Who binds and why bind?
So, before we dive into the ins and outs of binding, let’s just get one thing cleared up: everyone can use binders! Chest binders are not just for trans, queer, non-binary, and/or genderqueer folks. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, clothing does not dictate someone’s gender! No piece of clothing will universally signify an identity, gender, or sex, but for many it can help them feel more affirmed in how they wish to present or identify.
For our readers who have never considered or even heard of binding before, what’s it all about? For many folks, binding can be a way of affirming their identity. Many trans folks, particularly trans men, trans masc, or non-binary humans with breast tissue will choose to bind. For many, a flatter chest can lead to a happier sense of self and body. Saying that, binding is absolutely not for everyone and does not ‘make’ anyone’s gender - it is a personal choice. Many cisgendered people will choose to bind, many people will choose other methods, and some will bind on one day and not on another. As long as you are safe, hygienic, and happy - that is all that matters.
There are, however, some things to consider when choosing a binding method, and some health risks to be aware of.
Concerns? Pain? Difficulty Breathing?
To be totally frank, there can be dangers associated with binding. If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, seeing a GP is always a good idea if you have concerns with binding or the safety around it. Be aware that you are binding ie restricting your chest, which can be a dangerous practice. Wearing something too tight around your rib cage can restrict breathing which, as I’m sure you can guess, is not an ideal sitch.
Remove your binder straight away if you’re having difficulty breathing or chest pain. Pain isn’t a good thing when it comes to binding, and it’s a sign that our body is in distress. Please listen to your physical body and the signals it is giving you. If pain persists after you’ve taken off your binder, see a doctor ASAP!
- The general line on binding is no more than 8 hours, and if you’re new to binding, start with a couple of hours at a time to let your body get used to it. If you can take breaks, do it! Over-binding can break down skin tissue, restrict breathing, and cause skin irritation.
- Try and give yourself a break if you’ve been binding all week, see if you can fit in a day or two at home to let your body breath.
- Don’t wear your binder to bed, your breathing changes when you sleep, and restricting your breathing during this period is not safe or healthy.
- Never wear more than one binder at a time!!
If you need help finding someone to talk to in NSW, here is a link to a list of queer friendly GP’s (including those who bulk bill): List of Queer friendly doctors in NSW via suburb.
A save-our-ass disclaimer: We are not affiliated with any of these organisations in any way, nor do we endorse any particular person or organisation. These links are simply a place of information that could be helpful to begin your own research pathway.
Binding and exercise
Take your binder off for exercise. If you’re an active bod, wear a sports bra, they are designed to compress but still move and breath with your body. Binders do not. We know it’s not the same aesthetic, but your health and safety needs to be your top priority! Binding while playing sport is a huge no-no.
It’s best not to swim in your binder. Taking off a binder after it has gotten wet can be a really punishing experience, particularly pull on binders, and if you find yourself struggling to breathe while in the water, well… that’s not good news. Many folks will use a much looser fit for their swimming binder, and then their normal fit for dry wear. An older, stretched out, or larger size can be some good options for swimming, as are sports bras, binders specific for swimming, or tighter fitting neoprene garments.
Summer is hot. Summer is sweaty. Summer in Australia is even more hot and sweaty. During these periods make sure you’re being extra hygienic both with your skin and your binding gear. Wash your binders a little more regularly, make sure they’re fully dry before wearing again, and some people bathe or baby wipe their skin straight after taking off their binders. Shower regularly. Showering may be a delicate activity for many of us with body dysphoria, but if you can manage it, it’s a huge help!
Hot tip: Some folks use baby powder under their binders during summer to help absorb sweat and moisture. We would recommend cornstarch baby powders over talcum powder, as they are much more absorbent.
In more recent years, specialised brands have begun cropping up that make garments specific to the needs of the queer and trans community. Unfortunately, they can still be an exxy way of binding. Many have found other techniques for binding, however there are some common uses that are best put to bed, the biggest one being tape and bandages.
Binding with bandages or tape: don’t do it! Particularly ace bandages which constrict and tighten around the body with movement, or tape which doesn’t breathe, move, flex, or stretch with the body and can cause skin irritation, tear at your hair, and cause cuts and abrasions on the body. Tape and bandages can also cause fluid buildup in your lungs, and can damage ribs. There are other cheap alternatives to binding, please don’t take this route!
With that out of the way, let’s have a look at some different binding options.
- Long styles: These are great because they cover the whole chest and torso (good for compressing stomach and hips too) and can usually be tucked into pants. One let down to them is that they are particularly hot, and can roll up.
- Cropped/mid length styles: Like a cropped top, these styles generally compress just the area of the chest. Depending on the body type, these are good in that they’re more breathable, but can break up the chest and torso.
- Sports bras: Lots of folks prefer to wear one or two sports bras, depending on the size of the bust. This can be a safer way to bind, as sports bras are designed to be breathable and flexible.
- Vest styles: Fantastic option for those who find putting on pull over binders difficult. Vest styles are often made with velcro or a zip, so are super easy to get in and out of, but can be a little bulky under shirts. Try wearing more than one t-shirt if temperature permits.
- Compression Shirts: These can be a good alternative (and sometimes cheaper alternative) to binding that you can buy online or from sports stores. Not as tight a compression, but better for your skin, lungs and ribs, and better for chafing.
- There are also many businesses and community groups that do binder trades or have pay-it-forward systems, many that operate online. Check Facebook groups or online forums for some that might be local to you.
- DIY binders and binder alternatives: There are lots and lots of options for DIY binders out there, some good and some bad. At the end of the day, a professionally made binder will be the safest and usually most effective, but the cost can make them a little inaccessible.
Some of the better DIY options we’ve found are:
- Neoprene: Either making your own with a sheet of neoprene (wetsuit material) or buying premade back braces, these can be quite good as an alternative.
- Pantyhose: If you have a pair of stockings with a control top these can be a cheap and easy way of making a DIY binder. Cut the legs off the stockings, cut a hole in the crotch for your head, and you’ve got yourself a makeshift binder. Note that these are not designed for binding, but good in a pinch.
- Trans Tape was developed by a guy who couldn’t find a binder that worked for him. This is a safer alternative to household tape (like gaffa) and designed for delicate skin areas in mind.
- Check YouTube or trans and queer blogs for more tips, but remember, if you’re in pain stop binding.
Try not to be too disheartened if one binder doesn’t fit you perfectly! It can be a bit of a process to find the right binder for your body type. Like clothing, not every binder will feel right on your body. We know how emotionally taxing this can be, so try and be patient and kind to yourself - it is absolutely not a reflection of you or your body if something doesn’t fit the way you’d like it to!
If you are buying a binder online, make sure you follow the fitting guidelines of the specific brand you’re getting. This is the easiest way of getting the right fit, and every brand is different. If you’re in between sizes, go for a larger size rather than a smaller. It may not be as tight, but it’s much, much safer.
Need more? Hit the web
Honestly, we have found that the community knows best (aside from doctors in regards to health… of course). YouTube and queer and trans bloggers have a plethora of info that is shared willingly and usually for free (although if you’re in a position to donate or give back, do so). Who better to learn from than those putting in the miles?
Some starting points: