I’ve always had a weird relationship with my boobs. This semester, as I was designing the free gender-affirming chest binder program at Pitzer College, it was my own relationship with my body as a lesbian that shaped the vision of providing students with access to chest binders, designed specifically for breast flattening by queer people, that was both anonymous and free. The binder program, as described in a recent TSL article, has received a large amount of support from the Pitzer and 5C communities. With this attention, I want to take the opportunity to tell the story behind the idea for the free binder program and discuss the Pitzer community’s complicated approach to allyship.
We — the Pitzer community— can get trapped in the idea that because people in our community are generally supportive of LGBTQ+ identities, homophobia and transphobia don’t exist and all queer people should feel comfortable being out on campus. Don’t get me wrong, Pitzer is genuinely accepting of queer people — moreso than any other community I’ve ever been a part of.
But it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes at Pitzer we become so “accepting” that we regress into harmful stereotypes and assumptions about queerness. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by a cis straight woman “I wish I was gay because women are so much easier” or “I wanna hook up with girls because they’re hot” in an attempt to ‘support’ and ‘normalize’ sexual diversity. These statements are not ‘allyship,’ but an invalidation of the struggles and sexualization that lesbians and other queer people face even within a generally accepting community. Sometimes at Pitzer, homophobia comes full circle.
It is important to me that the community understands that someone binding their chest does not mean they are coming out as trans, and that to make assumptions about someone’s gender when they start binding is incredibly harmful to their comfort in our community.
When I bind my chest, it’s more a reflection of my sexuality than it is of my gender-queerness. I have a bad relationship with my large chest because to me it symbolizes the constant sexualization that men have forced on me since I was little. It bothers me that even though I am not attracted to men, they can force me to be aware of their attraction to me by commenting on my chest, something that is difficult for me to hide.
I present as a femme lesbian — meaning that I often dress in a way that is traditionally considered feminine. I feel comfortable in my femininity, but for a long time I saw my big chest as a part of it, which made me see the sexualization of my body as a part of my femininity as well. It was wearing a chest binder for the first time that helped me create a detachment between the physical body I am in (and that men have always sexualized) and my gender identity and femininity.
I don’t think people fully understand the impact that having a big chest, something very traditionally objectified by men, can have on people regardless of their gender identity. I am out as lesbian and I have a girlfriend, yet if I go to a party and wear a low cut shirt I will receive plenty of obscene comments from men about my body. It’s gotten to the point of discomfort that I don’t feel safe going to any non-queer parties at the 5Cs, and if I do, I am not comfortable having any public physical contact with my girlfriend. Even if it’s not true in reality, wearing a binder makes me feel like there are less men looking at me and objectifying me. A binder enables me to feel slightly more comfortable bearing my lesbian identity in public spaces at the 5Cs.
This is all to re-emphasize a long-winded point that chest binding does not equal coming out as transgender or non-binary. Noticing that someone has started binding their chest is not an invitation to inquire into or assume their gender and sexual identity. The reason someone chooses to wear a binder is personal and private, regardless of how close to the person you may feel.
It is especially important to me that the community understands this equation as the free binder program launches. Yes, the program is anonymous and people will be able to try binding in the safety of their own space, but it also means that more people will likely be able to begin wearing chest binders in public spaces on campus. The sentiment behind this program is to let people feel more comfortable in their queerness, but the only way it can have its intended effect is if the Pitzer community is ready to create a space where wearing a chest binder is just as normal as wearing a bra.
Guest columnist Lila Feldmann PZ ’24 is an active member of the Queer Trans + Alliance at Pitzer, where she got financial support to start the free anonymous chest binder program.