A Recent Experience has Opened My Eyes to Transphobic Bigotry
I got a small taste of the prejudice and discrimination many trans women are exposed to.
Here in the UK, Primark is a popular chain of clothes stores. And they have some very clear policies which are intended to prevent transphobic, sex-based or gender-based discrimination in their stores.
I know this because I found an online article about an alleged incident of transphobic discrimination in a Primark store, involving a trans woman being refused access to a changing room. Following a complaint, a spokesperson for Primark issued a statement, saying that;
“we welcome all customers to use the fitting rooms of their choice.”
In a separate article, a spokesperson for Primark was quoted as saying;
“It has been our policy for some time that all customers are welcome to use the fitting rooms of their choice in our stores.”
This seems to me to be a very sensible, progressive and non-discriminatory policy, because if you start saying only women can use a particular fitting room, you put the staff in the position of having to make judgements about who counts as a woman and who doesn’t. And this obviously risks transphobic discrimination.
And in any case, it’s not like Primark have open-plan, communal changing rooms. Their fitting rooms consist simply of a number of individual changing units, each fitted with a door or curtain, so all customers have all the privacy they should need.
So, Primark’s anti-discrimination policy seems very clear: Their staff have no need to assess or take any interest in the sex or gender of their customers, because all customers are welcome to use the fitting rooms of their choice.
Recently, however, I had an opportunity to test whether this policy was genuinely being applied, when I took my daughter clothes shopping. And the results were less that comforting to anyone who wishes to see the end of transphobic or sex-based discrimination.
Every day, many thousands of mothers escort their daughters into fitting rooms in order to assist them in fastening and adjusting their clothes and helping them choose what to buy. Nobody seems to think there is anything odd about this.
But what do you do if you are a dad — particularly a single dad or a gay dad? Some stores have unisex changing facilities. But others have separate women’s and men’s changing areas. So, as a dad, can you go into the women’s fitting rooms to help your daughter? Or should your daughter go with you to the men’s fitting rooms on another floor?
In the case of Primark, however, I knew there ought not to be any problem at all, because their clearly-stated policy is that they “welcome all customers to use the fitting rooms of their choice.”
When we got to the store, however, and I sought entry to the ground floor fitting area in order to assist my daughter, I was refused entry to the fitting room, because, apparently, ‘it’s only for women.’ There were no signs indicating this was anything other than a unisex fitting room. The sign just said ‘Fitting Rooms.’ And refusing me entry to any fitting room was, in any case, a direct violation of Primark’s clearly-stated anti-discrimination policies.
A manager was called, but she was both unhelpful and obnoxious. I behaved very reasonably. I told the staff what their company’s anti-discrimination policy was, but they claimed that policy only applies in some of their stores. (I later contacted Primark by e-mail and they confirmed this is complete nonsense. The policy applies in all of their stores.)
I asked the staff in the store why they were discriminating against dads in this way, but they had no sensible answer to offer. I pointed out that the fitting room had only individual changing units in it and so privacy was assured, but they had no sensible answer to that, either. I pointed out how clearly discriminatory and sexist their behaviour was, but they didn’t seem to care.
(I should also make it clear that at no point did I directly identify as a man. The staff felt entitled to assume my gender, simply based on the way I looked. For all they knew, I might identify as a woman, but choose to only wear feminine clothes at the weekend — but I don’t see that that should be any of their business!)
Throughout this very uncomfortable experience, the members of staff treated me with utter disdain — as if asking them to abide by their own employer’s anti-discrimination policies was a totally unreasonable and disgusting thing for me to be doing.
Two customers intervened in our conversation — but not on my side. One man intervened to ask me to step away from the entrance to the fitting room, because his daughter was in there.
What is it these people imagine will happen? Do they think that, because I’m biologically male, as soon as I enter the fitting rooms, I will suddenly go berserk, pulling open all the curtains and forcing my way into already-occupied cubicles?
When I said I wanted to complain about the way I was treated, the manager and the other members of staff involved covered up their name badges. Presumably they didn’t want me identifying them to their bosses. This suggests they may have known perfectly well they were in the wrong. They may have known their actions were against company policy, but were so determined to express their prejudices, that they would press ahead with their discriminatory and bigoted behaviour anyway and just try to cover up for it afterwards.
And then, when I said how appalled I was at their rudeness, the manager asked me to leave the store and had a security guard escort me from the premises. The security guard covered up his name badge, too.
It was an uncomfortable, but eye-opening experience.
When I got home, I looked up some news articles about Primark and I was further intrigued to learn of the hostile reception Primark received, from some quarters, when they recently opened two new explicitly unisex fitting rooms. People openly displayed their prejudices; expressing outrage and disgust that there could be a male in the next cubicle.
We even had Piers Morgan complaining, using the ridiculous example that he didn’t want his daughter “wandering into some changing room and seeing some 60-year-old bloke with his kit off.” It’s hysterical nonsense, because, as I say, all their fitting rooms consist of individual changing cubicles anyway. And, as you see, Piers even managed to add some ageism to the debate, too.
I feel this episode has given me a limited, but improved appreciation for how some trans women are viewed and treated by the bigoted people who are still so common in our societies.
It seems that if you’re biologically male, some people see nothing wrong at all in making all sorts of hideous assumptions about you.
I expect that the staff and customers may have been less willing to openly challenge me if I’d been wearing lipstick and a dress at the time. But many of the suspicious looks and attitudes might still have been present, as demonstrated by the reactions some people have shown towards Primark’s progressive policies.
In my view, it should not be up to store staff to take any interest in what my gender is. That’s my business. I shouldn’t be quizzed about it. And I shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of what staff assume my gender to be. I should simply be treated, with respect, as a customer.
Primark’s head office appears to agree with me. They do have a very enlightened attitude. Primark has a very clear anti-discrimination policy, designed to prevent discrimination against trans women — and against dads, for example. But it seems some members of their staff are far too bigoted and prejudiced to be willing to actually implement that policy.
Simply having an anti-discrimination policy is not good enough. You have to take firm steps to make sure your staff are actually following it.
Clearly, in our fight against prejudice and bigotry, there’s a very long way still to go.
Additional: Hi there all those incredibly offended people visiting here from Mumsnet! Welcome! It’s fascinating to see so many nasty comments (on Mumsnet) from so many incredibly bigoted people. It’s also fascinating to see people trying to justify their outrage by pretending I was trying to force my way into a women’s changing room. But the facts are straightforward. There was no attempt to force my way into anywhere. I was simply asking the staff to abide by their own employer’s very clear anti-discrimination policies. What could possibly be wrong with that? And this was not a women-only changing room at all. This was a unisex facility that Primark themselves say was supposed to be open to any customer who wished to use it. But the facts won’t get in the way of the vile and deluded fantasists on Mumsnet, with their tribal prejudices and transparently ridiculous lie-based and insult-based ‘arguments.’ I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a nasty-minded bunch of people in one place before. Wow!
Update: I thought some more about this issue and came up with this: