Building a Community for Transgender People
Relaunch of Fargo’s Clothing Exchange Program
Dedicated to Helping the LGBT Community
BY ASHLEY REZACHEK
Last summer the Red River Trans and Queer Clothing Exchange program was launched, providing a resource for Fargo-Moorhead‘s transgender and queer community. The program offers a wide selection of clothes for transgender and queer people at no cost. The clothing is donated by community members at drop-off locations in downtown Fargo.
What makes this program different from other clothing donation programs is its effort to meet the needs of the queer community, more specifically the transgender (also known as trans) community.
“Trans people are a group of LGBT people who are very specifically affected by how clothes are made and how available they are,” Xylah∗ said. Xylah, a transgender woman, has taken advantage of the program and sees its importance in helping the transgender community.
In early March the clothing exchange program was relaunched after taking a short hiatus. Previously a once-a-month setup, the clothing exchange is now every other Saturday from 12 to 2 p.m. at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor. People are encouraged to stop by during that time and pick up some clothes.
“The more people that come to it, the more people that get clothes,” D said. ”That’s our ultimate goal, to get as many people clothes as possible.” D∗ is the main coordinator for the program and one of the people who started it . He runs the Facebook page, picks up donations, sorts clothes, and finds volunteers to help run the program.
Transgender people commonly face the barrier of finding clothes that fits their body type and their gender identity.
“A lot of times, clothes are created for people with curvy figures so those with broad shoulders don’t really fit well in a dress,” D said. The clothing exchange provides try-on rooms for people to see how each item fits. The clothing exchange is a space where transgender people can look for clothes that match their gender expression without fear of being judged.
An added benefit to the program is meeting other local transgender people. D said Fargo has a “very closeted community.” The clothing exchange allows transgender people to meet other transgender people who share similar experiences.
The program is particularly helpful for transgender and queer people who have a low-income. It also allows people to experiment with how they want to present themselves.
“The clothing drive is where I’ve gotten most of my gear that I’ve gotten this winter,” Xylah said. “The winters routinely get below negative 20 … negative 30 and having access to free winter gear is a very fundamental survival thing.”
D and Xylah agree that having an inclusive space where transgender people can get clothing and also feel safe is important. They say that other clothing donation spots may not be as capable in meeting the needs of transgender people.
“The people at the other clothing donation places may not realize what trans people may need, such as larger women’s (clothing), smaller men’s (clothing) or even binders. They might not even know what a binder is. So by having that knowledge, we can gear our program towards that community and really help them,” D said.
“It takes a long time for people to really catch on and so it’s really surprising and overwhelming with how many donations we got because I didn’t expect this many donations,” D said.
The new challenge for the program is not so much to get donations but to get those donations to people who need them.
“We have tons of clothing and now our only issue is getting publicity out, getting people to know about (the program), getting volunteers to help set up for the days,” D said.
As of right now there are a couple of clothing donation boxes in downtown Fargo, with plans to expand to more locations.
Boxes are currently at the Pride Collective Center, Orange Records, and Red Raven Espresso Parlor. They accept shirts, jeans, coats, and shoes. However, larger feminine clothes, smaller masculine clothes, binders, and bras are needed the most.
Right now the clothing exchange is in need of volunteers. If you’re interested contact the Red River Trans and Queer Clothing Exchange on Facebook.
∗The sources’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.
(Ashley Rezachek is a multimedia journalism and biochemistry and biotechnology major at MSUM. She hopes to one day combine her majors for a career in science writing or editing, and help bridge the gap between the public and the science world. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)