I woke up yesterday to a wonderful Facebook message from a friend regarding a site offering transgender undergarments. While Toby and I have known about that particular site, even having ordered from it twice now, it got me thinking about the offerings and the mystery surrounding transgender people and "what's under there?"
(And I want reiterate the word WONDERFUL. When I thank people for being on this journey with us, this is exactly what I mean. That friends are thinking about us, about Toby, on their own, is heartwarming and wonderful.)
But wait, Linda! Judy wasn't trans! you exclaim.
No, no she wasn't. But she did have something in common, albeit briefly, with FTM transgender people. Binding.
It is factually supported legend that young Ms. Garland, when tapped to play the 12 year old character of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, was 16 - far beyond puberty, and had a chest to rival the front porch on any home in Kansas. But with the talent needed to carry the role, it fell to the costume department to deal with the offending body parts.
Enter painful binding - the process by which ACE bandages were wrapped very tightly around her chest to compress the outwards signs of her real age. Between binding and tight corsets, they managed to obscure the signs of womanhood and render Judy much more childlike.
But the type of binding done to her is uncomfortable and dangerous when done for extended lengths of time. ACE bandages do not move with a body and can result in obvious side effects like muscle tearing and bruised ribs, but also truly dangerous ones like misshaping of the spine, shortness of breath, and serious lung damage. Binding this way is never recommended for FTM transgender people.
Now, I freely admit my own ignorance the first time Toby asked me, "Would you buy me a binder?" I literally thought he meant for school - 3 ring, and asked 2 inch or 3 inch?
He laughed, pretty sure he rolled his eyes hard enough to sprain at least one, and proceeded to educate me. This is a binder:
It is an even compression undergarment, available as above - slightly longer than a standard sports bra, or longer like a tank top. And they WORK.
Not just on the physical level. The emotional one is just as important. I well remember when Toby received and put on his first binder. The light in his eyes made me get tears in mine. Something so simple as a compression garment immediately brought his body more in line with what he FEELS. But then, I will let Toby explain that...
"Binders are just really important because it can be incredibly vital for trying to pass. There's something really comforting about having something to get your chest completely flat while waiting and saving up for chest surgery. But the most important thing for binding is your safety. A properly fitted binder won't hinder your health, but getting one too small can mess with your breathing and other things. Also, if you want to bind, DO NOT EVER. EVER. EVER. (Repeated 3 times for emphasis) use ace bandages. Ace bandages are often used for binding in media but in reality, it can be incredibly damaging. You can dislocate and warp ribs and damage your chest in doing so. If you want to bind, please try and invest in a proper binder. Passing and comfort is important, but your safety takes priority."
Now, we both acknowledge that binders can out price some people's wallets and they are left with the less expensive option of binding with ACE. Yet another reason we want to win the lottery and set up a foundation to help transgender people...
But until we can do that, Toby stresses, "If you bind it's important to do some stretches and cough every hour or so to keep everything from getting stiff."
Even with a proper binder, 8 hours is the recommended limit, and you do not exercise in them.
Now, as to that word Toby uses above - pass - I wrote about this word a few weeks back in a piece at DGMS. Here is the excerpt:
So, back to the path of transition. The beginning is passing. Trying to begin matching their appearance to their hearts, their souls, their minds. Hormones, surgeries - they come far later. But passing is crucial in this process. It is the first step to feeling even a little normal. Binders, hairstyles, perhaps wigs, makeup, or no makeup, clothing choices, etc, that help the person feel more like who they know they are. Transgender people are not to be confused with drag queens or transvestites - although shout out to the few drag queens who are trans and have publicly come out. Drag queens are dressing in a made up persona. Transvestites are typically happy with their gender, but simply derive pleasure from wearing garments usually worn by the opposite sex. Transgender people know who they are on the inside and are simply trying to live and be that person on the outside as well.
So a FTM (female to male) going into a men's room is because they ARE male. And they will go in a stall, do their business, wash their hands and leave. A FTM is not standing at a urinal checking out your dick.
A MTF (male to female) going into a ladies room is because they ARE female. And they will go in a stall, do their business, wash their hands and leave. A MTF is not at a urinal - there are none in a ladies room - or standing on the toilet looking over at you taking a dump.
They simply wish to pass as who they know themselves to be, get safely in, safely out. Might you take a second glance? Sure, but I promise you they are passing as best they can for the time in the transition they happen to be.
Further down the road of transitioning, when there have been hormones, perhaps surgery, you will notice them not at all.
Passing is a process. Learning techniques, trying things out, all with the goal of not standing out. Which brings us back to the undergarments.
So now you understand binders. They are no more salacious than a push-up bra. With the end result being the same - the wearer feels better about themselves and their appearance. Is there more? Of course there is. But this is also where I will stress that the constant curiosity of the transgender down under is no more your business than it is Toby's to Capital One up to you and ask What's in YOUR "wallet"? Yes, underwear with pouches for inserts exist - as not as many FTM opt for bottom surgery as do MTF - the surgery for FTM being largely cosmetic, not functional, dangerous, and pricey. For more information, if you must have it, I will simply direct you to Google. Hell, I encourage you to hit up Google. The more you know, the more you know, right? And as far as I am concerned, information is power. Power to make you understand a subject better, which in turn destroys fear. Power to make you a more well rounded person. And power to make you empathetic to those not like you.
And let's face it, left to our own devices, we humans are stupidly creative when we fill in the blanks on our own. Our questions are far scarier than the boring answers usually turn out to be. Again, which is why this blog exists. Transparency. No shame. Answers, dialogue. We own our story and are happy to share it with you.
On another note - today was a big one for Toby. He and Rudy headed to the doctor for a full check-up. I hated not being there with them for it, but am so happy Rudy was able to be completely involved in this big step. Toby is healthy and Thursday will pick up his first prescription to begin hormone replacement therapy. Big day, indeed.
You coming? :) "Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road..." Sing it, Judy.