This Is Us

Stress Positions

Top surgery, public pools, ballet classes, and why 2022 feels like the worst possible moment to come back to my body.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Published in
14 min readJul 13, 2022

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The murky water of a pool, and bodies moving around in darkness.
Like “Jaws,” but for teenage boys with rage issues. Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Here is my body in July, early afternoon, in a car headed from New York to Virginia: I am lying on my side in the half-reclined passenger seat, arms crossed over my chest. My right leg is bent, foot pressed against the car door; I’m rolling my ankle, trying to relieve an ache. My chest is flat, which it wasn’t last year, and my bicep, in the curve of my palm, feels like it’s gotten bigger.

This is my first time bringing my new body to Virginia. I’ve spent part of every summer here, at the same hotel, since I was about eight years old. It’s an odd feeling; my present body slipping into a space carved out by my previous ones, my child and adult selves lining up. Last time I was here, I hadn’t had top surgery yet. I’ll be able to swim with my shirt off, if I want to. I’ve packed t-shirts and rash guards, in case I don’t dare.

I don’t usually think about the distance between my old body and my new one. No — I think about it all the time, but only to ask myself whether I like the changes. Now I’m thinking about it as a liability. Bringing it here, to a place I’ve been so many times, means that someone might recognize me. Someone else might notice what has changed.

Here is my body in the hotel pool in Virginia, buzzed on the White Claw I downed after the 12-hour car ride, doing what I always do in water, which is ballet.

It’s not really ballet. It’s stretching — barre exercises, picked up from the dance classes I took until my freshman year of high school. I should probably claim I was emasculated by those classes, but I loved them. I was so disconnected from my body, and ballet demands that you engage with brutal precision. The tilt of your chin, the angle of your wrist, the rotation of your hip in its socket; even the precise speed at which you fold and unfold your fingers must be taken into account. It’s the difference between falling and floating, failure and grace.

So I stand, one hand on the rim of the pool, kicking my bad leg out behind me. Trying to soothe my bad leg is another habit. I had arthritis in the knee by the time I was…

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Human Parts

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.