First and foremost I wanted to make it clear that I subscribe to the Kate Bornstein School of Harm Reduction in that I strongly believe it is better to do something harmful to yourself than do something more harmful to yourself. I know a lot of trans guys who are really into this product because it has advantages regular binders don't and they do not see top surgery in the near future. No shame, it happens. But I think it's also important to understand the risks, which I feel are being unfairly downplayed.
First, the good stuff.
I had an extreme honeymoon period with this stuff, to the point where I keep thinking "should I try this again?" and having to talk myself out of it. It didn't look good without clothes, but with clothes it was probably the best look I ever had with a binding solution. And it was comfortable. I could breathe in it. I kept telling my roommate how great it was while it was on. Sleeping and showering in it was comfortable. It seemed to withstand the active shit I do (doing karate in it felt fantastic; I normally wear a sports bra for that sort of thing).
There are a couple of health advantages compared to other binding methods, which I'll talk about in the last section. It should be mentioned that I don't use other binding methods anymore, which affects how I feel about this product.
Yeah, the "good stuff" section is super short, but the stuff that was good was really good, hence why I keep considering reneging my decision not to use it again.
But there was way more bad stuff, and some of the bad stuff is... well, really bad. So I hope you'll read this with serious intent and make a really informed decision about it.
It didn't deliver what I had hoped.
I'm going to go from the least bad to the most bad here. The least bad but still bad thing was that all the fantasies I had about being able to go outside topless were pretty obviously not going to happen. It looked weird. On some body shapes this could work fine, but on mine I'm literally better off just not binding at all. Even at a distance... I just couldn't do it.
It is hard to apply, with confusing instructions.
There's an instruction sheet sent with the tape that is supremely confusing, and watching the videos available in combination with it doesn't really help much. The instruction sheet says there needs to be two inches of unstretched tape at each end... but there clearly isn't nearly that much in the video I saw. On the front of the instruction sheet it says IN BOLD LETTERS not to add tension to the tape, then on the back it explains where it should be stretched (Is that the same thing or not? I don't get it.). For what it's worth, I did not stretch it at all.
If you use this I suggest you get something with a light adhesive (like an appropriately sized Band-Aid) to cover your nipples; the instructions suggest things like tissue paper, and this worked but was a pain in the ass to keep in place with breasts the size of mine.
Using this to bind my right breast felt difficult but do-able, but the left was a wrinkled mess and I couldn't figure out any way of changing that. The instructions warned that this could cause irritation, but honestly it didn't (and as you'll see if you read further... there was a lot of irritation). It did, ultimately, make it hard to keep the tape on later.
It was super irritating.
This is the second most bad part... yeah, second most. I have place it in second because I knew the risks here. My TransTape experiment was based on a late night dysphoria-induced purchase that I made after weeks of trying to convince myself not to try it because I have been around and knew what would happen.
This tape was so comfortable while it's on that I didn't notice it was irritating my skin a lot. In fact, it wasn't until a bit rolled up and I saw it was a red wavy mess. I decided to take the rest off, and pulled out the instructions which said we were to soak the tape in oil for around a half hour and then let it fall off naturally. When it finally "fell off naturally," so did several chunks of my skin.
I thought it had just been two chunks from a section that was pulled off too overzealously. "This is my fault, I must have taken it off too fast," I told myself, sheepishly, before re-referring to the instructions, oiling the shit out of it, and playing the waiting game. It was a red mess, sure, but not that bad... until the next day, when I had little scabs all over my breasts, and was itchy everywhere.
My plan to try it again fell through, and continues to look like a worse and worse idea, because it's been irritated for days now. I'm taking care of it, and it'll heal, but it's definitely not something I'll do again.
There is a lot of deception going on in the community about this product.
Again, this doesn't speak to what I went through so much. I knew it was a bad idea when I did it. But going through it and seeing what they send, what they suggest, and what other people are saying on Twitter... there's a lot of misinformation out there about TransTape and a little possibly-willful ignorance, too.
First off, you might be tempted to believe that because this is called "TransTape" and "invented by a trans man" it means that this is better for you than regular old kinesiology tape (KT tape). Because "it's designed for us!" That's only a half truth, though. TransTape is kinesiology tape--it's exactly the same thing--it was just ordered in a size and shape that would better facilitate binding. If you think "gosh this trend of using kinesiology tape sure looks dangerous," realize that TransTape really isn't any better for you.
It's also important to realize that "invented by a trans man" wouldn't mean "good for us" even if it were actually invented start to finish by him. Trans men by this standard also "invented" duct tape binding, ACE bandage binding, and putting minoxidil places minoxidil is not supposed to go.
That said, when people talk about TransTape I don't think they really understand how little the marketing really matters as far as its safety and efficacy are. Some of the commentary I've seen from other trans guys is actually really absurd... yesterday I saw somebody claim that TransTape is safer because kinesiology tape "is supposed to stick to muscles" while TransTape "is designed for the skin." So a lot of people really don't understand how this product was made, or they have weird ideas about how it (and in fact all kinesio tape💮) works.
This isn't a case of a laboratory of trans guys tirelessly looking for safer ways to bind, it's just somebody who was able to order a product that already existed in a size and color that works better for an extremely off-label purpose. It's like if somebody found a supplier of minoxidil, put a label on it saying "TransFoam," and started selling it as a way to grow beards. Sure, the FDA would probably step in on that one, but the point is that "designed by a trans man" doesn't make it safe.
There is also a huge problem in this product's advertising where it downplays the health problems that can result from it and pushes the responsibility onto the people who use it. The website proclaims that the "vast majority" of users never experience skin reactions, which is slightly misleading; it only refers to allergic reactions. A lot of people have skin problems with this stuff... if they didn't, the company wouldn't also sell salves and oils that are designed to mitigate and heal the damage and they wouldn't dedicate so much time to convincing people that the skin tearing and irritation that occurs is a problem of not using it properly rather than an inherent problem with the product itself. If it's ridiculously hard to use it properly and without irritation, is it really a problem of consumer error?
This is a classic business cop-out: Push responsibility for product safety to the consumer so the business doesn't have to deal with it. That's true for small businesses as well as large businesses, we just tolerate it more from small ones because of the gross mythology we have regarding them.
"You just don't want us to have... hope"
So while I was researching for this post I happened on a Tumblr blog that says this:
there hasn’t been a long time to research every effect of this on our bodies, but the same can be said about most things to do with transitioning or just dysphoria-alleviators in general. i’ve seen a few fearmongering anecdotes from self-appointed experts who have nothing to stand on except they have thousands of followers who will believe them, who really don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to this stuff or just want to discourage any kind of hope, which really pisses me off, and it’s up to you to make the informed decision for yourself.I think the best way to describe this one is "a bad point wrapped in a good point" and I'm not picking on just this Tumblr... it's a common set of attitudes.
The good point is this: The things we do to manage dysphoria often are risky. Binders--including the specially made binders we're supposed to use--can be super dangerous, with people getting morphed ribs and shit (in fact, one of the best cases I've seen for using TransTape was a guy who can't bind because he fucked his ribs up too much binding too tight as a teenager). I have a friend who got pneumonia twice and still binds. We do these things because we, as individuals, have come to the conclusion that the risks are worth the rewards.
The bad point is this: Folks advising against tape are doing so because we know what kind of harm it can do already, and watching your whole community throw its whole weight behind something that we know is harmful in ways that are not adequately addressed... well, it fucking sucks.
Here's the reality: People who really go to bat against TransTape and things like it aren't actually stopping people from using it. Folks who are convinced this will change or already has changed their lives are going to rationalize to the death why it's OK anyway.
Finally, I'm not saying that you shouldn't use TransTape. Like I said earlier, TransTape has a few huge safety advantages over other binders in that it doesn't distort your ribs or affect your breathing, and if you're one of the folks who keeps trying to get away with super unsafe shit like sleeping in a binder, then please switch to something like this because you'll be way better off. If I had strong opinions that this is irredeemably unsafe I would have chucked mine instead of giving it to some random person on Twitter.
Just know what risk you're taking and take precautions to mitigate them. That's it.
💮 - For transparency's sake, I'll mention my mom is an occupational therapist and was an early adopter of kinesio tape in the United States so I'm pretty familiar with it.