You Need Help: People Are Nosy About Your Binder

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try. 


Q: I want to start binding (or at least trying it out) and have been thinking about it for a while. It’s been a gradual decision but I’ve always been aware that my chest does not belong to my body the way I see it. I’m afraid my mom will throw it back in my face as she does with the “but promise me you won’t dress like a man” comments.

When I read your article about the GC2b and looked at their website, that was the first time I thought that I really could purchase a binder and feel like myself. But I keep not purchasing one because I’m trying to work through what it would be like to feel like myself but my family couldn’t wrap their heads around it. That feels really dumb once it is typed out, but it is true.

I guess all of this is to ask if you are/have had to work through other people’s perceptions around binding and/or if you have suggestions on how to navigate the conversations with people who you care for and support most of you but will struggle with the decision to bind.


A: Hello, friend! I feel like there is a definite answer here in a way that there isn’t usually when I answer people’s questions. First off, you asked if I’d ever had to deal with other people’s reactions to my binding. And my very short answer is: not really. At least, not the way you’re asking. Most reactions I’ve had have been from the queer community because, well, I write about my underwear on the internet and that’s who reads it. Reactions there have been mostly, “oh, you bind? I didn’t know people who weren’t trans also wore binders, maybe I too can try a binder because that sounds like something I would like to do.” But when it comes to my family and friends, they haven’t really said a word.

That is because if they did, they would be having a conversation with me about my underwear. And that is not socially graceful.

Clearly I think I'm hilarious. Via Mashable

Clearly I think I’m hilarious. Via Mashable

Now don’t get me wrong; there are friends that I have always and will always talk about my underwear with, and I am not a subtle person in general. So we’ve had conversations about my underwear. But they have mostly been along the lines of “can you see this black binder through this grey teeshirt?” and “are these boxers cute or am I suffering from pattern overload and cannot accurately assess this situation?” (the answer to that second one is usually, yes, gosh, those are ugly, are you even looking at them, what is wrong with you). I believe at one point I asked a fellow Autostraddle staff member to pull my binder down in the back because I got stuck in it. Once my mother asked me if I was trans, but that was more because of my overall presentation and less about what I do or do not wear under my clothes. I said no, she said okay and the conversation was over; I think we were in the car? I don’t know, I don’t really remember the conversation because it was a blip.

But in general, it’s not really cool for family, friends and acquaintances to have feelings about your undergarments, and if they do they should probably keep it to themselves. Personally, my peeps have been quite good about this.

You wouldn’t have written me, however, if your friends and family hadn’t given you cause to worry about this, right? Well then, here is my advice in this matter. I want you to practice saying the following: “Are you really asking me about my underwear right now?” With most people, this will stop them. Very fast. Because then they will realize what they are doing. If they continue, you can follow up with some variation on: “I prefer to only discuss my underwear with someone I am dating.” or “I don’t really care to talk about my underwear with anyone.”

And if they persist? Turn-about is fair play. Begin to ask them questions about their underwear: where they purchase it, how much it costs, what color it is at this very moment, what material it is made out of, what it makes their butt or boobs or junk look like; just go ahead and ask away, because they are clearly giving you permission to ask them these questions. Hopefully this makes them feel silly enough that they stop. If it doesn’t, I highly suggest the, “I am no longer participating in this conversation” tactic. It is tried and true and signals that there is no potential for continuing this conversation. Either change the subject, walk away, hang up the phone, or use any other conversation ender you’d like because FOR THE LOVE OF LESBIAN JESUS, DO THEY NOT KNOW YOUR UNDERWEAR IS YOUR BUSINESS AND YOURS ALONE?

Now it sounds like you might want to be a spot nicer than I might want to be, in which case you can answer with “my decision to bind has to do with how my body feels best in clothes. If it begins to mean anything else to me that affects the way you relate to and talk to me, you’ll be the first one to know because I care about you and like to share things with you. Until then WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME QUESTIONS ABOUT MY UNDERWEAR.” Sorry. Apparently I can’t turn that off. Because why. Why do they care what you are doing with your chest?

I think the most important thing I want to tell you, though, is not to let other people’s reactions keep you from trying things out with clothes and, yes, binders that you think will make you feel and look good. Really liking how you look and feel in clothes is something I feel gets underestimated in many narratives as “fluffy.” But it’s not! It’s actually really important and can affect your confidence and how you move through the world. So go do the thing! Buy the binder! And if your friends and family insist on continuing to talk to you about your underthings, direct them here so that they may read, straight from me to them:

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU WHY ARE YOU STRIKING UP CONVERSATIONS WITH THIS LOVELY HUMAN ABOUT HER UNDERWEAR DO YOU WALK ONTO THE SUBWAY AND DO THAT OR MAYBE JUST HEAD TO YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY AND BEGIN ASKING PATRONS ABOUT THEIR UNDERWEAR WHY DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GET TO KNOW ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR PERSON’S UNDERWEAR?

Ahem. Go get ’em, friend.


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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 529 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. HI! NONE OF MY FRIENDS/FAMILY ARE SOCIALLY GRACEFUL!! Everyone asked about it once,I brushed them off or explained about shirt choice, depending, and then they never brought it up again. So, still not awful long term.

    New queers I make out with ask, too, but mostly to see if I’m cool with removing/touching or not. Also not awful long term.

    Also just the second half of this article http://www.autostraddle.com/you-need-help-binding-and-stretching-106516/ It doesn’t have to mean anything, unless it does obvs.

  2. what about non-verbal asking about your binder a.k.a. someone STARING at the front of your shirt for an uncomfortable amount of time, repeatedly, but not actually saying anything. someone = co-worker; casual acquaintance. because for some ppl binding will be a change in their outward appearance that will raise ppl’s curiosity and they will try to figure it out on their own. by STARING.

    • When people stare at me for any reason, I like to go with a snarky “can I help you?” Either they will be too embarrassed by being called out to continue staring, or they will actually ask a question that you can answer as you please.

    • I’ve found when people are staring like that it’s because they’ve noticed something is different about an appearance but they can’t figure out what exactly. Their internal monologue is probably “new haircut? I don’t think so? Maybe it’s new glasses? Or maybe it’s just a new shirt?”. (I say this because I’ve gotten asked if it’s a new haircut or new shirt when I’ve worn my binder a couple times but nobody has figured out that it’s the binder that’s different about my appearance.)

      Which doesn’t make the staring less rude, but maybe that will help you feel better about it?

  3. This is such good advice. I’ve been curious about binding for a while as well, but have held off on it for many of the same reasons as the person who submitted this question. I’ve always been afraid that when people asked about my sudden lack of boobs I would have to explain in detail all my complicated feelings about my gender and presentation. I don’t even have all that stuff figured out yet so how am I supposed to explain it to someone else? It sounds silly but I never really considered the fact that my underwear choices aren’t anyone else’s business and I don’t actually owe them an explanation.

  4. It can be difficult to wrap your head around, but in the long run, your comfort is far more important than anyone’s discomfort about how you are running your life. Get a binder and practice some snappy comebacks to rude questions!

  5. When I first started binding I was a little nervous about how people that saw me everyday would react. I thought maybe they would immediately notice the change in body shape and ask about it. No one did. But to help ease into it for myself when I first started wearing a binder I wore it under sweatershirts and slightly looser clothing, the extra material and layers made it less obvious. Once I was comfortable with wearing it in general is was easy to wear it with tighter shirts.

  6. I was surprised by how few people comment when I wear my binder. For the most part, people don’t really seem to notice. It probably helps that I am not the most well-endowed human in the chest department?

    • I’ve also found that almost nobody comments, even though the binder makes a pretty big difference for me. And if someone who I don’t want to talk about that with does mention how flat my chest is (like my parents, maybe, or old friends? Barely happens) I just say I’m wearing a tight sports bra. Seems like most people don’t know any better and that ends the conversation. Honestly, I’ve found that even if someone sees it they don’t blink if I call it a sports bra.

  7. (For me no one has commented. Some people have asked me questions about genera identity in general but I don’t know if that’s because I bind of because I’m generally male presenting or if it’s because I know too much about trans issues or what.)

    Okay, I have a concern regarding this area.

    So, I have a G2BC binder which I don’t always use all that much because I really love oversized hoodies and most people can’t tall what my chest looks like and all those warnings and stuff have made me worried about wearing it, but I like having it and I like to wear it for special occasions or when it’s too hot to wear a hoodie.

    Okay, so all of that was unnecessary information, but basically I’ve been questioning my gender and I have this binder.

    Only, I don’t know where it is. (I’m terrible of keeping track of things.) I thought it was in my laundry basket, but then I gave my laundry basket to my dad to clean, and only after all the stuff had been through the dryer did I remember I had a binder in there. So, that would suck because it would ruin the binder. (I just hope my dad didn’t recognize it, I’m not out to him. He hasn’t mentioned it though, so…)
    Except I can’t find it in that laundry? I don’t think I left it anywhere else, I definitely worse it recently? What if my dad did recognize it and took it? What if my dad read the label or something and took it to the dry cleaners? Is that what it says on the label? If so, then I guess that’s cool, but how would I bring this up? Also I’m going on a trip soon, and I like to bring my binder on trips in case I need it.

    Hopefully I just left it somewhere but… anyone have any advice? Should I ask my dad about it? If so, what do I say? “Hey, have you seen a weird, small half tank-top thing recently?”

    • My advice would be to act totally casual and say ‘hey, have you seen my crop top?’ If your dad is like most dads, he will not know much about what the hip young crowd wear nowadays, and you can tell him that a crop top is like a short tank top, and that you haven’t seen it since laundry day. There is no way anyone without an in-depth knowledge of binders can make a difference between a GC2B and any other kind of clothing of the same shape. That way, if your dad saw it somewhere, or if he’s hoarding your binder for some strange reason, you have a large amount of plausible deniability that anything queer is going on. Hope you find it!

    • The GC2B binder has the excellent advantage of being made by an offshoot of a sports company, and so is made with a delightfully wicking material that can totally pass as a sports bra. What does your dad know about sports bras. Ask him if he’s seen your sports bra, and when he asks how to describe it say “oh it’s like half a compression tank top with sturdy straps. I was hoping to go to the gym today but I can’t find it…”

      I over-elaborate, I’m terrible at covering stuff up. Don’t take my advice. But tl;dr is that your dad should believe it’s an essential piece of sportswear for women. Or you can just call it your compression top.

      Good luck!!

    • So, it turns out my dad did take no notice of it, he just put it in a load of whites because it’s white. Tam and rhyme river were totally right, thanks for the advice even though I ended up not needing it (I found it in the dryer).

      Now I just need to see if it still works, because I’ve heard you’re not supposed to put binders through the washer and dryer. I can probably get another one if it doesn’t.

      • It should be fine. It might just be a little looser than it was before. I’ve heard of people using the dryer to loosen up too-tight binders, and it’s fine! Just, like, don’t make a habit of it :)

  8. Honestly I also like others who’ve commented was really nervous at first when I originially started binding, but then like I asked my roommate and no one really pays attention tbh like I remember it got brought up once among my group of friends and because I was curious, because my binder honestly makes a pretty huge difference, and everyone had thought I was just wearing a serious sports bra
    in a totally different sense though when I moved back home this summer and whenever I went back on breaks I was completely unable to bind due to the fact that my om would always make some really nasty comment about me “trying to look like a boy” or whatever and I just was never really I guess brave enough or could figure out a good enough reply, maybe one day I’ll figure that out lmao

  9. I think the distress of knowing people noticed (how could they not when my DDs seemingly got sucked into my chest cavity, nowhere to be found?) was worse than the distress of having boobs. Even if they didn’t ask, I could tell they were looking. People aren’t very subtle. I started avoiding my roommate/friend when that happened. It did not help anything.

  10. I have GGs and have fantasized since I got them about how amazing a smaller bust would be. I hate my boobs, but I have no problem with having a female-contoured chest — it’s just way too damn enormous. I daydream about wearing button-up shirts, about my boobs not being the first thing people see when they look at me. “Minimizer” bras do nada.

    Does anyone else have a huge chest, and also experience with binders? Like what would it do, would it even do anything? I am so hesitant even to ask because I don’t want to “appropriate” the idea of binders, or the binder conversation, for femme and/or cis women or anything, but I just really wonder what the experience would be like of truly minimizing these things that have ruled my life for like twenty years.

    • I am definitely in the same boat. Mostly the female contoured chest doesn’t bother me, but some days I just want nothing to do with it.

      I would love to hear people’s thoughts about minimizing a large bust.

  11. I don’t bind all that often, but I never wear cup bras, so effectively all of my friends have asked/commented on my bralessness. Usually multiple times, and recently with free the nipple jokes. My general response is “bras are uncomfortable and expensive,” and if it’s a guy and I’m feeling antagonistic, “why don’t *you* wear a bra?”
    Basically I treat it like a normal and completely sane choice, and after some initial confusion people learn to agree with me. My family doesn’t comment on it, but they’re Southern, so they’re all about being cordial to your face and judgmental behind your back, so I don’t know what they really think.

  12. Hi. I see a lot of conflict on how to wear your binder? I remember gc2b telling me not to adjust my chest after I put it on but I see a lot of articles saying to move your chest up/to the sides. I just want to know what’s most healthy for my chest.

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