My Child Bought a Binder {and Not the Kind for Papers}


A teenager looks at a tablet while sitting on the floor with headphones on.My kids use my Amazon account. They’ll bring me a damp wad of bills earned from doing chores for their grandparents. I’ll count them, and hand over my iPad so they can place an order from Amazon. It works for us. 

Recently, one of my kids came to me to make a purchase. “Whatcha getting?” I asked. “A binder.” 

This kid is in those late tween/early teen years where he or she figuring things out independently and connecting more with friends than mom. I try not to push, knowing my child will share more with me if he or she doesn’t feel pressured to do so. 

That’s why I decided to check out the binder. With the school year looming, I figured I’d get some info about what’s “in” now. Anime seems to be out. My kids love watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine and listening to Mitski. Maybe it was going to be a fun Brooklyn Nine-Nine binder. (Are those a thing?). Or maybe a new favorite color has emerged (navy blue seemed to be a recent fave). I anticipated feeling wistful if I was about to find out that school supplies featuring characters had been replaced by more grown-up, solid colors. 

I went to my recent orders tab and froze. I wasn’t seeing any school supplies. What I did see looked like a sports bra. Then everything abruptly became clear, my kid bought a binder. 

A binder is a specialized article of clothing used to flatten the chest. People use them to minimize the appearance of breasts. What my kid purchased was made for that purpose, but there are other (less-safe things) that can also be used, like ace bandages. 

What did this mean? Did my kid just come out to me as trans? I hadn’t seen any signs. I was never asked to buy specific clothing or use a different name or pronouns.

>> RELATED READ :: Thank You for Being Nice :: On Honoring Gender Identity <<

I thought back to myself at that age. I remember the way breast development was noticed and remarked upon by my peers who had boobs and those who didn’t. I remember unwanted attention from boys. Could it be about this?

I realized we needed to have a talk. “Hey, I just wanted to talk to you about the binder.” I could immediately tell my kid was uncomfortable. We both hesitated.

“I’m glad you told me you wanted one, and that you got one for yourself, if that’s something you feel like you need . . .” I trailed off, wondering if my child was about to come out.


I went on. “And I just want to make sure that when you use it, you use it safely. You can’t wear it 24/7. It’s important to take breaks.” 

“I know.” 

“Okay,” I replied, lingering in the doorway. “Well, let me know if you need anything else.”

I went back to my room. 

The binder arrived. My kid wore it that day and hasn’t worn it since. My child hasn’t told me if he or she is trans or non-binary. When grandma took my child to get new clothes for school, jeans and skirts both came home.

Did I handle that well? I don’t know. I would like to know more of what’s on my kiddo’s mind. But I also know if he or she feels comfortable asking for what’s needed, I’m here to listen.

A mom and teenager sit on the couch talking.What to Do If Your Child Buys a Binder

That long story is a precursor for some advice on how to react if your child buys a binder or wants to purchase one. This is what I did, and so far, it’s seemed to be the best decision for our family.

Don’t panic. Be glad your child can talk to you about this. 

Don’t make assumptions. It could mean your child is trans or non-binary (or questioning), but it could also be something he or she is just curious about. These years are all about discovering identities. There can be a lot of trial and error. 

Make sure it’s safe. There are some great online resources about the use of binders. Check them out, make sure your kid has the info, and keep an eye out to make sure guidelines are being followed (but without making them feel like you’re surveilling). 

With attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community being more supportive now more than ever, kids now have more ways to express themselves. (Back in my day, we just got to dye our hair with powdered juice and, if your parents were really chill, maybe get a piercing.)

>> RELATED READ :: Parenting a Transgender or Intersex Child: Dos and Don’ts <<

It makes sense that kids will try on many different identities. It’s our job to support them, love them, and keep them safe. While that may leave unanswered questions on your mind in the interim, you’ll be okay and get through it — together


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