“My 13-year-old daughter(?) has recently come out to me as genderqueer, more specifically, as a demigirl. She’s told me that she’s still okay with being referred to with she/her and ‘female’ associated titles, so that’s out of the way. But she tells me that she wants a binder, and while I support her, I don’t want her to hurt herself, and I don’t know what to do.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Jamey Hampton
It’s wonderful that your daughter felt comfortable enough to come to you about this and I’m so happy that you want to be supportive of her. In fact, I love the question mark you put after the word “daughter”—it really shows that you’re being thoughtful of how she wants to be addressed! If she’s said that she’s comfortable with female associated titles, daughter is probably fine…but it never hurts to ask and make sure!
First, let’s start with a quick run-down for any readers who may be unfamiliar. Binding is a technique to flatten the chest and minimize the appearance of breasts. Compression binders are specialized articles of clothing designed specifically for this purpose.
I totally understand your fears about your daughter’s safety: You are her parent, after all! It’s true that binding can be dangerous if done incorrectly. However, the converse is also true—if done smartly and with health concerns in mind, binding can be very safe! Binding can be a huge relief and confidence booster for transgender and genderqueer people who don’t feel comfortable with their bodies. There are lots of stories about youth who don’t have access to proper binders and instead use things like ace bandages or even duct tape to bind; that’s when it can get dangerous and you’ll hear horror stories. Being supportive and working with your daughter to make a plan for her to bind safely will ensure that your daughter doesn’t have to resort to those unsafe practices!
Now for some safety tips! First of all, using a proper compression binder that’s designed for this kind of use is so, so important. It’s also really important to make sure it fits properly. If it’s properly sized, it will feel tight but it won’t compress the rib cage. I recommend the binders from gc2b, which is a really great company that’s targeted specifically toward the transgender community, and they have a great sizing chart on their website. Since your daughter is still growing, it’ll be crucial to periodically make sure it still fits correctly and graduate to larger sizes as needed.
You should know the risks too. I don’t want to scare you, but the main risks associated with binding involve difficulty breathing and the possibility of contracting pneumonia. Don’t worry! The main way she can combat these risks is to be careful about where and how long she wears her binder. I would probably have her start out wearing it in 4 hour blocks and see how she feels. As she gets more comfortable with it, she can wear it for longer, but not for more than 8 hours at a time and never while she’s sleeping or singing. I know some people exercise and swim in their binders but I would recommend against that also, to be on the safe side. A few hard coughs periodically through the day—and especially right after she takes it off—will help loosen up any fluid that might have built up in her lungs.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone’s body is slightly different and can respond to binding in different ways. Speaking as someone who also binds, I know that if I’m ever binding in a way that’s hurting me, my body gives me warning signs and lets me know that something is off. Your daughter knows her body better than anyone else, she just needs to know how to look for those warning signs. If she ever feels “off” while binding, particularly if she’s having trouble breathing or hearing any wheezing or rattling sounds when she takes breaths, she should take her binder off right away! If she still feels wrong after taking it off, play it safe and get checked out by a doctor. Just for the record, this is all the same advice I’d give to anyone who wants to bind, regardless of their age. However, because your daughter is young and still growing, I would just advocate for being particularly careful about it.
By the way, it’s really great that she still feels comfortable with the titles and pronouns she was already using, but I’d like to suggest that you be prepared for the possibility that she might change her mind about how she’d like to be referred to. When people first come out, it’s not uncommon for them to experiment with different pronouns and titles to see which feels the most comfortable. When I first came out to my parents as genderqueer, I told them I wasn’t planning on changing my name and then I ended up doing it anyway about six months later. There is no greater gift that you can give to her than the space to figure herself out, and I think you’re doing a great job already! Good luck!
Jamey is a non-binary adventurer from Buffalo, NY who wishes they were immortal so they’d have time to visit every coffeeshop in the world. They spend most of their time writing code for Agrilyst (an agtech startup in Brooklyn), doing public speaking & advocacy on the transgender experience, making zines, and thinking about Star Wars. More of their work, pictures of their cats and selfies can be found at www.jameybash.com or on twitter at @jameybash.