In an earlier post, I highlighted the “In a Bind” program run by the Portland TransActive Gender Center, an organization headed up by a male-to-female individual named Jenn Burleton. TransActive specifically notes that to be eligible, you must be under age 22, in financial need and/or have an “unsupportive parent.” The free binders are shipped in plain packages. In a 2011 interview, the coordinator of “In a Bind,” Kit Crosland, an adult FTM, had this to say:
“One of our volunteers, Kate Levy, is a mother of a trans child and was thinking about other young trans people and the various struggles they face. She came up with the problem of obtaining binders when you’re young, still in school, and may live with unsupportive parents.”
So Kate Levy felt she had the right to make life-changing decisions for other people’s children, when those parents might have good reasons for putting the brakes on their child obtaining a binder.
I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams deliberately setting up a program to subvert another adult’s parenting decisions. But then, I’m quite certain people like Kate consider a parent’s reluctance to purchase a binder-on-demand to be tantamount to child abuse.
And Kate isn’t the only adult who feels she has the right to meddle in other people’s family lives. Transactive proudly says this on its FAQ pages for In a Bind:
Why does In a Bind focus on youth?
Youth represent the most overlooked members of the trans community.
[Oh, I beg to differ, Burleton, Levy, and Crosland: Youth are the new frontier, the media darlings, with their parent’s book and film deals, the facial product commercials, the breathless profiles in major news outlets like the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Exploited? Yes. Overlooked? Not by a long shot.]
They often don’t have a voice or money of their own. If they don’t have a supportive family and at least moderate financial means, it can be almost impossible for them to obtain a new binder on their own. In a Bind strives to create a feeling of “taking care of our own” within the trans adult community by giving them the opportunity to help these young people.
Of course. Adults who identify as transgender have the perfect right to interject themselves in the lives of kids–kids they know nothing about, apart from the fact that they are identifying as trans. These adults are just taking care of their own–their community. Any child who claims the transgender identity or dysphoria, deserves a binder now, and is automatically inducted into the trans cult–I mean, community–to be mentored by its adult members. Full stop.
Did I miss something? When did the discussion take place in Western societies, wherein we took a vote and agreed that any minor female child who wants a breast binder–a potentially dangerous device meant to start a girl on the road to “transition” to hormones and surgery–should get one, free of charge, no questions asked, with no consultation with or consent from parents or legal guardians? Someone, somewhere decided that a mother or father who has concerns about their gender nonconforming daughter being squeezed in a vice should be cut out of the discussion entirely. How do these adult strangers even know where the child and family are in their process of thinking about gender identity? Has the dysphoria been explored in depth, to make sure a binder is the right step to take?
But it never occurs to these people that some of our children might have got a sudden hankering to “transition” after a brief spate of online gorging on videos posted by other kids. They don’t bother to ask. The “application” process for a binder is as simple as filling out a form.
In this 2012 Autostraddle article, Crosland waxes enthusiastic about the program:
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…”
…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.”
So it is accepted, unquestioningly, that dis-identifying with part of one’s own body because of how it looks has only one solution: disguise it, or get rid of it, one way or the other. Start by strapping it down until you can barely breathe, then move on to cutting it off. Simple, right? Lip service isn’t given for even a moment to the idea that something less radical might be considered.
The MORF free binder scheme in the UK
In Manchester, England, there is an organization called MORF, whose aim, according to its FAQ, is “to provide free binders to all transmen who request them.” MORF states on its home page that the organization is for people age 18+, but it’s unclear whether there is a screening process for binder distribution. It’s worth noting that TransActive links to MORF in its “In a Bind” FAQ, which would certainly imply the UK scheme serves youth.
“Since February 2011, MORF has been redistributing free binders to trans* masculine people all over the UK and around the world. The free scheme (all you pay is the postage) has so far redistributed hundreds of binders in 2014 alone we sent out over 280 binders, and we want to continue giving out as many as possible.”
Like “In a Bind,” MORF assures discretion for its free binder program:
Do I have to give you my legal name/home address?
These groups claim they are doing a service. But what do you think, parents? Should other adults be secretly providing girl children with free devices that compress adolescent breast tissue, risking breathing problems, a collapsed lung or broken ribs, among other health issues–without your knowledge and consent, and with no idea what inner process may have led to the child’s request for the device?
Underworks is one of the main manufacturers of binders in the US. They also sell other undergarments, but with the uptick in business from the ever-increasing stream of YouTube/Tumblr-generated FTMs, they can now support an entire separate website just for FTMs.
The binders range in price from about $28-$35. In addition to breast binders, they have a whole line of other undergarments, including full “binding suits,” binding swim wear, and briefs.
Underworks has a free donation program; they ship to many organizations around the world. Here is Underworks’ self-congratulatory blurb about its donation program:
“why do they insist on Underworks?
because they know they can count on genuine service, an inviting friendly atmosphere, a great binder, but most of all, they can count on us to support them and the community! today, thousands wear a binder donated by Underworks–their first binder...”
we’re about a full life reshaping experience.
Ah, yes. Their first binder! A rite of passage…with many more to come.
The “About” page continues with a series of accolades, most from organizations who acquire these binders for minors–including TransActive and MORF:
“MORF received our binder order yesterday. Thanks for such a speedy service, and thank you very, very much for generously donating to our scheme! We were running low on stock, and have a long waiting list, so you’ve really helped us and our community out. You’re very kind :).
We’ll be sending the binders out to people on our waiting list very soon!
Thank you so much again,”
“We received your generous donation here at TransActive. Thank you so much. We already turned all of the binders around, sent back out to youth on our waiting list who have no way of purchasing one on their own.
Thanks again, what a fantastic gift!”
In a Bind” Project Coordinator”
I want to thank you again for Underworks gracious donation of binders to our Trans Youth Program. Thank you for reaching out to us! Everything at BAGLY is going wonderful; we’re happy to announce that we are expanding our programming to offer a 5 day a week drop-in center for GLBTQ and Allied Youth. I’m also excited to say that we have given out 17 of the binders that Underworks donated to us, including every one of the XSmall, Small, and Medium binders. Our youth are so thankful to Underworks for all of your support!
Please let us know if there is anything else BAGLY can do now or in the future. Underworks has done so much for us and this is the least we can do for you.”
Massachusetts Youth Pride Coordinator
There is another binder manufacturer that appears to be doing well. (For a once vanishingly small group of people, female-to-male transitioners seem to be generating a fair bit of startup business).
Gc2b started out with products for men with gynecomastia, but, like Underworks, the FTM business has expanded enough for a whole new line of business.
Trans* and FtM Customers! We have heard you and designed a dedicated product just for you! Check out our new line of chest binders!
Finally, what post about shopping would be complete without a nod to Amazon? A search for “chest binders” returns 216 hits.
Part 3 of this series will continue with more information about binder “schemes,” as well as a look at some cautionary experiences with breast binders.