Featured Voices: I’m Afraid to Wear My Binder

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.

September 2008: My first attempt at binding, using ace bandages over a too-small UnderArmour sports bra.

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.

About Raye

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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14 thoughts on “Featured Voices: I’m Afraid to Wear My Binder

  1. I remember that I had feelings very similar to yours when I became more visibly trans* to others. Once I had my first binder, I wasn’t able to put it off anymore while being around people. But all things are just changing, they do not get better in general at first, it is more like some things get better, or even dissapear but others get worse at the same time. Changes cause new problems, but also show that you are going somewhere. Somewhere else. I wonder how fast I got used to the male pronouns I had chosen for myself, and that I am so pleased to get called like this still and more than ever. In the beginning it was like a little explosion of excitement, now it is the pleasure of something that fits just perfectly. I really enjoyed reading your text, I like the way you write.

  2. I’m just beginning to feel comfortable calling myself genderqueer, and it’s been a weird experience. I feel ready to express my gender but I’m worried about the consequences at work (a semi-national hardware store like Ace) in a state where gender identity isn’t a protected right (but gender is a protected one, which I honestly just want to argue my gender identity IS my gender tyvm). But it’s the same issue; I don’t know how my cis friends/coworkers/family will react and if it will go over well.

  3. This. Sooo much. You described it perfectly. I cannot express to you how comforting it feels to read this and know that I am not the only one. I had been struggling with trying to put it into words, but you did it.
    Thanks and kudos to you.

  4. My transition definitely fell into that traditional trans narrative. Wearing a binder became a necessity for me really quickly, but the more I see people taking an exploratory approach to to gender and less of a “race to the finish” journey, the more I see of people questioning how and why they express their gender. That includes binding. I think it’s important that there’s no wrong way to express your gender identity.

  5. I spent years like that, though it took me until late twenties to actually buy a binder. I just wore loose clothing and tight sports bras and tried to be inconspicuous, even as I slowly, over the years, tried to adjust what I wore and how I did my hair to be more androgynous. The fear still hasn’t gone away.

  6. I totally feel the same way! I also have a binder that I never wear. I just wear sports bras and dont even bother to hide the fact that i have a fuller chest. Sometimes I feel a bit awkward about it, but I kinda feel like that’s because I hate how much our culture sexualizes breasts and not because i actually hate my chest. I identify as agender and I am totally masculine presenting and use neutral or male pronouns, but somehow the binder felt like a step too far. Like it made me feel as if i were going to have to start trying to pass as male full time, which I am not sure is something I want. Anyway, thanks for the article! It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s experience with binding was less than 100% positive.

  7. Thank you everyone for the lovely comments and for reading! It makes me feel really good to know that I am not the only person who has a complex experience with binding. I also resonated with many of the things you all said. It’s so easy to think that I am the only one, but keeping my blog continually reminds me that I’m not, that so many of us have such varied journeys. There is no One Trans Narrative, and that’s beautiful. ❤

  8. I can relate to all of these emotions so well. A narrative I would like expressed more is that of the loss and mourning. Transition is accomplished in so many different ways, but always, in every step of the way, there will be a loss next to the gain. Sometimes it will take awhile to discover what I lost and what I got.
    So yeah, uncertainty is a HUGE part of the process, and it’s a relief to see I’m not the only who likes their chest as it is. 🙂

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I share many of these fears and uncertainties. I do experience physical dysphoria regarding my chest and I’m still afraid to wear a binder. It’s comforting that others feel similarly.

  10. Oh my gosh. This resonated with me a lot.

    I /did/ feel the sense of relief the first time I tried binding, but my relationship with binding is still complicated. I’m afraid to do it. I’ve gone to school and in public binding, and no one ever commented on it or seemed to notice. But when I’m binding, it’s constantly on my mind. I worry about how it looks and if it looks okay and if I’ll like it next time I look in the mirror and how I’ll feel when I have to stop binding and if this is safe to do since I’m closeted and in a transphobic household and will I want top surgery someday…

    More than binding, though, what really resonated with me from your article was this: “The weird limbo between not relating to ‘she’ and not being used to hearing ‘they.’”, and everything else in that paragraph. I know that feeling so, so well. If I had been able to find the words, that paragraph could be something I’d wrote. For a long time after getting my friends to use “they”, it felt strange. “They” felt… foreign, and weirdly impersonal. But “she” was worse. “She” made me feel like I was impersonating someone and I had better not slip up. It was the same with my chosen name (Lea, pronounced Lee) as compared to my birth name.

    So I was in this strange grey zone for quite a while. My old name and pronouns made me miserable, but my new name and pronouns didn’t feel like me. I didn’t feel like I /had/ a true name or pronouns, and it felt terrible, like I wasn’t even really a person. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just stuck to it and soldiered on, hoping someday they’d feel like home to me just like I’d heard other trans/nb people describe.

    Today my hope has come true in some ways and fallen short in others. For my own safety, I have to remain closeted off of the internet and rarely have a chance to hear my chosen name or pronouns. But as I got more used to “they”, “she” started to grate on me more and more. And a couple weeks ago, I realized just how important ‘they’ had become when one of the friends I’m out to was talking about me over text. I was so touched I was on the verge of tears. It happens so infrequently, I’m overwhelmed with emotion whenever it does.

    But, I’m still conflicted about my name. The thought of getting people to call me by it is daunting. “Lea” is a feminine spelling, and people often mispronounce it “Leah”. “Lee”, though, feels too blank. I am overwhelmed with emotion when someone calls me Lea, just like when people use “they”. But it’s hard to tell if that emotion is excitement or something else.

    I have spent so long and expended so much energy hiding who I am that when someone acknowledges my identity, it comes as a shock and feels almost intrusive. There’s an instinctual fear to it just because I know that if I were outed somehow to my parents, I would face very real and very dangerous consequences. I want desperately to be able to live as my authentic self, but the thought also terrifies me.

    …Sorry, I’ve sort of written my own essay, haven’t I? I’ve just never seen an article like this that mirrors my own experiences so deeply. It made me really think about these things and I guess I wanted to get it all down. Thank you for writing this and letting me know that other trans people experience this stuff too.

    It means a lot to me.

  11. Hi, thank you for this. These are like my recent thoughts; now it will be easier to express them myself.
    (Currently in the they/she pronoun weirdness and awaiting the arrival of my first real binder.)

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