Diffuse 5 Presents: Binding for BeginnersSeptember 5, 2012
I’d like to take things in a different direction this week and discuss a subject that’s a bit more, er, intimate than our usual “Check out this sweet blazer/I really love this shirt/Let’s create a Kickstarter so I can afford these boots” fare. As spiffy as we all look in fresh fedoras or shiny new wing tips, sometimes it takes a bit more than a change of outfits to feel comfortable in our own bodies. Exhibit A: The Boob Problem.
Although Cosmo seems convinced that everyone with ta-tas should be happily boosting them up, showing them off, and whatever else it may take to Please Your Man in 100 Fun New Ways That Are Probably Not Feminist, some of us would happily trade our C-cups for As (or even less). Surgery is an option, of course, but it’s muy caro and might not even be the right solution. (Also, scalpels are scary). I mean, what if you only want your boobs to go away some of the time, not always and forever? (I’m asking for a friend.) Luckily for masculine female-IDed queers, trans guys, and everyone else in the category of people who would rather the topography of their chests be a little less Rocky Mountains and a lot more Great Plains, there’s a wide range of binder options available through the power of the information superhighway.
Before we dive into the Wonderful World of Binders, here’s a brief PSA: Thinking about binding with ACE bandages? NO. STOP. Step away from the first aid aisle of CVS. “What’s the problem?” you might ask, embarrassed that I am shouting at you in the middle of your local pharmacy. “I see people binding with ACE bandages in movies and in drag shows,” you insist. “Are you questioning the royal wisdom of Drag Kings?” Now, don’t hang me for treason just yet. Bandages are fine if you’re going to be binding very infrequently and for very short periods of time. Meaning, for a one scene film shoot or a couple acts during an evening of gender bending entertainment. And take it from someone who’s been there: even when worn briefly, ACE bandages hurt like hell. As the minutes pass, you will also become aware of an acute feeling of slow, yet imminent death, as catching your breath will be increasingly difficult. That’s because ACE bandages are designed to contract with movement, which includes breathing. Fun stuff!
Seriously, though: if you intend to make binding a regular or even semi-regular part of your life, bandages are most definitely not the way to go. Binding with stuff like ACE bandages or duct tape (yes, some people use it and no, I don’t even want to think about the removal process) can cause serious health problems, including cracked ribs, back injuries, fluid build-up in the lungs, and permanent scarring. And even with a top-of-the-line quality binder, binding all day, every day is still hazardous to your health. That’s a whole lot of pressure to ask your body to endure nonstop. For an excellent, step-by-step guide to safe binding from people who are way more knowledgeable than I am, check out Transguys.com.
Now, onto the main course: binder options. I’m going to start with the two types that I have experience with. Please keep in mind that this experience is quite limited, as I’m pretty new to the binding-with-proper-binders-and-not-just-tight-sports-bras (though tight sports bras are nice for everyday use) way of life. The most popular site for binders seems to be Underworks. They have a ton of styles to choose from and, with the average piece running about $40, they’re pretty affordable. The first style I tried was the Double Front Compression Shirt, which looks like your typical white tank top. I chose it because it’s full length, which means stomach compression as well. For us bigger queers, binding across the chest only tends to cause a “beer gut” situation that is not ideal. This compression shirt is long enough to tuck into your pants, which eliminates the rolling-up problem that many people have with binders. I liked the design but, unfortunately, I found it impossible to get on by myself (my shoulders were too broad to pull it over, and my hips were too wide to step into it and pull up. Body, Y U no work with me?).
I exchanged that sucker for a totally different design: Extra Power Compression Vest (Double Layer). I’ve always had a thing for vests, after all. This one works a lot better, meaning that I can get it on – and off – without the aid of several friends and/or the Jaws of Life. It has a hook front and the same full length compression that I was looking for. As for how well it actually minimizes my chesticles? Well, they certainly look smaller – I wore a sports bra under it for bonus flattening action – but they were also still there. I think the effect would be greater with a few more layers of clothing, but I’ll have to wait for colder weather to test out that theory.
Underworks also has binding T-shirts, swimsuits, and even pants (goodbye, birthin’ hips), so they literally have you covered, but they’re far from the only vendors out there. T-Kingdom is a Taiwanese site that sells binders for “tomboys, FTM and anyone else who want to flatten their chest.” Sounds about right! They have tanks, half shirts, and even this zippered number. All their models are pretty thin, though, so it’s hard to tell how well that would work on larger-bodied people. (That’s a recurring theme with most binder vendors, unfortunately.)
Love Boat is another queer lifestyle company from Taiwan (I’m starting to think I need to plan a vacation pretty soon) that has a bunch of different binder styles and colors, as well as packing harnesses and packers of both the hard and soft variety. Danae, based in the Netherlands, is another place to check out, though I’ll warn you that the site is 100% not in English. Another route to take is postsurgical supply stores like Design Veronique. This is all medical grade compression wear, but it’s also the most expensive of the lot.
Speaking of Federal Greenbacks: If money is a real obstacle standing in the way of you and your dream binder, there are a number of binder exchange programs out there where you can get free used ones. Unfortunately, it seems that all of these programs are for trans-identified folks only.
Hopefully, I’ve managed to set you on the right path toward minimizing both your stress and your chest. I’m interested in hearing some of your binding war stories, Diffuse 5-ers – or maybe even getting a few tips from seasoned veterans. The comments section: you know where it is.
Bren is a self-identified butch lesbian geek Masshole with a passion for comic books, action figures, queer issues, flannel, and pretty femmes. She’s also the founder and resident Friendly Neighborhood Butch of the blog Buzz Cuts and Bustiers.
Diffuse 5 is a website providing events, news, articles and interviews for the lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer community in Boston and beyond.
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