If the images above seem completely ordinary to you, then Chrysalis Lingerie has done its job.
The first collection from this new NYC label represents something of a breakthrough in alternative fashions: the perfectly-named Chrysalis is the first lingerie line designed for, and by, transgender women.
For the estimated one million American adults who identify as transgender, this is no small milestone.
“A lot of women have been waiting a long time for something like this,” Chrysalis co-founder Cy Lauz told Lingerie Talk.
“Speaking from personal experience, I found no products that specifically cater to transgender women. There are some things for cross-dressers and drag queens, but they’re all sexually exploitative.
“I wanted a product that actually celebrated who we are, something that made us feel beautiful but is also practical.”
Now, for the curious, let’s get to the big question: What exactly distinguishes lingerie for the TG market?
Chrysalis will launch this spring with a basics collection of bra-and-panty ensembles in five colors. The power-mesh panty is designed to create a seamless look by using a special panel that “tucks us in,” Cy said, while the bra comes with hidden pockets that hold full-cup inserts to create the appearance of a natural bustline.
The result is a product line versatile enough to work with different body shapes and still achieve traditionally feminine lines. (The models used in Chrysalis‘ promotional photos are all TG women.)
The brand is also planning a couture collection that will use its technical innovations in teddies, shapewear, lingerie and even swimwear.
Various studies estimate up to 6% of the adult population identifies as transgender — people who experience some degree of dysphoria related to their birth gender, and who frequently choose to live as a member of the opposite sex. About two-thirds are male-to-female transgenders, which is the audience that Chrysalis was designed for.
Only a small percentage of transgender women are pursuing sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy that can help them develop natural female curves. As a result, finding appropriate undergarments can be a challenge, and shopping for underwear in women’s stores also presents obvious difficulties.
“Chrysalis answers a lot of problems and questions for transgender women regarding their underwear,” Cy said. “It gives them peace of mind. You don’t have to think about it anymore.”
Chrysalis Lingerie is the brainchild of Cy, an interior designer and fashion stylist, and partner Simone Tobias, the creative director of a menswear brand. The company got its first public exposure last fall when it was featured in the Style Network documentary, ‘Born Male, Living Female‘.
For its founders, though, Chrysalis is about a lot more than fashion: it’s about the politics of acceptance for a misunderstood and maligned community.
“Chrysalis wants to change how transgender people are viewed,” Cy said. “We want to make people look at transgender people as human beings.
“We’re done hiding. We’re done keeping quiet. We are a very diverse community, we do exist, and we have explicit needs.”
Although 16 U.S. states have enacted non-discrimination laws that specifically protect transgender people, the TG community still faces widespread discrimination, marginalization and even violence. It is also one of most widely misunderstood groups in society, burdened by stereotypes of flamboyant drag queens and viewed as a kind of sexual deviance. Gender identity disorder is still listed as a mental illness in psychiatric reference texts.
“One of the the things that’s definite in our lives is your gender,” Cy said. “When something blurs that line, I can see how other people would feel threatened by that. It shakes your reality.
“We don’t want to paint a picture of what a transgender woman is supposed to look like,” she added, “but we do want to change how the outside community relates to us.
“We all have one common denominator — we’re all still human beings. And we want to be acknowledged for who and what we are.”
A chrysalis, the cocoon stage in the life cycle of a butterfly, is the perfect symbol for what Chrysalis Lingerie is trying to achieve, she said.
“A chrysalis is also a metaphor of transformation,” she said. “But in order to transition, you need to create a space where you are safe and loved.”
Because their first collection has a traditional, minimalist look that wouldn’t be out of place on the shelves of Armani or even DKNY, Chrysalis risks being accused of trying to make the TG community appear more “normal” as a way of conforming to societal expectations.
The company knows this, and is highly sensitive to the complex politics of identity in the LGBT world, Cy said. Chrysalis isn’t pushing a one-size-fits-all vision of TG life, although it is staying away from explicit fashions that can reinforce stereotypes and further marginalize transgender women.
“I feel there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s really sexually explicit in nature,” she said. “We’re just trying to balance the market.”
And the timing is right for something like Chrysalis, she added. While news events like this weekend’s decision by the Miss Universe Canada pageant to bar a TG competitor still get the most attention, public acceptance of gender-variant people is also growing. Portrayals of TG characters in TV and films is becoming more common, and in 2010 the Obama administration appointed TG activist Amanda Simpson as an advisor to the Commerce Department.
“The whole world is embracing the fact that humanity comes in different forms,” Cy said. “Life is so vast and so glorious there has to be more than two ways of living your life.”
Watch for the first collection from Chrysalis Lingerie to appear on the company website soon. Products will be for sale online and, hopefully, through progressive retail boutiques.