It’s an old joke, isn’t it, that men who wish to look more impressive in the trouser department stuff a sock in their pants? For many transmen starting out on their journey, or on a budget, a sock is still a useful option. Though let’s face it, a sock isn’t very anatomically correct, or convincing.

I’ve complained on many occasions that the world at large focuses on the penis as being the thing that is central to a female-to-male transition. And for some, it is, but not for all of us. Whether or not I end my days with my very own all-singing, all-dancing penis is not, at this stage, all that important to me.

So why the need for a sock, or a slightly more sophisticated substitute? Rather than feeling a *need*, I’d say it’s more like using a tool. I like to be read physically as male; it makes me feel more comfortable and confident. Men, whilst all sorts of shapes and sizes, share some things in common. One of these is a bulge in their crotch. Given that I still look sufficiently female to make people scratch their heads a bit, it is very useful to me to show signs that they would normally associate with men.

I’m not saying everyone’s a ‘crotch watcher’, or that people actively seek out what appears to be nestled in my pants before deciding which gender they think I might be. It’s not that conscious a process, I think, but when we meet people, we automatically assess them, and our minds tick boxes without us realising.

This is why I sometimes ‘pack’ – a rather unpleasant word for creating the illusion that I have a penis. There are a number of ways this can be achieved. Socks are, at best, an emergency measure: they have a habit of coming unfurled, and unless you’ve pinned them in place (a dangerous process at the best of times) you run the risk of a fluffy Argyle slowly working its way down your trousers and peeping out at the bottom. There are a number of packers on the market, ranging from cheap and cheerful to heinously expensive.

How much money you spend depends on what you want to do with it – a really basic packer is essentially a willy shaped stress ball. It will be about the right shape, weight and ‘feel’ if accidentally brushed against, but is unlikely to pass inspection close up and personal. At the top end of the scale are the products that can pack, be used as an STP (stand to pee) device, and can also be adapted for penetrative sex.

Packers can be held in place in a number of ways. Some are designed just to sit in your tightie whities, though there is always the risk of these making a break for freedom. Just what do you do if your packer bounces onto the floor in the middle of a gent’s toilet? Most packers come with some sort of harness, which is effective, but not awfully comfortable. Given that most people are out and about for hours at a time, that harness can get very annoying, very fast. Some of the higher end packers are attached to the body using medical grade adhesive. Some people swear by this, but I’ve heard it’s a fiddly process.

The trouble with all of this, is that for those people to whom it is a very very important thing that they have at least the illusion of a penis, the whole process of attaching, adjusting, cleaning, etc. their packer adds to their dysphoria. What better way to emphasise that you don’t have a natural penis than fiddling round with harnesses or glue?

I used to pack whenever I left the house – it became a habit, and it suited me that in strangers’ heads, at least one tick box was filled. However, the inconvenience and general discomfort has meant that I now generally just pack for ‘special occasions’, such as a night out or a trip where I won’t know people, and could do with a bit of extra confidence.

Because that’s the funny thing – I don’t have a dependence on packing, but if I am feeling unsure of myself, or need a little extra confidence, then packing does me a lot of good. Even I have to admit that as well as all the ‘using it as a tool’ stuff, having what feels like the ‘right’ anatomy, however synthetic, can be very grounding.