A program providing gender-affirming gear to people on Nova Scotia’s south shore has plans to expand thanks to new funding.
Jace Pierce used to volunteer at the South Shore Sexual Health centre, where he helped launch the Transformation Closet, which provides gear like chest binders, packers and gaffs to trans and gender non-conforming people in Lunenburg and Queens counties.
Pierce said he first came out as transgender when he was 12, but didn’t start presenting as male for another couple of years.
When he began to seek out gear to affirm his gender identity, he had to get his therapist to write him a note so his first binder and packer would be covered. It would take six months before he would finally get access to his gear.
“Sometimes the referral approval takes days, sometimes it takes months,” said Pierce, now 18.
The Transformation Closet removes those barriers by allowing people to come and get whatever they need, free of charge or pay what you can.
It’s an especially valuable resource for youth who are still figuring out their identity and might not have the means to purchase their own gear, said Pierce.
“I’ve seen kids cry putting on their first binder because of how good they felt in their own body, and that’s something amazing,” he said.
“If this was here when I had first come out, it would have made life a lot easier, and I would have learned what I was comfortable with much more quickly, because I would have had a chance to explore it.”
The initiative started two years ago with a couple of grants and a goal to get rural gender-diverse people access to the gear they need, said Julie Veinot, the executive director of the South Shore Sexual Health Centre.
Veinot said it’s “pretty much unheard of” to find that kind of gear in rural areas.
“Generally, you have to order these items in from the States, and it does require a credit card,” she said. “And we were discovering that a lot of youth, especially, don’t have access to a credit card and may need some help getting these items for the first time.”
Since it began, she said the feedback has been “really great.”
“I think it is becoming our most important program in terms of how many people access it,” said Veinot.
She said more than 30 people accessed it in the first year, “which for a small, one-person non-profit, is quite extraordinary.”
Veinot said people of all ages can go to the Transformation Closet, but the majority of people who use it are under the age of 18 who might not be able to afford their own gear, or who don’t have a supportive family who can help them get it.
However, funding remains a challenge. She said it takes about $5,000 a year to keep it well-stocked and meeting the needs of those who use it, and also expects it to grow as more people become aware of the service.
But she said they recently received $20,000 in funding from the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia, as well as Kia’s Community in Motion program.
This will allow them to expand the Transformation Closet to Sexual Health Nova Scotia’s other sexual health centres across the province in a one-year pilot project.
“We hope that it’s going to be successful and that we’re going to find some more funding to keep it going,” she said.
“In the non-profit world there’s no promises, but it’s been such a successful program that it would be cruel not to keep it going in some way, so we’re going to try our best to keep finding funding for it and make it a permanent program.”
Pierce said he’s “really, really excited” for the people who will now have access to the gender-affirming gear they need to feel at home in their bodies — and to keep them from resorting to unsafe options.
“Knowing that across the province, there’s going to be less people binding unsafely, less broken ribs from people binding unsafely, and more education, it’s going to help a lot,” he said.
“It’s just going to be so incredibly helpful to any trans person out there.”