In a Bind Helps Get Trans* Youth Out of One

Chest binders (or “compression shirts”) are a simple concept: they flatten and shape the chest area and, where necessary, conceal breasts. They basically look like tank tops but have a whole lot more compressing power, and as a result are often used by transmasculine, masculine-of-center and genderqueer folks, among others.

Due to financial, familial, and a host of other complicated reasons, many transmasculine and genderqueer youth don’t have easy access to binders. Luckily, youth seeking chest binders have a new resource available to them: In a Bind, a Portland-based binder exchange program launched in March 2012, accepts donations of used and new chest binders for transmasculine and genderqueer youth and ships them all over the United States at no cost. In a Bind is run by TransActive, a nonprofit that serves the needs of transgender and gender nonconforming children and youth, as well as their families and allies.

I recently visited the TransActive office in Portland, Oregon and chatted with Kit Crosland, Program Coordinator of In a Bind. (I also got to meet other staff members, and was even offered cake!) I left very excited about the project, and feeling like I really wanted to convince you all to donate, volunteer and spread the word.

Kit

In a Bind is the brainchild of Kate Levy, a TransActive volunteer and mother of a trans child. While Kate is clearly a supportive parent, she knew that for many children in less-ideal family situations, chest binders were unobtainable. She approached Jenn Burleteon, executive director of TransActive with her idea, and since March of 2012 In a Bind has shipped 95 binders to youth in need.

“The program is all based on donations. It’s in the spirit of helping out your own,” says Kit. Binders are frequently donated by transguys who have had top surgery, changed size, or found a size or style that works better for them. In a Bind also accepts donations of new binders, as well as monetary donations used to offset shipping costs.

Transmasculine and genderqueer youth can apply for a binder through In a Bind’s website. (There is also a paper application, but according to Kit, it is rarely used—”kids are so tech-savvy these days,” he says.) Applicants must be 21 and under and have a mailing address in the United States (applicants 22 and over have the option of checking out the Big Brother Binder Program, which has been providing binders to transguys in need since 2001).

Along with the binder, applicants also receive information targeted toward their parents or guardians. As Kit explains, “We include a letter to the parent, basically saying anything and everything we can think of to get the binder to the child if a parent intercepts the package. It says,’This is safe for your kid,’ ‘Your kid isn’t the only one who wants this.’ Literally anything we can think of that could possibly help if a parent is ready to throw it in the trash.”

The package also contains a brochure targeted at anyone who interacts with transgender or gender nonconforming youth. Whether a parent intercepts the package or not, youth can choose to share it with their families. “If the only reason they’re not getting a binder is because their parents don’t understand, we need to give them tools toward fixing that,” Kit says. Many applications tell stories of unsupportive parents: one 16-year old writes, “I don’t have any other way to get myself a binder. I don’t have the money and my parents aren’t supportive. I’ve asked and they just think I’m some freak for wanting to look the way I feel.”

While Kit is very proud of the 95 youth helped by In a Bind, there are still over 600 people on the waiting list. There is obviously a huge need for chest binders out there, which highlights how important they are to many transmasculine and genderqueer youth. As Kit explains, there are two main reasons why binders are so important: they help people feel good about themselves and they “curb the body dysphoria of having these things on your chest that you don’t identify with.” One 17-year-old applicant writes, “Whenever I look in the mirror I become extremely upset, stressed, anxious, confused and even sick or angry because what I think and feel is so incongruent with how I look.”

In addition to helping with body dysphoria on an internal level, binders also affect how people are perceived and treated, and can actually protect the physical safety of the wearer.

“You’re presenting your gender to the world. If you’re presenting male or you’re presenting androgynous and you’ve got very obvious breasts, people aren’t going to treat you as the gender you are presenting,” Kit explains. “There’s a disconnect there, and that can cause people to use the wrong name or pronouns, obviously. And I’m not brushing that aside, that is really huge. It goes from that – the minor things that add up over time – to actual violence and assault.”

Many applications have included stories about experiencing violence. One 15-year old writes, “I have been jumped twice in the past month. Maybe if I did a better job of passing, I wouldn’t have so many issues with cisguys.”

Having access to proper chest binders also protects the physical safety of transmasculine and genderqueer youth because many people who can’t access a binder use Ace bandages or duct tape instead, which can cause health problems.

Interested in getting involved? Consider donating a binder, or supporting In a Bind in other ways. If you’re in the Portland area, consider volunteering! TransActive is in desperate need of volunteers to help with In a Bind, as well as other parts of the organization.

Many youth who have received binders have written touching thank you notes to In a Bind, and because I want to warm your heart, here are a few. All names have been changed.

I want to thank you so much for having this program running. You are wonderful people. I bet this has been, and will continue be a great program for helping us out. Because, honestly, there really isn’t much you can do for yourself in this state if you’re under 18 and your parents disapprove. So, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. And continue to be wonderful.
Anthony, 16, Wisconsin

Thank you so much for all of your understanding and help. It is an incredible thing you have done for those who are unable to purchase a binder on their own. I appreciate this so, so much.
Adrian, 18, Illinois

Thank you SO much. I had a really crappy week, and this just made it all better. You have no idea how much I appreciate what you’re doing, not only for me, but for all of the other teenage transguys out there. You’re really quite a life saver.
Nick, 17, New York

I just want to thank you for accepting my application. I was so excited to receive your email and can’t wait to get my binder. I want to show my support and appreciation for the program so I’m sending a small donation. I can’t give a lot, but I want to help in any way that I can and maybe help to make someone as happy as I am.
Kevin, 15, with $3 donation

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Maeve has written 3 articles for us.

67 Comments

    • Thumb up 46

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      hey, this site is for queers and being trans* inclusive is part of that. skip the content if you like, but there are plenty of cis queers (myself included) who support autostraddle because they cover a range of queer experiences.

      Maeve, thanks for this article! What a great program.

        • Thumb up 3

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          Sorry if I misconstrued your intention — let my comment instead just register as a thank you to Autostraddle for articles like this.

        • Thumb up 13

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          What was your question Michelle? Perhaps you can rephrase so we can properly answer it. I think if you explain what you are asking that might help since our commenters are only trying to defend our many trans readers.

    • Thumb up 14

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      The prefix of Eh… is what keys in here. Being merely curious would not seem to require any need to frame the question with a negative comment. If you believe that saying Eh… doesn’t frame it as negative then please take this moment to understand that it obviously is a failure of communication in that people have and will see it as such.

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        Well, maybe people shouldn’t jump to the worst conclusions. If I thought negatively of trans people and/or trans issues…why would I have read the article and commented on it in the first place?

        • Thumb up 12

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          People do that all the time! It’s the internet. Please don’t take these comments as attacks against you — we have no full picture of who you are or what you think; we can only make deductions based on the small number of words you leave on the page. I had a sinking feeling when I saw your first comment. I’m relieved that it turns out you didn’t mean to say anything negative. Maybe you could have explained where you were coming from in the first place? Lots of people say shitty things about trans* people in lots of different places, so for some people, when you care about this community and you go to look at a comment section, there’s a certain amount of steeling yourself for the worst. Because the worst kinds of comments do happen. I think it’s helpful in those situations to be aware of how you might come across and to try to be as clear as possible about what your intentions are.

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          Oops, I don’t think “people do that all the time” was very clear. What I meant to say was that people often do this thing where they have a negative feeling about a thing, they go read an article about the thing, and then they leave a negative comment. That happens all the time because internet.

        • Thumb up 5

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          Oh gosh, I can definitely relate to the whole ‘steeling yourself before reading an article’s comments’ sort of attitude. I feel the same way when I read an article on bisexuality on most any LGBTQ site. Or when I read an article on women in STEM fields on any techie site. Or women in gaming on gaming sites.

          And while I am not a trans* person, I can very easily understand why many would be wary of some comments posted on such articles (or even diving into the comments section in the first place). After a while, it just becomes tiring and depressing.

        • Thumb up 7

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          I don’t believe “jumping to the worst conclusion” is what happened here. You wrote a statement that is, before being explained, seen as a passive aggressive complaint about Trans* articles. Since you now say that isn’t what you meant, I am glad.
          The fault was not in the interpretation of your intentions, as it is not possible to determine those, but your communication of them.
          I am curious what possible answer you expected from your question, as in, what were you looking to get out of leaving that comment in the first place? Knowing that would help see why you were read as being annoyed about “all the trans stuff lately?”

  1. Thumb up 6

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    Transactive is a great organization. Not only are they doing great work with the In a Bind program, but they also do community education. They mainly focus on trans* youth, however I have been working with my company and Transactive to have sensitivity and awareness training for understanding and working with trans* individuals in the workplace.

  2. Thumb up 12

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    Um, Michelle, sorry if it offends your delicate cis sensibilities but there are many people with breasts who identify as either genderqueer or transmasculine who read Autostraddle or people who currently identify as women yet are exploring gender issues for whom this is a very timely article. Why, did someone force you to read this?

    • Thumb up 2

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      Lemme see…did I say that I was offended? Maybe I’m trans, and I noticed they were doing more articles on the subject…did you think of that? Don’t hurt yourself by falling off of your high horse.

      Really, I was just curious. Maybe it’s National Trans Month, maybe the writers felt like trans stuff needs to be covered more, or whatever.

      • Thumb up 5

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        Your words and statements are patently clear. Claiming those who you think are misconstruing your EH… what’s with… comment as on a High Horse is defensive and further places your original statement in a negative light.

        • Thumb up 1

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          The “high horse” comment was to the poster above, who wrongly thought I was offended by an informative article. And yeah, I’m gonna get defensive when implicitly accused of that. Ya know, just like the poster above did. We’re all defensive here!

        • Thumb up 4

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          So you understand that starting a comment with Eh…what’s with..would probably cause a lot of readers to interpret a negative slant to what follows, yes?

          And geeze I think this is the first AS article not criticized by ginasf, that’s what threw me off, but her use of the word cis (sensibilities) to criticize your post almost made it feel just like old times.

      • Thumb up 14

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        As someone who is eternally optimistic wrt people’s intentions, I’ll assume you meant “Cool, another piece about trans issues! Just wondering, is there any particular reason why there have been a bunch of posts about trans issues recently?”

        I am actually trying to think of recent stories about trans issues, and all I’m coming up with is Annika’s recent essay about being disowned by her family, though maybe I’m just not thinking of other stuff. Anyway, it is not Trans Awareness Month (apparently that’s November!), but I don’t think a site that covers a wide variety of queer experiences needs a particular reason to cover trans issues. I pitched this story because I thought the program was cool and I had met Kit a few times and thought he was cool too and I like interviewing cool people and learning stuff about cool projects, so here we are.

        • Thumb up 4

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          Hi, Maeve. Thanks for the neat and informative article and your reply to my question. I look forward to reading more and continuing to learn things I didn’t know (hey, like Trans Awareness Month).

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          Hey! I’m a queer (duh!), and mostly cis, although I feel genderfluid. I want to say that I feel that trans* dudes are totally part of our community. Binding and feeling masculine of center are the reality for many self-identified lesbians. I have the hots for those ‘lesbians’. I have love and support for queers who are on the even more male-identified side of the spectrum. And let’s face it, trans* folk are fighting the social acceptance battle right now. It totally makes sense to give them a voice on autostraddle.

        • Thumb up 3

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          I’m not quite sure if this is what you meant, but I want to make sure that we’re not referring to transmen as some kind of subset of lesbian, since they’re men. Obviously there are also masculine-of-center lesbians, some of whom use chest binders.

        • Thumb up 2

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          I am not referring to transguys as a subset of ‘lesbian’. But I think that there is a gender identity spectrum with male on one end and female on the other end. I am saying that transguys are simply on the more masculine-identified end of the spectrum than binding lesbians. Also, some transguys identify as lesbian men, in part because they came of age in a lesbian community. UppercaseCHASE is a transman on Youtube who has at some point explicitly identified as a male lesbian. My point is that for many transmen, there is some link to the dyke scene. My comment was a belated response to the first comment essentially asking ‘Y U tok about transguys wen dis is lezy site’

      • Thumb up 7

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        Sheesh…you come across awfully fractious. Couldn’t you just say ‘hey there sorry if my comment came across that way I didn’t mean it like that at all, what I meant was [insert whatever positive connotations we have failed to read from your comment] glad that’s all cleared up! Have a nice day’ and then throw in some smileys…maybe a kitten gif or two.

  3. Thumb up 12

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    There is an aching need for more organizations like this, support groups are wonderful and can be found in a number of communities, but I would so much rather put my money or time and energy toward a charity that actually works to relieve the incredible financial burden of being trans in the current social/political climate.

  4. Thumb up 7

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    I am really excited to learn a charity like this exists! A couple of years back my best friend came out as trans, and for a while he was binding unsafely because he couldn’t afford a binder and he was afraid of having it shipped to his house. Eventually another friend and I got together to buy him one and have it shipped to a house that wasn’t his so he could pick it up and his parents would be none the wiser. Ever since then though I always thought about ways people could get binders to young people who need them but couldn’t get them.

    Basically I just really think this charity is a great idea.

  5. Thumb up 6

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    So I edited this piece and threw in the link to Big Brother, because a long time ago I found them when I was looking for binders online (and also linked to them in an AS article about bras for which I wrote a piece on binding) – can anyone tell me what the EFF is going on with that guy??? He seems like he’s gone crazy! I was just casually making sure I had the right URL and suddenly I was down this rabbithole reading all of his crazy rantings! And I can’t tell if BBUB is affiliated or working with In a Bind, or if he’s being passive aggressive about In a Bind copying his idea? And he’s got all these new rules about who qualifies and other shit. He seems really angry. Anyone know more about this? I’m intrigued!

    • Thumb up 1

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      I saw the website for the first time now via your article and whoa, wtf. I understand being fed up with people trying to rip off your charity by claiming that they never got their binders and need more but those rules about how it’s for “trans* men only” are such bullshit.

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      Thanks for all the support. In answer to the question about any affiliation In A Bind or TransActive might have to the Big Brother program I just wanted to clarify that there is no connection whatsoever, other than awareness the program exists and some exchanged correspondence.

      Hope that is helpful!

      Thanks again!

    • Thumb up 3

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      Programmes set up to help people shouldn’t read like a Howler from Harry Potter.
      Seriously, I was only reading it out of curiousity for details of the programme and I felt like I should be apologising to him I DON’T KNOW WHY!!

    • Thumb up 0

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      I was creeped out as well. I caught the link from the In A Bind website thinking that it was probably similar and it was not at all. I feel like he was making everyone out to be a malicious fraud. It was also extremely discriminatory.

      So disappointing when something good becomes…tainted.

  6. Thumb up 5

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    I applied to them last June and am on the waiting list. I can’t wait til they receive one in my size, I’m just so anxious to get mine. Ace bandages are really awful and I’m always fidgeting. I’m really grateful to this program and sooo happy to see it on autostraddle <3

    • Thumb up 15

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      yeah ace bandages are not the way to go; they’re designed to get tighter and tighter with movement/expansion, so they can actually cause real damage. i have a few extra binders lying around that i was planning to donate; if one of them is your size i’d be happy to send it directly to you. send me a message and we can go from there! (I may be “bcw” in the members thing, I’m not really sure how it works)

  7. Thumb up 1

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    w/r/t the first comment…”eh” isn’t necessarily negative? (think of the canadians!)

    but it sounds like this organization is doing great work, so thanks for the article maeve! i’ll see if i can do something to help out next time i’m in portland

  8. Thumb up 2

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    Awww. If only there were more hard-working organisations like In a Bind. It’s dysphoria-reducers like binders that the trans* community most sorely needs real support with. To any Antipodeans fearing seeing a “U.S.A address only” disclaimer, the site also links to the Australian affiliate Pay It Forward! Weeeckeeeed.

  9. Thumb up 2

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    What an awesome resource, especially for being supportive of a greater spectrum of queers who bind. My hs gf and I used to bind a friend some mornings before school and it would have been great for this to have been around for her back then.

  10. Thumb up 3

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    Having been familiar with the organization and it’s founder for a while, I can say from experience that TransActive is an absolutely wonderful organization run by truly dedicated and caring people. Also, this is a great initiative. So support them! Because they rock!

  11. Thumb up 0

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    I applaud the efforts of In A Bind and Transactive and organizations like them.

    Are there similar efforts in place around the world? There should be.

    However, it breaks my heart to see it implied that once again a significant number of the people who benefit from it are in the Midwest. :(

  12. Thumb up 0

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    Thanks for this article! I’ve been looking for a volunteer job locally and was super excited to see that you were here.

    I guess I never really had thought about this need that exists. I’m glad someone else did and they are working to fill the need.

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