All kinds of people use chest binding to look and feel their best. While not every transgender or nonbinary person binds, it is a common and safe practice. Compressing your chest can help create a sense of gender euphoria. It can also support your transition goals—many people use binding before and after top surgery or in addition to testosterone gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT). Whether you use a chest binder, chest binding tape, or binder alternatives, it’s important to learn more about binding. This blog is written for transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people who want to learn to bind in a safe and comfortable way.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chest binding is a way of flattening or compressing the chest in order to create a more flat or sleek silhouette. There are many ways to bind and most of them are safe. Trans men, transmasculine people, nonbinary people, and folks who identify as FTM all may use chest binding. Some people bind for safety reasons, aesthetic reasons, or because having a flat chest just feels good! Of course, many gender-expansive people choose not to bind as well. Binding is a personal choice and often a form of self-care.
Zil Goldstein (she/her), Associate Director of Medicine for Transgender and Gender Nonbinary Health at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center said, “Trans people feel affirmed when they’re seen as the correct gender and that affirmation goes a long way in terms of people being able to take care of themselves….it helps people to be more confident and to be able to go about their lives.”
There are many options to bind safely, from do-it-yourself binding to buying a garment designed to compress the chest area. While every person’s body is different, there are some basic facts everyone should know about binding:
1. Not all binders are created equal.
There are many ways to bind. Often, folks start out by making their own binder to compress their chest. Some people wear multiple sports bras or layer shirts to create a flatter appearance. Other people wrap their upper torso with fabric bandages (such as an Ace bandage) or soft athletic tape. Depending on the size of a person’s chest, they may be able to achieve the desired degree of compression by wearing stiff or stretchy garments made out of denim, nylon tights, or even a swimsuit top.
These homemade binders are all reasonably safe to wear, but experts recommend wearing a garment that is specifically designed to compress the chest. These binders are made of thick, stretchy material that offers compression without squeezing too tightly. Some binders are lined on the inside with soft fabric that is kinder to skin than rough denim or sticky tape. The most common design looks like a tank top, halter top, or strapless bandeau top. (For binding a large chest, a full-length tank top with supportive shoulder straps is the best option.)
It’s important that you do not sleep in your binder, no matter how comfortable it is. Binding safely means taking a break from the compression and giving your chest, ribs, skin, and body a rest. You can learn more about binding safely in this article from our partner GoodRX.
2. You don’t have to break the bank to get a binder.
One of the most common reasons that people use homemade binders is cost. A fabric bandage, tape, sports bra, or other type of improvised binder is less expensive than a compression garment, which costs about $30. However, if you are planning to wear your binder every day, it is important to make sure you are binding in the safest, most comfortable way possible. While it may be tempting to use only the least expensive option, homemade binders come with some risks to your body and health. Here are some risks of binding with do-it-yourself methods:
- Sticky tape can strip oils from your skin and cause rashes, infection, and pain.
- Fabric bandages tighten as you wear them and can make it hard to breathe.
- Homemade binders have loose seams and stitching that rub and cause sores.
- Binders that are not made from cotton can trap sweat and oil and cause skin irritation or acne.
- Binding too tightly or without a break can (in rare cases) hurt you. Fractured ribs, chest pain, tenderness, and overheating are some of the risks of binding.
Compression garments are not cheap, but they are made to last. Even with daily wear, a good quality binder should last more than a year without losing its stretchiness. Our community partners Point of Pride offer a free binder program for any trans person who wants a binder but can’t afford one (or obtain one safely). The program is sponsored by gc2b, a manufacturer of high-quality, affordably priced chest binders. Callen-Lorde’s Safer Binding guide includes a list of resources that offer binder giveaways and binder exchanges.
3. Binding is beneficial for your mental health.
While binding can be uncomfortable, it should never hurt. In fact, the psychological benefits of binding outweigh the physical cost of wearing a compression garment every day. Many trans people consider binding essential to their mental health.
Sarah Peitzmeier (she/her) is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and a member of the Binding Health Project. She is also the lead author of the first ever medical research manuscript on chest binding. She said, “For those with intense dysphoria, we saw that binding might dramatically reduce suicidality, anxiety, depression, and dysphoria. It could be literally lifesaving for them.”
Some people bind before moving forward with top surgery. They find that masculinizing their appearance (or simply decreasing the appearance of the chest) is affirming. Other people stick with binding on its own. This is a great choice for people who are genderfluid or enjoy having options for their gender expression. If you feel like top surgery is an important part of your gender journey, you can talk to your healthcare team and begin preparing by getting a letter of support for gender-affirming surgery.
FYI, you’ll likely wear a binder after top surgery too—just until your body adjusts and heals. Your surgeon will give you a different type of binder to wear while you recover. After your surgery, you can donate your binders to someone who needs them. Online communities like Binder Boys help people get binders for free or at a reduced cost—and are a great way to make sure that your binder goes to a community member instead of the trash.
While the risks of binding are minimal, you don’t need to choose between your gender expression and your health. By wearing a compression garment, keeping your binder clean, and giving your body a break, you can bind safely for as long as you need to. Everyone’s needs are different, but you should feel supported no matter what. Binding can be gender-affirming and support your sense of being in control of your body. You deserve to feel comfortable and safe—because your body belongs to you!