National Eating Disorders Association

Stories of Hope

Ready to Accept
By Benji Young

I don't have an eating disorder. I don't have an eating disorder. I do not have an eating disorder.  

Transmen cannot get eating disorders. Poor people cannot get eating disorders. Eating disorders are something that only young white females who live in big houses and drive beautiful red cars to school develop. Eating disorders are not something that transmen who live in trailer parks and walk to school in last year's shoes develop.

I live in poverty and I do not identify as a straight female, so when people noticed my strange behaviors, they were easily attributed to my class and gender identity. When I struggled with eating, people assumed that it was because I was poor. When I avoided going out for meals, they thought it was because I didn’t want to pick up the tab. When my mental health was questioned, no one asked if I was struggling with anorexia or bulimia. They asked if I was battling a drug addiction; it explained the tempers, the behavior changes, the isolation, the weight loss, the pale complexion, the fine hairs, and all the other symptoms that could have been attributed to an eating disorder if I were middle class. The more that everyone, myself included, denied that I had a problem, the more I fell into my behaviors.

I do not have an eating disorder.  

There was a time - not long ago, even - that I honestly believed that if I repeated that line enough times, it would be true. It wasn’t that hard; as an undergraduate psychology major, I had already heard two lectures on bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. These lectures were supposed to educate us on the impact and effects of eating disorders, but, for me, they just made it easier to deny that I had a problem. Sitting in class, I would flip through the chapters on eating disorders, trying to find the paragraph that described me. I remember finding a paragraph about bipolar disorder that sounded vaguely familiar, and the chapter on personality disorders explained me far more accurately than I (to this day) care to admit. 

When I skimmed the section on eating disorders, however, I found that it helped to reinforce my denial. The paragraphs on anorexia and bulimia described only the stereotype. Each paragraph described a middle-class or wealthy white female between 14 and 18 years old. While the rest of the book used gender-neutral pronouns to describe those struggling with mental illness, the sections on anorexia and bulimia used only the female pronouns 'she' and 'her.' Each book was missing male sufferers, transgender sufferers, African-American sufferers, sufferers living in poverty, overweight sufferers, Latina sufferers, and OSFED. Each book was missing me.   

I did not have one defining moment that spurred me to seek help; I had dozens. There was the time I took a trip with my sisters, and when I looked in the full-length bathroom mirror I was so startled that I had to turn and look away. It was the first time that I had really seen myself in months. I was scared. I was scared because I found myself wondering if I'd ever be able to take a trip with my sisters again. I was scared because I realized how sick I was. I was scared because I did not want to believe that the person in the mirror was really me. Mostly, I was scared because in that moment I realized that I could no longer repeat the words: I do not have an eating disorder. That night, sitting a table with my sisters, I found myself thinking: I want to recover. I will recover. Those were the words I would start repeating. Those were the words that would replace the lie that I used to repeat to myself. But it would still be a few months before I got the wakeup call that I needed.

The psychology books did not teach me that people living in poverty definitely could have eating disorders; they did not warn me that transmen could have eating disorders; and they did not warn me of many of the physical symptoms that I would soon have to face. It was when I ended up in the hospital, diagnosed with gallbladder disease, that everything really began to fall into place. 

I was a transmale 22-year old psychology student, living in poverty, and I had an eating disorder. 

Admitting I had an eating disorder was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I would later learn that I was not the only transgender young adult who struggled with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not uncommon in the transgender community. Many people assume that all eating disorders are 'typical,' which makes those of us who don’t fit the stereotype feel left out when we enter recovery. My disorder was never about my weight; it was about my gender identity. It was only when I decided to accept that I had an eating disorder that I learned to combat the inaccurate stereotype with education.  

There was a time when I was silent about my eating disorder. I had not only convinced myself that I could not have one, but that no one would want to hear my story if I did. I had convinced myself that no one would care because I was not a middle-class female, I was not a teenager, and I did not care about the media or my weight like the books said I should. There was a time when I was even embarrassed because of my eating disorder. I felt, in some way, that I should have known better. I realize now how silly that is. I never chose to have an eating disorder; it was not something I consciously decided to do. 

Recovery has been a long road with a lot of twists and turns. I still have a long way to go. Finding help was - and still is - a struggle for me. Everyone who battles anorexia, bulimia, OSFED, or binge eating disorder is different. We all have different minds, beliefs, life stories, and different reasons for developing an eating disorder. I am no longer silent about my eating disorder. By letting others know that I am living in poverty, transgender, and struggle with an eating disorder, they know that anyone can be affected. 

I still have many, many years of therapy ahead of me, and I still relapse occasionally, but less so these days. I find my strength elsewhere now. When I am feeling weak, I think: I survived that. If I survived that, I can do anything. I have learned to think of the symptoms I experience during recovery as my body repairing itself and learning to be strong. I have learned to think of all my changes as necessary to becoming the person I am meant to be. More than anything, I have learned that falling a few times is mandatory for learning how to walk.  A year ago today, my eating disorder was at its height. I was intoxicated by the lies it was whispering into my ear. A year ago today, I was a much different person than I am now. A year from now, I hope to be recovered. It might take longer than that, but because I chose recovery, I have my entire life ahead of me.

I am living in poverty. I am transgender. I am a psychology student. I have OSFED. I have an eating disorder. 

This story is part of the Marginalized Voices Project. Learn more. 

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