‘It’s Binding or Suicide’: Transgender and Non-Binary Readers Share Their Experiences With Chest Binders

A recent Times article on chest binding prompted a discussion among readers about the practice, which some transgender and gender-nonconforming people use to compress their breasts and treat body dysphoria, as well as how we covered it.

We wanted to hear more from people who have used chest binders, so we asked readers to tell us why they’ve worn them and what effect binding has had on their lives. We received more than 200 responses, mostly from teenagers and young adults.

Below is a selection of the responses, which have been edited and condensed.

If you have used chest binders, please tell us about your experience in the comments.

I am 31 and have been wearing constrictive sports bras since I developed breasts in high school. I didn’t know about binders until well into my 20s. I wish I had. Without the availability of binders, many people like me spent years wearing Ace bandages around our chests. This practice was harmful and made it difficult to breathe. Now that binders are more widely available, I wear one most days.

I’m currently training to run the New York marathon for the second year in a row, and I’m starting graduate school at Columbia University in the fall. These are things that I would not have been able to do without a binder.

R.J. Russell, 31

I am well aware of the risks of wearing binders for too long, in excessive heat and while exercising. I do my best to be careful, but if I’m desperate, I’ll wear one for a bit too long because my dysphoria is a worse alternative to being uncomfortable for a few hours.

I recently discovered TransTape, a medical-grade tape that you can use to open-chest bind (basically tape your breasts to the sides to make your chest appear as flat as possible). And because the tape is stretchy and doesn’t wrap around your entire chest, it doesn’t compress, allowing you to sleep and shower in it, and it can be worn up to five days. I’m trying it out for the summer so I don’t have to suffer as much with a hot, tight binder.

Binding for so many of us is not negotiable and just helps us feel the way we want to feel about ourselves. We don’t need you to understand how we are feeling but need you to understand that what we are experiencing is incredibly real for us.

Cody Mancini, 21

I decided to start chest binding when my dysphoria concerning my chest led to suicidal thoughts and extreme anxiety. I discussed binding with my doctor, and she provided me with a lot of information (namely that it’s safe). I also gathered information from my transgender friends who bind.

Binding was a massive relief from the anxiety and depression associated with having breasts. I would have repeated panic attacks when bra shopping, and seeing myself with breasts felt completely wrong. Being able to bind (and eventually getting top surgery) mitigated those awful feelings and psychosomatic symptoms that came from having breasts.

Binding is not fun, and it’s not a trend. We are well aware of the risks, but for many transmasculine people, it’s binding or suicide. The emotions and physical illness associated with being incapable of transitioning are much worse than any binding side effects.

Raphael Sanche, 17

I am a musical theater performer and recently had an unfortunate incident where the binder restricted me so much that I got dizzy and nearly passed out on stage. I also regularly get backaches and shoulder tightness.

But binding is still preferable to the dysphoria that comes from having breasts. I cannot wait to be able to have top surgery and be free of them forever.

— Edward George, 47

The first time I put a binder on I cried out of pure happiness. I was flat for the first time since puberty. Putting a shirt on over it was like actually seeing myself, and a tiny sliver of confidence poked out of the writhing mass of self-loathing that gender dysphoria created.

My first binder was a full-length one from Underworks. I had some ups and downs with it for the first couple of months. I eventually decided that a full-length binder wasn’t for me — it was too tight and hot. I found another company, GC2B. This time I got a half-length binder and fell in love. It held my chest down but not too tight. I breathed easily throughout the day. It felt amazing to live my life as I always wanted without my chest bothering me.

Ultimately, the goal is top surgery, but binding is the best medicine until then.

— Vincent Burke, 24

I bound my chest for years in my 30s before coming out as a transgender man in my 40s and until I was able to save enough of a credit line to have top surgery in my late 40s.

Binding was a necessity for me because my breasts grew as I aged and became intolerable. The binders were better than the Ace bandages I initially used but hard to find, even online.

By the time I had my surgery and didn’t need the binders anymore, we had a transgender resource center where I was able to donate them. Now, with insurance covering gender confirmation surgeries, I’m hoping young guys won’t need binders anymore.

Binding was bad for my asthma, but that was always a secondary concern for me.

Terry Schleder, 55

I first had a desire to bind toward the end of middle school, when I came out as non-binary. Because of online articles that said binders would mutilate your body, my mother firmly decided against getting me one. It was only when I had my doctor and therapist assure her binding was safe that I was able to get my first binder, which drastically improved my self-image and mental health without any sacrifices to my physical health.

Binders tend to be used as a temporary solution to the problem of having breasts and cannot be worn at all times. During exercise they can restrict breathing, and back and chest pain can come from wearing them for more than about eight hours at a time. You should also never sleep with a binder on.

Binders are a great tool for transgender people who cannot afford or are not allowed to get top surgery, and they’re harmless if minor precautions are taken. They have an incredible payoff for their users mentally and let a transgender person “test drive” a flat chest. I still use a binder and have suffered no side effects after more than five years.

— Erin Hurst, 17

I’ve warped ribs, have consistent pains near my sternum and generally have a hard time breathing.

It’s a choice I make because at this point I don’t have any other. It’s not feasible to have a large chest in public because of my dysphoria and the stares I get.

I’m looking into top surgery far earlier than I wanted to simply because I’m sick of putting myself in pain first thing in the morning. I feel like I’m chained to my binder in a lot of ways because as horrible as my experiences are, I don’t feel like I have the option to stop. I’d like to say better things about it because it has helped my dysphoria, but the cost of binding is so high that I feel caught in a lose-lose situation.

— John Gendron, 19

I have been binding for four years, starting at age 16. I discovered binding through the internet as I began following more transgender individuals and navigating my own gender identity.

When I slipped on my first binder, well, it didn’t slip on. Despite my small frame, I could not fit into a medium. I ended up returning it and ordering a size up. Even that was still extremely difficult to put on. You get used to it, though. The tightness is a double-edged sword — sometimes you feel like you’re being suffocated, but at other times a binder feels like a close hug.

The longer I used binding, the more I could feel my body deteriorating. The physical pain got worse but so did the emotional. Slowly I began living a life where I couldn’t not bind. The initial euphoria of flatness turned into never being able to get flat enough. My body aches every day, I no longer have the lung capacity I once had, and my ribs have inverted. I fear breaking one when I sneeze. I am getting surgery this year and it can’t come soon enough.

Caleb B. Sanders, 20

I was binding without knowing it as early as age 12, only using sports bras and Lycra shirt layers. I was a teenager in the late ’90s and mid-2000s, so there wasn’t the widespread access to commercial binders that we have now. As I started using the internet and learned what binding was, I began trying new methods. Many were unsafe and I believe did great harm, but they helped me combat intense dysphoria.

My first real binder was an Underworks from a Big Brothers program. It was from another transgender guy who had recently had top surgery, and I got it for free in the mail; I was 19. I remember putting it on and looking at myself in the mirror, with my then longhair pulled under a cap and an uncharacteristic confidence.

Binding is awful — it’s hot, it chafes, it can make you break out and bleed in tight spots, and it’s not comfortable. Sometimes it restricts my breathing and makes me feel sick, and sometimes it’s not enough to help me feel safe and happy in my body.

I have yet to be able to afford top surgery so I am still binding daily. I’m worried my decades-long use of binders will one day have a negative impact on my chest surgery results, but I continue to do it to combat dysphoria. It saves my life.

— Shaun Connors, 31

I started binding in my late teens unsafely, with store-bought compression bandages. In my early 20s, when I had moved out of my family’s home and had my own income, I bought a GC2B binder. I researched my options thoroughly before purchasing, but unfortunately there are few medical studies on chest binding, so most information is anecdotal.

— Cary McGinnis, 26

The physical feeling of wearing a binder is about as obtrusive as wearing a bra used to be — it definitely feels good to take it off, but for the most part I forget it’s there.

— Daniel Burke, 32

A note to readers who are not subscribers: This article from the Reader Center does not count toward your monthly free article limit.

Follow the @ReaderCenter on Twitter for more coverage highlighting your perspectives and experiences and for insight into how we work.

Source link