Sometimes, people who don’t know me well are really surprised to hear that I’ve had a healthy, active sex life. They don’t always say something about it, but I can always tell. When I tell stories of seducing a marine on the West Side during fleet week, or dancing topless around a giant bonfire with multiple men at a summer festival, their eyes widen.
“Oh wow,” they’ll say, laughing uncomfortably before taking a long sip of whatever they’re drinking.
A few years ago, when I was complaining about this to one of my college roommates over cigarettes and cheap beer, she asked me why I think they react this way. At the time, I responded, "I have no idea."
But the truth is I do have an idea. In fact, I have a little more than an idea — I know. It’s because I’m fat.
And no, not like pretty-face-and-flat-stomach fat. Like really, genuinely fat. Like the kind of fat that doesn’t get featured on the cover of Lane Bryant catalogs. The kind of fat that prompts children ages six to 35 to roll down their windows and let me know about it while I walk down the sidewalk. I’m the kind of fat that makes people wonder who could possibly want to sleep with me.
I knew then too — back in college, I mean. But it’s not easy to say it out loud, especially when I can anticipate being bombarded with comments like, “Stop, you’re beautiful,” or, “Who cares what they think?”
The replies to both of those things being: “Yes, but I’m also fat,” and, “I do, kind of.”
The crazy thing is, there’s a whole other layer of complicated under that, and most people don’t know about it. Not only am I a size 22, generally average-looking person, but I also struggle with gender conformity issues. I don’t think I’d ever want to transition or drastically change who I am, but the feelings are pervasive enough that they affect me — and my intimacy.
It sounds like a lot because it is. But it’s not insurmountable.
Sex when you’re a big girl can be tricky, not so much because of physical limitations but emotional ones. When society tells you you’re an unlovable embarrassment at every turn, it’s hard to feel sexy or wanted — even when you have an encouraging partner.
You’re conscious of every jiggle, roll, and blemish. And when you’re so busy worrying about how the light is hitting you while you're doing it doggy-style, or how many chins you have from his or her angle, it’s hard to enjoy yourself.
In my darker times, I’ve often wondered, mid-romp, why my partner — or anyone — would want to sleep with me. Was it because they felt sorry for me? Were they a chubby chaser? Did they just want an easy lay?
The thoughts would torture me to the point where sometimes I’d burst into tears and have to stop. Some partners understood and tried to work with me on it, but others were not as kind.
As for the gender piece, my battle in that arena has always been more private. For starters, I can hide it — unlike my body. I’ve only ever told one partner, my fiancé, about my struggles with my gender identity. In previous relationships, I would silently subvert my own discomforts with being overly feminized or taking on traditional female roles in the bedroom. I wouldn’t feel remotely comfortable opening up to these partners for fear of ridicule or abandonment.
When you (and your partner) grow up seeing heteronormative, white bread portrayals of sex, it’s really hard to avoid gender norms in the bedroom. The task of breaking down barriers that have existed since the beginning of humanity is no easy one, and it takes two very dedicated and creative partners to find healthy ways to express gender nonconformity between the sheets. It’s a challenge, but, again, it’s not impossible.
The key to overcoming both of these obstacles has been finding a partner who loves me for who I am. And in order to do that, I needed to first accept myself to the best of my ability.
The biggest struggle for me with intimacy has always been related to a profound lack of self-love on my part. When you don’t love yourself because of your weight, gender, background, etc., you tend to attract people who don’t have your best interests in mind. So, when it comes to toxic relationships, I’ve had a solid handful.
I’ve been emotionally manipulated, had my money stolen, been cheated on, and been in my fair share of knockout, drag-out fights. It took way too many of these relationships to realize that I was partially responsible for my bad relationship luck, and it took having my heart shattered to give me the impetus to take steps to remedy it.
I wish I could say that’s where my story ends, and that I flew off into the sunset on a vibrating orgasm-icorn (I’m thinking a unicorn with a vibrating saddle, but other interpretations are welcome).
But even now, in a committed, long-term relationship with my loving and incredibly patient fiancé, there are days when I have trouble justifying my own existence as a sexual being, because I’ve heard so many messages about how that world should be off limits to me.
For every moment of patience or ingenious spark of creativity on my fiancé’s part, I need to follow up with bravery, willpower, and a good sense of humor. This is not easy a lot of the time.
We’ve found a rhythm that is comfortable for both of us, but exciting enough that we feel encouraged to try new things with one another. I can’t thank him enough for his seemingly unending acceptance of me and my many facets. I also owe thanks to myself, and it’s getting easier to appreciate my own role in my sexual and romantic happiness every day.
What I most needed to hear during my battle for self love was that, even though I was struggling with my weight, my gender, and anything that this world had convinced me made me unworthy of pleasure and love, I was not doomed to a life of loneliness. I WAS doomed, however, to a metric ton of introspection and searching for a partner who isn’t a closed-minded bigot (which is a monumental task in and of itself).
But I made it out of those woods and continue to every day. There may not be an orgasm-icorn, but there’s a whole world of people who are just waiting to love me, and you, for exactly who we are.
We must find them, and accept no less.