I recently received the following email from a BW reader, and with the questioner's permission, I'll share both the question and my answer to it, as I'm guessing it will resonate with many other readers, too.
Hi Butch Wonders. I love your page so much, and I'm so happy that it gives me some connection to other butches, since I don't have any butch friends in real life Can I ask you a question? I'm a cis butch, and I've been questioning my gender identity for a long time. I really feel like a woman, and I don't feel comfortable using any pronoun but "she," but I recently started binding and now I feel really confused. I used to have an eating disorder, so my chest was pretty small, and when I wore a sports bra, you really couldn't see anything there. I'd get read as a man all the time, but I liked knowing that I did breasts underneath. Now that I've recovered from my eating disorder, I have a very big chest, and I recently started binding. Even when I bind, you can still see that there's something there, but my chest is smaller which makes me happy. It's not so much that I wish I didn't have breasts. I just wish they were small enough that I could still pass as a man, and reveal that I identify as a woman when I want to. I'm sorry that this is so long and confusing, but what I'm wondering is, does wanting to be able to pass for a man mean that I'm trans? Or are there cis butches that like binding/being able to pass too? I'm sorry that this is so long and personal. I'm just really confused and scared of how my family would react if I told them any of this. Thanks for building such a great community with your page.
Dear Excellent Person,
First, hats off to you for battling an eating disorder. I imagine that was incredibly difficult and took a lot of courage (as does asking the kinds of questions you're asking now). And thanks for your kind words about the blog.
I'll answer your question in part by reflecting on my own experience. I hope that readers with different experiences will chime in, too.
First, my short answer is that YES, many cis butches bind and love binding, but do not identify as trans*. There are also female-identified butches (and non-butches) who have had top surgery. Personally, I totally ID as female, but sometimes I like that people can't tell my gender right away, and sometimes I get a sociological kick out of the idea that it's so hard for people to interact with others in the absence of knowledge about gender.
The thing is, there is no "right" way to be female, or to be butch. If you're a butch-identified woman who wants people to take her for a man at first or second glance, this does not make you less of a woman. It also does not "make" you trans*. You might ID as trans*, or you might not. But this is something only YOU get to define.
One way to interpret your question is this: "Does the fact that I like people mistaking me for a man, and that I like binding, mean that deep down, I 'really' want to become a man?" If that is not what you mean, disregard the rest of this paragraph. My answer to that question is definitely no. I mean, you might want to be a man, or ID as a man. But I don't think that these are dispositive "signs" that in a year, you'll be taking T and growing a beard, or that you would be happier if a magic sex fairy came and waved hir wand and changed you into a cis man. Plus, you like being called "she," and you also like having breasts; you just don't always like other people to know you have them. So I'm certainly not "diagnosing" you as non-trans* (no one gets the privilege of "identifying" anyone else!), only saying that your email didn't make me think, "Oh, that person sounds just like my trans* men friends." It made me think, "Yeah, I can relate to much of that."
Still, "trans*" is a term that covers a whole panoply of identifications (hence the asterisk). I even know some people who consider themselves male some days and female other days. Are they "trans?" If they say so, yes. If they say they aren't, they aren't. I also know plenty of women who identify as "transmasculine," which several have told me means they have, or cultivate, masculine traits to some degree. I fit that definition, sure... and yet, I don't identify as "transmasculine," and they do.
It's not the label that really matters. What REALLY matters is that you present and identify as you want. And this may change over time. Sometimes wanting to bind is a "first step" on the road to what some people call a "full" transition. Sometimes not. (And note that those terms are in quotes to signify the fact that I am using them as working terms to promote common understanding, rather than adopting the common understanding of them.)
Personally, sometimes when I don't mind being mistaken as male, it's because it means I'm also being mistaken for "regular." For gender-conforming. For someone whose clothes aren't seen as a "mismatch" for her body. For someone who never has to think about this stuff or be an outlier.
I don't feel like I'm "one of the gals" OR "one of the guys," and being part of neither group can feel lonely and isolating in weird unexpected ways. Still, when I WAS "one of the gals," I felt like I was acting a role, and thinking of myself as "one of the guys" just feels wrong. I guess I'm just me. I'm one of the women but not one of the gals. I'm one of the masculine people but not one of the guys. Maybe you're just you, too?
I don't know if this ramble of a reply will help, but I'm hoping that something in it will resonate with you and get you a little closer to wherever it is you'd be happiest being right now.