'Hearts, Not Parts' Orem entrepreneur's Genderbands raise money for female-to-male top surgery grant
The year 2016 was monumental for Ian Giles, a "parent, geek, entrepreneur and non-binary transman" from Orem. After funding his own female-to-male top surgery by selling wristbands, he expanded on that idea to start helping others going through the same thing. His business Genderbands sells colorful wristbands and T-shirts with sassy phrases like, "Hearts, not parts," with proceeds going toward an FTM top-surgery fund—for which he'll start accepting applications on Nov. 1. We caught up with him to learn the details of his new venture.
What were the defining moments that led to Genderbands? Although I'm almost 30, I didn't realize I was transgender until about two-and-a-half years ago. It made so much sense and explained so many things, especially in relation to how I felt about my body. It wasn't long before I started seriously looking into getting top surgery—a double mastectomy. Dysphoria made me so miserable. I knew I needed surgery as soon as possible. That's how Genderbands got started.
How did the fundraising aspect come into play? When I started looking into top surgery, I quickly realized there was no way I could pay for it without help. The average cost is $6,000 and most insurance companies don't cover it. That cost also doesn't include other expenses like flights and hotels if you go out of state. I've seen transguys online sell T-shirts, but I didn't have the capital for that. Wristbands were much cheaper. I found a place online, used a phrase I really liked—"Pizza rolls, not gender roles"—and Genderbands became a reality. I quickly decided that, after I had my surgery, I'd use Genderbands to pay it forward to others in the trans community.
Can you explain how the grant works? Genderbands raises funds for the surgery grant in two ways: donations and sales. Whenever someone donates, that money goes directly into the top-surgery grant fund. When someone buys a shirt, wristband or anything from the store, 20 percent of the profits of that sale goes into the grant fund. The rest goes back into the business. I set a goal of $700, but Salt Lake Pride put us over and we now have $1,100. One person will randomly be picked and they will receive the $1,100, paid directly to the surgeon. As mentioned before, top surgery costs an average of $6,000, so obviously [this] won't pay for it all. I'm hoping to just get them over the last hump. Every year, as we grow, the fund will grow. I hope to one day be able to completely pay for someone's surgery.
How has the first year been? We've received lots of support. Lots of people love what we are doing, but not much of that has translated into online sales. Pride festivals, however, are fantastic. It's how we stay in business. But more than that, I love meeting people from our community. I've had people of all ages come to my booth and share their stories—from shy 12-year-old transguys just coming out, to 40-year-olds exhausted from years of fighting with insurance companies that won't pay for their surgeries. Sometimes people will just hang out at the booth. I love it.
Any future plans in the works? I have so many plans; it’s a bit overwhelming. I have plans for about six new products, if I can get the capital. I’m planning a fundraising concert [for June 2018 in SLC] featuring LGBT artists and looking for sponsors and interns. I want Genderbands to grow so I can help lots of transguys get this life-changing surgery.