“You can take your binder off. It’s not fooling us.”
It wasn’t meant to be.
It was said with kindness by people who accept me for who I am and wanted me to be comfortable. I’d been wearing my binder for 40 hours straight and you’re really not supposed to wear a binder longer than 8 hours at a stretch. (You’re not supposed to sleep in a binder, but I hadn’t slept during those 40 hours, either. )
I’m learning that the people who hurt me the most, as a trans person, are the people who love me the most and are trying the hardest to be good to me. There’s an obvious reason for this: if I don’t care about someone, they can say whatever they want and it doesn’t sink in. If I love and trust someone, I let my guard down and their words and actions seep in and can hurt. A lot.
What my friends said to me hurt because I don’t wear my binder to “fool” anyone. It’s not a disguise. I’m not trying to trick people into anything. I wear my binder because I have so much dysphoria about my chest. size and shape.
A few days earlier, I had been walking around a private beach without my binder because I felt safe and comfortable with my friends, but I was still very self-conscious. I took off my binder to give my bones and muscles a break but it stirred up a lot of dysphoria to walk around like that. It was a trade-off: sacrificing some mental and emotional well-being for the sake of my physical health.
But being told I’m “not fooling anyone” made me keep my binder on, even though I’d had it on for 40 hours already. It really hurt — the binder and those words both hurt. I did not feel understood or accepted. I felt freakish and too self-conscious to remove my binder.
It’s hard for people to support me. It’s harder to *be* me, but I acknowledge that it’s hard to support me. People think they understand transgender but most of the time, unless they are trans themselves, they don’t understand anywhere near as much as they think they do.
People accidentally treat me both like a woman and like a man. The ones who are getting things right, treat me like a little brother, being gentle where I need it. The ones who really don’t get it end up treating me to the worst that women get and the worst that men get. The worst was a guy who was being somewhat predatory, getting sex from me and forcing me to keep it a secret from everyone and then turning around and making really painful jokes about my body and voice — the very things he gets upset when people say to his son who has a woman-pitched voice.
I could go on and on, but I’ve made my core point: my binder is not a disguise. I’m not trying to fool or cheat or trick anyone. I *know* I don’t look or sound “masculine enough” yet. I don’t need to have my face rubbed in that fact and my ambiguous gender expression does not mean it’s okay to treat me poorly.
I am, and always have been, unclear on what “gender” is. I only believe that it exists because everyone around me tells me that it does. I have been told there is sex, which is somatic, and gender, which is spiritual/psychological. I identify as “transgender” because the term is put forth as a large umbrella, covering a lot of territory, but technically I am not transgender because I am not changing my gender — only my somatic expression — and “my gender” is not across anything because it is meta.
For many, many years now, I have identified as metagender. That has not changed and is not changing. I am metagender. But what does that mean?
I don’t see gender, I can’t feel gender, I have no concept of myself as possessing gender but I don’t feel agender, because that would require sensing gender in other people which I also do not. I don’t see other people having something I do not have. I don’t see myself having something other people do not have. My Genderbread Person has an invisible brain. Those little slider arrows? They aren’t on zero. They aren’t on point. They don’t exist.
I accept that gender exists and I respect other people’s genders, but my personal experience of the notion of gender is akin to that of the child in the story about the emperor’s new clothes. Everyone else sees the beautiful genders and all I can see is air.
For years, people have asked me what metagender means. I try to explain and they get angry. Or frustrated and confused. Or mocking. So I stopped talking about it and stopped writing about it. But I never stopped being it, so here I am, trying to explain. I think my identity as metagender is related to the notion of gendervague. I think my Autistic neurology led me to metagender. And here I am, still struggling to explain it.
So I did what I always do: I Googled it to see if anyone else were talking about it. I found a lot of confusion (usually resolved by dropping “metagender” and embracing “genderless” instead …. which, as I hope you’ve gleaned from my words above, is not at all an accurate synonym). And I found a fair bit of very mean-spirited mocking. And I found a couple of other people who seem to be on the same page as I am with respect to the meaning of metagender…although they have layers of spirituality blended in. That’s okay, though. The only other people I was able to find identifying as epicene (another essay for another day) were doing the same thing: meaning what I mean when I call myself epicene but also adding a layer of spirituality onto things.
I am not the arbiter of definitions. If you have carried a strong definition for metagender and I haven’t found you yet, come forth and share your truth! At the moment, I have three of us and while there are points of difference, there is much similarity and, among us, we are holding the definition for metagender. It is carved in human consciousness, not in stone, so speak up if this essay misrepresents you.
Metagender is not “androgynous” or some combinatory gender (though those are wonderful!). Metagender is not “neuter” or “neutral,” nor is it “non-gendered/agendered” or a negation of gender either (though those options are also totally cool!). Metagender is a gender identity that can encompass a great deal of variation and a wide variety of expression and performance, but it is a fixed and definite gender, and not synonymous with or any sort of alternative or replacement for “gender-fluid” (but gender-fluid people are also awesome!). Just because metagender is different from these other identities does not mean it is “better,” and it certainly doesn’t mean that those other gender-diverse identities are “worse.”
PSVL and I diverge on many points but the quoted paragraph above indicates to me that e and I relate on the core elements of a metagender identity.
To me, metagender opens up uninhibited freedom to be myself; a one-size-fits-me label that is no particular gender but neither is it agender. It is a slippery gender that evades every attempt to define it, a trickster gender. (Every person in this conformist culture who does not identify with their assigned gender is forced in some way to become a trickster, even if they would not be otherwise. Metagender is trickster to the core.)
I resonate strongly with Bee’s trickster imagery so maybe there is more of a layer of spirituality to my own metagender expression than I had previously assumed.
And…while there may be more strong references out there to metagender, at least as I have conceived it through the years and as PSVL and Bee seem to conceive it, I didn’t find any in my cursory exploration. I apologize if I missed discovering your writing on the topic. Do share in the comments if you’ve written about metagender. Thanks!
I broke a lot of the binding rules yesterday. That makes today a great day to talk about chest binding in general and also about particular Autistic binding issues I experience. I’d love to see a conversation start in the comments. I’d also love it if other Autistic Trans people who bind (or corset, or utilize any other physical re-shaping device(s)) would write guest posts about this topic (or any Transtistic topic that’s important to you) that could be shared on this blog. Thanks!
My biggest no-no yesterday was letting myself get dehydrated. I struggle to stay adequately hydrated. I live in a vehicle, so I’m often in higher temperature environments than I would prefer, especially in the summertime. And my personal bundle of executive function issues includes being scattered and easily distracted from basic routines like regularly putting water in my mouth. Add in binding and my no-no of letting myself get dehydrated escalates into a health risk.
I lost track of my water intake yesterday because I went to the gender clinic for the first time. After bashing myself against the system in Florida for half a year — including calling clinics to find out if they offered gender services on the Informed Consent (IC) model only to end up having to explain the Harry Benjamin model and the IC model to them on the phone so they could even figure out what they were offering — I gave up and started looking out of state.
Florida has a lot of work to do. I’m looking at you too, Planned Parenthood! Train your people! When someone calls up, asking about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at your clinic, do *NOT* call them “ma’am.” I know you’re trying to be polite, but getting “ma’am” back to my questions about starting testosterone (T) at your clinic is so de-validating and dysphoria-triggering!
But I digress.
I chose the Legacy clinic in Montrose and yesterday’s visit with them was marvelous. I was practically vibrating with nervous energy but everyone was so calm and kind. The forms were so sensitive. The doctor was so caring and available. No one even asked if I had been to therapy. I did tell the doc that I wasn’t willing to pay hundreds of dollars to a therapist to tell me what I already know, but I volunteered that information. No one asked. At every moment, I was treated like an adult who knows his mind and can make important decisions about his life.
I am so grateful. And I have mixed feelings about my gratitude, because the way I was treated yesterday shouldn’t be an overwhelmingly marvelous event that I had to drive 855 miles to attain. Compassionate IC clinics should be available to everyone, everywhere.
But back to my binder…I was on top of the world all day, as you might imagine. And all those emotions drained my batteries pretty thoroughly, as you also might imagine. I didn’t sleep the night before my appointment — I just couldn’t. I spent the night by the tracks, watching trains go by. In the morning I had some very supportive online chat time and then headed over to the clinic. After the clinic, I went to see the Rainbow Crosswalk half a mile away.
I had intended to explore Montrose a bit, but I got to the crosswalk and realized I was going to crash soon and needed to drive the 25 miles back out to where I’m staying while I’m in the Houston area. I barely made it back — my body started to try to go to sleep during the last 4 miles. I parked and crawled in the back and fell asleep instantly. Wearing my binder — don’t do that.
I slept off and on through the day. Autistic readers will definitely relate to that. I ate dinner and then went back to sleep for another nine hours. But I finally took the time to remove my binder before tucking in for the night.
Something interesting happens when you bind all day in the summer heat and don’t stay hydrated. When I finally took my binder off, I was feeling exhausted but good. Within five minutes of removing my binder and getting blood flowing through my body again, the symptoms of dehydration slammed into me full force. I downed a liter of water before falling asleep and woke still dehydrated.
And then climbed right back into my binder.
I have been having trouble wearing binders. They are challenging. I hated putting my binder on. I would fret about it. “I’m not doing this for me,” I’d tell myself. “This is part of a gender performance. This binding is for others, to remind them of who I am. I’m helping people to remember me while in my presence.”
I used to think that I would stop wearing my binder once I had a deeper voice and a beard. I figured Meatloaf’s character in Fight Club, Bob Paulson, was manly with his deep voice and muscular frame. No one called him “she” despite his large breasts. So I thought the binder was just to help others see me properly and then I could ditch the binder and then have top surgery at some point after that.
I didn’t like wearing my binder because it’s not comfortable.
No one really likes wearing binders, right? And on top of that, I am Autistic and have sensory defensiveness as a result. And on top of that, I have Ehrler-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and the binder causes my ribs to shift out of position — not fully dislocate, but sublux uncomfortably.
Once I’ve got the binder on, it doesn’t matter that it hurts, doesn’t matter that I can’t breathe properly, doesn’t matter that I feel the pristine jolts of overtaxed cartilage as my ribs sublux. It just matters that I look down and I can see my feet. It matters that I look in the mirror and I can see more of myself. It matters that the aching compression keeps me conscious of living inside a body.
This morning, the first thing I did was put my binder back on.
In the past, I would not have done that today. I wore my binder for 18 hours yesterday. The only place I went today was the library, to write. My body hurts (what else is new?) I could have gotten away with a bra instead. But I put the binder back on. It is emblematic of the surprisingly dramatic changes I’m experiencing as a result of making a firm decision to start T and going to the gender clinic and being taken seriously. I am changing as a result of the validation and compassion I encountered yesterday. And it seems I have become, virtually overnight, a person who doesn’t want to wear a bra anymore.
The bra promises physical comfort — at least as much as I’m likely to find this side of living in the water full time or getting top surgery. The binder bites me. Hard. But the comfort it promises is one that goes deeper for me than physical comfort. It might be that I have to stop wearing the binder for a time if my ribs get worse. I hope that doesn’t happen. Short of medical crisis, I’m finally ready to live with the daily discomfort. My body has stopped squirming but my psyche squirms as hard as ever and so…it’s time to buy more binders and to bind full-time.
I am ready to bind every day, even if every rib in the cage subluxes.
This is something important I’ve learned: 90% of transition is internal. People gauge transition by how a person presents. But gender presentation is just the tip of a very large iceberg. The binder is important to me — more important now than ever. But it is an external symbol of the real transition, the tilting of my internal landscape that sets me to re-exploring previously familiar territory, rendered unrecognizable by my new perspectives.
While I am at a point where my emotional and energetic comfort has become more important than my physical comfort, let me close with some discussion of sensory needs all the same.
I tried using the classic style of binder — the sort one pulls on over one’s head or steps into and slides up. I tried and I just couldn’t do it. I felt too claustrophic. I couldn’t get into most I tried. The one I did manage to make my way inside caused a panic attack when I tried to remove it. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I felt like I was dying. I cut it off with bandage scissors.
I bind with this now: Underworks Men’s Extreme Gynecomastia Pre-Surgical Post-Surgical Chest Binder Vest. It’s a medical binder, it’s long, and it fastens up the front with hooks and eyes. I hook all the eyes, doing my best to get the chest (H cup) to tuck down into my armpits. I get especially good results when I can lay flat on my back and arrange the chest before hooking the eyes. I think of the hooks as being very manly, by virtue of the fact that they were patented by Mark Twain, an icon of genteel masculinity.
If you have a hard time with slip-on binders, give a hook-and-eye binder a try. I’m not affiliated with Underworks and I get no kickback from this. I’m just sharing what’s working for me. The binder is long and I could use it for tummy control as well, but I have lots of digestive problems and the restriction could harm me. Instead, I fold the bottom half of my binder up over my chest, creating a double-layer of binding. Yes, I know. I’m not supposed to wear two binders at once. I fudge that rule all the time by folding up the bottom of my long binder.
I’ll leave you with this link about binding a very large chest. May your binding adventures be safe and personally enriching. So long as you are observing safety rules, there’s no right or wrong way to bind. I wasted so much time second-guessing myself because of earlier mixed feelings about binding. You do what you need and don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right or are “trans enough.”
Struggling with the physical discomfort of re-shaping a body does not automatically make you less trans. You are who you know yourself to be. Your body is just one piece of that equation. Honor your body’s needs, but don’t let the horse become the rider. What makes you “trans enough” is something that is much deeper than your skin. You bind (or not!) the way you need to do it, in the amount you need, at the times you need. Don’t let anyone get away with judging your choice to bind or not bind.
It’s a word that came out of the neurodivergentkin network and is meant to only be used as a term of self-identity by neurodivergent people. The word was coined a couple of years ago and it specifically refers to a non-binary gender identity held by a neurodivergent person. As Tumblr user strangegloved put it, “it means that your gender is not definable with words” because of the intersection of your gender identity and your neurodivergent neurotype.
“A gender identity that is highly influenced by being neurodivergent, and feels undefinable because of one’s neurodivergence.
Please only use this term if you are neurodivergent.”
In considering why it has taken me so long to come to terms with my transmasculine identity (although I referred to myself as metagender for many years and often spoke about wanting a beard and a flat chest, I didn’t officially come out as Trans to others until shortly after my 49th birthday), naturally my Autistic neurology has come to mind. It’s been suggested to me or asked of me: “did being Autistic make it harder for you to see your Trans identity?”
Maybe yes. Maybe no. I know Autists who realized and declared their Transgender identity in their twenties or teens. But I do know an awful lot of us who came relatively late to our gender explorations. I’m older than most, but I knew plenty of Transtistic folk who went public in their thirties or forties.
strangerdarkerbetter expresses the convergence of their neurology and gender identity as gendervague, writing, “When I try to think about gender in regards to myself, nothing seems to fit right. I feel like I draw a big blank. I think a lot of this is related to my neurodivergence. As a part of my autism, I struggle with alexithymia which makes it difficult for me to identify what I’m feeling. As a part of my schizoaffective disorder, my sense of self changes drastically as my moods fluctuate. As a part of my PTSD, I struggle with womanhood because part of me thinks that if I were perceived as a man I wouldn’t have been raped (though I do know that men are also victims of rape). My different neurodivergencies intermingle in such a way that I struggle to understand my gender.”
Lydia X. Z. Brown was in college before questioning gender in earnest. Because of our divergent perspectives , “[f]or many of us, gender mostly impacts our lives when projected onto us through other people’s assumptions, but holds little intrinsic meaning,” Brown writes. Moreover, we need a gendervague community since, as Brown reports, “much of the trans movement rejects neurodiversity and by extension, many disabled trans people. In the rush to affirm the validity of trans identities and experiences, trans movements frequently practice disavowal of neurodivergent and other disabled people.”
Autists know that the dominant narrative of autism as a disorder that precludes empathy and erases the ability to relate in community is entirely false. We need community every bit as much as any other human being. Individually, some of us need more human contact and some less, but we are not immune to loneliness or the drive to relate to others who are similar to us — who share similar joys and struggles. We long to be known and we crave understanding and solidarity.
We Autists tend to face exclusion in society at large. It is heart-breaking when we Transtistics face the same hostility and exclusion in the Transgender community as well. We need our own identities, like gendervague, to help us create spaces where we can find community and acceptance as gender-variant, Autistic, whole and valuable human beings.
Additionally, gendervague helps to create a community where people understand that disability can affect gender presentation as much as or even more than inherent gender identity. Identity labels so often focus on sifting out one aspect of identity, holding it apart and separate from other aspects of our lives. Gendervague is an inherently intersected identity, honoring two different facets of identity equally, simultaneously more exclusive and more inclusive.
When exploring your own gender identity, gendervague might help you find people and resources that sing to your heart. I welcome you to add it to your life’s toolbox. May you build glorious communities and relationships with self and others with it.
[image description: A bright yellow triangular road sign with bold black letters that say NO PASSING ZONE.]
There’s something funny about the way the word “passing” gets used in the Autistic community versus in the Transgender community. And by “funny”, I mean confusing.
When an Autistic says they are “passing,” they mean they are passing as someone who is not Autistic — passing as neurotypical. Autistics sometimes talk about “passing privilege” and that’s a reminder that not everyone is capable of passing as neurotypical and gaining all the privileges that come with passing as someone who is not disabled, someone who appears to have a neurology similar to the neurology sported by the majority. Autistic passing means to appear to be what one is not.
I’m seeing things start to shift in the Trans community, but most of the time when I hear a trans person talk about “passing,” they mean they are passing as their actual gender. For example, someone might say, “I am scared to use the bathroom I belong in because I’m not passing yet.” Transgender people talk about “passing privilege,” too. But what is the actual privilege that comes with passing? It’s not the same thing as “male privilege” because a trans woman can have passing privilege as well. So, at the core, the privilege that comes with passing in this case is the privilege of passing as cis — passing as having been born assigned the gender that one is now recognized as being. Transgender passing also means to appear to be what one is not … but in everyday use, I often see people use the word “passing” to indicate appearing to be what one is.
Thus the confusion.
Both these communities have adopted language from the Black community, where the concept of “passing” originated. An NPR story discusses Allyson Hobbs’ book: A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America. In the story, Hobbs is quoted as saying: “To write a history of passing is to write a history of loss.”
What losses do Transtistic people face in passing?
When passing as non-autistic, we risk losing a community of people who understand us on a level that people of other neurotypes are not as well-equipped for. Remaining part of the Autistic community is risky. Some Autistics use pseudonyms to protect their identity so they can reap the benefits of community while protecting their ability to pass at school or work.
Transgender passing is the same. Some trans people don’t want Trans community or even a Trans identity. I’ve heard trans people talk about viewing being transgender as a medical condition they are eager to leave behind them once they pass as cis. I am sure there are similar attitudes among autistics who would prefer to hide their neurotype and live as neurotypical. We’re more likely to see rejection of identity among trans people, though, since they are more likely to come through the Trans community while transitioning and then remove themselves from it once they pass. I’m guessing that autistics are less likely to pass through Autistic community on their way to passing as neurotypical…though that really is just a guess.
If you feel comfortable to discuss how you feel about passing, start a conversation in the comments.