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The Network helps nongender conformists own their gender

The Network, an LGBTQA resource center in Grand Rapids, is working to provide a safe space support group for people who live full-time in a gender other to the one assigned to them at birth.
Volunteers at the network collaborate on a project.

Volunteers at the network collaborate on a project. /Christina Wade for The Network

The Network facilitates a support group called Own Your Gender with the goal of growth, adaptation and friendship for its members.

Own Your Gender is a support group for people who are nongender conformists, those living in a gender other to the one assigned to them at birth. It is a closed group that provides a safe space for people who identify as transgender or gender queer/fluid. The group meets twice a month at The Network.

The group officially began meeting at The Network in January of 2013 after a merge with West Michigan Pride.

“They're a huge support system, especially when you first come out as a nongender conformist. You're lost and you don't know where to go or what to do. It's nice to have other people who have gone through it in the group, who can mentor and help direct you to where the good doctors are, or where you can go to find clothes that are going to fit you correctly,” says Network Executive Director, Christina Wade.

Along with providing support and friendship, Own Your Gender has also organized a clothing pantry for members who are transitioning.

“What's cool about the group is how large it is and how into helping each other they are. They've started a clothes pantry for each other. So if someone is transitioning and they're not going to use all their old clothes, they bring them here. We have a little cupboard and space, so if someone else needs other clothes they just do swaps. Buying a whole new wardrobe is expensive, especially if you're transitioning, so it's a great for them to help each other out,” says Wade.

The group also hosts an ally meeting every two months, when members of the LGBTQA or greater Grand Rapids community are allowed to attend. The next two ally meetings are February 22 and April 26.

“The allied meeting is very educational. It's a very supportive atmosphere where curious questions that can possibly be offensive, are wrangled and answered in a professional way,” says Wade.

Support groups at The Network are walk-in meetings for those who qualify based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Information about qualification can be found on their website or by contacting The Network.

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