We recently held our seventh quarterly PDX Trans & Queer Clothing Swap and I am inspired to write about the revolutionary potential of what our community is doing with this. In June 2017, a friend tagged me in a local queer exchange group where there was a discussion about holding a clothing swap. I was volunteering at our local LGBTQIA+ center at the time and my friend and I agreed to collaborate and make something happen. Just over a month later we held the first of what would become a quarterly clothing swap.
Seeing people hold things up and immediately hear things like, “That is soooo you! You’re going to rock that!,” just never gets old.
One thing we didn’t realize when we started out is the importance and power of making it a regularly recurring event. Another is what an amazing crew of committed volunteers would form around it, with core volunteers showing up time after time and helping to make the swap not only possible, but delightful.
Community & Visibility
I recall feeling overwhelmed with gratitude and joy at the first swap as I shared space with a room full of beautiful trans and queer folks for three hours. There was a giddy excitement as attendees shared with others in the community clothing items that were once loved while finding new gems that aligned with and affirmed their desired gender presentation. Seeing people hold things up and immediately hear things like, “That is soooo you! You’re going to rock that!,” just never gets old.
Some people walk in and seem comfortably at home—as though events like this are old hat for them. Others have told me it was their first clothing swap, and still others have said it was their first time being in one place with so many other trans folks. The internet has revolutionized the ways in which marginalized folks are able to find one another, form communities of shared interest and make new friends, but there is nothing like gathering in real life and seeing so many people who share similar experiences in the world.
Community Resilience Through Self-Reliance
While straight cis allies are allowed to drop off clothing, all volunteers and attendees are members of the LGBTQIA+ community (as well as the parents of children who aren’t able to come by themselves). There is power in coming together to keep clothing in the community via a community-run event. I have had people tell me that the swap is where they get nearly all their clothing now, and this is one reason we do it quarterly—so that our community can get an infusion of fresh, fabulous fashion for each new season.
I don’t need to go into the sobering statistics of unemployment rates and income disparity for trans and gender-expansive folks—with harsher realities of course for those with multiple marginalized identities. For many in our community, clothing we feel good in is never a casual impulse buy. First, because we can’t afford for it to be, and second, because most of the clothing out there is often not made with us in mind. That being the case, it feels particularly important and gratifying to be able to keep the gems we have found in the community, shared with our trans and queer siblings at no cost.
Limiting Environmental Impact
Even for those who can afford to buy new clothing, the clothing swap allows us to reduce our environmental impact by getting maximum value out of resources that have already been expended to make the clothes we have. This is particularly important for our community because the further one is from wealth and privilege, the more directly one experiences the increasingly dire effects of climate change. We know, too, that those in the Global South are in most cases affected to a far greater degree by climate change than are those of us in the Global North, and we take seriously our responsibility to minimize our global impact.
More Good Things Ahead
There have been several times over the past 18 months when someone has come up to me and said, “I got this at the clothing swap!” Some of my own early favorites as I was coming out and transitioning were things I found at clothing swaps. With all this in mind, we are working to expand on what we’ve learned through the clothing swap and offer additional community services and events.
The inspiration for all this runs deep. Our second swap happened the October after our inaugural swap in July—and just over two months before my friend who had tagged me in that post passed away. It is my hope that my friend would be delighted and proud of what we’re doing with the swap and with everything that comes next.
I.S. de Lis
Founder & Volunteer
Pronouns: she, her / they, them / ella en español
I.S. de Lis is a volunteer, community organizer, activist, writer, photographer, event producer and full-time student, with a double major in Sexuality, Gender & Queer Studies and Spanish. She is also the founder of Transcend.