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How Lingerie Helps Me Deal with Gender Dysphoria

Not an accurate representation of dysphoria. Photo by Kat McNeal.

Dysphoria makes you make this face. All photos by Kat McNeal.

If you identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, bigender, or any of the terms that mean “not exactly male or female”, you’ve probably experienced dysphoria at some point. Dysphoria is the sensation of feeling like something is wrong or unsettling about your body, and for people who are trans or genderqueer, it can be a big deal. Luckily, your underwear can help.

I’ve struggled with figuring out how to handle gender dysphoria, since sometimes I'm fine with my body, but I've also had days where I’ve felt like I couldn’t dress myself or leave the house or even be seen by other humans. What’s worse, my normally excellent lingerie was betraying me. You might expect that, as someone who’s vaguely androgynous, I’d have some low-key women’s underthings, right? Nah. I like a pretty extreme demi-cup pushup bra on my girl-days, because to me “girly” means “basically Marie Antoinette.” My lingerie drawer is full of bows and stripes and padding and oomph. And that’s probably the worst thing for me on days when I wake up wondering why I have breasts at all, since in a bra like that they’re impossible for me to avoid.

To escape dysphoria, I tried wearing plain boxers and sports bras (always with giant baggy shirts, because heaven forbid someone see a bra line) because obviously “masculine” means “plain and boring,” right? That didn’t feel great either -- it worked, but I felt like I was hiding under clothes I hated. This probably would have gone on indefinitely, except that a trans man I admired for being both stylish and manly said to me that he loved fancy, “girly” things, and that it was okay (thanks, man!). So I started accruing some better male pieces, and almost overnight, it became easier to dress myself and feel good on days when I didn’t feel female.

Now I have an underwear drawer that’s stocked with underpinnings for whatever gender presentation I might need on a given day, which are all up to my standards of visual interest and fit. The basic toolkit may vary from person to person, but here’s mine, along with some ideas about how to build your own:

1. The Binder

With and without binder. Photo by Kat McNeal.

Without binder and with binder. Photo by Kat McNeal.

I didn’t like the look of most chest binders, and I still don’t--they often look like medical garments. But they do reduce the appearance of breasts to basically nothing. I tried one on for the first time recently, on a day when I was feeling dysphoric, and instantly looked and felt Right. As far as buying one goes, they usually run about $30, so you could probably try out a few different ones. I’m a fan of this one from Underworks for its sheer binding power. And T-Kingdom offers a few very attractive options, although they only carry up to a 42" chest size.

Honestly, the most attractive (while still functional) binders I've seen are homemade ones. There are several tutorials available, and these binders are usually just a band of cotton and elastic with a zipper.  I made the one I'm wearing above, which works fine for my 34C (sometimes D) chest and even has a little bit of that strappy look I'm obsessed with.

Photo by Kat McNeal

Homemade binder, back view.

A warning to anyone considering binding: don't use Ace bandages, even if you like the aesthetic. They're hard to get in and out of quickly, they tighten as you're wearing them, and they can cause health problems including cracked ribs. Use something you can take off in a hurry if you're having trouble breathing!

2. The Sports Bra

Photo by Kat McNeal.

Champion sports bra.

The less extreme option for reducing the appearance of breasts. Again, I tend to like black and strappy, on the off-chance that someone might see it. Some sports bras advertise their “push up” properties; those are not any good for binding. Champion sells a good option for light binding here. If you're alright with something that looks like a bra instead of like a tight thing for your chest, there's an excellent post here about some very attractive sports bras. The ones with zip fronts seem to do a lot of flattening work for you.

3. Hot Guy Underwear

Photo by Kat McNeal.

Target briefs.

I don't know why more guys don't take advantage of the vast array of options they have for cute underwear. The Lingerie Addict has a great post here on sexy options for guys, which is definitely worth a read, but department stores and mall stores are an equally valid and plentiful option. Anything with contrasting piping makes me really happy, like these on ASOS, and goes a long way toward making me feel like a cute guy.

Close-fitting boxer-briefs or briefs are my go-to, since boxers often just make me feel like a kid in too-big clothes.  Target also makes amazing boxer briefs in any pattern you could want, including s’mores patterned ones. I sometimes wear those as bike shorts under my dresses sometimes, because they’re cute and comfortable even when I’m not dysphoric.

Freed from my boobs, I stare moodily into the distance. Photo by Kat McNeal.

Freed from my boobs, I stare moodily into the distance.

With these options (and some men’s novelty socks for good measure), I usually feel pretty masculine when I need to. And sometimes I combine them oddly: I might wear a binder and cute lace underwear, or a push-up bra and men's boxer briefs, if that's what makes me feel right. If you're experiencing dysphoria, especially if you're not sure it's as clear cut as "I'm a man" or "I'm a woman," I encourage you to go with your instincts and wear what you want to wear, rather than what you think a person with dysphoria "should" wear. That's not a thing, I promise.

Other genderqueer people (and butches, and FTM gents): I'm here for you, whatever underwear you're wearing today. If you have questions for me, or tips for those of us still trying to figure this stuff out (me included), please let me know in the comments! 

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22 Comments on this post

  1. Voncile says:

    I thank you humbly for shnriag your wisdom JJWY

  2. Wynn says:

    Thanks Rose, it was so great to read such an honest article from another gender fluid individual – something that still feels rare in the trans community (and as Annmarie mentioned, thanks to Cora for posting these items). Having a male body, it was interesting to read an article from someone female at birth – the same challenges but opposite!
    I’ve found that the desire to change one’s body shape according to mood is something that even the most trans-friendly person struggles to understand and it’s great to read this type of article, which reminds us in spite of the huge diversity of humanity there are always others who are going through the same experiences.

  3. Annmarie says:

    Thank you for this article, and also an extended “thank you” to the owner of this blog who keeps the gender-fluid conversation going on here for years now.

    As an “assigned-male-at-birth” and self-identified as a bigender, it is amazing to learn time and again how breasts are so important for identities on all sides of the field.
    One of my main challenges was to create a look as if I do have breasts while not wearing a bra, letting my breast forms move naturally. Few years of “research and development”, as well as some awkwardly cut bralettes and form fitting camisoles I had to throw away, I’m happy to report that I have managed to achieve it.

    Rose- if it’s ok I would like to contact you through the email address you provided here to someone else.

  4. Brady says:

    Absolutely describes me! I feel so much better wearing Hanes boy underwear and a sports bra even if I’m feeling feminine which is rare!

  5. S says:

    Thanks for this article. I really needed it. I’ve only been out about a year, and somehow (almost paradoxically) the more comfortable I’ve become with myself, the less comfortable I’ve become with my body/genderpresentation. I’m living in a very small southern town where the LGBTQ scene is very “camped” so to speak, and it’s hard to find anyone to discuss these experiences with. I’ve spent the past few months trying to update my wardrobe to have more clothing options that I feel comfortable in on any given day, but have kind of been anxious about certain aspects like binding etc. because there seems like there’s so much pressure to be “classifiable”, not only in terms of the obvious heterocommunity, but sadly and more frustratingly so in this specific circle of the gay community. Nice to see an awesome article that I can relate to after a frustrating evening at the gay bar as well as have such awesome new tips! Time to shop =)

  6. Rose says:

    People, I’ve been really enjoying seeing your picks and hearing your perspectives! It’s interesting to see that dysphoria doesn’t just impact people who are nonbinary or trans, which I hadn’t considered! And Rachel, your lingerie line is gorgeous.

  7. Evija says:

    Hell, this is exactly what I needed. I’m just wondering whether it’s physically possible to bind big boobs so that they’re flat but it doesn’t make me suffocate. Should investigate those tutorials…

  8. Mark says:

    I love reading your articles, they’re always exactly what I need. I spend most of my time in a male-mentality sports environment, where even 80% of the women have masculine tendencies, and it pressures me to conform, but I can’t tell you how often I wish I could just run home to slip into a ‘Marie Antoinette’ outfit. It’s crazy how often and quickly my gender mood can change and it is difficult to deal with, but it helps to see the same thing on the other side.

    • Rose says:

      Mark, I’m so glad you enjoyed my article! If you’re assigned-male-at-birth and feel this way, maybe you’d want to talk to me a little bit about what you’re looking for? you can e-mail me at [email protected].

  9. Ann Rose says:

    Target makes boxer briefs with *prints*? I’d been coasting on the boring old Hanes boxer-briefs — I lurve them, so much more comfortable and durable than the “panties” they make for women (I hate the very word “panties,” always have, too fussy/frilly/delicate) plus they create a nice no-visible-line look for jeans and for dresses. Great info on binders and sports bras, as, like you, i have days where I enjoy being a girl and then there are the days where I just want my breasts to disappear and leave me alone.

  10. Rachel says:

    Wonderful Article! This is exactly why I started my line of handmade lingerie- and I offer a range just for trans bodies ( ! They’re all custom made in any size ( no cap!) so that people can order just what they feel comfy in. Kudos to addressing this often not talked about discussion ! I really hope to see more like it :)

  11. Windie says:

    Love this post! I have a lot of days where I’m just like “boobs, why do I even have you.” I think it’s somewhat linked to being asexual in my case though. I’ve been seeking out some options to help make my chest appear smaller, so this is a great starting place. Thanks!

  12. Ms. Pris says:

    Getting good bras has actually gone a long way toward helping me deal with gender dysphoria. I finally have a reason to like my breasts.

  13. Ellen says:

    It definitely depends on how your own body fits into it, but I’ve seen Anita’s Light & Firm give a decent flattening effect. I think it might be attributed to a higher cut in the neckline. Not the nicest looking product on the market- definitely a “function over fashion” piece!

  14. Rose says:

    I’m so glad I could help! The binder definitely changed how well I handle that feeling.

    I haven’t tried the GWBB line myself, but they look amazing! For those interested, the link is here:

    • denocte says:

      Well in this case I think I’ll just try gwbb, love the aesthetic. I got some hate a while ago because I was contemplating buying a binder although I am more or less cis and it would be appropriating trans people’s struggles. I have no idea what exactly my gender issues are some days, but I think I’ll just take the jump and order one of those binder-top thingies.

  15. denocte says:

    You have no idea how much I needed this article today. Thank you. I love the whole thing and I love your writing and the pics!
    Plus the whole “marie antoinette” thing – finally someone said it! I can be like: Hey, look, I’m just this girly girl girl! and the next day “ugh, boobs. ugh. lace. ughugh.”
    It’s funny how one day I’m sad cause my breasts are very small and the next day I’m pissed cause they exist. o.0
    Have you ever tried girls will be boys briefs? I’m considering buying some atm.
    Also: I LOVE your first pic. it’s this: “ugh, not you again” face.

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