The advancements in biotechnology are making strides for amputees. Now, folks who have lost limbs can be outfitted with prosthetics that are more mobile, bendable, and controllable. Some artificial limbs include micro-processor units that make them more adaptable and Johns Hopkins recently developed a prosthetic hand that can be controlled with a person’s mind.
Alex, the founder of Transthetics, hopes to use these advancements to create The Bionic, a penis prosthetic for transgender men that feels and functions like the real thing.
Alex has produced several products like stand-to-pee devices, packies, and dildos. His most popular device, The Bono doesn’t require a strap-on unit, is self-lubricating, and can ejaculate with a simple squeeze of the tip. The Bionic, however, is far beyond a sex toy and is moving into the realm of being a real alternative to bottom surgery.
We sat down with the designer to talk about the new invention and why these types of products are important to trans folks everywhere.
Why did you start making prosthetics?
I think the saying goes that need is the mother of all invention. Or something like that. I found as I was transitioning there really was nothing on the market that served my needs. I’m a pretty active guy, I need to be able to ride a bike and go rock climbing and be able to do all these things without being constantly conscious of my crotch. Everything that was on the market at the time was not ergonomic, didn’t work particularly well or was just too bulky.
So I thought I could improve on it. It was literally me solving a personal problem I had and I posted a few posts in some transguy Facebook groups just like, “Look what I made!” Then I had several guys like, “Please can you make me one.” So I put up a site and tested the waters. I handmade a few more and it kind of just went from there. I’ve been tweaking and improving the model since then, but really every product I produce is something I need and want for myself. It just so happens that what I need and want, so do many other transguys.
My primary motivation wasn’t to start a business, it was, “I have a problem and I need a solution to this problem.” And there are so many guys who had the same problem and needed the same solution.
How long ago was the first model?
2014. I spent most of that year experimenting for myself. It was in October of that year when I thought about selling them. It’s come a long way since then and really for the first two years I just had the one product, the EZ-Pee, and I was working on the other product for myself. I didn’t want to deal with the mass production side of things. The Bono has existed for quite a while but I finally released it to market the first of January of this year, and The Rod was last year.
I test the products really extensively myself first and tweak them, then I release them to market. That’s pretty much how that works.
Are you a designer or engineer professionally?
Actually, I was a graphic designer. I’ve always had a design mind and when I was looking to study, I was deciding on industrial design or visual communications and sort of, at the last second, I opted for graphic design. I had a graphic design studio in Sydney for many years and that did really well, but I kind of just accidentally sidestepped into this. I realized I had to make a choice between being a graphic designer or making this a full-time gig.
So Transthetics is my gig now. I pretty much completely stopped being a graphic designer. I obviously still do graphic design for the site and all the branding and corporate identity for that, but I’m not taking on any graphic design clients anymore. As far as how I went about designing the Transthetics products: a lot of trial and error. A lot of experimenting and a lot of learning the hard way.
I’m sure the work now is rewarding in a different kind of way.
Oh, it’s awesome! That’s why I had no hesitation in stepping into this. Being a graphic designer was great, I felt really appreciated by my clients and I did really feel like they were extremely happy with what I was doing for them, but now it’s just amazing how many emails I get from people saying, “Thank you, you changed my life.” It’s pretty awesome and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else at this point. It feels like I’m making a real and tangible impact on the very direct day-to-day experience of people’s lives and that’s pretty awesome.
It feels like you’ve revolutionized this space around transmale prosthetics and sex. I’m interested in how this can translate into a larger conversation about transmen, sex, and sexual identity.
It’s interesting because when I started transitioning I thought I was going to be single for the rest of my life. I was thinking, “What straight woman is going to date me,” and all those things you tell yourself, and for me this was necessary. I date straight women and that side of my sexual life is very important to me, probably more so than the women even. This is something that has made me feel a lot more connected to my body. And I find sexual experiences to be a lot more enjoyable since utilizing this product.
Tell me about your latest product The Bionic.
The brief for The Bionic is to make a prosthetic penis that is as close as possible to a human penis. That is, in a nutshell, what we’re trying to do. I don’t think it’s going to be perfect its first iteration, but there is a lot that has changed in technology in the last five years that is now making this a total feasible reality. I don’t think this project would have been a possibility 10 years ago, but if I keep in mind that I started Transthetics in 2014, the first Apple watch was released in 2015, and now I can go on Amazon and get a fitness tracker that tracks my heart rate, my steps, my sleep, so many things about me for less than $40. So, since 2015 that technology has advanced mind-blowingly. And all of that technology is relevant to this project.
If I had walked into a University five years ago with this ambitious project they would have said A: They don’t do sex toys and B: It’s just not possible. I think with the very recent explosion of the Apple watch and other wearables like Fitbits lends itself to this project so now’s the time.
How does haptic technology translate to the project?
Because it’s now possible to create touch-sensitive surfaces that are no longer rigid. Up until fairly recently, if you wanted something to be touch sensitive it needed to be rigid, but through the polymer tech that’s coming out you can have stretchable and bendable surfaces. You can even have haptic technology woven into materials and your clothes can become touch sensitive. That change in technology really makes a difference in how input can be translated into output, which isn’t something you could have done a few years ago.
You’re partnering with the University of Colorado at Boulder on The Bionic?
They are taking it on as their graduate project. Basically, the students are presented with a few different projects and they get to choose which ones they want to be working on. With UC Boulder, this was their number one choice. Denver University is also interested. I have a team of mechanical engineering students at UC Boulder and a mix of electronic, computer, and mechanical engineers at DU.
I was reading the comments on your site and a lot of guys were suffering from lower dysmorphia and didn’t feel connected to their body until using your products. Do you think these prosthetics can be a substitute for invasive bottom surgery?
I think it gives people hope. I can say for myself personally, this is what I need. I’m not making this product because I think I will be a millionaire from it, I’m making these products because I really need these products. I would definitely say I have fairly extreme lower dysphoria. I feel like that is an incomplete part of my body and I hope [The Bionic] will be a better alternative to surgery. I know it’s a huge decision that people have to make for themselves, but for me, the surgery isn’t there yet and I think a lot of people feel that way. This is just a hope that people will see that there is another option out there.
I think we’re really going to see some serious advances over the next 10 years. Not just in terms of penile prosthetics but I can see other prosthetic companies really running with the way technology is changing prosthetic hands and limbs. The next decade is going to be an extremely exciting time as far as bionics go.
We really will become bionic human beings over the next few years and I’m really happy to be a part of that.