Chest Binders:  What They Are, How to Choose One and How to Wear Your Chest Binder Safely

Chest Binders:  What They Are, How to Choose One and How to Wear Your Chest Binder Safely

What is a Chest Binder?

A chest binder is an important tool the transgender community uses to fight gender dysphoria, a serious negative mental state related to a sense of mind & body dissonance and seek gender euphoria, a state of heightened joy related to a sense of mind & body alignment.  Gender dysphoria is a serious condition that occurs when a person’s gender identity does not match their anatomical gender assignment and/or gender expression.  Gender dysphoria can lead to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, attempts and completions.

The B.UR.SLF Moths Binder

On the other hand gender euphoria is a joyful state of having internal sense that one’s gender expression is in authentic harmony with their gender identity.  Feelings of gender dysphoria and gender euphoria are highly tied to a person’s own sense that gender expression and gender identity match, but strong experiences of both dysphoria and euphoria can be sparked by external input, such a person’s image in the mirror or a comment from another person.  


Chest binders play a role in both reducing the likelihood of gender dysphoria and increasing the liklihood of gender euphoria  for trans men, nonbinary, gender nonconforming and gender variant people by flattening breast tissue into a more masculine silhouette.  To fully understand the critical role of body modifying garments like chest binders to the transgender community, its important to first understand gender identity, gender expression and how feeling of dissonance or harmony arise can arise  .  


Gender Identity

Experts who study gender medicine and guide gender transformations generally agree that gender identity is ‘a person’s core powerful knowledge of who they are’ and is not dictated by anatomy.  Many of these experts believe that gender identity is formulated in a person’s brain, as discussed in the NY Times health section article. ‘Anatomy Does not Determine Gender, Experts Say’.  In other words, most people have a very strong internal sense of their true gender.  A person’s true gender may or may not match a culturally motivated external ‘assignment’ of gender based on that person’s physical appearance or external genitalia.


Understanding Gender Dysphoria and the Devastating Impact of Gender Dysphoria

When a person’s core knowledge of their gender does not match the anatomy they see in the mirror, that person can be at risk for developing gender dysphoria.  Gender dysphoria can also be sparked by external experiences that force feelings of mismatch between gender identity and expression. 


Being misgendered, for instance, intentionally or accidentally by another person could spark dysphoria  The American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes in the article titled, ‘What is Gender Dysphoria’, ‘people who are transgender will experience gender dysphoria, which refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Though gender dysphoria often begins in childhood, some people may not experience it until after puberty or much later.

The B.UR.SLF Skulls Binder

Gender dysphoria needs to be taken very seriously, it can lead to many strongly negative outcomes including mild to very severe depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and very sadly, completed suicides, outcomes discussed in the Times article titled ‘Gender-Affirming Hormone Therapy for LGBTQ Youth Can Help Save Lives, Study Finds‘.  The APA highlights many strategies used by transgender, nonbinary (enby, NB), gender nonconforming (GNC) and gender variant people to confirm their true gender and to reduce and control feelings of gender dysphoria.  Gender confirming measures include, changing names and eliminating the gender non congruent name, changing names on legal paperwork to achieve legal confirmation of gender. 


Wearing clothes and pursuing activities that are culturally recognized as congruent with the person’s known gender.  Some transgender, enby, GNC and gender variant people also utilize body modification strategies to reduce gender dysmorphia including specialized garments and/or surgery to help their external appearance.  As reported in the Times article above, transgender, enby, GNC and gender variant people who were able to access gender confirming hormone therapy to achieve better concurrence between gender identity and gender expression were much less likely to experience depression and attempt and/or complete suicide.


Once the devastating impact of gender dysphoria is clear, the role of body modification garments designed to achieve concurrence between gender identity and gender expression , like chest binders, to help reduce the stress of gender dysphoria is understandable.  In fact, body modification garments like chest binders help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as reported by the NY Times in the article  ‘Chest Binding Helps Smooth the Way for Transgender Teens, but There May Be Risks’.  

The B.UR.SLF Skulls Binder

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Boston University School of Medicine, and the Boston University School of Public Health looked at 1,800 transmasculine adults with a median age of 23. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they had bound for over a year, over half bound an average of seven days a week…  Participants reported a statistically significant improvement in mood after binding. They also reported decreased gender dysphoria, anxiety and depression.  This same article also provides a balanced insight into the risks associated with wearing chest binders and highlights the importance of picking the right garment to help reduce gender dysphoria safely.  


Understanding Gender Euphoria and The Positive Impact of Harmonizing Gender Identity and Expression  

On the opposite side, a person’s choices are often motivated by finding their ideal self, thus leading to instances of gender euphoria.  Gender euphoria is described by Plume, a healthcare service for trans people, as ‘the psychological state of bliss and comfort that happens when our gender expression is aligned with our identity in the article titled  ‘What Are Gender Dysphoria and Gender Euphoria’.  Gender Euphoria puts emphasis on a transgender, non binary, or gender non conforming person’s ability to find home in their identity in a joyful way; it’s not always a traumatizing event.  Gender euphoria can arise in different ways, sometimes simply with a new haircut or shirt, sometimes in more complicated ways such as their first dose of hormones.  In Laura Kate Dale’s anthology ‘Gender Euphoria: Stories of joy from trans, non-binary and intersex writers’, 19 trans, non binary, agender, genderfluid, and intersex writers share their experiences where gender euphoria bloomed.


For the people who experience euphoria from having the choice to flatten their chest, shapewear specifically designed to do so can help them achieve that experience before, or if they forgo, top surgery.  Garments like chest binders give the wearer the ability to safely change the shape of their body in a way that may more closely align their gender expression with their gender identity and the internal vision they have of themselves.  

The B.UR.SLF Binder (Brown)

How to Choose a Chest Binder

Given that chest binders can reduce the risks associated with gender dysphoria, but present their own risks, it’s important to learn how to choose a safe chest binder and wear that chest binder safely.  The first most important rule is to choose a commercial chest binder from a reputable company.  A person should never use binding hacks like duct tape or ace bandages which do not stretch with the body.  In fact,ace and other compression bandages get tighter every time your torso expands for breathing, etc.  Because duct tape and compression bandages don’t stretch, they can cause severe pain and even lead to cracked and broken ribs, not to mention damage to skin from rubbing and pulling. 


When choosing your chest binder, choose a product that is made with fabrics that stretch.  While functional binders need to apply compression across the chest, other portions of the binder should stretch and flex.  This gives your body freedom to breathe and move without causing it damage.  As long as the chest binder is made with stretch fabrics, it can be a pull over or have clips and still be safe and what type you choose to wear is a valid personal preference.  Not everyone has the capability to pull a binder over their head or up over their hips, especially when the skin is wet. 


The fabrics of the chest binder should be very smooth, not textured.  Textured materials worn closely against the skin will rub and damage the skin.  The fabric of the chest binder should be as breathable as possible, especially if you are working long hours inside or out in the heat of the day for an extended period.  A chest binder that is not adequately breathable can lead to build-up of heat and sweat, this can damage the skin and lead to heat prostration.      

The B.UR.SLF Binder (Brown)

At B.UR.SLF we strive to innovate to provide you with the best and safest possible chest binder wearing experience, the B.UR.SLF Breathable Chest Binder.  Our mission is to give you the compression you need with the comfort you crave.  All our fabrics are stretch fabrics.  The front panel of our chest binder is a single panel smooth knit fabric with great compression. 


The back is made from a power mesh fabric designed to let out all your heat and sweat.  Inside the bottom of the front panel there is a silicon tape to stop the chest binder from riding up on you during wear.  The side of the B.UR.SLF Breathable Chest Binder has clips on the side to help you get it on and off more easily.  Our chest binders come in two skin tones, dark brown and tan and two pattern front binders, MOTHS! And SKULLS! and you can view these products at our shop.   

Wearing Your Chest Binder Safely

There are many things to keep in mind to make sure you are safely wearing your Chest Binders.  To help you learn to wear your chest binder safely, B.UR.SLF created a pamphlet with 10 Practices for Safe Chest Binding.  You can download this pamphlet at our site by clicking the B.UR.SLF link or directly by clicking the 10 Practices link.   Here are a few of the key rules for safe chest binding wear.  You should  not wear your chest binder more than 8 hours consecutively. 


Make sure you purchase a garment from a reputable company that is designed for chest binding like the B.UR.SLF Breathable Chest Binder. Don’t use products that are not designed for chest binding that will damage your body like duct tape or ace bandages. Don’t wear your chest binder more than 8-12 hours consecutively or sleep in it.  If you need to wear your chest binder into the evening, try and take a break during the day.  The nice thing about having clips on the side of the B.UR.SLF Breathable Chest Binder is that it is easy to get on and off.  Or you can take a semi-break by just releasing some of the hooks while keeping the binder on. 


Plan a no chest binder day for each week so that your body can get a rest from binding.  Choose a chest binder that allows your skin to breath and your sweat to evaporate – especially if you plan to be active or outside in hot and/or humid weather.  We searched hard for an innovative power mesh for the back panel of our B.UR.SLF Breathable Binder and this power mesh panel lets out all the heat and sweat to keep you cool and keep your skin healthy.  For more tips, get the 10 Practices for Safe Chest Binding pamphlet from B.UR.SLF by clicking the link.  Remember b. safe, b. seen, and b. comfy.

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