I can’t remember how old I was when I first started feeling like my body wasn’t home to me. Perhaps it was before puberty, when boys started lifting my skirt for a laugh, or when men stopped their cars to talk at me. Maybe it was when my mother would warn my sisters and I of the dangerous things that could happen to (or because of) our bodies. My body started feeling like a motive. It didn’t feel like me. How could a body feel like home in such a hostile environment?
I’ve only recently begun settling in after 25 years of a life outside myself.
There are parts of my body, specifically, that I like more in private than in public. In private, I’m mostly fine with my breasts. In public, however, especially under the scrupulous eyes of men, my breasts feel shameful. They feel like something to be hidden, obscured under baggy clothes or compressed against me to a flat nothing.
The same can be said about my generous hips, thighs, and rear. It feels like they are betraying a secret of mine to the entire world. They broadcast my vulnerability. These parts feel like an invitation for harassment, violence, and degradation. My body is a site of violence. How could I not blame it for what has happened to it–to me?
I’ve spoken to many gender nonconforming lesbians, women, and nonbinary people who feel the same way. In solitude, our bodies are neutral. There is no fault of nature in them. In public, however, they have always been scrutinized and ogled and marketed and in need of fixing. Many, like mine, have experienced violation.
Our bodies do not fit the mold that we’ve been raised to fill. Too fat, too thin, too hairy, too many lumps in the wrong places and not enough in the right ones. Always open to public opinion. Always on display. Men don’t seem to care that the way I look is not for them. They see breasts and hips and decide that I am an open door. It’s hard not to blame an intrusion on the unsecured house, rather than the intruder.
The rake of unwanted eyes across my body feels like torture.
I believe that it is society, not nature, that has divorced me from my body. The confines of femininity that I cannot exist within, the intrusions, the images plastered on billboards and blaring on screens, the idea of what a woman (or disembodied parts of a woman) should be–none of these things make me feel at home in my body. I look in the mirror and I see fat where it shouldn’t be, hair where it shouldn’t be, marks and dimples where they should not be. Despite these things growing there by nature. I see breasts that men stare at unashamedly, I see hips that unwanted hands brush upon. I feel the pain of menstruation, I see a body but I don’t see myself. I do not feel at home.
I consider being gay and gender nonconforming a double-edged sword in coming to terms with my body. On one hand, I don’t care what men find attractive and in fact strive for the opposite. I don’t feel the pressures of heterosexualized femininity. Societal beauty standards mean less to me. Gender nonconformity feels like both an invisibility cloak and a target on my back, depending on the company.
On the other hand, I am a woman who is intimate only with other women. Our bodies are so similar, yet there are so many differences between them. How can I not compare my body to the one next to mine? Years ago I wouldn’t dare let a femme touch my body. I was too fat, too hairy, too unseemly. Now it’s a matter of preference, but back then it was because I felt like a monster.
It took a long time for me to accept that this is the body that I am in. It’s a work in progress. I don’t like being looked at, especially by men. I don’t like feeling judged or appraised. I, as many others in my position, wish simply not to be perceived. Unfortunately…that just isn’t possible.
Instead, what I can do is just be me. There is no other option. For the duration of my lifespan, I will exist in this body. I don’t need to change or hide it because of other people. I don’t need to feel ashamed of it. I need to keep it healthy, protect it from harm, embrace the joy it feels and the pleasure it brings me. I wear clothes now that I am comfortable in, stray eyes be damned. I haven’t worn a bra in seven years. I like tank tops that show off my hairy armpits. I haven’t shaved my legs in ages. I feel freer now than I ever did in pinching bras and sweated makeup and restrictive dresses. What is comfort to some feels like a cage to me, and I am glad to be out.
Now, when I walk down the street and I feel the intrusion of eyes on my body, I try not to shrink. I hold my head higher. On occasion, I’ll even meet a leering gaze. I don’t say anything, I am afraid of the possibility of a violent confrontation, but I want it to be known that I am aware and I am not ashamed. I’m not a little girl folding her arms over her chest or pulling down a hitched skirt anymore. I’m not a teenager sweating away in too many big layers. I’m not an ornament or a piece of meat at the market. I’m a whole human being, living in the same body I will have all my life. What I do with it is for me, and only me. My body is my home, even if it feels like I’m only just now moving in.