A Conversation on Breasts, Beards, and Binaries

Gender dysphoria is robbing me of my birthright

Pax Ahimsa Gethen
LEVEL
Published in
7 min readMay 29, 2018

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The author running in a sports bra and shorts toward the finish line of the U.S. Half Marathon, San Francisco, November 2012. Photo: Ziggy Tomcich

Content note: Medical issues and (by some interpretations) partial nudity.

Yesterday, I was walking home from the bus stop after a lab appointment for my biweekly testosterone injection. It was the first sunny day in what seemed like weeks, and I was uncomfortably warm: In addition to the short-sleeve shirt I was wearing, I had my usual tank top underneath to make my breasts less noticeable without resorting to a sports bra or binder.

My breasts aren’t particularly large, but as I’ve gained some weight, they’ve become more difficult to conceal, even with added layers. I haven’t worn any kind of bra since I transitioned five years ago, and binders are out of the question; the one time I tried to put one on, I had a panic attack. I simply hate the feeling of constriction.

So as I was walking, bra-free, on this warm day, a woman heading the other direction stopped about 20 feet away and stared. I murmured “hi” as I neared but kept walking, hoping she wasn’t going to ask for directions (which I’m terrible at) or anything else. As I approached, I heard her say with quiet astonishment, “It’s a man.”

I hurried past, flustered. Had I misheard her? I did not want to ask for clarification; I dislike talking with strangers, and I got the sense (though it was impossible to tell for sure) that she might have been developmentally disabled. I hadn’t been misgendered as female since growing my beard out several months ago, so I assumed her confusion was about seeing a bearded person with visible breasts.

Headshot of the author, wearing a short beard and hat, May 2018. Photo: Gwen Park

Referring to me as a man wasn’t necessarily misgendering anyway. I’ve transitioned from female to male for legal and medical purposes and accept being addressed as a man on the street even though I’m actually agender. I can’t expect strangers to know I’m nonbinary from looking at me nor do I have the energy or desire to explain my gender to everyone I encounter.

I hate when well-meaning folks tell me to “just be myself” because…

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen
LEVEL
Writer for

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch