I am one part game designer, one part pixel artist and a dash unicorn. However, for the last year, people have thought of me as a young, flamboyant man in his early twenties.
While I can't deny the colorfulness of my character, what many new friends and acquaintances do not know is that I was born in 1984 and spent most of my life failing at being "female." I am a "female-to-male transsexual" – which means that I have made a conscious life decision to undergo a procedure and transform my female body into a male one.
These days, when I disclose my being trans, people are surprised and astonished. "Wow! I would have never guessed," they often say. "Congratulations! I can't imagine you as a girl," they might add, trying to compliment me and be supportive.
Without knowing it, what these people are saying is that I "pass" as male. "Passing" is a term used when a trans person can look, sound, dress and behave in ways that matches their chosen gender, and, more importantly, complies with society's expectations of said gender.
Sadly, passing is not an accomplishment.
Passing is a security blanket. When people read me as male, I can avoid the double looks that can too easily escalate to harassment, discrimination, assault and even murder.
So, in order to feel safer, everyday when I wake up in the morning and go outside, I need to bind my chest with two very uncomfortable, tight black vests of nylon and spandex which leave me with rough skin, sore muscles and intense back pain.
Wearing these vests, called binders, is a method thousands of trans guys and gender-variant people practice daily to feel more comfortable with their bodies and safer outside the house.
Unfortunately, binding is not a permanent solution: at the end of the day, I am still stuck with mighty "Double D's" that do not belong to my body. This disconnect, called "gender dysphoria," is used to refer to what I am going through: a profound distress due to internalized conflicts between mind and body.
Gender dysphoria can range from disassociation, ignoring specific body parts, to extreme disgust, self-harm and depression. In my case, this distress is most pronounced with my breasts – a body part I have spent my life trying to ignore.
In March 2013, I began hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which started my second puberty. Since then, my voice has deepened, my face has lost its "female roundness" and my neck and shoulders have become thicker and broader. I also sometimes feel like I’m slowly becoming a bear, where my knuckle hair sometimes tickles my fingers!
As a result, my mental health has improved a great deal, and I naturally take better care of myself: I eat better and exercise regularly.
However, many places I used to visit are now sources of anxiety or literally off limits.
For example, I now exclusively workout from home. "Why?" you might ask. Try to picture a guy like me walking into a women's locker room. It wouldn’t be long before women would run out screaming with security guard in tow. Now picture the same guy walking into the men's locker room with a mighty set of “Double D’s.” You can imagine the outcome.
All of this has led me to develop #freekitties, the crowdsourcing campaign I launched to raise awareness about gender dysphoria and to fulfill a crucial step in my transition: getting chest reconstruction surgery.
During my years of research on trans issues and trans lives, I have seen hundreds of videos of guys wearing their binders and explaining their binding techniques. I have not, however, seen a single of these guys topless if he hadn't had top surgery.
Socialized as female, I am well aware of the gender bias and double standards held by our society. I know that body policing, all too present in trans lives, affects every breasted body: nipples are legal to sell, but illegal to wear.
My video starts with me wearing a button-up shirt, a T-shirt and two binders. As I introduce myself, explain my being trans and what "passing" means, I strip down and reveal my binders, followed by my bare chest – including my mighty "Double D's" – who obey the only law they respect: gravity.
Although my breasts are very similar to a large man's breasts, the government continues to see me as "female" and my nipples must be censored. That's where the unicorn and pixel art come in: I picked my battle very carefully and decided to hide my "female nipples" with pixel art kittens.
As the kitties cheerfully blink at the viewer, I am hitting two birds with one stone: simultaneously explaining what binding is, while demonstrating the madness of the war on nipples.
My battle is greater than the quest to get top surgery. My battle is for the visibility of my trans brothers and sisters whose lives are hidden, erased and at risk. My fight is for the freedom of my fellow cis-sisters who cannot breastfeed without being insulted or arrested.
Everybody has nipples. Let's get over it and help me #freekitties!