(WTNH) – For members of the transgender community, it’s not just what they see, but also how they feel. Their despair can land them in the hospital or worse.
There’s a simple, yet important piece of clothing that can smooth the way for their emotional wellbeing.
For transgender males and non-binary individuals, a chest binder, made of Spandex or other synthetic fibers, can be a godsend. The binders compress breast tissue, giving the appearance of a flat chest.
It’s a remedy for someone who doesn’t want their chest to look feminine.
“We work with children who are in psych hospitals that are distressed over their bodies so much that they want to end their life,” said Tony Ferraiolo.
Tony Ferraiolo is the director of the youth and family program at Healthcare Advocates International (HCAI) in Stratford.
“I was doing the binder drive myself. As an advocate and transgender guy myself, I knew the need,” Ferraiolo said.
The need has never been greater. In 2021, HCAI received 190 requests for chest binders. In the first three months of the new year, they’ve already received 126 requests. The chest binders are free of charge.
“It’s so important. We have kids that are as young as 12 and 13, they can’t get jobs, and they might not be ready to talk to their parents. It’s a way to have access to something that can change your life,” said Oliver Przech.
Oliver Przech, a junior at Farmington High School now, began wearing a binder in middle school. He leads his school’s gender sexuality alliance.
“Looking back, I think definitely it started pretty young for me, but, just not having the words to put to it that we do now. It can be really difficult to feel so strongly on the inside and have every single person in your life see you as something that you’re fundamentally not,” Przech said.
“It’s a sad, sad thing sitting in front of an 11-year-old who says I don’t want to live anymore. And if a binder is going to shift that for them, we are honored to do that for them,” Ferraiolo said.
He said the binders cost about $35 to $40 a piece and they are starting to ship them again, free of cost, all over the world.
“It’s really important to understand that a lot of our youth are steaming up showers, they’re avoiding mirrors, they don’t want to see their own reflection and they sometimes don’t even want to touch that part of their body because it’s so upsetting to see that,” said Christy Olezeski, an associate professor in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine.
According to the Williams Institute, 1.4 million adults identify as transgender in the U.S. and that figure may even be higher.
As a child and adolescent psychologist, Olezeski wondered who was providing healthcare for the transgender youth of New Haven. She and three endocrinologists at Yale helped set the wheels in motion for what now is the Yale Pediatric Gender Program.
“We decided to join forces and we took about a year to speak to other programs across the country, learn different policies and procedures, and decide for ourselves how we wanted to operate. And then we built our team from there,” Olezeski said.
In addition to New Haven, the program is now offered in both Trumbull and Old Saybrook. Their clients are between the ages of 3 and 25.
“Sometimes folks will come in for cross hormone treatment, and sometimes folks just come in to help with the social transition, or legal name change, or gender marker change, so there’s a wide range of different things that we’ll do here,” Olezeski said.
According to a monthly journal published by the American Medical Association, a study of 104 transgender and non-binary youth aged 13 to 20 receiving gender-affirming care including puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones, was associated with 60 percent lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73 percent lower odds of suicidality over a 12-month follow-up.
“Diversity happens. Inclusion is a choice. Are you going to choose to be inclusive to people around you or not? And we’re losing lives because some people are not kind. I think kindness would be my message,” Ferraiolo said.
The binders come with instructions on how to wash them and the instructions say not to wear them for more than 8 hours per day. If they must be worn while sleeping, folks are being told to wear a bigger size. Health experts say parents should ask their children what they need to be comfortable in their bodies.
To request a chest binder, visit HCAI’s website.