by Libby James
I never had cravings before March of 2018. That’s not to say I’ve never been hungry for something specific; plenty of
times I’ve thought to myself that I need to get some mozzarella sticks in a bad way. Until recently, I thought the
sudden conception and subsequent pursuit of a particular meal or beverage constituted a craving. So when I heard a joke
about trans women craving pickles due to a certain prescription, I thought that was kind of silly. Personally, I find
pickles abhorrent. As I delved deeper into this claim, I discovered that it was because the medication caused some salt
deficiency and so some women (who already liked pickles) became obsessed with pickles. Some of this is also a small
amount of Tumblr/Reddit exaggeration, I assume. In any event, when I started my first round of hormone replacement
therapy I did not notice any salt hunger and thus chalked it up to another queer transition myth.
During February I had my first follow-up appointment and my doses were doubled. A few weeks later, I realized that I had been stopping daily at the Kum & Go for hot dogs on my way to work. I would be driving to work, late as usual, and even in the midst of anxiety from my inevitable chronic tardiness I would pull in to the parking lot for that sweet preserved meat. It’s not the first time I’ve caught myself in a snacking rut, so I resolved to not do it again the next day and forgot about it. So the next day I drove right past the Kum & Go like a self-possessed woman of the world and as a reward pulled in to the McDonald’s drive-thru and bought three Bacon McDoubles. A few days later, my wife was at the mall with her mother and sister and asked what food I wanted her to bring home.
“Zombie Burger,” I texted, mouth uncomfortably full of saliva, “a double flamethrower with chili cheese fries.” If you don’t know what Zombie Burger is, it’s because you’re not from Iowa and you are missing out on a restaurant that has burgers with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. Enjoy your “fresh food” totally devoid of butter and lard. I spent the next two hours vividly imagining the grease glistening on the patties as I unwrapped the once-opaque-now-transparent paper from the shining sesame bun with the tenderness of disrobing a new lover, wanting to be gentle but shaking with poorly-restrained desire—picturing that first bite where I desperately battle with the conflicting impulses to savour languorously or to devour as quickly as possible to get a release from my overwhelming compulsion for its flesh.
My wife called to tell me she was finally on the way, and that she would cook spaghetti when she got home. I cried face-down in bed in the dark for thirty minutes. Something important had been stolen from me. I thought it was the perfect storm of depression and starvation and apparently medical side effects and maybe some childhood trust issues and we had to work past it in therapy three days later because I still wasn’t entirely over it.
Then two days later my wife asked me what I wanted to eat and I peeled my eyelids back, dragged my fingernails down my cheeks, and wailed:
“I want to be buried in White Castle sliders and eat my way out! I want to be dunked in a deep fat fryer full of curly fries and swim around eating red-hot bites of grease and starch! I want to grow gills that can breathe milkshakes and be waterboarded with chocolate malts! Get me a thousand chili dogs and burgers and have you gotten burgers WHERE ARE THE BURGERS?” My wife is a saint, so she bought some whole wheat buns and some lean beef and made me some fresh and wholesome burgers. It was bullshit. Here I am, desperately wanting a grotesque fast-food gangbang in my facepussy and this woman comes in with some lame-ass missionary-position full-eye-contact love-making tender-meal. I ate it, pretending to be satisfied with her while I imagined I was at Wendy’s because I’m not new to married life. The next day I stopped at the Kum & Go and bought two bacon burgers from their “hot food” section, threw the top bun away from one and turned it into an off-brand Big Mac and ate it feverishly in my car while people peeked in my windows as they walked by. And I did it again the next day. And the day after that.
It was a total of a week and some change of this peculiar fast food insanity and the compulsion suddenly disappeared. When my head was no longer cartoonishly full of burgers floating enticingly toward me, I realized that the whole week I had also been run down, having acne breakouts for the first time in four months, sore joints, and more severe insomnia than usual. I did some internet research to confirm my newfound suspicions. So, I called my mom.
“Hey, so, I got PMS for the first time ever this month, so I wanted to say ‘thanks for the genes,’ Mom.” I said this with the cadence of a joke.
“You’re going to thank me for that, and not for my intelligence or my wit or my charm?” All of which were clearly on full display at that moment.
“Uh, well, those traits don’t really have any kind of hormonal links, so they didn’t seem relevant to this situation?”
“Well, OH-LIV-EE-UH (she always says my name fully and deliberately), no one told you that being a woman is easy.”
“PMS is part of being a woman.”
“Wait… do you not know that not all women experience PMS?”
“OF COURSE THEY DO, THAT’S IDIOTIC.”
At this point, I thought it best to change the subject. I brought up the new Queer Eye, and how Antoni reminds me of a kind version of my older brother.
“Antoni, is that the culture guy?”
“No, Mom, that’s Karamo. The food guy.”
“Oh! Yes. I just love the fashion guy.”
“Really? He’s kind of mean. I’m in love with Jonathan, he’s perfect.”
“UGH. I hate him.” My chest got tight and I stifled a sigh.
“Why?” I already knew why.
“He’s so obnoxious and over-the-top. Like, we get it, you’re gay. You don’t have to be so femmy.”
This statement was a miniature time-capsule into a thousand micro-aggressions from my childhood. How I begged to put on her lipstick when I was four, and when she finally let me she immediately had me take it off before we got to her friend’s house. When I wanted to paint my nails when I was six and she had me use the clear coat so that people wouldn’t see. On my sixteenth birthday, when at dinner she and my older brother made me feel ashamed of my hairless, barely-pubescent body until I fled the table in tears. How in a hundred ways my mother made it clear to her children that she was quite liberal and it was quite alright for her boys to like traditionally feminine things but it was not okay to be feminine.
When I was very young, I adored her and constantly wanted to emulate her. I wanted to have pierced ears, I wanted long hair, I wanted to try on her high heels (which is funny because you couldn’t catch me dead in high heels now). She was indulgent to a point. Precisely, I imagine, to the point where she would become alarmed about femmy boys. My father wouldn’t stop me from helping him or trying out his tool belt, so I started to spend time with him. I wasn’t good at any of his activities, but he was always happy to see me and happy to let me fuck up some small corner of his project.
Several months ago, my mother and grandmother tried to blame him for my twenty-nine closeted years because he was a car guy, a body shop owner, a biker, a masculine macho machismo man. A man who loved me for exactly who I was even when I was baffling. A man who’s unfailing kindness sheltered me from my mother’s unfailing cruelty at his incalculable emotional expense.
My dad had a sketchy past—growing up poor and drunk on the south side of Seattle in the seventies—but even this aging man who grew up around guys that sold weed and meth and cocaine and hated everyone that wasn’t straight and white and cis because they themselves were at the bottom of the straight-white-cis social barrel, a man who barely escaped a life in institutions and made something of himself by the skin of his teeth, said to me when I told him that I am a woman: “I didn’t know that. I love you.”
When I came out to her, my mother said, “Are you gonna cut your junk off?”