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.