This post covers some pretty dark stuff. It recounts my recollection of my first experience with dysphoria, and contains quite a lot of content involving genitals. If you’ve got GD, it could be pretty hard to read. It’s also a memory of something that happened to me before I turned two, and the combination of these two subjects could be seen as being potentially problematic. It’s a very touchy subject on a number of levels and I’m not sure what the rules are here.
It’s also a tough one for me to post, and perhaps it’s truly the first one in which I discuss aspects of my life that have always been exceptionally personal. The aftermath of this experience took me nearly thirty years to cure. Thus, for the first time, I am truly walking naked in posting this essay.
Also, I’ve no idea how, because I haven’t been advertising this much but the number of readers has increased steadily each week. Thank you so much for reading, and I sincerely hope that I don’t lose anyone due to this week’s content.
Anyhow, *deep breath*, and without further nervous dithering, let’s begin.
The memory is both vague and vivid.
Elusive, it shifts in your mind. An ethereal, colorful haze out of which details sometimes burst and then recede like solar flares into darkness. Only during these flares can you touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it, see it with a level of excruciating detail, and hope to write it down.
You have no idea if it is real. Most of the time it certainly doesn’t feel real. And yet.
It is the answer to a question that has plagued your mind for twenty-nine years. More than fit neatly, it assembles the entire puzzle as if you had dumped it from the box and it hit the table fully solved. So it must be real, it must be. And yet it can’t be. Either way, there it is.
Could something so simple, so silly, as the accidental convergence of imagination and innocent childish ignorance be the seed of so much?
As if in answer, the memory flares anew.
“Potty training” begins.
It sounds very grown up and fun, but it only takes one try before you realize that you do not particularly like this new development. Also, it proves to be absurdly inconvenient. You cannot help but feel that there are better things to do than run to a little red-blue plastic pot with a hole shaped like a Hershey’s Kiss, engage in a complex process of clothing removal, and do all of this while simultaneously trying to actually hold the pee in. It’s not easy and seems entirely unnecessary. One day ago it wasn’t even a part of life. Now it is, with no warning at all.
The training pants are super uncomfortable and chafe the thing hanging in between them, which you haven’t really paid much attention to before now, thinking it was just something extra that would fall off eventually. You don’t really know what to do with it, but luckily your mother helps you, and frustrating as it is, you begin to learn.
Wait. Wrong memory. You’ll need to fast forward. You cannot know how long- time worked differently back then. It moved slower and everything seemed more real and less familiar. Or at least that is what you suppose from the way you recall feeling about the moments in which the memories seem nested. In the end it is hard to recall- it’s just you watching yourself doing and experiencing things as if it were a film in which a version of you that isn’t quite you is the star. Just a twin, perhaps, playing you in the mental documentary of your life. This, you realize, is part of what makes this particular memory suspect: it is the only memory you have ever known in which an entire section of it takes place as if you are actually looking out your eyes and touching the world. It feels like an experience rather than a record, and this seems untrustworthy.
Recalling the sensation flares the memory anew: The correct one, full and vivid.
One day, you are feeling very grown-up and want to use the potty on your own. You know you can do it, and if you can it’ll be a big step up the growing-up ladder and maybe you’ll be taller afterwards. You go into the bathroom and shut the door, all businesslike. The red-and-blue potty chair is wedged between the toilet and the wall, and you stand in front of it to unbutton your pants, dancing slightly. You shuffle the pants down all by yourself to just above your knees and admire the fact that your training pants have no plastic over them. You tug them down too.
The thing is still there. You’ve done this whole process before, but mother was always there to help and distract you. You’ve never actually examined yourself before, and you tug on it a bit to see if it comes off. It doesn’t, and for the first time you realize that the thing really is impossibly stuck to you. How did it get there? Also, it just looks gross and kind of stretchy, and you touch as little of it as possible as you move to aim. The moment your fingers contact the thing, you realize what it reminds you of.
The thing looks and feels like a massive white worm. You know a lot about worms- you have an unreasonable love of collecting them in the yard after it rains so father can have bait to fish with. Those ones are super cool and wiggly and make you giggle. You know right where to go to dig for them in the garden. And you really like caterpillars too, especially if they are fuzzy! They just seem so utterly adorable, inching along as they work tirelessly to become butterflies.
But sometimes you come across a white worm, or an ugly fat grub, and these things give you the heebie-jeebies so bad you have shuddering aftershocks for an hour. They are so pale, or slimy looking, and they move in the creepiest way.
And the thing looks like the biggest white worm you’ve ever seen, poking right out of you.
You have a moment of abject existential horror when your mind can’t help but ask: What if it actually IS a worm? The thing has always seemed so alien. What if it burrowed into you one day and then made it’s home inside you so it could create an egg sack and lay a pair of eggs that would hatch out hundreds of little worms that would travel around your body and eat you from the inside out?
The question is an image in your mind, an entire sequence occurring all at once and with it a feeling has arisen in your chest, some combination of curiosity and fear, as well as another feeling that makes you want to do anything other than what you are about to do.
Somewhere in the back of your mind a part of you crosses the word “panic” from a list of previously unfelt emotions. With a kind of horrified certainty, you move the worm aside and reach your hand beneath to discover a part of you that you had never previously acknowledged or paid any attention to.
Your hand discovers the egg sack.
Holding your breath, terror blocking out your thoughts, everything inside you screaming at you not to do this, you press your fingers deep in the sack and discover the two hard lumps pressed deeply against the inside. The eggs. They have already been laid. It’s absolute confirmation.
It is real.
You stand outside yourself and watch contemplatively as your body screams and shits itself standing out of sheer horror. The worm starts squirting all over everything. Mother and Grandmother both come running and try to calm you down, assuming you are upset about having an accident and you are too scared and horrified to say anything.
The worm is stuck to you and you can’t get it off. You cannot edge away, cannot pull back. It’s everywhere you are, just waiting to grow up enough for the worms to hatch and eat you from the inside, bite by bite, burrowing tunnels in the dark space until they consume you.
While your body is cleaned and consoled by loving giants, you try to think this through. It is abnormally difficult, because you are continually distracted by the despairing horror between your legs. Still, you force yourself to ask: is it actually a worm? Am I correct? You don’t know, and for the first time in your life not knowing is an improvement. It doesn’t take the sense of repulsion and horror away, but it does provide the possibility of hope, and that allows you to think more clearly. Externally, you calm your body down until it's just sitting in the tub leaking tears every now and again. The loving giants leave you alone for a moment and you focus your mind.
You think perhaps you could cut off the worm, and you recall that grandmother has scissors somewhere on the counter. But the counter is too tall for you to reach and anyway what if it fights back and the eggs hatch right then? What if it’s not a worm and if you cut it off you can‘t ever pee again? Bad idea. Yet despite how hard you are trying to force yourself to entertain doubts, the truth is you have none. You know.
Your body has never felt a cauldron of emotions like this before and none of the words on your list fit either.
Somehow, you are seeing yourself as being outside of it all, or perhaps safe within the dark space of the body, but it’s not safe is it? Because if the worms hatch they’ll get you too. They’ll get you first. Then it hits you:
The eggs have to grow up before they can hatch.
With a shudder, you realize what you’d almost done.
You’d almost died just then. You were so excited to become a big kid and if you had gone through with it the eggs would have grown up too and maybe they’d have grown enough to have hatched. Until you figure this out, you can never, ever, grow up. As far as you know, potty training is what separates babies from big kids, and therefore you absolutely cannot master this before you find a way to get rid of the worm unless you want to be eaten alive.
Unless you’re wrong. What then? How could you tell? Maybe if a long time goes by and you don’t die you’ll know. But you can’t tell anyone, can’t speak of it because you don’t know how smart it is and you don’t want to risk waking it up- it might realize that you know and drop the whole plan, burrow in and eat you all on it’s own. You must keep this to yourself.
You pee in the tub.
Next to the bathroom, between the guest room and the grandparent’s room is a floor to ceiling mirror. You observe your body turn its head as you are carried past, bundled in a towel. You’d seen the mirror there all the time, and thought it was fun the way the people in it copied you. Mother had told you that it was you, but that had never made sense before. You were in front of the mirror. How could you also be behind it? There had to be another world of people doing everything you did, just turned around. The adults didn’t know because they were fooled by the way things look. But you knew that the person in the mirror wasn’t you, and he did too. It was your secret.
But as your towel-wrapped body passes the mirror en-route to the bedroom you see the reflections eyes and recognize them. It really is you. But it just doesn’t quite look like you. It’s a nearly perfect reproduction, but your face is supposed to be different, isn’t it? And there’s not supposed to be an evil white worm burrowed into your crotch either. The feeling of horror rises again in instant panic at this thought, but you shut it down and push it aside, feeling hollow. By the time you’ve passed the mirror, you’ve already forgotten what your face looked like. But not your eyes.
In the bedroom, you beg to wear a diaper again. You don’t remember anything more for another undefinable stretch of time except this:
Potty training regresses completely.
At some point after the incident your father begins to take a role in attempting to potty training you. Since the incident you’ve been either using your pants or insisting on sitting to pee so you can avoid touching the worm as much as possible. Father seems to believe that you are afraid of using the toilet, perhaps of being unable to aim so he decides to show you how to do it. He has you stand next to him and he shows you how to put a piece of toilet paper in the bowl so you have a target to aim towards and then demonstrates. This actually helps some, because the whole idea is ridiculously fun. But what’s really captivated your attention is the revelation that your father has got a worm too, and it’s as big as your forearm.
You do not recall exactly what you ask him, or what he says, but it doesn’t matter because this is how you discover that the worm is not a worm and that it’s supposedly supposed to be there. You feel extremely silly, and ashamed, and frustrated too, because learning that it’s supposed to be there doesn’t make the sense of horror and despair, the desire to recoil from a part of yourself go away. By the time you learn the truth, it’s been too real for too long.
For the first time in your life, you try to not-remember. There is no other way for you to handle this. You want to not-remember badly enough that it doesn’t take a particularly long stretch of time to accomplish this, but it’s only a partial success. The memory goes, but the feeling remains. And it never, ever recedes. Neither does the life or death conviction that you need to stay in diapers, a desperate ploy for life whose origins are already unknown to you. The memory itself has been replaced by a nagging terror of forgetting and night terrors that will haunt you for the rest of your childhood. While their frequency eventually recedes, the worst nightmares will follow you into your early twenties, always involving worms that have burrowed into you, that are eating you alive, and which you cannot grasp or remove.
A new ritual erupts within you. Each day you run down the list of every experience you can recall, over and over, certain you are missing nothing. You can clearly recall every face you have seen in your short life, in order. This has the effect of improving your memory until it’s functioning at very high levels for visual information, and yet you will remain terrified of forgetting until the problems of puberty muddy your mind and your body is taken over by changes you thought would make you into something powerful but instead serve only to steal away any feeling of power you already had.
The fear of forgetting is a valid one, too, because the act of repressing that one single memory is the catalyst that destroys your childhood.