by Celine Sannes-Pond

When we get dressed in the morning, we pick outfits and accessories designed to show the world what kind of people we are. For queer people like myself, though, getting dressed can be difficult, or even downright depressing. Transgender and queer people, whose gender does not match the one assigned to them at birth, often find themselves staring at a closet full of clothes that match what society expects them to wear, but not who they truly are.

Many queer and trans people wish to, and eventually do, swap out the clothing of their assigned genders and replace them with wardrobes that express how they want to be seen by the world. Curating a wardrobe that makes us feel comfortable and confident is often harder than it sounds, however, and that’s why Kai Blevin decided to do something about it.

Blevin, who is the Co-Founder and Community Liaison of the Salem Social Justice Collective, teamed up with queer advocacy groups from across the state to organize the Collective’s first-ever Salem Trans Clothing Swap. They invited transgender and queer youth in the Salem community to come find and claim the clothes they feel comfortable in — for free.

I spoke to Blevin to learn why they (Blevin uses the gender-neutral pronouns “they/their/them”) decided to organize the swap. They explained that a lot of people simply “don’t understand the reality of transition. With media coverage of people like Janet Mock, Caitlyn Jenner, and Laverne Cox, people don’t necessarily see the financial constraints that come with a transition.”

Blevin explains that queer youth in particular can have a difficult time acquiring clothes that affirm their gender identities. Many youth don’t have money to fund their transitions, and even queer teens whose parents who support their child’s transition may not be able to help finance it.

In addition, Blevin explains, “It can be very uncomfortable to shop for clothes in public when people look around at you like you don’t belong in that section. I’ve experienced this problem myself many times, and it can even escalate into harassment or assault. That is why providing this type of space is so important.”

And so, on March 6, queer youth from all over Salem and from as far away as Corvallis and Portland met to sort through tables full of clothing piled high with donations from Salem community members. Teens joked around and congratulated their friends on good finds, obviously at ease shopping somewhere that celebrated their gender identities.

Although Blevin knew that there was need for an event like this in Salem, they were stunned by the high turnout. In the past, they say, similar events have gathered fewer than ten people. Organizers estimate that about 40 people attended the 2-hour event. The success of the event has prompted the Salem Social Justice Collective to plan another swap in early August, just before most students return to school. Salem Weekly will report more information on this swap as plans for it unfold.

When asked how Salem community members can get involved in helping queer Salem youth, Blevin emphasized the importance of supporting organizations already doing great work in our community. Salem Rainbow Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ youth with everything from emotional support to help applying for college, appreciates both financial contributions and volunteer service.

Those interested in supporting the queer community can also attend the Trans Day of Visibility, organized by the Salem Social Justice Collective, on April 2nd from 1-4pm at Willamette University.

Blevin also invites the Salem community to learn more about how to get involved in queer activism and other social justice concerns facing the Salem community by joining the Salem Social Justice Collective’s Facebook page.