Many parents of trans and nonbinary kids struggle with the question of whether to allow their child to use a chest binder. Chest binders are specifically made undergarments that compress the breast tissue and give the appearance of having a flat chest. There are significant benefits to transgender and non-binary people who wear them, but there are also risks to be considered. As a parent who navigated this with my own son, I know how important it is to make an informed decision. My hope is that this post will help those who are currently debating this with their children to understand important benefits and safety considerations and feel confident in their ultimate decision.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and cannot offer medical advice. If you are facing this decision, you should consult with your child's pediatrician. However, the information provided in this blog is meant to help parents understand the risks and benefits of binding and take steps toward an educated decision. The choice we made was right for our son and our family but ultimately your choice needs to be right for your child.
Many, although not all, transgender men and non-binary people feel self conscious about their breasts due to the incongruence between their internal gender identity and their physical characteristics. For youth, the more their breasts develop, the deeper their feelings of incongruence and discomfort can go. All too often, this leads to significant psychological distress called gender dysphoria. Dysphoria can cause depression, self isolation, low self esteem, academic struggles, substance use, self injury and even suicidal ideation or attempts. According to an article by The Recovery Village, 26.3% of dysphoric people turn to drug abuse in order to cope with the discomfort and stress it causes. Shockingly, up to 50% of people with gender dysphoria attempt suicide.
Benefits of binding
According to a frequently referenced 2017 study by Peitzmeier, Gardner, Weinand, Corbet and Acevedo, 70% of people with dysphoria report a positive mood after binding, as compared to 7% who reported a positive mood before binding. This is likely due to the many psychological benefits of binding. These include:
Decreased gender dysphoria
Decreased risk of suicide
Increased self esteem
Improvement in mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety
Increased likelihood of being perceived as the correct gender
Decreased likelihood of being misgendered
Increased safety in public situations
Increased comfort in social situations
According to the same study, almost 9 out of 10 people who wore binders experienced at least one negative symptom as a result. 8 out of 10 felt it was important to speak to a healthcare professional before beginning binding. Some of the potential risks of binding are:
Skin problems (ie: discomfort, itching, swelling, skin infections)
Pain in shoulders, chest, back or abdomen
Respiratory difficulties (ie: shortness of breath)
Musculoskeletal problems (ie: postural changes, rib fractures, loss of muscle)
Binding too often can make top surgery more complicated later on due to changes in the skin's elasticity
Additional complications can occur for people who have asthma, fibromyalgia, lupus or scoliosis
Tips to Bind Safely
If you do choose to allow your child to bind, it is important that they are aware of the following recommendations and commit to following them. Check in with them frequently to make sure they are adhering to these criteria. You may consider writing a contract for your child to sign to help them make this commitment.
Limit binding to no more than 8 hours a day
Take one day off from wearing the binder per week
Do not sleep in a binder
Don't bind while swimming or working out (although some companies make binding swim tops which can be used during swimming)
Measure before purchasing according to website specifications to get the right fit - especially be sure the binder is not too small
Use only binders specifically designed for that usage - no duct tape, Ace bandages, plastic wrap, etc.
Take several deep breaths after taking the binder off to identify if there is any pain and stretch muscles
Never wear two binders at once
Be sure to wash your binder to prevent skin infections (and wash yourself too!)
Bonus advice from someone who's made mistakes: don't put your binder in the dryer!
It is important to note that many, if not most, youth who are not allowed to purchase and wear a binder will turn to other alternatives to alleviate the psychological distress they feel. These include using duct tape, Ace bandages and plastic wrap, all of which are associated with dangerous side effects.
Where to find a binder
There are a few options as far as binding goes. Full and half binders are available, and specifically made tape called TransTape is also an option that may work better for some. There are more companies than ever selling binders online, making them more accessible to the LGBTQ+ community. Some sites where you can purchase binders are:
What choice did we ultimately make for our son?
When our son came out to us as transgender, my husband and I met with his pediatrician to get more information on binders and help us make our decision. The choice was easier than we had expected when the doctor explained it to us this way: As supported by statistics, although there are some potential risks to binding, the risk of suicide is much higher and more dangerous. So the choice for us was ultimately between whether we wanted our son to bind and live or not bind and gamble that he wouldn't be among the 50% of non-binding trans youth who attempt suicide. We reviewed the guidelines of binder safety with his pediatrician and bought him a binder.
Ultimately, this is a family decision and my hope is that the information provided here, along with consultation with your child's pediatrician, will help you make the right choice for your child. It can also be beneficial to speak with a counselor if you need support in understanding your child's gender identity and how to best support them through their transition. If you are in CT and are struggling with this or any other issues you or your LGBTQ+ child may be facing, please reach out to me to see if individual or family counseling at Prism may be beneficial for you or your child.
Rebecca Degnan, LPC, is the founder and owner of Prism Counseling and Support LLC in CT, supporting the LGBTQ+ community and their loved ones through individual, family and group counseling and professional development workshops for schools and businesses. More information at prismcounselingct.com.
The Trans Lifeline connects trans people to the community support and resources they need to survive and thrive. 877-565-8860