Introduction by DreamBank
This event was hosted by American Family Insurance (AmFam) to celebrate Pride Month. DreamBank is AmFam’s ‘inspirational community destination and digital experience’. AmFam has achieved a good ‘corporate equality index score’ with the Human Rights Campaign (i.e. a similar programme to that of Stonewall’s UK workplace equality index) over six consecutive years. The company’s LGBT network had grown to 400 members.
Nishant Upadhyay, the moderator, was introduced by the Dreambank person as having he/him pronouns and that his eyes were opened to the LGBT community when he married his wife. The story became more personal when his ‘son’ (i.e. daughter) ‘came out’ a few years ago. He works for AmFam.
Upahdhyay was there to interview the founder of Rubie’s Swimwear, Jamie Alexander, also he/him, who has developed ‘form fitting’ swimwear (i.e. to hide male genitalia) for ‘active trans girls’. Oh, and he also has a son who is a ‘trans girl’, currently 13 years of age.
Photos of both children were shared on the webinar and in the promotion for the webinar.
The pair of them had a conversation about their kids respective journeys to becoming trans.
Alexander and his family live in Toronto, Canada (the epicentre of the trans madness), and the family often used to go to the Pride parades but he didn’t really get what they were about until his kid ‘came out’. He told us that the process of Rubie took place over a very long time, but it began aged 3 when he was in high heels and dancing to Beyonce. He also had a ‘crazy Princess obsession’ and all his play related back to princesses.
The school principal had watched Rubie and decided that he and the family should attend the Toronto school programme known as the ‘gender independent group’. He and his wife had attended the group and met other parents of trans-identified children. Whilst they were at the parent group, the kids had their own trans-themed playgroup facilitated by social workers.
Over time, Rubie was not coming to them every day affirming that he wanted to be a girl, and it wasn’t until he was 9, when Alexander’s wife went on a work trip and Alexander was left alone with his son, that a decision was arrived at. Alexander suggested to the child ‘you could do this yourself’. Because of the long time that Alexander had, before Rubie finally acquiesced, he had a long time to absorb and research the issues.
I don’t know why I said this, because it’s really a family kind of discussion, I said hey all the kids that are in this programme, you know, a lot of them had transitioned and at very young ages, and I said you know, you could do this yourself. She was like, What? I can! The point is everyone has their journey, every family, and we weren’t pushing it, but I wasn’t sure she knew there was an option.Jamie Alexander on his son’s decision to ‘transition’
Rubie was apparently gung-ho from that moment on, and Alexander had to slow him down so that there was more of a ‘soft landing’.
How did you react to it as a father?
Alexander reflected that it was probably a harder life to be trans and that it might even be easier had Rubie been gay. The extended family had mostly been supportive, but his father-in-law, who was Chinese, had been a bit resistant. Like being entrepreneur you have to roll with the punches.
Upadhyay said he had been bought up in India and previously held conservative views. He wasn’t proud of that. His wife is white and opened his eyes to it. When his daughter came out as trans, he asked himself if he had done something wrong and had worried about how the family back in India would react. He was surprised by own reaction and went on his own journey.
Alexander was interested to know more about the reaction in India. Upadhyay said that his daughter had announced she was ‘gay’ an aunt in India had asked Why? and he said he wasn’t able to explain (and still wasn’t by the sounds of things).
Alexander said that one his cousin’s kids had announced a year ago that they were non-binary and asked for his advice on the matter. I believe another kid in the family came out only recently. He says he believes that being trans is a matter of genetics, not choice.
What kind of advice do you give?
Alexander likes to get as much detail and context as possible before passing on his wisdom, but the important thing was to follow the kid’s lead, although reflected that it was part of life that you push your values onto your kids. He felt his own anxiety around the issue would hit a whole ‘new level’ when Rubie started to date.
Was there a particular experience that stands out for you?
Alexander told us about an audition process that his son had to go through at his school. Equal numbers of boys and girls are auditioned, but since more girls apply to the school than boys, boys have an advantage. Rubie auditioned in the boy category and got a place, but he rang the Principal to say that they would be getting an extra girl. Around Grade 5 (aged 9/10) there was a rumour flying around about Rubie, so Alexander contacted a social worker from the ‘gender independent group’ to ask for advice. The social worker advised that Rubie should ‘come out’. There were many logistical things that needed to be sorted at the school and the school were supportive. The Principal told the class about Rubie’s change in gender identity when he was out of the room, and the social worker was also present to give the class ‘programming’. All this, of course, made Rubie the centre of attention when he returned to the class, wearing a dress for the first time in class. Alexander explained that he felt that women feel like women when they put on dresses and that Rubie experienced the same thing when he wears his bikini bottoms.
How has your life changed?
Alexander said that life hadn’t changed that much and that they were lucky to be living in Toronto. In one more generation ‘trans girls’ might not need to wear special bikini bottoms to hide their genitalia. Developing his swimwear business had inevitably lead him to much more contact with other parents. Alexander believes that Rubie is now the inspiration for other kids.
In fact a 14 year old had contacted Alexander through Instagram who wanted a bikini bottom, but wanted to know if the packaging would be discreet because his parents weren’t affirming his gender identity. Alexander previously used to work in the tech industry and has built e-commerce sites in the past. He feels that the business was allowing him to give back, but it was also a way to make a living too.
Upadhyay told us his trans-identified daughter Michael was very interested in make-up and he was now able to have conversations about foundation and follows make up artists on Instagram. Alexander chipped in he is also able to converse about make up products as well.
You have taken allyship to a whole new level. Tell me more about your business.
Because of course, we weren’t just there to listen to personal stories, Alexander had swimwear/underwear to sell. His store is online here. He told us that he and his wife were concerned about their son’s safety following transition and realised that clothing was an immediate problem, Rubie however had not been worried. Around the age of 10, Rubie said that he just wanted to wear a bikini likes his friends, but with a $5 store bought one ‘things were showing’.
Again, Alexander’s wife was on a business trip, so he decided to look online at what was available out there. He looked on facebook groups and at products designed for adult men, however he felt the branding was over-the-top and ‘very trans’. He wanted his new business to be kid specific (you can buy adult sizes), not political (you can buy T-shirts with ‘every girl deserves to shine’), and also fun, light and positive (you can buy underwear and swimwear in two colours; pink and black). The main driver for the business was to allow kids to do the things they love, since lots of kids apparently stop doing sports after they are socially transitioned.
Here’s the thing though, Alexander offers a 60 day guarantee and if people aren’t happy they can return them and get a different size. He encourages the child to wear the snug fitting underwear for several days to get used to them. Returned swimsuits are then sent on for free to those in need.
He ships mainly to the US (70%), Canada (20%) and 5% UK but then said that being trans is genetic so the product should be as popular across the whole of the world.
How does Rubie feel about it?
Yes, Rubie was super-pleased. Alexander acknowledged that there were some risks of putting his son as the cornerstone of the business, but an agency had been in contact and wanted Rubie to be involved in campaigns. Alexander was hoping now that Rubie would continue to follow it all the way through (he clearly hasn’t thought about the fact that Rubie will be an adult in a few years’ time).
How can we ‘show up’ every day for the LGBTQ community?
Alexander is overwhelmed by the allyship he has experienced – it’s in schools with the Rainbow Clubs. It shouldn’t be a checkbox activity. Though perhaps it went a bit far sometimes with some of the semantics? As part of the webinar today, AmFam had given him a donation, which would mean that he will be able to send out free bikini bottoms and help more kids be able to swim.
The Trans Pride parade in Toronto had grown in size exponentially over the last ten years (meaning they started going when Rubie was 3 years old?). He preferred Trans Pride because it wasn’t so ‘rammed’.
Questions from the ‘community of dreamers’ (i.e. the floor).
What lessons have you learned from your journey? What lessons have you learned from your kid?
Alexander tries to teach Rubie about the context of words as sometimes Rubie gets upset by comments. He was against the militant censoring of language which doesn’t allow us to be ourselves sometimes (no examples given). Rubie has taught him about respect.
Upadhyay was amazed the reactions of his daughter’s friends who were all completely accepting. He remarked yet again how he now knows about make-up and is able to have conversations about make-up (I can’t help thinking this is a strange thing to have learnt from a teen girl who has eschewed womanhood).
I have a trans nephew but I keep forgetting to use the correct pronouns – advice please.
As per the stock cult response, Alexander told her he also sometimes slips up but it was all about intent and as long as you don’t say it to be mean, people will know what’s in your heart.
What obstacles had Alexander faced?
Alexander said he was happy that now a number of people now have the bikini bottoms. There was an application process to get free ones (these are the used ones). Alexander repeated that he was being contacted by adult males for the products.
The criteria is that you just have to be 18 years and younger, although I get trans women that contact me and I just make an exception, just because I have the funds available, and that has allowed me to donate 15 percent of all of the bottoms that get sent out.Jamie Alexander on his free swimwear pledge
He said that he had been ordering from China and problems with the product line included crotch areas which were the same size for ‘4 year olds to 45 year olds’ and orders had arrived very late. Now, he says, he uses a firm in Toronto and they are handmade.
With one final question about how to pursue your dreams from the host, we were told to ‘dream fearlessly’.
So what to make of that then?
It is typical of these parents to discuss their trans-identified children publicly but for the emphasis to be on how decisions and experience has impacted on their own lives. In this case, we have a father relying on his son as his business brand and mascot. There are a few too many photos of his son and other kids on the Instagram page. Most retailers do not provide photos of such garments being modelled by children for obvious reasons.
Also I have never heard of used underwear being resold by a retailer, normally it is a condition of sale that you cannot return underwear and swimwear. What kind of parent would want to put their child into a pair of used swimming trunks or pants, even if they were free? The trunks themselves have some sort of netting pouch and necessarily very tight fitting. You can see from the screenshots below, Alexander is not even advising customers to wash the swimwear before it is returned, which can only increase the appeal to men who have a fetish for worn underwear to apply.
Also if every returned pair is forwarded on for free to another customer, I don’t see how the business is sustainable. Why would any business owner allow their product to be recycled like that? Are we really supposed to believe that people are so hard up they can’t buy a $44 pair of pants? Alexander has a Go Fund Me which has raised over $33,000 to help fund the free pants programme. The whole thing doesn’t add up to me. Very very odd.
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