Throughout my life, my relationship with breasts and brasseries has been complicated due to reasons of comfort, aesthetics, and gender. But over the past year, my decision to stop wearing bras (save for a few sports bras or bralettes here and there) has certainly changed my life for the better. Despite some people's criticism of my choices, I love going braless. I find bras to be super uncomfortable (including ones that flatten my chest), and the ones with under-wiring tend to make my boobs look larger — something that makes me feel uneasy in my genderqueer body. So on most days, I abandon them entirely.
In sick twist of contradiction, however, going braless means all eyes are regularly on me; or my chest, to be exact. In an attempt to be more comfortable and to be acknowledged less often for my feminine figure, I have ironically brought even more attention to myself. It's the main thing I have learned about going braless, and the only element of this act that I hate.
I've received many pieces of unsolicited advice about this, with folks both in my life and on the internet telling me that the easy fix is to just give in and wrangle my free-hanging boobs once again. After all, it's grossly "inappropriate" that I even walk around without a bra on to begin with.
The only problem is that I don't want to change my preferences in order to conform to the standards of others. Gender expectations regarding beauty and appearance are nonsensical, and are especially lost on someone who has feminine expectations prescribed to their genderqueer body. I'm not the one in the wrong for making decisions that help me feel positive about my presentation. But I'm still reminded on most days that I'm damned if I wear a bra and damned if I don't.
When I used to wear bras, my breasts were more supported, and therefore bouncier, more noticeable, and accented by generous cleavage. Personally, I don't favor this look at all for body image reasons closely associated with my gender. Plus, the extra attention I received from male passersby in particular didn't help me in my self-consciousness regarding my feminine body.
However, walking around with my boobs loose under my shirt means I now catch the attention of almost every man I pass on the street. Unable to break their gaze from my happily bouncing breasts as I walk to class or work, I wonder if they're truly astonished at my chest construction, or they've just never seen a Real Live Boob without a bra holding it back.
On some days, I can laugh off the stop-in-your-tracks ogling. But most of the time, I cover my chest with my arms to repel people's glances. Being stared down and catcalled can feel violating to anyone. But for me, this kind of attention serves as a taunting reminder that I have breasts. I have a body part most often defined as a core characteristic of women, even though I do not identify as such.
The wide-eyed gazes and sexual comments of people around me are further evidence that I'll likely continue to be sexualized as a woman as long as I don't conform exactly in accordance with the definition of masculinity: A definition I've stretched and revised to fit my own queer identity.
I shouldn't have to cover up my "femininity" to feel safe or to avoid attracting the uncomfortable attention of random individuals. Yet even though I'd like to see my unconfined breasts as something as gender-fluid as myself, there's no questioning that society labels them as something inherently female.
There's really no reason breasts can't be masculine, though. After all, our bodies and presentations can and should take the form of whatever gender we identify with. In the confines of my own home and in the bedroom, I know that my breasts can be and usually are masculine. But on the street, I can't take that power back from the men shouting obscenities at me while objectifying what they think is my female body. Until things change on a deeper social level, all I can do is mentally distance myself from the outside world.
It's frustrating when my perception of masculinity (in this case, being free from the confines of a bra) is mistaken for femininity. But as I feel my breasts jiggle and bounce on the street, catching the reflection of my lower-hanging boobs unhindered by the support of the bra in a window, I feel beautiful in my body. My body is comfortable, lovely, and genderqueer. And no matter what I wear (or don't), I deserve to move through the streets feeling safe and at one with my physical form. Maybe I can't change the individuals around me, but I can remind myself of this every day and feel all the stronger for it.
Images: Meg Zulch