Two LGBTQ2S+ organizations in New Brunswick have joined forces to provide chest binders to queer and trans people for free.
Chroma N.B., a queer non-profit in Saint John, New Brunswick, has teamed up with QT Fatties, a local grassroots collective of queer fat folks, to help residents of the province access free chest binders in a wide range of sizes. The initiative, which began in the summer of this year, also includes help with sizing and information on safe binding practices.
“There’s a huge link between mental health in our trans and non-binary populations and their appearance; how other folks are perceiving them,” Chroma’s operations manager, Tanya James, tells Xtra. “For transmasculine people, non-binary people or anyone who prefers that look of a flatter chest, binders can reduce gender dysphoria and increase their confidence.”
The application process is simple and non-invasive. In order to receive a binder, one must fill out a brief form consisting of shipping details and sizing from XS to 5X, or contact Chroma N.B. by email. While Chroma N.B. is based in Saint John, they ship all over New Brunswick.
Chroma N.B.’s president and board chair, Alex Ash, told CBC that a fear of being outed through the items delivered in the mail is a common barrier some face, which is why they offer pickup options.
Before they began the program, James says Chroma frequently received queries from individuals looking for chest binders. The initial idea was to create a physical binder library in Saint John, where there are no brick-and-mortar stores selling binders, so people could try them on before ordering them online. In searching for places to source binders for the library, James came across gc2b, a trans-owned company in the U.S., which partners with non-profits to help provide free binders. They began a partnership in the summer of 2022 that grew into their current free binder program, through which they’ve distributed over 100 binders.
“We’ve been able to get much, much higher numbers,” says James. “Beyond the amount needed to stock a binder library, we’re able to distribute to the community.”
Aaron Beaumont, the founder of QT Fatties, organizes the free chest binders that are sized XL to 5X, and says that people who need plus-size binders face additional barriers like lack of inclusive sizing and higher pricing.
“It’s so important to provide binders in sizes for fat folks because [media] representation we often see for trans folks who bind are thin,” they told Xtra in a statement. “Fat trans folks exist and we deserve access to the same gender-affirming care and items.”
Studies have shown that binding can have substantial mental health benefits. However, a lack of access to proper binding materials and products can lead to unsafe binding practices. According to Trans Lifeline, a trans peer support organization, binding incorrectly can restrict breathing, and cause back pain or fluid buildup in the lungs.
Kailer Boyne, an intern at Chroma N.B. who runs the program, experienced first-hand the difficulty of finding a safe, well-fitted binder when he tried ordering one for the first time as a teen, only to find it was ill-fitting and unsafe. “I had a breakdown when it came in the mail, because I really was hyping myself up to think that this was going to be helpful and good for me,” he told CBC.
Ash is also hopeful that Chroma can continue expanding its offerings. “It is limited in that it is only that gender-affirming garment, and I do think that we would like to see more gender-affirming clothing and care as we progress,” they told CBC. At the moment, Chroma also offers a gender-affirming clothing closet where people can choose clothing that supports their gender presentation.
Several other organizations in Canada offer free or inexpensive chest binders to queer people. BindersOUT in Toronto and Qmunity in B.C. give out both new and lightly used binders, and Gender Gear in Toronto has a binder recycling program. Other programs in the U.S., like Point of Pride in Oregon, offer free binders with no-cost international shipping. Even though Chroma’s program just focuses on New Brunswick, James says it’s been rewarding to see how many people it’s impacted.
“It’s been really cool to see who is requesting them. We’ve had parents reach out for their children, and high school students,” says James. “It’s still predominantly the Saint John and Fredericton area, but we have hit some other parts of the province.
“It just shows that it’s more of a need than we thought it was.”