The Too, Too Solid Flesh
“Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.”
Perhaps we should reintroduce Hamlet to a new generation, for who else from classical literature captures the struggles of what it means to be a young adult. He is grappling with the sins and failings of the adults in his life; he is struggling with his relationship with the opposite sex; he is struggling with the world of phantoms, and spirit, and death.
When I was 12 years old I was hospitalized for anorexia nervosa. I was told at the time it was a neurosis, which is not as bad as a psychosis, which sounded very scary to a child. I was, however, helpless to stop starving myself. I was obsessed with calories. I had managed to reduce my intake to 90 calories a day: a tomato; a piece of bread; a slice of American cheese. I had always been a pudgy child. I loved food and was not picky. I had also been an active child. I would spend hours outside, climbing trees, running with sticks, and building forts. I also loved to read and was completely enamored of tales of adventure: Robin Hood, King Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings. Puberty arrived like the Angel of Death coming to the homes of the ancient Egyptians in Exodus. I did not recognize it and I felt I had no recourse to its cloak. All I felt was doom. I was about 10 years old.
I looked around me and saw that none of my classmates had been struck down by this cruel angel. Something had taken over my body and I felt unfree. I did not want to run or play anymore—I did not know how to play anymore. My body became rounder, and my breasts grew. I was disgusted and this was made excruciating worse by the fact that everyone seemed to notice the changes going on in my body. Kids at school would call me fat, cousins without filters would point it out to me, and lecherous relatives would ogle. I felt everyone’s eyes on me. I disappeared into books and into my own mind. This was 1977. We had no internet, no social media—my favorite show on television was Starsky and Hutch and I had no interest in being like Farrah Fawcett (or Jacqueline Smith, or Kate Jackson.) Get my drift? I was not ready for this.
Looking back on this time in my life, I would say this was a precocious puberty. Generally a child has a reprieve between the “9 Year Change” and puberty. Around 9 a child will have a shift in their consciousness, where they begin to sense themselves as separate from the world around them. They may begin to see the adults in their lives as having flaws, they may wrestle with death for the first time, they may become like mini-teenagers, pushing their parents away with one hand and clinging to them with the other. Once the child passes through this bit of rough sea, they emerge with a developing sense of self and are cognitively ready to take on more complex things. They begin to have more personality and interests which might possibly be separate from those of their family. They are on the road to becoming an individual. They may face a Rubicon and, like Caesar, will have to take a step away from what is known towards a place of unknown variables. It’s exciting, and a little bit scary.
Puberty would naturally come later after the child has gained some solid ground following this change in consciousness. For myself, the two seem to have run right into each other, causing me to freeze. I tried to hide everything that was happening to me. I told no one about my menarche (no “Maiden” ceremony for me. This was the 70s in the Midwest anyway, so that hadn’t been imported yet.) I made my own pads and managed to keep that on the down-low till anorexia stopped my period. As for my breasts, I wanted them gone. If I had spoken this to anyone in 1976, which I wouldn’t have, I would have heard, “I understand your feelings. Puberty is hard, but in time it will be easier.” Someone might have taken that opportunity to say to me, “The human body is a wonderful thing. Someday you might even be a mother and you could breastfeed your children.” (I think you could still say that in 1976.)
Since puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery were not even in my stratosphere, I took things into my own hands and dieted. Dieting turned into severe starvation, because what I saw in the mirror was not what was in the mirror. I look at pictures of myself from that time and it is sickening. My poor parents. I was a skeleton with downy fluff on my arms, but I thought I still needed to eat only 90 calories a day. Because there was no social media (just the same old 30 kids in my home room class, my teacher and a smattering of cousins—oh, and my family), I had very little “encouragement” for what I was doing to myself. I distanced myself from my friends and was on a trajectory to disappear. My parents turned to professionals and I was swept up into a Children’s Psych ward for 5 months until our insurance ran out.
My relationship with my body and being a woman did not necessarily improve, but my way of dealing with it did. I could not keep up the 90 calories any longer, so I switched to bulimia. I also discovered drugs and alcohol as a way to feel more comfortable in my body (or maybe it was to not feel my body.) Now it was the 80s and gender non-conformity was starting to become more of a presence in fashion and popular culture. This was the age of the John Hughes film, which painted a picture of adolescents as wild and sexually active. I have wondered if this was a grown man projecting his fantasies onto my generation. Of course the Sexual Revolution (thanks Boomers) had handed my generation a blank check and we had filled it in and cashed it and thrown a big kegger party. Now the Millennials and Gen Zers are left with the mess.
After 20 years in Moria fighting the Balrog of body dysmorphia and all that goes with that, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty did win. I cannot say I was triumphant, but I was healed. As with many addictions, I had to fall to a place where I had run out of ways to hide, pass, lie, or distract. No matter what I did, I was still there and was the common denominator. Down in the dirt I met someone who had suffered as I had and they reached out their hand and offered me a path out, if I was willing to keep to the map. I joined OA and after 30 meetings in 30 days the struggle with food that had gripped me for 20 years vanished.
The next thing that happened also was a miracle: I became pregnant and that journey brought me to peace with being a woman. I saw the beauty of my sex and the beauty of birth and motherhood. I experienced its goodness. As many of you know, the school of parenting transforms you. It teaches you how to love in a way nothing else can. It took me out of myself. It put things in perspective and helped me to grow and be brave.
Funny how life is though. That little one who taught me to love (and he was the most demanding of all my little teachers) is now suffering in very similar ways to how I suffered. He has closed me out and goes by another name now. I feel I am fighting that Balrog again in pitch black darkness on a spiral staircase. I continue to reach out in letters, but get no response. What is most destructive about this contagion of transgenderism is that it keeps young people locked in a narcissistic-like knot, making it difficult or impossible to become more selfless, which is one noble characteristic of maturity (“adulting”). It is a wonderful characteristic that has become malign in recent decades.
Back to poor Hamlet: what makes Hamlet such a tragic character is that despite his murder spree, he is sensitive to the injustices and failings of the older generation. Our children too are sensitive to the injustices of life, even though their interpretations may be lacking foresight and nuance. They see where we, the adults in their lives, have failed them and have been less than noble or brave. Keep in mind that Hamlet also observed, “What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…”
When you look at the sunset, its beauty makes you feel peaceful and inspired through the experience. You come to appreciate it as good because it gives benefit to your psyche and to the whole world. Finally, how can you deny its truth? We have to fight for these and for our children and grandchildren.