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Back In The Trap

Went back to Trap 3 last night.

I almost didn’t go, then realized that the real reason for not going is that I didn’t want to know how much ground I’d lost.

As long as I keep thinking about it that way, I’ll only keep losing more ground.

It was just me (Trap 3 is a tiny group even when we’re all there), so BK and I focused on conditioning. Evidently, single-whatever hangs are a forté of mine: I did single-arm hangs, both sides, and they looked hella solid. I didn’t even know I could do them at all. I’m forced to admit that I actually look pretty ridiculously sexy hanging from a trapeze by one arm. WTF even is that?

Later, we worked a shin slide-down. It’s hard to explain what this is, but I’ll try: you get yourself into a hip hang/forward fold, then take hold of the bar from below, engage the hell out of all the things, and then—without bending your arms—slide your legs over the bar and then down the forward surface of the bar and eventually under it. I’m assuming that, given sufficient strength and skill, you can eventually shin-slide all the way back around into a planche.

Anyway, the first time, I let my arms bend. BK asked me to do it again without allowing the bend or dropping out of it and said, “I think you’re strong enough.”

I realized in that moment that she was right: indirectly, she was saying I hadn’t really given it 100% effort. She was correct. I hadn’t done so because I was afraid. I had to ask myself what I was afraid of: falling?

No. (For one thing, I forget to be afraid of that.)

Failure?

Yes[1].

  1. I had this same experience as a kid, when I had to get back to training on high bar after a break and convinced myself, ridiculously, that I couldn’t kip up. Ditto learning layouts, which got me called out in front of the entire gym: “Come on, you’ve got to those long legs, you can do this!”

It felt weird and a little scary to admit that out loud, but I did. BK has that effect on me. She’s a dynamo and a stunning performer, but also a good listener.

I’ve realized that the best listeners help you hear the things you don’t know you’re saying (regarding which: had a long chat with a friend yesterday that had that same effect—if you’re reading this, you probably know who you are, so thanks <3).

Anyway, I redid my shin slide-down and it was better. I’m stronger than I think I am (as every trapeze instructor ever has told me).

So I guess I’ll be working on this fear-of-failure thing. It is, I realize, the same thing that prevents me from nailing down a reliable double tour; same thing that makes me fail to commit to my turns sometimes, which makes the difference between a single and a quad.

Curiously, fear of failure begets failure. So I should really get back to joyfully fumbling forward, dancing for the sake of the dance, like I was doing before the stakes felt so high.

~

One other thing. I keep thinking I’m getting used to my body, and then discovering that, no, I’m dead wrong.

I’m drifting back towards being what I think of as “stage fit”—the way my body is when I’m in regular training—which means,basically, that I’m losing fat pretty quickly. I looked at myself while I was preparing for long-arm beats yesterday and my brain did the thing where it automatically flips through its internal camera roll and slotted the body I was looking at in the amongst male gymnasts[2,3]. That felt weird. Not bad, just surprising—and surprising in part because it wasn’t bad.

  1. Specifically, the more-slender phenotype. Floor exercise boys, mostly, which should really be no surprise as I was a floor-exercise fiend.
  2. The mental camera roll, I have discovered, also plays a role in the pleasure of navigation, especially over long distances.

Also surprising was that it didn’t feel feel jarring: like maybe I’ve done enough looking at my body now that I no longer expect to see 120 pounds (or less) of anorexic twink, and instead the mental image is finally updating. Spending basically all my time around other male dancers who are, themselves, adults probably helps. My frame of reference is different than it was.

I’ve struggled with this in part because it’s so unconscious. I walk around in the world with a brain that’s constantly tossing up visual information along with all the other sensory data. I’m good at navigating in part because, in addition to a fair dead-reckoning ability, I’m constantly awash in sensory memories. If my visual and vestibular memories—experienced simultaneously with the present moment—match the sensory input of the present moment, there’s a damned good chance we’re on the correct path.

The same thing happens with people: I’m forever awash from within in images and sounds and scents and textures, though people change their clothes pretty frequently, so the matches are only partial a lot of the time.

Yet, with regard to myself, I ignored the existence of my body for a long time. I didn’t like thinking about it and expected it to return to a familiar configuration. It seems silly now: bodies don’t work that way. They’re more dynamic than roads and paths (which also change, but more slowly). So by not looking at my body, I retained an out-of-date mental map of said body. When I finally started to look again, it was as jarring as going to your old house and discovering that it’s been completely rebuilt in a very different design.

If I think of it in those terms, I’m forced to acknowledge that the current design is much better for the way I’m living in this house/body. So I seem to have developed a broad-shouldered and powerful architecture: so what? That architecture facilitates some of the central things I like to do in this body, and doesn’t prevent other things I like to do in this body.

There’s a percentage of men for whom this architecture is less attractive than my 120-pound twink architecture was. There is another percentage for whom the opposite is true. Rationally, I understand that it’s stupid to feel out of joint because you’re less attractive as one thing now and more attractive as another. Eventually, you have to get over that and start knowing it viscerally. I suppose I’m beginning to feel that, too.

In the long run, of course, it doesn’t matter. But it helps to understand what’s going on inside my brain that has made this so difficult for so long.

~

It will be more difficult, ultimately, to undo the conditioning that grants so much importance to my desirability as a sexual object (which is complicated and definitely its own post, but one I may never write because, well, it’s complicated).

But this feels like a kind of progress. It makes me less angry with myself for being unable to easily decouple the old body map from the present day. I was going about it all wrong, but I think I’m beginning to understand why. It was uncomfortable in a very confusing way, so I just avoided it for a while.

I don’t know where this will all lead. I feel like being less prescriptive about my own body is a possibility. The remnants of my eating disorder want to fight that tooth and nail, but it’s starting to feel like anorexia is no longer running the show.

I am not too delusional to admit that this might not be the case if my body, in its present configuration, was not aligned with certain conventionally—attractive standards: indeed, if it wasn’t aligned with standards that a lot of gay men regard as aspirational. I may not be a scrawny little twink at this juncture, but anorexia and I are willing to live with a kind of grudging truce as long as I’m basically hot: the implication being, I suppose, that I’m still controlling things (which is almost patently untrue: this body seems to respond almost magically to certain inputs, which happen to be what I was doing anyway).

The difficulty with fighting anorexia, for me, lies in part in its insidious assertion that if I don’t adhere to its dictates, I’m weak. Never mind that people who are professionally strong (hello again, trapeze world) keep telling me I’m strong; never mind that my entire way of life is pretty rigorous (I don’t say “disciplined” because, ultimately, I believe discipline is just motivation in a fancy hat: I live the way I live because I’m motivated, pure and simple).

Anorexia whispers that if I don’t ignore hunger and drive my body to exhaustion, I’m weak; that if I accept a body built on different architectural lines than it was during my adolescence, I’m weak. If I remind it that accepting weaknesses is a kind of strength, it says I’m making excuses.

I don’t know if that voice will ever be gone. If I’m entirely honest, I must admit that’s in part because a part of me doesn’t want it to go. A part of me that is not my anorexia is, nonetheless, complicit in my anorexia. That might be universally true of people who live with anorexia. It might not. Who knows?

Another part of me says, “Your body is a very fine instrument. You need to take care of it. It needs fuel. How else can you ask anything of it?”

So here I am, in the middle of this conflict, eating soup and taking a rest day because I’ve realized that I’m ramping up the training schedule and it’s necessary, because I haven’t re-adapted yet. My scars are itchy in some places and nearly invisible in others. My shoulders say I’m a gymnast and my hips loudly proclaim that I’m a dancer. I, such as I am, am living in this body, with this mind. And slowly I keep peeling back the petals of the lotus; the layers of the onion; unraveling the sweater.

For what it’s worth, I’m reminded that at the center of the onion, there is nothing.

Invisible Things With Which I Still Wrestle

I was going to write a more positive kind of post. In fact, I couldn’t sleep last last night night to save my life, and wound up writing most of one. But, honestly, I’m not feeling it today. Instead, I’m wrestling with the little corner of my mind that refuses to stop having anorexia. So, erm. 

So, content warnings, I guess? Abuse, anorexia, attempted suicide, body shaming, rape. 


I did not grow up in a body-positive family.

Probably most of us didn’t. Mine was almost certainly no less body-positive than usual—but things were complicated. 

(More behind the cut. This one gets dark before it gets light again.)


My Mom is small and muscular—not Petite Lady muscular, but Closet Bodybuilder muscular; Female Superhero muscular (I honestly think this is kind of awesome, but I still feel weird saying it without asking her first if it’s okay). She also, like many human beings with insanely busy and stressful lives, tended to be a little on the fluffy side. 

As such, she was eternally on a diet. This was before white people learned about beautiful women in sizes greater than 6.

My sister had the face and coloring of Snow White—and a thyroid that basically did nothing from the time she entered grade school, and a legitimately fat-phobic pediatrician who refused to test her for hypothyroidism because he felt that it was “overdiagnosed.” 

Note that we’re talking about a disease that’s empirically measurable, here: a simple test would have revealed—and later did reveal—that my sister’s thyroid level was in the category of “What the actual feck.” But instead of doing his job, our first pediatrician essentially prescribed my sister essentially the same diet that I, years later, would impose upon myself: the one that left me weighing 85 pounds at 5’4″. 

On the other hand, my sis excelled in school, and I didn’t, and as such I felt like our parents (both avid readers and unabashed intellectuals) valued her more. 

I meanwhile, was everything my family didn’t know what to do with: smart, but bad at school; a natural athlete; gifted with a ridiculous set of eyelashes; and, above all, thin.

I seriously thought I was stupid for most of my childhood—but I was lean and strong and could trust my body to do what I asked it to do.

Unfortunately, the only one of these things that seemed to correspond to anything my family cared about was that I was lean. 

Somewhere in my Mom’s house there’s a picture of me at five or six, not in any way the pudgy little kid people expect at that age, but whip-slim and seriously defined. That was noticed, commented on, and reinforced.

It became part of how I defined myself. A big part. 

In fact, for a long time, it was the only way I knew how to succeed. 

~

Is important to note that, in the midst of all this, my family wasn’t cruel about body size—at least, not that I saw. Mom is a good feminist, and tried hard to walk the “you’re beautiful the way you are, but for your health you should lose weight” line for my sis. At the time, that was about as close to body positivity as one was likely to get.

The thing is, actions speak louder than words—and it was clear that the whole situation made Mom wildly uncomfortable, no matter how hard she tried to keep that under wraps. And, in the end, my sis heard more about her failure to shrink to an acceptable size than she did about her incisive mind, her facility with the written word, or her fabulous design sense. 

The same model applied to my failure to function at school: I heard constantly about how I could excel if I just tried harder. I knew that was incorrect, because I was trying so hard I wanted to explode. It didn’t seem to really matter that I was legitimately gifted in dance, music, and visual art—my family embraced the arts, but didn’t seem to regard them as viable career paths. It only seemed to matter that I was an unmitigated disaster in the academic sphere. 

Thus, unconsciously, I picked up on the fact that what I had to offer the world was a nice body and beautiful eyelashes. I was a gay boy who grew up in a house full of women. My role models were young ballet dancers. In my mind, a “nice body”  was thin.

I was thirteen when I spent a summer at a well-reputed gymnastics training program. Ironically, this would be the experience that ended my aspirations as a competitive gymnast: I was light and strong, but everyone else was hitting puberty and I was, essentially, still a kid. I was already taller than both my parents, but reedy in build. In terms of upper-body strength, I could no longer compete.

On the other hand, I returned home with the kind of lean, attenuated physique that one attains by five or six hours a day spent in hard physical training—and suddenly I was very attractive to a certain subset of the male population (read: the kind of assholes that find underdeveloped middle school kids attractive, ugh, but what the hell did I know? I literally didn’t know what what the word “rape” meant.). As a young, socially awkward, queer kid, the effect of this kind of attention was profound.

I fell into a flirtation with one such individual. I thought I could handle myself, until suddenly it was all too apparent that I couldn’t.

I’m not going to discuss the details. The end result was basically a year of hell, a solid case of Stockholm syndrome that would take years to undo, and a conviction that the only, only, only thing that made me worthwhile was my lean, bony, androgynous body. 

I think you can see where this is going. 

I don’t usually tell people this, but this is why I stopped dancing (and also the reason that, when I returned to dance in high school, it was through modern first, no matter how badly I will yearned for the order and beauty of ballet, literally because you can wear looser clothes). This was the reason that I didn’t apply, as a rising freshman, to the dance program at the arts magnet that would later very literally save my life. I no longer trusted my body—and at the same time, I felt it was the only thing of value I had to offer the world.

I believed I was stupid, but I also believed that I was desirable as long as I stayed thin. 

But being desirable also felt dangerous. My whole world was terrifyingly out of control, including the only thing I regarded as an asset. 

So I basically stopped eating. 

Remember the diet my sister’s pediatrician prescribed? It was 800 calories a day. At one point, that was my goal (it later dwindled to 600, which is still the number my brain settles on when things get bad). My sister was forced to count grapes. I counted them myself. 

For a year or more, I could wrap my own hands around my waist. I remained convinced that I was getting fatter. 

I find this almost inconceivable now: I mean, not the delusional sense that I was getting fatter, but the fact that I was that freaking thin.

~

From where I stand now, I can see that a lot of my anorexia was, predictably, about controlling the only thing I could control. I had discovered, terrifyingly, that I couldn’t even control what other people did my body, but I could control its size. I could remain lean and sleek and androgynous—though increasingly I must have just been bony, even cadaverous. 

I convinced myself that I was not, in fact, really anorexic because I thought it was fine if other people were big (in fact, big guys are still kind of at the top of my list, though it increasingly seems that I find the vast majority of adult humans attractive to varying degrees). Clearly, that meant that the problem wasn’t with my perceptions of body shape, but with my actual body. 

Awesome logic, there, amiright? 

In other ways, I retreated into a world of fantasy and delusion for a while. When you can’t talk about what’s happening to you, but you have to offer some account that explains why you aren’t doing your homework and why you never wear shorts or short sleeves, you quickly learn to lie, and to lie well. You learn that people don’t, on the balance, really want to know that things are, in fact, unspeakably bad.

You learn learn to control the two things you can still control: the story the world gets about you, and what you put in your mouth. 

~

I was fourteen when I used a broken pen—the clear, hard-plastic kind that you can literally use to shank a mofo—to drill a hole in my left arm. The intent was to cut a neat little hole into the large blood vessels in each wrist, one centimeter square. The ultimate goal was death.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. 

My Mom wasn’t home. My sister was living with our Dad. My grandmother, who was legitimately gifted with a kind of second sight I can’t explain away, happened to be staying with us (in retrospect, I assume this was because I was such a mess). 

She interrupted me before I could finish the job. We had never been allowed locks on our bedroom doors, and I wasn’t aware you could wedge a door shut with a chair. I had made an effort to jam my door with a heavy bookcase, but I don’t think anything would’ve stopped Gram. She was around eighty by then, but she she was a force of nature, and she loved my sister and me so much.

I told Gram I had cut myself by accident. She didn’t believe me, and I knew she didn’t believe me, but we pretended that she just really needed my company. I don’t remember what else I did that night, but obviously dying wasn’t involved. 

The next day I went to school. Predictably, my arm started bleeding during art class. I tried to hide it, but the girl who shared my table quietly called my teacher’s attention to the problem. 

I was hospitalized before dinner.

Even in the hospital I maintained that I couldn’t possibly have anorexia because the other anorexics thought fat people were disgusting. I liked fat people, so I couldn’t be like them. Again with the logic.

Ultimately, it wouldn’t so much be the actual treatment, but the side-effects of medication that broke the back of that first episode of severe dietary restriction. The medications I was given made me retain water and temporarily destroyed my metabolism. They also disrupted my balance and equilibrium. I had lost control even of my body, so there was little point in trying to control it. 

I’d like to say that cured me, but it didn’t. As soon as I could manage it, as soon as I moved out of my Mom’s house, I starved myself back down down to a BMI of 17.

Since then I’ve struggled intermittently with this thing. Ironically, ballet helps—first because you can’t actually starve yourself and expect to dance well for long; second because it has taught me to trust my body again and to appreciate it for something other than androgynous leanness.

At my “fighting weight,” I’m just a dancer, like other dancers: lean but strong, possessed of a kind of masculine grace I didn’t used to appreciate in myself.

Right now, though, I’m six pounds up, the world is on fire, and I’m struggling with this beast again. 

I recognize that a lot of of it is this: things feel insanely out of control.

My country seems to be steering full steam ahead for for the nearest dangerous rocky shoal. People I care about are standing on precarious slopes. Decisions being made by people in power threaten all kinds of civil liberties for all kinds of people. They also directly threaten D’s livelihood (he specializes in treating adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities, whose Healthcare is government-funded) and mine (I’m an artist; of you crash the economy, artists feel feel it fast). That’s part of it.

But, just as much, the life that I’ve carefully constructed like a divided dinner plate is losing its barriers. People I take class with are becoming friends. My facebook is connected to my Instagram, which isn’t connected to my blog, but since they share a title I’m terrified that my dance peeps are going to roll up in my blog and tell me I’m insane (and be really, really annoyed with me for writing about class).

That’s also part of it.

And this thing with being a performing artist is sort of weirdly taking off,  and that’s both thrilling and terrifying. It’s like stepping out onto a high wire, knowing there might be some asshole on Terra Firma with tin snips and a grudge.  Oh, and then there’s the housework. And the book-keeping. And the fact that I’m still in limbo about surgical correction for the whole Dances with Moobs problem. 

All of that feels pretty out of control.

Likewise, for me, the six pounds makes ballet technique harder: simply put, my thighs are already big enough that a little extra fluff can hose up my fifth. Sure, it’s still pretty good, but I was closing in on reliably perfect. 

And, ultimately, like so many people who  struggle with anorexia, I am by nature and by training a relentless perfectionist.

So that little gap in my fifth? 

It fecking well drives me mad. 

~

Experience has taught me that this, too, will pass. I know my body well enough to know that it’ll get back to its “fighting weight” soon enough.

Just, right now, I’m wrestling the furious frustration of not quite being able to put this anorexia thing to bed once and for all.

I’m not giving in to it. I’m still more or less driving the train. 

But the internal struggle is on; the one between the voice in my head that calmly informs me that if I don’t shed six pounds by Thursday, it’s because I’m weak, and the other, newer voice—a healthy, logical voice that reminds me, “You dance and train like twenty hours a week. Relax.”

For what it’s worth, this—for me—is still about me. Like I said: I like all kinds of bodies: all kinds except the one specific and unique kind that is this body; my body. On somebody else I’d look at it and go, “Hey, he’s cute.”

On myself, though? 

Check back with me in a couple of weeks, when things start to feel a little calmer (or don’t), when I’ve adjusted to the latest subspecies in my ever-evolving schedule.

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