goes pear shaped, because perhaps she’s allowed an indulgence, but only if it’s clear that it doesn’t matter, that it’s a silly pastime, a self-aware amusement and nothing more. But she’s not allowed to care.

It’s that message, from my own mind, that hurts more than anything. And the tears that flow from that only fuel the disdain.

The whole situation is more than a little ridiculous.

But it’s also entirely serious.

The dress in question, by the way, is the one in the second picture above. I’ve been assured it looked lovely, and it went well enough on the day that I didn’t devolve into a panicky puddle (it helped that my mantra was It’s Not My Day), but it didn’t show up the way it was supposed to. And I wasn’t supposed to care.  But, of course, I did.

It would be easy to laugh it off and blame pregnancy hormones, and certainly that’s a culturally accepted out. But although they complicate it, exaggerate it, I cannot lie and say they created this too-much-caring, this contempt-of-caring.

For if nothing else, it’s not unique to me. If you listened to the Think Out Loud radio show I participated in1, you heard much confusion between gender-neutral parenting and anti-femininity parenting, where the point was not so much to offer our children options but to erase any leanings toward the girly.

The activist in me sighed to hear it, but the girly-girl, the long-denied dress-wearer, cried.

  1. And if anyone knows where to find or has made a transcript of it, please let me know!

Fat and pregnant: 10 weeks

We were talking on Twitter today about the political and deeply personal nature of belly pics for those of us who are fat and pregnant1. There aren’t a lot of pictures of us — because we tend not to take them.

For most people in this culture — not only fat women — bellies are one of the, if not the, most stigmatized, most shame-laden part of our bodies. Add the all-over shame of existing in the world with a fat body, and it’s really, really hard for most of us to take and share photographs of our pregnant bellies.

There are a lot of reasons for this, each of which could be its own post, but briefly2:

  • Our bellies are fat, and, as is drummed into our heads and souls a thousand times a day in a thousand ways, fat is bad. And ugly. And bad! So even this place that nurtures the future, carries a wanted pregnancy, we cannot see as good and beautiful. (And then, even if, miracle!, we do, we are afraid of the reactions from others, afraid of the shaming and judgment and tsking and cruel comments.)
  • So often we spend years in fear of hearing “Are you pregnant?” when no, we’re just fat. Our bodies do not have the space to have “cute little pooches” in early pregnancy like people with very little abdominal adipose tissue. Our bellies are changing, but when we start out “already looking pregnant” (and told that is bad), we don’t want to take those early pictures.
  • Then, when we don’t have early pictures to compare to (because we’re “just fat”, and no one wants to see a fat belly!), we don’t want to take later pictures — because, again, we still look fat! Only a little more so! Our bodies may not look like what we expect mid-pregnancy bodies to look like, thanks to thin celebrities and Photoshop. Sometimes we look what we expect a very very pregnant person to look like very early on, and sometimes we hardly “show” at all. So we don’t take the pictures.
  • Finally, when we’re good and pregnant and really it’s quite obvious that’s a baby belly — we’re huge! We’ve may have gained weight all over, and there may be shockingly dark and purple stretchmarks bisecting all those old and silvery lines, and we think, that’s not what a pregnant belly is supposed to look like! And we don’t take the pictures.

The only way, the only way to overcome this is for more of us to take pictures. And to show them off. To say “this is what a fat and pregnant belly looks like”, and to know that not all fat and pregnant bellies look like that, because no two bellies, or bodies, are ever exactly the same. We don’t store fat the same, our uteruses don’t grow the same (betwixt multiple pregnancies, much less different people), our torsos and pelvises aren’t shaped the same. And yet — there is something amazingly uplifting about seeing a body that is like ours (even if not the same as ours), to see it celebrated and held up as beautiful and worthy of love and respect and, yes, photographs.

It is so very important for us to see3 people who look like us doing all manner of things in life so that we know we can do them too. It’s incredibly hard to be the first, or in the first generations, when we have so little to guide us, so little to let us know “yes, you can” and “yes, this is ‘normal’”, and “no, you are not alone”. And it’s scary, and hard, and often risky. So I’m not going to shame anyone for not taking or sharing pictures of themselves. But I am going to say please.

And you deserve to be seen.

And you are not alone.

And I’m going to post my pictures4. And you don’t have to like them, and you don’t have to gush over them5. But I hope you see them, and share them, and know that this is what a fat and pregnant belly looks like. And it deserves to be honored no less than any other belly.

10 weeks: the baseline. Subtle changes in shape, but my uterus hasn't yet risen out of my pelvis.

There’s a lot more I could say6, but instead I’ll leave you with some links, and a promise that this won’t be the last picture:

On body image, pregnancy, and BMI

Which lead me to: Feeling fat during pregnancy

and You’re Huge! Pregnancy and Size in a Thin-Centric World

Finally, no post on pregnancy and fat should be allowed without a link to Plus Size Pregnancy, which is an all-around amazing pregnancy and birth resource for everyone, but especially, obviously, for those of us who are fat and pregnant. It’s written by The Well Rounded Mama whose most recent post — sometimes I believe in serendipity — is Belly Thoughts.

We are out there, those of us willing to take pictures of and share our fat pregnant bellies. I’m hardly the first. But until it’s not rare enough to note, until we see bellies rounded from the start of pregnancy, stretch-marked going in to gestation, until whether one takes pregnancy pictures is only a question of “are you a picture person or a private person?” not “are you ‘beautiful’ enough or brave enough?” — it’s worth celebrating, these bellies of ours.

Did you blog about size and pregnancy, regardless of your weight? Did you take, whether or not you shared, pregnancy photos starting from early on? Was something holding you back that I didn’t discuss here? Please share your stories — and your links if you have them!

  1. You can follow the convo — and whatever other topics come up under that topic — on Twitter at #fatandpregnant.
  2. Those of you who are regular readers are laughing right now. Don’t think just because I can’t hear you that I don’t know. I know. Oh yes. I know.
  3. Which implies visual representations, but all forms of coming-to-know are meant to be included.
  4. I’d say every week, but my regular readers haven’t recovered from laughing at “briefly”, and I wouldn’t want to cause you injury from further guffaws.
  5. And for the love of all you hold dear please don’t say “but you don’t look fat!”
  6. Why lying down? Why basically nude? When am I going to get a decent camera and not my crappy first-gen iPhone? Will I ever learn how to compose a decent shot, or even what that means? (Probably not.) And also: yes, this is scary for me. I’m doing it anyway, but it took quite a bit of ramping up to get here, and now I’m in midair, uncertain of my landing. As the Fat Nutritionist and I jointly said on Twitter, the difference between a fat activist and an “overweight” person isn’t that we don’t feel any shame, it’s that we know the shame is bullshit.

A picture says a thousand words (or two, repeated 500 times)

So some freelance writer working for Marie Claire (a mainstream fashion/women’s magazine? I guess?) wrote a douchey article that covers at least half of a fatphobic bingo card all by itself. I won’t link, not wanting to further up their page-views, but it can basically be summed up as “ew, fatties!” If you’ve the spoons and/or Sanity Watchers points, you can read some of the specifics over at Dangerously Luxe’s awesome smack-down, because while I could expend a thousand words going in to everything wrong with the original article, I simply can’t be bothered today.

Because today, the Boychick and I went shopping, since I’m down to one no comfy, attractive (unstained and untorn) warm shirts or sweaters, and that’s just not good now that we’re solidly in the Northern autumn, not even here in semi-temperate Oregon.

I, alas, could not find any sweaters. But I did happen to spot a dress. And I shrugged, and tried it on.

It fit.

Red Dress

Photographer, no. Hot, yes.

When I walked out of the dressing room, the Boychick said “Ooo, I love that dress! Mom, you should buy that dress.” Well, how could I not?

Today I dedicate the purchase of this red-hot dress to Marie Claire, Maura Kelly, and everyone who thinks fat chicks are disgusting, unattractive, unfuckable. This, unfuckable? Try fucking hot.

A friend protested this dedication, saying they didn’t deserve my hotness. And while that’s surely true, I firmly believe that the best revenge is a life well-lived.

Preferably in a red-hot fuck-me dress.

(There is a part of me that does not want to post this picture. There is a part of me yelling about how fat I am, how flabby my arms, how double my chin, how sagging my comfy-tank encased breasts. I am afraid of the insults of trolls, and afraid of the whispers from tsking readers. But there is nothing a troll could say that the troll inside me has not said to myself. There is nothing a well-meaning loved one could shake hir head over that I have not spotted myself. But as I’ve learned before, the best antidote to this urge to hide is to show myself. And frankly, if my flesh bothers someone, including that horrid little voice inside me, I have two rude words to say — five hundred times.)

On fatphobia, thin privilege, and “eat a sandwich!”

Scroll down on the comments on a fat acceptance/size acceptance post that mentions thin privilege, and odds are excellent you’ll find something to the effect of “But I’m thin, and I get crap too! I don’t have ‘size privilege’!”1 Those of us who have been around the fat-o-sphere any length of time have heard this often enough our eye-roll muscles are starting to look like the Old Spice guy’s abs.

But let me take a moment out of exercising my extraocular muscles to actually address this, because these protestations aren’t coming out of nowhere.

When size acceptance activists say that thinness is privileged, we are not saying that every thin person has a hunky dory lightness and sunshine life and everything comes easily for each and every one of you. We are saying that everything else in this world favors if not you specifically, then at least your thinness, and those who are thin like you in general.

Society is systemically and systematically biased against fatness and privileges thinness. That is the well-supported theorem of size acceptance and the activism of fatties like myself.

Nowhere in that succinct definition does it say that thin women never receive body policing, that thin people all hate fat people (or vice versa), that cries of “eat a sandwich!” are any less painful or more acceptable than “put down that donut!”, that thin people don’t have body image issues, that thin women never have problems getting appropriate medical attention.

Because none of those things are true. Women of all sizes are regularly subjected to body policing, people of all sizes come in an array of bigotry levels, the pain of food-based shame is not lesser at a lower body weight, all women are at risk of having body image issues (conversely, women at all sizes might have fabulous self-images), and thin women as well as fat and inbetween can have a hell of a time getting doctors to listen to and believe them.

But? None of those things disprove thin privilege. And furthermore, they all are a consequence of fatphobia2.

Body and food policing and hateful, hurtful insults are a direct outflow of the belief that there is one acceptable type of body, and all others should be shamed (through words and pseudoscience and ill-fitting, unflattering clothes) for daring to deviate from it. And at this point in time, in USian culture (and many others), that ideal body is very thin3 — though not too thin.

Here is just a small example of ways that thinness is systemically privileged: seats are made for thin (or at most inbetween) people; most clothes (and basically ALL high fashion clothes) are made for thin people; thin women do not have to worry that they will be kept out of exclusive night clubs because of their thinness; thin people are more likely to be hired, less likely to be fired, and get paid more; thin people are not told they need to buy a second seat to fly because of their thinness, else risk being kicked off the plane; everyone in power — including medical professionals who should know better — are convinced that thin people are automatically healthier, merely by virtue of being thin; and almost all major media not only disproportionately represent thin people but artificially exaggerate thinness.

That not every thin person equally receives the benefit of thin privilege — that some, as with thin people with disabilities or health conditions dismissed out of hand because a douchebag doctor declares “you’re thin, you must be healthy!”, are actively disadvantaged — only means that the system doesn’t care one whit about any individuals, regardless of their size. Thinness is privileged; this does not mean that fatphobia is universally good for thin persons.

So, my skinny friend: your pain is real. Your hatred of the system that shames you is righteous. Your rejection of culpability in the self-esteem of fat women might be just. But your declaration that you therefore are not, cannot be privileged? Is based on a faulty understanding of privilege, its functions, and what it is like to be the embodiment of fatness in a fatphobic society. The words flung at you hurt; you may not always be able to find clothes that fit or flatter you; you may have spent a lifetime wishing for (or told you were supposed to wish for) more flesh, more curves, more bust. Those things are not any less true or real given what I am about to say:

You and those who share your thinness are not held up as responsible for everything from shorter lifespans to global warming; you and those who share your thinness can expect to walk into most clothing stores and at least find something that will meet when you attempt to button it; you can see your thinness reflected in every form of major media, held up in airbrushed form (if not in your own perfectly flawed, human way) as what all others — especially us fatties — should aspire to. You are privileged in many ways that society tries hard to make invisible to you. That you might not be able to see them does not mean they are not very, very real.

Size acceptance is for you, too, unreservedly. Every woman is a real woman, curves or no; every man, genderqueer, nonbinary person is a real person. But we can’t move forward if we can’t acknowledge the power differential; we cannot get to a place where every size is accepted if we are so convinced that all sizes are now equally affected that we are unable to shift the balance. We are all balancing on a scale, with your thinness being lifted up by the weight of and at the cost of us fatties. Only by acknowledging that imbalance can we get somewhere we can all stand side by squishy-skinny-inbetweeny side.

Your pain is real. So is your privilege. Acknowledge them both, and I promise I will do the same.

———————–

  1. Unless there are fewer than ten comments, or the blog moderator is especially strict, or especially lucky, you’ll also find “But don’t you know fat is unhealthy??” and “You’re just looking for an excuse to stay fat, you lazy cow!”
  2. Combined with sexism, ableism, classism, and all the other isms.
  3. That body is also white, moderately curvy (or “womanly”, as though women don’t come in the most fabulous array of shapes) if female — and moderately muscular if male –, cis, not obviously disabled, near-perfectly symmetrical, free of overt blemishes or scars, young (but not too young), not hairy, and so on.