Searah Deysach for FtM Essentials was interviewed on November 6th, 2017 by Kelly Reddy-Best in Chicago, IL in the Early to Bed store. This interview was 1 hour and 27 minutes. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the brand at the time of the interview.
Oral History Video
Oral History Transcript
DEYSACH: Hi, I’m Searah Deysach and I’m the founder of FtM Essentials.
REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about your background? Where did you grow up and then where have you lived?
DEYSACH: Well, we’re in Chicago now and I grew up in the suburbs and I’ve been here pretty much my whole life. I moved from Evanston to Chicago and I moved out at eighteen and I’ve been in Chicago ever since.
REDDY-BEST: So, you were born and raised in Chicago.
DEYSACH: Born and raised. yes. Although, if you’re from Chicago you can’t call it Chicago if you weren’t born in the city limits. So, I was born in the suburbs, and lived in Chicago.
REDDY-BEST: What is your educational background?
DEYSACH: I went the school of Art Institute for undergraduate work. And then I worked there for a couple years and started grad school there in the fiber department. I was in the fiber department my second year. I was doing it really slowly because I was also working full time, when I quit to start my businesses.
REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about your work history? Was there anything before you took time off from graduate school and started your businesses? Was there anything before that? Or did you go right into it.
DEYSACH: There was about a year from when I quit grad school and was working at the Art Institute to opening the store. I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing so I thought it would happen a lot faster, but during that year I waitressed and worked for a lawyer. I worked with food service a lot in my life so I think my other path would have been food service. I went to pastry school briefly. I had no experience working in this type of retail or in this industry at all, but it was a passion and so it’s where I ended up. I don’t really know. I still surprise myself that it worked out as well as it did, because I didn’t really have any background in it. I kind of went from office work to this with a little bit of dabbling in between.
REDDY-BEST: Which term would you use to describe your gender identity?
DEYSACH: A cis-gender female.
REDDY-BEST: Which pronouns do you prefer?
DEYSACH: She/ her.
REDDY-BEST: And then which term would you use to describe your sexual identity or your sexuality?
DEYSACH: I identify as queer. I find myself using “lesbian” a lot, the older I get, which I think is sort of just an old lady thing. Which is funny. So, queer/lesbian.
REDDY-BEST: How old are you?
DEYSACH: I’m 44.
REDDY-BEST: How did the idea for FtM Essentials come about?
DEYSACH: Well, it was really kind of a natural progression. I had opened Early to Bed, which was feminist—is a feminist sex toy store in Chicago in 2001, and it was the first sex toy store in Chicago that was owned by a woman. It was the first store that I think really started from the ground up with admission of education and community involvement and kind of a different way of doing business. It was just me so I was able to be really responsive to what people needed and wanted. There wasn’t a corporation behind me, and I was making all the decisions on my own. The first customers I had were people from my queer community and a lot of those folks were trans guys. And, you know, right away they started asking for trans supportive gear, packers, specifically. Packers which are limp penises that are meant to make a bulge in the pants, not something that you would use for penetration. So, kind of different than a sex toy, but because they’re penises they come from the sex toy industry because, sex toy people make a lot of penises. I started, just kind of as a response to my community, carrying what was available at the time and really seeking out whatever I could. In some ways 2001 was a really long time ago and also not that long ago, but, when it comes to this stuff, it was hugely different situation. There was only one company that was making, for the most part, limp packers that you could buy. So, there wasn’t that much to get. I worked hard to find more and more gear for this community, and as our website grew and as our web presence and the Internet it started to be a thing, we were finding that we were getting younger and younger folks ordering from us and we were having some issues with parents. I was feeling a little bit nervous about younger people accessing our website—even though there’s really nothing that we can do to control that— and having to navigate through butt plugs and dildos and vibrators in order to find the gender expression gear that they wanted. I just had this moment when I realized that I just need to have a separate site for this stuff so that I can feel confident that if a parent comes at me and they’re pissed off that their kid bought a twelve-dollar limp penis and saying I’m doing something wrong—which is always sort of how they would approach it — their child’s not doing anything wrong by ordering from us, but whatever— I can feel really confident saying that they’re buying this off a website that is not a sex website. So, that’s kind of how FtM Essentials started, as I was just, I—you know, because you can create websites so easily. So, I just kind of put together a website on my own and had very few SKUs on it, but since then it’s grown a lot. I think the industry of trans supportive gear, specifically trans-masculine supportive gear, either has been in the realm of the sex toy store, which is fine and great and there’s a lot of cross over, but also leaves younger folks in a sort of precarious position. And parents are really pissed if their kid buys something from a sex toy store, so if they’re buying the same thing from a not-sex store it seems a lot less scary to them. I also wanted an opportunity for people who work with trans individuals to be able to navigate the site with them. For case workers or therapists to be able to help folks find this gear without having to kind of wade through all the adult stuff.
REDDY-BEST: When did it start?
DEYSACH: Early to Bed started in 2001. We started carrying trans gear from the beginning, but I didn’t start FtM Essentials until 2012.
REDDY-BEST: So, starting FtM Essentials in response to young folks and their parent’s responses to navigating a sex store website because it made parents uncomfortable.
DEYSACH: Also, I think it left me open, to some degree, to some possible, you know? The laws about any of this stuff is completely murky, totally murky. I feel very confident that none of it would seriously get me in trouble but, I would go to the Supreme Court to fight for a 14-year-old’s right to have a limp penis. I would not fight, necessarily, for a 14-year-old to have a butt plug. I think there’s two different things and I felt like separating them was really important for a lot of people. The customers, too. I think that the folks looking for trans gear were not automatically going to think to go to a sex toy store and were just not going to be comfortable doing that. This is what I was going to say, because the history of this type of gear has been so much in sex toy stores there have been other sites that have popped up. But my experience with a lot of them has been that they’re people who want to serve their community. They want to have this stuff, but they don’t have the experience and the background of being in business that I already had under my belt. The experience of working with these companies, of working, running a website, shipping all these things, and I was really excited to be able to offer people these products with my ten plus years in business and our infrastructure of shipping things quickly. I think people who were buying these products from other stores were struggling a lot more. A couple of years ago we would get so many customers who came to us already frustrated with us because they had a bad experience somewhere else. Someone took their money and never sent their thing because a lot of people are making things in their house, or they just didn’t know what they were doing, they were overselling so much that they couldn’t ever fulfill these orders and they had already lost money. So we would get people who really just had been kind of screwed over by the fact that so many people selling this stuff were struggling to do it in a way that was working. I don’t want to be judgmental, because I don’t think any of it was ill-intentioned. I think it was just that it’s hard. It’s harder than you think to run a business. So, I think that’s also why FtM Essentials has worked so well with so little effort put into it, as far as promotion and advertising and all those things I never get around to doing. But yeah it has become a huge part of our business in a relatively short time.
REDDY-BEST: It makes perfect sense.
DEYSACH: Yeah, it felt very organic. All that trans stuff that we have, this is a response to what people want and what’s available, obviously. But it’s really interesting to see this industry—or this segment of this industry, because a lot of this still does still cross over into the sex industry—and grow so quickly and grow so exponentially every year. There’s like so much more stuff, which has been great, but it was not what I set out to do. I set out to have a cute little vibrator store and I still do, but I also have this huge part of our store that is trans supportive gear. And I have, you know, two actually. I have a website for children, too, that’s called Trans Kids that I started just about two years ago for under-13-year-olds. It has even smaller of everything. I’m really happy where I ended up because I also have a lot of passion for this, even if it’s not me specifically that’s the target audience.
REDDY-BEST: So I make sure I know the timeline. 2001 is when the Early to Bed started. Then FtM started in 2012 and then 2015 is.
DEYSACH: Trans Kids.
REDDY-BEST: Trans Kids.
REDDY-BEST: And so that’s the timeline.
REDDY-BEST: And Trans Kids was in response to realizing, correct me if I’m wrong, that there were younger folks that needed ways to express their gender.
DEYSACH: Yeah. We were vending for a couple years at a Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, which is an annual conference in Philadelphia, obviously, and we were having a lot of parents who were looking for stuff for their like five and six-year-olds. Everything that we have is not appropriate for five or six-year-old, or eight or ten-year-old even, like, these are just not appropriate. The physiology does not match up to them. As a parent of a gender nonconforming / trans child, I also understood that there’s a lot of parents whose kid are that age who are looking for more than just the gear. So, we have books and we have book reviews and, you know, stuff like that, so a lot of the stuff that’s really specific for little kids. I really wanted to kind of make a clear distinction between emerging adults and kids, because there’s a huge difference with size-wise but also what their needs are, and I wanted Trans Kids to be a place where parents, because I don’t know six-year-olds can shop online. My seven-year-old bought herself something on eBay, unintentionally. I wanted a place where it was really about the parents and making them feel safe and supported and that this stuff was there for their kids if they needed it and stuff like that. So, Trans Kids is like this baby, literally, but like this tiny little thing compared to everything else I do, but it’s sort of my heart is really in it as somebody who I think can, help parents navigate that from a vender perspective as also from a parent perspective.
REDDY-BEST: And, can you just talk about how you chose the names FtM Essentials and then Trans Kids?
DEYSACH: Well FtM Essentials, choosing that as a name just it seemed very benign, it seemed very, descriptive. I wanted something that was really easy to find when you were googling, I actually regret the name at this point. Our language around trans identities is evolving at such a rapid pace that actually FtM, using FtM in the, for a lot of people, is a really antiquated term already, even though it’s only been a few years since people were even using that term. I wish that I had thought a little more creatively and maybe made it something that was a little bit more gender neutral. I am thinking that at some point I am going to probably have to rebrand it, just because I think that it already sounds old fashioned. But again, there’s no mincing words for what it’s about, I mean Early to Bed, the sex toy store, creates mass confusion with people thinking we sell beds or bedding or something like that so I was really like, let’s just get to brass tacks here and call it what it is. And then Trans Kids seemed like hopefully a longer-term appropriate way to talk about things. I know there’s some controversy about using “kids” to talk about youth, but I’m really talking about little ones and I wanted that to be really obvious that it was for a younger set.
REDDY-BEST: I think it really speaks to the idea, right, that, I mean I teach a class right now “intro to identity and dress” and we go through every single intersection. Religion, sexuality, sex, gender, body size, you know, everything. I’m always emphasizing that next year, what I’m saying right now about this particular set of words could be that now somebody now thinks it’s a slur. So, it’s like it’s a continually evolving thing and, when you have a brand, I knew right away like FtM Essentials I was like, I know exactly what that is. There’s no questions, you know. Trans Kids – it’s easy, it’s quick and I get it, but it can be tricky.
DEYSACH: Right. Who knows, in five years, I can’t predict what the language is going to be and it’s my job, especially as somebody who is not a trans person, to be responsive to those changes and to not try to put my own stamp on them or fight them or whatever like that. So, I’m sort of figuring out what the step is. And then it’s also a business and so how do I change the name to be more culturally appropriate without losing what I already have? So, I keep putting that on the bottom of my to do list for next week.
REDDY-BEST: So then, can you tell me about the business model for FtM Essentials and Trans Kids and how it relates to Early to Bed? Like how you purchased, designed, worked with manufacturers or anything like that. Tell me about how that relationship, or how that worked, as much as you feel comfortable?
DEYSACH: Sure! Sure, I think of myself often as having three separate little businesses but they all go in the same bank account. It’s all basically the same thing, it’s me doing everything and my staff. Everyone who works here has their fingers in all parts of it. Early to Bed, where I sell sex toys, is very traditional in the sense that I buy things from vendors, who I don’t know and I sell things. I mean, I know some of them, but for the most part, that’s that. With FtM Essentials it’s the same thing. I don’t make anything. I mean, at one time I used to knit a bunch of dildo cozies when I was bored, we don’t manufacture anything. We’ve contemplated that but it’s just an entirely different, it’s an entire different thing that I just am not in the position to attack. But, because there’s been so many holes, so to speak, in the trans masculine world of expression gear and there’s a bunch of really small manufacturers that we work with, we’ve been able to, help influence where designs are going and where things are coming from. And because these are small people who are manufacturing things, I’m able to say to them like lots of people are asking for this, can you do anything about this? So, for example, we work with this company, called New York Toy Collective that makes beautiful packers and they’re silicone and they make uncut ones and cut ones which was kind of a revolutionary difference. And we were really on them to make smaller ones because we were selling these which are you know, healthy adult sizes that are pretty big to begin with. You know, we wanted a size for a smaller person or younger person and they [New York Toy Collective] were very responsive, and then, we were like, “maybe you could make even smaller ones, can you make even smaller ones?” They actually shrunk down their molds two more sizes for ones that are appropriate for like six-year olds and even four-year olds. We’re not making anything but I feel like we sell enough of stuff that we can actually help kind of influence what people are making sometimes. We have somebody who makes stand up pee devices where, you know, they design everything but they will often send us prototypes to get feedback and stuff like that. I will tell them what I’m looking for they still do what they want to do, but I think that they are really open to knowing what this population is looking for and there’s not a lot of ways to really gather that information, but we get to hear about it every single day, what is lacking and what people want. So, we’re always happy to share that information and help people to make things. We’ve contemplated making binders and we’ve looked into it and our friends at New York Toy Collective helped us because they know more about manufacturing and they were looking into it and it’s just it’s too much of a different thing. It’s frustrating to me because I feel like binders in particular, there’s such this great need for them and there’s so few people making them and there’s really only like two companies that are making them in a mass market kind of way. A lot of people are making them sort of in a custom way, which is great, but we really wanted to be able to offer another option for the mass market. Of the two people who make them in the US, one of them does not have the capacity, or that’s what they tell us. They won’t do wholesale so we can’t offer them. The other one [binder maker] is great, but they’re not they’re not perfect. No binder’s perfect, there’s nothing you can do to make binding perfect, but we wanted to have another option and I just, if I was a different person or had more space in my life I would. That would be my only thing I’d really want to make. I have no interest in designing sex toys. Sex toys are taken care of, they’re great, but I think there’s a need there that’s not being filled and I just don’t know how to fill it.
REDDY-BEST: What is your role in the company? So, you are the founder, owner, overseer of all three.
DEYSACH: I like being an overseer, yeah. I am definitely the founder and owner and you know head of the corporation for tax purposes of all three businesses. And all three businesses are very intertwined. I have contemplated trying to separate them out more there are times just when the capacity of the staff here or the actual physical space of the store seems like it’s struggling. And I think, oh my god what if I could have a store that was just for gender expression gear, it was for all ages because there are, we do get people who are underage who want to come in and try a binder on and, again, such a grey area, but we usually, especially if their parents are with them, let them come in and try a binder on. Wouldn’t be great if there was a store where, you know, everyone could come in and we could have more offerings and we could, you know, I would like to expand our offerings from trans-masc to trans-feminine people but we just don’t have the space for certain things and it’s a different pipeline of things. So for right now, and probably the near foreseeable future, it’s all kind of one thing and I run it all and I have a staff of about nine people who do most of the actual work, the packing and the shipping and the all that stuff so and the helping customers.
REDDY-BEST: So, I’m not aware, do you have to be do you have to be 18 to come into a sex shop? Or is that grey?
DEYSACH: Well, it’s grey, it’s grey.
DEYSACH: So you can be exposed, from how what I understand it and I am not a lawyer—I hired a lawyer before I opened the store, she never really found any real definitive stuff. You can’t expose people under 18 to obscene material, pornography. We do have DVDs in the back, but you kind of have to go to them and there are very few of them. I think that is the only thing in the store that I could not make the argument that it’s a novelty item or that it’s a gender expression item. A lot of the stuff that they sell at sex toy stores now they sell at like, you know, Target and Spenser’s Gifts, so I don’t think that—I don’t actually know the rules, but it’s definitely, sort of culturally what we do across the board is have stores be, you know, 18 and up for sex toys. That, we make that rule. people have to be 18 to come in here to shop just because I don’t want to get in trouble, you know, but I don’t necessarily know. There’s just, there’s just not really clear laws on it especially because this is an unregulated industry so every single thing that is not a prophylactic or a pornographic movie or whatever is a novelty item, so there’s no real oversight of what that is. So, it’s interesting.
REDDY-BEST: And so then can you tell me about the products that are in FtM Essentials, like what are the items that you sell or if you want to show me?
DEYSACH: Sure! So, I’m sitting in front of most’ve the things that we sell on FtM Essentials which are packing gear. Packers, are sort of the, I would say, the bread and butter of this website, this industry of trans masculine gender expressive gear, something to put in one’s pants. We have both, what I consider, artisan-made ones that are handmade and silicone and gorgeous and we have mass market ones. It’s really interesting to see that for years and years and years some of the people who are making these things were basically working out of their homes, as small businesses. In the past maybe two or three years, huge sex toys companies like CalExotics and Doc Johnson have started making their own versions of things, sometimes ripping off small makers, but it’s the nature of the beast. It’s great because then that means that this stuff is being stocked at probably creepy sex toy stores on the side of the road or you know small town mom and pop sex toy stores because it’s coming through the same channel. So, I think it’s great. The product quality is not the same as the product quality that we get so, but it also opens up economic options for people. So, I really appreciate that. We sell a lot of things to hold your packer in. We have underwear that is made specifically with pouches in it to hold the packer, we sell straps that hold the packer, we have, what’s really popular now, these pouches that you just attach the inside of your pants so that you can wear your packer in a secure pouch in any pair of pants you have. Then we sell binders which you know basically flatten someone’s chest and we sell four styles of them. We could, probably, if we had the ability to, sell every style they make in every color and every size. It’s a huge amount of what we sell and then perfectly honest it’s completely financially ridiculous for us to do. We make no money off of the binders we sell for the most part, and we give away a lot of binders so. But there’s nowhere else in Chicago, specifically, where you can go and try on a binder and it’s huge thing as far as trying to get a fit. We sell a lot online, but there’s a lot more competition online, that’s fine. I think it’s really important that every time I’m like, “ugh there’s so many styles there’s so many sizes and then you know we’re not making any money off of them and everything.” But when someone has the ability to come in and try four on before they make a decision. I think it’s especially important to be able to try them on because they’re, they’re not cheap and people don’t have, you know, we’re not talking about 50-year-old cisgender heterosexual white men who tend to have a lot more money in our culture, we’re talking about a totally different population, and so making things affordable and making things accessible is super important to me. We have a couple of things that we have crossed a little bit of a line in FtM Essentials into actual sexual expression sex gear. Actually, it’s not even an expression, it’s just sex gear. You will find on the site there are three I think masturbation sleeves. It felt a little weird about crossing that line, as FtM Essentials, but since that’s where so many of our trans customers come in. I felt it was important to have that you have to be 18 to buy them. Again, I’m not sure about that but people have, finally, after years and years, started making small sleeves that trans guys can use to masturbate, not that there aren’t a lot of things that trans guys use to masturbate, but having products specifically designed for trans guys is very affirming and also just works better in a lot of circumstances. We also have one lube that we sell that is specifically for trans guys. Buck Angel who is a well-known trans-masculine porn star has worked with a couple different companies to have his own line of toys and lube. Buck’s lube, he really designed it for men, people who are on testosterone because it [testosterone] can dry everything out and make any kind of touch or anything more uncomfortable. So, it’s a very safe, there’s nothing really specific about it that makes it a trans lube except for that it’s really marketed towards that population, which, for some people, makes a big difference to have that permission. So, I think that’s pretty much what is over here: what we sell on the site and then we sell some, you know, buttons and “celebrate trans lives” t-shirts, which we sell sort of as a fundraiser for our free binder program that we run. Where we have over 14,000 young people who have applied to get a free binder from us, which is devastating to me because we cannot give out nearly that many. I would have to sell my, liquidate my business to do that. So there’s just this reminder on a monthly basis when I go and I download the 2,000 new entries or whatever that there’s this huge group of people who are really desperate for gear that helps them feel more embodied in who they are, which helps me to keep doing what I’m doing so that we can help them.
DEYSACH: I think so, last time I checked, yeah. I think it might be up to like 16 or 17 thousand now. I know. And between you and me, like I’m like well these are also potential customers maybe like buying you know two years down the road so I have this hope that like.
DEYSACH: We’re moving so quickly towards towards things being more and more nonbinary whereas five or ten years ago the stuff that I was selling, I was really only selling it to very confidently trans people. We’re seeing more of our clients being people who don’t necessarily identify on the gender binary anywhere or who use these products not necessarily on a daily basis. So, I think it’s interesting to see that everything is just getting more and more fluid, which I think is great. You know it’s happening so fast!
DEYSACH: Like someday we’re going to need to make binders that have [unintelligible] them or something you know like there’s going to be something you’re just like no! Wait what are you doing?
REDDY-BEST: What else do you sell?
DEYSACH: So, this is the standard packer. Again, it is just basically to fill a space in someone’s pants. We have different sizes and different colors, which is really important to me. there are some people who only manufacture very limited colors and that’s a struggle but I really have committed to trying to just sell everything we possibly can. So, like there’s one company in Japan that makes something called the [unintelligible] that only comes in a fluorescent peach color but we sell it because it’s a really good shape and not everybody cares so much. So, some people would put a packer just in a jock strap, sometimes people do put them just in their underwear, although we’ve evolved enough that that’s not the best. People don’t do that as much anymore because that is not the best idea because if you take off your underpants, your packer falls out. So, this is a really simple strap that’s made by a company that’s been around for years and that’s actually a leather company. They focus mostly on BDSM gear but they also do a lot of trans stuff. So, this is just basically what’s called a packing strap and you put the packer in here and it’s nice and secure. We usually recommend wearing it either under your underpants or you could wear one in between your underpants and pants. That’s really a good idea for the most part to not have your packer right up against your body for most of the time. It’s sweaty you your bits can’t breathe. Some of the packers that are made out of cheaper porous materials are not something you want up against any part of your body for a long period of time. You just could have a reaction. We don’t know what they’re made out of so a strap like this works really well in anybody, and in any clothes. Then we also have this. There’s a company called Rodeo that started making dildo harnesses. I don’t know when they started, they’d actually be really interesting to talk to, and they, I think, like me, kind of got into this business on one angle and then were realizing that a lot of their clients were trans guys, so they started making underwear that is not meant for using with a dildo or any sort of penetrative stuff but basically just has a pocket in it, so that you can hold your packer extraordinarily security and have your packer in your underwear so you have that bulge. Let me make sure it’s not sideways. It’s easier when it’s on someone’s body. So, for a lot of people, you know, it’s about what they feel in their body. I have the stuff under my clothes that nobody knows, and nobody can tell. Maybe I’m not presenting as masculine to some people. Maybe I’m presenting really masculine and I’m using guy’s bathrooms and I’m using “men only” spaces and so having—so there’s different degrees of which people need this stuff to look realistic. So, for some people who want to stand and pee, all they need to do is use something to move the urine away from their bodies so they can use something like this. They’re not doing it in public. They’re doing it either in their home or in stalls or something like that, so devices that can help someone to stand up and pee can be great. I mean, of course they can be great, but they can also be totally nonrealistic or if somebody’s in a situation where they need to be passing as much as possible they now make more realistic ones so that, assuming nobody’s, you know, getting really up in your business, you can wear these. There are straps that people make to wear STPs and so these kind of function then as packers as well as urinary devices so you kind of get a two-in-one with this, which for a lot of people is great because then you only have one thing you have to worry about and then this fits under your clothes you can kind of angle it where you want it, and whip it out when you need to go to the bathroom. Like, packers are great but if everyone could pee through every packer everyone’s problems would be solved and life would be so much easier for people. But yeah, so that’s the majority of the types of things that we sell for that.
REDDY-BEST: What does STP stand for?
DEYSACH: Stand-to-pee. Stand-to-pee devices is another thing that I didn’t realize that I would be crying in the shower over because that’s, you know, it’s so vitally important for so many people and the technology and the industry just isn’t where people want it to be and add in affordability. People are very mad at me sometimes because things don’t exist that they wanted to exist.
REDDY-BEST: And then, can you tell me like how much these things cost? What’s the price range?
DEYSACH: So, for packers we have packers that start at $12 and go up to about $60. I think there’s a really nice silicone one, it’s our most expensive one at $60. So, a lot of the non-silicone ones, the ones that are made of a porous material are between $12 and $20 and then, it’s about $40 to $60 for a silicone one, which can seem like a lot, but if it’s something that you’re wearing every day, it’s like a good pair of glasses. Like, you’re wearing it every day and it’s an important part of your identity and it’s sometimes worth the investment to get something that’s going to last and is not going to degrade or change color or [unintelligible] or something like that. And then for straps, we have a really simple strap that’s like $15 and then the underwear is usually like $20 to $30 depending on how many features it has.
REDDY-BEST: And so, is there anything that you would like to have or that you would like to offer that isn’t in existence but you would like to expand in this area?
DEYSACH: Oh! Sure! Well I mean, I would love to have a wider variety of binders, I would love to have binders that were cute, I would love to have binders that fit bodies better, and that we could make some money off of them, in all honesty. Stand-to-pee devices, we have a great selection, but I think that people would love ones that you know there could more variety of sizes. But, I think that what we have really functions really well but besides that I feel like there’s always something that somebody wants that doesn’t exist and that isn’t going to exist, you know, it is the always the unicorn. So, we try to listen to those wants. We hear about these things all the time, we try to listen to them. We try to help people troubleshoot and we try to help. You know, we give feedback to manufacturers but, a lot of time the feedback is what I know is sort of impossible. People want what would be the most amazing thing in the world is a packer that was limp that could magically harden and then you can pee through it. Like, that is what everybody wants and that’s just not a thing that’s possible right now. There are items, that are STPs that have holes in them that you can put a rod in them so they can have an erection and you can pee through them. I guess we don’t have one of those. Those, those pretty much is as good as you get. But you’re taking rods out, you’re moving things around, but yeah. I don’t know. There’s nothing else really like I feel like this is a good variety of things even though it’s never enough but.
REDDY-BEST: But it covers the bases pretty much.
DEYSACH: It covers the basics, yeah.
REDDY-BEST: It covers the bases; you have a r– you have like different options-which is awesome. Super cool different colors, and like different needs for what people want and then like but there’s no perfect, you know.
DEYSACH: There’s no perfect thing.
REDDY-BEST: The rod – I can only imagine. You might have to go into a stall, you know what I mean?
REDDY-BEST: Like, there’s probably like all these different things that are happening you know in between that moment, but it speaks to the idea of how important it might be and how essential.
DEYSACH: Yeah, totally essential! I mean, we’ve talked to people who are like, “I can’t leave the house until I get this,” and I’m like, “okay, well, sorry it’s the mail. It’s just going to take a couple days.” But you know it is just such an important part of folks lives and the best part is hearing from folks who are kind enough to share with us that, after they’ve gotten something that embodied how they feel, how transformed they feel in a sense, and for the first time they finally feel like, “you know, this is this is who I am. This is so right.” And that makes up for all the people who challenge us and who don’t understand how the postal system works, or who, you know, think that coming at us mean is the way to go. You know it’s being that amazing magical thing. You know how they have lipstick or foundation that like changes color depending on something about you? I don’t know, I see advertisement for lipstick that changes colors, but if there was some way that dildos and packers could change color based on the person that would be. I mean because there’s a lot of struggle with people because none of these are human colors or very close to human colors and I think that’s really hard for a lot of people. It’s hard for people who make them because it’s skin and it’s a living thing and it’s really hard to make something that’s not skin look like it’s alive. But, again, I think people have to realize how little people are looking at color of that and just the shape.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah. So, anything else about the different types of products and the different categories? I think you’ve you covered, I feel.
DEYSACH: I think so.
REDDY-BEST: I feel saturated there.
DEYSACH: No, I think because there.
REDDY-BEST: But I always like to follow up anything else that might be important to show different stuff that people want. Or use to express identity.
DEYSACH: No, no, not really, no. Not in this, capacity yeah.
REDDY-BEST: Okay. I feel like I know a bit about your customer but if you could just describe who’s buying these items?
DEYSACH: So, I think the customer base for FtM Essentials is more varied than it might sound from its very mundane name. Most of our business is from the website so we don’t necessarily know everything about our clients, but they tend to be at the younger end of the spectrum from what I can tell. A larger portion of them identify as men. They’re either using masculine names or, they’re definitely folks who identify as men and are men. In the store, we actually get to interact with people, how many of the people who are accessing this stuff are also folks who don’t look traditionally masculine or who are maybe experimenting with gender or who maybe, you would look at and identify as one gender but they’re embodying another gender and it just doesn’t necessarily read for you in the same way. So, it’s kind of interesting to see that I think a couple years ago, the people who bought the stuff were the people who would walk in the store and look like men, and now you’re seeing more of a variety of the way that people are presenting. I’m trying very hard to make this not at all problematic, and, when you’re talking about a but, just a wider variety of our perceived gender expressions. but I do think that for the most part and, and why I started FtM Essentials, and even Trans Kids, is that we are seeing this as being definitely, for the most part, I don’t know what age is “younger,” but younger than me. And when I go, like when I go to conferences and I vend, a lot of the folks who are older are, they’re interested but a lot of them are either over it and they’re, they’re very keen to tell me that they like “ugh, did that,” you know, “ten years ago and I gave up because it’s not worth it.” Like, I don’t pack anymore. I don’t bind.” Like, which is interesting. Or they’re kind of just completely not interested like that. I don’t know if it’s generational or if it’s that there was, I feel like I have no right to say any of this, but anecdotally what I have gleaned from people who I have spoken to is that there are sometimes older folks who are guys who had a masculine or trans masculine identity for years and years and years and when they came out they didn’t have access to such gear and so they’ve made these lives without it and so their approach to it is kind of sometimes very different. Sometimes it’s like “[gasps] oh my god, this is amazing, I can’t believe they have this now I wish they had this 30 years ago,” or like “pff I don’t need that,” you know, “like, I’ve lived this long. This is who I am, my identity is really set, I don’t need to pack my pants.” So, it’s kind of, I don’t know, it’s interesting. It’s almost that the minute I think I have an idea of who my customer is or who these people are that it is totally then changes again so. One thing I’ve learned is to never think you know what you’re doing for very long.
REDDY-BEST: So how do folks like find out about FtM Essentials or Trans Kids? Do they find out online? Do they walk by? Or how, how do you, how does that happen?
DEYSACH: Oh definitely, we are not, the kind of business people just happen upon. First of all, the storefront is very branded at Early to Bed. There’s actually no mention of FtM Essentials or Trans Kids in the window of Early to Bed. Which completely, at this very moment, I’m having an idea that like, “whoa we should have that somewhere.” Although it shouldn’t say anything about kids. So many of our clients come from online and I wish I had a better idea of how they find us. I think a lot of them come from Google. It’s interesting, we haven’t been doing this for that long but we’ve been doing it for longer than a lot of the other places so our SCO is pretty good, all that, you know, boring eh internet stuff. So, people come for us from there, and we do we vend at this conference every year, so we try to reach out to people. We have one very influential blogger who’s a trans guy blogger who reviews stuff for us and he drives people to Early to Bed. So, it’s actually not people driving them towards FtM Essentials. Yeah, I don’t know. If I knew I would try to capitalize on that but I’m just very grateful that people do find us. I think that there’s a significant amount of word of mouth in this industry. People tell people. We do a ton of outreach mostly as Early to Bed but also, I do outreach as FtM Essentials. We go to groups of trans guys who have social groups. I’ve gone to like a summer camp for queer youth to give out sort of show and tell about all this stuff. So, we try to make information about this stuff as accessible as possible. We try to advertise our free binder program to people because I’m really good at advertising things that cost me money rather than make me money. That’s the kind of business woman I am. It’s always on my list of things to do, is to try and figure out how people find out about us.
REDDY-BEST: Do you get pranks calls because it’s a sex toy shop?
DEYSACH: Yeah. We get little kids who are like, “do you sell condoms?” and you’re just like, “oh my god, that’s not even funny.” Or “What’s your biggest dildo.” I mean if anybody calls and asks “what’s your biggest dildo?” they’re not serious.
DEYSACH: So, we’ve finally learned to stop answering blocked calls but children don’t know how to block their calls so we get them, but then we also get, the worst is we get men. People who identify with their voice as men who will string you along with.
DEYSACH: Questions that – you know – and you just try to answer really dis-affectedly.
DEYSACH: And I’m sometimes mean and then in the end there’s some statement at the, you know, there’s just something that you’re just like I know they’re getting off or I know they just wanted to hear me say cock a lot. I don’t know, it’s a struggle and I just wish we could just be like, “we don’t take phone calls.” But then you have some 50-year-old trans guy who’s never had a binder before, who doesn’t know how to use the Internet and you have to walk him through every style on the phone and we want to be here for those people who really need us. But yeah, we don’t want to be there for the people who don’t. Pay a sex worker or something like that instead of paying us, or not paying us. Ugh, sorry, anyways!
REDDY-BEST: So, can you tell me what do you feel like has been most successful for FtM Essentials?
DEYSACH: Do you mean what product has been the most successful for FtM Essentials?
REDDY-BEST: Just like your vision of like FtM Essentials. What would you feel like if you just thought broadly about it, what is most successful to you?
DEYSACH: Well, I think what’s most successful to me about FtM Essentials is I feel like we—and I cannot credit myself, I think on its own, this just sort of happened, that we’ve been able to really reach a wide, a wide girth of people. It seems like a really large percentage of FtM Essential orders are going overseas. So, we’re reaching people in, you know, all these other countries, which has its own perils, but it also is a lot of time, you know, we hear from people and it’s like, “There’s nothing like this in my entire country.” Something like that. I look at the orders that we get and how many of them are coming from places that I’ve never heard of you know that, that there’s small towns that we’re able to help people who are, you know isolated from their communities. In all of the FtM Essentials orders, we include a resource guide for people, for places they can connect and you know get information, because we really think it’s important to make sure that people know that there’s a lot of people out there who are there for them and there to help them. This is a population of people who can really struggle with depression and feeling lots of things and their parents can be horrible and stuff like that, so I think what makes me feel really good about this is that. We’re still selling stuff, I’m not a philanthropist or whatever. This is a business. I’m I mean I do, do my best but you know this is a business that makes money. We need to make money in order to survive. I think sometimes people don’t get that. I mean we get people every single day who just ask us if we can send them free stuff and it’s heartbreaking to be like we can’t. I mean we couldn’t run a business if we did. But that we are able to kind of touch people who are in a lot of cases by themselves and help them, I mean, it’s one of the most rewarding retail kind of things I could imagine. I mean I get a similar feeling from Early to Bed knowing that we’re helping people have orgasms and that’s a wonderful thing, but this almost feels more crucial as far as what satisfaction, or goodness people get from what we’re selling and that we’re able to do it and it works without having to be a huge struggle on our end.
REDDY-BEST: And then was there anything that surprised you about starting FtM Essentials or was there anything that you like you didn’t like think would happen or?
DEYSACH: Well when I got into this industry, when I got into Early to Bed, this FtM Essentials was nowhere in my mind. I mean this was nothing that I thought would happen. I got into this industry to sell vibrators and dildos and this was an obvious evolution in a lot of ways, even though not everybody who has a sex toy store evolves in this way. So, I think that its whole existence has surprised me. The fact that we get almost as many orders on FtM Essentials as we do on Early to Bed, that like number of boxes that leave the store each day end up being pretty even, which I think is pretty interesting to me and surprising. I’m also, I have to say, one thing that has pleasantly surprised me is that I’m always concerned about getting push back for the fact that I’m a cisgender woman who’s doing this and there’s been very little of that at, if at all. Especially when we go to a conference and I’m talking to people face to face and there’s you know, I don’t look like someone who’s identifying as a masculine person. I’m honest about my relationship to these objects and you know I sort of expect there to be more criticism of that and I’m willing to take that, but I’m really excited that that hasn’t become an issue because I’m just here doing this because I’m responding to people’s needs. This wasn’t some great plan I had to like make a million dollars off a community, which I also haven’t. I hope that continues. I hope that I continue or that I am able to continue to do this and be honest about who I am and my motivations and have them met and be received positively within the community that people understand that I’m just doing this because I don’t know what else to do.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, I think that’s huge.
REDDY-BEST: I think sometimes there can be a lot of criticism.
DEYSACH: Yeah. And there should be! I mean like I think that a lot of it is valid.
DEYSACH: Like, when I open a sex toy store what was really important to me was that I was going to be this person who was talking to people like me. It was new for there to be a woman owning a sex toy store talking to women about sex toys. I’ll talk to anybody about sex toys but my heart and why I did it was to have that kind of familiar relationship. This is kind of a totally different thing in the sense that this is this isn’t who I am, so I worry about that. That’s why almost why Trans Kids seems more comfortable because it’s about me as a parent of a trans kid talking to other parents of trans kids and I feel very comfortable in that role. I feel comfortable in this role in a sense that, regardless of my identity, from my years of doing this I know stuff. I have this knowledge. I understand these things, I know how they’re used, so I think that I, at least I have something to offer people. Yeah, it’s something that I try to be hyperaware of. I don’t want anyone to ever think that my intentions are misguided or that I shouldn’t be doing this.
REDDY-BEST: You know, you’re so on top of all the language and I’m like, “oh my gosh.”
DEYSACH: You get murdered.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, but it’s so interesting how it can really vary, you know what I mean? The use of different words.
DEYSACH: Well I think about like the person who does [redacted]. That’s somebody who’s making stuff for themselves. They’re very involved in the presentation of it. I think some of the trans-masculine clothing companies are people who wanted to have those things for themselves and so they’re making them to wear ’em which is like, I definitely know for a fact, the people who are making a lot of this stuff, especially the smaller stuff are people who wanted these things to exist for them, and so they made them. But I’m just kind of this like conduit of getting it out there and if someone wants to come along and do a better, this field is wide open knock yourself out!
REDDY-BEST: There’s not many folks.
DEYSACH: No, I mean there’s not, as far as like retailing like this.
DEYSACH: There’s a store called Toolshed in Milwaukee, but it’s just a sex toy store so, but they have a huge gender expression gear stuff and they have every style of, they have so much more than we do, I don’t know why they have all that capacity, but it’s buried in their sex toy site.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah. It’s buried because I have full-time assistant looking for brands. Anyone who’s gender nonconforming or brands that cater to gender nonconforming or trans. We have a huge spreadsheet and we did not find them.
DEYSACH: And I wonder too if this is the key. But I think too that there’s no other sex shop I know that’s done what I’ve done as far as branching this off.
REDDY-BEST: I don’t think so.
DEYSACH: Well actually that’s a total lie there’s a store in Canada called Come as You Are that was a retail store. They closed their retail store in the last year so they have an online presence and they have Gender Gear Canada as their separate gender supportive gear website. Which is fine, because shipping to Canada’s so expensive.
REDDY-BEST: Well that makes sense because we we’re only looking in the US.
DEYSACH: Oh, you’ve got to limit your focus.
REDDY-BEST: We have to. I’m like, I’m doing a holistic project, of the US. Okay so then, just a few more questions. I’m just going to ask about feedback from folks. So, what are the types? And if you have any other stories that pop in your mind of positive feedback that you’ve gotten related to FtM Essentials or Trans Kids that stick out?
DEYSACH: Oh! Of course, I’m always terrible with stories after the fact but so the best is, I spend so much of my life behind the computer doing things that don’t involve interacting with people anymore, which is both good and bad. So, when we go to this conference every year in Philly I set up a table for three days and talk to people, which is exhausting but it’s also the most chance I have to get feedback from people. And it’s been really interesting to see how the Trans Kids stuff has been perceived because there’s so much confusion about why we would have penises that small and the first thing people who are also looking at, you know, trans gear for themselves—they see this tiny penis, the first thing they think is that it’s a keychain. I swear to god, 9 times out of 10 people see a tiny penis and think it’s a keychain. There’s no ring on it, I mean come on! And as soon as I say no it’s for little kids everyone goes “Oh my god, that’s so amazing!” for the most part. One person called us a pervert but, whatever. Or said that perverts could use them. I was like, “yeah, perverts can use anything they want,” okay. So, that and then also “Oh my god that’s so amazing. Oh my god, I wish that was something when I was six years old or whatever.” So that is the thing about Trans Kids is interesting, is there’s like, there’s not a lot of action as far as sales and stuff like that which is fine. But the m good feel, like I feel like it’s just like my like feel good about myself thing. People just really give me so much positive feedback about its existence and what we’re trying to do. So that’s really good. When it comes more to FtM Essential stuff, there’s a lot of really positive feedback about things, but there’s the thing that’s so interesting about this stuff, is that I can have this STP that 90% of the people love that I have sold it to a like a 12 year old who’s gone and used it and then come back and told me how great it was, like, super easy, and then I have you know three people who walk up and tell me it’s the worst thing they’ve ever spent money on and that they can’t believe they bought it. And of course, my heart is broken and I’m sorry but I’m not taking it back. Everything is so personal. Everything is so about your physiology, about your comfort, and about how you use it. For this whole industry, everything really comes down to the individual and so we are really careful and forgiving. Excessive negative feedback about something like this does not work. We’ll definitely look at, you know, “do we need to sell this? Should we warn people about this?” We’ve carried products that we’ve been like we think, and we will only do this for stuff for trans guys because there’s so much more limited things out there, so we’ll say, “We think this sucks. We hate this material. You should know about this material, here’s the problems with this material,” and we’ll still sell a ton of them because people are desperate for things that fit what they need or want. I don’t know if that was really your question but yeah, the feedback we get is never consistent enough. It’s always like, “I love this, I hate this, I love this, I hate this, this makes me feel great, this made me feel terrible.” So it’s a little hard, but overall we get a lot of people who, more than anything, thank us for existing. Which is great because that’s easy to do, but that makes me feel really good. And talking to parents. Parents are always what pulls at my heartstrings because I know that there are so many kids out here who are trans and gender-nonconforming young people, youth who struggle so much with acceptance from their parents, and we all know what it can be, how horrible it could be. When I get a parent who is ordering for their child because prom is coming up and they really need to make sure they have a binder in time for prom I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s just amazing, that’s wonderful, but why didn’t you think about this three weeks ago? Whatever prom that is on the calendar is usually at the end of the school year. Or parents like, for example, recently, we had a young person who ordered without their parent’s permission using their parent’s card and at first we talked to the parents, and they were like, “What is this? What did you send my kid?” We talked to them and explained what it was and they were like “Oh. Okay well you know what is there a better one than the one that you sent us, because maybe we should upgrade?” And they end up upgrading. You’re just like, “Oh my god we have this opportunity to explain something to a parent who came at us upset and then that parent turned around and supported their young person,” which is just, I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s really feedback but that’s the kind of thing that you know makes everything sort of worthwhile when you have people for whom we are somehow the conduit to them supporting their young person and their kid.
REDDY-BEST: Do you do your own imagery to promote your products?
REDDY-BEST: Can you just talk about imagery of the folks who you might use to represent the different products or how that might come into play? Like models or other imagery, and how you think about that and who you might choose and why you might choose them?
DEYSACH: Well, I would say there is some imagery that we use that the manufacturers have provided us and there’s some imagery that we use that’s mine. For the most part, we have everything not-attached to a body. For binders we use the imagery from the manufacturer and it’s been nice. They’ve shifted, I think the people who make the binders that we sell, Underworks, they started out making medical-like hernia gear and stuff like that and then people started using their binders for cisgender men who maybe had more chest than they wanted, and they finally figured out who was actually buying their stuff and now they provide it with images of people who look like they are trans guys.
They look like who is actually using it for the purpose of which we’re selling it. So I use their images because I feel very comfortable with them and then, for the most part, I just try to take pictures that look good, that show what’s going on with the object. I take a picture of everything in my own hand because I am a very cheap model, but also because I feel like well one it’s really easy for me to take a picture in my own hand, but also then I feel like there’s a consistency of scale even though no one knows what my hand size is, and it’s a pretty average hand size, but that if I have two different sizes of packers in the same hand it hopefully gives them some perspective. Even though I can put lots of dimensions on items, people are still like, “What? Is it too small or too big?” I just try, especially with FtM Essentials, to make it as explicit as possible, but also look really good. I think one of the things that I noticed with a lot of other websites, especially with this stuff is that photography is not really valued maybe as much as I value it. And I’m just taking pictures with my iPhone. I’m not like, some photographer or anything like that, but it’s not that hard to get a picture that’s clear. I struggle with the skin tones because it’s really hard to get those to look exactly right and get the color balance right and all that stuff. For me it was really important to just have consistency and to have things look good. Like, it’s really easy to make a website look decent and it’s super easy to make a website. It’s just as easy to make a website look terrible and I don’t understand why people can’t, it’s really not that hard. I am very visually attuned, especially when it comes to online shopping. I feel like the first thing that’s going to be trusted for a store is going to be the quality of their images and how different they look. Like, if I see a store and all they’re doing is using the same images that the manufacturer has provided, I’m concerned that the person who was running that store has never touched that object, has never handled that object, is not someone who knows what that object actually looks like, because they’re just cutting and pasting from somebody else. That is also why I write something about everything and even if I’m copying and pasting a lot of information from the maker, which I try to make obvious I’m copying and pasting, like, I don’t do a good job of that, but I try to have my spin on it too so that they know. People trust that somebody who’s writing about this, who’s selling this knows more than just what they’ve been told by the person who made it. It’s exhausting.
REDDY-BEST: Can you talk about funding or how you initially funded? A lot of folks have done Kickstarters. Or since you had an established business, did you want to talk a little bit about that?
DEYSACH: Yeah, sure. So, when I started my business Early to Bed in 2001, Kickstarter was just a gleam in somebody’s eye and actually for the sex toy industry getting funding from traditional methods is actually extremely hard. The sex toy industry is still seen as high risk. We get screwed on insurance rates and credit card rates and banks will just drop us. It’s kind of a nightmare. So I funded Early to Bed with credit cards, the traditional way. When I had my last office job and a regular salary I applied for a lot of credit cards, hung on to them, and bought, all my opening, pretty much everything. My mom and her husband gave me some money. A friend had loaned me a little bit of money, but for the most part it was credit card funded and, like a lot of small businesses, many scary lean years. But FtM Essentials kind of came around and split off at a time when Early to Bed was doing really poorly. I don’t know if I consciously thought of that as a way to just diversify my revenue stream, that sounds so wrong and business-y, but maybe not even right. So, it was all kind of coming from the same money. So basically, the stock that I buy for FtM Essentials is the same. I buy it for the store as well. So, funding, for the most part, when I’ve needed funding, it has been credit cards and my mom, who has bailed me out twice since 2001. I’m very lucky she married up when my dad died. But that has all been paid off and now we are, for the most part, completely self-sufficient and almost debt free, which is huge because 2012 was a really, really, really bad, scary year. So, I do think that I can credit also FtM Essentials and the new customers it has brought in with helping. It helps keep Early to Bed here. Like I don’t know that I could just have this storefront and survive if it was any other way, except for maybe if I just worked here alone every day, but it has really helped keep Early to Bed functioning and keep everybody kind of functioning.
REDDY-BEST: Are there any trends or inspiration that you might follow or look to in these market categories or in these products categories?
DEYSACH: Oh, that’s interesting. No, I think at this point my focus is so split between kind of everything that I’m doing that I don’t have this luxury of trying to find inspiration. And so what I’m really driven by is what people are asking for and for the most part, what comes out what manufacturers are making. And there are very few exceptions, if it’s available we’ll probably carry it because even if it’s not the best thing, it’s something else to have and some of these offering selections are still so small. We kind of try to get everything that we can that people will let us sell. So yeah, it was, it was a great idea, too. I just go through Instagram and I see what the kids are wearing and then I think like, you know? I think it’s different as a retailer because I’m not creating anything in the same sense and so I’m just have to be kind of responsive to what’s available and to what people are looking for. I will sometimes get sort of feedback from people who follow some social media. For example, I was very not sold, necessarily, on the idea that people would want these sort of fancy underpants and I was like, “Nobody wants those.” And then I posted on social media and everyone was like, “we totally want those!” And so, I picked it up, not so much as that anyone ever asked for them or so I thought. I thought they were cute but that I did not have market for them. I do kind of use feedback that we get from our followers on social media, more than anything.
REDDY-BEST: Would you say social media is pretty important to.
DEYSACH: It is important and it should be something I focus on more. We try to do what we can but it definitely is important. Especially for the age group that we’re dealing with, I think that social media is way more important than it is for you know other age groups.
REDDY-BEST: And then the last question I always follow up with is: so, we talked about the history, the timeline: how it came to be, the initial thought process, who your customer is, the different products, what they’re used for, I mean just the whole history right? To get that get a real saturated picture of how all this came to be and also your relationship, in regards to, identity, – is there anything that we left out that might be important for me to know about history, products, customers, anything at all that maybe I didn’t I didn’t think of to ask?
DEYSACH: That’s always the hardest question where it’s like, “no.” I mean, I feel like, I do a pretty good job of sticking things I need to say into questions anyway so I don’t often feel like at the end, “Ah, I never got to say this,” but no, I think you covered a lot. I mean, I don’t know what else I would add.
REDDY-BEST: Okay, cool. Alright so then I’ll then that’s it. So, thank you so much.
DEYSACH: Oh sure, my pleasure!