A Brooklyn artist collaborates with his friends to fund a gender-affirming surgery that his medical insurance refused to cover


“There once was a little boy who was born like a girl. When he was little, he never thought about his gender; he was just a person,” says a narrator over a video scrolling through photos of a child amid the sometimes turbulent transitions of growing up. As it so happens, this child is Leon Finley, who struggled for years feeling like a boy trapped in a female figure. The video ushered in an evening to celebrate his successful collaboration with design label LACTIC Incorporated, which raised the funds Finley needed to get a surgery crucial to his transition into the male body he identifies with.

Expressing his frustration with the total disregard for the medical necessity of transitional surgeries by private insurance companies, Finley discusses how transgender individuals often face the daunting task of transitioning with little to no financial (and often times familial) support. “There’s a point,” Finley says, “that you realize you just can’t do it alone.” Fortunately, Finley found the support he needed through his friend and LACTIC founder Randi Shandroski, who offered to help him design something they could sell so he could raise the money his insurance company wouldn’t provide. “Randi called me one day and said, ‘You know, you don’t have to do this alone. We can do this with love and fun. We can do this with art,'” Finley recalls. And with that, LEON + LACTIC was born.


Consisting of three bag designs (a pouch, a tote and a duffle), the limited run LEON + LACTIC collection features a series of crayon drawings and photographs made by Finley that were then printed onto the fabric used for each handmade piece. Though only available for one month—from 15 November to 15 December 2014—the collaboration was such a success that proceeds not only funded Finley’s surgery, but also helped subsidize three additional gender-affirming surgeries. “I feel so lucky to live in this time where I get to be who I am, and supported for being that person,” Finley expresses.


LEON + LACTIC marked the accomplishment with a thank you party on Saturday, 28 February 2015, hosted by the ALLGOLD artist collective residency at MoMA’s PS1. It was an evening of gratitude, marked with poignantly relevant performances by Zachary Schoenhut, Donald C Shorter Jr. and Gage of the Boone, all of whom are both friends of Finley and highly active members of Brooklyn’s queer creative scene. Shorter Jr., who is a choreographer, dancer and drag queen, performed a selection from his one-man show “GENDEROSITY: Physicalized,” in which he explores gender expression as performance. Executing choreography from Martha Graham’s “Lamentation,” Shorter Jr. reminisces about conflicting notions of gender that he experienced while training as a dancer, and how movement is used to define feminine and masculine constructs.


Gage of the Boone, who helps run queer community space The Spectrum, used his performance to compare the act of discovering one’s true identity to a sort of rebirth. Breaking free from a tiny plexiglass cube, Gage grew larger and more unwieldy as he shed colorful plumes of fabric, feeling around the space surrounding him from behind a netted veil. After a movement piece that can only be described as ethereally esoteric, Gage finally pulled himself through the veil, leaving the gilded cage behind as a fully formed human being.


The event closed out with LACTIC Incorporated‘s first-ever fashion show, which showcased the label’s delightfully experimental genderless pieces. Made using recycled advertising banners that Shandroski salvages from her printshop day job, LACTIC garments serve a strong dose of subversion. Shandroski rearranges banner stock photos and marketing buzzwords like “progress” and “vulnerability management” in a way that critiques the generally negative messaging delivered by advertising. Shandroski’s background in sculpture shines through with strong linear construction dominating her silhouettes, making her garments truly accessible to all body types and thus conforming to the theme of the night.

Explore the now sold out collection at LACTIC’s webshop and check out their current collection of innovative, Made in the USA, one-of-a-kind apparel available now.

Lead and second images courtesy of LACTIC; all other images by Gabriella Garcia