'I've been wearing a binder from the age of nine, top surgery isn't a luxury'

Kai, 18, has a lot more on his mind than the average teenager.

Since coming out as trans aged nine, he’s been wearing a chest binder every single day.

While binders do alleviate his dysphoria, Kai says they’re ‘tight’ and ‘restrictive’, causing him discomfort as well as not being a permanent solution.

Top surgery is the next step for Kai, but he’s already waited since he hit puberty to have the procedure on the NHS and it could still take years before he reaches the top of the list.

‘It’s been a long and difficult road, and waiting another five years on the NHS is just too much to bear,’ said Kai.

The Hove teen has now taken matters into his own hands, and will be crowdfunding the surgery he needs, describing it as a ‘crucial step’ in his journey.

Kai has already come so far, explaining: ‘I started life being perceived as a girl – and knew from the age of three that something wasn’t right, and that I had been assigned the wrong sex and gender at birth.’

By the age of four he was refusing to wear dresses, while at just six he begged to have his hair cut short.

Kai felt like he ‘never fit in’ and his schoolwork suffered as a result.

Chest binding safety

Though some chest binding practices can be dangerous, the NHS acknowledges that some young people use a chest binder to help reduce social anxiety and thoughts of self-harm.

To minimise harm, it makes the following recommendations, based on a recent meta-analysis of the evidence and more recent research in the field:

  • use a purpose designed, properly sized binder
  • ensure it fits correctly – it should not be too tight, and definitely shouldn’t impact breathing or cause pain
  • reduce time wearing it as much as possible
  • do not sleep in a binder
  • have whole days off wearing a binder where possible.

After being offered counselling to address issues at school, nine-year-old Kai realised he needed to reveal his truth, and told his mother, ‘I’m really a boy.’

‘I finally came out not knowing who would be there not, and without knowing if my mum would look at me the same – but I did it, because I knew I had to,’ he explained.

‘Thankfully my mum has supported me every step of the way, and I am so grateful for that.’

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Within months, Kai’s behaviour and academic performance had dramatically improved, and he says he ‘almost instantly became much happier as a person.’

‘Once people stopped referring to me as a girl I just felt like me,’ he added. ‘There have been plenty of tears, but also plenty of laughs and life lessons through this.’

After learning about what Kai was going through, his mum Rachel reached out to filmmaker, artist and author, Fox Fisher, who she’d seen on the Channel 4 show, My Transsexual Summer.

Fox, who is trans masculine and runs My Genderation, began documenting Kai’s experiences in 2013, spending the next decade following his journey for a film (Life of Kai) which will be released later this year.

He says working with Kai was an ‘incredibly powerful experience,’ that has ‘been healing in a deeply personal way.’

‘I spent much of my life trying desperately to conform to societal expectations of what it meant to be a female,’ Fox explained. ‘Through Kai’s journey, I’ve been able to explore my own experiences and begin to heal from them. Seeing his resilience and determination to live authentically has been nothing short of inspiring.’

Fox continued: ‘We have been filming with Kai for 10 years, to show that trans kids often do know who they are and rely on the support and guidance from loved ones to navigate the healthcare system.

‘We have followed Kai through his quest for hormone blockers to press pause on the wrong puberty, to looking for love, finishing school, desperately wanting to start testosterone and now he’s hoping for top surgery. 

Kai has already been binding his chest for over nine years. The hormone blockers were only provided once Kai could show the healthcare professionals that his body had developed. This helped to press pause on puberty, but didn’t stop Kai’s need for chest sculpting.’

Private top surgery costs between £7,500 and £9,000, which Kai – who works as a full-time cleaner and carer for vulnerable adults – is unable to afford on his salary.

He hopes to raise enough money to have the procedure at a clinic in Manchester, saying all support is ‘massively appreciated’ and takes him one step closer to feeling ‘comfortable in [his] own skin.

Kai’s mum, Rachel added: ‘Kai has always been a funny and loving person and I’m so proud to see him growing into the kind and generous young man he is today.

‘The My Genderation films about Kai have inspired and encouraged so many, and I would love to see him get what he needs after this already long journey.’

Make a donation towards Kai’s top surgery at GoFundMe.

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