Molly O'Brien-Horn, PT, DPT, CLT is a pelvic health physical therapist in California. She is a teaching assistant with Herman & Wallace and will be acting as a TA in the upcoming remote course, Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities. Molly is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT), an LSVT BIG Parkinson’s Disease certified therapist, a trained childbirth doula, and a trained postpartum doula. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association Section of Pelvic Health. She has experience in a variety of physical therapy settings, including pediatric oncology, school-based pediatrics, outpatient orthopedics, and wound care. Her passion, however, is working in the field of pelvic floor physical therapy with children, teens, and adults of all gender identities, all sexualities, and all ability levels. In her spare time, Molly enjoys doing yoga, hiking, and relaxing at the beach.
October is LGBT History Month. This annual occurrence is a month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. H&W is proud to offer courses for treating the whole patient across the gender and age spectrum. The remote courses featured in this blog are Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities with instructor Brianna Durand, and Transgender Patients: Pelvic Health and Orthopedic Considerations with co-instructors Sandra Gallagher and Caitlin Smigelski.
Many LGBTQ+ individuals, drag artists, and cisgender and heterosexual persons engage in binding, tucking, packing, and padding for several reasons. These techniques can be life-changing. Many people use these techniques for gender expression, but they can also be used for gender affirmation.
Gender dysphoria occurs when an individual feels distress due to a mismatch between their assigned gender at birth and their own gender identity. For many folx who are transgender, non-binary, queer, or intersex, these practices help reduce gender dysphoria. Instead, they provide feelings of gender euphoria by creating joy, enhancing mental well-being, and improving quality of life through affirming gender identity. Additionally, these methods can provide safety by helping to protect folx in unsafe and unfamiliar environments. Some of these devices, such as packers, can even be used for sexual function and urination
So how does it all work? Binding is when a person wears a device, called a binder, to flatten or minimize the appearance of their chest. Many folx who identify as transmasculine and non-binary engage in binding. However, not all people who bind identify as transmasculine or non-binary. For example, cis and queer women, and cisgender men with gynecomastia may use binders. Also of note, not all people who bind use the same binding methods. Compression shirts and tops, sports bras, and tape are a few examples of the many different binding methods available.
Conversely, padding can be used to enhance the shape and appearance of one’s body, often at the hips and gluteal regions. Padded bras can also be used to enhance breast size and shape. Many transfeminine, queer, intersex, non-binary, and cisgender women often use some form of padding or shapewear devices to help create a more effeminate silhouette. Drag artists often use some form of padding to modify their appearance for their performances to achieve the optimal look for their drag persona. Transmen and cismen can also use padding. Furthermore, wigs and prosthetics (e.g. silicone breast forms, breastplates, and prosthetic vaginas) can be used by these populations to achieve a desired appearance.
Regarding prosthetics, many transmasculine folx, cisgender men, intersex folx, and queer individuals use prosthetics for packing. When someone packs, they use a phallic-shaped device to enhance the prominence of their genitals, often to create the appearance of a bulge in their pants. Some packers can extend the length of a phallus for sexual play, as well. This can be helpful for transmasculine folx post metoidioplasty, intersex folx who may have anatomical differences in sexual or reproductive anatomy, as well as cisgender men who suffer from erectile dysfunction. Packers are often made of silicone and can also include or not include certain features like pubic hair, moveable foreskin, and testes. However, packers don’t have to be made of silicone and can instead be made from other items, such as a pair of socks. They can have multiple functions and be used for things other than packing, such as standing for urination, sexual pleasure for oneself, and sexual pleasure for partners.
While packing increases the prominence of one’s genitals, tucking, conversely, is used to minimize the prominence of external genitalia by creating a flatter appearance between the legs. This act gets its name from the tucking of one's testicles into the inguinal canals, after which the penis and scrotum are then tucked between the legs back towards the anus. Frequently gaffs, tape, or tucking underwear are used to maintain the genitalia in these positions. Tucking is commonly used by transfeminine, non-binary, and intersex persons. However, tucking is not just limited to these groups, as cismen, drag artists, and other populations can tuck also.
While binding, packing, tucking, and padding have many positives, there can be some inherent drawbacks. For example, tucking can increase the risk of Urinary Tract Infections due to the position of the urethra close to the anus. Binding can alter posture and impact breathing by reducing diaphragmatic and rib mobility. Pads can be uncomfortable and hot, while packing devices, Stand-to-Pee devices, in particular, require regular cleaning to prevent unwanted smells and/or infections. All of these practices carry the risk of skin breakdown or irritation if performed too frequently or with improper technique. However, it is important to remember that even with these and other various drawbacks, these acts can be so lifesaving, gender-affirming, and life-protecting for many folx, that at times, the benefits of performing these practices greatly outweigh the risks.
The ins and outs of binding, packing, tucking, and padding can be quite complex, and there is so much to learn about proper usage and technique.
Want to learn more about these and other things related to LGBTQ+ health? Check out these remote course options:
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