Trans-people have the unique distinction of going through what amounts to puberty twice. The transition from female to male or male to female (or any number of debatable sexes/genders) includes a number of decisions that have to be made, from clothes, to appearances, to medical procedures, even the use of preferred pronouns. For transmen, this may include a popular practice known as “chest binding.”
In short, chest binding is the process of flattening one’s breasts (without surgery) to achieve the standard of a chest that is male in appearance. The methods are as varied as the individuals who use them, and the success of each depends on the build, size, and effect desired by that person. This article intends to serve as an overview for some chest binding techniques useful for those that wish to practice it, as well as espousing some tips and safety practices to ensure that it is done safely and in moderation.
The first factor to take into consideration is the risks involved with chest binding. Risks? Yes, there are inherent dangers involved in binding the chest. The most common cause of injury is the curse of ambition. Chest binding using products and methods that are too tight can have adverse effects on the individual. Binders that are too tight can cause side effects that include impaired breathing, skin irritation, acne, even fluid buildup in the lungs and broken ribs. NEVER use ace bandages or duct tape to bind your chest. These products are not designed for the needs of chest binders.
Next, restrict the amount of time that you bind. Binding all day, every day, can bring about the aforementioned effects much quicker. Your best bet is to bind for a maximum of eight hours a day. If bruising occurs (and it likely will), try to bind less tightly and work your way up to the desired level that you (and your body) are comfortable with.
Finally, your binder, like your clothes, needs to be chosen for comfort and treated with the same care. Wash and air dry your binder(s). The various methods of binding means that you will encounter a number of materials, so make sure to keep a close eye on how to properly care for them.
Now, onto the good stuff. From the mundane to the specialized, there are a number of ways to successfully bind your chest. The simplest and most economic consists merely of hiding. Wearing loose fitting clothing over a tight sports bra or undershirt can cleverly disguise your chest to give the illusion of a more flat-chested appearance. This method is also the most comfortable and least likely to cause any distress or side effects.
To expand on the sports bra usage, there are a number of products out there used in exercising called compression shirts. The commercial variety are used to reduce friction and improve recovery in sports. Use as a binder is relatively new, but the results are positive in those with smaller breasts. Those with larger chests should consider medical-grade compression shirts, typically used to improve circulation or aid non-trans men whom have larger chests. These sometimes require a prescription, but there are a few specialty suppliers that sell these shirts.
Lastly, in recent years, several companies have established themselves as developers of chest binders that directly address the needs of trans people. Companies, such as T-Kingdom and The Tool Shed, have developed chest binders in a number of styles to cater to the eclectic population of its users. From pull-overs to Velcro, these products are typically considered the preferred choice for chest binding. However, like medical compression shirts, they run quite high in the price range, usually from $40 to upwards of $130, depending on the style. Like most specialty products, you pay for quality.
Chest binding, though with inherent risks, can be a great tool in improving the self-image of trans individuals. Caution and moderation should be used in application of chest binding, but a well-educated person can utilize the process without problems. There are a number of educational resources out there to aid in the use of binding, listed below. If you have any concerns, the best option is always to ask, and thankfully, there are a number of people out there with similar interests that can help.