My mind is a sexual sheath in which my body is huddled, a shut case, a tomb, a trap. (Preciado)
One arm —normally the right— superman’s up overhead, the other draws downwards, gripping then sliding unnoticeably through, body turns to greet, twisting from the hips and the left arm tucks upwards close to the ribs, popping a thumb. Deftly hooking and wrenching bunched up fabric into a neat line along the length of the bone, head furrows almost violently through, closed eyes (every time) and pull, gently at first; to establish boundaries —the stretchy part is safe zoned for stronger tugs. This bit, the stretchy bit, should sit flatly on the back and so is the first part that the arm —usually the left— extends backwards to the base of the neck to grasp, fingers contorted, push up, look up, body fully taught —thank fuck for yoga— inhale, again, one swift tug is all that it needs to settle into place, exhale. Now, two fingers on each hand desperately (because the back part has taken quite some time and exposure to the elements has to be reduced to roughly thirty seconds) seeks out the double panel, firm pieces of cotton that have been overstitched along the seams to provide additional support. Fronted with a shiny, nylon fabric, similar in texture to clothing labels; the breast plate, the protective covering that can be smoothed down once everything is safe. This part, is the hardest pull, because it hurts. Still it must be done and so with an even deeper breath and a final downwards motion that means the rest of the day will be just better, the front is fully secured over the chest. Bending over to firmly swipe each nipple to a central position so that an even flatness can be presented. Shoulders are pulled back for final inspection in front of the mirror —the only full look the body is permitted— criticisms clumsily stack into one another and distract from what’s important: the torso is now bound. This part of every day is easier to bear if it can be done only once, the worst is in hot weather when multiple showers are required. What would a waterproof binder look like? A binder that never had to be removed, a freedom that can’t be thought, as a familiar swelling tingle of despair begins to jut deep into the pit of the stomach— twenty four hours is never enough time to have to do this all over again.
The fourth photograph in the series sits directly over a white radiator in my bathroom. So that when I stack my towel or when I brush my teeth and stare absentmindedly into the mirror, it is the photograph that I ingest most intently. My gaze could be described at that moment in that obsequious way one would ascribe to a lover. Or maybe it’s more lusty than that, nevertheless, it is desirous. Desire to have and to hold, not the man, but the object itself. If only it were mine.
I purchased my first binder over a year ago and closed the door to anyone, especially my partner, seeing my naked body again. Those wobbly, fleshy sacks of oxytocin that sit high on my rib cage do not belong to me and therefore cannot be seen. They are an addition that I did not ask for. And all the meaning, all the hidden meaning that is imbued into this body part can go fuck itself. To bind means that my clothes look suitably androgynous. In between, a not either status is confirmed when strangers eyes surreptitiously greet the chest and are met with flatness. To present a nothingness is of course impossible. Because there is always something, always flattened body parts. No matter how tight I bind there is a fleshy mound that accumulates near the armpits, impossible to disguise. The options to avoid this clumsy clumping are too painful, too expensive to consider, so this will do. Against better judgement I long for the chill, the wintery thrill of being able to wear jumpers, because thicker layers mean that the eyes are distracted from that place.
Something has happened to me: I can’t doubt that any more. It came as an illness does, not like the ordinary certainty, not like anything obvious. (Sartre)
There are four photographs on my bathroom wall, measuring roughly six by four. Framed in white metal and arranged in a way that feels slightly pretentious. The artists name I know because of his monthly newsletters that burden my inbox. I try to push him out of my mind when I look up at them daily. A friendly enough guy, he is one of those people you wouldn’t want to have a drink with in the pub because his awkwardness brings out your awkwardness and you end up talking about really mundane things like the weather. The first of the series, starting from the left, is a cloud streaked sky. There are three streaks of white and the background is blue only it’s tinged with a hyperreal pink on the edges. Nothing more, nothing less. The second, is dusty pink and salmon, with sharp bursts of white, a rectangle of colour, shot as if someone were taking a photo of a screen with their phone. It vibrates slightly, creating a blurred tonal range. The third — surreal with a nineties undertone, could also be a screen shot — is of a man walking in the sun with a small child on his shoulders. The man has sunglasses on and the girl is wearing a swimming costume. The effect is a mirage; beautifully hot, shimmering landscape. All three make me feel a bit trippy and when I’m hungover can be, challenging. The final in the series is the real reason for my particular interest in these photographs. It is an image of a chest. A flattened, tanned chest. The person in the image is bending towards the camera and has therefore been decapitated so that the chest is the central focus of the shot. It fills the four corners of the print. In oranges and muted tones of umber, two nipples float centrally and there is some definition to the torso —arms outstretched— which is cut at the waistline by a pair of washed out, blue, denim jeans.
I don’t really even question why it’s ok to be judged so brazenly based on two mounds of fat that furnish this part of my body. Why is it ok that this rise and dip, this mountain range that flumps and bounces about can be the place that gathers all of me up in one swift answer: female. That which sits on the front of my body can connote how I am engaged with, categorised, filed and processed: woman. All the mess of the in between disappears as soon as others catch a glimpse of that undulating region: girl. Because from just underneath my tits, my stomach in ruler-ish and straight. My hips are narrower than my shoulders. Arms toned, somewhat defined, wrists are a little skinny, hands larger than average. Arse, well that area is a continual battle; forcing it to become firmer, flatter, non-existent —if only that area could be bound up too. Legs androgynously shaped and feet are wide and long enough to be affectionately termed ‘hobbit like,’ so that the only shoes I can fit into are invariably categorised as belonging to men. Even my face has a certain ambiguity to it, meaning in certain lights and at certain points of any given day I am mistaken for ‘Sir.’
The short bursts of negative vibrations on my electric toothbrush mean I have been, yet again, staring for ninety seconds. Who does this chest belong to? River Phoenix, Christian Slater, Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves…their chests so brazenly determining a freedom in clothing that sits almost perfectly. Idolised since forever. In that moment I disconnect from my body, the one that stares back at me and it is in here that I capture all that desire, all that freedom. Understanding the essence of what I would most happily change about this body. To walk around shirtless and fancy free is something that will never happen in my life time because the scars would be, well too harsh, and that is something I would never be able to mask. That the confusion of that chest placed on this body would be a collage too hard to glue down, the frilly edges of the cut up would always come unstuck in public places, and maybe even not so public places. So I stare and I use this daily moment of sweet release, of complete and utter reprieve, to brush my teeth and set myself up for the greatest disappointment of all.