From a young age, hiding my breasts has been a high priority. My desire for a flat chest definitely seemed to coincide with my genderqueer identity, which in my younger years constantly put me at odds with my growing and changing feminine body. Expectations placed on me because of the body I inhabited, like the ideas that I should love my breasts and flaunt them in what I wear with pride, restricted me and made me feel strange about my opposite desires. If anything, I wanted to escape from my body, leaving any semblance of a breasts far behind and tucked under layers and layers of clothing.
Once I put a name to my gender identity and met like-minded people, the expectations changed drastically to be the exact opposite: as a genderqueer or transmasculine person AFAB (assigned female at birth), you were expected to rock a flat chest. The best way to achieve this more masculine and appropriate look? Through using a chest binder, of course. With so many of my friends binding on the regs, I quickly warmed up to the idea of making my breasts virtually disappear with a small piece of stretchy fabric.
I researched binders of all cuts and designs, and even found a merman-scaled one I was hellbent on owning. Yet, I just could not bring myself to hit the “checkout” button. And I wasn't sure why. I was convinced that I couldn't truly be happy without one (as that is the case for a lot of individuals). I also held the notion that I would somehow be less authentic as Meg and as a genderqueer person if I didn't bind. Lastly, I felt I owed it to myself to at least try something that gave others in my life so much satisfaction. But all the health risks of binding, found online and on the bruised skin of my friends, made me too nervous to take the plunge. I didn't want to hurt myself, but I wanted to feel like I was in the right body. I felt like I was at a crossroads: between what I wanted and what I thought I should want based on how I identified.
I exist between the binaries, between femininity and masculinity, and perhaps my body — including my breasts — needs to reflect that.
I never bought the binder, but I was still curious. A few weeks ago, with the help of my partner, I fashioned a DIY binder out of some sex tape from Babeland (which is a method that isn't actually that much more dangerous than using a binder, according to doctors). And it hurt. My skin felt pressured, and my breathing was labored and limited, just like the websites warned. Honestly, I didn't have it on for more than 10 minutes, so maybe I would've gotten used to the feeling. I also could have wrapped it way too tightly.
But the pain didn't discourage me, as it isn't uncommon. It was after I looked in the mirror that I got a profound sense of “this isn't right for me.” Turning towards my reflection excitedly, my face fell quickly as I saw myself, completely flat-chested, staring back. I grew disappointed, as I hoped the image of my new self would give me the joy and the feeling of wholeness in my body that I had been searching for since puberty. Instead, it made me feel worse, and even less in my body than before.
I hate wearing busty shirts, and hardly ever do so because it makes me feel so dysphoric. But looking at myself post-binding, I felt even worse. Like somehow, I wasn't being kind to my body by binding or by wanting my breasts to disappear. Like somehow the way I look in compression and sports bras makes me feel way better than in a push-up bra or chest binder. I exist between the binaries, between femininity and masculinity, and perhaps my body — including my breasts — needs to reflect that.
Gender is oh so complicated, especially for gender nonconforming people who often exist without binaries or extremes. Figuring out what makes you feel like your most authentic and beautiful self takes work, but don't let your gender identity limit you. From one GNC person to another, I want to say It's totally OK not to want to bind. We are genderqueer, after all. We make the rules as we go along. Sometimes it's frustrating not to have a body that's so simple. But at the same time, that's what makes unique and especially lovely.
Images: Meg Zulch