the suburban adventures of a genderqueer housespouse

I’m drinking my morning coffee in the dining room, our apartment is so tiny I could also be in the kitchen or the living room at this moment, but I have coffee and breakfast –a bowl of grapes and string cheese– on the table beside me, so it’s a dining room for now.
I hear a “boiiiiiiing” from the bathroom, the door-stopping spring in the wall. My son is in there, completely naked with the iPad. He’s supposed to be pooping. Instead he is playing a longstanding favorite: the game of Boing.

I feel like that spring today, hell a lot of days. Something comes along and sets me into motion. The momentum reverberating through me, a loud twang escaping my body. Movement, vibration, shaking, action, excitement… then slowly losing amplitude and reorganizing me back into a sturdy and solid door stopper, waiting impatiently for something to come along and BOIIIING me again.

getting it off my chest

Let’s discuss boobs. I’ve never particularly liked and/or loved mine. Actually, I have spent most of my life trying to cover them up, squish them down, hide them, bind them, and wish for their demise. Sure, I love other people’s breasts as much as the next guy, but my own? Not. So. Much. They’ve been big, oppressive burdens since they first started to bud when I was in about the third grade. I refused to wear a training bra, cheeks hot pink with shame, when my mom enlisted the help of a year-older-than-me friend to discuss the need for a bra. NO WAY was I going to submit to that! My ten year old self planted feet as firmly into the shifting sands of puberty and refused to step towards “womanhood” without a fight. Ultimately my body betrayed me, but I fought a good fight in those early tween years.
In high school, I found out that I was described as the “chick with the big boobs” which was basically mortifying. Not only the “chick” part, but also that my chest was the defining feature to pick me out of the crowd. It should’ve been anything else: my green eyes, my long, thickly curled hair, or my threadbare R.E.M. t-shirt. Anything else. But it was always the boobs.
I dreamed of reduction surgery for years. I mentioned it one time over lunch in a mall food court to my ex-husband and his first response was, “What about me?” I was so angry I yelled something ridiculous and slammed my drink on the table as I left. Not a particularly internal moment of dysphoria, but certainly another example of feeling like my body was not my own, for myself. ugh.
When my son was born, I finally felt some connection to my chest. When he was newborn, I sat around shirtless all day and nursed him contentedly. We had some challenges at first, like many new breastfeeding/chestfeeding parents: flat nipples required a shield for a while, trouble yielding for the pump, occasional plugged ducts, etc. But I was proud of feeding my new baby and worked through any issues and he nursed until his first birthday. I will be 39 in a few weeks and that one year of nursing my baby is the only time in my entire life that I ever loved my chest.

Breastfeeding my son for the first time after he was born required assistance from a lactation counselor, a student nurse, and my L&D nurse. See how they manhandled my body? Even in this moment, a delightful first moment between parent and baby, my body was still not my own.

Breastfeeding my son for the first time after he was born required assistance from a lactation counselor, a student nurse, and my L&D nurse. See how they manhandled my body? Even in this moment, a delightful first moment between parent and baby, my body was still not my own.

Four days ago was the two-year anniversary of my breast surgery, but not the reduction I always wanted. I had a bad infection in my right breast for several months that my doctor finally decided to clean up with surgery. They removed about a baseball-size of infected and necrotic tissue from that breast. The healing was painful and long. My right one used to be my bigger breast, but it is significantly smaller than the left side now. There’s a deep indentation that runs along the entire edge, shaped like a smile, and I have pretty much zero sensation in the nipple, areola, and surrounding tissue.
When I was recovering from this surgery, I started seeing my therapist again to work through issues of dependency, trust, and healing. She kept asking me about how I felt about the changes to my breast. I don’t think she ever fully believed me when I said that I felt nothing about it except relief. It’s like I just have this lump of tissue stuck to me that gets in my way and hurts sometimes. I wished they had just removed the whole thing. My therapist would try to prompt me to talk about how “as a woman so much of our identity is tied to our breasts” and that I must be feeling something about that. But I don’t.
I also had a wound care nurse I saw three times a week for the months I was healing. She kept telling me not to worry about how my breast looked and that if I had concerns once it was all healed the doctor could write a prescription for a prosthesis and insurance would cover it. When she first mentioned that, I remember thinking, “Really? Why would I give a shit?” and I never did.
I like my new tiny (comparatively) boob! There are times where I can bind it and it almost looks flat-chested there. In these moments I can catch a glimpse of the non-breasted person I dream of being someday.
I think that it is really interesting that our society tells us over and over that our bodies are not for ourselves. Thinking about my breasts always brings this up for me. I feel disconnected from my own chest and my breasts have existed solely for other people: lovers, babies, doctors. They’ve been instruments of flirtation, nourishment, and profits. But for myself? They aren’t mine and never have been.

Not bragging, this is important back story information: my memory is incredible. No, seriously. I have vivid memories from my first birthday, I can still, at age 38, name all the students in my class pictures from kindergarten on up (and I went to a different school every year until 5th grade), and I am able to easily recall very specific details about  books I have read or events I’ve attended or conversations I had from my entire life.
But this is a story about body hair. I woke up with it on my mind thanks to a photo I took last night of my son sleep-snuggling me in bed. After I posted the photo to my Instagram, I realized that the hair on my chest was pretty visible. I stared at the tiny screen in my hand for quite a while, simultaneously debating whether just to delete the post or stay proud of who I am and leave it be. Ultimately, I decided that if a little bit of my chest hair offends someone, that is their problem and not mine, and anyway if anyone even notices it other than me, they probably wouldn’t say anything anyway. Welcome to the latest step in my journey to myself. Now I am going to rewind this story by about 32 years. Join me on a tour of my body hair timeline?
One day in the first grade, my best friend, Bridget and I were sitting in a concrete tube on the playground, talking about whatever 7 year old kids talk about, when Bridget asked me if I had any hairs on my privates yet, because she had a few and was curious about them. I couldn’t believe that I was not the only one! We talked about the 5 or 6 little hairs we’d each recently noticed on ourselves, wondering what it all meant, and felt solidarity in our precocious puberties, even though neither of us knew anything about any of that. Bridget said that she thought hairs on your privates meant that you were a girl and that someday you’d have a whole lot of hairs there like her mom and big sister did. I told her that I hoped someday I could have a beard on my face like my dad, and Bridget laughed at me and said that girls don’t grow beards, Silly. –File that under “Childhood Premonitions” if you’d like–
When I was in fourth grade, ten years old, I was shopping for summer clothes with my mother when she decided that the aisles of TJ Maxx would be best location to have the discussion to explain that wearing tank tops that summer would only be okay if I would let her show me how to shave my armpits. I could feel her disappointment in my body as she even said to me that she hadn’t been expecting to have this conversation with me at such a young age. Evidently, the jungle growth under my arms required intervention before I could be deemed socially acceptable enough for summer vacation. I felt so angry and I adamantly told her that I am just a kid and I don’t care about my hairy armpits and I don’t want to shave. But at age 10, you’re just a little girl who doesn’t have a voice yet and so that night the forest was graded by the classic pink lady shaver that’s blazed the trail to adolescence for so many of us . –Dear Younger Self, Let’s just internalize this experience. It’s a good foundation for a host of neuroses later in life. Trust me, Older Self–
Five years later, I came home from school one day to find a little box of cream hair bleach on my bed with a note that said only “Love, Mom.” Humiliated and scared, I threw the box in the trash and yelled at her to butt out of my life. She said she was only trying to help. Help what, I still wasn’t sure. But I spent hours that evening studying my face, lip, and chin. I’d barely even noticed my little dark mustache before and I certainly hadn’t felt concern about it enough to bleach it. Why would I bleach it? What was wrong with me? –Insert mad amounts of self-consciousness here–
By the time I was 20, I couldn’t deny it any longer. I definitely had more hair on my face and body and it was noticeable. Here’s the short list of mortifying experiences from this era: young campers at the Girl Scout camp where I worked asking me why I had chin whiskers/mustache/side burns like their daddies, my first gynecologist asking if I felt like doing anything about the amount of hair he noticed on my stomach, thighs, and privates, and close friends and girlfriends/lovers trying to mention my facial hair casually and lovingly offering to support me if I decided I wanted to do something (I didn’t then, but I appreciate that love now. Thanks y’all!). The list is longer, but my point is made: my offensive facial hair obviously bothered a lot of people in my life and maybe it should be bothering me more than it did in its current, unaltered state. Maybe I should get rid of it so people will stop noticing me.
I shaved my chin, neck, jawline, and side burns for the first time on the night before my 21st birthday. I felt sick for doing it, but also fascinated by my smooth face and I knew I was addicted, immediately. And since no one ever mentioned my facial hair again, I must have been successful, right?
As good as I felt after that first shave, I had no idea that I had just opened the door to a terrible closet full of fear, anxiety, and shame. From that day forward, I would shave my face every day for the next 15 years. Every. Day. It became a habit and a ritual and a necessity. Now that my facial hair was a secret, I was terrified that someone would find out. I would beat myself up in the shower every single day as I shaved, playing horrible self-talk “You’re a beast. A hairy monster. You are a piece of worthless shit.” Truly awful stuff to tell yourself on a daily basis, but that’s what I did. I hated myself for growing dark hair on my face and body. I never felt beautiful or sexy. I didn’t believe lovers who told me otherwise. I questioned their motives for lying to me.
I also became obsessed with taking a shower daily. I had to be able to shower so I could shave! I love to go camping (I was a summer camp director professionally, for crying out loud), but still to this day I have never been backpacking or taken any kind of a long outdoors trip because it would require me to be away from a shower-source. I know I would love it, but fear has kept me paralyzed for two decades. Any sort of traveling meant that I would work out when and where I would be able to shave before anyone else was awake or see me. I had a plan with my sister that if I ever had to be hospitalized or unconscious for any period of time that she would promise to shave me. That’s some deep shame I felt. Out of necessity, I morphed into a cheerful morning person, an early riser not because I love the sunrise, but because of anxiety that a lover might see my morning whiskers and not love me anymore or a colleague might catch a glimpse of a shadow on my face and make a judgment or gossip about me. It was exhausting work, keeping my hairy secret.
So fast forward about 15 years. For the sake of brevity (ha!) I won’t go on with more details of the razor burn, whiskers, and self-loathing that decorated my twenties and early thirties. Skim that page and land in the next chapter which started, on a whim, about 26 months ago.
December 2011. I mentioned to my partner that I wanted to have laser hair removal done on my face. I’d mentioned it casually before, but it always felt like an untouchable gift of the privileged and most certainly not something I could actually imagine doing for myself. This time, my out loud wishing was met with my partner’s loving and supportive, “You should look into it for real. See if we could finance it. It would be so worth it.”
She couldn’t be serious! But okay! Maybe I could do it. So I researched and called and found a good deal with a reputable company and set up an initial consultation. Ignorant to the life-changing experience on the other side of the doors, I sat in the office with my partner as the physician’s assistant explained the process to us and told me that I was an ideal candidate. We signed the financing paperwork, made one more promise to each other that $135 a month would mean a pretty significant tightening of our budget, but if this procedure could do what it promised, then yes, it would be worth it in the end. My partner never once hesitated or balked. She kissed me and reminded me that I am worth it. I didn’t believe her, but I wanted to. And then the PA said that I could have my very first procedure done right then and there. That day my life changed and my relationship with my body hair took another step in it’s journey to that photo on Instagram.
So now what? I religiously went to every appointment, once every 8 to 10 weeks for 18 months! My face is not hairless, but my face doesn’t have that freshly shaven smoothness or a five o’clock shadow anymore. I haven’t touched a razor in almost two years. Am I proud of my face now? Did laser hair removal fix my negative self-talking and shame? Well, I no longer call myself a hairy beast daily. So that’s good for my mental health.
Only now I am examining my relationship with hair so much more than before. And I am examining my CONTROL over my hair. Right around the last time I shaved my face, I also stopped shaving my legs and underarms. I have an obsessive, possessive-boyfriend relationship with all the other hair on my body. I love my apey legs and my furry pits. About six months ago I stopped shaving the hair on my boobs and chest. My son calls my chest hair “Mommy’s feathers” and I LOVE that more than imaginable. I wonder if I’d be so open and able to delight in my furry feathers if I had never had the lasering done. I don’t think so. I think that taking control of my facial hair was empowering to me and has allowed me to feel like I have more freedom to express myself the way I want to and on my own terms.
Sometimes I also wish that I had never done it, because with my newly discovered gender playfulness and Pride and Body Hair™ I think I’d grow a pretty nifty beard and own it… like a BEAST.

A Truth

[Photo of me at age 8 wearing a long sleeveless white dress, with a gold locket that reads "I am a Child of God"]

This is a photo of me on my baptism day, April 2, 1983. I was 8 years old, per LDS tradition, and wearing a white dress my Grandmama made for me and a locket that says “I am a Child of God.” I am standing just outside the baptismal font where my father was waiting to perform the baptism.

One of the things I tend to edit and omit from my story is the role of Mormonism in my history. The flip-side to this history is the subsequent omission of the fact that I am no longer a Mormon. 
And when I call myself an “ex-Mormon” I am not saying that I’m a “Jack Mormon” (someone who believes but is not active) or even a “Cultural Mormon” (someone who does not believe but still identifies as Mormon). No. When I say that I am an ex-Mormon I mean that I have consciously studied their teachings as an adult, made the decision that this was not the religion for me, sent certified letters to the membership records offices in Salt Lake City, Utah to have my name completely removed from their roles, and jumped through all of their bureaucratic hoops to ensure that I am not counted among their membership anymore. 
Even though it has been about 9 years since I officially removed myself from the LDS church, I have never announced this publicly before — I’ve only told a handful of people, immediate family. I know that to do so might upset some of my old friends and my extended family. And perhaps writing it behind the veil of an internet blog is an easy way out for me. It’s my prerogative.

So what does it mean to me to be an ex-Mormon? First, I want to be very clear that I do not feel hate or disrespect towards any religion. I genuinely appreciate the love, comfort, fellowship, and guidance that so many people feel from their religions and from their gods. This includes Mormons. 
As a child, I was a great Mormon! I loved to go to church and I loved to read my scriptures and sing the songs and bear my testimony. As I got older I started to have a lot of questions about marriage, faith, and the roles of girls and women. This was my journey and I sought guidance from my bishop and from my church leaders. By the time I was about 13 years old I was questioning a lot and not receiving satisfactory answers. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my bishop’s office and being told that I was just a child and these questions were much bigger than I could possibly understand. He then went on to try to explain faith in God’s plan to me and I was pretty much done at that point. I wanted to believe. I prayed and tried to seek my answers like I had always been taught, but only more questions came. Even though it would take me another 20 years to fully extricate myself from their church, it started when I was just a young teenager. This is my experience. I know that process works for many other people, but it didn’t work for me.
I am no longer seeking those answers.
Out of respect for all religions, I will not go into any more details about specific practices or beliefs with which I disagree. That part of my process is not relevant to speaking my truth in the present. 
So where does religion and spirituality fit into my life now? I’ve studied religion quite a bit (it was even one of my minors in college) and I’ve attended all sorts of places of worship. My heart always fills up tight with happiness and love when I am surrounded by spirit… It’s the same experience for me when a church choir is singing or I am looking at beauty in Nature or reading a sentimental essay. Is it possible to be an atheist with a spirit?

#1

I’ve had all the greatest intentions to get this blog launched and to actually start writing again. I’ve written so many entries in my head and it’s damn time I just started. So here I am with a blank text box in front of me and a compulsion to fill it.

I like lists so I am going to start today with a short list of my plans and expectations for this journal.

  1. I will write in this blog weekly, without regard to content or depth of thought. My goal here is to just WRITE.
  2. I absolutely must carry NO expectation for audience with this blog because I know that when I create with self-consciousness or audience-awareness, I inhibit myself. I need this to be a safe space to express myself without fear. I am working towards living my life fully and unedited, a pretty big change for me.
  3. I will do my best to respect the privacy and dignity of my child, while also recognizing that their stories are the fabric with which my own stories are woven.