Let’s kick-off February’s theme of Featured Voices: Top Surgery by taking a few steps back from surgery itself. In the beginning, there’s your chest, and your relationship to it. Most people start off binding before they even consider surgery. And for some people, that’s where it ends too; they discover comfort in their body.
Raye‘s tale of the first time they wore a binder reveals why they’re afraid to wear it again, and also, why they’re not afraid of their chest the way it is.
I’m afraid to wear my binder.
I’m afraid to wear my binder.
I’ve had it for a while now. At least a month, I think. Usually with things like this I would have posted a Facebook status, Instagrammed a snapshot; I love sharing these things, love the little ‘pings’ of affirmation I get from every like and comment.
I put it on the day I got it. Some of my roommates were sitting in the dining room and they’re cis so I got to tell them all about binders and what binders are and what they do, and then I put on my binder and came out to show them.
I felt weird, but I ignored it. We talked about the drag show I wanted to do and male body language. “This is going to make my act even better!” I said.
Then I took off the binder and I didn’t put it on again until New Year’s Day. The night before, I was in a bar with some friends, playing shuffleboard and waiting for midnight, and there was a mirror running the length of the wall behind the bar. I looked over and saw myself and didn’t really like what I saw.
I stopped wearing regular bras, oh…almost a year ago? I found this sports bra I really like and now I wear that instead, every day.
And that’s good. I like how my chest looks and it’s comfortable.
But on New Year’s Day I woke up and I wanted to wear my binder and I put it on and it felt GOOD, like it was hugging me, the kind of hug that is just tight enough, like the hug you get from one of your closest friends when you haven’t seen each other for a long time.
I took some photos, finally, and looked at myself in the mirror, and then I thought about how I was going to brunch with some friends and would they notice and did I want them to notice and did I want to talk about the fact that I was wearing a binder and what that meant and did I want to be more Visibly Trans
…and I took it off. My sports bra felt strangely loose and light when I put it back on.
I’m not really sure why I bought my binder. I kind of bought it because I felt like I was supposed to own a binder, even though I don’t experience very much body dysphoria and I like my breasts just fine, though I don’t like showing them off; they’re basically like a chest to me except not flat. But I also bought it because I just kind of wanted one, even in spite of everything I just wrote. I just wanted to have a binder. Just in case. In case I ever wanted to wear one.
So now I own one and I still haven’t worn it out in public and only three people in the world until now know that I own one and have seen me in it.
Part of me hasn’t worn it because I don’t want my breasts to lose sensation and I’ve heard all sorts of things about what binding can do to your body, although I think a lot of that information is related to older-generation binders. Mine is a GC2B.
But really, the reason I haven’t worn it is because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what people will say and what they’ll think; that my cis friends will be weirded out if I start Looking Trans (whatever that even means, and really I should trust my lovely sweet supportive friends, I have no reason not to, so what even is this); I’m afraid that I’ll like it so much that I’ll want to wear it all the time and I don’t want to be squeezed inside a binder every day; I’m afraid of what me liking it might mean; I’m afraid of navigating how wearing a binder will affect and interact with other parts of my Self and my life; I’m afraid that it will make me feel things that I really haven’t felt that much.
And mostly I just want to write this out because sometimes I feel like the dominant narrative of AFAB transness is all about the relief we feel when we put on a binder for the first time, the relief we feel when we change pronouns and change our name, how good it feels to finally be ourselves…
…but I want to talk about the uncertainty, the fear, the intensity, the strangeness. I want to know if other trans people feel these things too. The weird limbo between not relating to ‘she’ and not being used to hearing ‘they.’ The late night or early morning fetal position under the covers freaking out silently in my head that it’s too fast, too soon, too uncomfortable, maybe I should just go back to using ‘she’ because it would be easier for everyone else and then I wouldn’t have to deal with all these questions and face all the feelings bubbling up to the surface. How I cast about in my past trying to piece together all the unnamed feelings and moments and memories, how sometimes I feel like I don’t have a past at all. How trying to reconcile all the different facets of myself feels like an exercise in futility. How sometimes hearing ‘she’ is actually okay, even nice, like a hearing a song I loved for two weeks but haven’t listened to in years.
And how wearing a real binder for the first time didn’t feel like a relief, it felt fucking weird, made me a little panicky, reminded me of that night eight years ago when I was right in the middle of questioning my gender for the first time and I was walking down an aisle in the bookstore I worked in, saw myself reflected in the window, and didn’t even recognize myself for a moment.
But for some reason I still want to wear the binder.
Raye is a queer nonbinary writer and poet living in Seattle, Washington, US. They blog about nonbinary transition and other gender thoughts and feelings at Gender Awesome. They are currently poetry slamming, working on a young adult novel starring a genderqueer teen, and organizing for social justice. Find Raye on Twitter too!
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