Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Wimp and the Blimp

This was originally a post from the very anonymous blog I was doing with photos of this weight loss plan, and which I abandoned for many reasons. This was a post I thought worth saving, and after the weight-room post, this seemed a good time to revive it, now slightly revised:

I was a small kid, always in the bottom 10th percentile for height and weight. I started 10th grade at 4' 9" and 87 pounds: the smallest person in my grade, male or female. Pics of me as a boy are all ribs and knees and elbows. I was a runt.

Because I was a small male, my masculinity was often questioned: Though I did not look particularly odd, I was often derided in my early attempts at romance…(perhaps it was my winning personality). I often imagined that I was more feminine than my peers: I looked at my delicate fingers and wondered if they were a sign that I was queer. I tried to make myself larger by trying to be larger than life. Flamboyant in some ways, just loud in others…too proud of my smarts, which was often the only thing I really believed I had going for me.

I am looking over some snapshots from the years before I met Willow:

I am ten and standing in swim trunks at the top of an island overlooking a lake. You can count my ribs.

Two pictures when I am twelve--one a baseball team photo: The bat and the hat both look too big for my body. Though I am not the youngest player on the team, I am the smallest. Same for the soccer photo. I was third string.

I am thirteen, and standing next to a classmate: he is a full foot taller than I am.

I am at my sixteenth birthday party, talking to a female classmate. My arms are as slender as hers are.

In every single prom and homecoming photo, I am thinner than my date, including the vegan tennis player.

I am a freshman in college: I fit into my dorm neighbor’s corset—she is a riot grrrl, and unrelated, tiny. I am 5’11” a 130 pounds. My roommate is pretending to lick my breasts.

I am a sophomore: my girlfriend likes my legs, likes how I look in her tights, in her pleated skirts. I wear her black pleated skirt and tights with a cashmere jacket and a daisy in my lapel. (Clearly, the Morrissey period).

I am in the first year of grad school. I am 22, and still only about 140 pounds. I’m on a camping trip with a girlfriend. I barely remember having those high, hollow cheeks, those slender arms, the breakable wrists, the elegant neck, the body that fit into women’s clothes.

An anecdote: I am in the sixth grade, and one of my female classmates in the gifted and talented class (G&T) and I have bonded over choose-your-own-adventure books. She is heavy, and has some poor social skills. I am a runt, and my social skills are hardly first rate. We write one another notes. On a G&T field trip (riding the short bus—another designation that we are “special”), we sit next to one another, huddled down and choosing our adventure—let’s say, page 46—and the whispers begin in the back seats…and a line gets uttered. Some laughter. A refrain. A chant: “The wimp and the blimp! The wimp and the blimp! The wimp and the blimp!” We are trapped there on that bus, trapped both in our own separate, embodied shames. I am ashamed of my body, and hers. She is ashamed of her body, and mine.

I arrived at adulthood believing myself to be small, effeminate, encased in a body that I could not control, whose codes were written for me, not by me. I believed that I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight, because trying to gain weight had never been successful before. I believed that I would never be a masculine man because I’d never have a man’s body.

What all of this means now is that I was completely unprepared to think about my body as really part of me, or rather, it was a precondition that I had to work around, and not a part of the self that could be crafted. I had no sense that I had to take care of my physical health, how, or to what degree.

Moreover, because of the ways that I developed my persona around my body, I went into my mid 20s (and probably well beyond) with people challenging my sexuality openly, vocally and to my face. I am ambivalent about this phenomenon, to be honest, because I certainly questioned it plenty, myself, and I don't want to suggest that to be read as queer was an insult. But for one, it's almost as presumptuous as compulsory heterosexuality. Two, I really wanted to say, "Really folks. Do you think I could be this deep into an education steeped in gender studies and not have thought hard my own identity?"

Finally, it still tells me a lot about the ways that dominant culture still wants to try to link gendered, sexed, and sexualized bodies and indexical to one another. I have been married to Willow for more than 7 years now, and so my sexuality seems generally accepted, and I therefore cannot tease this out from my expanding body. But I don't think I'm any less flamboyant than I was when I was 25, any less interested in challenging gender stereotypes when I can. I just don't look as good in a kicky skirt.

But somehow, because my body now looks more like a normative male body, I'm not a wimp (though to be honest, I'm no more interested in proving otherwise than I was 20 years ago), and while the former students who read this blog probably know more about how I appear in front of the classroom, I believe I'm no longer read (at least vocally) as simply deluding myself about my sexuality.

1 comment:

Scrivener said...

I was always the smallest kid in any group. All the cousins or friends within a year or two younger than me were always bigger than I was. I was in grad school before the smallest men's size pants actually fit me properly--before that I wore a boy's large belt to hold my size 28 pants up. I tried out for the JV football team freshman and sophomore years in high school, and would have been on the team except they didn't have any equipment small enough for me to wear so I couldn't actually practice with them. So a lot of this is familiar to me, even though I don't have any photos to remind myself what I was like.

However, I don't think anyone ever called me effeminate or questioned my sexuality, at least not such that I was aware of it. I'm not sure exactly how to read my own narrative in terms of your argument, because frankly to a large extent I didn't get bullied or hassled when I was a kid because I was very, very good at making myself invisible. Maybe if some people had noticed me, they'd have given me a hard time in the same ways they did you.