[CW discussion of dysphoria, bodily harm]
A big shout out to my Dundee Queer Family for help with this, particularly Sven, Alex and Vicki. One mind is always good, but often the queer hive mind is better.
Binding, when referring to bodies, is restricting the breast tissue so that it forms a flatter silhouette. It is a method often used by trans and non-binary folx to achieve the body silhouette closer to what they feel they want. It is also often used to help combat dysphoria.
What is a binder? It is a purpose-designed compression device used to flatten the breasts and create a flatter silhouette. They can be bands that go around your chests, or full tank tops or t-shirts that you can wear in place of other clothing. They are mostly used by trans men and non-binary folx. They aren’t particularly comfortable, and can be unsafe if used wrong, but for a lot of trans and non-binary folx they are invaluable.
A quick note, as I will discuss this in greater detail in a later post:
- Dysphoria noun (pathology)
A state of dissatisfaction, anxiety, restlessness or fidgeting.
Oh doesn’t that sound manageable? Dysphoria in trans terms is basically the feeling that you body is not at all the way it should, and can cause anxiety, depression and self-harming tendencies. It is not limited to trans and non-binary folx (eating disorders often involve a form of dysphoria), but it is those folx we are talking about here.
It is important to note that not all trans or non-binary folx experience dysphoria, and that those who do experience it do so in entirely different ways. It is therefore important if you know someone who is experiencing dysphoria to let them define it in their own terms, rather than you explaining it to them. This post concerns binding, which is used for dysphoria caused by breasts.
So, binding. Let’s start with some things you shouldn’t do:
- Use Ace bandages/tubigrip bandages or duct tape
You may see various mentions of ace bandages or tubigrip bandages online, but they are more of less the same thing. They are elasticated, tubular bandages designed to create localised pressure to ease pain, which is why they are used for sprain injuries. You really shouldn’t put this sort of bandage anywhere near your chest, as they are designed to become tighter if stretched, and can really badly restrict your breathing. They can also break your ribs. Same goes for duct tape, which I am mentioning here because people have used it in desperate situations. There is no give in duct tape, and you can do yourself some serious damage.
Avoid at all costs.
- Wear your binder for more than 8 hours at a time
Even when you use a properly designed binder, binding is not a safe practice. They are compression devices, and prolonged use can cause damage to the breast tissue, or break or deform the ribs. Conventional wisdom is to build up to wearing your binder for up to 8 hours at most, and no more than 3 days in a row is best practice.
- Don’t wear your binder whilst exercising
As stated above, binders compress your chest, and they can just in regular use restrict your breathing slightly. Which makes them dangerous for exercising. Best practice in this case is to wear a sports bra whilst exercising, and change back to your binder after you’re done. It can be tough, if you’re having a bad day with dysphoria, but it is not worth the damage it can do. Which leads to the last point:
- Don’t rely on your binder to ‘cure’ your dysphoria
This one has less to do with the actual binder and more the mindset behind it. Dysphoria sucks, and binders can really help, but they shouldn’t become a go-to ‘cure’. As stated before, you can’t safely wear a binder every day, and if you allow binding to become connected to easing dysphoria, it can lead to unsafe practices, and an inability to cope on days you can’t bind. Be careful – on days you can’t bind, wearing a sports bra and a baggier t-shirt can help, as it disguises the shape of your chest somewhat. Be sure to treat yourself on these days too, don’t stop looking after yourself just because you can’t bind.
Now, points that are important for using your binder:
- Make sure it fits properly
Sites that sell binders will have a measuring guide for their products, and it is incredibly important that you follow it correctly. Ideally you would have someone you trust on hand to help you, but the sites usually even provide diagrams as to where you should be measuring, so you can do it yourself in a mirror.
Here’s the most important point:
Don’t order a size smaller than you need thinking it will help.
To reiterate, binders are compression devices, and going a size smaller than you need will only lead to injury. If you happen to have a larger chest (I have size 38D breasts, so I know how this feels) then sadly, binding is only going to make so much of a difference. A slightly smaller chest is not worth the pain of broken ribs.
- Have more than one binder
Gross fact – bodies sweat. Binders are tight-fitting clothing, and guess what? That’s right, they can get warm and sweaty. It is important to have more than one not only so you have a spare to wear whilst one’s in the wash, but also for your skin; your binder may rub at your skin as you move whilst wearing it, and if it is damp or your skin is damp, this can make a hell of a mess. Be sure to wash yourself down when you remove your binder too. Take care of yourself, or you may find it impossible to wear your binder.
- Be careful in warm weather
Leading on from the last point, warm weather can affect your body more when binding, not least because you are often wearing an extra layer of clothing. Be sure to drink plenty of water, and if you start to feel short of breath or unwell, remove your binder. Nothing your binder can do for you is worth making yourself ill over.
- Be aware of import fees
Sadly, most companies that supply binders are outside of the UK. Companies from within the EU can send items to you fine, as tax is paid on the item when you buy it. However, if you buy binders from the States, you will have to pay a customs fee on the item on collection if it is valued at more than £15 (and usually an £8 “handling fee” to the Royal Mail for them keeping it in their office for you). Also important to note is that if the Royal Mail or some other shipping company is handling your item, they may require ID on collection, so make sure the name on your delivery details matches your ID, even if that is not the name you go by daily. Believe me, the people making these items understand, and won’t challenge you on this.
Different people bind for different reasons, but it is important to be safe. Even if you don’t bind yourself, being able to look out for binding friends and understanding how much it helps on bad dysphoria days is a huge help.
It is also important to note that, despite best efforts, accidents can happen. I have a friend who takes the utmost care when he’s binding, and managed to break a rib because he missed a step going downstairs. Don’t let that put you off if binding is something that helps you.
Some Useful Websites:
- http://gc2b.myshopify.com Gc2b are where I get my binders from, and I’ve had nothing but success with their products.
- http://www.thelingerieaddict.com/2015/03/the-perfect-binder-the-gc2b-reviewed.html Here’s a review of the Gc2b products, so it’s not me looking like a shill
- http://www.danae.info Danae are a Dutch company that specialise in clothing for trans people of all genders. They can be a little more expensive than Gc2b, and tend to only have smaller sizes, but my first binder was from them, and was pretty robust.
- http://morfuk.webeden.co.uk/binder-scheme/4585449674 Morf are a source of good-quality “used” binders available in the UK. They are free (all you pay is postage), so this is a valuable service for young trans and non-binary people
- http://transguys.com/features/chest-binding This page has a lot more links to binder venders and used binder schemes outside of the UK.