Tips for Helping Shoppers Express Their Gender Identities

This article originally ran in the April 2016 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the online edition.

Transgender. The word is popping up everywhere, it seems, especially in politics and entertainment. As awareness of and exposure to transgender individuals and their stories and experiences continues to grow, the pleasure products industry is paying more attention.

While these days mainstream press is filled with stories about Caitlyn Jenner, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and more, little to no attention is paid to the process of transitioning, especially when it comes to female-to-male—aka FTM—transgenders. In many cases, before even the first surgery takes place, transgender people will alter their appearances through a variety of means, including clothing, makeup and a variety of items available from numerous pleasure products manufacturers.

Among the first companies to offer items for those looking to express their true gender was FtM Essentials—a subsidiary of Early to Bed, a feminist erotica shop in Chicago—that has been serving the trans community since 2001.

“We had been selling a lot of trans supportive gear for guys on our site and I was realizing that a LOT of these folks had no interest in sex toys and had to wade through sex toys to find these items on our site,” said Searah Deysach, founder of Early To Bed. “I wanted to make the gender expression gear available to people under 18, so I started FtM Essentials to be a sex toy-free zone; a place where folks could easily find their packers. I also wanted parents and social service agencies to be able to share the site with younger trans guys without have to explain what a butt plug was.”

When it comes to deciding what items to offer on the site, Deysach said the most important thing is to listen to her customers; the second is to find the best quality items on the market.

“Quality and functionality is really important to me, but over the years we have sold and still do sell a few things that I would prefer not to carry, but they meet a very specific need for the trans guy community and we make sure our customers know the shortcomings,” she said. “Thankfully, more and more affordable high-quality stuff is coming to market so I can replace older, less-awesome stuff with new, more awesome stuff! We try stuff out ourselves or send things to reviewers if we have questions about how well something will work, so I can confidently stand behind the products that we sell.”

Good Vibrations—a sex-positive adult boutique based in San Francisco with locations in California and Massachusetts—offers products such as packers and strap-ons in stores but a larger selection online.

“For us having items that fit under Gender Expression & Play came about organically as our coworkers, friends and lovers began to transition and didn’t have a place to purchase items that they needed for daily expression of their gender as well as when being intimate,” said Coyote Days, product and purchasing manager for Good Vibrations. “So we brought them in and became a resource for folks transition or questioning. Today, this section feels just as necessary, even though there are many more companies offering similar items or selections. We continue to look at ways to expand what we offer.”

Some manufacturers have offered strap-ons for decades, including Pipedream Products. Marketing for the strap-on has changed through the years from being directed specifically to lesbian couples, to anyone interested in pegging and to those transitioning FTM. In recent years, new manufacturers have entered the pleasure product industry to provide more quality and selection, including SpareParts HardWear. Inspired by the lack of variation of harnesses on the market back in 1999, SpareParts HardWear set about to invent the ultimate harness. Most recently, the company announced the creation of the Tomboii, a boxer brief harness available in a number of color combinations and sizes XS to 4X.

Another manufacturer that revolutionized the strap-on was Tantus Inc., which made a splash more than a decade ago with its patented Feeldoe, a strapless strap-on.

And in 2015, mega-manufacturer CalExotics began creating its Packer Gear Collection. The Packer Gear features a Black Boxer Brief Harness and a Black Brief Harness, which are available in sizes ranging from extra-small to extra-large. The harnesses have a two-panel design to accommodate dual penetration as well as a reinforced O-ring that stretches to accommodate most packers, dongs or probes. There is an internal strap to secure the packer in place and internal pockets so that the user can add their favorite stimulators.

This line also includes two Packing Penises, which come in a 4- or 5- inch model. Each piece is available in brown or ivory and has a uniquely designed base for secure fit in the Packer Gear Harness.

The influx of packing items and more is a far cry from when Deysach started FtM Essentials.

“Oh, the industry has gotten much better! There is still a long way to go, but when I started selling trans stuff 14 years ago, almost no one knew what I was talking about,” she said. “Even some major manufactures have come out with pretty decent trans gear. I’m still a big fan of the indie-made higher-quality products, but the more people are making products that help people live more fully in their gender, the better, I say!”

Deysach and Days say other adult retailers should consider selling items if they are not already. There are specific items any retailer can carry, they said, that would not take up much store space for brick-and-mortars, yet would make a significant impact of their customers.

Basic items would include “educational books, soft packs and perhaps gaff undergarments if you have apparel,” Days said. “Online store are able to offer larger range of items without having to invest square footage to display, but many of these items are very intimate and personal for people so there’s a benefit to having a small section in stores that people can touch and see.”

But first, Deysach offered, “Don’t pick up trans gear until you have eliminated the word ‘tranny’ from your vocabulary,” she said. “First, get educated! Don’t start carrying trans stuff if you don’t have a good handle on gender issues. Read up on terminology and train your staff on how to use non-gendered language (there is no such thing as a women’s toy or a men’s toy). Make sure everyone in your shop can treat trans people with the same amount of respect as they treat cisgendered folks, or you are doing everyone a disservice by inviting trans people into your shop. While the market is growing, this is not the community to try and cash in on.

“But if you are committed to providing your trans and gender nonconforming clients with items specific to their needs, have a separate section for the items that are not used for sex (binders, packers and STPs) and promote it as gender expression gear or something like that,” Deysach continued. “Remember that most people don’t see these items as sex toys, but rather as things that make daily life better for them.”

Asked whether there are other general items that might be beneficial for people and their changing bodies, Deysach said, “Well, trans folks are just like cis folks in many ways when it comes to fucking. People across the gender spectrum like vibrators and dildos; and who doesn’t need a good body-safe lube?

“We look at sex toys with an eye for how they be used beyond what the maker might have intended, not only for trans people but for folks with disabilities or other issues that sometimes take creativity,” she added. “We also work to change or eliminate language that might be off-putting to trans and gender non-conforming folks. For instance, we don’t have a ‘Men’s’ section. We have penis toys, because not all people with penises are men and not all men have penises.”

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Pictured: The PopDildo (left), items from and a CalExotics Packer (left)