PHOENIX – Andrea Rodriguez’s relationship with clothing is better now. It took her years of learning about her changing body and sense of self to realize it was not the clothes, but the way she felt inside her clothes.
“It’s important to express yourself that way but also have your own identity— and that comes with a journey of finding yourself, knowing your body,” she said.
“Confidence – gradually, and over time – helps make your relationship with clothing a lot better,” said Rodriguez, a trans woman.
Rodriguez recently grabbed matching black and white tops, a dress and denim shorts, in her size and style, from One-n-Ten, a Phoenix youth center that regularly offers gender-affirming clothing for free.
The center regularly conducts clothing drives to help supply gender-affirming clothes to local LGBTQ+ youth, mainly ages 14 to 24.
The Gender Affirming Closet allows young people to express themselves, said Eric Morales, who oversees volunteers and in-kind donations.
The center also offers food from its kitchen, a lending library of LGBTQ-focused books, pamphlets about gender and identity, sexuality and safe sex, and a music room filled with instruments – allowing LGBTQ youth to be their most authentic selves, Morales said. For some, it’s one of the few spaces where they can safely do so.
“Overall, we create a safe space for open conversations,” Morales said. “Clothing from the Gender Affirming Closet is also shared throughout the year at other special events that bring in youth from all over the Valley.”
Hundreds of items that can clothe people from head to toe are offered – from basic undergarments and socks, to binders and drag clothing, to job-interview clothes, Morales said.
On a recent spring day, two staffers buzzed around the building, sorting through clothes piled high on tables in the basement. They separated pants and tops and built a mountain. One held up a fashion-forward Gothic black top that looked like something that might have been worn by Wednesday Addams, the character on the Netflix show, “Wednesday.”
The operation then moved upstairs for a second round of sorting, as Mariah Carey warbling “Always Be My Baby” played in the background. The staffers combed through bags, boxes and bins overflowing with clothing. Vibrant heels and biker jackets peeked out of overfilled containers, with pants in one area, tops in another.
Workers chatted, amazed that the latest clothing drive was even bigger than expected.
On another day, Rodriguez looked through a bag of clothes set aside for her. Morales said that once a staffer or volunteer gets to know someone’s style, they can help find clothes that suit that person.
Rodriguez said wearing certain clothing can act as an expression of self for some trans people, but there is still pressure to dress a certain way.
“Why is it still so shunned upon for a guy to be wearing a dress or for a girl to be wearing a pantsuit?” Rodriguez askied. “I love clothing. I love skirts and dresses and I love tank tops. I love using that as a way or as an outlet to express myself.”
“I feel like gender-affirmation is not only clothing and it’s not only what you see externally. It’s also how you might feel inside,” Rodriguez said. “You might just feel it in your soul differently.”