By Anna Mackey, June 2015 Issue.
With an official ribbon cutting on Easter Sunday, the Rebel & Divine “I Have A Dream” Boutique trans-focused shoe and clothing closet opened its doors and began its mission of providing a safe space for trying on and obtaining gender-appropriate clothing for low-income and at-risk LGBT youth.
The driving force behind the boutique is Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim, Rebel & Divine’s founding pastor and executive director. The self-identified pomo- (post-modern) homo-genderqueer pastor took a break from chatting with the multitude of colorful people at the grand opening to chat with Echo about this new venture, which, he admits, didn’t even seem like it would work, at first.
“I had never heard of such a thing. It seems so obvious now. I was moved by the number of people who wanted to participate, particularly through the donation piece,” Dirrim said. “People gave from their hearts.”
Dirrim added that it didn’t take long for the concept to catch on with the youth either.
“They don’t really show up the first time,” he said. “They talk to their friends, ‘Was it safe? Was it OK?,’ and the next time you get three times as many.”
The boutique is located on the campus of First Congregational United Church Of Christ Phoenix, just south of Second Street and McDowell Road. Since Rebel & Divine, which Dirrim likened to a traveling band, has no permanent location, First Congregational offered to provide a room for the boutique at no cost, but Dirrim insisted on paying a dollar a month.
Inside the boutique, shoppers can find clothes to fit every size, shape, and gender identity. And, and perhaps most importantly, according to Mickale Burns, Rebel & Divine’s kindness coordinator, it provides an space where trans youth can shop and try on clothes without worrying about hostility.
“The boutique was inspired by the LGBTQ youth when we were trying to help them with shopping for prom,” Burns continued. “And there was a lot of pushback from the department stores.”
Many of these youth, left without support networks, face discrimination even on the streets – and it can be harshest for trans people.
“Part of what I’ve learned working with the LGBT youth is they are a bit skittish at first,” Dirrim said of the effects of rejection. “You have to build up trust.”
Rebel & Divine works to fill a significant need. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, a group working to prevent and end homelessness, up to 40 percent of the homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBT.
The transgender part of this population, according to the American Psychological Association, remains at risk of “discrimination, harassment, sometimes lethal violence and denial of basic human rights,” on top of an inner sense of lacking belonging.
“Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they’re not human,” Burns said.
The boutique operates unconventionally. Anyone shopping can pay for the clothes in cash, but – due to the dire financial situation many of these young people face – payment is not always possible. For these scenarios, youth are welcome to pay for their selections by exchanging clothes they no longer wear or by volunteering their time at the boutique.
For most other purposes, Rebel & Divine operates out of a church at 9th and Sheridan streets, informally referred to as the “917 Sheridan.”
There, for the past five years, Dirrim has worked to create a safe space where youth are served a hot meal and have access to counseling and showers every Sunday night. Overwhelmed by the amount of donations Rebel & Divine received in support of its Sunday night ministry, Dirrim realized the need to expand was imminent.
Today, the “I Have A Dream” Boutique may not house the prom dresses or suits that inspired this concept, but as the boutique’s staff and volunteers look to the future, they hope it continues to grow in both inventory and customers.
For more information on the boutique, or to donate or volunteer, contact Mickale Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit rebeldivingucc.org.
Rebel & Divine’s “I Have A Dream” Boutique
First Congregational UCC Phoenix
1407 N. Second St., Phoenix
Hours: noon to 4 p.m. Sundays
A Style of His Own: Trans youth shares his passion for fashion
By Art Martori, June 2015 Issue.
We’ve descended a broad staircase inside Antique Plaza on Main Street in downtown Mesa, and landed at a small, strange room between the ground and basement floors. The ceiling, walls and linoleum floor are a stark white, and the fluorescent lighting makes this small nook seem like it belongs in some kind of sanitarium for the criminally insane. A dead cactus stands sadly next to a few pieces of that 1970s-era artwork which always seems to be done in shades of brown and orange.
“I can’t be down here too often,” says 19-year-old Ryan Mehler. “It’s really creepy.”
This antique shop is a favorite haunt of Mehler, who lives just down the street. Although the scene is a far cry from the gayborhoods you find in Phoenix, he says he’s happy here, studying fashion at East Valley Institute of Technology and hanging out at places like this – ironic when you consider the Rebel & Divine trans-focused shoe and clothing closet was basically his idea.
“I started collecting clothes but I didn’t have the organizational skills to actually put together the entire thing, so Pastor Jeffrey helped me with it,” Mehler explains. “The clothing closet does mean a lot to me. I don’t use it because I have supportive parents. I don’t need it as much as other people do, so I wouldn’t feel right taking from it. I do donate a lot of stuff to it, though.”
Mehler, who came out as trans around his sophomore year in high school, doesn’t look like a fashion designer, maybe more like the bass player in a garage band. He wears a vintage T-shirt and jeans, and the most outlandish of his fashion accessories are a green backpack adorned with chrome studs and a small ring in his nose.
While he’s passionate about fashion, perhaps it was Mehler’s own coming-out experience that moved him to help other people avoid what he experienced. Mehler declined to provide specific details, save for being turned away from the all-male Mr. Wonderful pageant when he attended Gilbert High School.
It didn’t sound like a happy part of his life.
“It was messy and it was terrible,” he says. “There was just a lot of stuff I had to go through before I realized, and it was messy and it was terrible. Sometimes the self-discovery journeys are not fun.
“There are people who talk about, ‘Oh, I knew from a very young age.’ I do not. I did not. There were some things I probably should’ve noticed, but it doesn’t happen for everybody like that.”
That inspired him to help the trans community. What started out as just a clothing swap, in only a year, grown to become a safe haven for the trans community. It might have been a simple concept but it caught on quickly, says Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim, Rebel & Divine’s executive director and founding pastor.
“Ryan was one of the main influences. About a year ago, Ryan approached me about doing a transgender clothing swap, and I had never heard of such a thing,” Dirrim remembers. “It seems so obvious and simple now. It took us a little while to get underway and make it happen. But I was really moved by the number of people who wanted to participate.”
As we make our way out of Antique Plaza, Mehler stops to ogle a sleek, black Singer sewing machine. Lately he’s been spending most of his free time behind his own sewing machine in preparation for a fashion show at school. So far, he’s completed several outfits for both men and women, including a tuxedo jacket and a couple pairs of jeans.
To see his creations, Mehler explains, can be a shocking experience.
“A lot of people would describe my fashion as a less-extreme Lady Gaga,” he says. “I like spikes. I like really interesting fabrics. I like being ridiculous, to be honest. I like sequins. I like spandex. I love those bright colors that everybody is like, ‘Oh my God, why? Why?’
“I haven’t been able to master ugly-pretty yet, so I stick with conventional pretty with a twist.”
Someday, he hopes to begin designing fashion for the clothing closet, creating unique, one-off apparel for trans clients.
“I want other people to look good and feel good in what they’re wearing.” Mehler says. “That’s kind of my whole mission statement.”
And while the Phoenix’s gayborhoods remain at the center of the action, Mehler exists quietly in the suburbs – until Sundays, that is, when he takes Valley Metro or catches a ride to volunteer at the dinners Rebel & Divine holds at a church in midtown Phoenix.
Dressing for Success: Gender fluid drag performer returns to the stage
By Art Martori, June 2015 Issue.
Despite the hallmarks of low-income housing, every inch of this small, institutional studio apartment bears evidence of the person who lives here: Quinn Judy, 24, foodservice worker at the airport by day, well-known drag king by night. Quinn is self-described as “gender fluid,” and prefers pronouns in the third-person plural in order the avoid pigeonholing them with the gender-revealing “he” or “she.”
The small apartment, neatly packed with all types of clothing, is just one important component of Quinn’s new plan to get their life together, a plan that revolves in large part around exploring and celebrating their gender identity.
Standing at the countertop in front of a large mirror, they peer from beneath a heavily gelled fauxhawk, carefully applying synthetic facial hair with spirit gum from a hefty toolbox bursting with jars and jars of makeup.
As Quinn daubs the adhesive onto each delicate cheek, they recall coming out as trans after high school – a difficult period when they began experiencing financial problems and then homelessness, on and off, until this year.
To get their life back on track, Quinn enlisted the help of community groups, including one n ten and Rebel & Divine. Their support yielded a few big-picture improvements, such as this apartment and mental health counseling. Quinn also noticed a subtle but substantial change in their emotional well being as they settled into the groove of their gender identity.
In fact, Quinn isn’t the only one to notice this newfound confidence. Kayden Reese, 20, a trans-man and Quinn’s boyfriend, has too. He’s lounging on Quinn’s bed, watching them get ready. Kayden confirms that Quinn has been a lot more comfortable lately.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Very much more open with it,” Kayden says. “I used to have to beg you to look masculine … Remember that?”
Quinn has now finished shaping the facial hair into a sculpted beard, with narrow sideburns tracing along their jaw into a stylish goatee. Quinn has also applied eyeliner and mascara, and their eyelids sport a Technicolor rainbow of sparkly shades of pink and blue. They wear slim-fitting black jeans tucked into boots, and a smart jacket beneath a blue sash bearing the title “Mr. Karamba 2014.”
“You like how my eyes came out?” Quinn asks.
“Yeah …” comes the dreamy reply from Kayden.
Today marks Quinn’s re-entry into the drag scene after a one-year hiatus. Lately, they’ve been staying away from bars and drinking, and instead remaining focused on singing in a local choir, writing poetry and composing music. But Quinn says it’s time to go back, only this time with more self-control and a newfound sense of identity.
Quinn has also refined their look, which they describe as Adam Lambert-esque: sultry, stylish and distinctly effeminate.
“When I first started coming out as trans, I tried to be this big macho man,” Quinn says. “And I realized it didn’t work for me, because I wasn’t that. I learned to accept my inner gay boy, if you wanna call it that. That embodies more who I am as a person, flamboyant but having confidence.”
In fact, one of Quinn’s favorite pieces of clothing is a simple vest they picked up at Rebel & Divine. What makes it so cool, Quinn explains, is its versatility. The vest would be suitable as a masculine piece of clothing on a woman or, on the flipside, as the perfect accessory for a guy to complete an Adam Lambert-like look.
Maybe Rebel & Divine gave Quinn an extra nudge toward self-acceptance and inner peace, but the decision to step through the door came with more than a little hesitance.
“I was really apprehensive about going to Rebel & Divine, seeing as it was a church, and churches’ reputations for shunning LGBT people,” Quinn admits.
“It’s hard when you feel anxious all the time. Sometimes when I go to Rebel & Divine it helps me, because I don’t feel so alone. I don’t feel like I’m the only person out there. They give that support I need to feel comfortable with who I am.”