"The winner dies" and "Coming out of the closet"

Readers respond to Janelle Brown's report on anorexia and Melissa Levine's story about being straight.

Published July 27, 2001 7:08PM (EDT)

Read Janelle Brown's "The Winner Dies."

Yet another article on anorexia! How exciting! How utterly disappointing as well. It seems that the anorexics and bulimics get all the attention. When is the media going to start covering BED (binge-eating disorder)?

It seems that dying to be thin is in, but dying because of the complications of binge-eating disorder (morbid obesity, heart problems, lung problems, etc.) isn't as glamorous to the media.

It would be nice to start seeing more attention paid to the other end of the eating disorder spectrum. The women in my binge-eating disorder support group and our therapist would be eternally grateful if someone in the media would be brave enough to report on this topic as thoroughly as on anorexia and bulimia.

And before anyone labels me an anorexia or bulimia "basher" I will state that I have suffered with anorexia and bulimia as well as BED since I was 15 years old. In fact, I've been underweight three times between the ages of 15 and 30. And it seems that the "thin" aspect of my disease has always brought me compassionate understanding and people rushing to my side to help me get better. Funny how no one shows the same understanding and compassion when I gain 100-plus pounds in a year. When I gain weight to the point of being morbidly obese, I get lots of "helpful diet tips" from strangers and disgusted looks from people who think me lazy, dirty and stupid.

Maybe if the media started reporting on the struggle of those of us who suffer from BED, people would be less ready to criticize us "fat chicks" for the outward symptoms of our disease. So Salon.com, are you brave enough to give some attention to the "less glamorous" eating disorder?

-- Laurie Dama

Hello, my name is Gabby. I feel that what you wrote is all you! I am anorexic and don't care what it does to me. The feeling of control and power goes beyond what others know who haven't experienced this euphoria. Losing weight and feeling great can't make me any happier or any lonelier than I already am. So to the rest who don't like it, go live your own life and stop worrying about mine!

-- Gabriella Marie

I can't tell you how much I appreciated Janelle Brown's article on "pro-anorexia" Web sites. As the former director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association, I ran a help line for eating disorder sufferers and their families and friends. I grappled daily with the potential dangers of referring people to online support groups and chat rooms. Some find these outlets to be a tremendous source of comfort (for the uninsured and those with HMOs that refuse to pay for treatment, it's often the only affordable source), but so many of these sites are doing more harm than good. As a matter of policy, I only gave out information for Web sites that were monitored by professionals. However, as the article pointed out, it only takes a search engine to find a whole world of self-destructive postings. It is ironic, really. The people who are reaching out are doing so because of the tremendous sense of isolation they feel. But sitting in front of a computer instead of making a human connection with a therapist or a support group is essentially a silent act of solitude.

-- Claire Mysko

It's sad and scary to think that most people who are vocal about protecting children from Web sites (i.e., Dr. Laura and Sen. Joe Lieberman) are focusing 95 percent of their time on porno sites (like being sexual is abnormal) while sick girls are finding ways to trick their friends and family into believing they're not starving themselves. This overlooking of truly dangerous sites also pertains to skinhead recruitment sites and weapon-making ones.

-- Katrina Greschner

Read Melissa Levine's "Coming Out of the Closet -- to Be Straight."

I just wanted to say that this is a wonderful article. It expresses so well the lack of understanding so many people have of their own sexuality, and the constant struggle we have to come to grips with our own feelings. No matter our age or sexual orientation. Sensitive, and strong, and honest. It makes me proud to be me.

-- Jessica Coates

Has Melissa Levine ever considered that the terms "gay" or "straight" are not adequate terms to describe human sexuality or even her own sexuality? I think Levine (and many other people) have the wrong framework in how they think about sexuality. It is far more liberating to see human sexuality as changing and fluid, just like one's identity is ever changing because it depends on historical context and present context. In fact, that's why I use the term "queer" -- to denote fluidity in human sexuality and a kind of quality that cannot be pinpointed definitely.

-- Conal Ho

After reading Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times regarding the subject of men and infidelity and love etc., and also Melissa Levine's column in Salon regarding the different (but related) subject of coming out as straight after years of identifying as a lesbian, I want to chime in.

Don't you feel at all icky to be passing off prejudicial slurs and stereotypes as fact? Sorry, ladies, but men are not all the same; it is not "that simple." We are not all emotionally "unavailable," "predictable" dogs. To hear men referred to as such is akin to me calling all women fragile, emotionally random, gold-digging prostitutes. Either stereotype smacks of sexist bigotry.

Particularly, I doubt that either of these columnists would feel comfortable describing all Italians or Asians or Africans or Canadians as the same. But somehow, in our current culture, it has become acceptable to pass off the motivations and inner workings of another minority, men, as coming from the same predictable place. This prejudice is patently unfair, and doesn't describe reality.

I specifically reject Dowd's notion that one sex is more predisposed to monogamy and nurturing than the other. While I will concede that middle-aged men do cheat more often than middle-aged women, this statistic does not in itself prove anything.

Perhaps the reason that men are more likely to be unfaithful in middle age is because of another stereotype, this one involving women. Biologically, women seem to be attracted most to success, power and wealth -- traits that represent security. Married middle-aged men possess these three gems in statistically higher amounts than younger men. Available women of all ages are therefore more likely to find middle-aged males attractive, hence enabling and empowering these men to flirt and subsequently to cheat.

Paradoxically, males seem to be biologically more attracted to female traits that would point to fertility, such as youth (or health) and vivacity, the things we commonly (and frowningly) refer to as "physical attractiveness." Married middle-aged women are less likely to possess those traits and therefore are not as enabled or empowered to find themselves as attractive as their male counterparts. Hence they don't even attempt extramarital infidelity. I assure you, otherwise they would.

It is an unfortunate fact that women and men both have a propensity to cheat and can both feel trapped in long-term relationships. The difference is that men are more likely to have attractive alternatives (albeit often fantasized ones) as their age progresses.

Among younger people of both sexes, the level of infidelity is closer to equal. The differences that do exist between the sexes in younger age groups appear to be more based on cultural taboos and restraints on women. Melissa Levine talks about the attraction of "incestuous friendships" as a plus of lesbianism. Obviously, she feels that female promiscuity is less frowned upon in lesbian culture than in heterosexual culture, and that is why it is less common than straight male infidelity or homosexual infidelity.

Women want what Dowd calls the "unknowability of new conquests" as much as men do; they are just less likely to feel empowered to follow their urges. However, this doesn't mean that straight women can't or won't follow those urges, as any cursory viewing of "Jenny Jones" will tell you, but that women are more secretive and seductive in their pursuits. They won't necessarily tell their friends or admit them to a pollster.

And since when are sexual fantasies and masturbation evil and worthy of ridicule again? Dowd describes a fictional married man's masturbation to Internet porn and fantasies of a co-worker as "frightening and so banal." Apparently, in Dowd's view men are dogs if they live out the desires that they can't choose to have or not to have, and they are also dogs if they choose to stay faithful and not to act on those desires. This is strangely similar to the Christian right's arguments about homosexuality. In their eyes, it is a sin to act on gay desire and also evil to have the desires in the first place. Sounds like a Catch-22 to me, and it also sounds like prejudice against a minority for a biological factor that is out of their control.

-- Todd Patrick

By Salon Staff

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