I’ve been fat for most of my life, minus about 5-6 years. I’m also Black, femme, and living with a chronic mental disability. Because of these things, as a preteen up until now, I have been hyper-aware of how I’m expected to move and (not) take up space.
As a child, 8 years old and already feeling like a jaded burden on those around me, especially my caregivers, I created a fake universe in my head, and eventually in my journal. Already aware of how my Black carefree, child wonderment of the world was somehow a negative, I didn’t quite have the language to explain why my unbridled passion to live in my fullness without a second thought brought visceral discomfort and audible gasps to the White adults I regularly encountered. From twirling on the playground to laughing too loudly in a grocery store, from riding my bike down the street to talking with friends as we rode the Metro bus. Every act of exploration, of being a regular degular kid seemed to come with scrutiny.
By necessity I quickly learned to read the room, and there were volumes of tomes immortalizing that I was taking up too much space. So I stifled myself down to be a little less Blacker, a little more docile, to replace my teeth baring laugh with a tight lipped smile and head nod. I stopped searching for self in the real world, and created a fake universe inside of my head where my identity could be reborn multiple times over and celebrated each time.
As I grew older, I stopped writing and ceased having an outlet to live bodaciously. It wasn’t until I created this blog in December 2018 that I revisited this notion of unapologetically living in my fullness: the good, the bad, the raw, and the confusing.
Part of that was acknowledging that I have an eating disorder (binge eating), which caused rapid weight gain of 200 pounds. I was self-conscious before about how my body would be perceived, now my brain was going haywire and the tornadoes swirling overtime as I did mental gymnastics to navigate it all. I would:
- become hyper-aware of and fixate on what and how much I ate in public. Thin people made it clear with their body language, comments, sideways glances and outright stares that they thought I, as a fat person, should not be eating
- not shop for clothes at in-person department stores and if I did muster up the courage, no way in hell I was going inside a dressing room
- shop for groceries and buy as little as possible or buy healthy foods that were out of my budget/means
- avoid panting from over-exertion when others were around
- stop going out to dance clubs (one of my previous favorite activities) to avoid the risk of being recorded and my weight/body weaponized against me for humiliation
It had become so second nature that my default person was too much. These actions to make myself smaller had become my reality, and that reality wasn’t enough to fulfill me, but was enough to keep me safe.
That was a hat-hook for me: I might be caged in, but I’m safe here.
A little over a month ago, June 2021, I decided I want to break every chain, but didn’t fully realize that meant saying deuces to the safety that came with it. I had explored that dynamic before a teensers, deciding to be accountable to myself first and authentic about my needs. Embarking on the overwhelming odyssey of interrogating my memories of sexual violence, racial discrimination, education disparities, being queer, and how I would question if this life was for me. At the time, I knew I wanted to change the narrative from obsessing over outside opinions to having individual agency and autonomy. To choose every day what is enough for me. And while I knew that was something I believed in, in reality I still hid behind a cloak of gender conformity and cis-normativity.
June 2021, the first Thursday of the month. I was rushing to complete my last few sentences before my therapy appointment ended, saying all in one breath I feel like I’ve been living as someone else, IDon’tWantToLiveMyLifeWithCagesAnymore. Later that night, in bed more awake than I wanted to be, I continued to think about where those confines were. My internal dialogue went something like:
Being Black is amazing, but White dominant culture is the cage. Colonialism is a cage. That’s why I want to create a world where people of color belong.
Do I think being a woman is amazing, but patriarchy is the cage? Ugghh what does that mean, anyway? To be a woman? That there is a socially acceptable way to express femininity, that it must come packaged with a certain gender and expectations.
After some intense 3 am googling and figuring out what different terms meant, that’s how I came to realize I am and for a while have been agender. Who I am does not align with and can’t be defined by any binary or non-binary identity. An ungendered human dedicated to breaking free from the oppressions of gender and how they play out in our society. That my body must be a certain thing, and open for critique, for naming and shaming if it dared to not be that thing. That it wasn’t just about presentation and how I did/did not dress, but that it was about living for the dream of decolonization. A life no longer limited by bias fueled from binary. It’s ultimately about my freedom.
Soon after, I said it publicly, from telling those closest to me, including some of my friends (I started with the queer friends, thinking the gays would get it more than the straights), a blog post and highlighted Instagram story, to changing the pronouns on my work email signature and Zoom name. Every interaction came with a sweaty palm and slightly raised heartbeat, a thumpthumpthump falling from the pit in my stomach to somewhere down around my knees. When meeting new people for work, a frequent enough occurrence, I would say that I use both they/them and she/her pronouns. Even as I was speaking, my brain was in overdrive: is this when they reject me? Are they going to make a mental note- file for reference? Have I been labelled foreign to them, has that difference equaled “bad?”
Is my body taking up too much space? Am I asking for too much?
I was also confused by my fear. Wasn’t living a life free of cages the goal? Being my authentic self, for myself? Why were my desires now scaring the bejeebies out of me?
I was shedding my safety net of knowing my personal identity might be one thing (agender) but my social identity and how others saw me was something else (woman), and my social identity was the one with more built in acceptance. There was still vulnerability that came with taking up space, and well, it scared me how fragile it made me feel. Easily broken, I felt like a cracked egg placed in someone else’s precarious hands.
Taking that jump of courage at different points of this journey, each time making the conscious decision to not hide or deny different fabric squares that make up the quilt of my identity, also made me realize no matter how much I picked it apart with my therapist, no matter the new thought pattern, I still need community. People. An offering of belonging for my authentic self. I needed to be seen again, and that the fragile fear would be met with safety.
Ultimately, I make a conscious effort to continue on this journey of taking up space even when I’m afraid to. Even on the rough days. To find beauty where others have labeled it shame. And that is having the audacity to live out loud.
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