Trans friendly shopping – battle of the high street brands

February 3, 2011 § 8 Comments

I’m definitely the Godzilla of this relationship

As many of you will know, I’m singing tomorrow in En Travesti Ensemble’s fabulous Forgotten Voices concert at Handel House. Now, even someone as ragged and dishevelled as I tend to be realises that important events require swanky clothes, so I set off to Oxford Street to purchase me some fancy garments.

Obviously, I went to TopMan first. My love for the TopShop men’s line is surpassed only by Vince Noir’s.

I know that I present as some kind of gender-variant androgynous pretty boy creature rather than your typical manly blokey man, but seeing as TopShop advertises solely through the good looks of gender-variant androgynous pretty boys I figured that we’d sort something out.

Look at this model. Never if my life have I worn so much make-up.

God, there was so much that I wanted. So I trundled off to the dressing room, arms laden, and met with two rather camp shop assistants – ‘guyliner’d up, a little too much pomade, way too tight jeans. And they just looked at me – kind of nervously, as if I’d done something frightening. I counted up the number of items, waited for a tag – and they just whispered to each other, inspecting me. One of them finally mumbled something about ‘the wrong room’, and when I (politely, I promise) asked what their policy was for transgender customers, he ran off to fetch the manager.

So the manager came – and it was three cis guys looking me up and down, expressions a rather unpleasant mixture of confusion and distaste. Finally the manager came to the conclusion that I was not manly enough to try on a pair of trousers in peace, and murmured something about ‘females’ being barred from this particular changing room. None of them would look me square in the eye. And that was that.

Seriously? Fuck you.

I know it’s not one of those big injustices in the grand scheme of bigotry – but I find, at least, that sometimes it’s the little insults, the slights, the erasures, that make me despair. I find it easier to maintain my self-confidence against the obvious aggressors – but when all you want to do is something everyday and supposedly simple it can be hard to bear. It’s the smack in the face that tells you that not only are you considered ‘less than’ for the big issues (births, marriages, deaths) – but that you shouldn’t expect the little things to come easy either.

I’d like to make a complaint to their head office – and the sad thing is that I don’t even know if I’m entitled to. I wrote to my MP to express confusion and concern over the latest Equality Bill and the GRA, and how they apply to genderqueer trans people – she never bothered to get back to me. I have a big old ‘F’ on my passport – it seems safest to keep it that way, when I don’t pass as male. But I don’t also read as female, and I certainly don’t live or ‘present’ as one (whatever that means). If we’re debating the binary then I’ll take neither/nor – but if binary is the only thing offered then I’ll always come down on the masculine side. I would genuinely like to know where that leaves me, if anyone has any information.

Anyway, though, to come back to the title. A battle, you see. Because, fearful of the same thing happening, I visited both H & M and River Island – not entirely sure I’d find what I was looking for, but running out of time. Exemplary service. Not one batted eyelid or questioning tone. Except for when they were trying to sell me similar items I might find interesting, or asking if I’d like them to check for a different size. The tills didn’t suddenly stop working – none of the cis guys caught my trans cooties by being in the locked cubicle next to my locked cubicle . Just basic politeness, and money changing hands.

I’m not planning on going back to TopShop. Ever.


§ 8 Responses to Trans friendly shopping – battle of the high street brands

  • Phoebe says:

    If I’m not mistaken, previous UK based trans-related legislation has all been about transsexual (as in medicalised) trans people, undergoing a binary transition. And some quarters have argued that the Equality act actually turns back a number of transsexual equality matters.

    So if you’re currently seeing a doctor and undergoing a binary transition (or have done in the past) then there *may* be a few anti-discrimination statutes to support you in a few situations.

    From the EHRC website:
    “The Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008

    The Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008 extended the Sex Discrimination Act to make it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of gender reassignment in the provision of goods, facilities and services as well as in employment and vocational training.”

    Website says almost nothing about transsexual people.

    • cnlester says:

      I guess this is where I get confused. I have had medical procedures to ease my gender dysphoria, and would probably we fairly comfortable in saying that my body is transsexual – but I haven’t had every medical procedure available and my gender expression is just a bit queer and androgynous. Sigh. I think another long letter to the Equalities Minister is in order. Thank you for the information x

  • Phoebe says:

    Sorry, that meant to say “The Equality 2010 website seems to say next to nothing about transsexual people”.

  • Natacha Kennedy says:

    Hi CN

    I completely understand what you mean, and I have given up trying anything but shoes, coats or cardis on in shops, with the exception of Reiss who have non-gendered changing rooms (and I don’t like/can’t afford to shop there anyway).

    It was just too bruising to the soul, these accusing, disempowering glances. The idea that I might be a bloke trying to gain access to the women’s changing room for a strange motive seemed to hang in the air.

    I think we are probably both entitled to use cubicled changing rooms by law, because the law prohibits discrimination against people who ‘appear to be’ transsexual. Personally though, since I am not TS, I would rather have a law which protects ME as a genderqueer transperson rather than having to coat-tail on someone else.

    Instead I have got quite good at figuring out from just looking at a dress a top or a skirt, how it would look on me.

    Not ideal but i just get fed up with fighting these battles all the time, with no apparent prospect of winning the war. We still have a long way to go…


    • cnlester says:

      It’s an interesting point that the more expensive the shop is, the less they seem to care – in my experience, anyway. ‘Look, someone wants to buy our overpriced items – grab their wallet!’

      I really want to ask them what they think our motives would be, using a changing room to change in and out of clothes? Is it honestly the fear that we’re going to commit a sex crime? Urgh.

      Not enough spoons, that’s what it is.


  • […] written before about the hazards of shopping while trans – and of the ways in which people who disrupt gender norms are punished by society for doing […]

  • […] last two points are definitely worst case scenario for dealing with bigots, but I’ve found it a successful tactic when necessary , as have […]

  • Marin says:

    Only recently started shopping in the men’s department but thankfully did not encounter any dramas while trying on jeans in TopMan (Sydney AU) & also shirts in H&M. I was kind of nervous doing it but I just thought, to hell with this, I’m going in! They didn’t seem to have any issues with non – binary/trans folks as far as I can tell, or perhaps I “passed” – not that I’m trying or even care that much about passing – just buying the clothes I like & feel good in. No one tried to stop me or gave me a bad time.
    Uniqlo is great as they don’t have gendered changerooms & their clothing sizes are very trans – masculine – friendly..the extra small shirts are just right for me…
    May I also say that charity shops (op shops in Australia) are great to shop in as the changerooms are non – gendered, & you can find often fabulous clothes very cheaply.

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