Village Square Mall, circa – well, always.
In the mid eighties I was a size zero. I know this because I went to Glik’s in the Village Square Mall in Effingham, IL to shop with my sister and my friend when I was about 13. I shopped then like I do now:
Friend – “Oh, you would look awesome in this.”
Me – “Nah, I don’t really like to try on clothes” (while looking longingly at Rural King’s selection of coveralls).
Friend – “Ok, well what do you think of this outfit?”
Me, approximating proper mid-western teenage girl social skills – “Um, yeah. Looks fine. Zippers on the ankles of your pleated jeans are a classic look.”
On this particular shopping trip, I found a pair of pants that were a size zero. I don’t remember what the pants looked like or why that day of all days I tried on girl clothes, but that crumb of knowledge – that my size officially didn’t exist – scratched an itch that is very fundamental to the cohesion of my sibling hierarchy.
Yes, my sisters could pinch and bruise their stomachs grasping for the Special K inch and pretend to be frustrated with the miniscule fold of skin in their grasp while looking at the rest of the population of Effingham High School with mild pity. But could they, in the darkest of night tucked into the bunk-beds and trundle beds, could they say that they had succeeded in actually erasing themselves?
I’ve never found another pair of size zero pants, but I’ve held that with me for 27 years. The secret weapon. Concealed carefully. Carried deeply.
My size – which from that moment forward was zero, invisible, no matter how much I weighed – was the baseline. The blank slate.
Every hair, change, scar and pound after that were evidence that either needed to be displayed as proof of my worth or hidden to disguise my lack thereof. I never weighed myself obsessively, and didn’t jump on the binge/purge merry-go-round.
I just kept score.
Scars on my hand and wrist from flipping my best friend’s grandma’s car into a cornfield in eighth grade – Fortitude and survival.
Slight dent in my forehead at my hairline – Chickenpox scar. My get out of jail free pass in the presence of all toddlers with viruses.
My adolescent angst was written on my body. I grew hips and breasts and got pregnant and gave birth to my son before my twenty-first birthday. That same year, three of my sisters had sons.
Stretch marks on my belly and chest – Badge of parenthood/Scarlet I for Inadequate motherhood.
I gained 45 pounds after I started taking testosterone when I turned 30. Those pounds attached themselves to me gradually, like many profound changes do. The first ten was happy weight – good food, the right woman in my life, the right life. Then slowly the weight started to count differently.
The baseline had changed. My units of measuring were different. Men are bigger, and my size zero had been adjusted for inflation.
The next fifteen were attached to the bookstore where I work.
Thickening midsection – Evidence that I’m substantial enough to run a business.
Plus a pound or two for stress. A few ounces here and there for loneliness. More weight to insulate miscellaneous guilt. The final bulk is overcompensation.
My sisters stayed virtually the same size with some fluctuation while I grew larger and hairier, but I stayed, as always, peripheral. Exempt. Invisible.
Recently, I consulted with a few doctors to consider bottom surgery, and know with relative certainty that funding this kind of thing is next to impossible.
6 inch vertical scar through my abdominal muscle and around my belly button – Emergency abdominal surgery. Proof that after unspeakable pain, the clouds part. The impossible is possible.
Regardless of the donor site for a phalloplasty, being a healthy weight is important to the surgery, and after all, what could it hurt to get fit? To avoid my usual anxiety and stave off the impending doom, I decided that even though I haven’t found a way to complete this final part of my transition, I would focus on something I could control – losing my extra pounds.
After “running” 5 miles on the elliptical machine every day and eating smoothies and weeds for several weeks, I had stalled. No weight loss. My clothes didn’t fit differently. Doom did start to settle in, but buried within it was something small and concealed. An itch. A grim shadow self inside me was strangely, horribly, satisfied. In a buried recess of my brain I am hoarding my bulk.
As a few pounds finally faded away I started to feel myself panicking as the trophies and evidence of my existence disappeared. My life in a female body depended on remaining invisible. My life as a man became, in part, about physically existing, pushing beyond size zero. I find myself clinging to the credentials packed into my thick chin, lumpy midsection and hips as if I’m going to lose myself. As if I’m going to be unveiled as a fraud once my disguise as a “big” guy slips.
I’m not obese, just fifteen or twenty pounds this side of normal BMI according to the internet. My challenge isn’t so much to lose the weight but to travel back through the collecting of it. To unpack all of the evidence and have a good hard look at it once and for all.