FOR people who are exploring their gender, clothing is often one of the first ways they can express themselves.
It is a way to affirm their identity and show who they are to others in the community.
"When I first transitioned, I had a whole wardrobe that no longer fitted my identity," Zara Jones, a non-binary trans woman, said.
Going out wearing those clothes after I had come out publicly really made me feel uncomfortable. I'm trying to tell people I'm a trans woman and yet I'm still dressing like how men dress.- Zara Jones
The Bendigo resident started going to op shops to buy a new wardrobe, which quickly became too expensive.
"So I just reached out to people and said I would love to have this opportunity for trans people to be able to just swap their outfits," Ms Jones said.
"We ended up with a whole bunch of clothing donated from the general public who all heard my story and said yes we want to get involved, we want to support the community."
That's how the Trans and Gender Diverse Clothing Swap started in Bendigo in early 2020. It is a safe space for people to donate and find new clothes.
"We got so much stuff we ended up not just being able to have one event but several events," Ms Jones said.
"It's now an ongoing event we run, not just here in Bendigo, but in other regional towns as well."
Theresa Davis, another trans woman in Bendigo, went to the first swap meet and instantly felt comfortable.
"When I transitioned, I always saw a need for not just having the clothes but having people around you who can say maybe this might go better with that," she said.
"Sometimes it's very difficult for other people to understand who you are and where you fit in. Your clothing is one of those things that can give them a pointer in the right direction.
"It also reaffirms yourself and gives yourself a lot of confidence.
"One of the key things I learnt, particularly from cis female friends, was if you have confidence in yourself, you can almost get away with anything.
"Everyone goes through those times where you're really confident, but there are other times when you just want to kick back and just conform.
"Having that diverse range of clothing from the swap meets gives you that option."
Alex, a trans man living in Bendigo, said the clothing swap events helped him feel more comfortable in himself.
"Society has a pretty binary view of what clothing people should wear and what they look like, so for me, wearing the kind of clothing I want to wear will help people see me as who I am," he said.
"It can be really hard to find clothing that fits you when you're not the kind of person those clothes were really made for.
"It can be really hard to find clothes to fit me and often other people understand that feeling. They say I have these clothes that can fit for someone else.
"It makes it a lot easier to find something that makes them happy.
Putting on clothes I feel comfortable in just makes me really happy.- Alex
"Sometimes for me it's not even about passing, it's about something that makes me feel good and happy within myself and just brings me joy to wear.
"That's what's important for me. Giving clothes to people so they can feel the same or going to an event and finding clothes that make you feel that way, it's really good."
Ms Jones said people who were going through similar experiences could meet at the events.
"It's also provided so many amazing opportunities to connect with the broader community," she said.
"It gives that opportunity to really raise more awareness about the trans experience and to build connections."
Ms Jones said those interested in learning more about the clothing swap events should visit tgdbendigoandbeyond.org.au
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