• Sat. May 14th, 2022

Transgender support group provides safe space in North Carolina

HICKORY, NC (AP) — As a transgender man, Lee Crissman knows the difficulties of transitioning, surviving and thriving in a time of inner and outer challenges.

He has gone through episodes of gender dysphoria and struggles to be accepted by society. Now he is also helping others through this.

” I have been there. I suffered,” Crissman said. “Anything they go through, I can help them. If it’s late at night and their dysphoria is severe, I can help them. I’ve had people calling me, crying, saying, “I’m having a nervous breakdown, I need someone.” I am here.”

Single-handedly, Crissman is a beacon of support for trans people in the Catawba Valley region. In 2020, he teamed up with Jack McConnell to create a support group.

The Trans Informative Network and Support (TIN&S) group was McConnell’s idea and Crissman is the project coordinator. McConnell, a counselor at Hickory, is not transgender himself but has worked with transgender people for years, he said.

He said he tries to help them with their transition, connects them with pastors and therapists and offers counseling. After living in Hickory for about 15 years, he decided he needed more support.

“I realized this area had nothing for trans people,” McConnell said. “I said, ‘We have to do something. We need to organize ourselves and have a support system and resources where trans people can go.

McConnell enlisted Crissman, whom he had met at church several years before. Together they found a meeting space in Hickory, under McConnell’s council office. The two renovated the room, decorated it with blue, pink and white flags, gathered meeting supplies and spread the word to the transgender community.

Today, a group of about eight transgender people meet regularly to support each other. Once a month they invite family, friends and allies to join the meeting. This allows allies to become part of their loved one’s support network.

Crissman, who began his transition six years ago, had a support network during his transition. Now, thanks to TIN&S, he supports others.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to help pay,” Crissman said.

The group is always open to more trans people looking for support, he said. Crissman and McConnell want to provide a safe space for people struggling with dysphoria or facing barriers while traveling.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do or where to go,” Crissman said.

TIN&S also helps people connect with transgender-friendly doctors, lawyers, therapists, and other resources. With Crissman and McConnell’s guidance, people can be comfortable getting the services they need, McConnell said.

“It can be a tough community because it’s a conservative community,” McConnell said. “We want to show it’s a safe place they can trust us.”

As the network grows, Crissman plans to add a room where transitioning people can donate clothes that no longer match their gender identity and find new clothes that match. The transition can be costly, and the clothing room can take the stress out of paying for a whole new gender-affirming wardrobe, he said.

Ultimately, McConnell and Crissman want to expand TIN&S and move into his own building. The pair are seeking grants to do so.

In a new building, they hope to include a place where people can stay when needed, Crissman said.

“If someone is in a bad situation, it’s so important to have a safe place to come,” he said.

Although their resources are limited, McConnell hopes that with grants and community support, they can create a strong support network for the region’s transgender community.

“I always say if you can dream it, you can do it,” McConnell said.