HOW FOOD RESTRICTIONS BECAME PENANCE FOR MY QUEERNESS

‘I’m going to fast and pray along the narrow way, keep my life clean everyday’
-
James Cleveland


Words By Theophina Gabriel

Dancing – in the garden, in the mirror, in my underwear, naked, in front of my window – rebirthed an important relationship with my body, one founded on kindness and love and understanding. I’ve always been the type of person who secretly thinks that give or take, she can totally control most things. Chalk it up to growing up in a Black household where working hard was a known solution to almost every problem, or simply being from a Pentecostal background where God, the Ultimate Creator Eternally in Control of Everything, was always just a prayer away. So when I found myself, a newly baptised baby Christian, aged 12, grappling with inner same-sex desires, I found myself in the age-old war between sexuality and the desire to be ‘pure’, and in this battleground, food sadly became my weapon of choice.

I couldn’t find anything damning over masturbating over girls in the bible, and Google threw up some pretty unhelpful results about Onan and semen. After clicking through tab after tab about men and porn addiction, I finally resigned myself to the ultimate ‘weapon of warfare’ in my Pentecostal arsenal: fasting. Food restriction or ‘fasting’ was always seen as a sacred method of becoming closer to God; the asceticism of it with the removal of physical desire in exchange for increased spirituality. My parents and religious community would often fast for days on end or even consecutive weeks with hopes of a prayer being answered or an outcome being shifted towards a more desirable outcome.

After lying in bed, flooded with shame and breathless after orgasming over my crush yet again, I resolved to begin my own personal fast. An old 2012 diary contains scribbled notes: ‘I came thinking about her again today, I’m so ashamed, but it’s okay God has told me that if I fast until 6pm tomorrow I’ll be forgiven.’

This entry would unofficially mark the beginning of my EDNOS and conscious relationship with food restriction. This wasn’t simply a question of faith and purity, but a forceful crushing of my desires both emotionally and physically. Restricting my food intake meant an outcome that would lead to an overall lack of desire, a needed cure for my guilt. I began to restrict my eating for one to two days at a time until I felt weak and faint. For a week or so afterwards I’d feel cured, and ‘closer to God’; using my food restriction to fuel my restriction around my same-sex thoughts. It never lasted long enough, and I’d always eventually find myself ‘caving’ days later, shivering with pleasure under my quilt in secret late at night. So it continued. Although I never binged food, my conscious restriction around it led to a binge-like treatment of my sexual desires.

It quickly became obvious that fasting wasn’t going to ‘fix’ my crushes, so instead of a cure, fasting became a penance; a way of apologising, of making up for what I couldn’t control, a ventilator for my growing shame. I was miserable and guilty and low-energy, but remaining on the cusp of a healthy BMI prevented any medical intervention, despite my mother’s growing continued concern.

The cycle would only begin to break four years later when I fell in love with my first girlfriend. An avid food-lover, she would cook homemade meals for us that we would share together at our dinner table or huddled under quilts in our beds. Admitting to myself that I was in love with her was one of the most difficult hurdles I’d ever encountered, but once I finally accepted it, I found my restrictive habits with food beginning to improve. Dinner at our favourite burger restaurant became a joint symbol of desire, a celebration of the food and company that felt good to love.


Finally coming to terms with whom I love, and how wonderful it felt, helped me to assess not only the ways in which I had learnt to police and restrict my body and sexuality but the ways in which the two had been intertwined in my religious experiences. 


I’m no longer a Christian and I still struggle with an EDNOS/food restriction which centres around feelings of stress, shame or ‘loss of control’, but learning to accept and embrace my same-sex desires as natural and, even beautiful, has provided the groundwork for undoing my treatment of food as a tool of power, control and restriction.

If I could go back and tell my anxious 12-year-old self one thing, I’d say, the guilt is from outside, listen to what feels good inside. Feeling full feels good, just like liking women, the only thing that isn’t natural is restriction. Who you want to love and your sexuality is as natural and normal as needing to eat.

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