The first words I ever spoke were “good girl.”
I explained that to my therapist the other day and she looked at me a little shocked. We had just been talking about the kind of control I’ve tried to have over my whole life and I explained that I have some deep, compulsive need to be “good” in a way that is pleasing to and comfortable for everyone else.
In case you missed it, I’ve been droppinghints about my queer identity in the past few columns I’ve written. My next step does not involve coming out to you, so I figured I’d slowly start saying things to make you assume. For me, “coming out” in a stereotypical sense will not be empowering. I’m not confessing the deepest, darkest secrets about myself and asking you to tell me that I’m still “good.” Instead, I’m telling you who I am and inviting you into my journey.
I’m not going to waste time with official labels and boxes that will make you comfortable to put me in. That’s not really what’s important. What matters is that everyone is clear that I am part of the community of women who love women.
As I’m sure you could gather from my other columns, this identity took me a long time to affirm for myself. I spent years suppressing it because the kind of faith I was raised in taught me that my love was not “good.” In high school, my Catholic school theology teacher told us “all gay people are empty and unhappy.” We debated whether same-sex marriage should be legal and wrote papers about the Church’s official position on “struggling with same-sex attraction.”
I was confused and exhausted and ashamed, so I decided it would be much easier to pass as straight. Instead of embracing my sexuality and being proud of it, I became the best ally ever. I was so outwardly OK with the idea that other people deserved happiness and full, affirming expressions of love.
But I was at war with myself and my weapon of choice was emotional starvation. When I came to college, I filled out the entrance survey that asked for my sexual orientation as “questioning.” I’m pretty sure I knew then that I didn’t experience attraction to men in the way I was expected to, but picking any other label felt too daunting. Even though I left my label open-ended on paper, I continued to present as straight and engage with heterosexual campus culture. I thought it was so much easier to repress, restrict and control myself than to let myself live and love in a way that actually made me happy.
It took eight months of lockdown and extreme loneliness to realize that the things I thought I was looking for would never fulfill me. But I had spent so much time shutting myself down that I didn’t know what it would even mean to be freely, fully and authentically myself. As a person who hated myself for some of the most innate parts of my being and actively worked to disengage from them, the process of coming into myself has been painful. I have to undo 20 years of conditioning and I have to let go of 20 years of intense control. I have to stop being “good.”
I don’t see any benefit in pretending that all is well in my life now that I’ve invited more people in. The process of accepting and loving myself has required that I do the hard work of dismantling the inner voice that I’ve been using to harm myself for as long as I’ve been alive. So, for me to really invite you in, I have to share the messy parts of this process too.
I wrote last year about my struggles with disordered eating patterns. Looking back on that column, I realize that the official restricting-type anorexia diagnosis I got last month was long overdue. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to control my body because we unfortunately live in a world where it’s considered “good” for women to be small.
Although I’ve been engaging in anorexic behaviors for at least two years now, one might expect that the process of inviting people in and expressing my full self has helped me to develop a healthier relationship with my body and the things that fuel it. But I’ve found the opposite to be true for me. Twenty years of self-hate don’t magically disappear because I now allow myself to love and be loved in a way that’s fulfilling. My inclination to emotional starvation has just morphed into physical starvation.
The other night, I was watching “This is Us.” In the episode, a 70-something man who lived his entire life alone as self-imposed punishment for a deadly mistake he made in his twenties gets invited to his nephew’s children’s baptism. When he gets there, his first thought is to immediately go back home because he believes he deserves to be alone. I never thought I’d see myself in a 70-something man, but I guess life works in funny ways sometimes because I spent the next hour intermittently sobbing as I came to a revelation.
I picked up my phone before I went to sleep that night and I typed out a note:
“I starved myself of the kind of love I wanted and now that I have it, I don’t know how to live without being hungry. There’s a deep part of me that still believes I deserve to be hungry. This part believes it’s ‘good’ for me to be hungry.”
“But I don’t want to be hungry and I don’t NEED to be hungry and I do not deserve to be hungry.”
I deserve to be full.
I deserve to be full of the love that brings me joy and the food that sustains my body and the friendship that sees me for who I am. I deserve to live a full life, no matter how my fulfillment is interpreted or judged by the rest of the world.
Recovery is a process and I still have a long journey ahead of me. But I don’t want to wait until I feel recovered to share my story. I don’t know who needs to hear it, but you don’t need to be “good” if it means hurting yourself. That’s not good. Loving yourself and the people who make you happy is good. Claiming agency to define and live the life you want is good. Being full is good.
Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is majoring in gender studies and economics with a minor in sociology. Ashton can often be found with her nose in a book, but if you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org or @awebz01 on Twitter.
Being ‘good’ is unfulfilling
The first words I ever spoke were “good girl.”