The Center’s Trans* Lounge Program Creates a Safe Space for Neurodiversity.
By Greg Hernandez
A part of Trans* Lounge—the Center’s innovative education and enrichment program for the trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary community—the new discussion group is specially designed for Neurodiverse members of the community.
On the first Tuesday of each month, a room at the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza transforms for Trans* Spectrum, a groundbreaking discussion group for Neurodiverse members of the trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary community.
Gym mats are brought in and pillows are scattered on top of them. Cushions are placed on plastic chairs; sensory fidget spinners and toys are placed within reach. The room’s florescent lights are turned off in favor of standing lamps with soft lighting.
It’s a transformation that makes all the difference for attendees who have neurological differences, including being on the autism spectrum or diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, dissociative personality disorders, or traumatic brain injuries.
“The first thing I noticed was the mats. They help ground me,” said Lexington Sherbin, an autistic transgender man.
It was Sherbin’s inability to keep attending the Center’s weekly Transgender Perceptions discussion group that sparked the idea for Trans* Spectrum.
“Lex was really contributing to the conversation and had made a lot of great strides in his transition,” said Gina Bigham, manager of Trans* Lounge. “All of a sudden he stopped coming.”
When Bigham saw Sherbin at an event, he explained that his strong desire to participate was outweighed by his sensitivity to sound, light, and other external stimuli.
“I really liked the group, but it was hard to be in it,” he explained. “Sometimes I was overwhelmed with the white walls and the lights and had to leave. It also takes a lot of energy and effort for me to speak—my body’s battery pack gets wiped out very fast.”
He asked Bigham if she could start a group in a controlled space specifically for Neurodiverse people. She pitched the idea to Dr. Ward Carpenter, the Center’s co-director of Health Services, and he gave the green light to move forward.
Bigham co-facilitates the monthly meetings with Rebekah Tweed, a licensed clinical social worker at the Center.
“This group is full of people who have in one way or another been let down by our mental health systems,” Tweed said. “Trans* Spectrum is completely centered on the comfort and ability of every person in the room. Everyone gets to participate as much or as little as they want.”
Bigham points out that one of the biggest benefits of the group is the opportunity to be heard and taken seriously about gender identity issues.
“Expressing a new gender identity can be dismissed because of their neurological differences. Often they are not given enough credit or taken seriously,” she said. “Struggling with gender is enough—you shouldn’t also have to struggle with being heard and having your thoughts validated.”
The comfort level achieved in the room has been key to helping people open up. Participants can sit wherever they feel most comfortable, get up anytime, and use something–like arts su plies and fidget toys–from the activities table.
“Everybody who normally feels scared to express themselves can talk about feelings and put themselves out there,” Sherbin said. “You can be yourself and celebrate that rather than feeling like the weirdo in the class.”
Neurodiversity: Recognizing and respecting neurological variations the same way as any other human variation: they are differences, not deficits. These differences can include dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum, Tourette syndrome, and others.