Binding While Broke: I Tried All These Cheap(ish) Chest Binders so You Don’t Have To!

The image features two characters talking. One says to the other, "My binder is so old I can put it on over my head!" They laugh together.

Comic via Tumblr

So if you didn’t know, I got married last Saturday! Hooray! It was magical, and queer, and everything I had hoped it would be.

(And if you somehow missed the momentous announcement, this is a great opportunity to like our Facebook page so you’ll never miss another update like this again. Harhar.)

As someone who is trans and has a lot of dysphoria around my chest, one of my biggest concerns for the wedding was finding the right binder. It had to be comfortable enough to wear for the entire day, offer excellent compression for all of those wedding photos, and breathe so I could bust out my best dance moves without feeling gross. It also had to accommodate my larger chest and tummy.

Most importantly, it had to be cheap, because, like many trans folks I know, I have very little money.

For the last year, in anticipation of my wedding, I’ve been trying out a whole assortment of binders. And as a service to those of you who are broke but still wanting to bind, I thought I’d review three of the binders that I think are worth knowing about.

For the record, I’m not getting paid to review any of these binders… though if I’m being honest I totally wish I was (hit me up; I’ll be waiting!). I’m doing this because I know what it’s like to desperately need a binder but wonder if emptying out my wallet was really worth it.

From least impressive to most, here are the three cheapest (but still reputable) binders I could find, and how they held up:

Tri-top Chest Binder from Underworks

tritop

My smile is deceiving: This binder is a pain!

Compression: 5/5

Comfort: 2/5

Mobility: 2/5

Price: $30 + shipping

The tri-top is a really popular binder, priced at around 30 dollars. It’s often the first one that folks will try out because it’s such a recognizable name. But despite its popularity and hype, I’m personally not a fan.

The compression was superb; I am a very busty queer and getting things to flatten out is a real challenge. If your primary concern is compression, you won’t be disappointed.

It is an enormous challenge to squeeze into at first, but overtime, this binder will lose some of its shape; great, because it’ll be easier to get on, but not-so-great, because it will also lose some of that impressive flattening. This is the case with most binders, but it’s a complaint that I hear about tri-tops most often.

Even with its magical compression, I couldn’t get past how uncomfortable this binder was. The material has very little give to it, my mobility and breathing were noticeably restricted, and no matter how many hours I spent in it, it wasn’t the kind of binder that I “forgot” I was wearing – I seemed to be aware of its annoying presence almost constantly.

Even after trying a couple different sizes to ensure I had the right one, it never felt right. It’s a basic binder that is fine for shorter hours of use, but it’s not a binder I find myself wearing often, if ever.

Overall, I wouldn’t say this is the worst binder. It’s just not an exceptional one. It’s worth noting that there are folks who absolutely love the tri-top, and it tends to rate highly, so as with any binder, what it really comes down to is personal preference.

Just not my cuppa tea, it seems.

Extreme MagiCotton Sports and Binding Bra from Underworks

The image features the author waving a rainbow flag and saluting.

Thought I should look as queer as possible for this photo. Featuring: The binding bra!

Compression: 3.5-4/5* (depending on cup size)

Comfort: 4.5/5

Mobility: 5/5

Price: $35 + shipping

This is one of the best kept secrets of the binding world. Because this is marketed as a bra, most folks miss this one entirely. But if you’re binding or interested in trying it out, you need to know about this binder’s existence.

I first heard about this from a couple of trans guys who were buying these damn things in bulk because they were great for working out. A traditional binder just doesn’t offer enough mobility for exercise, so they sought out something specifically designed with athletes in mind.

In the time since I first wrote about this binder on Tumblr, I’ve found out that folks who have chronic pain and can’t wear traditional binders have also started trying this one out. I can confirm, as someone with on-and-off pain in my shoulder from an injury, that this is an option worth looking at if you need a binder that’s less harsh on your body.

An additional benefit for some is that, if you are still not out as trans and living under your parents’ roof, this passes easily as a sports bra and won’t raise any red flags.

The downside is that because of its stretchy material, you might not achieve the same level of compression, depending on your cup size. As a larger-chested queer, I definitely wouldn’t wear this binder if I needed complete and total compression, but I can assure you, smaller-chested folks need not worry about this.

With a little bit of layering, this can totally work as an everyday binder for larger-chested cuties; with a smaller chest, layering isn’t necessary at all.

I love this binder, and I wear it when I’m exercising or when my body needs to recover from a couple days of more intense binding. I now consider it an essential in my closet.

It’s important that we take care of our bodies as we bind; binding definitely takes a toll. I’d recommend that everyone who’s interested in binding give this one a shot, especially if comfort is your primary concern.

GC2b Half Binder from GC2b Transition Apparel

weddingphoto

Before the wedding ceremony! Featuring: The GC2b!

Compression: 5/5

Comfort: 4-4.5/5* (depending on size)

Mobility: 5/5

Price: $33 + shipping

Let this photo from my wedding speak for itself.

There’s Ray on the left (my spouse, whoa) and me, wearing the GC2b, on the right. This binder not only made my chest look terrific, but I was able to dance at my reception and party the night away, comfortably and happily. I forgot I was even wearing a binder.

Seriously, I forgot. It was amazing.

And, y’all, you would have never guessed that I have a large chest, right? It’s magic.

I’d first heard about this binder through a rave review at Autostraddle, and from there I kept seeing gushing reviews popping up all over the net. I was skeptical, but as it turns out, I didn’t need to be – this binder is fabulous.

The design is quite brilliant and one of the reasons why folks are so excited about it. There is a panel on the front that flattens, but the material on the back is more of a stretchy mesh – which means the binder can expand and contract as you breathe, but the front will still compress just the same. It also means it’s more flexible than your typical binder, making it easier to get on and off.

This thing is comfortable as all get out, which, if you didn’t know, binding is seldom a comfortable affair. I was amazed that this was nearly as comfortable as the binding bra I mentioned previously, but was much more effective at compressing.

There are some downsides – the cut won’t work for everyone, especially us chunkier babes who may find there’s some arm spillage or a little more pressure around our ribs depending on sizing. I’m actually in-between sizes, so I own both a large and extra large (the large for when I want extra compression, the extra large when I want more comfort).

It’s a lower cut, which I recognize can be a good AND bad thing. Good so that you can rock that v-neck with no problem, but bad if you’re dysphoric and the last thing you want to see is cleavage when you bend over or take your shirt off.

That being said, this is now my favorite binder and the one I rely on for near-daily use. Usually you have to sacrifice some compression for comfort or vice versa, but I find that it binds exceptionally well without sacrificing your comfort or safety.

This binder gets my absolute highest recommendation. I’ve heard mixed reviews here and there, but I’m in love with this binder and I think it lives up to the hype.

* * *

But, hey, wait. Before you run to grab your debit card, here’s some shit I want you to know:

First of all, binding isn’t a walk in the park. It can leave you feeling a bit sore, constrained, and uncomfortable. But that being said, if binding is causing you a noticeable amount of pain, you, my friend, need a different size or a different binder altogether.

Do not settle for pain or think that pain is a necessary part of binding. Binding shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t make it difficult to breathe.

Too many people – particularly trans folks – are somehow convinced that hurting themselves is just part of the process when, in fact, it shouldn’t be.

It’s also worth knowing that a binder could be recommended a thousand times over, but it just might not be a good fit for your body. The tri-top comes with some serious praise, but no matter how I contorted my body and what size I tried, it just didn’t work for me.

In other words: It’s silly to think that there is one binder that’s ideal for every single person. It’s just a series of trials and errors before you get something that works for you.

Lastly, I recognize that 30-35 dollars isn’t “cheapish” for everyone (and honestly, it’s a stretch even for me these days). So I want you to check out Micah’s list of binder resources over at Neutrois Nonsense (and just familiarize yourself with Micah’s work because it’s fantastic), which includes some binder exchange programs.

I also hope folks will weigh in via comment if they know of any great initiatives that help increase access to binders or have any thoughts about binding more generally.

That’s it for now! I’m off to enjoy my “honeymoon” now (ie Netflix, eating leftover wedding cake, and cuddling with my sweetie, because what else could a queer need?).

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If I’m a Stranger Now, I Will Be a Stranger Forever (Reflections on Testosterone)

A cursive lettered tattoo that reads,

My favorite tattoo and my simplest one, too. A reminder.

I was at a poetry reading when an older butch woman sat down next to me and started to talk to me about her experiences in the lesbian communities of San Francisco.

Typical Bay Area. Queers chatting up queers. And for a little while, it was just an ordinary conversation for two gays in the Bay.

But then I looked at her. I mean, really looked at her. I saw the creases in the corners of her eyes, the years settling into her smile, her pixie cut graying.

“I wonder who I’ll be when I’m her age,” I innocently thought to myself. “I wonder how I’ll look…”

That’s when I panicked. I faked an important text message, pretending that some urgent situation had suddenly arisen. I picked up my things, said a hurried goodbye, and took a long, solitary walk on a hiking trail nearby.

It wasn’t getting older that scared me, per se, but the thought that I might spend the rest of my life being seen as a woman, as something I was not. It was the idea that I would be trapped in a body that felt alien to me well into old age, and with it, bearing a lifetime of misgendering, dysphoria, and invisibility.

I had a tendency to only think of my life in terms of the here and now – something of a survival skill I’d perfected after years of living with bipolar disorder.

But the thought that I would endure this kind of pain for life, the pain of being alien to oneself and misgendered by everyone else, made me realize that my transition wasn’t just about the here and now.

I could survive in this body today, but what about five years from now? Ten years from now? Twenty?

Could I really do that? When I reach the end of the line, counting down the days in my old age, when I look in the mirror, who do I want to see staring back at me?

And while I could nurse my wounds each time I heard “she,” and I could pick myself up when my dysphoria knocked me down, and I could swallow my pain and shelve it for a more convenient time, it finally occurred to me that it was not something I could keep doing for the rest of my life.

Today, maybe. Tomorrow, maybe. But all the tomorrows to come, all of the days I have left?

As adamant as I was about staying put, fear shackling me in place, I’d forgotten how the world still moves forward, with or without me.

And it was there in the woods, the smell of eucalyptus hanging in the air around me and my heart pounding through my bound chest, that I promised myself that I would put the gears into motion.

I promised myself I would get on testosterone.

/

Transition is not always simple, and not always certain.

Sometimes transition is guesswork – discarding what you are not to get closer and closer to what you are. Sometimes transition is not precise, just in the way that the beautiful pictures in our minds are never quite as beautiful when we manifest them on the page.

Being non-binary, neither a man nor a woman, is something like that. It’s knowing what I am not, and creating new spaces, new expressions, new ways of being to get closer to what I am.

I avoided testosterone for a long time. I thought, “Why should I have to choose? Can’t I just be?” It took years before I understood that not taking testosterone was just as much a choice.

There is risk in not acting. There is risk in staying the same.

Just because it isn’t precise, that doesn’t make the endeavor less worthwhile.

So I take another step. I throw another dart with the hopes it’ll strike near the target. I pick up the brush and let it kiss the canvas.

Gender has always been intangible. And when dealing with the intangible, we use what tools we have to articulate our truth – the closest approximation.

/

This September, I am starting testosterone.

I know, I know. I’m genderqueer. “If you’re not a man and you’re not a woman, what’s the difference?” they might ask. “Why do this?”

Because standing still and wishing away the pain will not douse the fire.

Because if I’m a stranger now, I will be a stranger forever.

Because all I can do is stumble my way through and hope that, on the other side of this, there is a reflection staring back that no longer scares me.

Because they will not bury me with breasts. Because they will not bury me under a false name like they did to Leelah. Because they will not mistake me for a woman at my funeral. Because they will not bury me in someone else’s body when I die.

Because of all the tomorrows that are coming.

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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik (http://www.jessicakrcmarik.com)

How Did You Know You Were Non-Binary?

Header illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

I was watching an episode of Bones, oddly enough, when I first realized that I might be transgender.

No, I’m not kidding. I wish it were a more exciting story, but I have to be honest. I was just sitting on my couch, watching television, when the light bulb began to flicker.

In this particular episode, there was a distinguished anthropologist who had joined the team temporarily to help solve a case. I remember, vividly, the first moment that I saw this anthropologist on screen. They were androgynous — visibly outside the binary, sending the other characters into a complete panic as they tripped over pronouns and social conventions.

My heart raced throughout the entire episode. I don’t remember the murder, much less who the culprit was, but I do recall how captivated I felt by this character and their androgyny.

And then there was a thought that bubbled to the surface, one that changed my life.

“I want to be them.”

I wanted to be this person. Desperately. No, not an accomplished scientist, though that would be cool. I wanted to be androgynous and have everything that I imagined went with it.

I thought about how I might achieve that androgynous look, to confuse others and exist beyond categorization. But more than that, I wanted the freedom I felt they had — the freedom to be who they were without others forcing a label onto them.

Maybe I felt this way because, for a long time, I could feel so many gendered assumptions being forced onto me.

“Woman” had always felt like a filter that reduced me somehow, like it diluted me or masked me. I felt like an outsider to it, like it was a story I was told but never believed with any certainty. I had been wrestling with my gender, trying to fit in or at least coexist with it, but instead I came up empty and I didn’t know why.

I didn’t know at that time who or what I was. But I had a sense of what I was not. And I had known, for a long time, that I was not what people told me I was. I felt lonely and misunderstood without the words to express why. There was something about being perceived as a girl, and then as a woman, that made me feel alienated.

The image features the author, Sam, looking down contemplatively. I often wished that these labels didn’t exist at all; being called a woman was like being backed into a corner I couldn’t get out of, and the sense that I was trapped was, at times, suffocating.

I took baby steps at first. I cut off my hair and immediately felt a weight lifted. I stopped wearing makeup. And I started reading up about androgyny, contemplating my next move. And then something amazing happened — I met someone like me.

I met Ray, a genderqueer classmate who, much like the character in Bones, was spectacularly androgynous. And again, I could feel my heart bursting at the seams. I was envious, too, of how they seemed to blur so many boundaries. I thought of how liberating it must feel. I thought of how much I wanted to be rid of the labels that made me feel so uncomfortable.

Ray gave me resources, guidance, support, and yes, the language that I needed to begin to describe how I felt. I finally understood. I was drawn to androgyny — people like the doctor on Bones, Ray, and other queer people that I met not long after — not because of how they looked, but because my assigned gender itself was making me unhappy.

I realized that I wasn’t a woman because I knew, on an intrinsic level, that this did not align with how I experienced my gender and myself.

The discomfort with parts of my body and how I was seen, the deep longing for escape, the sense that I didn’t belong, the inexplicable sense that I was misunderstood, the painful desire to be “something else” but not knowing what that was, and finally, the uncontainable excitement that I felt each time I met someone who was visibly androgynous made me realize that I felt this way because my gender was something other than what I had been told.

Maybe I had other options. Maybe, instead of calling myself a woman, I could embrace this androgynous space that I felt so at home in.

I was transgender, and at age 19, I finally understood.

I knew that this angst around being seen as a woman, and my fantasies about “escaping” my assigned gender, meant that something was not aligning with how others saw me and how I really saw myself.

It’s hard to explain how we know our own gender. It’s often just a sense of who we are, filtered through culture and the words we have available to us. We know, with tragic cases like that of David Reimer, the existence of third and even fourth genders around the world, and the countless stories and experiences of transgender people, that gender is more than just anatomy.

But with something so intangible, it can be difficult to express who we are. When the language around gender is still evolving, we are limited in what we can say. It’s approximations, it’s our best guess, it’s prodding at the unknown.

So here’s what I know: Each step I took towards the gray — the in-between, the neither here nor there — made me feel more comfortable, more at home, more whole. And calling myself genderqueer has been perhaps the most honest thing I’ve ever said.

Identifying as non-binary was my way of saying to the world, “I know what I am not. And I am on a journey to discover what I am.”

I am still on that journey. And the excitement I felt when I saw that androgynous scientist for the first time is now the excitement I get to feel each day, when I get closer and closer to articulating what it is I feel and who it is I want to be.

There is a conviction I cannot shake, one that urges me forward, a certainty in my bones that tells me that who I am exists beyond this binary. A binary that, no, cannot contain me and no, was never meant to.

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5 Ways to Support a Trans Person Experiencing Body Dysphoria

Cross-posted via Everyday Feminism

My partner is pounding on the door, begging me to unlock it.

I’m sitting in front of a tall mirror, tears falling quietly down my face, as I clutch my shirt in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other.

The amount of panic my chest has caused me in the last three months has reached a breaking point. I stare, helplessly, at a body that both confuses and terrifies me.

As I look at myself, my body trembling, I’m reminded of the times as a child when I would take the heads off of my Lego characters and place them on different bodies – only this time, the stakes are real, and the stakes are high.

I can recognize my face, but everything else feels so, so wrong.

My partner manages to pick the lock, and they push through the door. Their eyes widen with horror as they realize I’ve been drinking to cope with my dysphoria. They take the bottle from me, and I listen as they hurry down the hall, pouring the vodka into the bathroom sink.

They return and, helping me stand up, wrap a blanket around me, help me into bed, kiss my forehead and say, “I’m not angry. I’m just concerned.” As I mutter a drunken apology, they sigh, propping me up with another pillow. They squeeze me gently.

“We’re going to watch Netflix, we’re going to relax, and everything is going to be okay.”

* * *

Being a trans and genderqueer person who regularly experiences body dysphoria has been a challenge that few people in my life have felt prepared for.

Coping with body dysphoria, let alone helping someone cope, is not something we’re taught or expect to encounter.

Most who know I experience dysphoria never anticipate the extent to which it impacts my life – at my worst, I can spend days holed up in my apartment, suffer panic attacks in the shower, and before I got help, I could even turn to alcohol to cope.

While friends and loved ones can’t take my dysphoria away, they can help me to cope in healthier ways and ride out the inevitable waves. With the support of folks who loved me, we have learned together the best ways to manage my dysphoria – and it has made a huge difference in my life.

So if you’re wondering how to support a trans person in your life who is experiencing body dysphoria, this list of five tips is a great place to start.

1. Engage Compassionately and Validate Their Experience

No two bouts of dysphoria are identical.

The spectrum of emotions we experience with dysphoria can vary time to time, person to person, or even episode to episode. The severity can also range from mild to severe.

Some days, we might feel comfortable in our skin; other days, it can be intolerable.

Keeping all of this in mind, regardless of the severity or focus, it’s vital to validate that person’s experience.

“Is it really that bad?” is never an okay response. “Why can’t you leave your apartment?” is not an okay response either. And “Get over it, we all have insecurities” is absolutely, 100% an awful response.

All of these responses trivialize this person’s pain and suggest that what they are feeling isn’t worth caring about.

What a trans person needs from you is validation.

“I’m sorry this is happening” or “That sounds really awful” are responses that acknowledge this person’s pain – and moreover, validate that it is real and important. This is what we, as trans folks, need from our supporters.

Remember, too, that body dysphoria can impact more than just trans women and trans men. A whole range of identities – including genderqueer folks, agender people, neutrois, bigender, and so on – can all experience dysphoria.

The bottom-line is that every instance of dysphoria is valid and important, no matter who is going through it or how they experience it.

So, please, don’t interrogate, don’t argue, and don’t invalidate. We need—nay, deserve—your compassion.

2. Ask How You Can Help

Every trans person is different, and sometimes what helps us through our dysphoria can vary.

Keeping that in mind, asking the expert – the trans person themselves – is a great place to start if you’re looking to help someone cope with dysphoria.

Some trans folks need to get out of the house to do something fun, while others would shudder at the thought of being in public. Some trans folks might find talking through their dysphoria to be comforting, while others will only be more upset if they engage in a long conversation about it.

It’s best to ask folks what they need when they’re experiencing dysphoria. It’s as simple as saying, “How can I help right now?”

My partner knows that when the dysphoria comes a’knockin’, we’re going to be spending our night watching Parks & Rec or playing Nintendo. Bonus points if there’s popcorn involved.

In some instances, a trans person may need help setting up a GoFundMe for top surgery or may need to brainstorm how to start HRT. Maybe they need help saving up for a new binder. But not every trans person will opt for these things, however. Instead of suggesting a specific intervention, allow them to bring it up. If it’s on their mind, they will tell you so.

Bear in mind that sometimes we don’t know what we need. And that’s okay! That’s when the next tips come in handy.

3. Suggest Distractions or Fun Activities

Bust out the coloring books. Marathon your favorite movies. Order Thai food and play a board game. Brainstorm some fun distractions that can get their mind off the dysphoria – and if there are laughs involved, that’s even better.

Make sure the activities you suggest aren’t triggering.

For example, getting into a swimsuit and going to the pool isn’t always the best idea if you’re having dysphoria related to your body.

Similarly, going to a funhouse full of mirrors might not be so much fun for someone who wants to take their mind off of their body.

If you’re selecting a movie, a documentary about plastic surgery might not be the best choice.

Try to choose an activity that is both enjoyable and far removed from the crisis at hand.

And remember that sometimes we’re not in the mood for fun stuff. If that’s the case, a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on can be just as helpful, too.

4. Send (Or Bring!) Them a Self-Care Package

Care packages are awesome. They can include delicious snacks, lotions or soaps, cuddly stuffed animals, a favorite movie or book, a journal to write down our feelings, crayons or colored pencils and a sketchbook, or anything you can think of that might be comforting.

Sometimes trans folks don’t want visitors when they’re feeling dysphoric. That’s important to respect – and a great reason to opt for a self-care package if they’re not looking to hang out.

Mailing it or leaving it on their porch (with permission) is a great way of saying, “I care and also respect your boundaries.”

If you know that they aren’t in the mood to cook, you can also offer to send them food from their favorite takeout restaurant – or deliver a meal to them yourself.

If all else fails, an e-gift card to a favorite store can encourage them to treat themselves, and it doesn’t require the creativity of assembling a care package yourself.

5. If Needed, Encourage Them to Seek Help

The day after I drank vodka to cope with my dysphoria, my partner sat me down and helped me schedule a therapy appointment.

Dysphoria is a beast – and sometimes that beast takes more than just willpower to tame.

If your loved one is engaging in harmful or unhealthy coping behaviors, or is grappling with suicidal ideation, it’s time to seek outside help.

A trans-competent therapist, for example, can be an important safety net for a trans person coping with dysphoria; a local support group at an LGBTQIA+ community center can also be a great resource.

In the case of dysphoria accompanied by suicidality, contacting the Trans Lifeline Hotline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (call 1.800.273.8255 in the US), or if there is a plan and intent to act, calling 911 may be a necessary step. Transgender folks are especially vulnerable as suicide is too often a silent killer in our community.

Sometimes the very best thing you can do for someone you love is encourage them to seek out the resources and support that they need to ensure their wellness in the long term.

* * *

My partner did everything right that night when I made the mistake of drinking to deal with my dysphoria.

They didn’t waste time questioning the legitimacy or extent of my struggle. They didn’t invalidate my pain. Instead, they compassionately expressed their concern without placing judgment on me or my choices. And after making sure I was safe, they helped by comforting me and distracting me.

When the dust settled, they encouraged me to reach out for the professional support that I needed to ensure that nights like these would not happen again.

Dysphoria can be painful, and at times, traumatic. That being said, the support of a loved one can make all the difference.

You may not be able to take away the pain and discomfort that comes with body dysphoria, but with compassion and respect, you can help make the burden just a little bit easier for us to carry.

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7 Ways to Lovingly Support Your Gender Non-Binary Partner

This is a piece I posted over at Everyday Feminism that I wanted to cross-post here. This advice, while geared towards romantic partners, can more generally be applied to anyone who has a gender non-binary person in their life.

The image features the author, Sam, playfully biting his partner's face while his partner appears both confused and amused.

My fiance, Ray, and I. Yes, I am biting Ray’s face. Yes, there was consent.

I still remember the moment I came out as genderqueer to my then-partner. I was finally sharing a deep and important truth about myself: I was ready to transition and was overjoyed at the prospect of having my partner by my side.  

But for him, my transition was threatening.

“I just wouldn’t find you attractive anymore,” he told me.

That was all he would say about the matter. My heart broke that day.

While his sexual preferences are his prerogative, he had failed to be supportive. That made me afraid to transition. I was afraid of being abandoned, afraid that I could not be loved as I was.

I never brought it up again and delayed my transition until our eventual breakup a year later.

Partners can have a big impact on our transitions, for better or for worse. A partner’s reaction to our coming out can devastate us – as in my case. My partner’s reaction made me fearful that transitioning would ultimately result in tragedy.

I thought that it was better to live a lie than live without the person I loved, and that was not only unfair, but it was also untrue. It wasn’t my transition that was the problem – it was my partner’s lack of understanding and empathy for what I was going through.

Rejecting our transition is rejecting who we are on a deep and essential level, and the pain that comes with that can be agonizing.

But when our partners support us through this experience, it can make all the difference. It can make what can be a frightening beginning evolve into a beautiful journey.

This is why it’s so important to learn how to best support your non-binary partners.

If you are a cisgender partner looking to be supportive of your non-binary partner, you’ve already taken the first step. Making a commitment to being there for the person you love can make all the difference.

With that in mind, here are seven ways that you can support your non-binary partner:

1. Do Listen to Your Partner – Don’t Invalidate Their Experiences

If your partner has trusted you enough to talk about their gender and their experiences as non-binary, it is important not to break that trust.

If you aren’t non-binary, or even if you are, you may not relate to or understand everything your partner is saying. That understanding will come with time. Your job, for now, is to listen and validate those experiences.

Remember: This is your partner’s lived experience. And living as non-binary and coming out are often difficult experiences.

So telling your partner that their gender isn’t real, that it sounds absurd, or that you don’t believe what they’re saying are all offensive and awful responses. Your partner’s gender identity is for them to declare – and not for you to interrogate.

If your partner is coming out, believe them. If they are sharing something they have lived through, believe them.

A supportive partner is a partner that doesn’t undermine, talk over, or insult their non-binary partner. A supportive partner will do exactly that – support them.

Simply validating your non-binary partner’s experiences can go a long way.

2. Do Be Honest About Your Feelings – Don’t Prioritize Your Feelings Over Your Partner’s

You are allowed to be afraid. You are allowed to be confused. You are allowed to be sad.

Your partner’s identity can have an impact on your relationship, and that can bring about a lot of changes that are intimidating and even scary.

You should be honest about how you feel and talk about your feelings. However, it’s important that when you do disclose how you feel, you are doing it at the right time and aren’t prioritizing your feelings over your partner’s.

For example, when I came out to my ex, he didn’t offer his support or engage with what I had said.

Instead, he prioritized his feelings over mine. He de-centered a conversation about my identity, and instead, refocused it on himself, without indicating that he had heard what I said or cared.

Instead, think of phrasing it this way: “Thank you for trusting me with this. I am completely supportive of your transition and believe you should do what you need to do to be happy. I have some fears, but we can talk about that whenever you’re ready.”

When you’re discussing your partner’s gender identity, whether they’ve just come out or it’s years after the fact, it’s important to give your non-binary partner the space to talk about their identity without worrying that you will take it as an opportunity to talk about you and your feelings instead.

Be honest about how you feel, but discuss those feelings in a way that is respectful of your partner and allows them to feel heard.

3. Do Educate Yourself About Non-Binary People – Don’t Expect Your Partner to Teach You

If you want your non-binary partner to love you forever, doing some research on your own time is the way to their heart, I promise.

While it’s great to ask questions and be curious, your partner wants to be your partner – not your educator. The role of an educator can be stressful, tedious, and tiring. It’s also unfair to expect your partner to teach you everything there is to know.

There are great resources around the net. Everyday Feminism actually has a whole guide to non-binary gender. Reading about some myths regarding non-binary folks is always a good idea, and brushing up on your terminology never hurts.

Read about non-binary people and their experiences. I’ve got a pretty interesting blog if I do say so myself, and Neutrois Nonsense is another one of my personal favorites. If you’re on Twitter, I am a big fan of Charlie (@cutequeer96) who always keeps it real.

Tumblr has an abundance of resources. One of the particularly awesome ones, Ask a Non-Binary, allows users to anonymously ask questions about non-binary identities. They have tags where you can read up on previously asked questions as well.

Non-binary people can sometimes feel like mythical creatures if we don’t know where to look. But the Internet is a magical place, my friend, so use it!

4. Do Be Mindful of the Language That You Use – Don’t Forget to Use That Language at All Times

This is a given, but using your partner’s pronouns is not optional – it’s mandatory.

This also means the language you use to describe your partner may have to change.

Ask your partner if they are comfortable being referred to as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or if a neutral term like “partner” is what they prefer. Be sure to check in about nicknames you’ve given each other, too; your pet names might need an update as well.

If friends or family are using the wrong pronouns, educate them and remind them of your partner’s pronouns.

Don’t expect your partner to do all the work. Be an ally, and call out incorrect language usage when you see it, so that your partner doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone.

Finally, use the correct terminology at all times, unless they’ve stated otherwise. Don’t use their pronouns in front of them, but use the incorrect pronouns behind their back.

Yes, you might trip up sometimes. But as long as you’re putting in a sincere effort, your partner will definitely appreciate it.

5. Do Offer to Help in Whatever Ways You Can – Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best for Them

Your non-binary partner may need your help from time to time, as being non-binary isn’t always easy.

Dysphoria, for example, is a very real part of my life. I often feel depression and panic in relation to certain gendered parts of my body, like my chest, and need my partners to be patient when I’m having a difficult time.

I also feel particularly distressed after family gatherings, where I am misgendered or criticized for my gender presentation. My partners know that after such get-togethers, I may need extra support and care.

Ask your partner how you can help.

Do they need you to accompany them to a hormone therapy appointment? Do they want a chest binder for their birthday? Do they want you to accompany them when they go dress shopping? Do they need a nice, home-cooked meal on days when their dysphoria keeps them in bed?

Don’t assume that you know what they need or what their triggers are. Instead, let them teach you about their needs. You may be surprised.

6. Do Have Conversations About Boundaries – Don’t Push Those Boundaries

This article on having sex with trans folks is required reading if, at some point in the future, you and your partner plan on becoming intimate or if you’re already doing the deed.

Boundaries are an important thing to keep in mind with your partner, especially since you may be unfamiliar with what kinds of boundaries your non-binary partner has or what could trigger dysphoria.

Having conversations about what parts of the body are okay to touch, what kinds of sexual acts your partner is comfortable with, and what your partner needs during a sexual encounter are all important things to talk about before getting busy – not after something has gone wrong.

It’s important to have this conversation even if you don’t plan on having sex or if your partner identifies as asexual.

Physical boundaries exist in contexts beyond sex. For example, your partner may not be comfortable with PDA, or might find it triggering to be pulled in for a hug by their hips.

Talk about touch – what to touch, what not to touch, and where the boundaries are. And respect those boundaries, always.

7. Do Be Supportive Without Conditions – Don’t Discourage Your Partner from Transitioning

Regardless of how you feel about your partner’s identity, transition, or body, you should be unconditionally loving and supportive.

If your partner wants to bind their breasts, it’s their right to. If your partner wants to start wearing dresses, it’s their choice. If your partner is going to grow a beard, power to them.

Being supportive means respecting the choices your non-binary partner makes about their body and their gender expression, regardless of what your feelings about it may be.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. No “if you don’t cut your hair,” no “and I can’t call you by that name,” no “but your pronouns are so confusing.”

If you can’t love your partner for who they really are, in whatever gendered or non-gendered form that takes, you need to ask yourself if this relationship is right for you both.

A transition could be a deal-breaker for you. And you need to be honest if that’s the case.

***

Today, I am happily engaged to my biggest supporter — one who helped me through every step of my transition. They helped me squeeze into my first chest binder, they were the first to try out my masculine pronouns, and they taught me how to tie a tie.

On more than one occasion, they left work early when my dysphoria had me hiding beneath the covers. Without a complaint, they crawled into bed with me where we watched home renovation programs and chatted about dream apartments and hardwood floors and termites until we fell asleep.

Having someone by my side through it all helped me to realize how much of a difference a compassionate partner can make.

At the end of the day, the best way to support a non-binary partner is to give them the love, encouragement, and room they need to grow.

Not only do they need that from you, they deserve it, too.

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The Elephant in the Room: Your Questions About My Gender and Transition, Answered

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Photography by dana at the outlaws photo project

[The photo features the author, Sam Dylan Finch, standing near a lake. He is a white, androgynous person with dark-rimmed glasses and a colorful, knitted sweater. He is smiling and looking off toward something in the distance.]
  

IMPORTANT NOTE (2/1/2016): I answered these questions over a year ago now. Time sure does fly! My sense of my own gender is constantly shifting. The answers here may no longer reflect how I describe or perceive my identity. Check out this updated version to read my most recent answers to these questions!

 

I write a lot about my identity as transgender. And thus far, it has created some thoughtful, interesting dialogue around gender and transitioning.

However, there was never much of a “coming out” to my readers. To this day, I receive a lot of questions about how I identify, what it means, and how I arrived where I am now. These are great questions! And leaving them unanswered has, at times, felt like an elephant in the room.

So today I wanted to pause and take a moment to answer some frequently asked questions about my gender and my transition. Hopefully this helps readers better understand my perspective and my journey as I write more about trans issues in the future.

It’s important to know that you aren’t entitled to any information about someone’s transition, body, or gender identity. Remember that other trans people may not be comfortable answering the questions that I have chosen to answer here.

Ready? Let’s go! Here are some of your questions:
    

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I identify as transmasculine and genderqueer (defined below, don’t fret!). You can also describe me as androgynous.

My pronouns are he/him/his.

 

What does genderqueer mean to you?

Genderqueer most commonly refers to a person who does not identify as strictly man or woman, but rather, identifies as both, neither, or some combination.

At my core, I am an androgynous person; I don’t feel that I fit in any kind of gender box. I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman.

I use the word “genderqueer” to describe my gender identity.

   

What does transmasculine mean to you?

If we imagine a spectrum of sorts, I express my gender in a more masculine way than I do a feminine way. Masculinity and femininity are subjective terms that describe the way that we “perform” gender, and can be useful markers in helping us figure out our own sense of gender.

A person of any gender can take on qualities or an appearance that is more closely associated with masculinity or femininity.

While I don’t identify as a man, I still express my gender in a way that is considered more masculine, thus I use the word “transmasculine” instead of “trans man.”

I typically use the word transmasculine to describe my gender expression.

 

What is the difference between gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to someone’s sense of themselves, their subjective experience of their own gender. Simply put, it’s what’s on the inside. It’s who we know ourselves to be.

Gender expression refers to how someone performs or presents gender. This is what we see on the outside. It’s our costume, our performance, our exterior – and it may or may not reflect something about our identity.

On the inside, at my core, I am an androgynous, genderqueer person. On the outside, I express my gender in a more masculine way through my choice of clothing, haircuts, and body modifications.

 

So how can someone be “non-binary”? I thought there were only two genders.

Actually, the idea that there are only two genders is pretty flawed and outdated.

Many cultures in our world recognize more than two genders. The idea of binary gender, or two genders that are contingent upon anatomy, is a pretty Western phenomenon.

Even anatomy itself is not binary, as is the case with intersex people. Sex characteristics are variant and diverse, and the lines between “male” and “female” are very blurry and arbitrarily assigned.

The point is, there could really be as many genders as there are people, depending on how you look at it. The idea that there are only two is something we as a society uphold, but that doesn’t mean it is an objective fact – just a cultural phenomenon.

As it turns out, many people like myself experience their gender outside of those parameters, which is evidence that perhaps this binary system isn’t so perfect after all. The binary system leaves a lot to be desired.

I love this video over at Sexplanations about gender that I think is helpful if you’re interested in this topic.

 

How did you know you were transgender?

I realized after a while that I dressed and behaved in ways that were “feminine” because I gained social approval that way. People complimented me when I wore a dress. Folks fawned over my stylish makeup and shoes. I performed femininity because everywhere I turned, I was given praise for being “good” at femininity.

When I took a gender studies class in college, this performance began to unravel. I realized how much of what I was doing was because I craved the affirmation I received when I was the woman I was expected to be. I realized how I’d been inundated with so many expectations and ideals – the expectation to be beautiful, to be thin, to be soft, to be curvaceous, to be… a woman, whatever that meant.

I’ve always said that “woman” was a label I was given, but never a label that I chose. When I started to understand the ways that “woman” didn’t fit or make me happy, I learned about what “transgender” meant. And I owed it to myself to explore if that could be true for me.

This was back in 2010.

Around the same time, I saw a character on television that was androgynous, and I fell in love with the idea of “becoming” that. Though I didn’t have the words “transmasculine” or “genderqueer” yet, I started to wonder if I would be happier as an androgynous person. It had never occurred to me to try it until I saw someone else living it.

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve transitioned toward queerness and androgyny. I cut off my hair, began binding my breasts, changed my name, got some tattoos, opted for new pronouns, acquired some prosthetics, and began living full-time as genderqueer.

Most importantly, I stopped allowing gendered expectations and roles to colonize my mind. Instead of seeking the approval of others by conforming to my assigned gender, I carved out my own vision for who I wanted to become. And it has been incredibly rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling.

 

When did you come out, and what were the reactions you received?

I’ve had mixed reactions. Some friends were supportive – a great many of them, in fact – but some were resistant or hesitant.

I came out to my mother only recently, and she seemed unsurprised. I’m fairly sure neither of my parents were surprised for various reasons. I’m still in the process of coming out to most of my family, but I’m taking it at my own pace.

    

Does your family know about your writing?

They do, and they’re supportive. However, I’ve set the boundary that we don’t discuss my articles unless I bring them up. This takes the pressure off of me – I can write honestly without worrying about what they will say.

 

How has your transition been so far?

Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Confusing. Worthwhile. Painful. Inspiring. And exactly what I needed.

 

Are you taking testosterone? Do you plan to?

I am not sure if I want to transition hormonally. It’s not a decision I feel ready to make. I am comfortable saying that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know where my transition will take me. I am taking my time. It’s not a race.

 

So what’s in your pants? And will that change?

That’s not really anyone’s business.

    

Have you always known that you were transgender?

I didn’t. I didn’t have any clue until my late teens. Being trans is different for everyone, and we don’t all share the typical narrative of “I was born into the wrong body and I knew it from the time I was a toddler.” There’s nothing wrong with that narrative, but it sometimes overshadows the realities of many other trans folks who don’t figure things out until later in life.

For me, being trans was like… this sounds silly, but kind of like cooking? I tried new gender expressions until I found something that I loved. I tasted femininity, and masculinity, and androgyny, and I mixed things together until I found the perfect recipe for my happiness. I didn’t know what I was missing before, but now, I can’t imagine my life without my transition.

I think it’s possible that I might have gone on living my life as a cisgender woman if I hadn’t gone to college, and maybe I would have been okay. But it would never have compared to the happiness I found when I transitioned. It doesn’t matter if I figured this out at age 4 or age 18 – it’s still who I am, regardless of how soon or in what ways I arrived at that truth.

 

If you aren’t a man or a woman, what is your sexual orientation?

I think “pansexual” is the closest approximation I have. I’m attracted to all sorts of people, and gender is not a deciding factor for whether or not I’ll date someone.

    

What has been the hardest part of being trans?

Being hated by complete and total strangers simply because I don’t conform to their idea of what I should look like. The constant fear that I’ll be attacked or harassed for looking “too queer.” And the constant anxiety that I’ll be rejected by people I love because they don’t understand or don’t approve of who I’ve become.

Maybe even more difficult than that is grappling with internalized transphobia – these really pervasive, negative attitudes about trans folks that really impact the way that I perceive and treat myself. It’s insidious, it’s hard to describe, but it’s present and something that I’m still working to undo, even now.

    

Did I answer all of your questions!?

If you have other questions that aren’t answered here, feel free to [respectfully] ask them in the comments below! I will do my best to answer as many as I can.

 

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More than Just Ink: How Tattoos Were a Vital Part of My Gender Transition

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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.


[The image features an androgynous person with light brown skin, flexing their bicep in a powerful pose. Their body has numerous tattoos, some geometric and others floral. They are wearing a chest binder.]

When I was younger, I never anticipated being the kind of person with tattoos. I have the pain tolerance of a goldfish, and I’m not exactly edgy or hip. I used to think that tattoos were reserved for rough and tough, leather-donning rock stars – which, if you couldn’t tell, I didn’t exactly fit the bill.

Yet today, I can’t imagine my body without tattoos.

I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 21, only a few short months after I got my first chest binder. I don’t think that is a coincidence, however; my tattoos were not a random decision, but rather, born out of a need to reclaim ownership of my body.


I felt as if I only knew my body on someone else’s terms.
I had been told what a “good body” looked like. I had been told what a “woman’s body” looked like. I only knew my body in light of society’s interpretations. And that pressure to conform made me feel empty, confused, and alone.

I knew what society wanted from me. But what did I want?

At first, I didn’t know that I had a choice. But as I reached my early twenties, it became apparent that the emptiness I felt wasn’t going away. “Woman” was a label I was given, but it was never a label that I chose. I didn’t know what the alternative was, but I knew that something had to give.

It wasn’t long after that I embarked on my transition. And as I progressed, my desire to be inked grew. I fantasized about the tattoos I would have, where I would place them, and what they would mean to me.

Exerting control over my body and making it my own was a central part of not only transitioning, but tattooing as well. A tattoo became as much a necessity for me as a chest binder or masculine pronouns.

Having some sense of mastery over my own body was much-needed after years of policing from others. I could still recall the pain of being told by an ex-partner that transitioning would make me ugly and unattractive to him; being told by family that short hair would be the worst mistake I could make; insistence from others that tattoos would ruin me. With every choice I made, it was implied that I was now damaged goods, a less valuable commodity when I dared to step outside of stereotypical “womanhood” and pursue my freedom of gender expression.

I started to question who my body really belonged to.

In spite of the backlash, I pushed forward. Because my body did not exist for other people to objectify, ridicule, or appraise. The value of my body was not about to be measured by somebody else.

When I finally got my first tattoo, I felt a kind of high that I didn’t think was possible.

For too long, it felt like society had created this barrier between my body and myself – telling me what a “good” body looked like, what I should strive to become, and all of the ways that my body was not enough as it was.

I spent hours, bottle in hand, tipping it back and wondering if my body was just a mistake. I had bruised knuckles from punching a reflection that I thought I wasn’t meant to have. I spent my showers looking at the tile on the wall, straight ahead, afraid of what I would feel if I looked at myself for too long.


But as the ink made its way beneath the surface, it was as if I was taking my body back – back from unrealistic ideals, back from gendered rules and roles and expectations, back from this notion that I could never feel happy as I was.

Through the pain of that first tattoo, I felt like I’d reached a breaking point. I settled into the vibrations of the needle, the lines being drawn onto my skin, and my blood warming up in my body. I hadn’t felt this grounded inside myself before.
Before that moment, I’d never felt the gravity of my own self, the space that I occupied, the presence that I held.

I was having an uninterrupted, honest conversation with my body – a body that, for too long, I declared my enemy. Or worse, something I painfully tried to ignore, avoided looking at, avoided knowing.


My tattoo became the gateway to self-love and empowerment.

My androgynous hair, my tattooed arms, my pit hair, my nose ring, my bound chest – these were all intentional choices that I made, directly opposing conventional notions of what was “attractive” and what I should want for myself.

I was self-made. And the act of “making” myself was the best thing I ever did for myself.

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Not afraid to show off my tattoos!

[The image features the author, Sam, with his arms raised and his hands behind his head. He is a white, androgynous person with dark-rimmed glasses and short hair. On his left forearm, he has a tattoo of a fox; on his right inner-bicep, he has an intricate feather tattoo.]

When I look in the mirror now, I see a body that is undoubtedly my own. It’s not a collection of parts, not a gender that I was assigned without consent, not a compilation of failings or “not enoughs.” I no longer see a body I am resigned to having; I see a body that I chose of my own freewill.

And as a transgender person, being able to reclaim a body that I did not feel belonged to me was essential to my transition and my healing.

When I look at myself now, I see a beautiful, complicated, queer body that is remarkable in its own right.

My tattoos were born out of a powerful realization that changed my life forever: the realization that I could abandon everything I was told was unquestionable, unfathomable, and impossible. Instead, I could become the person I’d always wanted to be.

Every tattoo on my body is renewed commitment to passionately pursuing my own notions of gender, my own vision of beauty, and my own truth.

And that’s more than just ink. To me, that’s a revolutionary act.

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