in a bind: controversy and contact around the world.

Posted: March 8, 2012 by Carly Bea in Uncategorized

Although the group I am in focuses primarily on issues to do with sexual identity and sexualities in general, I thought I would do something a bit different by instead shifting my attention to a more gendered issue: in this case, an object.

The concept of chest binding is not a very new one – Joan of Arc, a French revolutionary, incorporated this technique as a way to pass as a male soldier. However, binders themselves are a relatively new product (One company, T-Kingdom, has been around since 1999), invented out of the desires of some individuals to minimize the appearance of the chest they currently have. When worn correctly and in the right size, they are arguably the safest way to bind – much better than ace bandages and the like. That being said, binders can still cause physical discomfort, especially back pain, and should not be worn for extended periods of time.

While it is true that some individuals transitioning from female to male may use a binder, this is certainly not their only purpose. Some may wear one for comfort, a drag performance, or simply aesthetics (which has sparked some controversy, but more about this later).  For people who experience dysphoria and feel as though their female body is wrong, a binder may help to alleviate some of this discomfort.  Because there are people all over the world who use these products, demand has increased on a global scale, and new companies are springing up in a variety of countries.

How many times have you wanted to order a product online only to find out that it is either unable to be shipped to your country, or that the cost of shipping and handling is outrageous?  It’s happened to me, and I can only imagine the frustration someone might feel if they felt they needed a binder to be more comfortable in their body, but one was not available in their area. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that binders are becoming available in an increasing number of countries worldwide.

LoveBoat, a company established in March 2005, boasts that they are the first “fashion and lifestyle shop for the queer community in Taiwan.” Along with binders, they offer unisex clothing, erotic toys, and books.  They have a wide variety of merchandise, including zip-up, swimwear, and Velcro binders, all of which are available online and in the store, located in Taipei City, Taiwan.  The wording on this site was more inclusive than I have seen on some: the authors acknowledged that there are people who are not necessarily FTM-identified who still may wish to bind.

Danaë, a company owned and operated by a transman in the Netherlands, was created to help people in Europe save on shipping costs. Their website states that their products are marketed towards “people who always or occasionally, in whole or in part, want to experience what it’s like to have the appearance of the opposite sex” (ibid). Again, it is nice that this does not simply say “for trans men” or “for FTM’s”.  The introductory paragraph goes on to say that people who cross-dress, participate in drag, or just want to dress up are welcome to purchase their products.

Another company, T-Kingdom, states, “people bind their breasts for different needs, some for good looks, some for gender identification, and some for sense of security” (ibid). Along with offering a variety of binders and a how-to guide, they ship globally, and state that they will mail a product to any country:

regular registered airmail:
around 5~12 days to asia
around 7~14 days to America (weekends excluded)
around 7~14 days to Europe (weekends excluded)
around 7~12 days to Oceania (weekends excluded)

So, what does this all mean? With the option to ship to any country, those with adequate monetary resources will, hopefully, be a bit more comfortable in their bodies, or at least have a new piece of clothing and way of expression to experiment with. In addition, companies such as LoveBoat in Taiwan make the Queer community more visible by having a physical store in addition to an online one.  Stores such as these in different countries send the message that it is acceptable to identify as LGBTQ, or even just express gender in a nontraditional way.

On a separate, but related note, the concept of chest-binding has become more prevalent and noticeable in other ways. Lady Gaga’s opening the 2011 VMAs with a drag performance as her “alter-ego,” Jo Calderone, sparked much discussion and even some controversy. Quite a few people in the audience were stunned, and others, in the blogging community, were less than enthused. She was criticized for “fetishisizing trans* bodies” and promoting a type of binding that can be rather unsafe. Although Lady Gaga is not wearing an actual binder, her performance is relevant because it was seen by millions of people around the world, and she herself is a global icon. While I can definitely understand some people not finding her performance or drag persona appealing, it does not seem to me to be inherently oppressive or appropriating.  Gaga asserted that she was merely interested in “all the different people we can become or have become in the past.” Of course, Lady Gaga isn’t perfect, I’m certainly not her biggest fan, and she has done a few less than admirable things (in my opinion). However, her performance showed the world that binding is not only for one group of people. It is for anyone who wishes to temporarily alter their body for whatever reason – be it body dysphoria, dressing up, passing as another gender, or doing a drag performance. The prevalence of chest binders on the internet in an increasing number of countries seems to me to be a step in the right direction – that of tolerance and allowing people to be more comfortable and happy with themselves.

What do you think of products such as these being available in a wider variety of places, and do you think it is a good thing? Why do you think some people feel as though only certain groups should be allowed to use these products?

Thanks for reading!

-Carly

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