Trans Affairs offers resources and support for Gainesville’s trans community.
When people are marginalized, often the best way for them to navigate their world is by forming a community with each other. That’s the principle behind the resurrection of Trans Affairs at Wild Iris, a trans support group started over a year ago by Erica Merrell, co-owner of the feminist bookstore, and Yocheved Zenaida-Cohen, a community activist known by most as “Yaz.”
But after Cohen moved out of Florida in August, Trans Affairs began to dwindle as an organization. Merrell attributes this to the often-transitory nature of Gainesville’s community. With everyone coming, going and in between, it was hard to keep the group alive without Cohen driving it. Trans Affairs had all but disappeared until recently, when Merrell began securing funds to restart the organization.
“We got a little bit of funding from Queer the Fest, which is a music show that happens during Fest with queer artists,” Merrell said, “Every year they give to some worthy groups, and they’ve supported us so that we can carve out this space.”
Thanks to these donations, Trans Affairs has items such as chest binders, breast forms, makeup and clothing that are available for free to people in need. These items are usually expensive, often unaffordable for those living in difficult financial circumstances. But for some, they make everyday life more manageable and can be essential to a trans person’s sense of identity.
“Even getting an ID that matches what you look like when it comes to finding a home or getting a job,” Merrell said, “These are barriers that people don’t always think about.”
Trans Affairs is there for people in all stages of their transitions, she said. Even trans people who are just beginning to ask preliminary questions about the process of transitioning can meet with leaders who have the experience, information and resources to help.
Merrell said her main hope for the future of Trans Affairs is the creation of an informal mentoring program, so people in need of answers, guidance or understanding can connect with those who may be able to help. For people in dire situations, small moments and gestures like this can make a huge difference, Merrell said.
“I think just having a cup of coffee with someone who gets it can change your entire trajectory,” she said.
Although she was instrumental in the creation of the group, Merrell said she wants others to step up to the plate and be leaders as the group continues to take form.
“It’s important to us that leadership comes from the trans community so that it can accurately reflect what they need,” she said. “There are a lot of times that I’m in the store and people come in looking for resources. Because I’m not trans, I don’t always have the best information.”
Trans activists such as Duan Valiant and Eli Mender have begun filling leadership roles to ensure the group meets the needs of the community. Mender is taking on the role of outreach coordinator, and Valiant is treasurer. They said they are determined to ensure the group continues to grow and creates a much-needed space for trans people in the Gainesville area.
“We’re just starting a program called TransConnect,” Valiant said. “This will be a way for people to find possible mentors or information on local resources.”
For now, Trans Affairs plans to continue holding weekly meetings on Saturdays at Wild Iris, so local trans folks and their partners can connect and organize.
Trans Affairs meets Saturdays at Wild Iris from 6 to 8 p.m. You can find more information on their Facebook page.