Wing Yun Schreiber (left) founded gods closet to “create a celebratory environment for folks to try on different kinds of gender expression.” Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Five long fluorescent lights shone brightly overhead, illuminating six clothing racks of assorted styles on the second floor of the Center on Halsted, where gods closet was hosting its November pop-up. DJ Blesstonio stood in black pants and red stiletto boots behind a table, noodling with his DJ comptroller, intently bopping his head while a dark remix of Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle” combined with a Jersey club remix blasted through the speakers, complimenting the already ecstatic energy in the space. 

A mix of 20 guests and stylists mingled and excitedly grabbed new items of clothing as they encountered them. Most were trying on items in the open space and either modeling for people whose opinions they sought on the outfit, or for the tall mirror so that they could judge themselves. 

Wing Yun Schreiber (they/he), a 28-year-old who tends bar in the West Loop and does communications for a local church, founded gods closet in January 2022. The organization provides a community clothing hub and hosts monthly pop-up events that provide gender-affirming clothing to trans and nonbinary people. gods closet (which stylizes its name in lowercase) focuses on college-aged youth and brings LGBTQ+ stylists, makeup artists, tailors, and DJs to their monthly pop-up events throughout Chicago in an attempt to “create a celebratory environment for folks to try on different kinds of gender expression,” said Schreiber.  

Schreiber is light-skinned and stands at five-foot-eight, with short dark hair, and has an athletic build. At the pop-up, he was dressed in a black, cropped, fishnet tank top rimmed with pink. He wore a yellow bra, and above it a “Hello, My name is Wing Yun” nametag. His dark gray bucket hat, an assortment of chain-style jewelry, black cargo pants, and an assortment of tattoos testify to their proclivity for fashion.

“I think my style is a lot about, like, fucking with expectations. There’s ways that I try to match things that aren’t supposed to go together. My favorite thing is to dress up and dress down at the same time.” 

Walking into this trans-centered pop-up is like attending a thrift store on steroids, and that’s intentional. Schreiber said he tries to curate an environment where trans young adults feel comfortable experimenting, and where an array of clothing sizes offer fashionable options for plus-size people. 

This year, gods closet has hosted events around the city to make them accessible to as many Chicagoans as possible: Slo ’Mo at Sleeping Village in Avondale, River City Community Church in Humboldt Park, and Hyde Park’s Silver Room.

“Everything that we do is all volunteer- and donation-based,” Schreiber said. “It’s all completely free.”

The year-old experiment in collecting free, fashionable clothes to redistribute to transgender Chicagoans comes out of Schreiber’s own experience being trans. Growing up, he wanted to switch up his gender expression but didn’t feel like he had access to the clothing he needed to do that.

“Sometimes there would be days when I didn’t even feel like I could leave the house because I didn’t have anything that I felt comfortable in,” he said. “And so I was like, damn, this is a problem that probably other trans people have as well . . . in wanting to be read in a genderqueer way, I have really enjoyed getting creative with fashion.”

Schreiber considered the problem and realized that living in a big city like Chicago, everybody must have extra clothing in their closets. So why not repurpose those clothes to create a community hub where others like himself can find clothing that fits their gender expression? 

Schreiber, who attended undergrad at Moody Bible Institute and got their master’s degree at Duke Divinity School, initially wanted to start a church in Chicago. They opted to invest that energy in gods closet, where they can still use practices from their seminary background, such as coming together as a community to share things and support one another, as well as being able to celebrate “the divinity all queer folks share collectively” by hosting an event that facilitates safe gender exploration. 

In department stores or a typical thrift store, trans people might not feel comfortable going to the opposite gender clothing areas in public. Schreiber has experienced this himself.

In contrast, the stylists at gods closet are all queer and trans people. They can recommend clothing based on attendees’ specific preferences, or offer fashionable suggestions. A makeup artist helps people who want to try on a new look, and a tailor is present to alter clothes, if need be, to fit all body sizes. A photographer is on standby to document attendees’ experiences of gender euphoria, or the bliss someone feels when their gender presentation aligns with the gender they identify with.

Zelda Cohen (they/them), 22, visits the Center on Halsted youth center daily but returned for the evening after hearing they could grab free clothes in the space. Cohen modeled a sleeveless, black dress and leather jacket for the Reader, a fresh find. “Usually people don’t have sizes that are 3X or 2X. But I was able to find more clothes than I usually am.”

J Fraust is a nonbinary stylist and content creator who began androgynous styling three years ago and also attended the Wednesday event after seeing the event flyer circulate online. “It’s easy to style other people for myself, but when it comes to me, sometimes I can struggle with that. And [these stylists]  automatically were giving me all types of tips for more masculine presenting wear, and how to make [my] curvy shape look a lot more straight.” 

DJ Lo-Ré-Mii was the first DJ to perform at a November 16th gods closet pop-up event. | Debbie-Marie Brown

One might think finding donations of fashionable clothing would be a challenge, but Schreiber says that’s been the easy part because so many LGBTQ+ community members have volunteered their own clothes once they hear about the effort from the organization’s Instagram @godscloset.chi or by word of mouth. 

The team is made of a couple of volunteers plus Schreiber and his friend Stevie (they/them), 22, who helps handle logistical matters such as event planning and social media. Stevie also jumps in at pop-ups as a stylist and occasional DJ. Stevie and Schreiber met at the bar they work at; they’re the only trans people on staff. They soon found they shared a desire for greater community and spaces where they felt more seen. “I have access to, like, a utility van,” Stevie said, which is the core reason for their partnership in the community closet.

gods closet rents storage space, and volunteers help sort through donations for events. Many venues have generously allowed the crew to hold their events free of charge. The group is planning a fundraiser at the Soho House in January so that they can eventually pay their volunteers. 

When sorting through donations, the volunteer crew is intent on making sure that what they select for a pop-up is cute, trendy, and stylish. Stevie says that when curating the clothes, they always ask themselves, is this something that someone would be excited about getting rather than just something that someone else doesn’t want? “With my work with other volunteer teams it’s like, people, rather than bringing in clothes that they like but haven’t worn in a bit, [they’ll bring] clothes from ten years ago,” Stevie said. “OK, well, if you don’t want it, somebody else probably doesn’t want it either.”

For Schreiber, one of the sweetest parts of running the pop-ups is watching attendees approach at the end of their shopping, arms full of new outfits, asking, “How much do we owe you for all of this stuff?” 

“And it’s like, nothing, this is all free, as it should be,” Schreiber said. “So just seeing the surprise and delight and joy in people’s eyes when they realize that yeah, that they’re just given access to these things, is really huge.”

Stevie said it’s always fun to put people in clothes that they wouldn’t necessarily grab for themselves, and then watch them try them on and decide to take them home. “I wish that there were more spaces [like this],” Stevie said, “and [that] it was just more prioritized at large for people to be able to get things that they want and need and not have to worry about paying for it.”

Up in smoke

Black-owned small businesses are still losing out on “social equity” cannabis dispensary licenses.