When Saya Ruiz was 16 years old, he bought his first packer, a padding or a phallic object worn in the front of the pants to give the appearance of a penis. It was a piece of leather with two elastic bands at the front that he remembers as “sweaty, gross, and horrible.” But the design — one that allowed him to go to the bathroom without having to remove the packer — always stuck with him.
“I decided to make them myself not really thinking that I was going to make a business,” he says.
More than a decade later, Ruiz has founded My Pack, a direct-to-consumer brand of packing straps, which allows people to pack in any underwear they want (or no underwear at all) with minimal skin irritation thanks to a moisture-wicking pouch fabric. Launched in 2020, My Pack is one of a few transgender men-owned brands reimagining the packing experience for folks in the United States.
The problem Ruiz most frequently encountered with the packers he used to purchase was the way they were designed to reside inside his boxer briefs. "The thing that I kept finding was that packing is stuck within [your] underwear, so when you sit down to go to the bathroom, you take it off your body. It's a very dysphoric experience," he says. So he took advantage of his sewing background as a former patternmaking student to create his own packers out of old underwear by removing the elastic waistband and making my own pouch.”
“I could feel this euphoria and comfort in my life because it really does ease your dysphoria,” says Ruiz. “It shuts your brain up when you feel like it’s right.”
Nearly 1.6 million adults in the United States are transgender, with 78% of transgender men identifying their gender dysphoria, a distress often caused by a discrepancy between a person's gender identity and the sex assigned at birth, by age seven. Still, the average trans man lives an average of 22.9 years before starting his medical transition, according to a study by Cedars-Sinai. That transition might include hormone therapy or surgical procedures to remove breast tissue and reproductive organs.
For trans men and non-binary folks, packing and chest binding (compression of breast tissue through commercial binders, sports bras, bandages, or other elastic materials) are lifelines used to cope with gender dysphoria. Yet, mainstream fashion brands rarely cater to these realities, and instead rely on cisgender sizing to mass-produce items that overlook these fraught experiences. Although male models such as Nathan Westling and Chella Man are carving a space for trans men in fashion, they remain the exception rather than the rule when it comes to representation both backstage and through consumer goods. With that in mind, many trans folks, like Ruiz, are taking matters into their own hands, creating products that allow for a new sizing and construction standard for men to cope with gender dysphoria.
Auston Bjorkman and Scout Rose both started their transitions in the early 2000s back when finding direct-to-consumer brands catering to trans and non-binary folks was unheard of. They used to peruse messaging boards and sex shops to find packers, items that were “created for cis men and we’d use for our own purposes,” according to Rose.
They founded Trans Guy Supply with the aim to change the landscape for young trans folks so they don’t have to rely on sex shops to source items that are a necessity. Their online shop features products from other trans-owned brands, as well as their own line of packers, T-shirts, hats, and accessories made with the transmasculine experience in mind.
Before launching their own line, Bjorkman and Rose tested “everything that was out there” from regular packers and prosthetics to STP (stand-to-pee) devices. They found that most could cost upwards of $100 for one packer. In contrast, the prices of packers from Trans Guy Supply range from $15 to $54 USD. (My Pack packing straps also start at an affordable $15 USD.)
“Transitioning can be an incredibly expensive experience, and even if you are pursuing a medical transition, trans folks are part of a vulnerable population that doesn’t have a ton of money to spend,” says Rose. “What is the point of making a product for a community that can’t afford it?”
Beyond packers, Bjorkman and Rose also carry packing undergarments that help packers stay in place, and are now looking to expand to packing swimwear. “The beach is definitely a frontier,” says Bjorkman.
While some brands are trying to conquer new ground, Finnegan Shepherd from Both& is attempting to make everyday clothing to address the different experiences within the transmasculine and non-binary spectrum. Its first launch included three T-shirt models — the Finnegan, the Khazeel, and the Tyla. The latter is tailored to men post-gender-confirmation surgery who "want to show off their muscles” by minimizing the shoulder width, according to Shepherd, while the Khazeel is generously cut in order to help folks hide chest binders under their clothing.
“The way that I always try to explain it is how I can smuggle function in through style,” says Shepherd, who studied literature and philosophy prior to opening his business. “I always wanted since the beginning [for the brand] to have this aspirational and elegant aspect to it that I didn’t see.”
The demand is there. Last year, My Pack’s Ruiz raised over $13,000 USD through Kickstarter, surpassing his original goal in a two-month period. “The fact that someone from the trans experience made this product [resonated with people],” says Ruiz. “But also how affordable and accessible it is.” A year after launching his brand, Ruiz still looks back at the beginnings of his transition whenever a mom thanks him for providing accessible products a teen can use or when he hears from a college swimmer who tells him how much his life has changed since he discovered the brand.
“When you have things that make you feel comfortable, it really makes a huge difference,” Ruiz says. “It just makes navigating the world easier.”