By Charlie Lewis - July 2023
There are many ways to bind one's breasts to achieve the appearance of a flatter, or differently shaped chest. Recently, companies have begun creating tapes specifically for this purpose, generally referred to as trans tape or binding tape. These tapes are used especially by members of the transgender community for binding, tucking, and packing, to achieve gender euphoria and combat dysphoria. This guide will walk you through the pros/cons, uses, and types of trans/binding tape.
Note to the readers: This article is not intended to provide health/medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This article is also not sponsored any binding tape brand/manufacturer.
What is Trans Tape?
Trans tape is a relatively newer term used to refer to body suitable tape used for chest-binding, though it can be used for many needs including tucking and packing. Unlike traditional binding garments such as binders/compression garments, trans tape is generally easier to customize to the body and needs of the individual, and some might find it more comfortable or affordable than other options for binding. It also avoids using compression to achieve the appearance of a flat chest. It can also be worn for longer periods than a binder can before removal.
These trans-specific tapes are a slightly altered version of kinesiology tape (known as KT tape), which is marketed for use on muscles to aid the body in healing from and preventing injuries. KT tape is made to adhere to the body using a body suitable adhesive, can stretch while holding things in place, and is resistant to sweat and water. This has long made it an ideal choice for doctors to give to patients, especially those practicing sports medicine.
Though KT tape has been used “off-label” by transgender people for quite a while, some users found the tape wasn’t as ideal for their needs as it could be. With this in mind, several businesses have taken the chance to redesign this product to create a body suitable tape that is made specifically with binding, and the diverse needs of the transgender community, in mind.
Who Needs/Uses Trans Tape?
Trans tape can be used by many people for several purposes. It can be used similarly to other body tapes for things like packing and tucking, which are processes most often used by trans people to change the outward appearance of the genitals to assist with dysphoria. However, trans tape’s main use is to bind breast tissue to give the chest a flatter or more masculine appearance.
That being said, using trans tape for chest binding does not mean it is only for those who identify as FTM, or even those who are trans-masculine. Women, athletes, cis men with gynecomastia, and non-binary folks are all categories of people who make use of this product. Whether for reasons of gender affirmation, comfort in certain clothing, or during exercise. The ability to move and hold chest tissue in a particular position, without the constriction or compression of other forms of binding, is something many people find beneficial.
Trans tape has traditionally been considered most effective for those with smaller chests, as it technically has less flattening ability than a binder. While those with different chest sizes and body types have varied experiences binding with trans tape, the ability to create the size/shape binding product you need, makes it an accessible choice for those who struggle using traditional binders.
I sat down with Beau, a trans man who began as a trans tape user several years ago. Beau spoke on his experience of putting himself out there as a fat person to help others learn how to bind properly when there wasn’t much guidance for using trans tape.
“When I first started using trans tape, there were no tutorials. There was no one fat, I was the fat guy. So, it was really cool to need someone that looked like me and then figure out my way of applying the tape, and then being that person, and that feels awesome.”
After posting online about his experience using trans tape, Beau was discovered on Instagram by binding tape manufacturer TransTape, and he began to model the product officially. He is now the customer relations manager for the brand.
Pros & Cons of Using Trans Tape
Pros of Using Trans Tape
There are several benefits that come with using tape to bind especially compared to alternatives. One of the biggest benefits is that trans tape uses tension, rather than compression, to hold and flatten breast tissue. This means there is virtually no risk of musculoskeletal damage to the ribs and chest muscles.
Those who find binding with a compression binder difficult due to chest size, sensory issues, and respiratory conditions such as asthma, can use trans tape to bind comfortably. KT tape/trans tape can also be worn for up to 5 days without needing to be changed or removed and can be worn while swimming and showering.
Trans tape also allows for binding while wearing an open shirt, and can be less visible/obvious to others that you are binding, which means you can wear tighter clothing than you might be able to with traditional binding garments.
As a past user of the product (he received top surgery earlier this year), Beau shared how using tape to bind became a very positive experience.
“Personally— I haven't used binders in five years. As someone with severe asthma, that constriction just is not healthy, or safe for me. Finding trans tape was a game changer. I could finally bind…It makes hugs better. You can feel someone's skin. You can go swimming without a shirt on. And yeah, you'll get rectangular tan lines, but it's cool.”
Cons of Using Trans Tape
Alongside the benefits, there are drawbacks to binding with trans tape. Be aware of these risks before using trans tape, and know what warning signs to look out for if things are going wrong. Trans tape should never be wrapped around the chest, as this causes compression and can pose serious risks.
The main risk of using trans tape is skin damage. Different brands use different adhesives, so it’s good to confirm what is in them before use, especially if you have any known allergies or sensitivities to adhesives. A test strip will help to determine your sensitivity.
Another risk of skin damage from trans tape is improper stretching of the skin/tape. When skin is pulled aside and the tape is too taut, it overstretches the skin and causes too much friction. This causes friction burns and damage to the skin, including blisters. Watch application tutorials for people with your chest size, to give you an idea of the right technique.
I also spoke with Matt, a trans male artist from Poland, who shared with me his less-than-positive experience using trans tape, due to his sensory issues.
“Last year at Pride I tried binding tape. I'm not the biggest fan. I have some sensory issues and it's worse than wearing a binder. For me, it was worse to have sticky stuff on my skin. I couldn't take it off after I applied it wrong. It was a miserable three, or four days when this glue residue was still on me.”
How to Properly Use/Apply Trans Tape
Though it has many uses, the following application guide focuses on using trans tape and athletic tape for chest binding.
Testing should be done every time you acquire tape from a new company, or when a company changes its adhesive/materials. This mitigates a large-scale reaction to the chemicals used in the creation of the tape, which could temporarily leave you unable to bind, or with injury to your skin due to improper use.
Begin with clean, dry skin. Trim but do not shave hair, and find a part of your body where you can comfortably wear a patch of tape for 24-48 hours. Cut a 2”x2” patch of tape, and apply it to the skin without tension (do not stretch the tape, simply stick it to your skin like a bandaid.)
Wait 24-48 hours before removing, according to the removal guidelines for the tape.
If you begin to feel extreme discomfort, more than slight itching, or pain, remove it immediately and consider consulting with your doctor before re-attempting the use of trans tape/medical adhesives.
The application process for trans tape will be slightly different depending on the amount of breast tissue you start with. All users are recommended to begin in a good head-space, and when you have lots of time be patient with yourself and try things out.
Begin by using a nipple cover, it is never recommended to apply trans tape directly to your nipples. You can use pasties, or bandages, or even create one using a strip of trans tape and a small square of toilet paper, which should be applied without tension or stretching.
Then it is time to prep the tape. Begin by cutting all pieces down to the size needed, the tape will stretch quite a bit so it’s ok to go shorter than you think you need. Different brands may have different measurement systems, but TransTape brand recommends starting with 3-4 sections. Once cut, round the edges, and create handles for yourself by ripping the backing paper in the center. This will leave it looking like a large band-aide, allowing you to put it on one side at a time without touching the adhesive with your hands.
Imagine yourself wearing a V-neck t-shirt. Avoid putting the tape in the area inside the V, which will give your chest the flattest appearance, and allow you to avoid having your tape showing if you so choose.
Remove one side of the backing. Apply the first two inches of tape in the center of your chest where your breast tissue begins. Massage the tape into the skin, activating the adhesive. Hold the tape taught, not causing it to wrinkle. Then line up your chest tissue so it will all be tucked under the tape. You may need multiple strips of tape to achieve this if you have a larger chest.
Guide your tissue to the side, flattening it. Once you find a comfortable place for it to rest, remove the backing and apply the trans tape flat and without any tension. Give it a good rub to activate the adhesive.
Always remove using body oil or some other form of lubricant. This could be something purchased directly from the manufacturer of your trans/binding tape, some brands will have their own line of removal and repair products for this purpose, or simple baby oil purchased from the drug store. This allows the adhesive to dissolve while conditioning your skin. Keep in mind that the longer it’s been attached the stronger the bond will be.
You can start by covering the tape and surrounding skin with a layer of oil, and allowing it to soak in for several minutes before beginning removal.
It is advised to begin with the top layer of tape, and slowly peel from the inner corner, or the one in the middle of your chest as opposed to on the outside of your body. Ensure your hands are coated in oil, and massage the oil into the tape as you go, one strip at a time.
After successful removal, use the oil to massage the tissue which was covered by the tape. This will help to re-introduce moisture and help supply blood flow to the area.
Tips on Using Trans Tape
For many, using KT tape or other brands of trans/binding tape for the first time might be an overwhelming experience. Unless you are an athlete chances are you’re new to the sensation of having tape on your body for long periods. Take a moment to breathe, and allow yourself space to adjust to the sensation and the potential benefits and drawbacks it may bring.
It’s a learning curve and it involves getting to know your own body well, which can be a challenge when you have dysphoria. Practice will be your biggest step towards successfully binding with trans tape. It bears repeating that using a test strip allows you to get a feel for the tape, the adhesive, and the sensation of wearing it before binding.
Some find it easier to apply trans tape while laying down on their back. This way the tissue falls naturally into a flatter shape/position.
When wearing button-ups/open-front shirts
Often called open-chest binding, wearing an open shirt with binding tape is often an advantage for many. Though easier to do with a smaller chest, if your chest is larger you can still wear a shirt with the top unbuttoned, as low as you feel comfortable/can go without visible tape.
If open-chest binding, take care to pull your chest tissue as far to the side as feels comfortable. Like leaving your breast tissue under your armpits, depending on your size/body shape. Cut straight, even lines, and practice placing the strips before application, so they will line up with the edge of your shirt or will look neater if seen.
When wearing t-shirts/tank tops
Consider the cut of the shirt. if it’s made to hug the body or fits more loosely. Whether it’s a v-neck, crew-neck, or scoop neck, these things determine where your tissue should go to achieve the flattest result.
Most KT/athletic tapes and trans tapes are made to stay on when wet from sweating, swimming, and showering. To have the most success, give yourself an hour or two after application to allow the tape to fully adhere, this will make it far less likely to come off while swimming, leaving your body exposed.
Where to Buy & What to Look for in Trans Tape
Where to Buy
Most trans tape brands on the market can be purchased directly from the brand’s website. This is usually the most direct way to shop if you have a brand in mind. Several brands also sell their products via online marketplaces such as Amazon or Walmart, which could be better options if trying several brands at once or would like to bundle shipping with other purchases. Ensure to look into brands purchased through these marketplaces, as they could be made with cheaper materials and may or may not be suitable for binding.
Transgender-specific tape brands do partner with local retailers and can be found in various locations such as gender-affirming clothing stores, and sex shops/sex-educational boutiques.
KT tape can be purchased through large retailers, including drug stores and big box stores like Walmart and Target. Currently, no trans-specific tape brands are carried in person by any major retailers.
What to Look For
Businesses that have been recommended by Trans and LGBTQIA+ people often understand the needs of those using tape to bind and can often guide you on using it for that specific purpose.
Reviews from other users
Testimonials from other users will help guide you in finding a product that works best for your needs.
Providing safety tips/instructionals
Brands that provide safety guidance and testimonials care about the experience of their customer, and these resources can be very helpful for any questions you may have before or after purchasing the product.
List of ingredients in tape/adhesive
Especially if you have skin sensitivities it’s imperative to ensure there’s nothing that you will react to in the product.
Consider the size of your chest and the offered sizes of tape strips. Though you can always layer, knowing how much to buy is good.
Range of skin colors/patterns
The aesthetics are important! If you want something that matches your skin tone or want something patterned or colorful it’s good to explore what each brand has available.
If giving back to the community is important to you, some brands will take the money you spend on their trans tape and utilize some of it to support a list of worthy causes, which you can peruse and decide if it aligns with your values.
Trans Tape/Binding Brands
KT tape is the original body suitable tape that evolved into trans tape. It is the most accessible body tape brand and has several generic or store-brand counterparts. You can find it at almost any major retailer that sells medical supplies. Though not made specifically for binding, many users bind with this product. You will likely need more strips than with binding-specific body tape, so keep that in mind when purchasing.
In addition to having a large selection of tapes, TransTape also have an in-house line of salves and oils to ease removal and aftercare. The company also makes it part of its mission to give back to the community. They have collaborated with organizations including the Center for Black Equity and the Black Trans Travel Fund.
Wivov is an LGBTQ+-owned company that focuses on binders and trans tape. Their packaging is eco-friendly, and they use discreet shipping labels. The boxes will only ever be marked as containing “clothing” or you can ask for a specific label instead. Those who don’t want those they live with, or neighbors and postal carriers to know they are purchasing trans tape for privacy can benefit from this policy. Also, their starter rolls are only $12 and come with ten nipple covers.
Trans tape can be a great tool for chest binding, as well as the many other needs it meets in the trans community and beyond. Finding the right binding solution for you is a process, and we hope this guide has aided you in that process. Transformation and comfort should be accessible to all.
TransTape. “Application Manual” TransTape, transtape.life/pages/manual
“How To Bind With Tape | Chest Binding Tutorial.” Transguy Supply, 31st Oct, 2019, https://transguysupply.com/blogs/news/how-to-bind-with-tape
Feldscher, Danny. Pierce, Grey L. Shoemaker, Wyatt. “Chest Binding.” Queering Medicine, 28th April, 2023, https://www.queeringmedicine.com/resources/chest-binding
Charlie Lewis (he/him/his) is a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker based out of Portland, OR.