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When Your Body Feels Like a Costume You Didn’t Choose

shutterstock_72323659This month has been a month of interesting contemplations …. specifically, about the costumes we wear and how we relate to ourselves and others when those costumes look different.

For instance, my brother and his wife recently added a new little one to our all-Caucasian family – a sweet, brave, chubby Chinese infant who just set foot on American soil for the first time last month.

In the same month, one of my dearest friends has returned home to Houston to build a counseling practice supporting LGBT kids, teens, and young adults.

And my personal dreams lately have been full of memories of my long journey away from anorexia and bulimia and towards fully recovered life….a journey I consider to be still “in progress.”

So when I happened across a recent article in Time that focused on the plight of transgendered persons in America, it hit me right in the heart.

As I read about how transgender, transvestite, and transsexual individuals have been mis-addressed and mis-labeled through the DSM (the Diagnostic Standards Manual – a worldwide “bible” of sorts for diagnosing and treating mental illness) it reminded me of my own struggles with how eating disorders in the DSM have been repeatedly re-labeled and often mis-labeled, and how that has affected my experience of seeking support, treatment, and recovery over the years.

One line in the Time article especially caught my attention – a comment by women’s and gender studies professor Elizabeth Reis (University of Oregon):

Most people are happy in the gender that they’re raised. They don’t wake up every day questioning if they are male or female.

The article continues with author Katy Steinmetz commenting:

For many trans people, the body they were born in is a suffocating costume they are unable to take off.”

Over the years I have talked with and met so many folks who can relate – but not because they are “trans” in some way that is specific to body parts or gender.

Some of the people I’ve met who feel trapped in a costume they didn’t order and so they want a smaller costume. Others want a larger costume. Some people want a costume that is shaped differently. Still others want a younger or older costume, or a costume that comes with a different story, life, partner, or family attached to it.

In some way, we all feel “different” – oh so very different – inside our “costumes.”

In all this, what I find most interesting is that, even after we as a culture (at least here in America) have come SO far in our work to equalize these different costumes into a set of common rights and protections that applies to all citizens, as soon as a new type of costume comes to light, it feels like we zoom back to square one again.

First comes the fear. Then the isolation. Then the bullying and the ostracism. These are followed by the labeling and naming and judging and condemning. Then there is the refusal to proffer up certain rights just because “such and so looks or acts different than such and so.”

It boggles the mind.

Read these words by Susan Stryker, then think about how you would respond if you were standing beside her, listening:

There was a sense of who I was to myself that did not match who I was to other people, and for me that felt profoundly lonely. It felt like being locked in a dark room with my eyes and ears cut off and my tongue cut out and not being able to connect my own inner experience with an outer world.

Everything in me that feels human also feels horrified by these words.

Anything that is available – anything that could help – should be offered to any person who is living in such hell.

Whether it is rights to use a bathroom that corresponds with inner gender identity or equality in the workplace, freedom to walk down the street safely or adequate insurance coverage for an operation to equalize insides with outsides – where the pain of an ill-fitting costume exists, there is also a path to ease and equalize it.

Beyond all this, it just feels beyond terrible to judge, to condemn, to fear, to hate, to segregate, to discount, to ignore, to lock away.

I am so eager for the day when our landscape consists of essential shared similarities that bind us all together – we all have a brain, a heart, a body; we all feel emotion, dream, aspire, desire; we are all living beings and as such, I truly in my soul believe we all deserve an even playing field where costumes are optional….and simply unimportant to all that matters about being alive.

I am so, so eager for this day to come…..especially because for many, it simply cannot come soon enough.

Today’s Takeaway: What is your take on the latest equality battles – this time over equality for those who identify as transgendered in some way? Have you ever felt like your body or your mind (or both) is a costume – but not one of your own choosing – that you can’t take off no matter how hard you try? What did you do? 

Mime clown image available from Shutterstock.

When Your Body Feels Like a Costume You Didn’t Choose

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2014). When Your Body Feels Like a Costume You Didn’t Choose. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Jul 2014
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