By L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith
Two years ago, when I identified as genderqueer but was still very much in sync with maleness, it was easy to bear my chest to the world. I used to buy deep v-neck tops or rock really see-through shirts and there would be no problem. Fast-forward a year or so, I identified as trans* and changed my entire appearance. I wore long wigs, bought a new wardrobe, and was living fulltime as the woman I genuinely am. However, I hadn’t started official hormone replacement therapy to truly experience the bodily transition. Despite having the same exact chest that I had a few months before, the policing of my body changed drastically.
My mom and I would have discussions about how uncomfortable people would be seeing me at a beach or pool with my chest out. She would advise me to take off my wig to be male-presenting and so my attire wouldn’t be a “problem.” I’d walk around my school campus with the same shirts I had previously. The police would stop me for “indecent exposure” and tell me to change and to “cover my breasts.”
The exact hormones ran through my bloodstream and I had the same body. But the decency of my chest changed from acceptable to obscene with a simple shift in gender identity, performance, and expression. Let’s face it. Breast censoring is not due to the fact that women’s breasts are inherently lewd but because men have sexually objectified them.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a short film entitled Oppressed Majority where we live in a role-switched society. Basically, matriarchy becomes our system of operation. This video reinforces what I had been trying to unpack about body concealing and also dives into deeper topics. It isn’t perfect. There are some problematic racial undertones that certainly need examining. But it clearly illustrates how gender stratification is so conflated.
Why do we have to cover our bodies because a man lusts after it? Why is it that we teach our girls to cover up and that their body parts are not really theirs? I think about androgynous international model Andrej Pejić who had to have his chest censored because he is female-presenting. I think about how the difference between our breasts and a man’s is a matter of tissue yet men that suffer from gynecomastia (the benign enlargement of breast tissue in males) do not have their breasts policed.
What’s up with the blatant inequity?
L’lerrét Jazelle Ailith is a 20-year-old queer woman of trans* experience. She attends Xavier University of Louisiana and is majoring in Biology with a minor in Women’s Studies. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, L’lerrét has grown to appreciate the importance of fostering community and now dedicates herself to movements that eliminate barriers for marginalized people.