I try not to rant too much on my blog, but I’ve kept a lot of my feelings about this inside for far too long, and I also feel that the more people know about the struggles facing transgender people, the more they’re likely to empathize. So, this is what has been a constant source of annoyance for the last 8 months or so:
My life has become a complicated game in which tiny tweaks to my appearance and presentation accompany pretty much any interaction I have with the outside world. I get really tired of playing the “binder, bra, or bare” game of 50 questions with myself every time I need to leave the house, and even sometimes when I don’t. When I get dressed to go anywhere, I have to first ask myself a series of questions each time, to determine what I’m going to be wearing underneath my clothes. Wearing a binder helps me to be seen as male, but also does slow damage to my body. Not wearing one is better for my physical comfort and my health, but can be emotionally distressing and even potentially dangerous in the right circumstances because it can make me “visibly trans”. Given that, here are a few of the things that go through my head any time I want to walk out the front door:
My most common internal questions include:
- Do I need to be seen as male? Female? Does it matter?
- Is it hot?
- Do I have facial hair? If so, do I need that facial hair in the next few days? How annoying will shaving/not shaving be?
- Will I be moving a lot? Exercising?
- Have these people seen me as female before, or at least not binding?
- Will I be in the car for a long time?
- How dangerous is the area?
- Am I likely to run into police or authority figures?
- Am I likely to be networking?
- Are people likely to see me from a distance of closer than 6 feet?
There are countless others, many specific to the given day, season, situation, etc. It gets so old, and every time I have to think about these questions, I feel like I’m basically negotiating with society for the right to exist. Let me break down a few of these questions for you.
Do I need to be seen as male or female?
This is pretty basic – do the people I’ll be interacting with need to see me in a particular way? For situations like work, where I’m not fully out of the closet, I need people to see me as female, so being lazy about shaving isn’t an option. For other situations like a reenactment, not binding isn’t an option. For others, like going to the corner store, it doesn’t matter too much, but I also have to think about how odd I’m going to look as a guy with a week’s worth of a beard and noticeable boobs, and whether I’m likely to visit that store again. That’s right folks, I have to change my clothes just to walk half a block for a gallon of milk.
Is it hot?
Binders can be somewhat dangerous to wear in the best of circumstances, but hot weather can make them deadly. In order for them to be tight and inflexible enough to do their job, they generally don’t breathe hardly at all, holding in body heat and sweat, and their constriction of the lungs and blood vessels mean that it’s harder for your body to cool itself through the usual means. If it’s above 90, there better be a damn good reason I’m subjecting myself to that.
Do I have facial hair? If so, do I need that facial hair in the next few days? How annoying will shaving/not shaving be?
Facial hair helps me pass in a major way, but it also means that if I go much further than my immediate yard without also binding, I’m what some people call “visibly trans”, which is a dangerous thing to be, not to mention uncomfortable and potentially awkward. But, I try to have facial hair or at least stubble when I can for passing’s sake, and almost always for reenactments for the same reason. But, that can come into conflict with things like work, where I literally have to shave twice a day to keep my face from outing me.
Will I be moving a lot? Exercising?
As I mentioned earlier, binders are extremely constrictive, and doctors generally forbid their trans patients from exercising or any sort of heavy exertion while binding. I stretch this rule quite a bit when I reenact, at potential cost to my health – the only other option is for me to take a break from reenacting until after I’ve had surgery, and I don’t know when that will be.
Have these people seen me as female before, or at least not binding?
If the people I’m going to be seeing knew me extensively before I transitioned, or if they’ve seen me when I’m not binding, I will generally just go with a sports bra, as it’s much more comfortable. If the people in question have only ever seen me while binding, or have never met me before, the chest hugger of doom is a necessity.
Will I be in the car for a long time? If so, will there be somewhere to change when I get to my destination?
Sitting in a car in a binder is super uncomfortable and can cut off circulation near my hips if I’m not careful. But, putting a binder on involves stripping to the waist, which means I need access to a bathroom (and don’t get me started on that ball of problems) when I get where I’m going, if I choose to drive without binding.
How dangerous is the area?
Crimes stemming from transphobia are more likely to occur in areas that are already higher than average in crime rate. If I’m wandering around my neighborhood of Hampden or the “gayborhood” of Mt. Vernon, I’m fine, but if I’m going into Greenmount or Hollins Market, you can sure as hell bet that I’ll be choosing a “side” – either shaving and wearing a bra, or binding and hoping that my facial hair is doing it’s job.
Am I likely to run into police or authority figures?
Police are almost never a pleasant experience for trans people. Many of us have faced violence at the hands of the very people who are supposed to be protecting us. Add to that the issues with identification, etc, and it’s unlikely to be a simple, basic interaction. My ID properly lists me as male, but what if I’m coming back from work, where I needed to appear female? Now my ID doesn’t match. I have a little moment of terror every time I think a cop is going to pull me over, even if I haven’t been speeding or doing anything wrong.
Am I likely to be networking?
All my connections made in the last two years have been connections I’ve made since my transition, connections that know me as male. Even if I’m going to a social party, if there are going to be new people there that I don’t know, I have to bind.
Are people likely to see me from a distance of closer than 6 feet?
If I’m going out for a walk in the neighborhood, I can probably get away with neither shaving nor binding, but if I intend on stopping anywhere, or if I think I’ll likely encounter a friend or neighbor who wants to chat, I have to take that into account.
Given all of these factors, is it any surprise that I leave the house a lot less than I used to? I look forward with great anticipation to the day when I no longer have to ask myself these questions every time I want to leave the house. How would your own life be affected if you had to take all these sorts of things into account every time you wanted to walk out the door?