Never being able to get flat enough

The NY Times is still normalizing breast-mutilation.

A recent Times article on chest binding prompted a discussion among readers about the practice, which some transgender and gender-nonconforming people use to compress their breasts and treat body dysphoria, as well as how we covered it.

I bet it did.

So the Times asked readers to report on their adventures in binding. They got more than 200 responses, mostly from very young people (of course – this wasn’t a fashion ten years ago).

I am 31 and have been wearing constrictive sports bras since I developed breasts in high school. I didn’t know about binders until well into my 20s. I wish I had. Without the availability of binders, many people like me spent years wearing Ace bandages around our chests. This practice was harmful and made it difficult to breathe. Now that binders are more widely available, I wear one most days.

I’m currently training to run the New York marathon for the second year in a row, and I’m starting graduate school at Columbia University in the fall. These are things that I would not have been able to do without a binder.

 R.J. Russell, 31

Eh? I wonder why Russell would not have been able to start grad school at Columbia without a binder.

I first had a desire to bind toward the end of middle school, when I came out as non-binary. Because of online articles that said binders would mutilate your body, my mother firmly decided against getting me one. It was only when I had my doctor and therapist assure her binding was safe that I was able to get my first binder, which drastically improved my self-image and mental health without any sacrifices to my physical health.

Binders tend to be used as a temporary solution to the problem of having breasts and cannot be worn at all times. During exercise they can restrict breathing, and back and chest pain can come from wearing them for more than about eight hours at a time. You should also never sleep with a binder on.

Erin Hurst, 17

So, binders are safe, but they cannot be worn at all times, during exercise they can restrict breathing, and back and chest pain can come from wearing them for more than about eight hours or to sleep in. How are we defining “safe” here?

I have been binding for four years, starting at age 16. I discovered binding through the internet as I began following more transgender individuals and navigating my own gender identity.

When I slipped on my first binder, well, it didn’t slip on. Despite my small frame, I could not fit into a medium. I ended up returning it and ordering a size up. Even that was still extremely difficult to put on. You get used to it, though. The tightness is a double-edged sword — sometimes you feel like you’re being suffocated, but at other times a binder feels like a close hug.

The longer I used binding, the more I could feel my body deteriorating. The physical pain got worse but so did the emotional. Slowly I began living a life where I couldn’t not bind. The initial euphoria of flatness turned into never being able to get flat enough. My body aches every day, I no longer have the lung capacity I once had, and my ribs have inverted. I fear breaking one when I sneeze. I am getting surgery this year and it can’t come soon enough.

— Caleb B. Sanders, 20

This must all be the fault of TERFs, right?

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