by Gus Agyemang '22
Content warning: gender dysphoria
The first time I wore a binder was neither the beginning nor the end to discovering my gender identity. I knew what binders were because a friend of mine started binding in our junior year of high school. To my knowledge, we were the only trans or gender-nonconforming people at our school, so we were quite close. He was the only person I would talk to about it for a long while because I doubted my own transness. I always felt uncomfortable with my body, certain parts more than others, but that was par for the course. It was fine when I was a kid because physically, I looked like all my male friends. In my mind, because we looked and dressed the same, when I was a boy, it was truth, and no one could tell me any different. In fact, no one told me that I wasn’t a boy. The only time any particular gender was imposed on me was at church. The rest of the time, my parents actually encouraged me in my boyish ways. I haven’t asked them why they didn’t correct me and tell me that I wasn’t a boy, but I imagine it has to do with the fact that they thought I would eventually grow out of it.
What I have now come to understand as “gender dysphoria” became my problem around the time of puberty. Like most teenagers, I noticed the changes my body was going through, but what really bothered me was how different it was from my friends’. My voice didn’t drop, and I didn’t grow tall, and people were now referring to me as she. I felt disgusted by my budding breasts and hips and enraged that I was to feel proud of them. That childhood denial of ignoring my birth name and the wrong pronouns somehow disappeared, and my faith in my own gender identity waned. So, with nothing left to protest this change, I embraced it and kept my discomfort. On the worst days, I’d pretend like I was in a borrowed body, just for the day, and I’d return to my proper self the next day. But that never happened. So over time, I got used to the discomfort. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror. Dissatisfaction became my baseline.
My dysphoric sense of self got somewhat better in high school because I had a uniform, and I bought it in sizes that hid my body. At the same time, my friends and I were discovering our queer identities and reveling in the excitement of camaraderie and the fear of coming out to family. Despite this, I still couldn’t look at my body without having a visceral reaction to it. So, like the practical student that I am, I came up with a plan. I would try to be a woman, and if that didn’t work then that would mean I was a man. I wasn’t sure exactly how being a man was going to turn out, but I was also not sure how I was going to be a woman.
I began with womanhood because it appeared to be the most obvious identity I could adopt—I did have breasts, after all. So I bought a shit ton of makeup, some cute dresses, and some real bras with my summer job money and I set out to become a woman. Obviously, my ideas of womanhood were skewed, but with what I had, I still could not figure it out. I tried, I really did, but, after a couple of weeks, I had to give up. The deciding factor was really the attention I was getting for my body. For instance, a classmate in my biology class sophomore year asking me what kind of bra I was wearing. Upon my answering, she said, “They make your boobs look really nice.” Her compliment was the attention that I thought would help me, but instead, it ended up making me more uneasy and anxious about my appearance.
I moved on to manhood, with even less enthusiasm than I’d had before. To be quite honest, I didn’t know where to start. I began by asking myself what made me the most uncomfortable and my chest screamed in answer. I asked a friend of a friend, a trans guy, about binders and I ordered one in secret. I didn’t use it for a whole week because I was scared. Then, after an especially bad day at school where I had to wear a dress for an orchestra concert, I put it on. I stared at myself in the mirror and I felt calm. I stood still for a couple minutes, and I started smiling at myself. For the first time in a long while I didn’t hate what I saw. I ran back into my room and put on my only pair of boxers. In that ensemble of mismatched underwear, I broke out in laughter. I was happy and I didn’t hate my appearance. That change that I had wanted when I was a child had finally arrived after years of agony. I felt euphoric and for once it was at the image I saw in the mirror.
For the rest of my year in high school, I wore my binder to school, and I bought more boxers. I started shopping in the men’s section; I created a whole new wardrobe for myself and shaved off half my hair. I learned more vocabulary about how to describe myself. I felt comfortable in being masculine-presenting, but that comfort wasn’t constant, and it didn’t make me a man like I thought it would. And while that made me sad, this time, I learned to let go of the tightness I carried with answering and solving my gender and my body. I found myself existing in this limbo- sometimes gendered and most times not feeling like any gender. But this time, I knew what it was: gender dysphoria, and I knew that it comes with my identity as a nonbinary person.
I wouldn’t say that I’m over the discomfort yet, but I pay less attention to it—it’s not debilitating anymore. I’ve found that discovering a fitting sense of style has helped a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m older, or because I’ve moved into this space at Wellesley, but I’m becoming more comfortable in my own body and self. I have many more moments of euphoria regarding my gender identity than dysphoria. Like when I’m in a space where there is another trans/gender non-conforming person, or when I’m with the good company of friends, or when I’m watching Criminal Minds. The fact that I have been able to go months without binding, as a necessity, is a grand improvement.