Year 5, Piece Thirty-Five: 15. Yellow Red

GUEST PIECE by Jimmy Defebaugh

Every seventh piece for Rainbow Squared Year 5 is a guest piece, and this fifth one is by Jimmy Defebaugh. Jimmy and I have been best friends since high school when we discovered our mutual fascination with cults. Then seventeen years ago when Facebook introduced relationship settings, we checked that “married” box for each other and haven’t unclicked it since. Back then it felt impossible to imagine actually occupying that role with anyone, let alone anyone else. Some things have changed, but it’s still pretty accurate to describe each other as spouses since we love and bicker like the best of them. We’re also astrologically synced, both Virgo Sun Leo Rising. Collaborating during our very own Virgo season also coincided with the one-month window each year when we are both the same age: for Piece Thirty-Five, we were both thirty-five. 

Jimmy is a multimedia storyteller, writing screenplays for film, television, video games, and comics. He is more literate in pop culture than just about anyone else you might meet. He has a deep talent in finding the light in the darkness, or perhaps as it were, celebrating the darkness without needing to make it light.

15. Yellow Red

By Jimmy Defebaugh

Ketchup please,
Mustard squeezed.

Slow down.
Stop now.

Sauce and spaghetti.
Explode to confetti.

Blood and bile
on bathroom tiles.

Guts and gore.
Pizza no more.

Yellow is power. It is also your will, the sun, your gut, your solar plexus, the place from which you say Yes.

Red is the body. It is also life, survival, blood, cycles, physicality.

Yellow Red is The Power of The Body.

The Power of The Body is a power that I have long tried to deny. The truth is that for most of my life I’ve seen my body at best as a nuisance, and at worst as something to be despised.

As a deeply uncoordinated, asthmatic child, my gangly body got me picked last for every single sport in every single gym class. When I began to rapidly gain weight in middle school, my body then became the source of considerable teasing and shame.

If these weren’t reasons enough for me to hate the bloody meat vessel I was living inside of, my body also decided that around that age would be a great time to let me know that I’m a sexual deviant in all the usual ways that adolescence lets boys know who and what they’re attracted to.

To top it all off, around the same time, I began to have miserable autoimmune issues culminating in my developing a severe dairy allergy, losing 30 pounds worth of vomit in a couple weeks, and an all-around unpleasant roundtrip to death’s door. Once I figured out my allergens and successfully managed to cut them out of my diet, I went through adolescence basically overnight: from 5’2” to 6’1” over the course of a month.

My body looked very different to everyone else, but it felt exactly the same to me. A nuisance. An ugly nuisance that I couldn’t stand the sight of. There was no goal-weight that could ever make me truly feel skinny enough to stop seeing myself in the way my former tormentors had, my former friends. There was only not enough. Not thin enough to stop secretly skipping meals. Not full enough to be able to diet for very long before I found myself in desperation and need of a binge. Not secure enough to care at all about the lasting damage I would do to my body.

Like so many gay guys (and so many more girls) at that age, my self-worth was largely dependent on my potential to be a twink-ling object of desire, despite the fact that this was more of a theoretical ideal, given that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to be an actual object of desire as a closeted teen in a conservative midwestern suburb.

But on the rare occasions I thought there might be a chance of being around a guy I found to be cute and possibly even gay, I developed a troubling ritual. Beneath all of my clothes, I’d duct-tape my man breasts to be tighter against my chest, my stomach to be as flat as possible, or my thighs to be similarly smaller. Whatever I hated the most that day. I couldn’t really breathe or move very well in my man-corset, but I did feel as skinny as I could and that was the best feeling I could possibly imagine at that time.

By the end of the day, the duct tape would bond so thoroughly to my skin that my body hairs and often even the skin itself would come off with it, regularly drawing bright red blood. It was unbelievably painful. At some point during this period it occurred to me that I could just use an inner layer of paper or gauze, but in truth I didn’t feel I deserved that mercy and continued to direct my anger at my body, at my body. I could’ve exercised my way to the body I wanted, you might think. But to be honest, my teasing trauma from being the sad sickly child picked last on every sport was possibly even stronger than my other forms of self-hatred, such that I could never stomach the idea of letting someone else see just how deeply unfit I was.

One day, either because I’d been wearing the tape too long or too often, I tore off big swatches of skin larger than ever before. Some semblance of the scars remained on my chest for the next couple years around the nipples, and my nipples themselves almost entirely lost feeling for the next 10-15 years. For better or worse, no one really noticed my scars because I avoided taking my shirt off at all costs.

I still hate having my shirt off, to be honest. I’ve been in therapy for almost 20 years, and I still can’t stand it. Or to exercise in front of other people. I don’t even like biking or swimming or running in front of other people. It’s been around 12 years since the last time I engaged in any significant self-harming behaviors though, and a similar amount of time since my disordered eating habits stopped.

I wish that I could proudly say that I’d stopped because I genuinely learned to love my body at some point, as all the modern body-positive teachings that I very much objectively believe in have told me to so many times.

But honestly? The real reason I stopped hurting myself was because I started to realize that other people—other men, specifically—still somehow managed to be attracted to my body no matter how revolting I found it to be. And because I myself started to realize how many other types of bodies I was attracted to than the one single type that the media had told me I was supposed to like. And because I started to see at some point how vain, superficial and self-centered such an obsession with my own physical form was, even if it was a self-destructive obsession. And because of all the therapy, assumedly.

In truth, I don’t know that I’ll ever really love my body the way that I’m supposed to. In my mid-to-late 30s now, I gather that I can feel my age more than many of my peers. More back pain, more muscle aches. Less energy, less strength. I have no one to blame for this but myself—my sedentary lifestyle, my lack of exercise. Working too much. Partying too much, for too long. Eating behaviors that, while now un-disordered, are still quite poor. All evidence that I still can’t seem to love my body enough to take care of it.

I can keep trying to love it, at least. I guess truthfully all the trying was also a part of how I went from hating my body to the indifference towards it I feel now. So maybe, with enough work, in another decade or two, I might feel something better. Maybe even something like love.