Embracing My Identity
I want to first thank my beautiful community at The Alliance for asking me to take the time to write about my experience as an LGBTQIA person in eating disorder recovery. I am so proud of all of the lifesaving work that you do and I know in my heart that if I would have had access to your services, my journey towards wanting recovery and believing it was possible would have been easier.
I am so proud to be a part of this community and I can’t wait to see all of what we do in the years to come. I am an Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate, which means that I am someone who identifies as a survivor of not only an eating disorder but of trauma. I am someone who identifies as having gone through very unique experiences as a queer person in order to accept fully, embrace and live in my identity. My eating disorder was not really about my body image; it was about worthiness.
I am gay. These three words when spoken out loud profoundly changed my life forever. I will never forget the first time these words left my mouth. The freedom and terror running through my mind and my body. The pain that began screaming from the depths of my soul. Most importantly I will never forget the first time I thought of these words at age 11. That was the day I began to disappear.
There really are no words to describe the internal hell of hating your own identity for being a queer person. Unless you have lived it, it would be like trying to describe air to a fish; impossible to fully understand. My eating disorder was the symptom and though it caused many psychological, physical, and spiritual upheavals in my life, it was by no means the cause. My eating disorder was the end result. I grew up in a very conservative, hispanic, catholic, south Texas household. I do not in any way villainize my family or my culture for the thoughts and feelings I had to internalize in order to survive this reality.
One of the many gifts of my recovery is that I have learned to forgive them. My family is in many ways also a victim to the same ideologies that led me to hate myself and starve away my pain. I hated myself almost as soon as I realized at age 11 that I was the gay person my family was talking about. It was the 90’s and we were as a nation facing the dark and devastating reality of the AIDS crisis. My family would say things like “God is taking care of the homosexual stain” and “that is what they get for disobeying God.” I say this to demonstrate the power of words and religion in the mind of a child. When I began to connect the dots between homosexuality and my own thoughts and feelings I felt my soul break. I was the stain. Shame. I marinated in shame for years until one day I found something I could control. I could not change my identity, but I could change my body. The eating disorder behaviors allowed me to starve and drown out the pain of shame. It made my world so small that I didn’t have to think or feel anything real. I was in essence trying to fake it. I would say to myself, “when you are older you can find someone to help you fix this.” For years I turned to the eating disorder because the pain of facing who I was and the impact that would have on my life was unbearable. It was heart shattering. What I have learned in my recovery is that my sexuality and identity did not cause the eating disorder. What fueled my eating disorder was the reality that being in a queer body in our society and culture made me unsafe. Being myself was not just unacceptable, it was impossible. To speak who I was out loud meant the possibility of losing everything and everyone I had believed to be true in my life.
So much of my recovery in the beginning was learning how to see myself differently. My early recovery was about learning to let go of the eating disorder behaviors in order to face the emotions and the experiences that were fueling them. Eventually it meant facing tremendous grief. A grief that is still very much present in my life today.
Growing up in a world of competing and opposing Identities and Ideologies, I felt like I was a constant outsider and like I belonged nowhere. My eating disorder was a way for me to try and find power and voice in a family that told me, as a queer person and a gay person, my thoughts and identity were dangerous and evil. It only makes sense that this feeling of being impossible created a war with the most life affirming force on the planet; food. To nourish my body, to feel like I am worthy of connection, identity, and love because I am human is radical. My Eating Disorder Recovery is about understanding I am fundamentally worthy of life. My recovery is routed in finding my authentic power and voice through making peace with my experiences as a queer person. Today, I understand that it is my queerness that makes me strong, bold, daring, loving, and beautiful. What I used to fear the most has become my authentic identity and source of strength. It allows me the grace to say even though there is no place for me in your binary, there is no place for me in your ideology or religion, I still dare to exist. This is not evil. This is my magic.
Eric Dorsa is an LGBTQ advocate, actor, comedian, and drag queen currently living in Chicago, Illinois. As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, Eric travels around the country sharing his experiences of Eating Disorder Recovery, coming out as a gay person, and his recovery from substance abuse with college campuses and patients in treatment. Eric has been featured on Texas Public Radio “Worth Repeating”, Mental Note Podcast “Drag Queen Wisdom”, Huffington Post Queer Voices, and has given an award winning 2014 TEDx Talk entitled “ How Dressing in Drag Made Me Uncover My Authentic Self.” Eric is also a member of Eating Recovery Center’s Recovery Ambassador Council. They hope that sharing their story will inspire others to know that they are not alone, to seek connection and treatment, and that full recovery is possible.