Hello my Friends,
Today the #ftm tag on Instagram has 3.6M photos inside of it! But believe it or not, at one point Trans Men were so underrepresented that when I first learned about who I was it was through the ‘public education’ of the Jerry Springer Show. It would be a few more years before the Social Media Pioneers of this community started to use YouTube to record our lives and transitions and really start to give new personal narratives on how to be men and what it meant to be Transgender.
There is something special about the conversations you can suddenly have with another Trans Man. There were aspects of my life that a cisgender friend could sympathize with but not empathize and making my first best friend inside the community was healing in a way I hadn’t known I needed.
Noah Wagoner and I met while lobbying in Albany, NY for Marriage Equality. We formed a community organization on Tumblr called The Self Made Men. We made calendars, post cards for folks on their T-anniversaries, videos of questions answered. I made graphics, I did the branding, and formed a website we considered the ‘all-in-one’ resource for transitioning.
We joined the Speakers Bureau for the local LGBT Center (The Out Alliance) and were deployed to Businesses, Healthcare Offices, Schools & Universities- So many panels and presentations that on some weeks we had two per day and three to four per week. Everyone wanted to know and understand how to serve or service this new emerging community.
After Noah graduated he headed west with his wife and now owns the Acronym Project in Seattle where he continues to do public speaking and professional training. The Self Made Men remained in business selling packers and prosthetics, posting videos to answer questions, and attending Pride events and conferences.
It was toward the end of 2013 when an idea of mine came to fruition and my life was forever changed. Sitting in a Hairzoo in Rochester, NY waiting for my stylist to be ready for me I thumbed through a GQ magazine. I’ve always loved GQ for their branding, style, and culture they give to men in a unique way. I thought… I wish that the information inside was relevant to me and the community I served.
I’d attended four different colleges at that point, all for about two years but all for Graphics and Communications of some sort. I had experience, or at least I thought I had had enough experience, to successfully design and print a magazine.
I developed a Kickstarter Campaign asking for $5,000 to start a quarterly magazine for a piece of a part of a small community. I’d need a computer, Adobe products, a camera, and the funds to print the first issue…
Through the efforts of the community all over the country and the support of my local community in Rochester, NY (We hosted fundraiser dinners and drag show events), we were able to secure $5,550 within the allotted time that Kickstarter gives you. It was a close call, all the while knowing that if we didn’t make the full amount, we wouldn’t get any of it. That November the full amount was deposited into a newly formed business account and the task of creating this platform became mine.
I wish I could tell my past self so many things. I wish I could call back into the past like an echo down a dark tunnel and tell him- “Don’t make the magazines page by page in Illustrator and then compress them into a PDF. Just use InDesign, it’s what it’s made for.”
Oh and hey, Bulk Mailing is a thing.
Or that just because someone writes in doesn’t make them a writer, and just because folks take a lot of selfies doesn’t make them a model; but that both are just looking for validation like everyone else and kindness goes a long way.
And finally, ask for help.
I was 10 issues in when I got news about my wife that shattered my foundation. It was hard to focus on anything, I was missing doses of important medicine, suffering from suicidal thoughts and moving into a depressive state that didn’t allow for me to do much of anything.
I had been chugging away with most of the responsibilities on myself and now that the work load was getting heavier I was also feeling burnt out with producing the magazine and the internal turmoil of the FTM Community. I started to resent all of my previous responsibilities.
We missed an issue and I apologized publicly. As we came up to missing another issue I knew something had to change. I brought on a friend of mine that had been offering to help and in hindsight I put too many responsibilities on him. I remember having meetings where I was telling him I flat out didn’t want it anymore. He didn’t want to do it without me so we were moving toward more responsibilities for him.
We pulled together another two issues as I worked through the things going on in my personal life but as the divorce finalized I went downhill pretty fast.
The place I was staying was about to end and the magazine was in no way making enough for me to afford rent on my own. So I sold everything I owned that didn’t fit into my 2005 Ford Taurus and I moved to 22-acres my grandparents own in the middle of the Catskills. In a tent, off a seasonal road, 3.5 miles from the nearest town, 3 hours from where my life had been before. I had plans of homesteading and saving for an RV/Camper as shelter.
The time I took alone there was again, healing in a way that I hadn’t known I needed. Like a wolf, I thought I was going off to die alone but as a 30 year old man folks don’t let you just do that.
Rock bottom, where it felt like I was, is surprisingly a good place to set both of your feet down, breathe, and start again. In the aftermath of my divorce, homelessness, and attempted business partnership, FTM Magazine has gone back to zero. All of our previous subscriptions were canceled because issues weren’t being produced. We lost a WordPress Account full of 5 Years of articles, history, and news.
For the last two years I’ve considered whether or not to sell it in it’s entirety and had several offers.
I want to feel like I used to about it, but I have this shame in having stumbled at all. All of the things I should have / could have done to have had it never have to have stopped printing at all play out in my mind while I try to sleep. I wonder if the community will allow me to reorganize and rebuild. I wonder if I can be excited about it again or if I’ll have to field comments about my past failure. Will anyone trust me enough to subscribe again?
This is why I wanted to write this article.
There is something special about the conversations you can have with other Trans Men. There is a common culture that may not always unite us on everything, but it brings us together on important things.
There are so many talented, exceptional, brave Trans Men out there that deserve to be showcased. Examples of men that the younger generations deserve to know about and see as possibilities of themselves.
I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made, directions I’ve taken, and all the choices that have brought me here today. I think we can all agree that at one point or another, you’ve been there…
Today I’m in a stable and happy relationship with not only my partner but myself. I live in a home I’m not worried about losing. I have time during the day to dedicate to printing and publishing and interacting with the community.
I’ve made the commitment to start printing the magazine quarterly by Summer 2020 with the help of another community leader, and to attend the Philadelphia Trans-Wellness Conference.
I’m assembling an Advisory Board to help me make sure all aspects of Trans Men’s lives are being addressed and not just the ones that I myself have experienced.
I’m sourcing writers, folks that have written for the magazine before and those that want to contribute now with a budget to compensate them for their time.
I know that things are tough right now for everyone so donations/investments and subscriptions might not be doable financially but I know there are folks looking to help out anyway: Reading and sharing articles helps us make some money through ad sales. So does liking and following our accounts online.
If you’re interested in writing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with some information on whether you have experience, how you identify, and what you’d like to write about.
If you can donate, all donations over $20 will be registered for a 1-Year subscription. Everything helps when you’re trying to keep the lights on!
Thank you for your support now and before. Thank you for hearing me while I share with everyone what happened and where things went for me. I appreciate being given the chance to do something that once made me so happy and proud.
- Jason Robert Ballard