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MEDA) Gala, I gave this speech (click play below to listen) about my experience with my eating disorder and my recovery as a queer transgender athlete.
My speech itself begins at 2min45sec. The first couple minutes is Becky Manley (the founder of MEDA) introducing me, along with a couple comments from the man sitting next to me. I recorded the speech on my iPhone, which I held so any strange noises you hear are because I touched my phone or moved it.
Content warning: eating disorders, depression, self-hatred, and gender dysphoria.
Here is the transcription of my speech, beginning at 2min45sec–
Hello everybody, I’m really excited to be here. [Looking out over the crowd.] Wow, there’s a lot of people! Can’t quite see it when you’re sitting down. Anyway. I’m really, really, really excited to be here. I actually–it’s been a while since I’ve talked at a MEDA event. This holds a really important part in my heart.
When I listen to my intro – and I’m listening to, essentially a list of accolades – I am proud. I worked really hard to achieve each of those things. But I am far more proud of how I did those. And how I got here.
And I’m not talking about the fact that I spent the morning at Macy’s because my suit is actually hanging in my Seattle office right now. [Laughter.] [The speech was in Boston.] So this is a brand new suit that I bought this morning. I walked up to the guy and I said, I asked him, “Okay, what’s the cheapest suit I can buy,” and he said, “Are you a cheap man?” [Laughter.] And I was like, “Yes, sir, I am, which is the cheapest suit?” So here I am. I hope you like the suit. [Applause.]
But–thank you–but when I think about being proud, I think about how I got here. How I worked through the struggles that brought me here.
I think about the eating disorder I struggled with. That almost consumed my entire life. That I spent hours in therapy and even more hours finding a therapist, right, that’s a hard part, too.
I think about the 131 days that I spent at the Oliver Pyatt Center in Miami, Florida. And working through myself there and my experience in my eating disorder there.
I think about being transgender and not only just the vicious cycle that comes with what it means to be transgender and coning out and learning about myself that way but also about how I’m an athlete, right, and the fact that I had to tell my coach about being transgender — what that meant, being on a women’s team, and then trying to figure out whether or not I was going to stay on that women’s team.
I think about telling my coach and the moment I said to her, “I’m transgender– I don’t know what to do, I just know I want to swim.” I think abotu the fact that after that, I was able to be on the men’s team, and I was able to be the first trans athlete to compete for a division 1 men’s team–” [Applause.] “Thank you.”
I think about all these things. I think about how I got here. I think about the fact that I’m standing here today, truly believing in the possibility of recovery. Of my own journey, of my own experience.
I think about years ago when, I don’t think I believed there was anything else. I was so stuck in where I was in my eating disorder, in my depression, that I think, you know, I remember thinking that the whole “recovery is possible” thing, was just a lie that we told to make white-knuckling easier.
I thought that there was no way that this was possible — I wasn’t going to be able to recover unless I believed recovery was posisble. But I’ve come to disagree with that. I don’t think you have to actually believe recovery was possible; I don’t think that’s how I arrived here today. I think arrived here today because I believed that there was something more. There was a little voice in the back of my head that said, “Maybe, there might be more.” And I chose to listen to that voice. I chose to say, “Okay, let’s walk forwards even though we don’t believe in the ending. Let’s try to believe in the steps.”
And I tell kids that all the time who ask me how did I work through my eating disorder, I say, “Listen to that little voice in your head, and if you can’t hear your voice, then hear me. There is more.”
In the beginning of my recovery as I worked through my eating disorder, I remember counting everything. I’d be like, “Okay, how many days has it been since I last had a disordered behavior, and how many disordered behaviors and can I use the CBT table to work through this–” I’m a very organized person, I have way too many Excel spreadsheets, Excel is like one of my best friends–you don’t, you don’t hear that that often. [Laughter.]
But I would count everything–you know, I was like, “How can I measure my recovery??” Right? “What is the metric, how do I know when I’m recovered?” And then eventually, life got busy, and I stopped doing that. I started forgetting to measure, started forgetting to record everytyhing. And thinking back about that now, and I realize that the forgetting was my recovery itself.
And as I started thinking about that, I went through my journals—so I journal avidly, some would say too much. (At treatment, they actually took my journal away from me, [laughter] because I obsessively journal.) [Laughter.] But, what’s really cool is I can go back and look at those. So I went back and looked at my journal in preparation for this speech, and I flew over here from Seattle last night and I was reading through them and I found several entries that I thought would be important to this experience, so I want to share an excerpt from one of them.
So this was from May 11th, 2013. I wrote:
“I want to spend time with [my friends] and not feel guilty that I am taking up [their] time when I do. To feel like I am worth [their] time. To feel like I am worth anyone’s time. I. hate. Myself. I really do. I can’t deal and I can’t deal with myself. I don’t know what else to do. It’s almost as if I want to fail. How fucked up is that? I am so fucked up I don’t even know how to pull it together. I look in the mirror and after I get over hating on myself and outlining each and everything that I hate, then I try to tell myself it’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. You can do it. Pull your goddamn shit together, Schuyler. [I will not binge. I will no purge.] But then I can’t [stop myself]. I just can’t. It’s impossible. How am I supposed to just stop? […] I hate this. I [have so much hate for everything and everyone around me, but] most of all, I hate myself.”
Reading that last night on the plane, I was astonished at the language I used to talk about myself to myself. And you know, I remember the pain, I remember how I hurt, I remember how I was depressed. But I think I forgot the intensity of that pain, the darkness of that darkness.
And I think, I think, in that–you know, I realized, as I was reading this, looked at the intense contrast that I feel now and that was when I was like, “Holy crap. Recovery is possible.” [Applause.]
This morning, I was at another event – in Belmont – I spent the morning at the Belmont Day School, speaking to 300 middle school students about diversity and inclusion, and — well, first of all, that’s a beautiful experience, I love middle school students, they’re adorable. They ask me questions like, “Do you like cheese?” and “Why did you stop skateboarding and choose swimming??” [Laughter.] But besides that, they also ask me — mostly the teachers ask me — what would I say to my middle school self?
And today, I don’t actually want to talk to my middle school self. I want to talk to my high school self. Because I wish so badly that I could say: Look at me now.
Look at me standing here in this crowd of people. Look at me standing up tall, in this suit I bought this morning [Laughter]. Look at me standing up here, telling my truth confidently, with grounding.
Look at me eating dinner, and not stressing about it.
Look at me having moved across the country and starting a new job, Seattle, a new life, a new home, my first time ever not living near my parents.
Look at me having competed four years on the most successful Harvard team in 50 years, look at me despite everybody’s doubts that I couldn’t compete as a transguy against other men, having beat 85% of other men. [Laughter & applause.]
And look at how I have not engaged in eating disorder behaviors or habits in over five years since leaving treatment. Today marks the, I think eighteen hundredth and fifty two–not “I think,”–I know–[laughter], 1,852 days since I left Oliver Pyatt Centers and I have not engaged in eating disorder behaviors since then. And look at how, beyond that, I am so proud to say sometimes — most of the time — I even forget. About the thoughts. It’s not just the behaviors.
And I am so, so proud to explain to you that ‘how’ – to be here in this moment with you all, to share that.
And I’m so proud to be partnered with Monte Nido & affiliates to share how we can advance gender-inclusive and sexuality-inclusive care, because recovery is intersectional. Because up to 71%, according to NEDA and Trevor Project, of LGBTQ kids battle an eating disorder. 71% compared to the 13% of women. Recovery is intersectional; treatment should be, too. [Applause.]
Recovery is for all bodies, and identities. And moreso: Recovery is possible for all bodies and all identities. It is not just for upper-middle class, white, women, it is also for half-korean queer transgender athletes. [Applause.]
So, if you are struggling and you cannot hear your own voice, then hear me:
There is more.
Thank you so much to MEDA, to Becky, to my therapist Deb, [applause continues, drowining out voice] thank you all here for all that you do. I hope you all know that the work that you’re doing is saving lives, like my own. Thank you so much.