LGBT

All The Questions You Had About Chest Binding, But Were Afraid To Ask

For many people using a binder can be absolutely life-changing and lifesaving, but only if it's done safely.

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Good starting question, glad you asked! Binding is a technique used to minimize the appearance of a person's breasts. Some transgender men or gender-nonconforming individuals use binders (compression undergarments that look like spandex-y T-shirts) to bind the breasts to the body, creating a flatter chest.

A typical binder is not only very tight but usually made of durable nylon and spandex — making them notoriously uncomfortable to wear.

BuzzFeed News reached out to two individuals to get the dos and don'ts of binding. Dane Menkin is a certified registered nurse practitioner and clinician at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia. Elijah Renard is a Canadian video game designer who has been binding for over three years and was happy to provide tips from personal experience.

Is binding really safe?

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Although there are risks, binding is considered safe if done carefully and responsibly. Binding with "DIY" materials such as bandages or tape can cause injury, so it's important to use a proper binder.

Menkin: "People have been binding in different ways for centuries in different forms. People with asthma (any kind of lung disease) or spine deformities need to use caution to not further restrict lung capacity (function) with binding."

Renard: "Binding is not without physical risks, but for many people who decide to bind, these risks are worth the emotional relief and safety they provide. Using a proper binder is the best solution. Absolutely avoid Ace bandages, duct tape, and other similar alternatives."

How many hours is too many hours to wear a binder?

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The general rule seems to be 6-8 hours, usually a full work or school day. When you get uncomfortable it's time for a break. Your binder should always be clean and dry, so when you're not wearing it — wash it!

Menkin: "What I tell guys is that pain is a symptom of a problem — you need to listen to your body and talk to a trusted community member or health care person if you are having pain while binding. Discomfort is different from pain [...] If you have back pain, are 'itchy,' are sweating, or are generally uncomfortable, take a break."

Renard: "Listen to your body; even if you only take a 2-minute break hidden in the bathroom, it'll help."

Is there a time when I shouldn't bind?

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You shouldn't be binding while you sleep or while you are feeling a bit under the weather. If you're going to be sitting on an airplane for several hours or hit the gym, you should take extra precautions to ensure you're comfortable. The Art Of Transliness suggests wearing a stretched-out binder, a looser binder, or "just a sports bra and baggy t-shirt to work out in."

Menkin: "As long as the person is aware they need to drink a lot of water and move around often in long flights, I do not recommend that they not bind for airplane travel. It is not a good idea to exercise in a binder. It will limit lung capacity as well as cause overheating. Bear in mind, many sports bras are very compressive and can serve better than a binder in this circumstance [...] I don't tell guys not to bind at the gym. I tell them to use common sense."

Renard: "All my workouts have been from home since I began hormones. There is a lot you can do from home; push-ups only require a floor, jumping jacks, lunges, and squats will work out your cardio and stamina. YouTube is your best friend for these."

What should I be doing to take care of myself while binding?

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Check in with yourself each day after taking your binder off: How does your skin look and feel? Are you staying well-hydrated and stretching? It's important to note any changes that could be a sign that your binder is too tight or that you're wearing it for too long.

Menkin: "Some common things I see with regard to binding is skin irritation and worsening of acne. I have seen, not commonly, some guys with asthma who have worsening symptoms with binding. Make sure that the skin around the edges of the binder is not being hurt — no redness and certainly no bleeding."

Binders can be a little tricky to get on and off. OK, very tricky — so don't be embarrassed if you get stuck. If possible, have someone help you at first until you're comfortable getting changed in and out of it.

Once you get it on, make adjustments so you don't have the dreaded "uni-boob" in the center of your chest.

Binder rolling up at the bottom? Try tucking it in or sewing extra fabric onto the bottom so you can tuck it in — problem solved.

How do I know what size to get?

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Sizing can be overwhelming — there is no "one-size-fits-all" binder — but it's not impossible. Each brand will be slightly different, so it's important to measure yourself accurately to ensure the best fit.

Your binder should be snug, but you should always be able to take a deep breath comfortably. Can't breathe? It doesn't fit. It may be tempting to go a size smaller than you should for an even flatter chest, but it's never a good idea and certainly not worth the risk of real injury.

Often binders come in two styles: full length (which extend over the stomach) and shorter tri-tops (which only extend to right under the breasts). You can find a lot of online reviews if you need help with research.

Menkin: "There is no good answer to this. It is as personal as finding the right pair of jeans. All of the places I know of to buy binders also have size charts. I advise people take the time to measure themselves prior to purchasing."

Renard: "Most vendors will have instructions as to how to measure your chest using a tape or rope. Many trans & gender-nonconforming people are not very aware of traditional breast size, so I recommend using fruits:

A Cup = Medium to large size strawberry

B Cup = Small clementines

C Cup = Grapefruit

D Cup = Honeydew melon

Above = I have no clue. Out of fruits."

Now, where can I get one?

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There are several companies that specialize in custom-made binders. Each brand will fit slightly differently, so you should ensure you're using the company's specific measuring guidelines when selecting the right fit.

Menkin: "There are many different programs that guys find recycled binders. Generally, as long as you have the capacity to machine-wash a used binder, these can be a good investment."

Renard: "I like shopping online but some sex shops will carry them."

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The online trans community has become a great resource for individuals who are binding in secret or cannot afford to purchase one themselves. Many individuals offer up their binders after top surgery, or if they no longer fit, in "binder giveaway" competitions on Tumblr or other forums:

Sarah Karlan is the Deputy LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Sarah Karlan at sarah.karlan@buzzfeed.com.

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