Chest Envy (Freud Was Wrong)

Louise Brooks In Butch Drag

Louise Brooks, flapper icon

My mother took me shopping for my first bra during the first week of 7th grade. I was a chubby prepubescent eleven year old. It wasn’t clear if I had breasts or chest flab. We took a trip to a store with a back room and an old lady wearing a cardigan. She wielded a tape measure. I took off my shirt and my undershirt and she wrapped it around me, proclaiming “38AA.” I didn’t want to wear a training bra. I wanted to wear my undershirt. My mother wanted to make a lady out of me. By any means necessary.

I developed into a C cup. I also developed two survival mechanisms. The first was blinders; I tried not to see my breasts. The second was layers; I buried my breasts under a pile of clothes.

Not seeing your breasts takes a lot of effort. It is like living behind a four-foot tall fence. I only looked at myself from the shoulders up. The rest was a blur. Layers provided a buffer between me and the world. Except in extreme heat, I wore a T-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt, topped with a sweater or sweatshirt. I wore a lot of navy blue. I never wore horizontal stripes or shirts with graphics. I didn’t want anyone to stare at my breasts.

When I turned 17, I started shopping for my own bras. No lace, no wires, no stays. I ended up with low impact sport bras that were comfortable, but not feminine. Appropriate for a butch. I didn’t pay attention to compression or flattening because I wasn’t peeking. I didn’t consciously experience chest dysphoria because I averted my eyes. What you don’t see doesn’t exist.

I started looking when I starting using free weights at the gym. I wanted to use good form. I worked out in front of a full length mirror. I could not avoid my breasts.

Only once in American history has being flat chested been considered fashionable. During World War I, women were encouraged to support the war effort by giving up their steel boned corsets. Between the end of WWI and the 1929 crash, flapper style became popular. The flapper silhouette was slim, straight lined, and flat chested. Louise Brooks (in photo above) was a classic flapper Hollywood star. Women who were full-figured bound their chests with an undergarment like the Symington Side Lacer. Bras as we know them were not manufactured until the 1930’s. National Geographic has an interesting 5 minute video on the history of bras here.

I don’t want to trade-off the physical comfort of a bra for the psychological comfort of binding. My current bra is Phoebe by Moving Comfort. I know I am wearing it, but it is comfortable enough to wear all the time. My breasts are much less noticeable, than with a regular bra, but I can see the scoop neck bra line and the racerback straps through my T-shirt. I’d like invisibility.

I also have an Air M Velcro Short Binder from Love Boat. It uses a double layer of Spandex, it is adjustable, and it is easy on and easy off due to the side entry Velcro. It looked a lot more comfortable than the Underworks step-in or pull-over surgical style binder. I am ambivalent about it.

There is a thin line between a heavy-duty compression sports bra and a light weight binder. I can see the difference in the mirror. It is subtle, but I like it. I ordered the binder to see if being flatter reduced my overall dysphoria, and to see what I would look like if I had top surgery. There are days that top surgery seems like the pathological idea of a desperately unhappy person, and days that top surgery seems natural and reasonable.

There are days when I can manage to avoid thinking about my chest. I get up, get dressed, and live my life. No dysphoria. There are days when I get up, hate putting on a bra, wish I had a masculinized chest, and I think about top surgery. There are days when I am envious of every person, male or female, cisgender or transgender, who isn’t wearing a bra. There are days when I wish I were like them.

9 thoughts on “Chest Envy (Freud Was Wrong)

  1. 001sam

    This post is most awesome. And you are most awesome for doing it and saying these words (or writing them)
    I have often though about buying a binder, but I haven’t really had the guts to do it. I have also declared to my friends that chest surgery is a definite some time in the future. Most of the time I don’t think about my books, occasionally I like them, and some times I completely hate them with every brain cells I have.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for reading this post and commenting on it. Dysphoria and top surgery are exceedingly unpopular and controversial subjects to write/talk about openly, but it is important for us to do it on our own terms and in our own words with our own doubts and concerns. I flirted with buying a binder for two years – and tried to get the most comfortable one I could. Since I am not trying to be read as male it gives me some flexibility in the compression department. Les Love Boat is the company I got mine from (discretely packaged in a mailer envelope and it fit in the mailbox).

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  2. lesbiannefree

    Very well written. Well researched. Appreciated all of the links you included, as well as the much deeper and most meaningful glimpse into the life of one who deals with this issue daily. Thank you for your honesty and objective approach.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I was thinking about what people like me must have done before the invention of elastic and spandex – I can’t see myself in a corset! The links were fun to find; I’m glad you opened them and enjoyed them.

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  3. Lesboi

    I got this post in my email the other day and thought you must be in my head. My chest dysphoria is at an all time high lately and I have been madly trying to find a solution. Losing weight would help but it’s a slow process and won’t help in the immediate future. I’ve desperately been trying different binding, hiding and bra solutions. I find some things are more helpful than others but nothing seems to do well for me all day. It sounds like you’ve got some things that work for you now. I’m hoping I can do the same until I make up my mind about the surgery option and/or lose the weight. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Dysphoria, like depression, is insidious and hard to manage. You think you’ve figured it out and them bam! Here it comes again. My chest dysphoria got worse, not better, when I lost weight. Overall, the weight trade-off was positive, but I was not prepared mentally for the negative of showing curves. I wish that top surgery was easier and more accessible; but it is daunting (plus my partner is struggling with it conceptually).

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      1. Lesboi

        Yes losing weight can definitely be a double edged sword when the last thing you want is to look more feminine. I have a buddy who experienced the same thing after losing a large amount of weight. Surgery is definitely daunting! I understand your partner’s struggle. I have one of my own going on. I think, in the end, I will go for it because I would really love to be rid of wearing bras and having back pain. I do the slumped shoulder thing too and years of that has not been good for me.

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  4. RonaFraser

    Love this: “Not seeing your breasts takes a lot of effort. It is like living behind a four-foot tall fence. I only looked at myself from the shoulders up.” Great description! And it reminded me of me – when I look in the mirror, I only look at the specific spot of concern – did I capture all my hair in the ponytail? Do I have broccoli in my teeth? I rarely take in the entire face, because then I see the fat, the creases, and un-cute face which never looks how I picture myself. I feel like a young happy funny woman (ok, the happy depends on the day) but I look like a manly, overweight, wrinkly grump! (It doesn’t help that I look exactly like my dad, except that he is bald.) I would love to know what it feels like to walk through life, just for one day, feeling like a hot sexy chick. Ok, sorry – am off on a tangent. Slow in reading your post – just off a deadline – but it is a treat to read as I come back to regular life! 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Unfortunately, it appears that mindfulness and thoughtfulness and “walking around feeling like a hot sexy chick” are mutually exclusive. I haven’t met many people who think they are (to mix metaphors) the cat’s meow, but the ones I see do seem vapid. For better or worse we’ve been given sharp minds instead of great bodies. And ours are not sagging in middle age.

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