Inside the Transgender Mind: Trans Body Image & Self-Confidence
Growth Myndset is happy to present this featured post in our Guest Writer's Series. Guest writers are diverse in their background and issues of focus, and the content below is neither edited nor altered by Growth Myndset in any way without the consent of the author. The views expressed elsewhere on our website do not represent the views of our guest writers.
March 31 is the Trans Day of Visibility.
Content Warning: Post contains internalized transphobia.
"If I have to leave the house at 7:30 and it takes me 10 minutes to get changed and do my hair, I’ll put on my chest binder at 7:20. I’ll be at work until around 4pm, and it takes me an hour to get home, so I can have my binder off by 5:10. Let’s see… 7+3 gets me to 10, +2 gets me to 12, then 5 more hours. That’s 10 hours in total, it’s advised to bind only for a maximum of 8 hours at a time to avoid rib damage… But I don’t have any other option, it’ll have to be fine."
This is what goes through my mind some mornings. Those mornings are the bad mornings. It means I’m going somewhere or doing something where I don’t feel comfortable or safe to be myself, and this is occurring more frequently as I transition from the life of a student to the life of a young professional. I am a teacher. Which means I work with people considered vulnerable persons, and every time I enter a school, I fear that my trans identity will be uncovered, and parents will complain and have me sent off. Even during times when I can accept my own body, knowing that others will not accept it leaves a small seed of self-consciousness. Binding gives me confidence that I wear like armour. If I can make my body appear the way other people want it to based on their ideas of gender, maybe I will be accepted.
"Wow, is that really what my hips look like in these pants? I can’t believe I have been wearing these pants for months now! I wonder what that supply teacher thought of me. I think I spoke with my voice a little too high, I need to remember to deepen my voice."
Some days, I look in the mirror and hate my body. Hate my wide hips, my narrow shoulders, my short stature, and my baby face. I wonder how I can leave the house looking like this. I wonder how people can accept me when I can’t even accept myself. Those days are the days I will forever be grateful to have the support system I do. I will forever be grateful for having the privilege where I can live openly, attend university, and surround myself with people who love me. My people are smart, strong, and socially aware. Even so, people are different and need to be supported differently. Being open about my struggles and needs allows them to effectively support me. I tell them I love when people compliment my hair. When I am feeling nervous, they tell me my hair looks great, and to me, it isn’t about the hair. It’s about them remembering and knowing that that’s what I like, and caring for me by giving me that boost in confidence. My people know exactly what I need to feel supported when I am going through times of low confidence.
"I’m feeling a little bit thirsty. But it’s only 2pm, so I won’t have access to a washroom for another 3 hours until I get home. Plus I already had some water with lunch. I don’t really need that drink of water."
As a queer trans person of colour, I feel a lot of pressure to look good and fit in. I live my life knowing that there are people out there who are disgusted by people like me. I don’t want to be that “man in a dress” or that “fat butch lesbian” or that person that should “go back to your own country!” So yes, I admit I can appear vain, but I need people to recognize that it comes from a place of necessity. It isn’t about wanting attention or fishing for compliments, it’s about needing to know that I am fitting in, and that I am not disgusting. I remember shopping for my first suit. I remember the humiliation I felt walking into a suit store and asking to try on the children’s sizes. I remember the frustration I felt trying on tens of suits, all of which didn’t fit, while cis men came in and left with the first or second suit they tried on. I remember being prepared to spend as much money as possible to ensure the suit fit me and looked good on me. I remember spending more money than a student should be spending, but feeling happy with my purchase. Then I remember the utter embarrassment I felt getting frisked in the same way a woman wearing a dress does, with the hand in between my breasts to ensure I wasn’t hiding anything in my bra (that I wasn’t wearing), and the clap in between my legs to ensure I wasn’t hiding anything under the dress (that I wasn’t wearing). I felt like that “butch lesbian” that doesn’t fit in. Moments like that demonstrate why it is important for me to ask my friends for validation. I need to know that I fit in, even if one random stranger doesn’t think I do. I rely heavily on the support system I have, and in recognizing this, it is something I consciously grow and sustain. It takes work to sustain any system, but the support I receive is incomparable.
While my “Asian-ness” is something that makes me stand out, it is also something that helps me pass as male. Stereotypes that harm my fellow Asian men help me. My short height, my feminine face, and my inability to grow facial hair can all be stereotypically attributed to the fact that I am Asian, and this is a strange space to occupy. As I began to realize how this intersection of my race and gender were affecting me, I found that I began playing into and embracing these stereotypes. When I didn’t pass as male, I would think to myself, “How does this person not read me as male? I’m Asian, I’m not supposed to be very manly,” and become ashamed that this thought crossed my mind. How could I do this to my fellow Asians? How could I perpetuate these harmful ideas of Asians and masculinity? How could I turn on my people for my own personal gain? These are times where my desperation to be outwardly seen as the person I am overcomes the person I am inwardly.
"Finally, I can take my binder off. Was that pain because of my ribs? It’s okay, I have prep 4th period, and don’t need to meet up with anyone after school, I’ll just bind less tomorrow and take off my binder after 3rd period. Then I’ll also have the weekend to recover."
I see binding as a sacrifice of physical health for mental health. The pain I feel in my chest and ribs continues to grow every day that I bind, but with every “she” that I get depression begins creeping up. I know that this is not sustainable. I cannot do this forever. I cannot think about what other people think of me. I cannot allow that seed of self-consciousness to be planted. For others, this is a matter of ‘should not,’ but for me, it is a matter of ‘cannot.’ I need to accept that this is the body I have. This is not a female body. This is my body. This is not a female body. This is my body. This is my body. My body gives me so much every day, it fights for me, and I have learned to fight for it too. Binding is a sacrifice of physical health for mental health. The goal is to keep both as healthy as possible. My fight is to keep myself mentally healthy so that this sacrifice is not necessary every day. The biggest step for me was realizing that I needed to become someone I liked. I thought about who I am as a person, and what I like and dislike in other people. I like people who are involved in communities, and have interests and hobbies. This is not the person I was at all, so I began making goals to become this person. I joined a group on campus and began attending events. I began skateboarding again, and holding myself to it all by inviting my friends (read: support system). Reflecting on it a year later and I realized I genuinely, truly, do like the person I am now. Now, when I am feeling down, I can think about who I am and think “wow, what a great person.” I can remember that my favourite compliments I have received are about me as a person, not about my body, my gender, my race, or my outward appearance. For me, this isn’t about changing the world. This is about changing my mindset to live in this world. But please, tell me my hair is pretty.