One of numerous difficult aspects that comes with the territory of being a transgender or gender non-conforming biological female (to unpack that, I mean a person born with female characteristics like breasts and a vagina but who does not feel that he/she/ze is a woman) is the issue of secondary sex characteristics.  A lot of trans and gender non-conforming people do not feel comfortable with the body parts they’ve been given, so there’s now a decent market of products to help you alter that body- with chest binders, padded underwear and bras, etc.

The awareness of the need for these items and also an information sphere surrounding them has led to intriguing “do-it-yourself” pieces like this gem from Carnal Nation, A Butch Girl’s Guide to Chest Binding.

HOWEVER, there’s a really intriguing split between trans/gender non-conforming (GNC, for now, since this is getting long to type) who feel the need to bind and alter their bodies, and those who are comfortable living in them…at least for the moment.  I can’t claim to speak for these people, but I will direct you to a really interesting blog, That’s What Ze Said, written by a GNC person (who considers hirself to be “female-influenced”  in gender identity).  Said article explaining the concept of being ‘female influenced’ is here, and introduces us to the idea that one can acknowledge aspects of female-ness that apply to ourselves, but simultaneously reject the social framework which then makes us “female.”

“The fact that I, along with most everyone else in society, have been trained to see my body as female influences my life in so many ways. It affects how I think about myself. By being raised female I internalized a lot of messages sent to those with my assignment….The important differentiation between being female-assigned and female-influenced is how I see myself. I like having a connection to female-ness. Many transfolks do not hold any attachment to their assigned sex, but I do. Whenever I feel the need to distance myself from “female,” I feel part of me being erased. It’s too much a part of my experience, past and relation to body.”

This forces us to do a little bit of mental legwork in teasing apart the difference between gender identity and gender association.  A female-influenced person can have a gender identity which is neither male nor female, but still embrace

male and female associations- like womanly curves or masculine confidence and stature- without fixedly ascribing them to their identity.  They can take on and accept those associations when it feels right to them, and reject them when it does not.  I think this is an important construct to understand not only for cis-gendered people (those that are lucky enough to beborn with a body that fits our understanding of our own gender) who want to know and understand Trans and GNC people, but also for young people who are coming to realize that they are trans or GNC, but feel conflicted about their bodies.  You don’t have to want gender reassignment surgery to be trans.  You don’t have to feel an alienation from all things male and female to be GNC.  There are elements of both genders that can resonate for all people, but it is everyone’s job to better understand the manner in which gender binds us as a construct and to be mindful that it not restrict our thinking about friends and coworkers.