Kylo Freeman remembers their first time binding their chest vividly. In fact, they can still feel the joy they found in that “important moment,” as well as the soreness and irritation it brought.
“I had been reducing my chest with sports bras for a long time, but these don’t completely minimize the chest. They compress but they still lift. So discovering binders was an affirming ‘click’ moment of gender euphoria for me,” Freeman tells ESSENCE. “It was like relief, but this was quickly followed by discomfort, pain and itchiness.”
Though they loved the way they looked, it was clear that the traditional binding methods weren’t going to be sustainable. “I knew it wasn’t safe for my body, so each day I had the choice between being physically compromised, but euphoria when I looked in the mirror, or physical relief and the ability to breath but bad chest dysphoria,” they say.
But Freeman actually had another choice, and that was to create their own binder; an option that would allow those wearing them to feel most comfortable in their skin, while also literally being comfortable in the product. They sought to offer a safe option with a maximum, healthy bind. That is how their company, For Them, came to life. It provides chest binders for trans and nonbinary individuals, but is also a brand steeped in activism work and queer revolution. Freeman recently launched the Drag Is Divine campaign in New York City, Los Angeles and London in an effort to raise awareness and funding to combat anti-drag legislation that’s been making its way around the country. Funds are being given directly to Drag Story Hour and the ACLU Drag Defense. So while the company offers a product meant to help people feel like their most authentic selves, it’s also about pushing for the community to be able to live authentically in the everyday world without being oppressed.
We spoke to Freeman about For Them redefining wellness, the work the company is doing in support of LGBTQ+ freedoms, and what it’s really been like as a trans founder navigating demographic bias to get a necessary product to as many people as possible.
ESSENCE: Something that I found very insightful was in the description of For Them, it says the brand offers “products that function as direct links to queer wellness.” Can you speak to the way that binders operate in that way of being a wellness essential?
Kylo Freeman: Wellness is about thriving, not just surviving, and in a queer context this includes being safe, seen and loved as your most authentic self. Today’s wellness brands and offerings are building for physical, mental and spiritual health through a heteronormative lens. We are building out an ecosystem of tech and products for the LGBTQIA+ community.
How has your line done this essential differently?
Our binder is a unique patented design that uses sewing techniques and incredible technical fabrics (100 percent recycled) to compress and move the chest tissue in a way that creates a flat look without compromising the muscoskeletal systems of the body. We worked with an amazing team of pattern makers and garment manufacturers in New York to bring the dream to life.
What has been your experience as a trans founder?
I aspire to bridge the gap between underrepresented founders and funding opportunity, because right now the demographic bias and heteronormative lens through which the majority of capital is being deployed is leaving blind spots that overlook the value of the queer dollar and underappreciate the investability of underrepresented founders. Because of all of this, as a trans founder, I’m not only pitching my ideas to folks, but I’m also having to educate everyone along the way about my identity, my community, and this culture that I’m a part of. It can be exhausting at times, but it also feels like a privilege to be in a position to bridge this gap.
Can you speak to the importance of creating the Drag Is Divine campaign with everything going on with these attempts to suppress the rights and freedoms (including of expression) of the community?
The campaign is us at For Them putting a middle finger up to the anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers who are attempting to legislate gender non-conformity out of existence, to legally enforce binaries and criminalize queer freedom of expression. We hope this campaign will mobilize civic action, raise funds to support legal defense of LGBTQ+ rights and stoke the fire of queer revolution that’s already taking place around the world. This is an image of proud defiance and solidarity for our drag family and queer siblings who are feeling the shockwaves of this kind of political attack.
With wellness in mind, how do you stay encouraged with all the anti-LGBTQ legislation, and with that in mind, even more empowered in the work you do?
Something we like to say at For Them is “Queer Joy as Protest,” which speaks pretty directly to our community’s reverence in the face of anti-LGBTQ legislation. We’re a company founded on the idea that current wellness spaces are not catering to queer and trans folks in a productive way or in a way that meets our immediate needs, so we stay encouraged by filling that gap. What’s happening with anti-LGBTQ legislation is frightening, but something that empowers us is seeing our community’s response whether it be us running for office ourselves, creating art that reflects and celebrates our experiences, and protesting any way that we can. At the end of the day, what we have is each other and in times like these, that camaraderie is really motivating.