Binders: Building Up Those Pecs!

I have had a binder for the past… three years. But I didn’t always have a piece of handy dandy clothing that made my chest flatter. In fact, my first experience was using a method that isn’t safe at all: the Ace bandage. So I want to provide some insight on the few things I have learned using a couple different techniques and styles of binders.

First off… what is a binder? A binder is a constricting piece of clothing that makes breast tissue flatter to mimic a mammary gland-less chest. They come in a variety of styles, from those that cover just the breast area, to the top half of the chest, to the full chest and abdomen. They are generally made of a constricting polyester fabric and are suggested to only be worn for 8 hours. Not like I have ever followed rules. (Oops…)

My first experiences, like mentioned above, was with the Ace bandage. This method is when you hold your breasts down and proceed to wrap the chest and surrounding tissue as smoothly as possible. This might a cheap way to do it, but it also isn’t very safe. Ace bandages are meant to constrict wounds! Or injured joints! I first bound using this technique for a theater production where everyone was gender bent in high school. I looked down and was excited! But running around, serving guests, singing and dancing, put a lot of added pressure on the bandaging. This left me with a few small bruises, a little light headed, and with a little back pain. One of the main reasons this method isn’t safe is because the bandage continues to constrict the entire time isn’t being used. So, while moving and singing and such, my bandage was limiting my lung capacity more and more, and the not so secure connections actually poked through and cut my skin. While this was my first experience, it wasn’t horrible or medically damaging. It can be though, so if you are considering binding for the long term. If so, I’d suggest getting an actual binder. Will cost more, but will be worth it because it will last longer and limit the amount of weird lumps created by un-even wrapping.

This isn’t a form of binding, but I want to make a note that after that theater production, I really enjoyed the constricting yet freeing feeling. So when I got into Steampunk after graduating high school, I found a corset that instead of plumping up my chest, flattened it. While it wouldn’t work for everyday wear, a discreet corest might work for someone for a while. Just be aware of the type of boning your getting. Plastic boning can warp with extended use.

After high school, and when I found out about binding from my partner, I used a sports bra one size too small for a while. I had looked online at binders and saw that they leave people with some arm pit flab, and thought a smaller sports bra would provide me with the same support. Wrong! It hurt to breathe, worse than the ace bandage, because it was digging in on my rib cage, specifically in the spaces between my ribs because of the elastic band on the bottom. The shoulder straps would dig into my shoulders a lot causing upper back pain. And I couldn’t even get it off on my own after wearing them for a couple hours. While it might have provided me with some “support” in the chest department, it wasn’t flat, just less roundly defining. I gave it up when I couldn’t put it on or off on my own, and when my shoulders would still be red a couple hours after taking it off. The pain was not worth the pay off in the end with this method. While it didn’t constrict my breathing as much as the ace bandage, I learned that the pressure has to be diffused over the whole upper torso, just just put on certain parts of it like with bras.

Then came the ACTUAL binders. (Yay!) I didn’t choose my first one. My partner purchased it after seeing me struggle with the sports bra, and noticed I wasn’t purchasing push ups or underwires.
There are multiple styles, like I mentioned above. So I am going to briefly go over the two I own and the pro’s and cons.

Oh and one thing to remember when wearing a binder, lift and separate the breasts as much as possible without it hurting so the majority of the tissues in the pectoral region. Helps you look more buff, and gives a more “natural” appearance based off of where there is more tissue.

Side clasps

In an effort to get one more discreet, my partner got a binder that clasped on the side. It provides just slightly more coverage than a sport bra, but with the versatility of making it as light or loose as needed for the day. Binders, when purchased from an online retailer, come smaller than expected. So follow the sizing guidelines provided and make sure to look at any reviews available. They will normally help you determine based off of measurements which size would be best to purchase.
The side clasp one provided me with the ability to make the bottom tighter than the top, spreading out the pressure, and keeping the front and back sleek. Over time the elasticity of it has worn down. Like a bra, binders do need to be changed often, and you need to look into buying new ones once you start noticing wear or a lack of stretchy-holding-you-back-togetherness. (I’m getting tired while writing so I apologize if that didn’t make sense). It was hard to put on my own, but I eventually was able to do it without a mirror, and in a bathroom stall on days where I brought it with me to school.

Pros: similar coverage to a sports bra, less pressure on the shoulders, ability to adjust size

Cons: side boob would catch on the side clasps which could lead to it digging in, when not put on right it could easily unclip and based off of clip placement could be hard to quickly fix.

Front Clasps

I have actually gotten this one more recently (within the past two months). Even going through the process of waiting for top surgery, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I needed a new binder, and wanted to try something different. So, my front clasp binder came from a different seller, and this one has overall more fabric than the side clasp one. My front clasp product covers most of my torso, and has a mesh like back with adjustable shoulder straps. I felt like I was going from a single speed bike to a motorcycle!
The breathe ability with the mesh back was amazing and the shoulder straps helped with almost eliminating any shoulder pain but still provided enough pressure to keep things tight.
The coverage is a lot more with this one, with adjustable front clasps from 2 inches below the collar bone till the end of my floating ribs. I can’t wear just a plain tank top, but my chest looks almost as flat as a cis-mans. And I’m not flat chested. My main concern was the clips coming apart and poking through my shirt. But every time I have worn it, I haven’t had that problem. You can see a few bending fabric bits that aren’t normally there, but overall it makes my chest flatter, lowers the shoulder pain almost till it’s pretty much gone, and I can wear it in warmer weather. I also don’t have as much side boob, because the coverage is greater and the tissue is more evenly distributed.

Pros: A real flat chest look, breathable back means less sweat lines!, even more adjustments means better compatibility

Cons: a little more expensive (about $20-25), bottom edge of the clasps can dig into my stomach (I’m a little overweight), and I have to use the same size all the way down the binder, as I can’t seem to adjust it tighter as I get to the bottom of my ribcage because it pops out easier.

So that is the skinny on binders, according to moi. If you want to get one but don’t know where to start, research binder exchanges in your area or online. Had I known about those resources I wouldn’t have done the corset or sports bra stages as long as I had. People are willing to help donate binders that don’t fit them anymore, or provide discounts or free binders to certain populations. Just ask your local LGBTQ community members and they can point you in the right direction.

For me, a binder has become an essential part of my wardrobe because it helps me have less body dysphoria associated with attention to my chest. It got so bad I couldn’t wear any v-neck shirts or cute frilly shirts with lace down the front. But with a binder I can wear those or button ups AND be more comfortable in my own skin. Just make sure you take your time with slowly acclimating your body to binding, as it can cause long term damage if you do it wrong. And treat your body right. Take breaks if needed. Don’t wear  them if you are doing a high intensity work out or have a very active job. Cream in those rough spots or sore areas. Take a bath if you need, chest side down so things don’t float up, so your muscles can relax after wearing your binder for a couple hours. It might be dysphoria triggering, and even if you don’t take care of yourself often afterwards, it’s part of you. Taking care of yourself mentally AND physically is important.

You are beautiful lovelies.

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Doctors… and their offices

So because I have been trying to get my letter of “certified mental stability” from a therapist for insurance I have been going to my doctors office more often. I also have had a few other health issues crop up, and it just has caused me to slight discomfort every single time I go.

Why? My therapist is nice and respectful. It’s not her. It’s the staff in general.
My doctors office has a post where you can put prefered name in. When I found out about it, I changed it asap and was so happy to be able to called by my prefered name. I mean it was a breath of fresh air with my work place and home life. So here would be another area where who I aam couple be validated. But nope… Even though my doctor has even changed everything on there end, they still use my legal name when I check in, and when I’m called to the back. It’s so jarring. And it seems like they try to be LGBTQ friendly, but they are really not.

I roll my eyes mentally every time. Until this past week.

The way my doctor office works is residence get to practice for I think about 1-2 years, and then become full fledged doctors under the care and supervision of another certified doctor. My old one recently left, so I had to go to another new doctor for another non-surgery health concern. And this new doctor was amazing.

She noticed my prefered name and changed right away. Didn’t slip. And then when she was writing down stuff in my file about my non-surgery health concern she asked my pronouns. And changed the whole thing she had just written into them/them pronouns.

My previous doctor told me there wasn’t a way to change my prefered pronouns in the system because my health care is based off of my anatomy. Part of me makes me wonder if she really understood what I was trying to tell her. But this new doctor assumed I used male, and shifted things to gender neutral after I told her my prefered ones. It was amazing how she treated me like a person instead of an anomaly. She is a breath of fresh air, and I realy really REALLY appreciate it. I will look forward to coming back in next time I need to see her again (besides the whole health bit).

I just wanted to share that happy bit of information. It’s always worth asking people to use your prefered name and pronouns. 🙂

30 Days of Pictures and Pre-surgery Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted yet again. Mainly because I have been dealing with crazy things recently. Work schedule is weird, interviews, spur of the moment all my plans change, and repetitive early mornings. So, I have now found the time to sit down and work through a few things that I said I would do.

1) 30 days of pictures
With June being Pride month, I thought I’d try the 30 days of picture taking to be my first real attempt at taking my picture every day to better my image of myself, and see if doing so really works.  To be fair, I took pictures maybe 70% of the time. One day I took a ton because Snapchat filters are amazing and funny. Over all, I feel like I have a slightly better sense of what I look like. I also made a point to take a picture on days were I was getting up early or had a crappy day mentally. And I could see it, but I was surprised to also think “Hey,  my eyes look good in that shot.” or ” if I turn my head that way more it seems more androgynous than female.” It was great.
So, would I do this again? Sure.
How would I change it: full body pictures (if I had a full body mirror which I don’t have because my partner broke it), and do it every day. And maybe share them.
What I have learned: I don’t think as negatively about myself as I thought I did. It really has helped me realize that my anxiety messes with my personal perception more than I realized. And that I truly value myself more than based off of looks. Yay… I guess?

2) Pre-operation insurance stuffs
So I have been seeing a therapist every week now. They are trying to figure out how to write a letter to let insurance know I am in a stable place mentally and that I am a good candidate for the surgery. After meeting with her for about 4 times, she asked me directly a few questions regarding my mental stability and personal image. So maybe it will happen soon. After the letter is written it’s all up to insurance.
Which might be changing if I get a job I applied for. And I don’t know if it would cover it. I don’t even know if this state insurance covers it. But if it does and then I  switch… I don’t know how I will feel about it. Because then all this work would have been for nothing. So does this mean I really want it than? Having my chest modified is a big deal. It would help with my mental perception of who I am as a person. I would be more comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know.
What I’m trying to focus on now is positive things. Like getting the letter written soon. And sending it to insurance.

Also, I have had two occurrences the past week that have both scared me shitless and made me super uncomfortable.
First one, thank you brain, was a dream. Like how I had mentioned in my previous post about names and their importance, I was going on vacation with my family and the topic of my prefered came up. I ended up literally yelling at them and storming out to leave and not finish the vacation with them because they wouldn’t respect me with my prefered name. And this came after (in the waking world) hearing my mom use my old name twice in a row like my prefered name didn’t exist on the phone, and didn’t correct herself after I said something. I didn’t think it would hurt as much as it did, and this is how my brain was processing internalized feelings. Last thing I was to do is separate myself from my family, but I don’t want to be feel like I’m worthless and like how my old self (who isn’t me) is being forced upon me. Gah family!!!!
Second one, was with friends I haven’t seen in years. So I forgot how this friend couple worked (dynamic wise) and how one of them was extremely sexual in his focus on conversation and in physical interactions. Instead of a hug, he had me sit on his lap. He made comments about my chest and other rude comments about women, mainly objectifying them. And I realized, then and there, that I am not comfortable with being treated like a woman most of the time. Maybe it’s the distance because of my body dysphoria. Maybe because I haven’t been around a person that directly objectifies women in a while. Maybe because I don’t identify as a cisgendered person anymore that I find that type of conversation and actions inappropriate. Maybe because I was younger, insecure, and easily swayed by others many years ago that that conversation topic and those actions were okay in my mind than but not now. I’m not sure. But my bubble is bigger, and I’m not the same person anymore. I would bring it up to the friend, but I probably won’t see them both for a while, probably another year or two. And if my surgery has happened by then I wonder what they would think then.

Is it dead?

I apologize that I haven’t posted in awhile. I have gotten sick, applied for a promotion, gone to a few dentist and doctor appointments, and am thoroughly exhausted. My “mandatory vacation time” is now not mandatory, now that I’m being called in for the next two days. Oh joy…

I was intending to do my next post wrapping up pronouns, but have decided to instead start a new topic. Yay! I’ll try not to make things too confusing as I continue to post. I mean, if I confuse myself how is anyone else supposed to be able to read this, right?

New topic:  Names

The use of a name is very important. Growing up we categorize things, give them identifications to communicate better and know when being spoken too. They have a significant amount of power behind them. You know who is listening to you, who is your friend based off of who knows your name and pronounces it correctly. Names also bring up a ton of imagery, based off of others known by the same name, thus not a lot of people kids their girls Jezebel as they do Mary or Ruth. Shakespeare mentions it too in Romeo and Juliet during the balcony scene in Act II, scene II:

” ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

As a gender non conforming individual, I at first thought name wasn’t going to be as important to me. I mean, I wasn’t trans and not identifying as the other end of the binary. So a change in prefered name wasn’t really going to need to happen. Wrong. For me, name was just and important as pronouns, and having my given name be very female, I struggled. So, with my close friends and family I asked for a different name to be used. One that wasn’t very anglo-saxon; male in German and female in Japanese.  I chose it because as a writer, I connected with my character with the name I had chosen and felt it was a better fit.

And it changed everything.

With that one change, I could tell people saw me as more androgynous (what I prefer) and some even struggled to figure out which binary pronouns I’d prefer. I was given a clean slate that I alone could modify and change to fit who I was. No frills or puppy dog tails expected. Soon the use of that name spread into every day life outside my personal life. I now use it as my prefered name at, one, of my jobs.

The inconsistency of me telling others is definitely showing.  I get easier agitated at the job where I use my legal name, job hunting is difficult, and it’s almost like a shock every time someone uses it. It hurts, but I don’t tell the others at my second job because i’m spread between so many different people that asking them to change names would make it difficult for them in the long run too. Part of me is just kind of okay with the use of my old name at one place because I can expect it. It’s consistent. I don’t have to worry about the forgetting and apologizing like with pronouns. But then they really don’t get to know me as me. It’s a facade.

There are some trans individuals who have such a negative connotation to their  previous name that they call it their “dead” name. Calling others by their dead name is a big insult for many reasons that vary per person. For me, I’m not sure if my legal name is what I would call my “dead” name. Because it’s not fully dead. Like it’s dead to me in the fact I don’t identify with it. It’s like a old tattoo, cover it up and only show it if necessary.

I’m not sure on how to handle the situation. From now on, with each new job I will mention my prefered name and pronouns (that is for sure), but dealing with changing a name legally is a big step. Especially since family have a big connection with it. Parents give you your given name. There is all this expectation. The way they see you would change when you insist on a nickname or prefered name. But changing the legal name could be seen as an insult. But in the end, it is my life right?

For now, I’ll poke at my old name like an animal just hit by a car. Is it dead? Is it alive? I want it to be dead, but how to handle it if it’s alive…But in the end…

that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Selfies and Pronouns (Part 1)

Growing up there were things on Facebook and Myspace where you posted selfies or pictures of yourself for a certain amount of time to seem more “real” to yourself, others, or just show off. I never participated in those because I was always anxious on how to take a good picture, figured no one wanted to see me so I took pictures of others… things like that. Well, I have made a decision. I’m gunna do the 30 days of Selfies in June. They can be done with Snapchat, my phone, my camera, my computer, etc.
My reason behind waiting 26 years to do this is because of a thought I mentioned in my previous post. If my definition of non-conforming is always shifting. Why not embrace it visually along with mentally? Show off my quirky smile, mohawk hair, or if I feel crappy, make the photo the crappiest, or try to make myself feel better. Depends on the day and or mood. So, we will see how well I do that. I’ve been horrible at goals, new years resolutions, etc. After I’m done with the month of June, I’m going to talk about how I feel about myself afterwards. Make a post about the shot at the beginning and a shot at the end. People always talk about crazy transformations or shifts. Lets see if I get one. No sugar coating.

I also want to talk about a hot button topic, probably in 2 parts (mainly because it’s a big topic and I don’t have much time to write about it right now). Pronouns. The dreaded words that put you in boxes. Or, can liberate you from yourself.
At the beginning, I didn’t think that pronouns were important. But, the first time I went to the Pride meeting on campus and was like “Hi. I prefer gender neutral pronouns I also respond to fe-“. Commence interruption of people waving hands and saying things like “No, we will use your prefered pronouns. It shows respect to you.” and “Even though you are different, we want to support you.” It was nice, and a little unexpected. At the time, I hadn’t even asked my girlfriend to use gender neutral pronouns with me yet. Pride meetings ended up becoming a safe haven for me. Every other week I could pick out the candy from between the condoms and laugh and tear up and shake out of nerves as we talked about a variety of topics.
I eventually got up the nerves to talk to my girlfriend about my pronouns. And she told her family. It just spiraled from there, to my work at the time. It stopped at my family though. They don’t even fully understand what it means to be gender non conforming and with my family also speaking a second language, I’m unsure on how to approach gender neutral pronouns in a second language. That’s gonna require some research.
When people forget about my pronouns, they either backpedal and wait for me to tell them “It’s ok, I’m not offended” (even though my heart cracks a tiny bit), or they back track and replace my name. I’m not sure which I prefer, if I were to even choose one.
The first makes it seem like the burden to correct and coddle others rely on me. It’s tiring and exhausting, and hurts too much. If I have to remind you continuously, does my mental well being even matter to you? The second one, just seems to circumvent my request all together. While yes, you are acknowledging me directly, the fact you have to back track and don’t even try to correct yourself hurts. I cringe every time. But, overall, pronoun usage is a personal choice. It can shift, especially if you’re gender non-conforming, and brings up additional challenges that others who are trans, might not have to experience. Because we step completely out of the binary.

What I will talk more about gender neutral pronoun types, it’s use in my art, how it’s affected my art, and my work life.

Oh and in case anyone was wondering, I prefer gender neutral pronouns (They/Their/Them) or male pronouns (He/Him/His).

Ripples after the Stone

So as I posted before, I went to the plastic surgeon about getting top surgery. It seems like such a weird thing to talk about now. The last few days have been a roller coaster of emotions, and me figuring things out.
The consultation was good. The doctor was nice, assistants were great, and open about the processes. The weird part was when they asked to look at the goods and started spouting gibberish. It made me nervous not knowing what they were meaning  with the different phrases, acronyms, and numbers. I mean, I can assume things, but it still made me nervous.
During the consultation I felt confident. Spacey due to nerves and wishy washy because of a couple things I had assumed. Nothing bad.
Then came the ripples.
I have had bouts of severe body dysphoria, anxiety, and worry about how I am perceived. It got so bad that I decided to wear my binder at work, a high energy job where I have to be moving quite a bit (It’s hard to breathe sometimes if I put it on too tight or if I try to run) and I refused to take it off till almost 12 hours later. I’ve gone from a high of thinking about how nice it would be to hug others and be closer to them to actually thinking about missing my chest, the familiar weight and social assumptions that cause me discomfort. It’s so weird. I haven’t had to deal with my dysphoria this much in such a raw emotional state before.
So, I have practiced my violin more, tried to focus on my writing, and tried to focus on my life in the present. Not one month away, not the future. Once my mind is more settled, I can work on my surgery “homework”.
I have come to the conclusion that my definition of non-conforming is currently shifting. And will always shift. Because of my fears currently, I am gravitating towards more female things. Clothes shopping, looking at fashion, going through my old things to bring back old memories, etc. Heck, I’ve even painted my nails. First time in almost two years I have painted my nails. And I’ve flirted with the idea of wearing my male clothing and putting on eyeshadow, or trying to find the right lipstick to match my tie.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I can still be presenting as a more feminine gender non-conforming person and still be validated as a person. I can wear a pair of boxer briefs under a cute summer dress. I can not shave my legs and wear booty shorts. I can like video games but find joy in braiding hair. I’m not defined by the social norms of gender. I can break those barriers on a daily basis.
Do I need a surgery to do that? No. Like I said, it can be done daily and be different every time. I don’t need it to “pass” because I don’t have a list or social guide I have to follow. Would it be helpful for my own personal well being, specifically my emotional health? Most definitely. Heck, this whole surgery thing might not even happen because I have state insurance.
I can deal with the ripples, if it means that I am more comfortable with myself. And heck, life is a journey where we learn more about ourselves.  So I will take all the rocks life will throw at me, watch the ripples, learn more about myself, and watch as those rocks line the bottom of the pond of my life. a beautiful, multi-color mosaic.

Consultation Tomorrow…

So, for me in my gender non-conforming self exploration path I have made the decision to discuss with my healthcare provider the possibility of getting top surgery. This would result in getting a chest reduction and I would be able to “pass” more easily as male.
Ugh, I hate the idea of “passing”.
For me, the main focus isn’t passing as more male or more female. I want to look into it because of the psychological concept of body dysphoria. According to Miriam Webster, dysphoria is “a state of feeling unwell or unhappy.” This definition can be applied in multiple facets. For me, I experience body dysphoria (manifesting in a stressed mental state) and extreme physical discomfort (sometimes so painful I can’t do daily functions with out being constantly reminded about my physical state).  And being aware of the fact I have it makes it like, ten time worse.
Telling my doctor about my interest in the procedure at my last doctor’s appointment was a crucial move in me being comfortable with myself. I was nervous for a split second as it passed through my mind. I didn’t think about mentioning it before I did my routine yearly check up. But then next thing I know some words are falling out of my mouth and BAM. I have now told my doctor I’m gender non-conforming and that I want to do surgery. I don’t do well with blood, shots, cuts, even the possibility of being in hit in the metaphorical nuts makes me sick to my stomach. And here I am saying I want to do a surgery many would see as optional.
And out of my surprised doctor’s face comes the standard questions about my sex life. Number of partners? HIV tested? Blah de blah de blah…
Well, the night before my consultation to see what the surgeon can do and what my state provided insurance will cover I’m not as nervous as I feel like I should be. My partner has given me melatonin to help me sleep, but I’m already exhausted from work and practicing my violin twice today. In 10 hours I will be groggy and walking into a appointment that could change me for ages.
I just hope I don’t have to jump through too many hoops before I can get it. Some insurances require hormones (in my case, Testosterone or “T”) for a certain amount of time. Others require a few months or a year of meeting with a mental health specialist. Sometimes they want a combination of both. Supposedly the person I would be talking with tomorrow will have more insight. We will wait and see.

Chapter One… In the Beginning

With gender being a hot button topic in America with current events and celebrities, why start writing these thoughts in a public forum?

As a gender non-conforming individual it’s been hard for me to find good resources, information about certain experiences, or just learn how people handle their life generally from non-news sources (yes, I’m counting BuzzFeed as a news sources in this context).  So I wanted to make a blog for myself, like a public diary. And if it helps someone in the long run, that’s great. But it isn’t my main goal. I don’t feel comfortable sharing most of my thoughts related to my gender and gender expression on my personal Facebook, or to even some of my friends. So, this will be a dumping ground for that as well. Sorry…but not sorry. You can choose to read what you want.

Growing up, I didn’t have much connection to the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, it was demonized in Sunday sermons, and people would cry in the pews during revivals if they wanted to confess their sins and turn away from the un-natural lifestyle. It never felt right manipulating people away from love or accepting themselves.  Do people who just want to be treated equal really have an agenda? Religion seemed to tear the practitioners down and rebuild them in what was considered good in others eyes, not God’s. I mean how are we supposed to know every single detail?! Why would a deity who loves all ask you to hate yourself to love him? But I grew up with this being hinted at and shoved down my throat. Thus, even with feeling deviant in my core being, I tried my best to fit the status quo. Until the summer before my first year of college.

My partner came out to me, and in support of them I started attending the Pride Club’s meetings on campus. And that’s the place where I felt the most accepted, validated, and finally learned that the weird experience I had growing up were because I didn’t fit in with the status quo. I was gender non-conforming, a blanket term for not fitting with my given birth gender. So, I did my best to learn more about myself and support both me and my partner.

So where was I going with this? I’m trying to remember.

Well, I don’t remember to completely honest. I could go through and find connections in what I wrote and come up with some grand point, but I’m not going to. I’m tired of trying to seem like I got my stuff together, because I don’t most of the time. To be blunt, my beginning was me trying understand, accept, and navigate things. It is rough at times, but I have the support from friends, school, and my partner. Through it all, I have found my true voice, and I want to use it.