My enby teen, now 14, started binding earlier this year — March, 2020 — and then, The Pandemic. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We paced through the necessary appointments with C.’s health care team:
Therapist — check! Given the mental health benefits of binding, and C.’s therapist’s deep experience working with trans youth, this appointment was a gimme. Score one for binding.
Family Practice — check! However, I was rather disgruntled by this appointment. I’d anticipated that our beloved cis/het/fem family practice doc (Dr. W.) might not have all the info, so about a week ahead of time, I provided an assortment of credible info about binding. This is new territory for most, and I didn’t expect her to be fully up to speed. To my horror, Dr. W. delivered a stream-of-consciousness monologue projecting onto C. all kinds of assumed thoughts about their dysphoria, a speech that deteriorated into the many ways one can approach binding — such as the use of Ace bandages, or even duct tape. This is precisely the sort of misinformation I was hoping to avoid.
We got the hell out of there, and I proceeded to deconstruct what Dr. W. said. C. was already wise to the inadvisability of duct tape and bandages, so, one could argue, no harm done. And yet we did not acquire new information about potential physical impacts of binding, which is an opportunity cost.
Trans-gender Medicine — check! Our Trans+ parent support group was indignant about our experience with Dr. W. It was practically malpractice as far as our they were concerned. K., our trusted group leader, encouraged us to visit Dr. J., a new physician in our area who specializes in transgender care. My most basic hope from Dr. J. was that he might provide some information about proper fit, how long to wear the binder, when not to wear the binder, and so on. Instead we got an introduction to hormone blockers and the steps leading to fully transitioning from female to male through phalloplasty. As we were leaving Dr. J.’s office, C. — who does not actually wish to have a penis and who simply wants to bind their chest— asked, “Why did we come here again?”
Having exhausted the resources available to us, I reviewed the situation with my partner — C.’s dad. We decided to move ahead. We ordered the binders from gc2b, the gender affirming apparel company that is trans- owned and operated. Gc2b is also viewed by the Trans community as having the highest quality binders with the best outcomes — for mind and body. Which is what C. told us in the first place. We as parents just had to go through our own process to arrive at the same conclusion.
C. took measurements — following the sizing instructions on gc2b— and we decided on an extra small “half,” one of the 3 available styles, to start. Incidentally, there are also 5 “nude-to-you” skin tones to choose from. We ordered one so C. could make sure it was the right fit. It arrived in an unassuming brown paper mailer, the garment wrapped in tissue paper. The enclosed cards and stickers adorned with gender-affirming, body-positive encouragements called to mind a care package. Now why had we agonized over the whole thing again?
C. went straight to their room to try it on. Our child emerged beaming and solemnly promised not to exceed the maximum recommended 8 hours a day, and never to sleep in it — or exercise in it (not really a problem since C. doesn’t really exercise, but that’s another story). I ordered 3 more in the same size to make it easy to rotate them out — like most intimate apparel, the gc2b binders call for washing on a gentle cycle and line drying.
At first, C. resolved not to appear in public without the binder. However, “in public” became largely irrelevant with onset of the pandemic. In our state, within a month we were sheltering in place. There were a few, small outdoor events toward the end of the school year — C. graduated from middle school in the spring — and the binder angst was eclipsed by proper mask fit. C. obsessed over making sure their mask passed the candle test, was gap free and didn’t pinch their ears.
We now have a socially distanced summer behind us and C. started high school in September — entirely online. They surprised me recently by requesting the next size up in a bra. “Sometimes my dysphoria isn’t that bad,” they explained. For those occasional in-person gatherings and outings— outdoors, socially distanced, masked— C. tends to choose the binder.
Those occasions have been few and far between, and now our home state has started a new 4-week dial back period as the spread of corona virus worsens in our area: No social gatherings between members of different households indoors or out. C. rotates through regular bras, sports bras, binders, and (presumably) none-of-they-above in the privacy of our home.
For the time being, the biggest challenge is simply keeping track of all the undergarments in the extreme clutter of their bedroom followed by making sure they are regularly washed. I would never have wished for the isolation this pandemic is imposing on our new high school student. Yet I can’t help but be a little bit thankful for this silver lining: a time for C. try on options based on how they feel about their own body rather than on how others will perceive it.