It all starts with one step. One realization that everything you have been told about who you are as a person is wrong. That the reason you stare yourself down in the mirror isn’t for vain pleasure, but because it is the only way you can look yourself in the eye and figure out what is wrong with the person staring back. For something is wrong with that person. There is a deep sadness behind smiling grey eyes. The upturned smirk is sardonic at best; tired and listless and forced. The person in the mirror is a stranger; they don’t look like the person you see in your mind. The person who you struggle to be in a world unforgiving to those who don’t hold the sanctity of the status quo. A body that was built in nature but forced and remolded out of what it was always meant to be, and there you are, trying to break the mold placed upon you.
Some would say it is you who is placing a mold on yourself. That you are defying nature. But humans have a skewed sense of natural, created and justified in ideologies not created out of nature, but out of fear of the unknown. But that’s okay. Fear is okay because the beautiful aspect of fear is that it naturally belongs to the person who is feeling the emotion, and not you. So, while so many will take their fear, and anger over being afraid, out on you it is not your fault. It is not your fault.
It is not your fault. You do not have to educate others on who you are, or why you are who you are. You do not owe explanations or apologies. You do not need to soothe others in their struggles over who you are because it has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own issues. No one likes it when someone else puts a mirror in front of them. No one likes to truly look into their own soul, and admit shortcomings. They don’t have the coping skills. Not like you do. You have years of practice in front of mirrors discovering yourself, blaming yourself, hating yourself, loving yourself. You are what they fear, what they try to control in nature. An unstoppable force in a world that tries so desperately to be an immovable object.
It seems, lately, that I’ve been taking dozens of first steps. Some may call that walking, but each step feels new. As if the path comes into existence under my feet. I recently bought a chest binder. I had been saying I’ve wanted one for months but would say that I simply didn’t have the money for one. I was lying to myself. I was afraid. Afraid of what it meant to bind my chest. What I would look like. That I would hate what I looked like….That I would love how I looked. So, on a not so memorable day, I swallowed my fear and my lies and bought my first binder.
The day it came my heart was pounding. I ripped it from its packaging while still in the car. It looked like it wouldn’t fit. It felt like Under Armour. The chest area had a thick, almost rubber material. I drove home with the tank-top in my lap; my fingers running over the material. I rushed into my house and went straight to my bedroom and ripped off my shirt and my bra and I paused. This was huge. I felt fear and uncertainty gripping at my stomach as I shakily reached out and gathered the binder up.
As I pulled it over my head I admit I began to panic. God, it was so tight. Would I be able to breathe? Would it fit? I struggled with my busted chicken wing (I had surgery on my right elbow and my cousins call it my chicken wing) until I was able to get the binder onto my chest. I pulled the rest of the material over my torso (I bought a full-length tank top binder) and took a deep breath. It was interesting, feeling the pressure over my ribs as I breathed. It reminded me of the corsets I’ve worn to Renfaires. I adjusted my breasts, which were caught in a weird position under the thick material on my chest, and dropped my head back, my eyes trained to the ceiling. I needed a minute before really looking myself over. I looked down and felt the laugh catch in my breath. Or maybe it was a sob; I’m not sure. But it felt right; as if I had spent my entire life waiting to see what I was seeing. I rushed into my bathroom to look into the full-length mirror that loves to mock me. But not that day.
All I could do was smile as I came into view of the mirror. My chest, albeit not fully flat, was flatter. More contoured. I slipped a shirt over my head and my jaw began to hurt from the smile. I just ran my hand over chest, feeling the soft, smooth shape of my chest. My mother walked by and gave me a curious look. I had told her I bought a binder, and I could tell she was uncomfortable. She grumbled about doing what I need to do to be happy, but it was going to be a conversation for another day. Nothing was touching me that day. It felt like I had placed on impenetrable armor. My body was beginning to look like I what I saw in my mind every day, and it was the first time I met my own gaze and was proud of what I saw.
I kept the binder on all night. Well, not all night. 8-12 hours is what is suggested, to avoid skin irritation and to allow your body freedom from the tight pressure it is not accustomed to. I wore it to my appointments the next day. I started to notice previously annoying experiences were no longer annoying, or noticeable. For example, my seatbelt fit perfectly over my chest. I have spent years adjusting the belt over my chest, pulling it off my neck and adjusting the height of the belt. For the first time I was able to drive comfortably.
It wasn’t just driving that I noticed a difference. My button-up shirt felt so comfortable. It fit well over my chest, and I was able to keep it buttoned the way I wanted to. Something as simple as wearing a shirt the way I’ve always wanted to wear one is a powerful experience, even if it seems superficial. I remember walking up to my friends with my head held high and smile on my face. I had slowly told them that I was going to buy a binder, but it had taken me months to actually get the nerve to buy one. I was met with such wonderful support from them and I love them all for how hard they have worked to make sure they respect who I am, and what I need to be my happy, true self.
Whenever I wear it now I catch myself running my hands across my chest. The smoothness of the binder allows me to think of what it would feel like to have a physically flatter chest. Thoughts of top surgery have fluttered through my mind as I find myself reaching more and more for the binder. Yet, I still stutter at the idea of a permanent change to my chest, since there are days where I do not want my chest to be flatter. Where it doesn’t fit who I am that day, to present so androgynously, or masculine.
This is what it means to me to be non-binary. To be genderqueer, or gender fluid. To move along a spectrum that the world so desperately wants to have hard ends, hard boundaries, but is incapable of having due to the human existence. Because humans like me exist, and boundaries mean so little in the pursuit of self-truth.
I bought a binder, and wearing it I saw myself. I was Faith. I was they. Today I’m not wearing my binder, but I finally saw me as well without the binder. I saw myself without it because I found myself within it… if that makes any sense. All it took was one step. One step beyond fear. One step towards myself, and learning to love every mistake along the way.