This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.
My breasts have always been very present in my life. When I came out as non-binary, I realised just how gendering they were. On some days, I felt they were a natural part of my body; on others, they didn’t match my gender identity and made me dysphoric and deeply anxious about a body that didn’t feel like mine.
Being fat has also had a major impact on my self-esteem and I have struggled with body dysmorphia. In my attempts to accept my large body, including my breasts, I still have to cope with other people’s fatphobia and being socially excluded because of it.
I found out about binding through friends and members of the queer community. Binding is a process that involves using fabric to constrict your breasts and create the illusion of being flat-chested. But when I tried to buy a binder that fit me, I realised the market wasn’t the inclusive sanctuary I hoped it would be. It quickly became clear most binding products were for thin people. For a while, I thought binding wouldn’t be possible for me, but I decided not to give up.
First, I went to a physical store in the hopes of trying things on. I could only find one in Belgium – where I live – called Babylon in Aartselaar (near Antwerp). Babylon only went up to size XL, which is too small for me, and they presented the items in a men's and a women's section. I didn’t feel welcome as a non-binary person. Then, I asked some brands from around the world – including gc2b, Trans-Missie, BWYA, BOSS Binders and Spectrum Outfitters – to send me some models so I could find out what works best for my body type.
When I managed to find a binder that worked for my body, I was overwhelmed by emotion and burst into tears. I was incredibly grateful that my partner – who is also trans and uses binders – was with me. Everything suddenly felt very real. I was still confused about my identity, but binding gave me a wonderful feeling of euphoria. I had to let go of the idea that a binder would make me flat-chested. It’s simply impossible if your breasts are as big as mine. But with a loose T-shirt and the right posture, I could create the illusion of having no breasts. I felt relieved to finally have a choice.
This is what I’ve learned in the process.
THE FULL-LENGTH BINDER
This full-length binder from Trans-Missie binds very tightly from your chest to your waist, whereas the gc2b model mainly binds your chest and back, with only a thin layer of fabric on your belly, which makes it less stiff. The Trans-Missie binder has a more visible effect and really transforms your body shape, but your stomach feels constricted. This binder also accentuates my hips, which can be a dysphoric trigger. This type of binder rides up easily when I sit down, and the tight fit can get hot and sticky during summer.
THE BAND BINDER
I’m definitely not going to use this one. I knew a band binder wouldn’t do much for big breasts, but I didn’t expect to feel so dysphoric. This binder hardly does anything and it looks like a crop top which made my breasts stand out even more.
THE MEDIUM-LENGTH BINDER
The medium-length binder from BOSS Binder is great. It has a racerback which takes the pressure off your shoulders. For someone like me who has an acute shoulder injury, this is a big plus. It took some getting used to, but it didn’t ride up around my breasts or belly like other models.
THE SHORT BINDER
For me, the short binder is the most comfortable model. The elasticity and the types of fabric vary per brand – some of them, like BWYA and Trans-Missie, offer two different compression levels. Spectrum Outfitters uses a stiffer fabric, so the bottom doesn’t ride up underneath the breasts. But the fabric doesn’t sit tightly under your chest area and it can poke out a bit.
I like binders with zippers because it’s easier to put them on and take them off. A zipper can be a lifesaver – if you’re in pain or can’t breathe, you can take it off quickly. But zippers also decrease the compression level and the effectiveness of the binder.
THE SWIMMING BINDER
Some binders are specifically designed for swimming or exercising. It’s important to check how well you can breathe and move in them. If the compression level is as high as your regular binder, it can get dangerous.
THE ETHICAL BINDER
Binders don’t only vary in shape, size and material, but there’s also a surprising range of what I’ll call “ethical” options. Take Amor Binders, a start-up designing products specifically for autistic people who are sensitive to touch, without rough fabrics or itchy labels.
Boss Binders focuses on ethical and sustainable production and uses recycled materials. The brand doesn’t want to conform to non-inclusive size charts, so all their binders are tailor-made to your body. Their team of non-binary people guides you through the process of taking measurements, paying attention to your dysphoric or dysphormic triggers.
I should also mention gc2b and FLAVNT have the most inclusive range in terms of different skin tones, since many “nude” binders from other brands are clearly not nude for everyone.
Accessibility is not just about sizing but also pricing. Most binders range between €25 and €50 euros (around £20 to £45), but many brands charge extra for larger sizes that aren’t included in their standard collection. This is obviously a huge obstacle, since transgender and gender non-conforming people face high rates of poverty.
Bigger brands like Trans-Missie do their best to be inclusive, but can’t offer the personalised approach that smaller brands do. As a fat person, it’s a great relief to know a garment will actually fit. The smaller brands are also more open to feedback and to testing things out.
Even though I found solutions that work for me, the quest to find the right fit was quite intense. The lack of diverse sizing at an affordable price is still an obstacle. Binders, and the relief from gender dysphoria they bring, cannot continue to be reserved to thin, white, rich, neurotypical queers.