Taiwan has a lot of specialty products such as Oolong tea, Giant bikes and Asus laptops that are internationally recognized. However, there is a strictly made-in-Taiwan business that has gone virtually unnoticed by the public, one that caters to the needs of women who want to maintain flat chests.
The desire to have a flat chest may seem perplexing to many heterosexual men, but for butch lesbians, or "Ts" (short for tomboys), and female-to-male transgender or transsexual people, the invention of the chest binder serves an important need.
At Taipei's one and only lesbian store, Love Boat Lesbians Fashion Shop (愛之船拉拉時尚概念館, www.love-boat.com.tw), which carries gay women-related items ranging from sex toys, publications, DVDs, bags, clothes, shoes and accessories designed by local lesbian designers and custom-made suits and shirts for Ts. Chest binders in different designs are among the most popular items for visitors from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
OUT OF THE CLOSET
Before the arrival of the miraculous chest binder, there were only elastic bands and tight, heavy belly binders available for butch lesbians who wanted to make their breasts as inconspicuous as possible. "But the rubber bands don't allow sweat to evaporate nor can the skin breathe freely. They are smothering to wear and can cause allergies," shop-owner Vivi Li explained.
Newer model chest binders made of cotton, linen or Lycra solve all these problems. The fabrics are suitable for different seasons. The color palette is predominately black, white and gray as tomboys are generally less than flamboyant with colors, said Li.
"To Ts, even a camouflage design is too loud and over-the-top ... . The items, though, are surprising popular among lesbian soldiers," said Li, adding that the binders are also popular with large-breasted women and yoga instructors who don't like their bosoms to get in the way.
Other products targeted at Ts are underpants made for a woman's body with a gender-neutral design.
"One of our store's missions is to understand what kinds of products gay women need and try to find or manufacture them," said Li, whose services also include relationship counseling and matchmaking.
Equally popular among tomboys both from home and abroad is Double (達博企業社, double.net.tw), a binder label that sells its special products mainly through the Internet like other well-known brands such as T-Kingdom and Two's do. Their oversea customers can be found in Japan, China, Canada, the US and Europe.
At its office-cum-showroom on Minsheng West Road (民生西路), the four-year old business sports a wide collection of chest binders catering to Ts of different needs. The vest and sport-bra models, for example, are cool, summer wear and the functional long sleeveless-shirt model can also help hide big bellies. For tomboys who like to wear a T-shirt under a shirt, they can slip on a T-shirt styled binder, reducing the need for any additional garment, while a long shoulder strap caters to those broad across the shoulder.
RUBBER AND BLUBBER
Double's clients also include men who suffer from gynecomastia, also known as "moobies" (man-boobs), and like to hide their sometimes embarrassing but not uncommon condition.
Old-style chest binders that look like a large rubber straps can also be found at the store. "Though tight and uncomfortable, the rubber strap has greater binding effect and is favored by uncle Ts [older generations of butch lesbians with strong male looks and gestures]," said one of Double's three founders, known as Hsiao Kuei (小龜).