Jason Robert Ballard two years ago founded Theselfmademen.com, a trans men website that has grown into a international resource for the transgender community. The Self Made Men has recently raised money on Kickstarter to create FTM magazine, which is expected to be released early 2014. We met up with Jason to talk about starting the site, the goals of the new magazine, and the transgender culture in Rochester.
How did theselfmademen.com get started?
I was working on a graphic design project in MCC; you had to pick a company out of a hat to design a logo for. I had clothing company and decided to do a clothing brand for trans men called The Self Made Men and for extra credit I did one for trans women called Miss Labeled. I created a mock up website to sell t shirts that was sizes for trans men.
Going through the process you get into a weird shirt size where you are too small for a male small, but too big for a children’s large. It is a weird in between size that forces you to wear really baggy shirts or shirts that look a size too small. A clothing company that would be in the middle of it would be cool.
I used the project to come out to my class and explain to them what I was going through. It was kind of my first public education speech ever.
MCC was my transition school, because I wasn’t on hormones when I started and by the end of my two years I was two years into hormones. So everyone watched me go through the transition without really realizing that they did.
One of the professors that I had ion the beginning of my college career was also my design teacher at the end; she came up to me and said she always wanted to ask what was going on because I had changed so much over the course of two years. In the beginning I was very androgynous but by the end I had a deeper voice and facial hair.
My friend Noah and I have began speaking for the GHUB in their speaker’s bureau, going to Brockport, St. John Fisher and Nazareth and talking about trans awareness. We started speaking the same time I did the design project and started talking about a website where trans guys could get all of their information. It would also help us during speaking because we could have a company where we were from.
Overtime I took sole ownership of the site and started getting into more of the social media aspect of it. Now we do our own public education through the site and it just grew from there.
Did you ever have an end goal in mind when you this site started to take shape?
I think the original goal was that the site could be a one stop site for what to do next during the trans process. Simply more information than what we had when we were younger, because when I came out there was not much information out there.
We want to create a sense of trans culture. I think many trans people are depressed with themselves because they try to fit with cisgender culture, everyone else culture.
If you are in a car with two trans men or six trans men, all they are talking about is hormones and facial hair and packers. It is a sense of culture that no one else understands. That is what the website and now the magazine aim to show.
Did it just grow as you started more and more projects?
Yes. I get these ideas then find a way to incorporate it into what I already have. We do t-versary cards were we mailed out cards for people on the day they started hormones. Now we have so many subscribers to it that we do e-cards.
We also do pen pals. Guys send in their bio and email, we match them up based on their interests I think there is about 10,000 in the last two years. We have a resource list and articles and the YouTube channel.
For the last year I wanted to do a magazine. So finally I sat down for three straight days and did research and setting up everything I needed to do for a Kickstarter and get everything set up for the magazine.
Will it be a local press or national?
I keep going back and forth on that. There are only about 50 trans men in Rochester. So if I was aiming it towards Rochester, it would not have as much popularity as a national print. Our store sells international so it is possible to get the reach.
We just got an email from a group of trans men in Guatemala who asked to send us some supplies so they could sell it and build up their finances and resources.
So I believe it will be national or international, it is just a matter of making sure what we do works for that level.
How did theselfmademen.com grow from a local product in a city with only 50 tans people, to an international project?
It started through tumbler and twitter and social media, so it already had international roots. The first year we took it to the Philadelphia trans health conference was our biggest year ever. It is a meeting spot for every trans person in the world. We had a table and got to talk to people and had out brochures.
What is next now that the magazine is funded?
If we were looking at the next two year goal, with the site and magazine, I want to start saving up to do a pageant; trans guys modeling formal wear and swim wear, with the winner getting a prize that would pay for his top surgery. With that amount of money we could really help people.
One time about three years ago one of my goals was to have a TV show that was like “What Not To Wear”, where two cool trans guys take a new trans guy who just started and pay for his hormones, and bring him through everything from starting T to top surgery.
I was listening to the Q&As on YouTube and I really enjoyed how the site ran the gambit from t treatments, finding a doctor, to hair cuts. Are there other sites like that that you could refer to when you were going through everything?
There was a site called transguys.com. I could have just helped out with them and wrote. It sold products and had reviews, so it was essentially a competition site, but I don’t want to consider it like that. Hudson’s guide as well but that is just text and really through thing in the world. If you could print it out as a book it would sell to every trans guy.
Original Plumbing is a transgender magazine but the style is different than what we are going for. We are going for more the Cosmo, main stream magazine look. They were a half page, booklet looking zine that comes out every month or so and speaks for an alternative crowd. The feel of the magazine and the content is different.
Rochester is known as a very gay friendly city, do you think that translates over to the trans population?
Sometimes you can see that LGB community isn’t trans friendly as it should be, I think they just need to be educated more. I think that because they are in the LGBT spectrum that they are allowed to say things that they shouldn’t, or allowed to be ignorant because they are in the community too. The word tranny gets thrown around and people don’t realize it is a derogatory term used to hurt trans women.
Its 6 in one half a dozen in the other. It depends on who you are and where you are. The culture is there, but law and legislation needs to catch up. In the city limits there is a protection ordinance that protects trans people from being discriminated on, but if you are in any of the outlying neighborhoods, a trans person can still lose their job or apartment or be kicked out of a restaurant. The law applied only to the City of Rochester proper.
That is why the Empire State Pride Agenda is pushing for a gender expression non discrimination act which will cover the entire state.
I know some trans women who have been kicked out of their house because roommates or landlords have a problem with their lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if there is a lease or anything, they just get kicked out.
I know Shauna O’Toole who was a teacher in a suburban school, a tenure chemistry teacher who was transitioning. When people found out it hit every major news channel and the wife knew of the transition, but her kids didn’t and the news outted Shauna to her kids. She lost her job within the next couple months.
Do you get a lot of stories coming into your site, both positive and negative?
Our biggest connection to the trans community is our tumbler account. We have quite a few followers and we also follow the FTM tag. A lot of people post with that tag and we see stories that range from discrimination to just under education.
What is the biggest misnomer when it comes to the trans community?
I understand some of the question that people ask to trans people. If I wasn’t trans and I met a trans person the first thing I would think of would be what is in your pants. I would want to know how they transition, I understand the curiosity.
Too hot to be trans is something we all hate to hear. “You were pretty as a girl” is another, just backhanded compliments like that.
Everything seems to revolve around how do we have sex or if we have a penis. I sure many people don’t have any ill intentions behind it. My girl friends mom asked us how we had sex at dinner