How Does a Chest Binder Work

A few months ago, I did a photo shoot with Joe Abbruscato and two of my looks required a chest binder. For fun, I jumped in front of the camera to document the struggle and hilarity that comes with getting this garment on. This is what I go through every time I wear a chest binder.

What’s a Chest Binder?

The easiest way I can describe a chest binder is it’s like a sports bra on steroids. It’s a must-have for trans men and non-binary people who have dysphoria about having an estrogen-generated chest (aka boobs). It works by flattening everything down.

The two most popular brands of chest binders are gc2b and Underworks. Both brands make waist-length and half-length chest binders in a variety of colors.

I have the half-length binder in nude from both brands. The gc2b binder has slightly thinner straps and more stretch. Comparatively, the Underworks binder has almost no stretch and more compression.

The photos in this post are of me in my Underworks binder.

How Do You Put on a Chest Binder?

A chest binder, especially Underworks, is like a sports bra without any stretch, so getting it on, is an adventure. I start by putting it over my arms, and then I try to pull it over my head in one quick motion.

No matter what I do, it rolls up on itself under my arms and across my back. It takes several tries to grab and unwind it from itself before pulling it down flat against my chest.

Depending on what I’m wearing that day, I may adjust my boobs to look more like pecs.

Why Don’t I Step into it and Pull it Up?

I’ve heard this as a suggested way to put on a chest binder, but unless your chest binder has a lot of stretch and you’re lucky enough to have no hips and you can’t step into it.

There’s no way a proper chest binder is getting over my hips and butt.

Why Do I Wear a Binder?

Wearing a binder helps my outsides match the way I feel on the inside. It helps me have a more androgynous appearance.

Whenever I look at myself in the mirror or try to cross my arms in front of myself, I know I’m not meant to have two tennis balls coming out of my chest. They look and feel wrong.

Given that I have estrogen-generated hips and face, I feel like I have to have a more masculine presentation with the rest of my body to arrive at an overall androgynous appearance.

When Do I Wear a Chest Binder?

Some non-binary and trans people can’t leave the house unless they’re wearing a binder. I’m lucky that I can, and actually I don’t wear it most days because I don’t want to feel restricted or because it’s too hot because I live in Arizona.

I’m most likely to wear a binder when I want my gender to be ambiguous, usually places where employees are likely to call patrons “ma’am,” “miss,” or “sir,” like a bank. For these places, I’m more likely to wear my “dude wear” – baggy guy jeans, a baggy t-shirt, and a backwards cap.  

I almost always bind when I’m speaking at an event. When I wear a shirt and tie, that requires several layers – chest binder, sweatproof undershirt, and a dress shirt.

I bind whenever I go through airport security. The TSA’s policy says that a person of the same gender will pat you down if something shows up on the spinny-go-round scan. There’s no protocol for non-binary passengers. Every time it happens, I see it as an educational opportunity for them. Once I get through security, I head to the nearest family bathroom and take off my binder to fly.

Does Wearing a Chest Binder Work?

Yes. A chest binder can’t make me completely flat, but it helps a lot.

Is Wearing a Binder Comfortable?

A chest binder is snug by design, even when you’re wearing the correct size. I notice it a lot when I first put it on, but I usually don’t notice it within an hour. It’s only on the days when I feel really stressed that my binder is uncomfortable.

The rule of thumb is you shouldn’t wear a binder for more than 8 hours. Some days when I wear a binder, I start to overheat after I’ve been wearing it for 4 hours or less. When that happens, I take my binder off as soon as possible.

What Can and Can’t I Wear with a Binder?

One of the challenges of wearing a binder is it limits what I can wear with it. For instance, you can’t wear them with tank tops because the binder’s straps are too wide. (I’d love if a clothing brand would sell tank tops with built-in binders. That would be awesome!

Besides that, wearing a binder doesn’t work with shirts that are cut too low (like certain v-necks) or if they’re too tight that the binder shows through. My usual t-shirt size is a men’s small, but I usually wear a medium when I’m binding to make sure my edges of my binder aren’t visible through my shirt.  

What are Other Dos and Don’ts of Binding?

Do check the size chart to ensure you order the correct size.

Don’t sleep in your binder.

Do size up if you want to swim in your binder.

Don’t work out in your binder.

Do take off your binder when it starts to feel uncomfortable or after 8 hours, whichever happens first.

Do consider adding Velcro to one of the side seams if you find yourself needing a mini break while wearing your binder.

If there’s ever a day when you can’t bind or don’t want to bind, I recommend wearing an oversized black hooded sweatshirt instead. It seems to be the home remedy for gender dysphoria that many of us in the trans community use.

If you want to hear more about my experiences as a non-binary person, including those I don’t share publicly, please subscribe to my newsletter, Ruth & Consequences.

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