Puberty brings a growing self-consciousness about our bodies that can sometimes be a mentally difficult experience. Many young transgender males see changes in their body and feel the need to bind their chest to make it look flatter, more “masculine.”
I thought my son, James, would never need to worry about binding because he was taking hormone blockers. We were sure the breasts would never grow. The problem wasn’t that he grew breasts, but in his pre- and early-teens years he had a chunky build. Both he and his big brother had what they called moobs ("man boobs").
Since his brother had them too, he was a little less self-conscious than he might have been. But in our society, a society that gender scholar Judith Butler has termed heteronormative -- or, in other words, a society where heterosexual norms, including those about "correctly" masculine men and women -- people become hypersensitive to what is “normal” for each gender.
When he got to be about 12 years old, James started to lose weight. He worked hard to lose fat and build muscles, especially in his chest area. But even with the weight loss, muscle gain, and hormone blockers there was still some fatty tissue in the chest area. James was becoming more interested in girls by then, and increasingly self-conscious about his body. He did some research and tried different tips -- such as doubling up his t-shirts -- which I'll share with you now.
Wearing two t-shirts is the first tip in The Hudson’s FTM Resource Guide on binding. This worked for James sometimes, but he would get hot easily, and in the summer two shirts was too much. He insisted we get him something to wear under his clothes, something made for transgender bodies.
In other words, his next step was to try a binder. A binder is a specially-made tight undergarment, sometimes referred to formally as a "compression shirt," that flattens th eupper body. He found a company in Taiwan called T-Kingdom. We purchased the lower-end model tank top that cost around $46.
We went for the tank top style he wanted to hold his tummy fat in. But if all you need is the top / chest binder they cost between $30 and $36.
T-Kingdom's sizes run smaller than the average Western sizing, so I would recommend a size larger than you would usually purchase. We had to exchange the first one and it cost us an extra fee because of the international shipping. James was a medium for most things, but the T-Kingdom products were tight, and it was hard to breathe, so he went with the large and they worked great until he grew out of them.
James’ biggest concern his binders was the stiffness of the fabric. He is very private about being a transgender male and felt the stiff fabric was too obvious. Nobody could tell just looking at him, everything was bound down pretty flat, but he was concerned that if someone patted his back or accidentally touched his chest they would notice he had something stiff under his clothes.
James also mentioned that the other reason it was better to get a larger size binder, he felt, was because if the binder was too tight the fat bunched up around his armpit, and he worried that it looked like he was wearing a bra. Mentally he felt better and it helped his self-confidence, but he was still nervous that someone might touch him and ask what he was wearing. While T-Kingdom makes a good quality product, James was frustrated that the company is international and it took weeks to receive the products.
Today, as a teenager, James is quite fit. He is still doing blockers, and he started testosterone last year so his body shape has changed, and he doesn’t need to bind his chest anymore. However, for transgender males who feel the need to bind, he said he would recommend TranZwear over T-Kingdom. Their products are less expensive. Binders run as low as $12 and are custom made for your individual body type.
In addition to these products, some sites, such as the Wikihow, have other practical advice to offer. The Wikihow site has easy step-by-step directions and easy to understand explanations for binding. They also offer practical safety tips.
As a mother, I must emphasize my concerns with the health and safety of binding ones chest. The Go Ask Alice site also has some good safety advice, as well as helpful tips and links.
I have yet to meet anyone -- whether transgender or cisgender (non-trans) -- who is completely happy with their body exactly the way it is. We all have something we wish we could change. We may not always like it, but we still have to live in it. So please, whatever way you might change or manipulate your body, please educate yourself, and be safe.