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Open Door Clothes Closet: A space for gender affirmation through clothes

The CSDI's new Open Door Clothes Closet provides free clothing, shoes, accessories and more for transgender and gender diverse students.
The CSDI's new Open Door Clothes Closet provides free clothing, shoes, accessories and more for transgender and gender diverse students.

The Center for Student Diversity (CSDI) celebrated the opening of its Open Door Clothes Closet on Wednesday, Oct. 13. The clothes closet will serve as a place for transgender and gender diverse students to get clothing that affirms their gender.

The opening included statements from transgender students and Jamie Kuhlmeier, a graduate assistant in the CSDI who helped with the project, as well as a ribbon cutting ceremony. A reception and open house followed.

The clothes closet project began in 2019, when Hannah Thompson, then associate director for LGBTQ+ Initiatives, had the idea. She applied for and received grant money from the M.I.A.M.I Women’s Giving Circle in early 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put the project on hold.

Kuhlmeier got involved with the project in January 2021, when Rhonda Jackson, then administrative assistant for the Women’s Center, recruited her.

“We kind of picked up the reins where it had been left because the pandemic ceased movement to work on it,” Kuhlmeier said. “So we picked it up, and we said, ‘Okay, let’s make this happen with the grant money.’”

Madi McGirr, CSDI student intern and marketing chair for Spectrum, also got involved with the project.

“The overarching goal of the closet is to make institutional change to make gender diverse and trans students feel welcomed at Miami and feel valued in our community,” McGirr said.

Kuhlmeier and McGirr met with transgender and gender diverse students to hear feedback on what those students wanted to see in the clothes closet.

Syd Steck, another CSDI student intern who helped with the project, said they worked on recruiting transgender voices.

“We asked a lot of questions, we got a lot of volunteers on different things,” Steck said. “We wanted the closet to be created by and created for trans and gender diverse students, and building that was really important to us.”

One concern they heard from students was that buying clothes to affirm their gender could be a financial burden, and they wanted the clothes closet to relieve some of that burden.

The clothes closet is stocked with plenty of clothes, from pants and t-shirts to dresses and jackets. But it also has things like jewelry, shoes, purses and underwear, which can be important items in affirming gender.

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“You don’t have to pick and choose if you want to come into the space and take things that reaffirm your gender,” McGirr said. “Underwear is a part of that, we want you to have that. Jewelry is a part of that, we want you to have that. Shoes. Anything that we are able to offer you, we want to, to the best of our ability.”

Kuhlmeier said community support of the project allowed them to focus funding on different things students felt were important.

“A lot of our clothes are donated and because so many people had so much to give, we really wanted to focus our fund on what people said that they wanted,” Kuhlmeier said.

Brand new underwear, including binders, which serve to flatten the chest area, was one thing students said they wanted to see in the clothes closet.

Eliana Balit, a senior anthropology major, came to check out the clothes closet and said they were glad to see binders were included.

“I’m really excited that they did the underwear thing because that’s a really underlooked part of transitioning, especially with the binders because … a decent binder is pretty expensive,” Balit said.

Balit said they will probably use the clothes closet to get a new binder because theirs is starting to wear out. 

“It’s really nice to then not have to worry about, ‘Oh no, my piece of gender affirming clothing is starting to wear out. What do I do? Can I afford another one?’” Balit said.

Accessibility was another important factor CSDI wanted to keep in mind while creating the clothes closet. 

Clothing runs from sizes XS to 4XL. Jewelry is hung low enough for wheelchair users. The installed clothing rack makes the clothes easy to grab. A low lighting setting is available to make the space a calmer environment.

Steck was one of the students who spoke at the opening ceremony, and they used the opportunity for a call to action.

“Coming and celebrating today or being here listening to the trans and gender diverse people speak – [don’t assume] that that means … everything’s better and we don’t need to be thinking about these trans students anymore,” Steck said.

Although the clothes closet only addresses one of many transgender issues on campus, Steck is excited to see how it will benefit gender diverse students.

“This is a really small part of it all but to be able to help with this is one less thing on [trans students’] plates, one more support that they have,” Steck said. “And to me, I know firsthand that that can make all the difference.”

Students can visit the Open Door Clothes Closet, located in the CSDI office, by making an appointment on its website. At their appointment, students can explore the clothes closet, try on clothes and choose some to take home. 

Anyone interested in donating new or gently used clothes or accessories can bring them to the CSDI front desk. McGirr also said CSDI is always welcoming suggestions for its programs, including the Open Door Clothes Closet.

“We wanted to … encourage trans students to be visible and to be comfortable in their own bodies here on this campus,” McGirr said. “And that’s what we want moving forward is to just create a space for trans students to feel comfortable here.”