Flatland

Flatland

Wotcher!

So I’ve done something recently that I never thought I’d be doing. To be honest, the back of my mind had timidely been flirting with the idea for a while, but for some not good enough reason, it had felt like too big of a thing to actually go ahead and do. It had felt like I wasn’t allowed.

I bought a chest binder.

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A chest binder is an article of clothing that often looks like a tank top or a crop top, specifically designed to flatten your chest. Like so.

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For reference, I am naturally a 32F size. That’s right. I just posted my bra size online. That’s probably a smart thing to do.

Now, why would it take me so long to get myself one of these things? Mainly because binders are traditionally used by the FTM (female to male) trans* community.

All my life I have tiptoed around the edges of transgender, never quite daring to step in. Internalized transphobia, maybe, or simply confusion. If I were completely, definitely, transgender, from one binary to the other, then maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long, and it wouldn’t have been as daunting.

As it was, though, some part of my brain had to be told I was doing it for practical reasons. Bras my size aren’t cheap, and oftentimes don’t work as well as one would hope. A heavy chest pulls on the skin and causes pains when badly supported. With a binder, the weight would be spread out.

The other part of my brain, the one that knew there were other reasons, was scared. This was a dive head first into my trans-ness, a step off the cliff. What if I couldn’t swim? What if I couldn’t fly?

I was shaking when I clicked “confirm order”.

The binder arrived a few days ago and I was rather excited about trying it out. It’s tight, obviously, but not uncomfortable. Certainly more comfortable than high heels and mini-skirts. It’s a bit tricky to put on, a bit tricky to take off, but I seem to be managing better than some other people out there so… sorry guys. Guess I’m lucky. It also led me to notice things I had never paid attention to before. Like my left breast being just a tad bigger than the right. Ah, fun times!

The day went fine. I felt like myself. I felt comfortable. I could look down and see my feet – I have big feet!

When I took the thing off in the evening though, I experienced a slight gender shift, feeling more like the girl me, and I had a pinch of vulnerability. It felt a bit like I’d betrayed or abandoned that feminine part of me. Which is silly but I suppose it’s the lot of genderfluid people.

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I think this moment of distress came from the huge importance I had placed on the binder. Building it up in my mind, like it was something that had the power to change me. It’s not, and I don’t think it’s quite healthy – for me at least – to think of it that way. It’s just cloth. It’s comfortable and it allows me to wear shirts that were designed for male bodies. I genuinely like it. But it does nothing to impact my gender identity. You are not your clothes, surprisingly enough.

Now I’m getting used to thinking of this as just another addition to my wardrobe. Some days I’ll wear a bra, some days I’ll wear a binder. It will depend on the clothes I’ve decided to wear that day, and on my mood. It means I can now feel right and comfortable in clothes from both sides of the shop.

The most important thing is that wearing a binder does not make me any more transgender. Just like wearing a bra does not make me any less transgender. And that is quite a freeing thought, don’t you think?

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A Boy Named Me

A Boy Named Me

Wotcher!

Yup, definitely like this “wotcher” thing. I think I’ll keep it for now. For anyone interested, this is a British colloquial greeting, originating from the South of England – London, mainly – and derived from the phrase “What are you up to?”.
What are you up to?
What ya up to?
Watcha up to?
Wotcher up to?
Wotcher!
And since I am genuinely interested in hearing from you and wotcher up to, it’s quite fitting.
Another reason I now officially love this is that when you type “wotcher” into Google, this blog comes up fourth in line! Ain’t that great, guv’?

Anyhoo – quite like “anyhoo” as well, but we are not getting into that right now or we’ll be here all day.
Today, class, we are going to talk about gender identity. Mine. Yeah, I know, narcissistic much. Hopefully, though, some of my experiences might resonate with some of yours, and that’s just how we create bonds and validation and awareness and all that good stuff.

Now it is not as easy for me to confidently speak up about gender as it is to speak up about, say asexuality. That’s because to some extent, I am still a bit confused about my own gender identity. And I do not wish to convey the misconception that genderqueer people are confused. Just as I don’t want to convey the misconception that asexual people are depressed. It just so happens that I am a mildly confused genderqueer person and an asexual on antidepressants. Coincidental.

Actually, you know what? Scratch that. It’s probably not that coincidental. After all it can be pretty confusing to be genderqueer in a boys v girls, blue v pink, penis v vagina world. After all it can be pretty depressing to be asexual in a half-naked-models-on-every-poster, sex-is-what-makes-us-human world.
Notice how people can flip it around on you? “You’re depressed because of this asexuality nonsense.” “You’re confused because of this genderqueer nonsense.” Well no, actually I’m confused and depressed because of you. You, person who dismisses my experiences as nonsense.

All this raises barriers, both internal and external, that make it harder, but also more important, to talk about these things. I have wanted to discuss gender identity for a long time, so… deep breath… here we go.

I’m a gamer.
This means I go online and play with other people who don’t know my gender or my sex or my hair colour. But while people online would never think of asking “hey, by the way, what’s your hair colour”, the other day, my questing partner – a real nice dude, don’t get me wrong – said this:
“So hey, not to be rude or anything… You’re playing a girl, but are you a girl in real life?”
“There it is,” I said, turning to my partner.
And there it was. Your sex/gender is, for many people, a very important part of how they will think about you. They feel like they need to know this in order to comprehend you as a person. Never would my questing dude have asked me “so you play a Khajiit, but are you a big-ass talking cat in real life?”

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Unlikely.

Here’s another example. Discussing Pink Floyd with a family member, I happen to mention my friend Sam, who loves the Floyd. Sam has an ambivalent name by design. They are agender. Sample dialogue:
“My friend Sam is a huge Pink Floyd fan.”
“Who’s Sam?”
“An online friend, from the forums.”
“Is it Sam-boy or Sam-girl?”
“Uhh,” I say. “Neither. Both. They’re somewhat transgender.”
They’re not transgender, though, that’s not the word Sam would use. But I decide to use it because there is no way in all hell that my interlocutor will have any kind of clue what agender means.
“But do they look like a boy or a girl?”

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This is how important gender is to people. So when you don’t fit into one of these two categories, or when people keep putting you in the wrong one, it can hurt. And when you’re not sure where you fit in all of this, or if indeed you fit at all, it can be confusing.

There are a few things you might want to consider if you’re wondering whether or not you are transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise not cis. Some of which, tested by yours truly…

1. If you’re even asking the question, the answer is probably yes.

It is rather uncommon for cis people to obsess about their gender identity. It happens. Anything can happen. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if your instinct is all like “dude, what’s up with my gender?” then there’s likely to be something up with your gender, dude.

2. Gender dysphoria.

There are two major kinds of dysphoria – that I know of – and I’d like to share my personal experiences with both of them, if you have time to kill before the next train or are looking for a procrastinating opportunity.

Body dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from a dissonance between your outwardly appearance and your inner self.
As a teenager, I was dysphoric about my breasts, which developed annoyingly early and were annoyingly prominent. And so I would stand in front of my bedroom mirror, with my back half turned to it and my breasts tucked away, hidden. I would wear baggy t-shirts and thick sweaters over flattening bras. I would walk with my shoulders in and my back slightly bent. I did this to forget for a few minutes that these things were there, making me a girl, categorizing me.

Social dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from a dissonance between how the world perceives you and your inner self.
It’s the little double-take I have every time a vendor calls me. “Ma’am, can I help you with anything?” Who, me?
It’s the boiling anger when a family member refers to me as a “female Keith Richards” or “Keith Richardette”. Why female? Why can’t I just be Keith Richards, damn it! No, I’m not dressed as a girl version of Oliver Twist. I’m dressed as Oliver Twist!

It might seem trivial, but some people will feel like shit for a month after one of these things happens to them. Thankfully, for me, those are only little things. I can brush them off fairly easily.
On the flip side, my lack of severe dysphoria has made me question the validity of my genderqueerness. It has caused me to ask myself the stupid question that plagues a whole lot of queer people out there: am I queer enough?
After all, any strong dysphoric feelings I had as a teen have receded. Maybe it was just a phase. After all, I don’t really feel like a man either. Maybe I’m just a woman by default. After all, I don’t want to transition. Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel special. After all, after all, after all, maybe not, maybe not, maybe not.

3. Gender euphoria.

dscn1228Then there is the less known, less talked about opposite of gender dysphoria. Which is a shame, because it’s so much nicer. It is a feeling of rightness in the relation between your mind, your body and the way the world perceives you.
I get it when my friend Anna calls me “dude!”
I get it when my clothes reflect the way I feel inside particularly well.
I get it when my brother tells me that he never really thinks of me as a girl. I’m just “Gwen”.
I get it when my partner looks at me and says “Huh. You look kinda androgynous with your hair like that.”
You get it.

These are small things but each of them is a tiny hint, a fuzzy, heart-warming little reminder that yes, this is who I am, this is what I’m comfortable with.

4. There is no wrong age to know.

Even as a kid I knew something was amiss. It started early on and became noticeable in junior high, when a girl becomes a miss and a guy becomes a mister. Then one sunny Spring weekend, my thirteen-year-old self tentatively voiced it.
“Ugh, I wish my breasts would just go away,” I said, or something in French to that effect.
And the grownup, the authority figure in the room, replied:
“Well that’s because you’re still thinking you could have been a boy. It’ll pass.”
I remember being deeply upset by that response. Even then. Even when I didn’t understand exactly why I was upset. All I knew was that I felt angry and offended, sad and dismissed, and for some reason I still can’t quite put my finger on, ashamed.

There is no shame to be had. This is who you are and it’s not a joke unless you want it to be. It’s not unimportant unless you want it to be.

This is who I am.

I am gender ambivalent. Genderfluid. Androgynous. My body is a girl but my mind is kind of a dude. And a girl. And both. You can call me “he” or “she”, and if you enjoy a bit of grammatical fun, why not try a mixture of both?

I am genderqueer. Hear me roar.

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In keeping with the great Internet tradition of offering starchy vegetables in compensation for reading through a very long post, here.

Have a potato.