Let’s talk about titties. Transmasculine folks seem to spend a lot of energy wishing they were gone, trying to find the best way to hide them, or feeling relieved when they finally attain the ever coveted top surgery. Boobies occupy a lot of mental space in transmasculine communities. How “trans” we are seems to weigh heavily on if we want to hide our chests, get surgery to remove our breasts, or if we proudly wear our boobies out.
My first time wearing a binder was transformative. I remember looking down and being shocked at how “flat” my chest looked- not an easy feat with 38D breasts. I wore the binder when I dressed as a drag king, and then started wearing it daily when I started identifying and presenting as trans. That fucking binder never stayed down, made me sweat in uncomfortable ways, and dug into my shoulders and hips. It restricted my breathing, didn’t help me pass, and in no way made me feel less dysphoric.
So why the fuck did I wear it for four years? Coming out trans surrounded by trans guys who were always talking about saving up for top surgery, or which binder was best, made me feel like I had to want to hide my chest if I was going to fit in with the trans dude crowd. And as I came out as trans in queer communities, I felt that I would be more likely to be “read” as trans by my queer and trans peers if I bound. It didn’t matter that I was totally ok with my chest- I bound because I saw it as a dominant part of transmasculine culture.
Two years ago, I joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I was drawn to the Sisters for their amazing activism and presence in the queer community. Getting any new group of people to read me as trans is hard enough, but it gets even more difficult when you spend most of your time with them in makeup and jewelry. The first few times I dressed in drag, I kept my binder on beneath my outfits, and never wore dresses or skirts. I felt like I had to do something to remind people that I wasn’t a dyke.
The longer I spent with those amazing gender fucking drag nuns, the easier it became to stop worrying about how people perceived my gender. My drag looks got better when I stopped limiting myself for fear of looking “too female.” And as it turns out, dresses look and fit a lot better when you have boobs to fill them out! I started joking that my tits were a fashion accessory. I stopped being shy about “bringing them out” when I faced up as my Sister persona. I even bought real bras for the first time in 3 years- and learned that despite 3 years of binding, my bra size hadn’t changed at all. I finally came to a point where I was comfortable with my femme side.
While recovering from my limp wrist surgery a few months ago, I could only wear sports bras, skirts and yoga pants. Losing the use of one arm limited my wardrobe an incredible amount. For two months, I was force-feminized in my daily life. When I finally got my cast off, I couldn’t wait to dress more butch to be “seen” as trans. But my first day back wearing my binder I realized something: My binder did not somehow make me “more trans.” People did not fuck up my pronouns any less now that my boobs were less obvious.
As a genderqueer person who’s not taking testosterone or planning on getting any sort of surgery, it’s hard to find my place in trans spaces since I’m rarely “read” as trans. Being a fat genderqueer person complicates things further since my hips and ass and chest hardly do me any androgynizing favors. Sometimes it feels like I need to “flag trans” by wearing a binder or dressing masculinely to help people understand that I’m gender variant. Now I realize that all those years of binding weren’t to make me feel more comfortable in my body, but were rather a way for me to feel like I was “fitting in” to what was expected of me as a trans person. Stepping away from those expectations let me realize that my gender is not about pleasing others, but is about doing what’s right for me. Some days I still bind. Other days I wear a skirt. But now my clothing choices are based on what I need to feel like myself that day, not on what I think other people need to see to make me “authentically trans.”