Reattach, i

The other day I went to a really old Chinese barber. The shop was old, as was the barber himself. The shop smelled faintly of medicated oil and had old photos and newspaper clippings on the walls, like my grandmother’s house used to. Teochew music played softly while the men chatted in teochew, my mother’s mother tongue.

I was comfortably at home, and yet also out of place. This is my heritage, one and a half generations removed, such that I can only think about it in English. I do not understand teochew, but hearing it spoken brings up sense memories of visits to Malaysia, listening to the adult women talk about adult stuff in the late afternoon, swathed in the warm glow of half-sleep.

This is my heritage, a few genders removed. Going to the barber is a deeply cultural experience of masculinity and male bonding, as salons are spaces of female bonding. This is why traditional barbers have survived the new wave of anonymised express $10 cuts. This is part of what it means to be a Teochew Chinese man.

In a different life, perhaps I would be at a barber’s with the men in my family, sharing in our masculinity, participating in the banter. Instead I got a glimpse through several panes of glass, listening mutely while people talked around me, the strange girl who wants their hair super short for some reason. But that was enough that I felt a connection I had not realised I was craving.

I rarely think of my gender and my Chineseness together. I am genderqueer, and I am 华人, but not at the same time. I think about almost everything in English, but my memories of childhood and home are in Mandarin. I do not have words for my gender in Mandarin, and so my gender is for me an acultural and rootless “thing I learned from the Internet”. I am now learning how wonderful and important, and possible, it is to reconnect these things. Transition is both detaching and reattaching; I cannot do the former without the latter, because a gender with no cultural place cannot survive. My gender cannot be acultural, and the other day in a barbershop I found a small space for its recognition.

Genderqueer in Hong Kong (cantonese, chinese subtitles)

(Related reading on the classist and racist white narrative of queer liberation that falsely frames the western world as the frontier of egalitarianism, and expects non-white people to abandon our families of origin “too traditional” or “uneducated” to hold space for queerness, Coming Home: Queer South Asians and the Politics of Family, Alok Vaid-Menon)

Reattach, i

Underworks Binders Masterlist

The underworks website is a huge confusing mess. Here’s a summary with reference numbers that you can type into the search bar at

Econo high power compression chest binder: top 943, tank 947(long)
Cotton lined power chest binder: top 975, tank 977(long)
Cotton concealer chest binder: 988(long,half binding)
Tri-top chest binder: 983
Microfibre concealer v-tank: 996(long)
Ultimate chest binder tank: 997(long)
Microfibre conceal crew: 998(long)
Extreme Magicotton Sports and Binding Bra: 3108

Most of the binders, except the sports bra, are under men>compression shirts. The one most people talk about when they talk about underworks binders is the tri-top (983), but there are actually Options.

For the short binders, econo/943, cotton-lined/975 and tri-top/983 look pretty much the same. The econo/943 is cheaper, with only one slightly translucent layer of material (the tri-top/983 is 3 layers) and hence suitable for people with smaller chests who would not benefit much from additional binding power. The cotton/975 is also one binding layer, but lined with cotton on the inside and MUCH more comfortable than the other two, which are scratchy nylon/lycra/spandex material on both sides. The cotton/975 is lower cut than the other two, which might result in some spillover at the armpits. The tri-top/983 is A LOT stronger than the other two, and much more difficult to get on.

Comparison with gc2b: gc2b (another popular line of binders) is made of swimsuit material except the binding panel, while underworks is all-round compression. gc2b feels MUCH nicer and less rough overall with better and sturdier design, but causes back pain for me due to proportion of shoulders or something, which is why I’m trying different brands. Unlike underworks, gc2b is specifically designed for trans people, shapes better, and is more bindy than the econo/943, less bindy than tri-top/983. Price is about the same, underworks shipping (to singapore; idk about other places) costs more and is much faster.

For the full length binders, stomach compression tends to “smooth things out”, and is good for bigger chests to prevent slipping out, but can be uncomfortably constricting and tends to ride up. Consider heat! The 988 is long but only bindy in the top half and has the benefit of looking like a tank top without stomach compression. The 996, 997 and 998 are fully compressing and only differ in neckline and sleeve shape. 988 vs 997.  996/7 vs tri-top/983.

The binding sports bra/3108 is more comfortable and less bindy than the other binders, and hence may be useful for people with larger chests who don’t want that much compression, or in combination with the full length binders (3108+998, video). Sports bras don’t do anything for people with chests smaller than the built-in cups though, obviously. (As such a person, I usually wear training bras without the cups. Occasionally I use athletic tape. I don’t bind very often.)

Underworks Binders Masterlist

Writing A Way Out

CN: suicide

Sometimes I find myself in corners, seemingly with no way out. I ask questions that preclude solution, and I write about them, because I want to lay out my pain, and I want it witnessed and understood and acknowledged. Writing helps me to process and sort through my feelings. I have had existential questions since the first time I contemplated suicide, but lately they have been gender-related.

What do I do if I can no longer live in my assigned gender but I cannot transition because there is nothing to transition to

How do I live in a world that will never read me as my gender and has no space for me

Who will love me

The correct answer is: “yeah that sucks, I have no answers, maybe you should kill yourself”, because these are real concerns, and to dismiss them is to refuse to acknowledge pain. If there were easy answers I would not have these questions.

But I am learning to live in the contradictions. Yes the only solution is suicide, but then in that case it doesn’t matter if you do that immediately or not right? Might as well eat a bit more ramen before you go; it’ll never be too late to kill yourself. And then somehow, in the weeks and months and years in between, the questions become less pressing. I am learning that I don’t have to figure out How To Live right now, or ever. I just have to figure out what to have for lunch today, and then the next day, and then the next and the next and the next.

That’s what life is, right? If we knew exactly how it was going to go there would be no point. Don’t worry about the end so much that you never allow yourself to begin. The fun is in bringing a brick and watching the cathedral form.

Billions of people before me have lived full and happy lives in the face of existential meaninglessness. Maybe Sisyphus is happy. Frequently I am happy, and that’s good enough.

Writing A Way Out


My brother, on occasion, slips and calls me his “sister.” Like a good trans person, I correct him. But some part of me cannot admit that when he says it, I am sometimes comforted—not because I am a woman or was ever a girl, but because I remember the warmth and protection his voice carried when he said it to me, when I was small and still new to this world.

When he says “sister,” it evokes a memory—a very particular one—of blood. When I cut my head open when I was 13, and despite his undeniable phobia of blood, he held his breath and a towel firmly against the wound while I cried. He was brave and he was sensitive and he spoke so softly to me. Then, and many times over, I was so proud to be his “sister.”

I admit that I am still learning to be proud of being his “brother,” too.

Like many trans people, I am learning to reattach to new words and new parts.

How I Both Need and Grieve My Gender Transition, LQTU

Transition takes so damn much effort; both external, eg coming out to people, and internal RECONFIGURATION. Detachment from the familiar. Reattachment to the foreign.

You know how chemical reactions require activation energy to break apart existing bonds so that new, potentially more stable ones can form? Look I found a graph. There’s even a “transition state” labelled, lol.

Image result for activation energy graph

I want to be on the right side of that graph, nicely settled into my gender and body, empirically more comfortable and requiring less energy than my birth assigned gender. But here I am still having to climb that cliff, moving away from the familiar discomfort into even greater unfamiliar discomfort, aka a rock and a hard place, aka the frying pan fire thing, but that’s enough metaphors in one sentence.

Example: I gag a bit whenever I try to think of myself as “she”. But at the same time it is so familiar, like very old shoes. It took almost a year and a lot of angst (SO MUCH angst) not only to get at least some people to use “they” at least some of the time, but also for me to hear it enough that it no longer feels unnatural and foreign.

In some areas I have “transitioned” and gotten over the hill and at least partially reattached. But then there are so many more people to come out to and have to constantly correct, new contexts to come out in, gendered situations to renegotiate… and I need to get used to all those things; recently it often feels like too much trouble to climb those hills.

My family calls me meimei (little sister). Sometimes when female friends call me girl I don’t correct them either. At work, where I am not out, people call me xiaojie when they are pretending to be formal, and when I do something dumb. When I buy things hawkers call me xiaomei and are nice to me because I am young. These words are affectionate. I don’t like being misgendered, but what gender neutral equivalents are there that hold the same emotional meaning? Even if there are words that I could start practicing using, they don’t currently have the weight of personal and cultural history, and there has to be all that effort.

I feel like the “good trans person” response is to correct all these people every time, because how else are we going to get to the other side of the hill? But I always let it slide, in order to accept and enjoy the connection that the person is trying to make with me. I don’t want to detach, and I don’t even know what there is to reattach to. That’s what you get for trying to transition to an avant-garde gender. There are ALL THESE THINGS to uproot and replant, and there is nowhere to plant most of them.

This is also how I currently feel about physical transition. What does that even look like if I don’t in any way want to look like or be read as a man, and what do i do with my attachment to my current body? BLEAH it’s all so much EFFORT and I don’t! WANNA! OKAY??

But of course, dysphoria fucking sucks and transition helps, and I am always trying to avoid difficult things I know are prolly good for me. So I know that what I need to do is to give myself time and space, but also suck it up and be brave sometimes. It will get better. I will grow into my gender, even if right now I cannot imagine what that might look like. Bring a brick, not a cathedral. Okay? Okay.


What I Want

No, I don’t want strangers to read me as a man. I’m not a man, why would I want strangers to think I’m a man? Would you (hypothetical non-male participant in this conversation) want people to read you as a man?

“oh, but I thought…”

I want people to read me as genderqueer. I want them to look at me and decide, hm, genderqueer. Isn’t that also what YOU (hypothetical binarily gendered participant in this conversation) want, or even expect? You expect people to read you as your actual gender, not something “close enough” that isn’t actually even close, don’t you?

“but realistically… people are only going to pick from male/female. Don’t you prefer one over the other?”

Say you have green hair. Would you prefer people think you have blue or red hair? Would you, (hypothetically) a binary cis woman, prefer people think you are genderfluid or genderqueer?

Why do I have to choose? I want people to read me as my gender, is that too much to ask? Apparently it is if I’m not a binary gender. But you asked what I want. I want to live in a world where my gender is an option on lists, and I want people to select that option for me. I want my gender to be affirmed every day in the thousand little ways that binary genders are affirmed, in bathrooms and honorifics and pronouns and “welcome, how may I help you, SIR”. I want to experience the relief and joy and affirmation my binary trans friends experience when they begin to transition and the world starts to read them correctly at last. Confusion is not good enough. Avoiding referring to me is not good enough. Being read half the time one way and half the time the other, and wrong all the time, is not good enough.

So, no. I don’t want to be called sir by random people. It’s not “close enough”. It’s NOWHERE near close to what I want, and you asked what I want.

What I Want

Gendered Spaces II

Some gendered spaces and how I interact with them

1. Bathrooms, obviously. I have to use one or the other. I have heard that transmasculine people should not use the women’s room because they have male privilege and may make women uncomfortable. Which is BS; people should use whatever they feel comfortable with, and everyone else can deal with it. I also hate choosing in front of people who I suspect are trying to fit me into the binary and will conclude that I am “really” whatever gender I choose, because obviously a REAL NB will go in both simultaneously, by quantum superposition. I use whichever feels easier, which has recently usually been the women’s, for a bunch of reasons that I just go with and don’t overthink anymore (I’m still on break from overanalysing my gender feelings).

2. Sports. I used to do judo competitively, and have not in several years. I’ve been wanting to go back, but the septum ring is inconvenient, and also the gender thing. It makes sense for me to compete with other estrogen-based people, but I did not think I could do that and still expect my gender to be respected. Reading about Harrison Browne, an openly transgender man competing in women’s hockey, was very encouraging and made me realise I don’t necessarily have to choose between competing and my gender. (I know people who would say “you can’t have it both ways”, but fuck that trans-erasure noise.) The other good news is that sports at non-competitive levels is much less gendered. I am looking into joining an MMA gym casually, most of which seem to be mixed-gender. I also rock climb casually.

3. Affirmative action (?). Improv tends to be male-dominated. Some improvisers in my city decided to start an all female team in order to combat that, which was annoying. Like… there are other gender minorities whose voices also need amplification? I mean, if you want to have an all female team, sure, but then you don’t get to market it as “combating male domination” imo. Their branding has indeed shifted away from that over time though, so it is less problematic now. People who don’t even consider nonbinary people when discussing gender diversity really annoy me though. I also occasionally get invited to “women in engineering” events and to apply for Google’s women’s scholarships, neither of which are things I feel comfortable doing. idk.

4. Single gender schools. I actually went to a girls’ school a few years before even realising I might not be a girl. Being away from boys who were constantly assumed to be better at certain things did wonders for my confidence and gave me space to excel in those things. Other than a bit of gender policing and compulsory femininity (“we’re teaching you to be cultured young ladies”), it was great. This is why I am hesitant when people suggest that we should get rid of gender segregation altogether. I think what we actually need is better categories, more permeable borders, and to let people choose and move between categories.

Gendered Spaces II

Gender Diversity in Gendered Spaces

I have had heated discussions with transpeople about this. I know (trans)people who think that non-women should never make use of “female” spaces and non-male people should never make use of “male” spaces.

I think that that is a cis-centric way of thinking of the world, and strongly believe that gender diverse people should do whatever works for them with regards to gendered spaces. The vast majority of gendered spaces are designed for cis people, and do not work very well for gender diverse people. It’s not our fault that designers of gendered spaces have no idea and/or don’t care that we exist, and thus we have the right to make the best of the situation by doing whatever works best for us. It pisses me off that people think gender diverse people should deny ourselves resources for the sake of semantics.

If a uterus-owning person feels they will benefit from a motherhood support group, more power to them. If a transwoman feels comfortable on a gay dating app, more power to her. Gay men aren’t obligated to date her, obviously, but if that’s what works for her, what skin off anyone else’s back is it? If you are going to have a scholarship for women when it makes more sense for that to be a scholarship for gender minorities, I am going to shamelessly apply for it.

Sometimes transpeople find themselves in single-gender schools. I know people who think they should remove themselves ASAP, and have no right to demand people gender them correctly. That is not how school works, and centers cis feelings over transpeople. Leaving a school is disruptive, difficult and takes time? And if someone comes out at your school and you now KNOW there is one gentleman present, is it that hard to stop addressing everyone as “ladies”? This isn’t about “men making female spaces adapt to them”, this is about cis spaces refusing to acknowledge and adapt to trans realities.

Anyway, here is a story about Harrison Browne, the first openly transgender man competing in women’s hockey. He is putting his medical transition on hold in order to keep competing, and that is what works for him. His teammates respect his gender identity, as they should. Somebody making use of a gendered space that isn’t named their gender is not invitation to misgender them, or decide that they are “really” that gender. Should he instead join the men’s team? No, if that’s not what he wants. Gender categories in sports make no sense anyway; where are nonbinary people supposed to go? It makes more sense for people to be categorised by testosterone/estrogen levels if the advantage of one over the other is significant enough that we must have separate categories, and it is helpful for many gender variant athletes to think of the categories that way when the only other option is to stop doing a sport they love.

There are many barriers to gender diverse people doing sports, and lots of other things, because the cisheteropatriarchy did not think to make space for us. Yes, gendered spaces need to do much better, but it is unfair to expect us to simply not do those things until the world catches up and creates nonbinary judo tournaments. Meanwhile I think that (1) gender diverse people should be allowed wherever they feel comfortable and it makes sense for them to be, and (2) their genders should be respected while there.

Gender Diversity in Gendered Spaces