Chest Binding Tips for Trans Masculine Folk
These tips are for all people who use binders, but especially for those just starting out and needing some guidance.
Chest dysphoria is one of the most significant contributors to depression and self-esteem in trans men. Most people who are trans masculine would prefer that they had flat chests, and that’s hardly surprising in a world where people’s brains automatically gender someone based on their physical outline. But it’s not just about other people’s perception. Many trans guys have such strong dysphoria regarding their chests that they cannot stand to look in the mirror, and hate looking down at what’s there. For young trans people their dysphoria worsens as the changes of puberty kick in and their breasts start to grow. Since top surgery to masculinize the chest is not immediately available to all (due to cost, accessibility and the person’s age) most will decide at some stage to use a binder.
Binding can go a long way towards reducing dysphoria and making daily existence more tolerable for a trans masculine person, but it can cause its own problems, and sometimes these can be quite serious.
First of all, it’s important to get a proper binder in the right size, and not improvise with bandages or other tightly wrapped materials. Binding with bandages can cause terrible injuries due to rubbing and chafing, from inflamed and broken skin through to serious bacterial and fungal skin infections. Sometimes sports bras and compression sports shirts can be helpful, and layering clothes can also work for larger chested folk.
Incorrect binding techniques can lead to very poor posture, muscular problems, rib injuries and chest pain, sometimes so bad that painkillers are needed. All of this leads to avoidance of physical activity, worsening depression and weight gain. In the worst cases I’ve seen, the binding-related pain has caused breathing problems and visits to the emergency department.
If you’re getting chest pain, it’s a sure sign that your binder is too tight or that you’re wearing it too much and you need to take a break from it. Don’t wear it overnight. Try to avoid wearing it for more than 8 hours straight. Also remember that the longer you have a binder on with your skin not able to breathe, the more likely you are to get fungal infections
You should wash your binder after a single use, especially in Queensland summer conditions, so you will need several. Make sure you have the correct size, and if you’re still growing then your binder needs to grow with you – don’t stay with an old smaller binder – it might flatten your chest very nicely but it will cause you big problems.
So where do you get binders? Sadly there’s no high street shop you can waltz into and try some on. Most people get them through mail order companies but these can be quite expensive, especially considering you should have several. Contact the Binder Project in Brisbane to access affordable binders. Tap into the online community and you may find people who are giving away their old binders. A patient of mine recently gave me all his old binders he no longer needed, and within a week I was able to pass them on to a 14 year old whose family couldn’t afford them. The effect was instantaneous when he tried one on, as his back straightened and his eyes shone, and his delighted mother said it was the first smile she had seen in months!
Remember that binding does not stop your breasts from growing, and will not make them any smaller. I often hear people concerned about the effect that binding will have long-term on the breast tissue – to set the record straight, it doesn’t cause dangerous changes, it will definitely change the eventual shape of the breasts, but our local top surgeon assures me that it isn’t an issue when it comes to surgery.
Chest binding is an important practice for most trans masculine people. It’s affirming and makes a huge difference to self-esteem and ease in social situations. Following the basic rules of binding leads to better health and comfort. And once you’ve had top surgery, what do you do with your old binders that you no longer need? If they’re not too scruffy, please consider paying it forward by donating them to your trans-friendly clinic for others in need!