You put your right foot in, you put your left leg through and you shake, shimmy and grunt it all about. No, we're not playing some fucked-up version of The Hokey Pokey; we're simply going through the arduous daily routine of putting on a chest binder. Squeezing our bodies through this tiny, Chinese-finger-trap-like apparatus is sometimes awful but necessary to achieve a more masculine, flat chested appearance.
Finding the perfect binder is a challenge. The online sizing charts are often a nightmare. Then there's the not-so-graceful tango with the tourniquet of death. Learning to navigate the inconveniences of wearing a binder was a task I took on when I first began to bind. Don't get me wrong, learning to bind correctly was a life-saver, but also constant struggle.
I have always been a husky man. I am now one year post-op, but when I had breasts, they were nothing to play around with – no pun intended. So binding was always difficult.
For many, chest binding can help them pass. For me, however, I knew even if I got my chest fairly flat, it would not be enough for me to publicly pass as male. Still, there is something about that feeling of having a flattened chest that brought the peace of mind that I desperately needed.
Wearing a regular bra, even a sports bra, never quite did the trick. There's something psychologically defeating about having to wear an item that was designed for ciswomen. But, no lie, when I was a baby trans I did the whole multiple sports bras thing. My unruly chest always got the better of them. My breasts seemed to have a mind of their own.
Eventually, I did some research and found Underworks.com (who now apparently sell compression item for women and mothers to be, when did this happen?) to be at the top of the binding game. The compression industry itself is small. There are only a handful of companies that sell binders. At the time I was binding, the only other viable company was T-Kingdom, a company from Taiwan. However, after reading reviews, I realized they are not suitable for the average hefty American man. Now there's a company GC2b, who I have heard nothing but praise for, not only for their comfortable fit but also for affordable prices.
Be prepared to spend between $40 and $50 after shipping for the compression vest. Most binders come in two styles: the half binder is similar to an oversized sports bra and the full size is like a T-shirt or tank top. Personally, I did not have good luck with full size binders as they seemed to squeeze all my muffins out the bottom of the shirt. I felt like the bloated end of a diminishing toothpaste tube – which only intensified when I sat down.
Yes the binder will be tight, that's the point, but make sure you can inhale and exhale comfortably. I have heard horror stories about people bruising ribs, or worse.
Where the chest actually situates on your body is another process to figure out. For smaller chested individuals, it's a lot easier to pull on a binder and that's the end of it. For myself, I not only had to wrestle with the contraption, but I had to make sure my chest was not laying flat against my body or I could risk an embarrassing escape from one or both of my members – which has happened. One wrong jump or unexpected sneeze and there's no telling where they'd end up. I usually tried my best to slide each boob to the side creating a pectoral-like appearance.
To put the apparatus on I found it was easiest to step into the binder and shimmy it up. I highly suggest not trying this directly following a shower. The friction of the water, skin and binder make it nearly impossible to put on, unless you're athletic enough to take on this would-be Olympic style event.
Speaking of water: it is temping to swim with the binder on. There aren't enough options for trans* swimmers, which lead many to just opt out. I totally swam with mine. But technically, depending on the brand, the chlorine can wear away at the elastic material, not to mention the binder can tighten-up and make breathing difficult and swimming dangerous.
A few more words of warning: depending on the person, binding can cause loose skin to develop, sagging to occur, darkening underneath the breasts and indentations around the straps. Despite the hassle binding sometimes caused, the pros significantly outweighed the cons every time, for me. For what it's worth, binding can save lives. Body dysmorphia is real and all too familiar for my transgender and gender variant family.
Top surgery is a privilege that many people cannot afford. Most insurance companies will not cover the procedure. Within my community we have a fundraiser called 70x100. The premise is that the person in need offers to complete odd jobs for 70 friends in exchange for a $100 donation. Then, after the goal is met, the fundraiser is passed on to the next trans* person in need.
Luckily through the fundraiser and student loans (shhh!) I was able to receive my surgery last March.
Before my surgery I lived to bind. The comfort I felt knowing that I was walking among society a little less feminine helped ease my perpetual battle between my body and myself.
Maddox Price is a journalist, photographer and female to male transgender activist in Dallas navigating his way though the lone star red state.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.