Children’s charity and parental support group Mermaids UK have come under fire from the usual transphobic suspects trying to demonise any and all support for trans youth. This time over the use and support of teens using a chest binder. JK Rowling was there too, in case you cared.
As someone who doesn’t use a chest binder I am almost certainly not the best placed to talk about this on a personal level – which is why I am currently talking with someone who is much better placed about getting a more personal piece out on this story. For now, lets just look at the facts and quickly debunk this manufactured drama.
Mermaids UK are a children’s charity who support transgender youth. Many of the youth who approach Mermaids UK are uncomfortable about the appearance of their chests and strongly desire a flatter appearance. Many of them engage in chest binding, often unsafely. Mermaids UK offer advice on how to bind safely and in at least one instance were allegedly willing to provide a chest binder to a teenager.
(This wasn’t actually a 14 year old, it was a journalist pretending to be a teenager but I suppose that doesn’t hugely affect the story much besides adding some fun flavour to proceedings.)
This story hit the press and then Twitter and transphobes have gone absolutely berserk. Multiple pieces have come out in legacy media with many commentators on social media also weighing in, this including MPs known to be sympathetic towards anti-trans beliefs. Many are calling for Mermaids UK to be investigated and have their charity status removed; almost certainly as a petty backlash to the fact that Mermaids UK are currently pursuing the removal of LGB Alliance’s charity status in the courts.
I, being the pot-stirrer that I am, posted a tweet pointing out how young people using shapewear in line with patriarchal beauty standards don’t receive this same backlash. A tweet which at time of writing has about 60,000 likes and has subsequently become a microcosm for the arguments against allowing trans youth to use binders.
14 year old girl: *buys a padded bra to make her boobs look bigger*
14 y/o trans masc: *buys a binder to make their chest look flatter*
society: what the fuck do you think you are doing
— a wailing banshe/her (@notCursedE) September 26, 2022
Many responses attempt to call me out by saying that bras do not cause physical damage like how chest binding does. But that’s just not true. Bras absolutely can cause physical damage and harm to the wearer – especially if worn incorrectly or if using a badly fitted product. This is the same for binders! More education and information needs to exist about both of these things.
Luckily for those using binders, Mermaids UK and other trans charities, orgs etc offer advice and have created things like infographics explaining how to bind safely. Which includes things like only wearing a chest binder for 8 hours a day and ensuring that you regularly have days where you do not wear it at all. The idea that safety is being ignored with regards to chest binders is false.
With safety addressed the only other real complaint I saw with my tweet is that “both are bad, actually”. Which I don’t personally agree with and clearly neither does anyone else since they haven’t complained about the latter literally ever, not even right now when its most relevant.
But also I don’t agree with it because I think young people should be alllowed to experiment with shapewear, safely, should they so desire to. I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about playing with your body shape and everyone should have the bodily autonomy to do so. The problems associated with this are all ones which come from the society around this.
Such as the pressure put on young women to conform their body shapes to patriarchal beauty standards where boobs are good and more boobs are more good. Or the sexualisation of girls at younger and younger ages. The same can’t really be applied to Mermaids UK or chest binders.
Mermaids UK are not a societal norm pressuring trans and questioning youth into experimenting with chest binders. They are a charity and support group who are approached by said youth who say they are going to try binding and, as a harm reduction method, Mermaids UK offer advice and products to ensure that the youth doesn’t harm themselves.
.@Mermaids_Gender's Chair of Trustees recently gave evidence under oath that Mermaids is "not a medical organisation." Now an investigation reveals they're advising kids on puberty blockers and providing binders to underage girls without parental consent.https://t.co/2rX4NTQYga
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 26, 2022
Some did take umbrage to me calling chest binders a form of underwear, but they literally are – they are an item of clothing you wear under your outerwear. Too many used the word underwear to imply sexual or deviant motivations which I could get if Mermaids UK were sending out lacy thongs and advising teens on how to ‘get some’ – but they just aren’t. They gave out safe products and safety advice on something we all agree can be dangerous if done incorrectly.
Another complaint I saw was that it was encouraging these kids down a path of medicalisation – common rhetoric you’ve almost certainly heard before if you pay attention to anti-trans stuff at all. But really, if a kid has approached Mermaids UK and is telling them they plan to bind their chest then what encouragment do they really need at that point? Mermaids UK are doing the only safe thing they can possibly do in that situation; giving advice and safe products.
The final complaint is that this was done without parental consent and in the example given by the journalist posing as a 14 year old; with Mermaids UK specifically knowing that the hypothetical parent was not supportive of the child using a chest binder. But they are 14 and it’s not uncommon for 14 year olds to buy their own underwear or make their own decisions about what to wear. It should not be different for youth who want to wear a chest binder.
Imagine thinking you need a doctor to hand out the equivalent of a tight sports bra. I've worn underwire pushup bras that are more uncomfortable than binders. It's just pure hatred and bigotry against Mermaids. pic.twitter.com/3AZ0IwmHG1
— Alejandra Caraballo (@Esqueer_) September 26, 2022
I have desperately tried to approach the complaints I received in good-faith, but I cannot see a good reason for the reaction to chest binders and Mermaids UK. Everything they say is based in disinformation or bad comparisons to things like breast ironing and foot binding which are absolutely not the same thing.
The only conclusion to be drawn is that this backlash is motivated entirely by the feelings of people who have spent years indoctrinating themselves into the demonisation of transgender people and those who support us. They don’t like chest binders because they are transphobic – and we must recognise that so we can ignore them and continue helping youth who want to bind do it safely.
Oh and JK Rowling was there too btw. Don’t forget that like how she forgot “dress however you like”.