Most people have had a Pretty Woman moment in a shop, where they feel out of place, judged or insignificant. And even more have had a nightmare in a changing room, when clothes don’t fit or flatter. But for transgender and gender-non-conforming people, those problems are magnified incomprehensibly in terms of embarrassment, shame and even safety.
In the US, college campuses are tackling the problem by opening up “trans closets”, safe spaces offering donated clothing free from gender constraints – they are arranged by size and season – and, crucially, free from judgement.
It is more likely that LGBTQ+ students suffer financial hardship than their peers – many are not financially supported by their families, and the medical costs associated with transitioning can be crippling (especially in the US). With these closets being free to use and stocked by campus clothing drives, the burden is lessened. It also allows students who may only recently have come out to dress in the way they want, while avoiding the cost of purchasing an entire new wardrobe of clothes.
It was nice to find something that, first of all, fit me, second of all, sparks my interest, and thirdly, not get judged for it
One student using the closet told NBC: “It was nice to find something that, first of all, fit me, second of all, sparks my interest, and thirdly, not get judged for it.”
It’s not just Marshall University – the University of California Santa Cruz has had a closet since 2016 and Rowan University in New Jersey calls theirs the "gender affirming clothes closet". At Marshall, the next step is fundraising to buy chest binders for trans male students.
Travis Becker, the director of the Lionel Cantu Queer Resource Center at the University of California Santa Cruz, said that their closet had turned into a catwalk, as students tried on outfits: “There’s something particularly moving about seeing a trans woman try on her first skirt.”
The schemes have been credited as a substantial, tangible and practical way to offer support to LGBTQ+ students, and it’s environmentally friendly. Truly, a win-win situation.