Is Trans the New Anorexia?


“When teaching freshman composition in New York colleges in the mid-Eighties, I picked up a peculiar pattern in one-on-one conferences with my female students. With improbable frequency, they’d confide that they were anorexic. The term had only entered the popular lexicon about 10 years earlier, and public awareness of the perturbing derangement had been given a huge boost by the pop singer Karen Carpenter’s death in 1983. Yet not all these 18-year-old students were disturbingly underweight. It took me a minute to get it. They aspired to be anorexic. Anorexia was a prestige diagnosis.

While some of those students may have been merely flirting with the condition, they were canaries in a very dark coal mine. All too many of their peers were undertaking life-threatening calorie restriction in great earnest. Anorexia was already known to be the very deadliest of all psychiatric ailments. (Wanting to be anorexic, then, is like pining to contract necrosis.) In the Nineties, my natural ghoulish voyeurism inspired me to read several books about obsessive self-starvation, the best of which was Jenefer Shute’s harrowing novel Life Size.”


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