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Chest Binding.

Not only is it important to discuss trans male, gender-diverse, and crossdressing media for positive reasons, it's also important to criticise media which endangers members of our community through misrepresenting chest binding methods.

I am not a medical professional. All I can do is talk about my experiences as a trans man, and the experiences of my friends/peers. If you are in a safe area and can access an open-minded doctor, I highly recommend seeking medical advice related to chest binding, especially if you have any conditions which might make binding unsafe. The advice I offer on this page is informed by years of experience and community knowledge, so it will hopefully be useful, but it is still limited. This page is not a substitute for getting actual, qualified medical advice.

Above is a gallery of films and shows that feature bandage chest binding. Use the arrows to navigate.

You might think bandaging your chest flat is an ideal, consequence-free way to alleviate your dysphoria and otherwise affirm your gender. Nobody could really blame you for having that belief; films and shows continue to reinforce this false, dangerous myth, despite resistance from our communities. The truth is that binding with bandages is unsafe, difficult, painful, and potentially injurious.

We need more objective, robust, scientific studies about the risks associated with chest binding. Anecdotally though, members of my community report the following issues when trying to bind with bandages, and I experienced some of these issues too:

  • Persistent pain, especially chest and back pain.

  • Cracked ribs.

  • Bruised ribs.

  • Breathing difficulties and/or shortness of breath.

  • Skin irritation.

  • Aggravation of existing health issues.

That's why misrepresentations of chest binding are so important to criticise.

Plus, not all of us are slender, small-chested people who have someone to help us wind bandages around our ribcage. Bandage binding isn't just painful, it's impractical. In reality, a person binding with bandages is more likely to get this kind of outcome:

James, a trans man in the film 52 Tuesdays, played by Del Herbert Jane

James, a trans man in the film 52 Tuesdays, played by Del Herbert-Jane.

To my immense disappointment, genderfluid star Ruby Rose perpetuated the myth of easy bandage binding in her video Break Free, which has been watched over 54 million times. Her video, much like other media depictions of bandage binding, cuts from footage of her manually wrapping herself in bandages, to footage of bandages perfectly wrapped around her... and clipped down behind her back. Folks and fellas, believe me, she did not accomplish that by herself. She had a team of people to help wind the bandages around her, keep them straight and untwisted, and clip them down where she couldn't reach. I don't need to guess whether that was the case, because the behind-the-scenes footage proves as much. Break Free gave, and is still giving, millions of people the impression that bandage binding is an easy, safe, and accessible way to flatten your chest. Trans men, questioning people, non-binary individuals, butch lesbians, cosplayers, and others are harmed by Rose's video, and by media which depicts bandage binding in a similarly unrealistic way. Break Free is, therefore, a notable example of irresponsible media depicting chest binding unrealistically.

Ironically, the most accurate depiction of bandage binding (in terms of how much pain it can cause) comes from Titane, a 2021 body horror film where a woman assumes the identity of a missing man in order to escape arrest. While not a trans film in the slightest, I consider it valuable because it does not glorify, idealise, or promote bandage binding as an easy method of chest flattening. In that department, though it's a gruesome movie, I consider it less harmful than idealised depictions like Break Free. Nobody walks away from Titane thinking that bandage binding is safe or comfortable.

Above is a gallery of films and documentaries that feature duct tape chest binding. Use the arrows to navigate.

Duct tape chest binding is even more unsafe than using bandages. One of the most dangerous depictions of this practice occurs in Venus Boyz (2002), when a drag king is shown being tightly bound by another drag performer. The Aggressives (2005) also features a performer being bound in duct tape. I recommend reading about the latter documentary here, to understand the social context that led to interviewees binding unsafely. Such documentaries are crucially important to illustrate what our communities have been through, but modern-day media needs to set a safer example for vulnerable and dysphoric viewers.

Chevy, a trans man in the short documentary Girlz to MEN (2019), revealed to interviewers that he binds with duct tape, believing that this harmful practice makes him more "real" than trans men who opt for less dangerous methods of chest flattening, or who do not bind at all. I found this very concerning, especially because viewers are not informed how debilitating duct tape binding is, and his interview is shown with no disclaimers.

Trans men and GNC people sharing their life experiences, and filmmakers not considering the safety of viewers when representing such experiences, is one thing. A whole other issue is the misrepresentation of duct tape chest binding by cis-centric media.

金枝玉葉 (released as He's a Woman, She's a Man in English) features a woman being bound in duct tape in order to crossdress as a man for the majority of the film. This is egregious, certainly, but that film came out in 1994, when knowledge about chest binding was far more limited than in the modern-day. The Assignment, released more than two decades later, is another matter entirely. While much of the trans community's backlash focussed on the movie's forced transition plot (which was too silly/unrealistic to offend me), its depictions of duct tape chest binding were what I found truly alarming. The director Walter Hill defended his film and insisted that he "wouldn't make a movie that hurt transgender people", adding, "some of them have had a tough time of it, and the last thing I want to do is make anyone's road harder". I would say that depicting duct tape chest binding is just about as harmful as you can get, and romanticising that practice could indeed make viewers' lives harder... to the point of injury and illness, no less. If Hill couldn't depict duct tape chest binding realistically, perhaps showing how harmful it is (à la Titane), he shouldn't have introduced it into a pulp film where nothing is taken seriously.

However, it is important to note that you can harm yourself while binding even if you don't use bandages or duct tape. An example is the film still below, where someone is shown putting on two binders in order to achieve a flatter chest.

Cris, an FTM boy in the documentary TRANS

Cris, an FTM boy in the documentary TRANS (2012).

Scenes like this are dangerous. Don’t double bind. Double binding is just as unsafe as using bandages. You’re increasing the pressure on your ribcage to a dangerous extent, and you’ve counteracted any design features that one binder may have on its own. Decent binders are designed to be looser across your back, but taut at the front, so that your ribcage can expand as normally as possible while you’re compressing your chest. Double binding eliminates any safety measures that such binders may have offered.

An unnamed person in the documentary TRANS

A person demonstrating how to use a wrap-around binder in TRANS (2012).

The above image features a velcro binder that doesn’t have straps over the shoulders. The only way such a binder is secured to you is through pressure on your ribcage, without loose areas to give your ribs a break. Generally speaking, if a binder isn’t using your shoulders while putting a lot of pressure on you, don’t buy it. It’s worth noting, too, that post-op chest binders (strapless undergarments designed for temporary use after surgery) are not appropriate for dysphoria relief as you perform daily activities.

Nowadays, the media needs to set a safer example for our communities. That's not to say TRANS was nefariously-made in any way, but rather, the documentary reflects a lack of understanding about binding safety. Standards need to be higher now, so that communities are safer. Not just trans male communities; we need to encourage the safety of non-binary people, questioning people, androgynous women, lesbians, cis men with gynecomastia, drag kings, crossdressers, etc. Anyone who wishes to flatten their chest.

As above, Ti-gars, Man Made, Romeos, 3 Generations, Degrassi, and Unsound all depict trans men/boys lifting weights while binding. 52 Tuesdays depicts a trans man wearing a binder while he plays tennis. Degrassi depicts a trans boy punching a boxing bag while binding with bandages.

Some people can exercise while wearing chest binders, but most experience pain and health impacts if they attempt this (myself included). I was particularly disappointed that Man Made, a trans-directed documentary, didn't offer a warning to viewers when Dominic was shown weightlifting while binding. While some guys are capable of such feats, most aren't. A disclaimer would have been an easy addition, and would have encouraged trans guys to think twice before following Dominic's example. As a general rule, any activity that involves energetic movement and necessitates deep breathing should probably not be attempted while you are binding your chest. Compression sports bras are a much safer approach, since they're literally designed to be used while exercising.

And it ought to go without saying... nobody should be binding with bandages, let alone exercising while doing so.