By Theresa Tyree
The first time I was uncomfortable with my body was when I noticed my breasts starting to grow. I was horseback riding, and had just moved my horse from a walk into a trot. Even posting like you’re supposed to in that jaunty gate, my chest was suddenly sore – the flesh of my budding breasts protesting at the harsh up-and-down movement. Having breasts only got worse from there. I had to learn to wear a whole new piece of clothing, figure out how to run again, and see what was comfortable and what I couldn’t stand (underwires were hard at first, but as my breasts grew to DDs, they became a necessary evil).
Bras were annoying. They were weird. My wearing them made some people comfortable – like my mother – and some people uncomfortable – like the kids at school or my Taekwondo instructors if they saw part of it due to the high cut of training bras or the sheerness of my white Taekwondo uniform.
So, from an early age, my breasts were more of an annoyance and a bother than anything else. I put up with them, because what was the alternative? I covered them up, because I didn’t like the way people treated me when they could see parts of them. I noticed the differences between mine and other girls’ in the high school locker room while changing out of our swimsuits and showering after Phys Ed class.
I can only attribute my not knowing bisexuality was a thing at the time for why that didn’t clue me in that I was into girls as well.
Years later, the woman who gave me my first book publishing internship asked me if I was gay. I was applying to her publishing house specifically because she published gay and lesbian science fiction and fantasy, so the question was less out of the blue than you might think. I told her I didn’t really know. I’d never had a girlfriend, but I wasn’t dating boys at the time – because this was during college, and all the ones with good heads on their shoulders were busy studying. Then she asked me if I found myself staring at boobs a lot. It took me a minute to respond, because I was of two minds. On one hand, yes, I definitely noticed women’s breasts. On the other, when she phrased it that way, I could only think of the uncomfortable way boys had looked at mine in high school.
I told her no, and she waved me off and said, “Then you’re not gay, so you’ll get married and have kids someday.” I looked up to this woman, and at the time she was one of the only women in my life I knew who identified as a lesbian. Because of those two things, I assumed she knew better than me as to whether I was actually into women or not.
Yet, a year later, I fell in love with my first girlfriend.
And I loved her breasts.
I loved a lot of other things about her too, though. Her long, pretty blond moon-goddess hair and the way it fell away from the sloping curve of her neck when she turned her head to kiss me. I loved her delicate wrists and the way she wrote Rise of the Guardians poetry as poorly disguised homework assignments for our English class.
Her breasts weren’t more exciting than the rest of her. They were only exciting to begin with because they were a part of her. Otherwise, they were mundane. Normal. Boring. I had a set of my own. I saw breasts every day. If that’s what I wanted, I didn’t need a partner to get an eyeful. Having a partner trust me enough to get vulnerable and naked with me, though? Now that was really hot.
I had a really different relationship with the male body. While the female body was familiar and mundane when not in a consensual sexual situation, male bodies were foreign and culturally weaponized against me. I felt subjugated and demeaned by certain acts with my male partners. I refused to let my first boyfriend touch my breasts. The second only got to touch them through my clothes. Men groped women to objectify and scare them on TV. Women were forced to their knees by rapists in literature and on screen in acts of dominance. Society and abstinence-only sex education screamed at me that a woman’s worth was lessened by each penis that had been inside of her mouth or vagina.
To me, having a man touch my breasts or ask me for oral or vaginal sex could be nothing but violent.
It took me a long time to get over that trauma and reclaim those things for myself. I discovered that I liked having my breasts caressed. I found that oral sex could make me feel magnificently powerful. And when the silence of the bedroom was broken and replaced with the murmured desire-clad words of partners checking in with each other and expressing enthusiastic consent, vaginal sex could be remarkably intimate and fulfilling.
But there were other aspects of existing in a female body that sucked – like how female nudity was considered provocative. I had stood in the showers as a sexually confused teenager with a bunch of naked girls my age, looking at their bodies glistening in the spray right in front of me, and known there was nothing sexual about their nudity. It was functional – all about getting the chlorine from the school pool out of their skin and hair before changing back into their clothes and going to their next class.
If I could figure that out as a teenager, then it stood to reason adult men and adolescent boys could too. Those who couldn’t became a point of contempt.
As I went on with life, I became aware that no one got to expect things from my body except me. That doing things for myself and not because someone expects me to is so much more fulfilling. Some days I want the support of a bra, and some days the very thought of one makes my ribs ache. On days like that, I go out without one on. It made me self-conscious at first, but as I did it more and more, I noticed that no one has the guts to say anything about it to my face. In the winter, I keep as much hair on my body as I can—because I live in the Pacific Northwest and it gets cold in October and doesn’t let up until the end of March! In the summer, I shave it all off and enjoy the feeling of rubbing my smooth, bare legs together in my heat-relieving skirts and shorts. It’s all about what makes me comfortable now. And the dream is to someday have a partner who sees my body as mundanely as I do: special only because it is mine, and otherwise just a lot of daily upkeep.
Theresa Tyree is a freelance writer and editor. Find out more about her favorite stories on her blog at noodlesfromtomorrow.blogspot.com.