tl;dr: I’m nonbinary

My relationship with my body is a complicated one. This is not unusual. I’d say it’s fairly typical for AFAB, femme, and queer people living in the US, but at this point I think it’s just fairly typical for humans.

Forgive me, however, if I claim that mine might be slightly more complicated than the norm.

Born missing a mix of bone, muscle, and tissue in my right torso, I grew up in and out of Shriners Hospital for Children in LA. The adults in my life took great care to explain that there was nothing wrong with me but that I wouldn’t grow like others my age. Because I have no major pectoral muscle, my right breast would never develop.

I was told that surgery was an option if I wanted it and that it would be my choice. From a very early age I was adamant that I didn’t want it. I had no desire to change my body. When puberty hit and bullying took its toll I decided otherwise. I had surgery within the year, a preliminary operation to implant a tissue expander to which saline was added every six weeks. I was fourteen.

By the time I was sixteen, I’d had three surgeries. One to place the tissue expander, another to replace it, and the third to place an implant and reduce the size of my left breast to match.

Why was I never offered therapy when I expressed a sudden desire to change my body in a way I had adamantly rejected for the decade prior? Why are kids who do know without a doubt that their bodies are wrong for them refused this same easy path to surgery that I benefited from? Why was it considered reasonable to put a preteen suffering from bullying through three brutal surgeries without any sort of emotional or psychological support, and allow me to think that somehow the surgeries would stop the bullying?

Make no mistake: while it took me years to recognize the truth and call them this, the three surgeries I had between the ages of 14 to 16 were gender conforming surgeries. The only thing that made it perhaps too easy for me, versus painfully difficult for others to receive this same care, is that mine matched my assigned gender at birth.

It took me more than a decade to realize they didn’t match my actual gender.

During the summer of 2019, I started to recognize that the way I felt about my body was perhaps not a cis way of feeling about one’s body. The word dysphoria wove its way into my mind and stuck there insistently, and I started to research binders.

I ultimately decided that they weren’t a feasible option for me, but the fact that binders seemed a viable option to handle the way I felt about my breasts stuck with me. The rage starting to surface around being so easily allowed a surgery I’d previously insisted I did not want - rather than being offered loving support in deciding whether it was likely to solve the issues I wanted it to - took on a new light.

(I was also wrong - my new binder arrived a few weeks after I wrote this, and I love it.)

In November 2019, I noticed a few things that led me to think I wasn’t alone in questioning my gender. My spouse had made a few comments that made me wonder, so I worked up the nerve to ask. She came out as trans, and I shared that I had been questioning as well. We each asked the other to try different pronouns for us - she loved them, I didn’t. And over the next days and weeks, as I saw her experience finally living her truth, I questioned my experiences.

If that was what being trans was like, my experience didn’t stack up. I decided I must be cis and I buried it all.

When I started having intense bottom dysphoria in the summer of 2021, I went all out with self doubt and flagellation. Many angry internal rants against Freud ensued. (Seriously, fuck that guy.) I convinced myself that, if that was the only “symptom” I had, no one would ever believe that I wasn’t just a perverted cis woman with a fetish. I didn’t believe I wasn’t just a perverted cis woman with a fetish. 

About this same time my implant started to hurt, and I ended up referred to a specialist two hours away who told me it had likely sprung a leak and needed to be replaced.

I’d known that this was coming - implants are supposed to be replaced after a decade. But I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of my reaction to this news. All of a sudden I had to quickly make a decision that I’d hoped to put off for at least another few years.

I didn’t want to have another surgery, ever. That wasn’t an option.

My second best option would be to ensure I never needed another: remove the implant without replacing it. I wanted to choose that so badly, but I wasn’t sure yet if I could support myself post-pandemic without my modeling career. I didn’t have time to think through whether or not I could brand that change in a way that would allow me to still survive off my modeling income. Plus, when I mentioned the possibility of my choosing to only have one breast to my wife, she burst into tears. (An emotional reaction she still feels guilty for. I promise you, she’s immensely supportive.)

A leaking implant was a direct threat to my health, and I didn’t have time to weigh my options as methodologically or meticulously as I normally would have. Finals were approaching, stress was rising, and I had to make a decision - now. Within two days I had a surgery scheduled for only a month and a half away. 

My wife and girlfriend accompanied me to the city where my specialist was based, brought me to the OR, waited nervously in a hotel room while I had surgery. They helped care for me afterwards, when the hospital insisted on discharging me same day despite the fact that I am allergic to every oral pain med imaginable and could only take Tylenol for my post-op pain.

Every aspect of my experience reinforced the fact that I never wanted another surgery in my life, while reminding me that I had chosen to replace my implant instead of remove it and thus would absolutely have to have another. From the incredible pain of recovering from surgery on nothing but Tylenol, to the care I received bordering on malpractice, the months I spent recovering from that operation sent my dysphoria into overdrive, while simultaneously triggering an alarmingly comprehensive history of medical trauma.

There is nothing quite so defeating as realizing too late that you allowed a doctor to place something in your body that you didn’t want, didn’t need, and that is actively harming you.

I was badly concussed a few months later, and it was all just too much. I kept my simmering resentment around all my many surgeries, my conviction that I should have been offered access to professional help with my decision making, and I buried everything else. All my complicated feelings around gender and what it means to me, all my awareness of my bottom dysphoria - it all got swept under the counter to be dealt with at another time.

Obviously, it can’t be quite that simple. Dysphoria isn’t just going to go away because I ask it nicely.

I remember one not-mortifying-at-all conversation with my girlfriend in which I haltingly explained that I had intense bottom dysphoria, but I didn’t want to change my pronouns, so I was definitely cis. Both my girlfriend and my wife are trans women, and I can only bless them for having the patience of saints with me throughout this process. It must have been agonizing.

Then, shortly after getting what I affectionately referred to the big queer haircut of my dreams, after a week spent alone dog sitting for family throughout which all of my gender feels reemerged in a way I was desperately trying to push back down, days before my 30th birthday, my girlfriend very lovingly reflected the way I had been talking about my breasts and asked if I thought I might be more comfortable with a binder. And the dam broke.

Everything I knew was there and had been trying to just shove down for a few more months, a few more years, until some time when my life felt more settled and less chaotic and terrifying and more able to handle this kind of revelation - it all just came flooding up.

I cried. A lot.

I raged for weeks about how frustrated I was that nothing I had ever seen depicted in the range of nonbinary and trans folx reflected my experiences.

I insisted over and over again that if I didn’t want to change my pronouns, still wanted to present as femme, still wanted to call myself a woman, I had to be cis.

Until I realized that cis people don’t spend so much time trying to convince themselves they’re cis. They just know.

I tried on the label nonbinary - tentatively, shyly, approaching it like a horse that might bolt if I came on too strong. And it fit.

Then I spent months searching for a specific term for myself that could help me feel at home. I’m so tired of always being on the edges and in between in every community, and I wanted to feel included.

I found some. Demigirl, girlflux, autix, neurogender, genderfae…. There were a lot of labels that hit close to my experience, but not quite right. As a libra, I’m particularly fond of librafeminine, but I don’t know that agender is my primary experience. Sometimes I feel agender, but a lot of the time I feel like I have too much gender, in an infuriatingly undefinable flavor.

Ultimately, I decided that I’d found labels close enough to feel like I fit, and varied enough to realize that there’s room for me here even if I can’t find something that perfectly encapsulates my experience. I decided to stick with calling myself a nonbinary woman and just move on from there.

Wardrobe was next, and I quickly proved true to stereotype and embraced the pirate aesthetic of my dreams. Still fairly femme, flirty, dramatic af, and just masc enough to hit the spot. If it can be described as pirate, fae, or dapper, I love it.

Reassessing my relationship with clothing has definitely been my favorite part of this process, and it helped me realize that a lot of what I’ve worn for photoshoots (outside of lingerie and glamour stuff) has been much more me than much of my day to day clothing. Oops.

As soon as my egg broke for good last September I knew that I wanted to start testosterone. It took me months to even make the appointment, but in March 2023 I got the prescription, and in late April I started microdosing T. As I write this, that was a little over a week ago. While most of the effects will take months, I’ve felt more consistently alive, happy, and confident this week than I can recall ever feeling before.

I’m so excited to see how this turns out, but I’m also terrified. In so many ways, I like how I look. I love my modeling career, even if I’m semi-retired. I will always make art with my body, but I do worry about how this community will accept my particular brand of gender fuckery.

In this entire journey, my concerns about my modeling have been most revealing of my internal fears, assumptions, and biases involved with being nonbinary and what that’s supposed to look like. I’m working to relearn all this, but I feel very vulnerable. And I know that when I come out publicly, as Eleanor, I won’t only experience support.

Some of my fears are unfounded, rooted in anxiety and a long history of imposter syndrome. It’s unlikely people will think I’m doing this for attention.

Other fears are more realistic, even if they’re based in mistaken assumptions about what nonbinary must look like - I’m a very curvy femme, I like being a very curvy femme, and I want to remain a very curvy femme. And all the models in our community who I’m aware of having come out as nonbinary or trans or started HRT have been significantly less curvy than myself. Perhaps, then, I’m just the wrong body type and should suck it up and play cis until I retire?

I reject that premise. Curvy people, large people, people of every body type are 3000% allowed to be nonbinary and trans. Just because the models I know who transitioned were a different body type than me doesn’t mean that I can’t come out publicly or be accepted as nonbinary. But the fear is still there.

I’m also having to reckon with the way this shifts my narrative around my body hair. For years I have maintained that women can be hairy too, that body hair on women is beautiful and attractive and elegant. I still believe this, I still insist on this, I will still die on this hill. And as I’ve realized that for me, my body hair was a first step to gender nonconformity that helped alleviate dysphoria and give me gender euphoria before I ever knew those terms, I have had to reckon with the fact that some of you will use my coming out to claim that defying gender norms is a choice that only trans and nonbinary people would make.

This is not true. My being queer and poly does not mean that everyone queer is poly. My being an SA survivor and a nude model and content creator does not mean that every SA survivor enters sex work or sex-work adjacent industries. And my being a nonbinary woman and enjoying fully grown body hair does not mean that any AFAB person with body hair is automatically trans or nonbinary. My discovering that I am not cis does not invalidate the fact that body hair on cis women is gorgeous, and that choosing to grow it is a perfectly valid choice. It merely means that I don’t get to be the example of that premise that I once thought I was.

This consideration of how my nonbinary identity intersects with both my body hair and my modeling leads us to the elephant in the room, the thing that made me legitimately consider staying in the closet for a while - my fanbase and what this means for me as a content creator. 

The short answer is, some people will be mad, and I’ve decided I’m ok with any loss of income that creates. The longer answer involves the potential loss of relationships I truly appreciate, as well as the realities of additional abuse and fetishization from internet strangers. Fun stuff.

Ultimately, however, I made a commitment some years ago to creating content that reflects who I actually am, and this is a part of me. It’s already there in my photos, if you look - I haven’t been hiding it, I just haven’t been focusing on it either.

I’m excited to create art that explores these parts of myself I am newly discovering, that play with gender and really raise the question - is it possible to be attracted to Eleanor and not be at least a little gay?

Jk, unless…

So what’s in store for me, for my art, my look, photographers hoping to hire me and fans who want to keep following me and everybody hoping I don’t go too overboard in this process because it’s such a shame, she was such a pretty girl? I guess we’ll find out together.

I truly don’t know where this will take me. There are places I don’t currently want to go, but I’ve said never about enough things to know not to do that anymore.

Here’s what I do know right now: I want to keep my curves, and add muscle definition. I want bottom growth. I don’t want acne but will almost certainly get it anyway. I am both terrified that my voice will change and excited to hear what it sounds like if it does. I have no idea how I’ll feel about facial hair, and don’t know if I’ll let that happen or try to go off and on testosterone at a dosage and frequency that prevents it.

I do know that someday, when I’m ready to face another surgery, I want my implant out. I may get my left breast reduced further, I may not. But either way I plan to be asymmetrical. I may very well get a chest tattoo to commemorate that. I’ll almost certainly get a larger side/undercut and experiment with new hair colors.

By the time this is over, I will have completely obliterated my “natural” brand. But honestly, what does that mean anyway? It’s been my bread and butter for years, but basically it’s meant that I don’t dye my hair, don’t get tattoos, grow out my body hair, and deal with people ignoring my public discussions about my implant to pretend that my breasts are completely natural. (Countless photographers have told me to my face during shoots that they appreciate my natural breasts because they can always tell “fakes”.)

The fact of the matter is, branding myself as natural implies that people who choose other ways of loving and adorning their bodies are somehow fake, phony, unnatural. Fuck that.

I’m choosing to be as me as I possibly can, and nothing is more natural than that. Even if the end result looks very different from anything people consider natural. Having one breast may look pretty unnatural, but it’s how I would look if I’d never had surgery. This whole “normal” two breast thing is actually unnatural on my body.

I wonder all the time what my life would have been like if I’d been offered support before surgery. Maybe I still would have picked the surgery. Most likely I wouldn’t have.

I can’t regret how it played out, because had I not had the initial three surgeries I almost certainly wouldn’t have had the rewarding and fulfilling career I’ve enjoyed as a nude model.

That doesn’t mean I don’t wish for a world where I was offered options instead of rushed into a surgery that matched my gender expression to my gender assigned at birth the moment I indicated an interest in it. Especially while minors with way more certainty than I ever had are refused the same care because they’re trans. I mourn for myself even as I mourn for the trans children and teenagers who want what I was mistakenly given.

I mourn, and I rage, and I will almost certainly write more about the discrepancies in care offered to a minor mistakenly assumed to be cis versus a minor solidly and assuredly telling the world they are trans.

I have joined yet another community whose rights are being stripped away, and it’s scary to realize that beyond all my fears of how this will play out for my modeling career, my very right to exist is now a matter of public debate.

This is why I’ve chosen to share this part of myself with you. I could have stayed quiet. I could have just announced I was nonbinary in an Instagram post, changed my pronouns to she/they in my bio. I could have said nothing and let you all wonder what the fuck was going on with my body over the next six months to a year.

And honestly, I don’t judge any model who chooses those routes. The internet is a harsh and judgmental place, especially to AFAB folx who bare their skin for art and/or money. And closets are safe and warm and usually full of clothes that make us happy.

But I’ve always tried to choose radical transparency, radical vulnerability, when sharing my experiences as a model. That doesn’t mean I share everything, by any means. But it does mean that I make an effort to show up authentically, even if I lose fans or potential bookings.

So this is me. This is a huge part of my last few years, the part I consider most vital and most important to share with you. Maybe you’re excited for me, maybe you’re just confused and wish us young folks would stop talking about gender so much.

I understand if it’s challenging. I understand I used a lot of language here without fully explaining my definitions. I understand if you decide to unfollow or unsubscribe.

To be clear, I’m not here to educate y’all about queerness or being nonbinary, and I don’t want a bunch of questions unrelated to bookings and commissions in my inbox. But I hope that, if you don’t already understand what I’ve shared in this post, you’ll consider trying to learn about it. Even if you do unfollow and unsubscribe.

And for those of you excited for me and eager to see how this all turns out - let’s make some art!

Happy Pride, y’all.

About the Author

Eleanor is an accomplished traveling nude model and has been pursuing her art since 2010 and posing nude since 2011. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines, books, and galleries, including a special event at the Louvre.

Contact Eleanor

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