Eastern Michigan University students, under the direction of Dr. Sadaf Ali and Patrick Campion, were given the opportunity to create a reporting project as a final project in their CTAT 334 class. This is the work of Noel Saval, reporting on FTM A2 Ypsi, which is a support group for transgender-identifying men and nonbinary people in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
FTM A2 Ypsi is a social support group created for transgender identifying men and nonbinary people in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Inspired by the original chapter, FTM Detroit, local advocates Issa Ismail, Michael Anthony, and Connor Rivera came together following an event on Eastern Michigan University’s campus. Founding member Connor Rivera discusses how he and the other founders created the group.
"We had an Outober event from the LGBT center. Michael was performing, as he did drag at the time. And there was another student--Issa--who also came around. And right after the Outober event, I was cleaning up the stage and they climbed up after me. And we all gathered in a corner, and Issa was like, 'So, I have this idea. How about we just, like, gather altogether and we create something very similar to FTM Detroit because they're doing great work over there and we have a lot of community resources here. Why don't we do that?' And I literally looked into everyone's eyes and said 'Why haven't we done that? Why haven't we done this yet?'"
The group was officially founded in November of 2015. At the first meeting, only one person attended, but as the group continued to reach out on social media, more people started to come. This is how they eventually came to have reserved spaces at the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, and, through connections Michael had, the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor. Connor discussed their want to create a space for trans men when no other resources in the area provided services that understood the issues trans men face.
"So for us, it was like, 'Let's create a support group by trans men who have lived it for trans men.' And we offer professional services because we're not certified by any means. But we've all walked the walk, so now we're helping others walk it as well."
Connor talks of others reaching out to potentially expand the group into more chapters, such as FTM Grand Rapids and MTF A2 Ypsi, a support group for trans women. With low funds, this can be difficult to accomplish.
FTM A2 Ypsi received a grant two years ago from the Transgender Justice Foundation and is their main source of funding. Connor discusses methods they use to raise money for their group and future goals.
"As we slowly grow, moving into actually becoming 501-certified, so actually becoming nonprofit status to where we are able to work with more than just what's donated to us and what we sell at pride events. We have t-shirts and wristband things and pins. They sell every year, but that's our only money to do all of these events. Otherwise, it's all out of our pocket."
FTM A2 Ypsi also focuses on advocacy work in surrounding areas. They have worked with a group for parents of transgender youth in Ferndale that partners with Stand with Trans, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and providing resources serving transgender youth. The group has also held public speaking events at businesses, such as a tax firm company in Ann Arbor, on how they can create a more welcoming environment for transgender employees and clients, and a recreation center in Canton on how to better accommodate transgender patrons navigating the public pool at their facility.
While all of the outreach work that is done by FTM A2 Ypsi supports the transgender community at large, the impact that it has on members that attend the private discussion-based meetings can be substantial. Ben Eggertsen, one of the facilitators of the group, talks about the space they try to create for all of their members.
"It's a place to make friendships, and to, you know, I guess, ideally, create kind of a chosen family, which is important, because so many trans folks are kind of rejected by their families."
There are many other events FTM A2 Ypsi creates that are open to everyone in the transgender community. Ben talks about the annual pool party the group hosts and the importance it holds for transgender people.
"I was talking about the pool party today, and that's kind of important in that, if you're trans, it's often really difficult to go swimming. You have to decide what you're going to wear, what locker room you're gonna use, and if people are going to freak out at you."
Jesse W., who chose to not disclose his entire last name, is a newer member to FTM A2 Ypsi, starting to attend when he began hormone replacement therapy about six months ago. He discusses his experiences with the group and how they’ve helped him so far.
"They're almost kind of like mentors to me. And just being able to, you know, see, because I have a lot of dysphoria. So, being able to look at somebody especially like you with your facial hair and being like, 'I want to be there one day. I just need to be patient.'"
Jesse discussed how FTM A2 Ypsi benefits him in allowing him to express emotions he otherwise wouldn’t be able to in his everyday life.
"It's a place where you can open up. It's a safe space. You can open up. You can be yourself. You can talk about anything. And that's really what I liked about it, because I was chomping at the bit, especially because I'm not out with my parents yet and a few other people close to me. To be able to freely talk about this stuff rather than keep it bottled up, especially with a bunch of people who are going through the same thing I'm going through."
Lin Greely has been going to meetings since a few months after FTM A2 Ypsi began. They have been active in the group and regularly hosts hangouts at their apartment, a recent event being Transgiving on Thanksgiving Day to welcome those who did not feel welcome at their own family Thanksgivings.
Lin is nonbinary, or someone who identifies with being neither male or female, but in their case fluctuating somewhere in between. They discuss their experiences being in the group while not identifying as a trans man.
"There's actually quite a few people that are nonbinary. At first, it wasn't really like that. And I guess it was kind of hard at the beginnning, because I just didn't know what I wanted to do, and it was just a place to get information. And then, after a while, they just became my friends. And it became, like, a real affirming place, and I realized there are, like, people that just don't care."
One event FTM A2 Ypsi hosts that is open to the community is T-Time, a social based gathering at Cultivate Coffee and Tap House in Ypsilanti that happens every fourth Monday of the month from 6 to 8 PM. Their meeting on November 26th was held in the beer garden inside a large white tent. Though it was a chilly day, people huddled up in coats and sat next to space heaters. There were lights hanging on strings from the roof of the tent, and dozens of people were laughing and bonding over drinks. Regular attendee Ashley C. talks about her experience with T-Time and the environment it brings.
"I definitely feel more than welcome. I love them all, and they very obviously love me as well. And I refer many people who are trans, who are just coming to terms with being trans, or have family members who are trans to come here and meet these people, because it's such a wide array of people who are so good to talk about--all of them!"
FTM A2 Ypsi meetings are held every first Monday of the month from 6 to 7 PM at the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti and every third Monday of the month from 6 to 7 PM at the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor. For more information on the group, visit their Facebook page, FTM A2 Ypsi.
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