Miss Gastrocnemius

I walked down the empty corridor, the modest heels of my pumps clicking satisfyingly on the tiles. After a three-hour night class, I couldn’t wait to get home for dinner and an icy drink, so the clicks echoed quickly, pertly.

As I passed one of the the Auto Body classrooms, I caught sight of my reflection in a full-length glass window. I tend to wear dresses when teaching my night class; we only meet once a week, which is infrequently enough that I can convince the students I’m a pulled-together adult. If we saw each other more often, that jig would be up. However, with the controlled circumstances of a single weekly meeting, I can put my best foot and face forward, and just when I start to melt into creased and rumpled–my normal state–it’s time to head home, whereupon I scrub off the slap, peel off the tights, clip up the hair, and don knee socks, shalwars, and a hoodie. By the end of this transformation, I look like a 4 a.m. Walmart shopper, hopelessly confused in Aisle 23 because where do they keep the deodorant?

Hence, it was unusual to catch a glimpse of myself dressed like a real person who pays taxes and knows where the deodorant is. What I saw in that quick reflection was huge.

I saw my calves.

There, jutting out below the hem of my dress, were my huge calves.

It is not news to me that I am calvishly blessed. Strangers have stopped me in hair salons to ask how such beefy things came to be compliment me.

What grabbed my attention, thus, wasn’t the size of my calves. Rather, I was struck by the image of those muscular beasts packaged into hose, clipping along in heels. Immediately, one thought flashed through my mind: “Well, tighten down my wig and glue on some false lashes because I’ll be damned if I don’t look like a transgendered male-to-female.” Then I yelped out an involuntary hoot of laughter.

Holy hell. I have trans calves.

SONY DSCMost likely, this thought popped into my head because we’d spent the previous week watching the new Amazon show called Transparent. This terrific program explores the journey and ripples of a father’s decision to begin living as the woman he’s always known he is. More than anything, the episodes explore subtleties of gender identity and family politics. It’s a grand bit of storytelling headed by actor Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, and because I always want to be part of a grand story, it pleased me to realize that my legs, when dressed up in their Tuesday evening best, look just like those of Maura’s hormone-popping friend Davina.

The truly significant part of realizing I have trans calves is how much this epiphany tickled me. As someone who has fought her way through a lifetime of bodily loathing, it would make sense for me to hate my masculine calves. All those self-esteem demons that plague my psyche with accusations of “fat,” “ugly,” and “undesirable” should have hissed to the surface when they saw my reflection in the window.

Yet they were silent. The only sounds that echoed in the empty hallway were my delighted hoot and the tap of my happy steps.

Heels clicking across the linoleum, I savored that victory, all the richer for being so unexpected. Although agonizingly willing to hate my body, I actually love my trans calves.

Here’s the thing: whether these calves are sported by a man-become-woman…or by a woman-always-woman, they are full-on freaking badass. I tire of gender-specific “beauty,” and for that I thank those who have blurred the lines or taken a stand for their right to just BE. For example, last year my brain reeled in awe at the bearded Sikh woman who responded with humbling equanimity when she learned that a mocking photo of herself had been posted online. To the person who posted the photo, she wrote:

I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?

Relatedly, I was impressed by the action the Women’s Tennis Association took when they recently disciplined the head of the Russian Tennis Federation for comments about Serena and Venus Williams; referring to the sisters’ bodies, he called them “the Williams brothers,” adding “it’s scary when you really look at them.”

And so the world progresses. We have bearded Sikh women who make no apologies. We have breath-taking female athletes whose forearms ripple in the wind. We have television shows where a man in his sixties shares heart-breakingly touching scenes with his ex-wife–he in a skirt and long hair, she in pants wearing a cropped wig. the two of them united by a shared history. We have English teachers with massive calves, dressing up like they’re grown ladies, ticking their way down empty halls, anticipating a cocktail.

We have my husband, who can’t get enough of his wife’s legs.

We have my children, who see that their mother refuses shame.

We have me, who caught sight of herself walking out of a building and realized she looked like a man.

We have a delighted hoot,

a shout of ready acceptance,

and it echoes into the night.







18 responses to “Miss Gastrocnemius”

  1. Joanne Avatar

    I’ve advocated for years, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Uh huh.

  2. kmkat Avatar

    Okay, Ms. Educator, I had to google two, count ’em, TWO words from this post (“shalwars” and “gastrocnemius”, for those counting). You have beauti–, er, magnificent gastrocnemius-es, ma’m! Truly!

  3. sweffling Avatar

    What got me from your photo was the fantastic ankles! Coming from a family in which the women just do not have ankles, I am green with envy. But then of course that is in direct opposition to the message of this post.
    So, scrub that, and revel in the healthy human body, however it manifests:)

  4. Meredith Avatar

    I want your calves!!

  5. Avie Layne Avatar

    My first thought was those are the calves of a magnificent runner.

  6. Geri Patzlaff Avatar
    Geri Patzlaff

    Joce, we both inherited our calves from Mom (your grandmother) who always described her calves as looking like piano legs. Yup. But they get us where we need to go. Being kind is more important than slim legs.

  7. alexandra Avatar

    I shouldn’t be able to relate, but I do.

    Me, from the anti-calf group, which would be whatever the opposite is of someone who has calves, that’s what I am . I am without calves. BUT I have long tired of walking toward a reflection of myself and thinking “Hmmmm… it looks like I’m walking on my arms.” SO BE IT. My legs work. I am so very fortunate.

  8. Maria Avatar

    My first thought was that you are so grown up! Put me to shame, ma’am. Yes sirree. I have been mourning my youth for years and there you go being all fine with yourself, as is. I been done told.

  9. Friko Avatar

    “Right there, that’s why writing is amazing. It’s therapeutic. It helps us find out what we’re really thinking. It clarifies. This is what I want my students to learn.”

    Whatever you wear, whatever the size of your calves, you are an amazing teacher. I bet even the class you described in your previous post thought that.

    Isn’t it sad that even now, so many years after the first modern feminists, never mind the suffragettes and the women who came after them, the war women who did men’s jobs, took on all-comers and raised children without husbands and fathers, women still see themselves first and foremost as bodies to be admired, ridiculed, scorned, lusted after, changed, starved into shape, be embarrassed about. Sod that.

    It’s good that you can take an unimportant part of your body and joke about it. I wish we could teach young girls that.

    (Jocelyn, I would be grateful and happy if you could take a look at my last three posts, all of them describing the same day and a bit lengthy. If you have time and inclination, that is. And if you could leave a comment, that would be even better.)

  10. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    I also have those big Germanic calves and no shame. They’re the link to generations of women who have passed their genes down to me. Here’s to all of our awesomeness no matter how big or small or hairy or smooth or lumpy or dimpled or freckled or wrinkled.

  11. actonbell Avatar

    Fabulous post! And by the way, some of us can run twenty years without obtaining such marvelous calves. And it’s such a joy to transend all these hang ups we may have had in our wobbly younger days. Rock on, Jocelyn!

  12. Secret Agent Woman Avatar

    We just spend so much time hating our bodies, being told what we “should” look like, fighting within our own ranks about what constitutes beauty and womanhood. It wearies me. I just don’t understand why we can’t embrace the full range of feminine beauty – muscular, fleshy, thin, whatever.

  13. Bijoux Avatar

    Who doesn’t want shapely calves?

    It seems a bit ironic that it was the Russians making a comment about masculine looking woman. Just saying!

  14. pia Avatar

    With each post you become even stronger, funnier and make more of a statement. But I have to say I love this line incredibly
    “Well, tighten down my wig and glue on some false lashes because I’ll be damned if I don’t look like a transgendered male-to-female.”

  15. Erin Avatar

    Beautiful post!

  16. Nathalie Hoke Avatar
    Nathalie Hoke

    I had great legs for a long time. Starting in junior high, I got compliments on them. For many, many years I loved my legs. Then after having 4 kids and getting older, I stopped allowing my legs to get any air because of spider veins. I knew I was lucky not to have varicose veins, and that the spider veins aren’t a true medical problem, but…I was embarrassed by them.

    At a picnic an aquaintance was wearing shorts (she did not have “nice” legs.) and she remarked that it was very warm that day, and why wasn’t I wearing shorts.

    I said, “I hate my legs.”
    She said, “I love mine. They’re the only two I have.”
    OMG. I still have working legs to this day. The aquaintance is in a wheelchair now.

    I love my legs. They’re the only two I have, and I’m very happy to have them.

  17. Lisa Avatar

    I am in awe of your calves, and the love you have for them. So glad the demons shut the hell up and let you enjoy them. xo

  18. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    It is such a relief to accept the body you were born with and DGAF about what is “supposed” to be. Thanks for spreading the gospel.

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