Binding Methods: an expensive process for trans folks and butch women
For many trans folks and butch women, binding is an every day process, one that can be expensive and sometimes painful. Many folks start out binding and later have chest surgery, while others may bind for their entire lives or just for one evening. Any way you go about it, though, binders are quite an investment. I’m going to explore several different ways of binding, looking at the safety, efficiency, and price of each.
The Ace Bandage Method
Thanks to movies like Boys Don’t Cry where binding is equated to wrapping your chest in an Ace bandage, this is often the first method that many folks use when they decide that they want to bind. It’s less expensive than buying a binder and it’s definitely more comfortable than duct tape. Using a Ace bandage to bind can be extremely dangerous—since it is meant to compress, an Ace bandage will get tighter rather than work with your body to smooth down your chest. When I’ve used an Ace bandage to bind before, I’ve felt uncomfortably short of breath. The multiple edges created by wrapping the bandage around your chest can cut into your skin and leave more edges to rub sore spots onto your chest.
However, Ace bandage binding is where many folks start off and is a lot less expensive than buying a chest binder made specifically for FTMs or compression shirts/vests made for males. The most effective way to bind with an Ace bandage is to use as wide a bandage that you can find, wrap it somewhat loosely around your chest, and secure it well with safety pins, not those claw clips that come with it. If binding it loosely doesn’t help achieve a desired effect, layering shirts can help create a flatter appearance (which actually helps with all of these different methods).
Cost: $5 to $11.
The Homemade Binder Method
I would definitely recommend that folks who are just getting started binding try this out. It can cost just about as much or less than getting an Ace bandage, and it will work so much better, particularly if you have a smaller chest. You can make a binder from control-top hose or biker shorts that will work quite well. Hudson’s FTM guide recommends taking a pair of control-top hose or shorts, cutting a hole in the crotch, and then putting it on with your arms through the legs. You can modify this to make it more comfortable. This replicates a binder, though it will not hold you in as well as one made specifically for smoothing a chest.
Cost: $8 and up for control-top hose method; $12 and up for biker shorts.
For smaller-chested folks, sports bras might do the trick, and they tend to be more comfortable that full binders. Bras such as the Frog Bra by Title 9 can be very effective. A tip, though—order a size smaller than you’ll think you’ll need. Otherwise, it will perform very well as a sports bra but perhaps not so well as a binder.
Cost: $20 and up, $35 plus shipping for the Frog Bra.
Gynocomastia Vests and Compression Shirts
Gynocomastia vests are aimed at a cisgendered (non-trans) male market that needs chest compression. Compressions shirts and vests are aimed at folks who want to smooth out their appearance for one reason or another. Since these garments are meant to be worn on a daily basis, or during exercise, they are often more comfortable and have less issues than other methods of binding (particularly binding with an Ace bandage). However, compression shirts are not always very effective unless you are very small. These are fairly simple to use—just pull it over your head or zip it up and you’re ready to go!
Some website/companies that sell these garments:
- Underworks – particularly trans friendly
- Morris Designs
- NouVelle Compression Garments
- Sweat It Out
- Compression shirts are also available from most athletic stores and departments.
Cost: $50 to over $100.
Binders Made Specifically for FTM Folks
One excellent option for binding is using binders made with FTM and butch folks in mind. So far, there is at least one company that makes binders specifically for FTM folks – T-Kingdom, a small company in Taiwan. With specific instructions about how to buy and fit binders, T-Kingdom binders are easy to pick and comfortable to wear. The downside is that they are quite expensive, since they must be bought in and shipped from Taiwan. Also, shipping will take 10-15 days.
Cost: $25 and up, with about $10 shipping to the United States.
Whew! There are many options for binding, some safer than others, some more affordable than others, but all are often the first steps folks take when they desire a more masculine appearance.
I have three more resources for you in relation to binding. First, YouTube has some wonderful videos about binding, such as this one with binding tips for larger guys.
Second, I would recommend to anyone Hudson’s FTM Resource Guide. This website is chock full of information, all well organized and helpful for guys looking to explore how to create a more masculine appearance. It was very helpful for writing this post!
Finally, if buying a binder is beyond your means but you are looking to bind every day, check out the Big Brothers Used Binder Program, a binder exchange program that gets binders to men who need them at a greatly reduced price.