If one thing can be said about trans entrepreneur Jason Robert Ballard, it's that he dreams big. Already the cofounder of The Self-Made Men, an online resource hub and pen-pal connector for transgender men, he's recently undertaken a massive new project: creating the first "mainstream" lifestyle magazine for trans men.
FTM: International Transculture Magazine, released in April, aims to fill a media niche where trans men don't often see themselves, Ballard tells The Advocate. "I was reading GQ waiting for a hair appointment and thought, 'This would be a great time in the trans movement to launch something like this for trans men," he recalls.
Ballard says that now is the time to push for trans male visibility in more cultural mediums. He explains how he was inspired by a quote about how "the generation ahead of us [was] forced to study war. [My generation was] able to study philosophy, and the future generations will only know art and music."
"Essentially, the advocacy of our older [trans] brothers has lead us to a point in history that we are winning our rights -- slowly, but still," he adds. "And the future is about defining a culture."
What culture does Ballard hope FTM will define? According to its successful Kickstarter fundraiser, it's meant to be "a source of pride to combat the negative stigma of the media and Jerry Springer-like productions; something to sit on [readers'] coffee tables or in their healthcare offices and show them that they're not alone."
Ballard elaborates in our interview: "We're going for a culture-building platform in the age of our community where things are less dark and depressing."
FTM's first issue features 48 full-color pages with articles on topics like finding natural testosterone boosters, saving money for gender-confirming surgeries, summer fashion, busting dysphoric feelings, and even an "adorably cliche" advice column entitled "Ask Aiden." Readers wrote in with worries that included "How do you come out at work when you work with 100+ guys?" and "I have my first [testosterone] shot, but I'm scared that it'll hurt."
Despite his few staff members and tiny office space, Ballard says the magazine currently reaches 400 subscribers and is in almost every country in the world. Readers have expressed their excitement that such a magazine even exists, and have enthusiastically taken part in contests like the online "Battle of the Beards" and submissions, interviews, and polls that "work to balance the information and keep it relevant to all of our potential readers, not just one particular group."
Still, Ballard is realistic that he may face detractors, particularly those who write anonymous comments online. In his opening "Letter from the Editor," he addresses the potential for criticism head-on. "Am I going to be a target of ... rage? Yes. Yes I am. Why? Because I've created something for a community based on only one aspect of our lives."
But Ballard stands firm that the world can accommodate an entire magazine on transitioning men, and that it can move necessary cultural conversations forward. Looking ahead, as always, he concludes: "Years from now we can all look back on this [first] issue and think 'Wow, we've come so far.'"