Figuring out what to wear on a date is tough enough. Throw in a closet full of clothes that don’t reflect your true gender expression (and a strapped student bank account) and the task becomes that much tougher.
Grayson Chamberlain loaned some natty button-downs to a fellow trans man on his dorm floor for a date that was far too fancy for a T-shirt, and the seed for the Queer Closet at Saint Louis University was planted.
For a nominal subscription fee, folks who are exploring their presentation or gender identity — not just SLU students — can make an appointment to browse through the donated apparel and get help with fit and other suggestions.
Like a library, they can check out apparel and borrow more after it’s returned. If they really fall in love with a given piece, they can buy it for a small fee.
Besides just access to gender-affirming clothes, though, a large part of what the Closet offers is a safe space to try something new.
“I came out as trans when I was sixteen,” says Closet co-founder Chamberlain, 21. “Guessing sizes is hard!”
With a few more years of gender-affirming shopping expertise under his belt, he would accompany friends just dipping a toe into the waters of buying an entirely new type of clothes on shopping missions to Target or Walmart, which can be daunting.
“Trans men going into the men’s section get asked, ‘Are you shopping for your boyfriend?’” says Chamberlain. “Trans women who don’t pass going into the women’s section are thought to be creepy or pervy.”
Trying on clothing that’s not cut for your body in a public dressing room can invite disaster, Chamberlain says.
“It’s stigmatizing on trans women and trans men,” he says.
The Closet, housed in the Rainbow Alliance office at Saint Louis University, does away with all that. The clothes mostly come by donation and span lots of styles and fashions. It can’t accept underwear, bathing suits or bras without tags, and open makeup doesn’t work, but sealed cosmetics are most welcome — the Closet is working to put together makeup classes for transfeminine folks.
The greatest need, says Chamberlain, is for business appropriate clothing.
“They definitely need it specifically because we have these kids who want to be authentic,” he says. “They want to tell their employers, ‘This is who I am,’ before you hire me.”
The Closet doesn’t yet have funds for things like binders, cutlets or packers. But it can refer clients to the Metro Trans Umbrella Group and help them find the right online tutorials to figure out how to wear those items.
“[The Closet] tries to help everyone,” Chamberlain says. “If we don’t have the tools to help you or resources to help you in a way that we think you deserve, we will refer you to MTUG or Pride STL.”
Since forming the Closet, Chicago native Chamberlain has stepped away from day-to-day operations to focus on his junior year pursuing a degree in women and gender studies, as well as social work. Fellow students Regis Wilson and Abby Lawrence are more hands-on these days, but Chamberlain’s idea and work setting it up doubtless render him an Influencer.
“You have to be the change you want to see in the world,” he says.