c/w- this post includes details of being misgendered in a social setting & experiencing physical and social dysphoria
Today, on my way to a Trans &/ Non-Binary Pride event, I stopped to collect an order at one of my favourite clothing stores. While I was there, I asked if it would be alright for me to try on some items. The store assistant looked me up and down and said, ‘you’ll have to go downstairs, to the women’s changing rooms’. I should make it very clear: downstairs was not simply a different changing room, it was a whole different store. I was shopping in Burton’s, a ‘menswear’ store which is connected to Dorothy Perkins, a ‘female clothing store’. I was being asked to go down two flights of stairs, into a different store and then back up the stairs, simply to buy a pair of trousers for work- all because the store assistant perceived me as ‘female’. I decided that the trousers weren’t worth it and I put them back on the shelf.
I felt sick, shaky and insecure. I felt severe social and physical dysphoria, I wanted to pull my layers of clothing around me and let it swallow me up. I have never had a problem with a Burton’s store, in fact, they have been one of the most accommodating stores for buying ‘menswear’. I questioned myself for the rest of the day, wondering, ‘is it normal that I feel this way? Was this my fault? Perhaps I’m overreacting. Is it okay that she presumed my gender and proceeded to make me feel uncomfortable and ashamed?’. Six hours after the event, I was able to answer my own questions: It is not okay to feel that way. It is not my fault. I am not overreacting. It is not okay for someone to make anybody else feel uncomfortable and ashamed.
I have looked at this situation from many different angles in order to come to the conclusion I reached. I used to be a store assistant, having had this experience I recognise that there is no situation which warrants this reaction. (The only exception I can think of is if a store assistant believed that a man had predatory intentions in a clearly ‘female only’ (trans females included) space, such as a lingerie store. Even in this case, male partners are often allowed into the changing areas of lingerie stores!) As a regular customer of Burton’s I am aware that this isn’t a storewide rule, this has led me to believe that this was an incident of queerphobia/transphobia from the particular store assistant(s). In the context of the city in which this store is based, it is currently Trans Pride Weekend, so this incident felt shockingly ironic. In relation to some recent training I have undertaken on hate crime, unconscious bias and trans awareness, this was plainly unprofessional, thoughtless and, at worst, denial of human rights.
(See human rights Article 1 & 2: Right to Equality and Freedom from Discrimination)
Denial of human rights: ‘strong words for a minor situation’, my brain says to me, filled with internalised transphobia and the need to minimise issues which affect trans &/ non-binary people like myself. For many trans &/ non-binary people, this isn’t a minor situation. This is the type of incident which could have pushed me past breaking point if I had been in a depressed or otherwise vulnerable state. It caused me severe social and physical dysphoria. It is a moment which shouldn’t have happened and one which I want to work to prevent happening again. I want to spread awareness about situations such as this and I want to ensure that staff receive better training in order that mistakes like this don’t continue to be made. That’s why, six hours after the event, I filed a complaint. It is something which I didn’t do lightly, and I made sure to let the brilliant customer service team know that, for me, this was an isolated incident with their brand. The person I spoke to was considerate, validated me and assured me that this shouldn’t have happened. (The issue is being ‘looked into further’).
Today I did something I would not have done, even six months ago: I refused to let an unfair situation, which provoked feelings of vulnerability, silence me. While I have the energy, I want to fight against issues like this one, in the hope that others won’t have to deal with them. I will work tirelessly until we live in a society which is more accepting, understanding and considerate of trans &/ non-binary people.
Have you ever experienced a similar situation? What are your responses to a situation like this one? Tell me more about your experiences in comments.- AB
featured image not owned by me, no copyright infringement intended