(Content Note for discussion of gender dysphoria, purity culture, and religious trauma)
It’s officially been a week since I moved out of my parents’ house. Into a space that I still can’t believe is my own. It’s both freeing and terrifying. I’m not used to taking up space that’s for me. I’m used to taking up someone else’s space and just being allowed to exist in that space other people occupied.
Now that the space is my own, I’ve been reflecting on why I’ve more often than not never felt like I could take up space–that I could never be comfortable in any physical space including my own body.
If you grew up in fundamentalist culture, you’re probably also familiar with purity culture which I’ve talked about several times here.
I am so used to feeling small. Feeling like I had to make myself small for others’ comfort. When you grow up being taught to be afraid of your body and its effects on men, that does a number on your psyche. Especially if you’re taught as I was that you’re responsible for how men view you.
Even as a little, pre-pubescent kid, I was keenly aware of how men perceived me. Comments were made like, “Isn’t she a pretty little thing? She’s gonna be a heartbreaker when she gets older.” or “Come here and give me a hug, sweetheart.” That last one was more of a command and was never an option to refuse. And as compliant as I was, I never did even when it made me uncomfortable (which was almost always).
Our bodies are over-sexualized and over-scrutinized before we can even name what’s wrong with that.
Purity culture aside, I grew up being very uncomfortable with my body anyway. I was aware that I was born a girl. But I was also aware that I liked boy things and sometimes didn’t feel like a girl or a boy. Rather I felt somewhere in between.
When I DID hit puberty, I wanted to hide my developing chest at all costs. I would wear baggy shirts until about 15 and before that, around age 10, I fought my mom a lot on having to wear bras. I hated my body and I hated how people looked at me when my body started changing.
And Joshua Harris DID NOT HELP. If you don’t know, and didn’t read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, god bless you. Dating is awkward when you’re not interested in boys. But you do want their clothes and their flat chests. If that sounds weird, welcome to my world. I swear, he “apologized,” but nothing can undo the damage.
Sometimes, I would pretend I didn’t have a body and that I was more of a shell. The real me was simply existing in a body that didn’t feel a part of me. There was a disconnect. I just felt like I was a “crack in this castle of glass” as the Linkin Park song goes. Being sexually abused as a child and later assaulted by a boyfriend made me hate my body even more. Like I was something wrong that caused men to do wrong things they couldn’t help. Even my dad would look at me a certain way sometimes that made me feel like maybe I only existed to “sit still and look pretty.”
Turns out–not much has changed. I’m working on loving myself and loving my body and seeing it as a part of me. That it’s not something to be ashamed of. That being non-binary is valid and still referring to myself as female is more of a default. I’m comfortable with it but being non-binary is also me.
It is painful to realize that your body and yourself cannot exist without changing to fit into spaces that were never meant for you. Clothes that were never meant for you. What IS meant for you is to take up some space, god damn it. You exist and you’re allowed to take up space. MORE THAN ALLOWED. It is ok and it is good to be who you are and love your body for what it is–a part of a whole person who is lovely and good. Now I need to remind myself of that. We are good and the kids will eventually be alright. We will be ok. We are lovely and good and we can and do take of space. Our bodies are good and holy even. We are good.