Pseudoscientific Comparison - Full Text
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Previously published in Gigantic Sequins Issue 10.2
“Maybe my body hates me because I never wanted it.”
Ibrahim stops examining our finger ratios. “Now that’s pseudoscience,” they say. We’ve spent the evening comparing masculine & feminine physiologies. Ibrahim is 6’3”, black, & from a Muslim family—it’s easier for them to resign to “he/him” pronouns than to fight for anything else. At least that’s what they said when I first met them. But they also run colder than average (feminine), & I run hot (masculine).
According to one of the Wikipedia articles we found late into the evening, women have shorter ring fingers than index fingers, like on their hands. & men have longer ring fingers, like mine.
I disentangle our legs, pushing my elbow into the yellow tree of life bedspread, which still smells slightly of cardamom, so I can sit up a bit straighter.
Their smile stalls.
Ibrahim was online schooled with their six siblings until college, so their sex ed lessons were a bit different from the ones I received as a fourth grader in a rural public school. They realized as a teenager that they didn’t identify as a man. In a home/shelter/tent of eight others, they had no one to tell, but they knew. Yet I realize only now, in our basement apartment in Seattle, at 21, that the last time I felt home in my body I was 10.
When I was in the fourth grade, my mom was still the family hairdresser. I asked her to buzz my head—the same cut as my dad—& a few days later she lugged a chair out onto the porch, where she sheared off my curls as the smell of fresh-cut timothy hay brushed discarded hair from the deck in little gusts. With every sweep of the clippers, she winced, & I grinned a little wider. Now I looked like my best friend, like all the boys I beat in foot races & tackled on the packed dirt of the playground.
My sister had just started at the elementary school that year, & all of her friends (& a few of their parents) referred to me as “Brooke’s older brother.” That title caused a bit of confusion when I wore my red, mud-smeared dress hiked up above scarred knees, but for the most part I didn’t have to worry about acting like a woman, or even a “young lady” as a kid. Until I found out I wouldn’t always be a kid, that is.
The teachers split our class into boys & girls one afternoon before recess. Jeremy, my best friend, who would suddenly stop talking to me in middle school, went to the other room. In Mrs. Meyer’s class, the girls learned about periods. I never found out what the boys learned, but I do remember hearing that people, both of the two kinds, could hit puberty at any age between 10 & 16.
I spent the next two years praying with forehead pressed to bare wood floors, every single night, that I’d be the girl who hit puberty at 16. Actually, I missed a few nights, & I sobbed over those casual mistakes when I got my first period as a 12 year old. I was on a bikepacking trip with my family & spent the rest of the week with stolen outhouse toilet paper wedged between me & the seat.
I learned quickly how to be a girl, how to carry the pain that crumpled me & hide the fainting spells.
Until I was 17, there would never be more than 10 minutes a day, the length of my longest showers, that I would be out of my minimizing sports bras. I slept in them. I hated to be without them, preferring the misfit bruises painting my chest in yellow & blue webs over their absence. But I never thought to call it binding.
My knees, though, were often bound in browned ace bandages & athletic tape. They constantly collapsed, & my patellas chronically dislocated due to misalignment, which a physical therapist once credited to my “great child bearing hips.”
After I graduated high school, a naturopath told me that my nightmare periods might be correlated with my unusually high levels of testosterone, which can cause “aggressive menses.” Maybe that explained the voice change, too, that crackling shame that cast me from my position as the high school’s top soprano to their lowest graveled alto in only a year. I guess it wasn’t all shameful: I did, in fact, enjoy the year spent singing tenor parts for the chorus of The Music Man. & all my favorite readers have low voices, marked by vocal fry. There’s something mystical about such voices, beyond our connection.
I tell Ibrahim that my childhood prayers were answered with a curse. My desire for an empty abdomen was swamped by a continually emptying one. They know the stories. Last year, while living in Hyderabad, India, I bled for over a month straight, carrying used pads in my frayed canvas bag & draining over squat toilets without doors. On the fortieth day, the bleeding faded, & my superstitious self wondered if maybe this was a sign that I was the next prophet. That my experience could be redeemed. Then I was hit with another four days, leaving me dizzy & disillusioned.
Ibrahim doesn’t speak up, like my friends would, to say that I probably hate my body because it sucks, not because it’s female. Instead, they slide one long, cold arm into the triangle between my warm body & the bed, & they scoot closer.
They don’t say that I’m beautiful.
Or that I should want my body.
Or that I should change it.
& I realize, under a string of Edison bulbs & Ibrahim’s gaze, that the two don’t have to be connected—me not wanting my body & my poor health—that my breakthrough this night isn’t in accepting blame: it’s in admitting, for the first time, that I didn’t want this body even before I had it.
Ibrahim has thick eyelashes; I have hairy legs. We go back to exchanging pseudoscientific comparisons, & I’m glad I never gave up on this body & that they never got rid of theirs because, no matter their forms & the pain they’ve caused us, our bodies are here now, & we get to live in them together.