I had never heard of breast binding in young girls, or even in young women, until I began researching transgenderism and all it entails. Needless to say I was shocked at this practice and the fact that it is considered an acceptable form of treatment for gender dysphoria. For some reason, this particular mutilation hits home more than vaginoplasty and phalloplasty, even though these procedures are just as destructive. It hits me harder than grown women getting masectomies because they want to become men. Perhaps it is the word “binding” and how such action has previously been used to oppress women, whether through corsets, the binding together of female genitalia after cutting, or Chinese foot binding. The difference to many transgenders would no doubt be that girls and women are doing this freely, and it supposedly helps them embrace their gender identity. All the aforementioned acts of binding and restricting were performed by the coercive hand of patriarchy; under queer theory, however, breast binding can supposedly set women free from being limited to the female gender under the patriarchy, and thus is not oppressive. The transgender idealist thus views chest binding as transgressive and empowering as opposed to mutilating because it helps relieve feelings of gender dysphoria, which is now viewed as a precursor to a new gender identity as opposed to a mental health crisis.
Nevermind that with no other mental disorder do we accept mutilation as a form of treatment. I know this for a fact from my own past experiences with self-mutilation when deep into mania or depression. Cutting would make me feel much better, yet I was never encouraged to utilize such a destructive practice for healing. The same goes for anorexics and drug addicts. Their chosen actions help them feel better, but are not considered legitimate pathways to healing. Perhaps if there were some mental health identity movement, cutting and addiction would be considered an important part of your mental health identity. That is certainly why professionals and activists alike continue to give unwavering approval to breastbinding, particularly to preteen and teen girls, despite the horrific physical consequences. Binding is related to trans, which is related to LGBTQIA pride, so it is part of an empowering identity. If you take away the identity aspect, however, breast binding, and the related practices of complete masectomies and hysterectomies for non-cancerous reason, would be viewed as a destructive mental disorder fueled by patriarchal constructs of women’s bodies.
Here is a statement on female genital mutilation from the World Health Organization: “FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girl’s and women’s bodies.”
This exact description can be applied to breast binding in developing girls and young women. The fact that breast binding is supposedly undertaken out of free will does not change the meaning of this definition. I also question the validity of free will when it comes to breast binding. I believe the gender dysphoria leading girls and young women to bind their breats is a result of a deep conflict between the self and the way in which patriarchal society defines women and women’s bodies. Accepting and loving your female body in a society that both oversexualizes the female body and holds it in contempt is a life long, arduous process. Some women, I believe, particularly “gender non conforming” lesbians, seem to be coming to the conclusion it is simply easier to be male. This isn’t so much free will but much more of a response to negative pressure exerted upon the female body – which in its extreme leads to severe mental illness and mutilation.
As our society becomes increasingly pornified, is it any surprise that more and more female minors are choosing to mutilate their specific female body parts instead of growing into a whole, adult woman? This seems particularly true of young tomboys being trust into a world not if their making. I understand that there are boys who wish to have body surgery, but this is a result of an entirely different social dynamic that is not part of a larger, destructive system, the sole purpose of which is for men to control women.
Now, I am not saying that breast binding is as coercive or painful as FGM. What I am saying is that breast binding in girls to prevent the growth of breasts needs to be contextualized on a spectrum within the SAME SYSTEM of FGM – a system which simultaneously shames and objectifies women’s bodies to subordinate women to men.
The female breast in the United States is incredibly and negatively symbolic. It is used to pressure women, particularly large breasted women, into shame about their bodies while simultaneously demanding they be sexualized through push-bras, porn, etc. I have experienced this contradiction as a 36DDD (36F) woman who has been told her whole life to hide her cleavage, all the while surrounded by advertisements of half-naked women. In this context breasts are symbolic of second hand citizenship and sexualization, while on the flipside, small-breasted women are punished for not being sexual enough, regardless of their view of themselves – similar to automatically sexualizing large breasted women, regardless of how they view themselves. Breasts are also considered a part of maternity in our culture – albeit an aspect of maternity to be undertaken in secret, and overall anything “maternal” tends to be dismissed within larger society as weak and second class. Thus, breasts are synonymous with objectification and weakness – which can be then applied to the female reproductive system as a whole.
When looking at pictures of F2T individuals, a common theme among their transitioning is developing muscle and strength. This may seem to go hand in hand with becoming male, but not necessarily. As the rise of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs exemplify, the alpha male of the 21st century does not need to come in muscle form. These young women, often beginning in their teens, are choosing a specific type of masculinity with which to identify – muscle and strength. Lifting weights is such a common them among F2T individuals that even before they transition, they are photographed with the weights sets, showing off their gams.
There is an obvious theme here: girls and young women are attempting to transition to men in order to be viewed as strong. It seems that in order to be strong you simply cannot be female and develop female sexual characteristics. I say attempt because you cannot change your sex and F2Ts can never completely rid themselves of female attributes. Scar lines hint at the past existence of breasts. Pictures of phalloplasties reveal slim hands and female-shaped thighs. In one picture subtitled “I am a dude!,” the female torso was still present despite the lack of breasts.
There is also a hateful theme in F2T narratives towards female bodies. Many F2T talk about feelings of disgust towards their bodies from a very young age, of feeling a virtual horror at the signs of female sexual maturity. The fastest growing demographics of F2T individuals are girls at the early stages of puberty who have not previously exhibited signs of gender dysphoria. In other words, these girls were fine with themselves until they began developing characteristics related to being female – characteristics which will define them as weak, sexualized, objectified, and inferior. And these same girls, instead of being encouraged to turn to feminism to fight female stereotypes, are encouraged with hormones and breast binders to simply become male.
This sexaulization, objecification,and presumed inferiority is why many, MANY women feel some sort of shame, disgust, or disconnect with their bodies, especially when hitting puberty. The problem with trans ideology is not only is it inherently destructive, particularly to the female body, but it also ignores similar feelings of dysphoria felt by women not interested in transitioning. Even today I wonder how I got stuck with such a curvy female body, particularly such large breasts, when in no way do I relate to stereotypical female sexual stereotypes. I like feeling strong and athletic, and in fact have a set of free weights in my basement. Sometimes, when I think of my progress in benchpressing, my ability to carry a lawnmower, I also think of how strangely female my body is. The two just don’t seem to match. I remember a desire to be a boy when I hit puberty because, quite frankly, it was much more desirable to be male than female, and I was going from a tomboy into a very curvy, sexual teen.
In the past, as I hit puberty and began to equate my body to oversexualized and harassed female adults, I felt disgust and humiliation. I saw myself going from a strong androgynous youth to a woman, and all the weak and sexual stereotypes that follow. Once, after being stalked on my way home in high school, I threw a softball at my mirror with the angry feeling that I had been betrayed by my body.
Luckily for me, however, there was feminism, and queer theory had yet to spread its tentacles into social identity movements.
It took me years, but I have integrated my body into my ideal of myself: strong, independent, and powerful. I have witnessed other women struggle with this perception, including women who arrived at my past retail job looking for bras after having breast reductions – and none of these reductions were due to backpain. The reductions were performed due to an unwelcomed type of attention, particularly from men. Many of these women described being self-conscious and embarrassed, even disgusted, by their breasts, and they were relieved when their breasts were finally reduced. It is the same basic language used by F2Ts, only less extreme. Body shame and disgust at being female are not exclusive to F2Ts. Thus, such shame and disgust cannot and should not be attributed to some inner identity of being male, trans, or born in the wrong body. Breast binding by females, young girls in particular, needs to be contextualized and understood to be part of the same patriarchal system of womanhood as breast enhancements, vaginoplasties, and FGM. Where as those specific procedures are being undertaken by or forced upon women and girls in attempts to be able to conform to – and thus not be in conflict with – the patriarchy, breast binding undertaken to prevent female development is an attempt to hide from the patriarchy. How can one feel strong and powerful when their very body defines them as weak, submissive, and sexual? I believe that this is compounded for lesbians who not only more often fall outside of gender expectations but also fall outside of heteronormative standards of sexuality. This could explain the high representation of lesbians among F2Ts. For heterosexual women attempting to attract mates, it may be worth a gamble to conform and thus accept bodily shame, disgust, and mild dysphoria as normal. For lesbians, there is a huge potential for an even stronger body/ self disconnect, thus a potential for even more extreme dysphoria – leading many to transition as progress in women’s rights and freedom backslides into pornography and enforced reproduction. But I do believe that transitioning is increasing in straight women, and I wonder how many young girls binding their breasts are straight. I see many “before” pictures of F2T individuals who were incredibly gender conforming and don’t necessarily talk about a lesbian orientation. Because truthfully, straight or lesbian, we all are influenced by the same factors in patriarchy, albeit with both individual and class differences (taking into account being masculine lesbian, a woman of color, etc.).
I myself, for example, am neither trans nor a lesbian, but I am a FEMALE and as such do receive the same degrading messages that bombard all women in society – which I believe cause women, particularly lesbians, to wish to transition to men. This is why we cannot get rid of women as a class. This is why we cannot claim that female biology is a construct, or claim that F2M are actually men, or were “born in the wrong body.” None of this is empowering to women, even if it relieves feelings of dysphoria. We need to stop conflating relief with empowerment. We need to stop substiting descriptions of trauma, disgust, and shame in ALL women’s life narratives, but particularly those of F2T, with empowered narratives of gender identity, including “non binary” descriptions of heterosexual women wishing to use the pronouns “they.” It isn’t just living as a masculine woman that is difficult in our society (although it can be harder); it is difficult living as ANY female in our society. Breast binding, particularly among young, developing girls, is thus a symptom not of a gender identity, but of an extreme reaction to the pressure of patriarchy that so effectively can split a female’s sense of self worth from her body – leading her to reject her body altogether. Although not as extreme as FGM, breast binding in young girls and women reflects the same hatred of the female body so often characteristic of patriarchal societies. Breast binding physically harms and, in the long term, mentally harms females by upholding this hatred of female bodies – thus upholding a core component of maintaining the patriarchy. Because in the process of harming women, breast binding also absolves the patriarchy of the harm it inflicts on women by providing the delusion that such oppression can be escaped through the proper individual actions – and thus implying that female oppression is inevitable.