“Transition” is a word that holds great meaning for Adrien Lawyer. In the transgender community, the word connotes not only a physical change but an emotional and even spiritual metamorphosis. It’s about transitioning from a body that makes a person feel like an outsider to one that feels like home. It’s about self-love.
So when Lawyer uses the word “transition” to describe the state of his brainchild, the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, it’s with intention. For three years, he’s cobbled together an organization to support, inform and lend a voice to the transgender community.
The center existed primarily online, with the exception of outreach events and support groups hosted in rented spaces. But with nonprofit status under its belt and grant money from several state agencies and foundations, TRC has secured itself an address. And that address changes everything.
The organization will continue to offer the services it’s provided in the past, such as physician and therapist referrals, educational materials, and support groups. But with the new space at 4100 Silver SE, it can also provide things that simply weren’t possible without a physical location. Thanks to donations, the center has a computer lab, a kitchen, a lending library and a closet, and each is more significant than it may seem.
For transgender people who don’t have a computer at home, public libraries are often the only places where they access the Internet. But “some trans stuff gets blocked at libraries,” says Lawyer, such as surgical pictures. Perhaps even more importantly, people can feel uncomfortable researching personal issues in a public place. TRC lets people use its computers to look at whatever they want in a secure, nonjudgmental environment. Lawyer also wants to use the lab to teach classes for job-seekers.
In a similar vein, the organization’s lending library stocks books that are transgender-specific in addition to standard fiction and nonfiction. And in the kitchen, people can grab a snack, or even a meal. Since many of the people TRC works with are homeless, it provides an opportunity for them to “get off the streets, get a snack and relax,” Lawyer says. The closet is packed with items that can be tricky to find or expensive, like especially small men’s shoes, large women’s shoes, chest binders and wigs. “We tell people to take what they like.”
But as the center grows, Lawyer says greater needs will emerge. It’s a theme that’s followed the organization’s trajectory, since the early days when Lawyer simply wanted to create a support system for the transgender community so people would know they weren’t alone. “The more I peeled back the lid, the bigger it got,” he says. “It was like Pandora’s box.” The most pressing need he sees now is for a safe house or shelter where homeless transgender folks can find a night or two of solace.
As Lawyer tries to plan for the future while still settling into his new space, he recognizes the process as one that’s mirrored his life. “This is such a big transition for our agency. Life is one great big transition,” he says. “Being able to change and adapt is how you survive and grow.”