Identity

Trans Women’s Underwear Doesn’t Exist

The lack of options for simple panties are a poignant example of how deeply society actively disinvests in trans women.
March 18, 2020, 5:07pm
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Nobody makes everyday panties for trans women. There was the first-of-its-kind lingerie brand, Chrysalis, that introduced a small selection of bras and bottoms briefly, but it is now defunct. Another line of trans girl lingerie was introduced recently, Camila Liu’s GI Collection. But neither of these companies have ever offered regular old panty options: casual cotton panties, thongs, or boy shorts designed for trans women’s bodies.

The lack of options for simple panties are a poignant example of how deeply society actively disinvests in trans women. Inevitably, trans women adapt by learning from each other. We teach each other things that aren’t taught anywhere else, like how to tuck, or otherwise wear women’s clothes without showing a bulge.

Trans bodies are as diverse as any other group, but trans women tend to have penises, which no amount of styling can accommodate—at least, not well enough. Trans women have cleverly managed all these generations with no underpants made specifically for them, often by wearing panties designed for cis women, sometimes painfully tucking their genitalia between their legs, sizing down to hold a tuck in place, or wearing two pairs—artful attempts to make something that wasn’t made for us work for us.

“To be honest, I find it so stressful to buy underwear,” said Briana Silbeberg, a 27 year-old trans woman. What she finds in stores is often uncomfortable, not to mention that it functions poorly. “I've definitely bought a few pairs before that I thought would be fine and had stuff slip out, which, even if folks can't see, makes me feel ridiculous all day.” Silbeberg added that other styles she might like, such as the boyshort, has another layer of cis-normativity stitched into it that only makes the ignorance to trans bodies more distinct. “The name can be off-putting and kinda dysphoria-inducing, and weirdly inaccurate? They look nothing like boys’ underwear,” she said, “and I should know!”

The absence of underwear for trans women is, in part, a practical issue, said Gogo Graham, the acclaimed fashion designer known for her apparel created exclusively for trans women. Graham underscored the difference between lingerie and regular panty needs for trans women, explaining that lingerie is less a concern. “There's more of that for us than everyday garments,” Graham said. Graham also noted the expense of creating panties for trans women: “The cuts that hug our intimate contours affect the way we feel and function throughout the day, and the technical design of underwear I think is the biggest roadblock for us. It takes a lot of time, work and money to come up with something that really works in a functional sense, and those things haven't really been spent for comfy underwear that really works for the girls.”

Silbeberg wants someone to undertake the challenge. “It would change my life,” she said. “I think we aren't considered a large enough market yet, or with enough money to move the needle, which sucks. It makes me think about how for years—and to this day—the market for clothes for trans women specifically, although more historically really for crossdressers, was fetish-based, and because of that, today, many trans women are ashamed of a lot of the clothes that have been made for us.”

Trans bodies are still culturally maligned, marginal, and minority. One trans woman VICE spoke with, Rio Sofia, felt this firsthand, while working at a fetish store in Manhattan, where they sell a variety of goods, including gaffs, an old-school thong- or jockstrap- shaped device made of synthetic fiber, designed to conceal the penis. It can be used by drag queens and crossdressers, and are sometimes tried by trans women as panties, though they remain a niche market and aren’t designed as everyday underwear. To Silbeberg’s point, the gaff exists in the fetish market.

Rio was working at the boutique one day when she realized that tax was charged on gaffs—strange, given that apparel under $110 isn’t taxed in New York state, and all of the other clothing items in the store reflected that, she said. Curious about the discrepancy, Rio asked her boss. “He said, ‘Gaffs are costumes for crossdressers, and not anything people would actually wear. People who do this have a sissy fetish—[they’re] not actual people.’ And I'm like, I'm wearing one right now.’”

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