New initiative helps “bind” gender dysphoria

Illustration by Shannon Fahey, Graphic by Brielle Gall

Sav Souza received their first binder as a gift. After undergoing top surgery in late 2019, the nonbinary actor and activist decided to pay that initial kindness forward.

They took to Instagram and offered their six binders free to anyone in need. Within hours, the compression garments — which are often used by transgender and nonbinary people as a means of combating gender dysphoria — had been claimed.

The swift response confirmed an unmet need in the trans and nonbinary communities, said Souza, a University of the Arts graduate who is currently based in New York.

Sav Souza

“There are so many folks who need access to binders,” they said. “It should probably be included as part of health care. The cost deters so many folks from purchasing it and making such a life-changing move.”

In the wake of Souza’s giveaway, friends and strangers alike began contacting them through Instagram, offering to purchase brand-new binders from individuals who missed out on the initial offer. The first day brought in enough donations to buy 45 binders, at a cost of $38 each, and the Binder Drive was born.

“Within the first two weeks, we had almost a thousand binders funded,” said Souza. “I never expected for there to be so much support, but I wasn’t surprised that the need was so large. I know my community, and I know a binder was a hard thing for me to get access to myself. And of course, the queers are great at supporting each other by showing up and being part of a community, and many wonderful allies have shown up too.”

Following the police killings of George Floyd and Black trans man Tony McDade, Souza decided to refocus the campaign, with the specific intent of providing binders to Black trans and nonbinary people. 

“When this first got started, it was kind of just generally for all trans folks who needed binders, regardless of their identity,” said Souza. “Once the Black Lives Matter movement really started picking up momentum, it seemed right to focus this energy toward Black trans folks in our community. 

The initiative continued growing steadily, particularly as it dovetailed with Pride Month. The campaign reached a point that became untenable for Souza to continue single-handedly. They enlisted Elaina Di Monaco, a queer theater artist based in Philadelphia.

“I saw Sav’s initial post and donated in the first week,” said Di Monaco. “I kept seeing it start to grow and how much was happening, and I just assumed it got much bigger than they anticipated by Sav’s surprise on the internet. I think I just sent them a message on Instagram saying, if you need any help, I can just offer some time to you. And they just sort of desperately said yes.”

Di Monaco focused her attention on coordinating volunteers, which allowed Souza time to continue fundraising and performing public-facing outreach.

“I did not anticipate this being my new 40-hour volunteer workweek, but I got sucked in hard and fast,” said Di Monaco. “I feel like we are partners. I let Sav really lead the ideas, and we talk about a million times a day now. They are sort of dreaming about what this can be, and it’s growing really fast.”

Illustration by Shannon Fahey, Graphic by Brielle Gall

Souza and Di Monaco now find themselves working with a team of volunteers — sometimes up to seven per day — to process requests for binders. The pair also hope to connect the Binder Drive with other trans-led organizations.

“We are trying to raise awareness and intentional outreach,” said Di Monaco. “We want to partner with trans organizations that are already serving their communities, in order to be a resource for them.”

The Binder Drive has already partnered with GC2B Transitional Apparel to provide the binders. All money donated through the drive is funneled directly to GC2B, which has offered to ship the binders free of charge, allowing extra funds to be applied to additional requests.

“They are a Black, Latinx and queer/trans-owned company,” said Souza. “From the beginning, they have been really accommodating and excited to help support us in any way. We were also able to do a weekend-long partnership with them early on. All the proceeds from binders ordered over that weekend ended up going to Reclaim the Block, which is working to provide bail funds and support Black communities. We ended up having around $2000 of our binder funds go to that.”

In its first six weeks, the Binder Drive has raised more than $95,000 and provided more than 2700 binders to Black trans and nonbinary people. Souza and Di Monaco hope to pass the $100,000 mark by mid-July.

“As a person who binded myself, getting to vouch for the experience and talk to folks about what it was like for me — the ways it changed my life — is an honor,” said Souza. “Wearing a binder pointed out to me that top surgery was the answer for me. For some folks, it will point out that top surgery isn’t the answer, and a binder is enough. Getting to help be a facilitator in that process is an honor beyond words.”

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