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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 setting a bad example.

Unsafe Binding

Unsafe Binding.

A gallery of films and shows that feature bandage chest binding. Use the arrows, or click on the thumbnails, 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, I have heard members of my community report the following issues when trying to bind with bandages (and I have experienced 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 (2013), played by Del Herbert-Jane.

Ruby Rose

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 to date. 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:

Millions of people (including trans men, questioning people, non-binary individuals, butch lesbians, etc) have been given the impression that this is the kind of effect you can safely achieve on your own, because the reality is left out of Break Free, the main film feature.

Ironically, the most accurate depiction of bandage binding (in terms of how much pain it causes) 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.

A gallery of films and documentaries which feature duct tape chest binding. Use the arrows, or click on the thumbnails, 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. I found this very concerning, especially because (as I explained in my review) 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 (titled 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.

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.