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In a bind - the funcrunch files

Oct. 3rd, 2013 09:41 am In a bind

Summer in San Francisco. This time of year, the fog finally relents and lets the warming rays through. The temperature can soar into the 90s, even the triple digits on occasion.

As one who gets cold easily, I welcome the sun. I enjoy feeling it on my skin. In fact, I enjoy feeling it on as much of my skin as possible, so I dress minimally when the weather allows. This also keeps me cool when the weather gets too hot. Unfortunately, my desire for comfort means that I will forever be misgendered as female.

The Free Farm

The above photo (by my partner boyziggy) was taken five months ago, at The Free Farm where I do volunteer work. I happened to be wearing the identical outfit yesterday. In May I had not yet changed my name and was not identifying as gender-neutral, though I was heading in that direction. The differences between the way I looked then and now are very subtle. I ditched my omnipresent fanny pack and stopped shaving my legs and underarms. I got my hair cut shorter, but you can't tell with the hat. That's basically it.

I hate that I now hesitate before putting on an outfit like the above, because I happen to think I look good in it. I was at the peak of marathon training at the time of this photo, and my strong leg muscles are in evidence. Those call out to me much louder than the spaghetti strap tank top which screams "female" to the rest of the world. But that style keeps me cool while allowing more sun on my shoulders, since society has declared that I am not permitted to go in public topless, which I'd strongly prefer.

I don't see breasts in the same way as most of society or most trans* men. They're a secondary sex characteristic which vary in size greatly amongst all sexes. Some cismen with gynecomastia have breasts as large as mine, but you don't usually see them because they often hide them out of embarrassment. In fact, some of the most popular binders are designed for cismen, not transmen. And I recently discovered that men can even lactate under certain conditions, which was the last nail in the coffin for me as far as distinguishing "male" from "female" chests.

Many transmen and some gender-neutral people bind or get top surgery because they look in the mirror and expect to see a flat chest. This is not the case for me. I'm fine with what I currently see in the mirror, but I'd be fine with a flat chest too. If I woke up tomorrow and my breasts were gone I'd celebrate, but only because I could finally go outside topless without harassment, and might have a better chance at reading as something other than female.

But that miraculous nonsurgical transformation isn't going to happen, and I don't think I should subject myself to the risks and expense of an operation if I don't personally have a problem with the body parts in question. And I don't want to subject my chest to the discomfort of binding when I can't even stand wearing bras. It's society that has the problem with (and assumptions based on) my breasts, not me.

What gives me dysphoria are the body parts that aren't publicly visible: my uterus, ovaries, vagina, and vulva. I find it ironic that primary sex characteristics such as these are not what people look for when deciding what gender you are. They look at breasts and facial hair, clothing and mannerisms. None of which are reliable indicators of male-ness or female-ness. Penises and vaginas aren't either, but for me personally, they are a much more essential part of the sexual identity, which (unlike my gender identity) is male. I have one set of genitalia, and want another. My breasts are just along for the ride.

So I will continue to dress as appropriate for my comfort in this hot weather, which means tank tops and T-shirts. No bras or binders and little or no layering. As a consequence I will continue to be misgendered as female by strangers. And that's not OK, but the alternative (dressing uncomfortably and/or having unwanted surgery) is less OK, so this is the unhappy choice I make.

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Date:October 3rd, 2013 07:04 pm (UTC)
There are places in the world, and even in this country, where you could live and be allowed to go topless anywhere a cisman could...the problem, of course, is that most of those places have a lot less sun than San Francisco.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 08:05 pm (UTC)
Which places are you thinking of? I believe that many native cultures that don't hypersexualize breasts are located in warm climates, but then they have more or different restrictions placed on gender and sexual expression.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 08:45 pm (UTC)
New York City has had this law on the books since the mid-90s. And Ontario and British Columbia in Canada have "topfreedom" laws, pretty much the same law with a different name. None of these places have any more gender restrictions than SF, though they do have less of the "welcoming" sun and a heckuva lot more cold weather.

Essentially, as long as the toplessness is not being used for a business or "indecency" (a term that can be broadly defined by different courts), a woman can legally do it. There's a photographer named Jordan Matter who actually made a hobby out of this and has a few published works of (consenting) NYC topless women he filmed while out in public areas.

Technically, only Indiana, Utah, and Tennessee have explicit state laws prohibiting female toplessness, but it is common for the smaller governments (city, county) to define their own laws, so it's one of those "be careful" things.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 08:51 pm (UTC)
I knew about the NYC law, but the fact is that you see very few people taking advantage of it. Same here in SF. I believe the recent ban on nudity only applies to genitalia, but even before that went into place I virtually never saw a topless woman on the streets outside of the Pride celebration or similar events. It's still a cultural taboo whether it's technically legal or not.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
Are you interested in hearing some adjustments that I think would make that outfit appear more masculine? Or at any rate, less feminine? I don't want to barge in with a list of "do this, do that" if you have already have such a list or if you are not interested in such.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 11:22 pm (UTC)
Sure, I'm open to suggestions. Though since I'm married to a cisguy who wears skirts, my interpretations of "masculine" and "feminine" are somewhat different than most ;-)
Date:October 4th, 2013 05:42 pm (UTC)
OK, so the first thing I would do is lose the hat. The hat reads as very feminine. Maybe in part because of the flowers? I think it is more stereotypically female to wear a broad brimmed hat against sun, and the floppier the brim, the more feminine it reads. A more masculine-seeming alternative would be a baseball cap/trucker cap, and just slather the sunscreen on the back of your neck.

Spaghetti straps never read as masculine. For a different option, I would go with the type of tank top we called a muscle shirt back in the 80s. I googled muscle shirt, and got a lot of men's undershirt styles, which is NOT what I'm talking about. So I googled 80s muscle shirt, and saw the things I meant. They will cover your shoulders a bit more, and would read as much more masculine. Depending on the kind you get, they might also be cut a bit looser through the torso, so your breasts would not be as apparent. As a bonus, you will be most likely to find this style shirt at thrift shops, thus supporting your interest in buying used clothes. :)

I think the shorts/socks/shoes are sufficiently masculine to be read as gender neutral on you.

Hope this can provide some workable options for you.
Date:October 4th, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC)
I do more often wear baseball caps nowadays, but I prefer broad-brimmed hats when I'm working in the sun for extended periods. (I prefer not to wear sunscreen.) I had a previous hat like that without the flowers but I lost it. Maybe when/if this hat wears out I'll get a replacement without flowers. Seems an appropriate decoration for gardening though :-)

I know about how feminine spaghetti straps look re my reply to plymouth below. I picked up a few muscle shirts awhile back but they felt kind of weird because I don't like things too close to or touching the front of my neck. Although I was able to wear a dress shirt and tie (which are obviously close to the neck) for a few hours, that was for special occasions. I've seen some guys in V-neck shirts but scoop necks are generally more feminine.

I don't know, I just think that dressing in a style that's less comfortable or preferable in order to read as more masculine probably isn't worth it, because unless I go on testosterone and grow a beard I doubt it will make much of a difference. If I were full on transitioning to male rather than genderqueer, or trying to go stealth, I might be willing to compromise more on wardrobe. But if the whole point of transitioning for me is to live more authentically, I think changing my appearance to try to match others' preconceptions of masculinity would be taking a step backwards.
Date:October 4th, 2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
Disagree on the broadness of the hat brim being a factor - I did a search for "men's sun hat" and found plenty of broad brimmed options. Flowers, though, yeah, though I actually hadn't noticed them in that small pic.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 11:27 pm (UTC)
There are definitely ways to make the outfit look more masculine but without binding and probably facial hair (or facial masculinization surgery) Pax in a variation of that outfit is unlikely to be READ as male. Is it worth it to them to try anyway? I don't know - only they can answer that.

My first thought though was that while they totally make sleeveless shirts for men, I don't think I've ever seen one with spaghetti straps.
Date:October 3rd, 2013 11:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, most of my tank tops have wider straps, but I usually save those for layering and yoga classes. I don't actually prefer the look of spaghetti straps over wider ones, but I do like that it's less fabric and therefore more sun and fresh air on my skin.

ETA: Of course halter tops allow even more sun/air exposure, but look even more definitively female. Sigh.

Edited at 2013-10-03 11:32 pm (UTC)