Rewind the clock to early 2016, and I found myself alone on my couch, looking for something to watch on TV. As a devoted fan of all things Lena Dunham, I’d heard about “Suited,” an HBO documentary she’d recently produced about Bindle & Keep, a tailor in Brooklyn, N.Y., that caters to the LGBTQ community. I teed up my remote, pressed play and for the next 90 minutes did not move a muscle.
The film was a visceral experience for me. I cried at least a dozen times as it wove together the stories of six individuals, all gender non-binary, as they were fitted for custom suits for weddings, job interviews and birthday parties. The film opened my mind, as a cisgender female, to the challenges transgender individuals face when buying a suit; as so-called “on the rack” suits not only don’t fit, but also fail to make many people feel like the person they are.
Among its most compelling characters was Rae Tutera, a gender non-binary (pronouns: Rae/they) co-creator of Bindle & Keep (and co-owner of general store Willoughby General), who discussed being born female and identifying with masculinity as they grew up. Rae stuck with me: Their compassion for each client and willingness to tell their own story throughout the film was incredibly moving. I’ve since started following Rae on Instagram, Twitter and on their blog, “The Handsome Feminist.”
When I reached out to Rae for this column, I thought my email would go into the famous-person-ether, but low and behold, they not only responded but were happy to jump on the phone to discuss body image.
What was your experience with body image like growing up?
The first time I was conscious about body image was in elementary school, maybe fifth or sixth grade. I was always friends with boys and girls, fairly equally, which was rare for that age. And at the time, my girlfriends were starting to pinch their bellies in bathrooms. I remember becoming aware of expectations and of that shock of that.
My guy friends, on the other hand, were oblivious about having bodies at all. I thought that if I had two options: to eat French fries and play outside, or critique my body in bathrooms, I wanted to lean into the former. That said, I was still being socialized female at the end of the day.
What about now?
I continue to have this back and forth. I’m non-binary, so in a way none of those societal expectations apply to me. But then, I’m still human and live in this world and absorb things without meaning to. So, in some ways, I’m held to all standards.
Do you feel weighed down by the standards of both men and women?
Not really. I’m very lucky. I don’t think anyone is holding me to those standards. I’ve carved out a tiny queer universe; I’ve surrounded myself with body positive queer women and trans guys. Our ideas about body are shifting and expanding all the time. It’s more what I put myself through every day that is challenging.
Well, sometimes I have to catch myself on social media. I’ll be on transmasculine Instagram and look at photos of guys at the gym or post-workout and be really happy for them. They are working hard and deserve great bodies. But then, I’ll literally be scrolling through my feed while sitting on the couch eating potato chips, doing nothing at all.
When I’m looking at feeds of queer people, I realize that I’m seeing those people through my own concept of body and making up things about myself. And I have to reason with myself and know that if I worked out every day, I would look like them, too.
Are expectations around body different in the trans community vs. the cisgender community?
No. It’s the same, repackaged. There is one well we get our water from; it’s just flavored differently.
What advice can you offer individuals in the non-binary community who struggle to feel good about their bodies?
It’s deeply personal. For me, I take it day by day. One of the great things about being non-binary is that you are not one fixed thing; you are a dynamic thing. Yes, this can be burdensome, but it is also beautiful because you can present yourself differently every day. I think it is a blessing to have fluidity, to allow our standards to shift on a daily basis.
It can be isolating, but it is also important to know that you aren’t the only person in the world that feels this way. Unfortunately, we live in a world that makes a lot of us feel this way.
Be patient and forgiving with yourself. Find your own people and celebrate each other. And find the personal thing that makes you feel joy. That doesn’t have to be exercising or meditating, it could be anything. Remain open-minded about what makes you feel good and grounded within yourself. It doesn’t have to be the thing you see people on Instagram doing. Just do whatever you have to do to get yourself out of bed every day and feel great.
(Photo credit: Tom Hines)