February 13, 2011

In which I don't want to talk about my feelings any more

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Hey there. So, last week I came out to one of my professors. I also got called ma'am approximately eighty-four thousand times. And I confirmed with my mom that next weekend we're gonna go to DC for several days of solid "girl time." So, last week, I was exhausted; this week, I just have nothing more to give.

So, rather than rely on my utterly-depleted emotional resources for a post, I'm just gonna fact-dump on you and talk about binding. I assume somebody will be interested, anyway; I feel like a lot of people want to know The Details but very few ask. Caveat: this is very much about my experiences. I'm pretty sure things are a little different for everyone.

The first time I bound my breasts, it for Hallowe'en. My senior year, my gay ex-boyfriend was Belle, my best friend (female) was the Beast, and I was Gaston. My girlfriend helped my best friend and I bind in the morning before school, with duct tape. The critical thing with duct tape is not to put it directly on your skin! We took control-top pantyhose and cut off the legs and crotch, and used the waist part as a sort of tube-top. Then, starting at the top, we wrapped the tape around and around over top of the hose. I actually just stood there with my arms up and let my girlfriend do all the work, because I wasn't exactly shy about having her touch my breasts; I think I got much better results that way, because I didn't have to worry about twisting around and potentially dislodging things.

The results were quite good, and not too uncomfortable-- while they lasted. Duct tape, it turns out, doesn't exactly breathe! I started to sweat underneath the binder, and the whole tube started to work its way lower and lower on my torso. Suddenly, in the middle of Scripture class (really!), my boobs popped free over the top of it, and I had to sit through the rest of the class with a duct tape tube hanging loosely around my waist and bare breasts jiggling under a flimsy shirt. Luckily, I had lent my ex-boyfriend one of my bras to hold his fake breasts, so I didn't have to go the rest of the day bra-less, but I did still have to get the binder off. Which meant... cutting it off. I had to borrow some heavy-duty scissors to have a hope of cutting through the multiple layers of duct tape, and it was still a slow and sticky process. A slow, sticky, process happening immediately next to my skin. And my boobs. For that reason alone I could never recommend binding with duct tape regularly: when the scissors get stuck in the tape, and you're trying to force them out, there is no safe course of action. You just have to be lucky.

I tried Ace bandages next, the three-inch-wide ones that I already owned due to my weak ankles. This was years later, and I was binding in order to explore my own gender identity. I was never satisfied enough with the results to leave the room with them on, though, so I ordered a binding shirt from Underworks. The first one I got was basically just a long tank top made of nylon and spandex, and I really liked it. To put it on, I have to step into it like it was a skirt and then work it up my body (it's really right!). It's an awkward process but eventually I'm able to put my arms through the straps and then reach into the shirt to arrange my boobs. The compression is really powerful and the shirt smooths everything out and doesn't show under clothes, so I really love it.

At least, until it starts to roll up... the bottom of the shirt is supposed to be near my hips, tucked into my pants, but dude pants aren't exactly tight around the hips so the bottom often rolls up to my natural waist. The thick roll of bunched-up shirt is quite tight and uncomfortable, and I always feel like it emphasizes my natural hourglass shape. (If you've ever seen me fidget with my shirt a lot, or "go to the bathroom" several times for extremely short trips, I am probably trying to fix this. It hurts!)

Sometimes to pre-empt this problem, I put the shirt on and then immediately pull the bottom of the shirt up to my chest (as if I were going to turn the shirt inside out and take it off) and wear it with two layers over my chest. I feel like it's hard to describe-- I roll the bottom up over the main shirt, so the hem is at my collarbone. Of course, from this position it can slide down, bringing me back to the same situation as before, but I find it easier to tug it back into place before catastrophe strikes when it's doubled up.

The best solution to the rolling problem, though, is the version of this shirt with little shorts attached to the bottom. I step into it and pull it on the same way, but because the bottom is actually attached to something that can't move, there's no rolling. There's no need to fidget with it, so it's so comfortable I forget I'm wearing it at all... until I have to pee. To go to the bathroom, I have to undress completely. This is extra-annoying if I am wearing a suit. So many layers! It gets in the way of enjoying myself because I'm always worrying about whether or not I'm going to need to pee.

I've been getting more frustrated with my Underworks shirts lately, and less willing to put up with their drawbacks. So one night, when I'd left both binding shirts at my girlfriend's by mistake and needed to wear a suit, I tried binding with the Ace bandages again. Unexpectedly, I was really happy with the results.

I used two three-inch-wide, several-yard-long bandages of quite nice quality. (Most transmen online recommend six-inch-wide bandages but I'm using ones that I already had for my ankles.) Starting as high as possible, and pulling tight, I wrap them around my torso. I don't wrap too far past the end of my boobs (which about where my ribs end, thanks to the squish factor) and when the second bandage runs out, I tuck the end up underneath the bottom of the binding. I've never had a problem with the bandages slipping down like the duct tape or rolling up like the binding shirts, but I trade those for the problem of... potentially causing myself serious harm. I'm pretty sure men have actually fractured their ribs, binding too hard with Ace bandages. To reduce the risk, I breathe in deeply before I start wrapping and try to keep my chest expanded the whole way through. I also make sure not to pull the bandages to the very tightest they can go. It can sometimes be uncomfortable, and look lumpy under a thin shirt (especially if I'm sloppy), but with the multiple layers of a suit it doesn't show very much and I've grown to like it, because it's not fidgety and it doesn't make me feel like my entire body is encased in a cocoon.

I'm gonna go ahead and open the comments section up to all your questions, especially any you might have about the practical aspects of transition. If you're curious about transwomen, my girlfriend has agreed to answer questions as well. And if you're embarrassed, you can always comment anonymously! I love to hear from you.


  1. I have always wondered how this is done and really appreciate your honesty in telling us.

    If it's not too personal to ask, would you consider top surgery to avoid this daily ritual? How much does it cost?

    Do breasts shrink at all from taking testosterone?

    I've really heard more about the male-to-female side of things, so thanks again.

  2. Hey, no worries. Binding isn't actually a daily ritual, more something I do when I'm going somewhere important/ meeting new people/ feeling really unhappy with my body that morning. But a mastectomy is still a HUGE YES. Generally it costs between $2,000 and $9,000, as far as I know. Most insurance companies explicitly exclude coverage for mastectomies for transmen. However, I don't spend much time thinking about the cost because all transition surgery is free in Canada, where I'm a citizen. But I'll have the surgery as soon as I'm able, regardless of which country I'm in; I'll find the money somehow.

    Testosterone definitely does shrink breasts, and some lucky transmen actually have their breasts shrink enough that they qualify for the kind of mastectomy that leaves the smallest scars. (There are several procedures, based on breast size and skin elasticity -- this link has great info and before-and-after pics with no gory surgery pics).

    Transmen aren't as sensational as transwomen (in a patriarchal society, who wants to be a woman, and who doesn't want to be a man?) so we don't really get talked about as much. But we're all around Duke, which is pretty great. Anyway, I always love answering questions, so let me know if there's anything else you're curious about!

  3. Not sure if y'all have seen this, but a friend posted it on fb and I personally thought it was awesome. The video includes some tongue-in-cheek responses to super personal questions by two trans folks. Audio is NSFW: