Gender Dysphoria and Safe Binding
By: Stuti Desai, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief
Gender dysphoria is defined by Mayo Clinic as “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.” Many people of various identities experience gender dysphoria, and it can have harmful effects on their mental health. They often wish to change the way they present or appear to others, whether that is attempting to be more adrogenous or fully appearing more masculine or feminine depending on their preference.
One way those assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) may work towards presenting less feminine and more masculine is through chest binding, the concept of using various garments to make one’s chest appear smaller. Arguably, the best method is a professional binder, built specifically for those who want to bind their chest, but even these methods come with risks if misused, and trans youth are prone to misusing them.
There are two types of binders: half-length and full-length. Half-length ones are the size of a crop top, meant for safely flattening a chest. Full-length ones flatten a body out into a more traditionally masculine shape. So, here are some quick tips to keep the lovely, valid individuals who choose to bind safe.
When starting out, no matter what one is using (a binder, layering sports bras, or medically approved kinetic tape), they’re going to want to take the binder off every hour or two because the body is not naturally used to this. No matter how safe and hygienic one is with cleaning and caring for their binding method of choice, a chest needs time to adjust. Good things have been said about wearing a T-shirt under a binder as well as applying cornstarch or baby powder to reduce irritation should it be hot out or should the binder be on the tighter side. Speaking of tighter, make sure to buy the size that correlates with the youth’s chest. A good way to measure that is using bra size. Something too small will irritate and scar breast tissue, which could mess up the chest forever and even affect any surgery a gender-noncorfirming youth may plan to have. The option to stitch up or modify a binder is open as well, as long as it is done expertly and well.
Don’t wear a binder over ten hours a day, set aside a day to be binder-free (use that day to wash and air dry the binder!). The same goes for layering sports bras and kinetic tape. A chest needs to rest and breathe, and skin needs to stay safe.
The tape is generally considered a less desirable option, but if a trans-individual wants to use it, the rules become rather different. First off, the tape should never touch the nipples due to the high sensitivity of the area. Use toilet paper to cover them first. Apply it as recommended on clean skin, fully removed of oils and hairless if possible. Tape has the same adjustment period as a binder, and one will find it takes practice to get it perfect.
For most closeted kids, the sports bra (not too tight!) paired with baggy clothes will be the safest bet to reduce and cope with their dysphoria, but a binder is a wonderful thing to invest in to help youth feel more affirmed in their gender and to pass if they wish to. No matter what any gender nonconforming individual chooses to use to combat dysphoria, they must stay safe and know they are valid and loved and cared for.