Fenway Health’s T-Supper Club: Support and Understanding from Within
Within the broad palate of Boston’s inhabitants are a vibrant culture of “gender non-traditionalists.” This diverse group has a range of lifestyles, needs, and viewpoints. Some of them might call themselves transgender, transsexual or gender queer. Some might be cross-dressers, drag kings, drag queens, transvestites, trannys, pangender, bigender, ambigender, non-gendered, agender, gender fluid or intergender. Some of these people might be men who were classified as female at birth. Some might be women who were regarded as male when they were children. Some might have no gender, some might be intersex with the physical characteristics of both male and female. The individuals within this “metapopulation” have needs as varied as their gender identity and personalities. What these people have in common is that they are who they say they are, and that isn’t as simple as “I am a man and I was born a man,” or “I’m a woman and I was born a woman.” These folks work to be as who they are on the inside. Sometimes that means making the outside image match the inside identity. For some, this is called “transition.” Transition can happen through dress, cosmetics and mannerisms. It also may take medical interventions in the form of surgery and hormones. Sometimes, transitioning can simply mean staking claim to one’s gender identity and living as you identify. Some people in this population don’t transition at all. The simply are.
Those who diverge from the normative gender roles have often been maligned, especially when detached from the support of like minded people or those who value individuality and freedom of expression. Following the newfound civil and cultural understanding which has elevated the lesbian and gay communities, transgender people and other gender pioneers are finding new acceptance. Supporting this evolution, LGBT people as a whole can share the commitment not to let any group of people within their ranks suffer intolerance.
Fenway Health’s Prevention and Education Program runs a support group series called the T-Supper Club. This group isn’t confined to any specific group of the larger transgender community. Rather, by the fellowship of food and dialog, it strives to build understanding and a sense of community among the range of our “T” cultures.
Held on Thursday nights at 1340 Boylston St, an 8 week, formalized group meets in 2-3 cycles per year. When this group is on hiatus, monthly open groups are held to support those who have partaken in the 8 week group as well as newcomers.
The T-Supper Club combines formalized support group practices like community building, sexual health issues, stress management, and personal expression. The group also encourages group dialog, mutual understanding, and it allows participants to express their problems and victories with their peers, in a safe, supportive environment.
“We can think of the transgender community as simply the T in LGBT. But when was the last time you saw an 18 year old female-to-male gay identified transgender man talking to a 60 year old cross dresser who is straight identified, married and lives in the burbs with his wife?” Says Jon Vincent, Prevention Manager at Fenway. “We see that at the T-Supper Club. And these people can learn and grow by knowing that while unique, they are not alone. Inside, we are all looking for the same things: community, respect, love, understanding, security. We have a cross-cultural and cross-generational dynamic going on here. We have contact between these communities and individuals who are not only brave enough to be who they are in a world that isn’t always kind—they are brave enough to talk to each other and trust each other.”
Alex Solange facilitates the group and is the Transgender Health Navigator on The Fenway Institute’s Prevention and Education team. He reflects on the group as a family of sorts: “The bodies of our members may be different, but the struggles everyone has are so similar, it’s hard to imagine. We have a group that is bonded together like a big rock of unity. The group becomes a family. We have intense and deep conversations about our feelings and concerns. The members of our group come first. Their confidentiality, privacy and dignity are always cherished. They are safe here.”
In Addition to the T-Supper Club, Fenway produces an annual event, The T-Social as part of the Living Well Series of community forums. The Social functions as a hub to the Supper clubs. Alex Solange and volunteers from the T-Supper Clubs produce the event, which grows in popularity every year. The T-Social is part health fair, part networking event and part party. Community based organizations that serve the transgender community partner with Fenway to make the event as useful and enjoyable as possible.
To learn more about the T-Social or T-Supper Clubs, please call or email Alex Solange at (617) 927-6449 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The groups are conducted in English with Spanish translation, if needed.
For information about transgender medical or behavioral health needs, contact Ruben Hopwood, coordinator of Fenway’s Transgender Health Program at (617) 927-6225 or email@example.com.