'When you undress, straight away you're reminded you're different'

On a recent Thursday in London, a group of models strutted down the catwalk to Woman's World by Cher, donning matching lacy thong and bra sets, which they tastefully accented with silky robes. They were all trans women, and the line, Carmen Liu Lingerie, was full of pieces designed with them in mind.

Carmen Liu, 27, created the brand. "You see all these amazing advertisements with lingerie images and lines, but none of it is actually for us," she said, noting that trans women, like herself, have needs that traditional lingerie doesn't take into consideration.

Dr Richard Santucci, 53, a senior surgeon at Crane Surgical Services, a clinic that performs gender reassignment surgery, said that only a fraction of trans women undergo "bottom" surgery. According to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey, 12 per cent of transgender women respondents had a vaginoplasty. That means there's a market for a functional pair of underwear that should assist with the process of tucking the genitals.

Liu's line features an array of panties, including her "You're Too Cute" thong. Her bottoms are intended for pre-surgery transgender women or those who have opted to forgo a vaginoplasty, many of whom have previously relied on supplies like medical tape.

But Liu says her GI Collection, which she designed to be "just as sexy as cisgender lingerie", is outfitted with triple-layer fabric: "Strong, yet comfortable enough to hold everything in place."

Before, Liu relied on a gaff, which is a thong-like fabric designed to hide the genitals and create a smooth line. She refers to this as "a ghastly product – it doesn't look very sexy and is not made with lingerie fabric."

Others, like Laiah St. Jerry, 26, who walked in her show, have resorted to making their own apparatuses by removing the top from a pair of tights and sliding a cut sock through the elastic. "It's a lot of work and can be quite uncomfortable," St. Jerry said.

Trans women have an easier time with bras, but Liu said finding matching lingerie can be next to impossible. "You can buy cisgender bras in the shop, but you'd have to buy something that didn't match for your lower half. So when you take your clothes off, straight away you are reminded that you are different."

Liu's collection features matching panty and bra sets. Her Satin With Lace Cup Underwire Bra supports women just starting hormone replacement therapy all the way through the growth of a C cup. The Full Satin Underwire Bra caters to those with implants ranging from a C to DD. Both bras have been designed to fit the often wider bust of a transgender female.

Liu touts her line as "the world's first transgender lingerie brand", but there are other boutique sellers on the market offering undergarments friendly to trans and nonbinary people.

Underwear for All

Origami Customs, based in Montreal, Canada, has a line of compression gaffs custom-made from a double-lined power mesh in sizes XXS to 5XL. The brand also formulates bras to any band/cup combination and creates bra inserts for all breast stages.

"No piece is designed for any one idea of what a body or gender should be," said Rae Hill, 29, who founded the company in 2010. "Trans existence is not based on whether or not folks decide to choose any medical procedures or body alterations, and I celebrate the uniqueness of each person's experience through the outfits I make them."

Rebirth Garments makes a line of tucking undies, which the designer Sky Cubacub, 27, adorns with neon colors and geometric shapes. Her spandex and velour versions are lined with compression mesh.

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The designer, who started her Etsy-based business in 2014, shuns black and red fabrics, allowing her wearers to experiment with bright tones and playful patterns as a means of challenging "heteronormative ideas of sexy".

And Rose Rayos, 27 (known as "Miss Boogie"), a transgender woman in Brooklyn, is looking to redefine the gaff with breathable, softer and more flexible options that will pair comfortably with athleisure. "Most gaffs are traditionally made with swimwear material," she said.

For the men

Trans men also have special undergarment needs, and companies are starting to catch on to that as well.

TomboyX, a gender-neutral apparel company, has been especially popular with transgender men who haven't had bottom surgery. Of the transgender men respondents in the 2015 US Transgender Survey, 2 per cent underwent a metoidioplasty and 3 per cent had a phalloplasty.

Ryan Cassata, 25, is a transgender man and singer-songwriter who, for the past three years, has been wearing and modeling TomboyX boxer briefs. "They are extremely soft and look masculine on my body," he said.

Ian Harvie, 50, a transgender male stand-up comedian and actor in Los Angeles, buys Tommy Hilfiger briefs at T.J. Maxx. He said that discovering a pair to fit his frame took 10 years. "It was all about finding a cut I like," he said.

In their everyday lives, many transgender men, like Harvie, get by with run-of-the-mill boxers or briefs. Some "pack" their genital area when going to places like the gym. This requires a special pair of underwear, typically outfitted with a pouch, into which the wearer can snugly insert a prosthetic.

Some transitioning men purchase a binding garment to flatten their breast tissue and combat dysphoria.

All Is Fair in Love and Wear, which was founded through a Kickstarter campaign in 2016, looks to provide comfortable binding options. Christian Dominique, 23, the brand director, said many commercial binders mimic the feel of canvas.

"Imagine wearing a tight burlap sack around your chest that is impossible to put on and take off," he said. His versions are made from swimsuit material with elastic "give" around sensitive areas like the neckline and armpits.

Dominique delivers frequent talks on binder safely and stresses against "binding for more than eight hours, while sleeping, or wearing sizes too small," all of which can lead to detached ribs and lung fluid buildup.

Traditional but new

Cora Harrington, 34, the author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie, said that products to meet transgender needs have always existed. "What's changed is that it's now easier than ever to reach your target customer through social media and online shopping, and it's easier to source and purchase the fabrics needed for these garments."

Knixteen, a teen period-panty company, recently enlisted Jazz Jennings, 18, who stars on the TLC reality show I Am Jazz, to design "The Jazz Bra". Jennings' brassiere is purple, to represent her family's Trans-Kids Purple Rainbow Foundation, and features scalloping inspired by mermaids, which Jennings said are popular with gender-nonconforming youth, as "mermaids have no genitalia and are basically genderless."

In 2015, Thinx created a line of "boy shorts" for people who menstruate. "It's one of our top performers," said Siobhan Lonergan, 47, the chief brand officer; 8 per cent of its 2018 sales, with Sawyer DeVuyst, a transgender model, featured in its campaign. "We realised that not all people who menstruate identify as female," Lonergan said.

Mainstream lingerie companies have yet to incorporate transgender lingerie into their catalogs. In 2018, Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer of Victoria's Secret, was outspoken about not wanting to put a transgender model in the brand's annual fashion show, implying they were not part of "a fantasy". It was a setback for Carmen Carrera, 33, a model who has been campaigning to be the first transgender Victoria's Secret angel.

Kimmay Caldwell, 34, an undergarment educator and expert bra fitter, thinks this will eventually shift. "As there becomes more of a demand from retailers that are becoming more open-minded and inclusive, you will see these products make their way into more shops," she said.

The New York Times

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