Are Trans Men Ready to Laugh About Their Binders?

· Updated on October 30, 2018

You’ve probably seen the kind of video that INTO’s new video, “Trans Men Talk About Their First Binder,” parodies. There’s sad music and trans people are asked to talk about their bodies for a cisgender audience.

That’s not this video.

This video features trans men talking about their binders, while allowing them to laugh about the situation. I sat down with INTO’s Head of Video, Rocco Kayiatos, and the site’s talent manager, Alex Schmider, to talk about what it meant to create content by trans men and for trans men and how this is an intervention into a media landscape that treats trans bodies as tragic.

We’ve been talking about wanting to make this video for a while. Do you remember what the genesis of the idea was?

Rocco Kayiatos (RK): Yeah, well, I think after seeing another replica of the video that is so commonplace at this point, of transmasculine people talking about their relationship to their chest binders, I just felt like, “At what point do we get to move beyond talking about the physical experience of being trapped in a body as a trans person?”

Right, and I remember we spoke about moving beyond the physical but also moving beyond media about trans people that is sullen and morose.

RK: Yeah, trans people have whole lives and they have senses of humor. And a lot of trans people are really funny and I think that that’s not showcased frequently because media is being made by an outside lens to depict the experience of what it must feel like to be trans instead of what it actually feels like to be trans, which is — just like everyone else, we have a multifaceted life, multifaceted identities and we’re not sitting around musing on the physicality of how tragic it is. I think, in 2018, we can finally move beyond the narrative of the tragic transgender person and the experience of being “trapped” in a body.

Alex Schmider (AS): The reason why we’re able to do that is because the people producing this video are trans themselves. And so we’re in on the joke that everyone who is creating content that isn’t trans is doing it from an outside perspective. Whereas we know the community, we’ve had this experience. If we’re given the opportunity and the space to actually talk about these issues, there is going to be humor because a lot of our experience, we’ve had to make it funny to survive.

RK: Right, and just like there’s no shortage of trans people who will lend their voice to a video talking about their chest binder, I think that we’re now at the point historically and in terms of media representation that wehn trans people are being put in the space to create media about their own lives, the last thing they’re going to do is create something for the outside lens. LIke especially creating digital content, it gives us the freedom to not have to preface. People can join in the conversation exactly where it’s at.

Working for an outlet like INTO, which is queer media made for and by us, we don’t have to talk about what the joke is. We don’t have to explain the joke that we’re making for trans men or transmasculine people. We’re already in on the joke because we’ve already seen this content of like watching this tragic narrative of how oppressive it is to have to wrap you torse up like a mummy everyday to just be able to go out into the world.

Well, there’s something to be said about how a lot of great comedy is turning your trauma into something, like Richard Pryor joking about his own traumas or Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. So I think then, for you, you don’t have to translate your trauma for other people to understand. It’s an intra-community kind of humor.

RK: Yeah, the whole video is an inside joke.

At the end, you do have a disclaimer saying that it’s a joke but it’s also not a funny issue, so how do you respond to people who might say, “I don’t think that this is something to joke about.”

RK: Yeah, I think that the joke is not about the experience of wearing a binder or of being uncomfortable in your body. The joke is about the outside gaze on trans people being so hyper focused on the physical experience. So the joke is not at our expense; it’s for us to be able to laugh at the constant curiosity and portrayal of our bodies being these tragic and uncomfortable or unreasonable things we have to wrap and hide and disguise or however the outside lens would turn that. So the joke is for us.

I also think that you can find things humorous or not humorous at different points in your life. Because i’m not trans, I can’t relate to this but I can say perhaps for some gay men when they’re younger, they’re not ready to joke about coming out, but there’s a point where you can joke about being in the closet or some trauma that happened to you. But maybe someone who objects to it may not be ready to joke about that.

RK: Absolutely.

AS: But the availability of something like this or the access to content like this is pretty much nonexistent. Up until this point we weren’t able to talk about this experience from an inside perspective and comment on the stereotypes of trans people being only about their bodies. Now, when that trans person is ready, there will be something out there for them, because now it’s here.  

RK: And sometimes I feel like you need to open a vent for people because it’s like a pressure cooker for trans bodies, lives, rights, etc. When the bathroom bills were a hot topic a couple of years ago, I got to work on creating a video for a different outlet about what trans people actually do in the bathroom and it’s this spoof on a true crime kind of narrated … it’s an investigation into what trans people do in the bathroom and it turns out we’re doing the same thing that everyone is doing. They’re taking a piss, they’re washing their hands, they’re checking to make sure they don’t have boogers hanging out of their nose, they’re brushing their teeth like regular bathroom things. But that’s the gag, right?

And it might not be funny to someone who has experienced violence or trauma in a bathroom, but it was a vent and a moment of reprieve from having the focus be on the danger or the discomfort of being trans it was just for the community to be able to laugh. It was so great to have this moment to laugh about how crazy it is that the outside gaze is so constantly fixated on how dangerous we are and how disturbing our bodies are. So this ideally is another kind of extension of that where it just allows people to hit pause on the trauma and tragedy assigned to our bodies and get to see the humor in the obsession of overdramatizing and obsessing over how sad it is for trans people.

AS: And how rare do we get to relieve that tension. How often do we get to relieve that constant tension?

RK: In media, very rarely.

It’s like that saying, that comedy is tragedy plus time.

RK: Who said that? I love that.

I don’t know, it’s just a saying. Specifically, this is also a video about transmasculine people. I think this video is also an intervention into a landscape of trans-focused media made by non-trans people that is focused only on transfeminine people. What is it like as the producers to be able to assemble a cast of trans men to be in a video together?

RK: I mean, it’s a mix of things for me. Having been a person who is focused on trying to create media representations for transmasculine people and trans men, I always feel a little bit afraid of taking up that space, but I also feel like it’s really important. Being put into a position where I’m the head of the video department here, I haven’t stepped into that space of making as much tran scontent as I’d like to and w’ere slowly getting to the point of where we can make more trans-specific content and more transmasculine and trans male content. It feels powerful and exciting and also scary.

AS: As someone coming from not the creative side of representation, but the consulting and media watchdogging, it’s nice to create something for us, by us and with us. And in the same way Rocco was talking about, it’s a little scary to step into this space, but it’s also really necessary. There’s so little representation for us, so I think you know the more we can take up that space and speak up and share experiences in ways and on media outlets like INTO, the more we can connect with each other over our trauma and the humor of life and the experiences we have.

It always does kinda go back to those really deep issues, but when you’re talking about non-queer outlets that do stories about queer people that always focus on the trauma, that then sends the message to young queer and trans babies that there’s still only trauma ahead. Like, “You’re going to be in your 20s and 30s and still mourning and being sad!” and it’s like what is more important ot show young queer and trans people than laughter?

AS: Yeah, we’re fucking resilient! That’s the whole point. We can laugh and make something out of this.

RK: At something that did occupy a great amount of mental space for each one of us at one point, most likely. The biggest impetus to make this — we’ve been joking about making this video for months now, internally. What pushed me was over the weekend, a friend told me had to have surgery and after surgery, he was unravelling mentally and having this mental breakdown around the relationship to his body and surgery aftercare. He was looking everywhere for anything: an article, a YouTube video. Just desperate to find any kind of connecting point of what to do for his mental health after surgery and couldn’t find a single thing.

I’m not saying this is mental health care, but it is kind of a commentary and hopefully a stepping stone into that next phase of thinking about gender, thinking about the trans experience as less than just a physical experience. Because it hnk more often than not we tend to quote statistics or pathologize but not really think about how to take care of ourselves. And something as simple as making a joke is the first step to having a conversation about a missing piece in the trans narrative in the media landscape, which is how to take care of yourself mentally.

If you are currently struggling with issues surrounding binding or are in need of a binder, visit Point of Pride, FTM Essentials, and The Transitional Male for information about chest binder donations and giveaways. Additionally, read here about how to bind yourself safely.

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