For transgender men, trans-masculine individuals, non-binary identities or any person experiencing forms of body dysphoria, fashion can be a critical way to help affirm one's identity, offer a confidence boost, and, in some instances, provide safety. Over the years, a number of brands and companies specifically targeting these communities have made access increasingly easier and the offerings more dynamic. There is a vast range of these products being offered; we're looking into how they're helping and the problems that persist despite a growing market.
There are three key products that fall most easily into this category: binders (compression-wear intended to assist in flattening the chest), packers (phallic-shaped objects positioned within underwear) and stand-to-pees (devices that allow the wearer to, as the name clearly states, stand while urinating).
(Some notes: Not all trans men use — or even desire to use — products like these. Some cisgender women use products like these. Not all people's experiences with this category of products or the individual products themselves are uniform. This is a sampling, but admittedly not holistic view, of the current market of products targeting these communities.)
Sprouted over the last 15 or so years are a number of trans-owned and operated companies such as g2cb (founded in 2015), which bills itself as a transitional apparel brand; Transthetics (founded in 2014), a brand that offers "innovative prosthetics"; and Transguy Supply (founded in 2004), which offers a range of products as well as a binder recycle program and collaborations with other trans designers. There is also an influx of queer-owned companies like TomboyX (founded in 2012), which have reacted to customer feedback around their products and created more inclusive product-ranges as a result. Their latest offering, the 6" Fly Packing Boxer Briefs, came from feedback within the company.
"Developing a product like this has been on our radar for a while, as we are sensitive to the needs of our entire community," Fran Dunaway, the CEO and cofounder of TomboyX, says. "What really set the wheels in motion was when we had an amazing intern from Cornell come last summer. She asked if she could develop the prototype and pattern for the packer briefs as her school project. We jumped at the chance and gave her the freedom to run with it."
A lot of the consumer demographic for these products have complex and ever-evolving views on their own relationships to each. "I filed packers originally under 'deceit,'" transmasculine dancer/personal trainer Ashley Yergens says, explaining that what he refers to as the packer phenomenon "took a little longer to understand" as opposed to binders, which he correlates with addressing dysphoria. "I think it's because I internalized the way a lot of cis[gender] people specifically talk about trans bodies and what is considered to be the ideal and what is not."
Yergens explains that his desire to use packers is less around feelings of bottom dysphoria and more around being afraid of being outed. "I don't feel like I need a penis in order to be a man. The only times I worry about that is when I feel like my safety is at risk or if I'm not going to be treated equally. That's really the only reason I use packers," he says. The way Yergens came to discover brands like g2cb and TransGuy Supply is through the internet, which, as is the case with many sub-cultures, has allowed for increased connectivity and sharing of ideas within communities.
“I needed to be connected to other trans people," he explains. "I needed to see how other people are coping with gender dysphoria and how people are assimilating into society — and how they are not. If you look at Instagram, for instance, trans people are always finding other trans people, and sharing information."
Transthetics founder Alex agrees. "It's been everything," he says. "Prior to social media there really was no 'trans community' as it had no way to connect. It's very directly through the advent of social media that the trans community has been able to form, as it was just way too disparate before. I also would have had no way to reach my audience prior to the advent of social media."
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One issue that often comes up in discussions around products specifically targeting these communities is the question of who is making them. "I've definitely heard stories of companies where it's straight, cis men who know that trans and gender questioning people exist and are making products just to capitalize off the backs of us," Yergens says. To that end, a number of the individuals I spoke with for this story expressed the lengths they will go to find and ensure their dollars are being spent in support of and in solidarity with trans-owned and trans-operated companies.
Still, despite the lengths some may go to discover them, there now exists a whole market of products, a big change from even 15 years ago when TransGuy Supplies founder Scout Rose says companies like this simply did not exist. "The overwhelming majority of transition-related products then were things that were meant for cisgender folks that trans people had to repurpose or modify to meet their needs. In the last handful of years however, there has been a veritable explosion of businesses catering to trans people — especially in the apparel industry. From underwear to binders, a trans person today not only has the ability to find products created specifically for them, but they also have the freedom of choice."
Rose says the other transgender entrepreneurs he's connected with in the 15 years since the site launch have been incredibly supportive, welcoming and generous with their time. "I think there's a sense that there is space for all of us here. Personally, I love seeing other community members succeed. We have a long way to go, but we've also come a long way, and it's very encouraging."
But despite what seems like an ever-growing market, limitations exist in terms of size ranges and general functionality. One pervasive concern from a number of the trans people I spoke with surrounding these products is the practicality of them from an active-person's perspective. "I have so many friends who buy underwear that's specific to packer use that says that it's for being active but then they end up having to MacGyver the underwear that's supposedly designed for activity," Yergens explains.
There's also a conversation to be had about larger brands flirting with trans consumers—and who is granted the space and resources to represent them. "In the fashion industry, we're now seeing larger brands flirt with trans consumers. I think they've realized that we are perhaps not an inconsequential market," Rose says.
"I'm truly very grateful for the companies that have made space for trans folks in the last decade and offered us ways to make us feel good in our bodies. But I think we're at the point in our development as a community where it no longer feels like enough to be marketed to," Rose continues. "Take the film "Rub & Tug" for example. Trans people want to see our stories told by trans people. We want trans actors to be hired and paid for their work. The same thing is true in fashion now. We want to support trans designers and entrepreneurs. We want to use our resources to uplift our community. And we want to represent ourselves."