To Bind or Not to Bind
by Jude Samson
It often seems like a wicked cruel trick of nature for many of us who have very full chests, which makes presenting as a male far more difficult. But do you really have to bind in order to “pass” as a male? Ultimately the only right answer is what you feel comfortable doing – whether it’s binding every day, binding on special occasions, not at all, or anywhere in between. Many guys who are just starting to discover they’re trans guys/FtMs seem to feel they have to bind in order to pass or be taken seriously as a trans person when that simply is not the case. Here I’m going to touch on some Do’s and Don’ts of binding, recommended binding products, and some suggestions for those who don’t want to bind at all.
Avoid common binding items like tape and/or ace bandages. While they are cheap and easily accessible, especially if you’re young and unable to access money for binders they can be harmful. The constriction they cause is uneven and can tighten over time without you realizing it. They’ve been known to cause breathing problems, chest pains, skin irritation, not to mention being generally uncomfortable and bulky. Binding using either/both of these methods may not be completely avoidable. If you’re dysphoria is overwhelming and you’re unable to access other methods of binding you may resort to these cheap and easily concealable items.
*DO NOT BIND FOR OVER 8 HOURS*
Many guys don’t realize there are actually two types of shirts that can be worn and will often lump compression shirts and binders together.
Compression – this is a shirt that is snug that will reduce the chest without being overly constricting. It’s almost like wearing spandex across your chest and they often come in a variety of sizes and lengths. These are great for those who don’t have very large chests or want something that will compress without the overly tight feeling of binding. These are a good option for the guy who binds every single day or if you have to wear something for more than 8 hours.
Binder – this is the most common method for most guys. Binders range in price, sizes colors, designs, and makers. It’s important to read the reviews for each binder you’re looking at because most guys will put reviews on there about sizing. If you wear a Large with one company, you may need a Medium with another. These are very constricting and can be difficult to get on and off but they do a very impressive job of flattening the chest and are often used by those with large chests given how well they work. They can be cumbersome and make you sweaty or uncomfortable if worn for extended periods but again – don’t bind for more than 8 hours.
Sports Bra – As much as a trans guy hates the concept of wearing a “bra” because it’s a feminine item, the sports bras do come in handy. I have a very physical job that I sweat considerably during. Using a sports bra has come in handy more than binding because it allows me the freedom to move and breathe without being completely drenched from the thicker/hotter binders. Check out some resources on determining your bra size most accurately (you’d be surprised it’s not usually what you think it is) and then see about going down a size. The concept is much the same as a binder – the smaller size will make it harder to get on/off but will create a tighter fit to compress the chest. Depending on your chest size you may have issues where the bottom will begin to roll. This is a common issue which I will address in a moment.
Bulky Clothes – Another option is to wear larger clothes than your normal size. This allows the fabric to not be pulled tight across your chest, for obvious reasons, but with a little tweaking of your stance and posture you may be able to hide your chest with some positive results this way. It’s especially easily to do this during cooler times when a nice bulky sweatshirt can do wonders at concealing your chest.
Medical Vests – One of my first binders was a gynecomastia compression vest that a nurse I knew got for me. While it had the desired compression effects it was very bulky, especially on the seam, and constantly rolled up. Some other body types may have a better fit and there are many other compression vests for this purpose that are of much better quality.
THINGS TO WATCH FOR
Beyond being safe when you do this (watch your breathing, stay hydrated if you’re sweating, don’t bind for extended periods), there are some other aspects to consider. The length and style of the binders/compression shirts make a big difference. I, personally, can’t stand anything close to my neck so I enjoy the styles with a deeper neck line cut – however, this style can create cleavage and be counter-productive.
If you’re a smaller body type you may absolutely love the half-shirt style while someone with a bigger belly may find they’re fighting with it rolling up constantly. Constantly having to pull down your binder isn’t just annoying, it is not drawing direct attention to the very area of your body you want to avoid all together (in most cases). Some are tee-shirt length and that works out well enough for others while I got a ¾ length, which goes over the butt and some that go as far as the thigh. I enjoy these longer ones because once I throw on jeans/shorts and a belt, the shirt won’t ride up or become untucked like some of the shorter ones will.
Measure yourself according to the instructions on the specific site you’re going to be ordering from. One measurement is not the same across all sites. Some have very specific instructions, especially for trans guys on how to get the best size for your needs. Also pay attention because there are a lot of new sites out and not all of them are based in your country (where size measurements varies depending on country). Do not go down a size smaller because you want a tighter compression – they don’t work like that and you will likely not even be able to fit into it. They are sized in a very specific way to account for their compression.
Reviews – As I mentioned, read the reviews. Read about the company and then read about the specific binder/compression or shirt/item you are hoping to get. Different companies can make the same kind of shirt and have completely different reviews. You can find a wealth of information by joining various transgender/trans men facebook groups. Many of these groups are private for your protection and a simple post asking for recommendations about binders or reviews on a specific binder will often yield a plethora of responses. Binders can get expensive, and while most of the companies do allow for exchanges for the correct size, it can be a hassle and sometimes costly. Do your research before buying.
Facebook Groups – Many trans folks seem to forget that facebook can provide them with a fantastic resource. It can also be a breeding ground for trolls. Many groups will require admin approval before joining and each group typically has a page of rules (some will ban “Do I Pass” posts while others openly encourage them; some will ban you for posting a relationship ad while others are geared for expressly that purpose.) In general, they’re great places for asking questions, but take the time to explore the group first to make sure you’re not asking a question that just had a big thread on the same topic. Be prepared for people to be amazing and aggravating, insightful and pointless. Admins try hard to protect the groups but there are always those who get their claws in. Use at your own caution.
Underworks – One of the top sites trans guys use for binders (including myself). I placed an order with them around 9 or 10 AM one day and before the day was done I already had an email with my tracking information sent and received my item next day (and I used just regular shipping). That’s not to say you will always get it next day but they are extremely prompt. I’ve had my compression shirt, binder, and swim compression top for years without any issues (although the compression shirt is just now starting to get a little lax).
GC2B – I’ve heard really great reviews from others with their purchases from here. I didn’t find the exact thing I was looking for through them, but in the numerous groups I’ve been a member, those who have shopped here have had nothing but good things to say. They have since expanded their product line since I’ve been in the market, so you may find the perfect binder for you here.
F2MBinders – Pretty much this is just another listing of the underworks products, but it’s designed for the trans man and by purchasing you help them get binders donated for those guys who are truly in a bad spot but need something to help with dysphoria.
Those with very small chests may enjoy the freedom of not having to bind. However, those with larger chests may also enjoy the same freedom. I’m a bigger guy so my chest tends to conceal itself, but I always still wore a binder or compression shirt or sports bra. Especially at work, I would usually wear a bra. Then I started going entirely without. Men with big chests don’t wear bras and I am a guy with a big chest. Why should I feel like I have to wear a bra then? I shouldn’t – so I stopped wearing anything to compress my chest. I have noticed that I’m far more conscious of my chest now again as I feel “naked” or “exposed” at times. I feel like I should cover up or take extra steps to hide my chest. I don’t have to hide my chest and the concept of hiding my chest is a social hammering in our heads that we need to be ashamed of our bodies and I’m not ashamed. It’s been a little nerve-wracking but it’s been incredibly freeing physically and emotionally. It took some getting used to but I felt it was the next step for me to make before I go for top surgery. But it is an option for anyone because there is no specific way on how to look like a man. I am a man and therefore I decided to go without bras or compression anymore.
As you can see – you have options. The biggest thing to be aware of is to make sure you do this safely. It’s very easy to cause yourself injury, especially if you’re trying to do it on the sly without friends/family finding out that you’re binding. One of the most important steps in transitioning is becoming comfortable in your own skin/body and therefore making yourself uncomfortable in a binder/compression or shirt/ace bandage is counter-productive to your end-game, but your mental health and well-being should take precedence. Binding in your earlier stages or for any reason you desire is perfect if it makes you happy to do so. Just know that you’re a man regardless of what you do or don’t wear underneath.