As a transgender person (or simply put, someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth), I have made a number of decisions in my life to be more comfortable with my body. One of these decisions was to wear a chest binder, which is a garment that is worn to conceal and flatten the appearance of one’s breasts. After experiencing years of depression and dysphoria about my chest, having a binder helped me to feel happier, more comfortable, and certainly more confident. Nonetheless, this is not a garment worn for comfort, as it constricts and literally binds your chest. Consequently, friends will sometimes hear me complaining by the end of the day about the physical discomfort my binder has caused me.
Most understand and are sympathetic. But some, probably well-intentioned but very misguided, opt for a different response. “Why wear it, then?” And the even more dreaded response: “Why can’t you just accept and love your body the way it is?”
Being transgender is not a matter of self-hatred. It is not about punishing my body. And most definitely, I can’t change my gender identity with a simple attitude adjustment. In other words, “loving my body” will not change the fact that I am transgender. And there is ample research that shows the most effective way of coping with gender dysphoria is to transition — not to pretend that everything is okay, or accept your body as it is.
Being transgender is not about what I wish to be, but rather, it is about making a change to reflect what I actually am. Being transgender is not about fulfilling a fantasy to be a boy. I already am a boy. I am simply making changes in my outward appearance to reflect my inner identity.
The reality is, society imposed a gender upon me. It chose for me. It decided the role I would play, and what that role would say about me. And when I was finally in a position to know myself and name myself, it became apparent that what my body told the world about me was not my truth. I am transitioning to proclaim my truth. I am transitioning so that, when I look in the mirror, what I see on the outside is an honest expression of my identity — that what I see in the mirror is truly me.
Asking me to “just love myself as I am” is problematic, in that it assumes that my unbinded chest accurately expresses my identity in the first place. It assumes that “as I am” is congruent with “myself.” It also suggests that transgender people have a character flaw — insecurity and poor self-esteem — rather than a valid identity with a different path to self-realization and fulfillment. That journey, though it may require a social or medical transition (more here), is not an indication of weakness or flaws. Transgender people are diverse in their needs and in their stories, but their being transgender is, in itself, not a character flaw.
Modifying my body to accurately reflect my identity is not an act of self-hatred. It is freeing my body and myself from unwanted misgendering and misinterpretation. It allows me to be seen as I actually am, rather than allowing others to presume how I identify before I’ve had the chance to speak. For me, binding is a gesture of self-love in a society that insisted it could decide for me who I am — before I ever had the chance to proclaim it. I am taking back my body from the social norms and assumptions that dictate my anatomy is my supposed destiny.
And reclaiming my queer body, not loving the body you tell me is mine, is a truly radical act.