Empathy Time! Why Binding Sucks Sometimes.

Two people applying makeshift chest binders

In my work with Trans and gender non-conforming clients I have run into a consistent theme that I think needs to be talked about. Sometimes binding sucks! All too often I hear my trans clients talk about finding themselves in difficult binding situations and feeling like nobody gets what they’re going through. Sometimes I write blog posts with the intent of them being shared by people as a way for them to communicate something that is going on with them. This one is for the trans and gender non conforming folx.

Binding is good

For those who experience problems with gender dysphoria, binding can be a really good thing that can help them feel more comfortable with themselves, their bodies, and public interactions. Sometimes I meet non binary / gender non conforming folx who choose to bind so that people in public are less likely to put them in a “girl” box at first sight. Regardless the reasons, the choice to bind is a personal decision that carries a lot of pros and cons with it.

Binding can be painful at times

I really want to put emphasis on “at times” here because I know some loved ones are going to read this and think “then why are you doing it!?”. Certainly, this is something a lot of my clients are faced with: a general misunderstanding that leads people to treat binding like it’s a fashion choice that should be rejected if its painful. If binding is done safely it shouldn’t be painful. It’s common and expected for it to be uncomfortable at times, but generally pain is a sign that you’re doing something you shouldn’t be.

Don’t bind while exercising!

There are lots of ways that binding can be painful. Because I primarily work with trans and gender non conforming teens, the most common complaint I hear about is people having to run in PE while binding! This is bad! I can’t put enough exclamation points here! If this post accomplishes anything, I hope this information gets to school faculty who will take this into consideration.

Running while binding is very painful and can lead to serious injuries like fractured ribs. Most people I’ve known learn to plan ahead for things like this and avoid binding on running days. But inevitably there is always a PE teacher who will unexpectedly make their class run a mile.

Actually, its not good to do any kind of exercise while binding. You need to be able to breathe and move freely when exercising, and binding can get in the way of this. This also includes sex. It goes without saying, but sex can be rigorous…so don’t bind while getting it on.

PE is generally the biggest concern I run into with people who bind, but there are lots of other situations that you should be careful about when binding. It’s generally advised that people don’t wear their binders for more than 8 to 10 hours a day. Obviously this is a problem for school aged teens. There are a lot of things to take into consideration here, and the general rule is, if it hurts, you’re doing something wrong and you should stop.


Get your sizing right

Binders come in different types and sizes and it is common for people to order one that isn’t quite right on their first try. Make sure you order through a good reputable binder store and do your best to get your sizing right.

So, going back to not wearing a binder for more than 8-10 hours a day. It’s generally best to start out wearing it for a couple of hours and build up to 8 to 10. Everyone is different though and your tolerance for binder discomfort might accommodate more or less time than this.

Unfortunately binders wear out over time. This is an annoyance that everyone has to deal with. After a while, your binder won’t work as well as it did when you first got it and it will be time to order a new one. When you do this remember to resize yourself as people’s bodies change over time. When you get your new binder it will likely be tighter than you remember and it might take some time to getting used to again. DO NOT double bind! Some people get the idea to use their new binder on top of their old one. This is dangerous, can reduce your ability to breath even more, and puts you at a much greater risk of injury.

Heat Sucks!

Another thing I think is important for people to know is that heat really sucks for people who bind. Binding gets in the way of breathing properly, insulates you more than other clothes would, and can generally make you sweat more. An 80 degree day can feel like 95 degrees to someone who is binding. Be sensitive and mindful of this when its hot out and someone you love is binding.

The take away

The take away from all of this is that when binding you should know your limits, be careful, and plan ahead. Don’t wear your binder for too long, and if something hurts, stop doing it. If something happens (like running a mile while binding) and you end up getting hurt, people may not understand. But even though they don’t get it, you’re still hurt and in pain and should take care of yourself and if you can, ask for the help you need.

How you can help

If you are a close family member/friend of a teen who is binding, encourage them to talk with their school counselor and/or P.E. teacher about making accommodations for their binding. Please take into consideration though that everyone has different comfort levels around talking about and accepting help for things like this. If your loved one refuses your help or doesn’t want to talk with you about this don’t force them. Just let them know that you’re there for them if they need your help or want to talk.

As a parent this can be hard because you want the best for your child and want to keep them safe, but this is one of those times when you have to give them space, while watching out for danger from a safe distance. You can and should talk with your child about safe binding practices. Let them know if you are concerned about their safety, but avoid making a big deal out of it unless something bad has actually come about as a result of binding. This is a lot like teaching your kid to drive. It’s dangerous and scary, but if you freak out about it and micromanage them they’re likely going to avoid you and or become anxious about it.

But it can be worth it

Despite the discomforts associated with binding I’ve yet to meet anyone who does it who would choose not to. If you follow safe binding practices then binding should feel uncomfortable and restricting at the most, but not overly painful. After having read this, some people will wonder why people bind at all if it is so uncomfortable. Most often people bind to help alleviate gender dysphoria. In cases like this the answer to this question is often that the discomfort of binding is far less than the discomfort of feeling like and being seen as the wrong gender. This is an important opportunity for empathy. Gender dysphoria is hard and it is important to see and acknowledge it for the difficulty it poses to trans and gender non conforming individuals.


Joe Borders, MFT
LGBT counseling in Roseville and Sacramento 
(530) 448-6602

1722 Professional Drive,
Sacramento, CA 95825
775 Sunrise Ave., suite 110
Roseville, Ca 95661

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