Words and Photos by Marley DeRosia
“There are people who want you to be able to be yourself, who will stand by you. And sometimes those people run clothing swaps and coffee hangouts.”
I walked into the Equal Grounds cafe for GV2’s Trans Day of Visibility clothing swap wearing an outfit that I can only describe as “me.” Studded black shoes, ripped black jeans, and a pink jacket that almost perfectly matched my hair. I felt good. Coming out of a pandemic and having spent far too much time inside, I was eager to dress up; to show the world that I have style and confidence, to make sure that everyone could tell who I was through how I dressed.
Gradually, and in leaps and bounds, the Flower City has become a safer place for people of all identities to celebrate their individuality. And on this year’s Trans Day of Visibility, GV2 (Genesee Valley Gender Variants) member Samson Weinberg (he/him, they/theirs) told me it’s one of the reasons he moved here from the Midwest in the first place.
Observed on March 31st, this annual day of awareness is dedicated to celebrating the lives and joy of trans people while raising awareness about the discrimination experienced by trans folks across the world. Samson was the powerhouse behind the Equal Grounds’ first clothing swap in honor of the day.
With clothing rod and hangers in hand, GV2 set up donation piles across the tables of Equal Grounds, along the walls, in bins on the ground. This social group gets together weekly to chat about their lives and struggles with others living “outside of the binary.” The group expected a few people to come out and donate to the clothing swap. What they got was something even greater.
“I hoped for maybe our usual GV² Thursday night meetup numbers, so, maybe a dozen or so people?” Samson guessed. “Instead, we got enough donations that the clothing rack I brought to hang donations on collapsed TWICE from the weight.”
I was honored to sit down with Samson and talk about the inspiration behind this event, the people who helped him, and what GV2 hopes to do in the future.
Please introduce yourself, including your name, pronouns, and anything else you want to share about yourself!
Hi, there! I’m Samson, he/him or they/them, I like a mix of both. I’m 26, I’m an artist and aspiring writer, and I also sometimes help organize the occasional community event here and there.
Please describe GV² and why you wanted to get involved.
I discovered GV² through word of mouth! This seems to be the case for how most of us have come to meet the group. GV² had been meeting at Equal Grounds regularly for years, so they invited me to the next upcoming meeting, and the rest is history.
The event was bigger than expected (and a resounding success)! What were your thoughts as you prepared the event?
I mean…beyond, “What am I doing??” and, “How does one run a clothing swap anyway?”
In all seriousness, I did NOT think this event would be this much of a success, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out! I knew several other organizations had plans for events that day, so I’d figured this would be lower on the food chain of people’s plans. Instead, we got enough donations that the clothing rack for donations collapsed TWICE from the weight. I’m still floored with how the community really came together for this.
Why are events like this important for the Rochester community (and beyond)?
I’ll spare you the dissertation here and try to pick just a few reasons!
Rochester has, statistically speaking, a huge LGBT+ population, including trans and gender non-conforming folks. Generally, it’s safer here than in a lot of other communities nationwide, but we still encounter some common shared struggles even in these safe areas, and one of those is clothing access. While not every trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming person updates their wardrobe or aesthetic as part of their gender expression, a lot of us do, and that’s not a cheap or easy process. Purchasing new items that affirm your gender is, sadly, a privilege that large amount of the trans community can’t afford, ESPECIALLY when you consider how many of us fall below the poverty line due to hiring and pay discrimination (along with an infinite number of other factors). It’s also hard for many of us, especially my transfemme sisters, to feel safe/comfortable shopping at traditional stores when gender binaries are so socially reinforced through clothing racks, dressing rooms, and more.
Many of us also own excess old clothes we can’t/don’t/won’t wear that are otherwise going to waste; they cause too much dysphoria or don’t fit us anymore. Community resource sharing/exchange events like this are an ideal solution: we get rid of what is no longer serving us while helping our neighbors access what they need to live with dignity. And that’s just speaking to the practical angle of getting affirming clothes into the hands of trans folks; it’s VERY difficult for me to put into words the kind of emotional/psychological impact that these events and spaces have on those who need them. Many Seeing that there’s a clothing swap FOR gender non-conforming folks like yourself here matters. It might not be safe to even consider looking like your true self in your old hometown because of the judgment and discrimination you might experience from others. Dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable and safe in an environment that supports you matters a LOT.
What do you envision happening in the future for GV²?
Gosh, so many things? We’re always chatting about various plans. We’ve talked about movie nights and other assorted hangouts outside of weekly Equal Grounds meets, plans for future pride parades, future activism efforts, etc. As of now (April), I’ll still need to organize a follow-up event to the TDoV swap just to sort through all the donations we got. So, lots lined up for the future for sure!
Any final thoughts on the event?
I just want to take a moment to say a sincere THANK YOU to anyone and everyone who was involved with this. I know I’m the guy being interviewed here, but I did very little; one man does not a clothing swap make, or at least, it’d be a real boring one. Every single person who showed up has my gratitude, regardless of whether you brought clothes to donate.
A bonus thank you to my GV² comrades, especially Maur, who worked their ass off to get this off the ground (am I allowed to say ass in this?). Also thank you to Equal Grounds for letting us use the space—the event came together on short notice and they’ve always been lovely to us every time we’re there (tip the baristas when you visit, please. They work HARD).
Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?
If you or a loved one are going through the process of reckoning with your gender/sexuality/other aspects of your identity: please, please know you are not alone. This stuff often gets VERY hard, and VERY messy, but you are so far from alone in this. There are people who want you to be able to be you, who will stand by you. And sometimes those people run clothing swaps and coffee hangouts, among other things. You’ve got this. Hang in there.
Interviewing Samson and attending the GV² event was an important reminder that not everyone has the privileges that cis/het people often take for granted, but it was even more inspiring to witness the joy of community in the four walls of that coffee shop. Countless people came to try on clothing, make new friends, and indulge in a sweet or two from Equal Grounds. Along with the scent of coffee, countless laughs, cheers, and shouts of greeting permeated the air on March 31st.
Our outfits do more than just protect our bodies from the cold. Fashion is one of the primary ways we present ourselves to the world: our likes, dislikes, status, cultural influences, gender identity. When we don’t have clothing that makes us feel good, our confidence, relationships, and sense of self can suffer as a result. It’s thanks to events like these and because of the caring people who run them that Rochester will continue to grow into a safer space for people of all identities.
If you want to get in touch with GV², attend one of their weekly Thursday meetings at Equal Grounds on South Ave. They look forward to seeing you there.
 Transfeminine people are people who were assigned male at birth but identify more with a feminine identity.
 Flower Power encourages it
 Cisgender and heterosexual – a cisgender person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth and a heterosexual person is attracted to those who identify as the opposite sex as their own.