Evolution of a Lesbian Radfem, Part the Second

September 1988: I am 14, composed almost entirely of frizzy hair and socks. Because hair products haven’t yet gone beyond Aqua Net and Dippity Do, I am bullied and invisible by turns. One day, I catch the flu and lose several pounds. I feel light and airy. How much lighter and airier could I get? By spring, I weigh 86 pounds. My parents check me into a private psychiatric hospital , where I talk about my “control issues” and develop a huge crush on my female therapist. One day, a male orderly says I have big legs, so I throw pieces of my lunch under the table and lose a “level,” e.g. they confiscate my Walkman and I can no longer listen obsessively to my Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars cassette (“I quit/I give up/nothing’s good enough for anybody else/it seems“). When I get out, my family goes on a cruise to Barbados. The ship rocks back and forth with food, and I am the only person who eschews, rather than chews,* the midnight buffet. I feel powerful. I do not want to talk and I do not want to play shuffleboard. Neither does my mother. My father is furious. They are both unhappy with the suffocating constancy of bad wallpaper.

June 1989: I develop a huge crush on Dana, my outpatient therapist. I tell her I don’t know how to be a girl; I want to escape into the woods and never come back. I wrap and unwrap the fingers of my right hand around my left wrist to show her how thin I am. She lends me a scholarly book about women as “relational psychosocial auxiliaries” to men that makes a lot of sense after I look up “psychosocial” and “auxiliary” in Webster’s. I find other books: Geneen Roth’s Feeding the Hungry Heart, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue, and everything I can find by Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Susan Brownmiller, Robin Morgan, Mary Daly. An old copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” proves simultaneously informative and titillating. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse: ???. Marilyn French makes my head explode, so I give a copy of “The Women’s Room” to my mother. She doesn’t read it. But her mother, my grandmother already has — plus she subscribes to Ms. magazine; odd for a 65-year-old Mormon and military wife. Ms. magazine’s back page shows good advertisements that show women climbing mountains and ruling boardrooms, and bad ones that make women look like animals or something to eat. My grandfather rolls his eyes and says something about “strident bitches.”

July 1989: Sullen and inarticulate with everyone except my grandmother, I get sent to The Mormons in Mesa. The Mormons are my extended family — dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins who rise at 4:30 a.m. to pick vegetables for their End Of The World stashes. Stumbling through the cornfields, I sing 19th-century labor songs like “Solidarity Forever.” I really project. When I call God “She” — I’ve just read a book about patriarchal religion called “The Skeptical Feminist” — one of my eleven great-aunts freaks out. “What man has hurt you?” she asks. I don’t answer. It’s not like I can narrow it down. Hasn’t she read Marilyn French? The abortion wars are all over the news, all summer. I know enough to take it personally. When I go home, I start volunteering at Planned Parenthood even though I won’t have any kind of sex for another several years. As we seal envelopes together, one of the older volunteers asks me, if I’ve started my “moon time” yet. I don’t get it.

Sept. 1990: My parents divorce. The texture and flavor of their grief makes me think of Luminol sprayed on crime scenes — everything looks fine until OH DEAR GOD. I cannot stop eating. I drive to the drugstore for chocolate-covered cherries; jars of peanut butter; six-packs of soda — then eat in the car and throw up at home. My mouth tastes of chemicals. My gut cramps with laxatives. I’m 25 pounds heavier than I was in the hospital, and people are starting to express “concern” about my dating possibilities: Don’t I know men don’t like fat women? That if I keep on this way, I’m going to be unhappy? The difference between their concern now and their concern when I was thin is, they blame me. I am no longer fragile. I am offensive.

Shortly thereafter, I get hit with a severe bout of obsessive OCD. I have Bad Thoughts, primarily about religion and sex, and they scare me senseless. There is obviously something Very Wrong. I start praying and join Young Life (the evangelical high school youth organization). I try to live for Jesus; to have a clean mind and a spotless soul. I get baptized, but I also start cutting a lot of school because I can’t concentrate. I’m pretty sure Jesus is coming back soon. My best friend, Kaylee, has the most beautiful red hair I’ve ever seen and I want to be with her all the time. I hate her boyfriend. He’ s an idiot. I’m always having to wait for them to finish making out before Kaylee and I can go anywhere.

August 1992: I’m a freshman again, this time at a Southern Baptist university. I find myself looking up Women of the Bible and trying to figure out how they managed to be so righteous. I have a boyfriend two hours away in my hometown, primarily because a girl needs a boyfriend. A husband. Feminist books still buzz in my head, and I’m pretty liberal as far as students here go — I don’t, for example, think all Democrats are baby killers — but I feel terror at the thought of displeasing God. The OCD gets worse. Then I meet Amy, a walking collection of Darwinian estrogenic markers. My father says she looks like a TV star — and indeed, many years later when the WB network debuts, I’ll be reminded strongly of Amy’s perfectly symmetrical face. Every guy in our brother dorm goes nuts, in a Baptist gentleman sort of way. There are flowers, invitations, “God told me to marry you”s galore. I seethe and have no idea why.

Next, in Part Three!: I decide to marry a guy I’ve known for five months.

*Yeah, I know. Sorry.

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Like Stephen King’s “Thinner,” But With More Spray Tan

Once when I was sick, I ate a bag of Cheetos just before a shot of Nyquil, and that is exactly how watching “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” makes me feel.

In case you haven’t seen the show: The insular “Irish Travellers” live in the UK and are secretive about their culture (that is, when they’re not getting arrested for conning old people into worthless “roof repairs” or being ejected from public arenas due to drunk and disorderly behavior). Ostensibly, they’re devoted Catholics who don’t believe in living together before marriage, so they marry young — 16ish for girls, though the grooms are usually older. Then they settle into trailers, have babies, and haul around the country being all insular and cultural and stuff.

Here’s how the brides look:

This dress has little lights in it, so the bride is carrying a mini fire extinguisher in her bosom.

These girls spend their childhoods dreaming of their wedding day, but after that, it’s 60 years of cleaning the trailer for some dood named Paddy whose face is always pixillated because, well, it would hurt his “business.” After the “I do’s,” Traveller men drink their faces off whilst perusing the buffet of single Catholic ladies:

This is for the church ceremony. I think the skirts tear away for the reception.

It’s not the weddings that get me — all weddings are tacky — it’s the life. It’s that these girls are kept home from school, functionally illiterate, and therefore trapped. They do not have other options besides running away to pornstitution, which means not freedom but the exchange of one master for another.

I watch this show, and listen to the jaunty Learning Channel theme music that says “Hey, look at these rakish vagabonds choosing their choices in a bright happy casserole of cultural relativism and whatnot!” and think, I bet every one of these girls would say that she “chose” to be a Traveller.

Women deny it when we’re trapped. We have so much invested in the idea that we’re free, that our choices exist in a bagless egalitarian vacuum. When we “choose” the silicone implants; the stripper pole workout; the second shift; the ersatz “opt-out revolution,” we are rewarded — overtly and covertly — by men who say the whole thing was all our idea. And they put it on TV, and we watch and know something is wrong — but since we’re not wearing a full-body tiara and dousing ourselves with spray-tan in a trailer, we figure it isn’t about us. It is.