Last January, I ordered a binder online. A binder is a compression garment, usually like a tank top or cropped tank top, which is designed to minimise the appearance of breasts. They are often worn by trans men, other people whose gender expression means they want to look less feminine, and cosplayers. When I got mine, I knew I wasn’t cis – i.e. I knew my gender didn’t match what I was assigned at birth – but beyond that, I just wanted to look more androgynous, as an aesthetic choice. I thought it was an aesthetic choice, at least. Over a year later and I identify as non-binary, but that’s not really the point. Wearing a binder gave me a whole new way to feel good about how I looked, beyond clothes and makeup and body positivity posts on Twitter about being beautiful.
Putting on a binder for the first time is an incredibly strange experience. First off, it’s difficult. Binders are, obviously, designed to be tight, and they are especially so when they’re new (think about the difference between a new jumper and one you’ve washed and worn a bunch of times). Wriggling into one is not a glamorous experience, and it sort of feels like you can’t breathe when you eventually get it on (NB: you should always be able to breathe without pain while binding, otherwise your binder really is too tight and you could do permanent damage to your body). It’s not particularly comfortable. But once I threw on a t-shirt and looked at myself in the mirror, it felt better than almost anything I’d worn before. I didn’t know I could be so happy with myself.
Initially, I was scared that people would notice. I didn’t want to have to explain why I looked different or why I was binding, especially because I was still figuring out how I felt about gender. But I was also scared that people wouldn’t notice. That it wouldn’t make any difference, and I would still look as feminine as I did without a binder on. I wanted it to be making as much of a difference as I felt it was. Actually, nobody said anything about it, but when I asked, friends told me they could tell the difference. So my paradoxical anxieties were unfounded either way (not to brush over the fact that trans people do consistently get discriminated against and are subject to violence – I’ve been very lucky).
I don’t wear a binder every day. I like to wear lacey tops and lipstick sometimes, and I feel good about myself then, too. But I wear it a lot more than I thought I would. T-shirts from the men’s section of shops are my go-to to wear over it because they’re not as tight, so they don’t cling as much. I’m never going to “pass” as a man, and I don’t want to, but I also like being able to hide that I’m wearing a binder, and just look like someone flat-chested.
I like having the choice to alter how I look in ways other than just choosing different clothes to wear. I have a pretty consistent aesthetic overall but I like being able to change up how masculine or feminine I look on any given day – sometimes more than once a day. I can go to lectures wearing a binder and a men’s flannel shirt, and then go out in the evening in a low-cut top and skinny jeans. Binding means that looking in the mirror makes me smile more often, which is an experience everyone deserves, regardless of what gets them there.