Illustration by Kayti Barkved
Illustration by Kayti Barkved

Whether you’re FtM trans, gender fluid, non-binary, or just feeling like changing your gender expression, chest binding is one way to dispel gender dysphoria or try on a new gender identity. While there is no completely safe way to bind your chest, there are ways to make the experience less dangerous and a little more enjoyable.

First things first – If at any time when you are binding, you feel short of breath, lightheaded, or uncomfortable, you must remove your binder at once!

Remember that while you are binding, you are, in essence, compressing everything in, which can impact your chest cavity (and all the stuff inside it) and thus, your breathing. Binding should be limited to eight-hour periods (at the most) at a time, and most importantly, folks who like to bind frequently must remember to take a day off every now and then. There can be long term repercussions associated with extended binding from pesky back pain and rashes, to extreme changes in spinal alignment, deformation of the ribs, and permanent damage to breast tissue. Even if you’re considering any sort of top surgery later on, over-binding now can lead to a more difficult surgery if your breast tissue, ribs, lungs, or spine are damaged. If you want to bind, you need to know your bra size – and don’t contemplate buying a size smaller to make the bind tighter, it is harmful to your body and will result in a poor fit.

Binding on a budget

The best cheapie for the binding initiate is control top panty hose with the legs cut off, or trimmed and turned into a form of tank top straps. Men’s compression sports shirts made of Lycra or spandex (cis men with Gynecomastia use these) are a little less expensive for the experienced experimenter, and can work for smaller- to medium-sized chests. These can be found at sporting goods stores, or even at Walmart. For bigger chest sizes, back braces found at drug stores turned and fastened backwards can be a great alternative. The only downside is that the neoprene fabric that they are made out of isn’t very breathable. A moisture wicking shirt underneath this can cut down on wetness.

Binding as a long term investment

The best binders are made specifically by trans conscious companies like Underworks – they have a fantastic online selection of full torso-length binders, like the community favourite, the Ultimate Chest Binder Tank for about $30. Other companies, like Taiwan’s Esha, offer colourful cropped binders with zipper, Velcro, and pull-over styles. If you’re looking to inform yourself even more before you purchase, check out chestbinders.wordpress.com – they have many informative reviews (often with pictures) on the various binders out there.

Binder beware

• Know your bra size and don’t buy smaller sizes to make the bind tighter – it can lead to injury and will result in a poor fit.

• The best way to put on a binder is to step into it inside out and ease it up over the hips before pulling it on over the chest. Nipples should be rearranged, pushed out towards the armpit to get rid of the ‘mono-boob’ effect.

• Lady Gaga may have popularized this with her drag persona, but please do not use ACE (tensor) bandages to bind! They chafe the skin terribly and can compress and hurt breast tissue, and potentially fracture a rib, even from just one use if they are wound too tightly around the chest.

• Cheaper binders can be found on eBay, sold for five dollars or less. This might sound appealing, but these too are more than likely to cause harm. They are usually constructed entirely out of binding material, which has an all over compressing effect, much like ACE bandages. A true, proper binder has its binding material in the front, and a spandex or breathable material in the back.