The revolutionary potential of a quarterly trans and queer clothing swap

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 collectively 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 say 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, gender-expansive and queer folks for three hours. There was a giddy excitement as attendees shared once beloved clothing items with others in the community while finding new gems that aligned with and affirmed their desired gender presentation. Seeing people hold things up and say things like, “That is soooo you! You’re going to rock that!,” just never gets old.

Some people enter and seem comfortably at home right away—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 and gender-expansive folks. The internet has revolutionized the ways in which those of us who don’t often see ourselves reflected in mainstream society and the media are able to find one another, form communities of shared interest and make new friends—but there is nothing like gathering in person, in real life and seeing so many people who share similar experiences in the world.

Community Resilience Through Self-Reliance
While straight, cisgender allies are allowed to contribute clothing to the swap, all volunteers and attendees are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as the parents of young people who aren’t able to come by themselves. There is power in gathering together to keep clothing in the community via an all-volunteer community 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 rarely—if ever—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, joyfully shared with our friends, comrades and chosen family 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, as are those who have been pushed into economic precarity and out of housing, 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 while I was out and about 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.

On rejecting tolerance—and acceptance, too

You may wonder why an organization like Transcend would dedicate our inaugural blog post to rejecting not only tolerance, but acceptance, as well. Some might wonder exactly what we’re up to if we’re not looking to generate more tolerance and acceptance for trans, non-binary and all gender-expansive people. That’s a fair question, and I’m guessing some of you already know the answer—because you have probably felt as we do and arrived at the same conclusion.

tolerance /ˈtɒl(ə)r(ə)ns/ – NOUN
1. The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behavior that one dislikes or disagrees with.

2. The capacity to endure continued subjection to something such as a drug or environmental conditions without adverse reaction.

Oxford English Dictionary

We are not here to be tolerated or even accepted. We are here to be respected and celebrated.

We reject the notion of tolerance and acceptance because our humanity is not up for evaluation. Our existence, dignity and human rights are not contingent on the tolerance of others and we are not here to be accepted. We are here to live our lives—full, rich, nuanced lives—on our terms, in community with those who see, love and respect us for the whole human beings we are.

We will tell our own stories, record our own histories and claim our place in society, now and in the future. We will also continue working to uncover and amplify the stories of our ancestors, elders and siblings that have been hidden away for far too long. We have always been here and we will always be here—standing together in pride and in power.

acceptance /əkˈsɛpt(ə)ns/ – NOUN
1. The process or fact of being received as adequate, valid, or suitable.

2. Willingness to tolerate a difficult situation.

Oxford English Dictionary

For those who say they have never met anyone who is trans, genderqueer or otherwise gender-expansive, we reply that you have. We are your family member, your friend, your colleague, your classmate, your community member… If you believe you have never met anyone who is trans, there is a very good chance that you have and that they simply did not feel safe sharing this part of themselves with you.

The work we do at Transcend, in solidarity with other organizations and individuals, is not for our communities alone. As we work for a world that celebrates the nuanced realities of human experience, we are working to free everyone, regardless of their gender, from the suffocating, dangerous and too often violent expectations and limitations of the mythical gender binary.

We hope you will join us in the celebration.