How Transphobia Increases the Dangers of Chest Binding

Chest binding, or wearing anything to flatten the chest in order to appear masculine or androgynous, is one way that transmasculine and nonbinary people can affirm their gender identity and harmonize their physical presentation with their sense of self. Some people bind in order to “pass” as male at times when being visibly transgender could be dangerous. Others bind for the mental health benefits, of being able to move through the world feeling at home in an authentic identity. But despite these life-changing benefits, anti-trans activists focus on the risks of binding, such as shortness of breath, skin abrasions, or shoulder pain, and seek to restrict the practice.

Binding scares anti-trans activists because of its accessibility. Unlike hormones, binding requires no prescription; unlike state-ID changes, it requires no paperwork. Binding is often one of the first ways that trans and nonbinary youth who are assigned female at birth can flexibly, reversibly—sometimes quietly under their clothes and unbeknownst to anyone else—“try on” a new gender identity to see how it feels. This accessibility makes binding terrifying to those who want to eradicate trans people from public life. Their usual tricks are powerless to stop binding: there is no teacher they can gag, no librarian they can defund, no doctor they can criminalize to stop people from binding. Unless anti-trans zealots are willing to ban sports bras, bandages, tape, shapewear, or even swimsuits and tight shirts, there is no way to render binding completely inaccessible.

It is no surprise then that anti-trans activists hyperfocus on the health risks of binding, often misrepresenting studies on binding to inflate the physical risks of binding and ignoring the sometimes life-saving mental health benefits. We know because one of us (Sarah Peitzmeier) conducted most of those studies. Tired of seeing statistics from these research studies ripped out of context and weaponized against the very communities who participated in and supported the research, we began to discuss turning the findings from these studies into a book. Breathe: Journeys To Healthy Binding, is a resource for those who have questions and concerns about binding, and for those who already bind and want to do so in ways that maximize the mental health benefits and minimize the physical risk. We want to help people bind in ways that are affirming, yet gentle on the body.