Gender affirming gear can help us feel more comfortable in our bodies and can influence the way people see us in the world. Trying out different options can be a relatively simple and approachable way to explore gender presentation on your own terms.
If you choose to wear Gender-Affirming Gear there are some health considerations to think about because being safe while being comfortable is important. Gender-affirming gear can be expensive, so if finances are a barrier for you there may be local organizations that provide programs and support.
Your Primary Care Provider may ask you questions about the gender-affirming gear you wear and may also want to know about any negative health outcomes you may be experiencing. It’s important to be aware of what your body may experience and when you should be connecting with your Primary Care Provider.
What is Binding?
Binding involves wearing tight garments to flatten out your chest. It’s a do-it-yourself option for changing your appearance so that it matches your gender expression. You may bind to feel more at ease in your body, feel more comfortable in your clothing or help others read your gender correctly. Some people buy specially made binders. Others use sports bras.
To avoid negative health outcomes from binding you can try:
- binding for shorter periods of time (no more than 8 hours per day);
- finding looser alternatives such as a well-fitting bra or medical compression shirt; and
- taking time off binding if possible
It is not recommended to use things such as duct tape or medical tape to bind your chest. Contact your Primary Care Provider if you experience pain, difficulty breathing, ongoing tingling/numbness, skin rash, or sores.
For more information about binding, check out the following resources:
Commonly Used Binding Methods
This section outlines some of the most commonly used ways of binding, including layering of shirts, sports bras, athletic compression shirts, back support devices, and chest binders!
Please note that many external resources are linked on this page, and you may want to do your own searches on the topics presented. When exploring external resources please be aware that many of the services linked to chest binding also provide education and gear related to sexual health.
- Layering of shirts: wearing a tight fitting undershirt with looser shirts on top. This method can be used when taking a break from other binding methods or for those who don’t want to wear any binding devices. A button down shirt as the top layer can help hide the chest and hip curves if these are a concern to you. Since wearing many layers in warm weather can be uncomfortable, breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics can help.
- Sports bras: wearing a tight fitting sports bra. Sports bras made with “lycra” material work well and are breathable. Some folks may wear multiple sports bras in layers and combine this method with the layering of shirts.
- Athletic compression shirts: wearing compression shirts made of spandex, lycra, or other stretchy materials. These shirts can most often be found at sporting goods stores. Companies like Underarmour make compression gear for athletes. Recommended Underarmour shirts are the HeatGear compression shirts as these are designed to be very breathable and help keep you dry. Underarmour also has youth sizes if smaller sizes are needed. This method often works well for those with minimal chest tissue. Folks with larger chests may want to consider medical/binding compression wear.
- Neoprene waist and abdominal trimmers or back support devices: neoprene is a thick, rubbery material that is inexpensive and widely available. It does not breathe well but can offer effective compression. If chafing is a problem, it is recommended to wear a moisture-wicking thin undershirt or absorbent body powder underneath the neoprene. Waist trimmers and back supports are designed to wrap around the torso. They are usually blue/red on one side and black on the other with a velcro closure. The neoprene should be wrapped tightly around the chest and fastened with the velcro closure placed along the side of the body.
- Chest binders/medical compression shirts: an effective method of flattening a range of chest sizes. Medical compression shirts provide more compression than athletic compression shirts and can be purchased through a specialty supplier such as Underworks.
There are also companies that make chest binders specifically for trans folks such as gc2b, and some local stores in Edmonton, AB may also carry chest binders such as The Quiltbag and The Tickle Trunk. If you would like to purchase a binder, TransGuys.com has a brief review of the most well-known companies used in North America. Binders can be expensive and if cost is a barrier, contact your local Pride Centre to see if there is a free binder exchange program near you. There are also binder exchange programs run online such as Come as You Are’s Chest Binder Recycling Program (for which the contact email is email@example.com).
Binding Effects and Safe Binding
Here, we will explore some of the health impacts that binding for a long period of time may have, as well as some tips for safe binding.
The first tip to safe binding is ensuring the binder is the correct size. It is not recommended to wear smaller sized binders to enhance an even flatter chest appearance as a binder that is too small can cause severe pain and injury. A general rule of thumb with binders: If it hurts, cuts your skin or prevents you from breathing it is too tight.
It is not recommended to bind with elastic bandages, ace bandages, duct tape or saran wrap. These methods can restrict blood flow, make it hard to breathe, cause rashes and bruising and even break ribs.
To avoid negative health outcomes from binding you can try:
- Binding for shorter periods of time (no more than 8 hours per day).
- Finding looser alternatives such as a well fitting bra or medical compression shirt.
- Taking time off binding if possible.
- Ensuring your skin is completely dry before putting on a binder.
- Using a non-irritating body powder or thin undershirt beneath the binder to help prevent skin irritation.
- Practicing regular stretching of the back, neck, shoulders and chest to alleviate binding discomfort.
Alternatives to Binding
While many people feel that binding, at least sometimes, is necessary for their sense of wellbeing, some may prefer a balance between binding and alternatives, or relying more heavily on alternatives. Some common alternatives to binding are included in this section.
- Wearing shirts that include buttons, patterns, or material useful for cutting curve lines to the viewer’s eye.
- When taking a break from binding, curating strategies for mental wellbeing, self-love, maintaining safe(r) spaces, and utilizing safe and supportive social networks.
Hair removal can be done at home, or professionally to different parts of the body to achieve the kinds of gender expression you feel best presenting with. Some kinds of hair removal are temporary, while others are more permanent. The kind of hair removal you choose will depend largely on your budget, level of comfort, hair type, and area for removal. Please discuss further with the healthcare provider you feel most comfortable exploring this with if you have questions or are unsure about how to approach hair removal.
Pads and Breast Forms
Pads and breast forms are often used to achieve the appearance of a fuller chest. An alternative, especially for those with some chest or breast tissue protruding already, might be padded bras. QMunity’s “I Heart My Chest” includes advice for matching your bra and chest size to your body.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been shown to have mixed results in terms of breast development. For folks who want the appearance of larger breasts, breast forms are available. These can range in size from small to very large cups, and can come with or without nipple protrusions. Breast forms can be worn with a regular bra, or a special breast-form bra that has compartments to hold the forms. It is important that you wash your breast forms, as most materials are porous and at risk for developing microbial activity that can cause odor and irritation to your skin. It is also important to spend time without wearing bras or breast forms, as the band and forms may irritate the skin and prevent healthy chest wall movement.
Additionally, wearing extra fabrics over the chest – like scarves or tops with ruffles or gathering – can emulate the appearance of breasts. Using patterns can also make it difficult for people to see the size of your breasts.
Content adapted from:
Tucking involves hiding external genitalia so that they are not visible in tight clothing. Tucking is a do-it-yourself option for changing your appearance so that it matches your gender expression. You might tuck to feel more at ease in your body, to feel more comfortable in your clothing, or to help others read your gender correctly.
There are many ways to minimize the appearance of external genitalia. A common garment built specifically for this is known as a “gaff.” Gaffs are tight fitting underwear meant to compress external genitalia to the body. Gaffs are used in conjunction with tucking, which is the process of repositioning, squishing, and sometimes taping external genitalia close to the body. Tucking methods that use tape will greatly reduce your opportunities to pee, and may result in pain and skin breakdown. There is also a growing awareness of how tucking likely reduces fertility. It is generally advisable to avoid sleeping while tucked or wearing a gaff. As with bras and breast forms, it is important to keep gaffs clean. Gaffs can also be improvised with tight underwear, swimwear, or nylons. Padded underwear is also available to create the appearance of larger hips or buttocks.
Additionally, folks looking to minimize the look of their external genitalia can wear loose-fitting clothing including dresses and skirts, with or without compressive garments like cycling shorts, athletic compression bottoms, or nylons.
Content adapted from:
To avoid negative health outcomes from tucking you can try tucking for shorter periods of time, switching between different methods of tucking, and staying hydrated.
Contact your Primary Care Provider if you experience aching, tingling or numbness that continues even when you aren’t tucking; blood in urine or orgasmic fluid; a feeling of inflammation or infection inside the genitals; skin rash or sores; pain with urination; or pain in the bladder or lower back.
Waist circumferences are often not greatly reduced through feminizing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but waist-training has been used by some trans-feminine folks to achieve the results they are striving for. Waist-training provides a temporary reduction in waist size by redistributing fat, and in extreme cases changing the shape of the ribcage and moving abdominal organs. Many believe that waist-training can be done in ways that do not cause physical pain or long term health issues. Typical waist-training involves using a properly fitted steel-boned corset. Most authorities on waist-training say it is best to lace your corset up loose in the beginning, and to wear it gradually tighter and longer over a period of several months. Very importantly, using a corset should not cause pain or breathing difficulty and should thus be removed at the earliest sign of discomfort. It is especially important to avoid wearing the corset for more than eight hours a day, to avoid double-knotting the laces, and to incorporate nutritious foods and exercise into your life while waist-training.
Additionally, dressing in ways that define your waist may work well to feminize the look of your torso. Look for high-waisted pants and skirts, and garments that have elastics or gathering at the waist.