Binding arbitration
October 17, 2016 9:21 AM   Subscribe

My daughter wants to be male, and one of the things she wants to do in pursuit of that is minimize her breasts, specifically by binding them. Pros & cons, please?

She'd like me to buy her some binders (her mom would definitely not be on board with this, but that's a different issue). I'm totally fine with her expressing her masculinity in a number of ways, but this one makes me nervous. Is the practice of binding breasts for long periods of time healthy? If it matters, hers are on the large side. If you feel it's not healthy, do you have any objective evidence I could present to her? On the other hand, if it's not a health issue, do you have any recommendations? I'd like to support her if I can be sure it's not harmful.

I really would like to keep responses focused on the pros and cons of breast binding. We are constructively dealing with the questions of if, when and how she should transition.
posted by ubiquity to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Binding can be safe with safe binders.

Ace bandages are NOT safe binders, and can cause serious harm.

Most of the horror stories you hear about binding are from people binding with Ace bandages.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 9:24 AM on October 17, 2016 [12 favorites]

My only recommendation is to start with a normal "minimizer" bra - they're a lot cheaper than the options linked to above, and as a large-busted woman I have to tell you that the discomfort can be an absolute deal-breaker. Several of my cousins have actually gone for surgery specifically because there was no way they could manage any of the other options on a regular basis, and they were just trying to reduce size so that they could wear more normal clothing. You can also try a sports bra over a normal bra to get a sense of how well you can tolerate compression.

As far as I know, the compression itself shouldn't be medically harmful - it's just a matter of feeling OK. But I'm an F cup, so yeah.
posted by SMPA at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

The first long-term scientific study on this topic came out recently. It's not as informative as I would like it to be, but you might find it helpful. Health impact of chest binding among transgender adults: a community-engaged, cross-sectional study (you can memail me if you can't access the PDF), and Buzzfeed summary.
posted by femmegrrr at 9:59 AM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Not entirely unrelated: people interested in chest binding may be interested in reading about saree cancer.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:04 AM on October 17, 2016

What I've picked up from trans and nonbinary friends is that, yes - you want either an actual binder, or possibly to start with a sports bra (or a couple of layered sports bras) if a binder is impractical because of cost, or if it would be better to have something easily concealable from the less-supportive parent while working through any family issues.

I would ask you to consider that depending on your child, the status quo may not be a "healthy" neutral position, if you're framing it as "current healthy situation vs. potentially dangerous change to situation." If your child's breasts are causing mental or emotional distress in the here and now, that current risk to mental health is worth taking into consideration when weighing against possible longer-term physical health repercussions of binding. Hard to know that based on what you've said here, so maybe that's a non-issue, but I'll toss it out as something to consider.
posted by Stacey at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

I can't speak from my own experience re:binders, but a voice I trust, Rose Wednesday at The Lingerie Addict, praises the GC2B (the brand that Sockpuppets 'R' Us also linked to) for both compressing her breasts and allowing her to breathe during moderate activity. Here are a few quotes from Rose's March 2015 review:
Their binders are made in the USA, their company is owned by a genderqueer person, their sizes range from XXS to 5XL, and their most expensive binder is only $35. All this points toward an accessible product designed by someone who understands the market. ...

What I can’t describe adequately in a review is how good it felt to be able to look at myself and see the person I’ve been imagining.
Rose does note that because of demand, there can be backlogs on GC2B orders (she said they were great at keeping her in the loop and sticking to their projected time frame for fulfilling their order).

In a 2014 Lingerie Addict post, which predates the GC2B review, she talks about more readily accessible alternatives to commercial binders, such as sports bras -- she favors zip-front sports bras and this Champion one -- and DIY binders that are "just a band of cotton and elastic with a zipper." (She links to this tutorial, from UnbetiteIt via transitioningdownunder.)
posted by virago at 11:25 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

This Tumblr post discusses some of the safety issues related to binding and how to try to balance a need for flatness with not doing permanent physical damage to oneself.
posted by Lexica at 11:35 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Juliet Banana's link is a good one. Two changes in binder availability that have happened since its publication: GC2B's come out with a very well-received line of binders, and the also well-regarded Air Max binders previously available only through the Taiwanese shop Le's Love Boat are now available in the US via MyDouble Design.

The first long-term scientific study on this topic came out recently.

A post-print of that article is publicly available, if anyone has issues accessing the final version. There really haven't been that many long-term studies at all, so it's very much the first word and not the final word on binding. It can broadly be summarized as "people do report some physical problems, though more research is needed to narrow down relationships between symptoms and specific methods (e.g. are not-so-great practices like double binding or wearing too-small binders a part of the problem when looking at commercial binders). Use of different techniques and different schedules (i.e. taking days off or taking it off at home) may be able to mitigate these physical side effects. Despite the physical side effects, the mental health effects are notably positive."

Not entirely unrelated: people interested in chest binding may be interested in reading about saree cancer.

Is there any evidence that this is an actual risk for binding, and one that is present for binding but not bra-wearing? (This is actually a comparison I'd like to see for the study mentioned above as well; a fair number of the physical complaints are ones I've also heard about bras (see: back pain, shoulder pain, posture issues, etc.), and I'd really like better data on which physical side effects are unique to or significantly worse for binders.)
posted by ubersturm at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

One thing to think about is that the physical risks of binding may be considerably less than the mental health risks of not being able to bind.

I see kanata just said approximately the same thing so I'll second it.

Anyway, GC2B is pretty much the gold standard for binders, even for large breasts.

Side note, please make sure your daughter wants to be referred to as your daughter and with she/her pronouns; this can cause considerable distress if not.
posted by AFABulous at 12:42 PM on October 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

Don't use duct tape, saran wrap, or Ace bandages. Always take it off to sleep. Cheap sports bras offer good compression for running/exercising, especially if you layer them in a size that is a little too small, and they make a good test run for a purpose-built binder. Underworks was my preferred brand of binder. I think the 338 model?

I wore a binder of some kind 16 hours a day for eight years and didn't develop saree cancer. I don't know any other FTMs who developed saree cancer, nor was I ever warned about it. Probably because the pressure of a binder is more evenly distributed than the inflexible waistband of the saree; an Ace bandage might do it but you would assuredly readjust it before this happened. Ace bandages roll around and tighten further than you want, and unevenly. They were my best option for a time and I was constantly readjusting.

I did have a little more trouble with chest colds lingering, cured by wearing the loosest binder (over time they wear out and get looser, and the old ones are good for sick days, laundry day, or running/exercising) or staying home and unbound for a day. Breasts get flattened out and droopy over a long time spent consistently binding, but I didn't notice any effect for a good three years. And I was happy, because it made it easier to bind.

I would say go for it-- binding is not permanent but psychological damage from suppressing an urge to investigate/express your gender is. You can always take off a garment. You could try a minimizer bra, but I always found that minimizer bras and sports bras made me feel worse, since they were still bras. Binders were what made it so I could get up and go about my day until I was able to have surgery.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:46 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Perhaps look into trans* experienced doctors in your area? If your child is under 18, I would maybe be concerned with growth issues (back problems or the like) while going through puberty, also worthwhile talking about next steps if your child feels like they might want to pursue transitioning further.
posted by greta simone at 12:55 PM on October 17, 2016

FYI if your child is old enough (and wants) to start taking testosterone, the breast tissue will shrink somewhat and it will be easier to bind. (There are, of course, a lot of other changes and side effects, so your child should be fully aware of these first.)
posted by AFABulous at 1:00 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regarding saree cancer:
Is there any evidence that this is an actual risk for binding, and one that is present for binding but not bra-wearing?

I have no idea, and I certainly did not say or intend to imply that. I offer no comment on the risks of binding or bra wearing, actual or otherwise.

In case it wasn't clear, let me further explain: when I wrote "not entirely unrelated" I should have wrote "here is a known health issue involving the long-term wear of a certain type of tight clothing."

The main research article on saree cancer referenced by the Wikipedia page I linked above is here. It is freely accessible for anyone who wants to read what the authors had to say, in their own words.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:53 PM on October 17, 2016

This (from the Wikipedia page)

The saree is attached to the waist throughout the day in the hot and humid climate. The waist is often soiled with dust and sweat and remains without proper cleaning. This causes changes in pigmentation and mild scaling over the waist. This, in turn, causes chronic irritation and gradually malignancy may develop in the skin at the waistline.

makes it sound like it's not even tangentially related to the effects of bras and binders.
posted by kmennie at 3:20 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please make sure your daughter wants to be referred to as your daughter and with she/her pronouns; this can cause considerable distress if not.

Thank you, AFABulous. You prompted me to go back and do what I should have done in the first place: Make sure I didn't misgender LGBTQ lingerie blogger Rose Wednesday in my comment.

Rose is AFAB and nonbinary; although I haven't come across any detailed discussion of Rose's preference in personal pronouns, Rose does use "she" and "her" in the bio on
posted by virago at 3:24 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hudson's FTM Resource Guide is highly respected and has a page with lots of info about binding, including binder suggestions, practical tips to avoid discomfort, and general binding best practices, that I would highly recommend. (The site looks like the mid-90s but is updated frequently.)
posted by zebra at 9:48 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine cracked a rib when they were binding with ace bandages. They had to stop for a while to let the rib heal, which was not pleasant both in terms of pain and body image. So another vote against ace bandages.
posted by Hactar at 11:18 AM on October 18, 2016

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