CW: this post contains descriptions of queerphobic harassment and abuse
I am a fat, stocky, non-cis-passing queer with a hot pink side-cut, hairy tits, and varying degrees of stubble on my face. Needless to say, clothes shopping for me can be a real shit-show.
Fact is that no matter what store I go to, or what gendered department I walk into, I raise a lot of eyebrows. On good days, raised eyebrows is all that happens. On not so good days… shit can get pretty bad. Be it awful transphobic employees, “concerned mothers”, or physically aggressive queerphobic cis men, there have been a number of occasions when I have genuinely felt that my safety was at risk or I simply had to leave because the whispers, glaring, laughing, and pictures being taken of me were just too much to handle.
By far the worst areas for this are the businesses or sections labeled for “women” or “ladies”. As somebody who is more often than not perceived as masculine, despite all my efforts at rampant gender-fuckery or femme androgyny, because people are awful and tend to zero in on qualities that confirm their preconceived biases, believe me when I say that the cis can sometimes freak the fuck out about trans folks in clothing stores.
While I’m now more in a place where I don’t take as much shit as I used to, I’m fully prepared to make a fucking scene, and I know my goddamn rights… it wasn’t always that way; and even with all of the confidence in the world that only goes so far when you’re being harassed by an irate bigot with her shitty spawn in tow.
So, for those of you facing a crap reality of queerphobic harassment, intimidation, degradation, or threats while looking for clothes, here are 5 things that have helped me through it all in the past:
1. Do Your Best NOT To Shop During Peak Hours
Generally speaking, evenings, weekends, and holidays tend to draw large crowds of shoppers. To minimize your risk of encountering harassment or harm, consider going out during the early morning or mid-afternoon on a weekday.
Also, be mindful of the lunch hour, especially at malls. If there are any schools nearby then you’ll likely see a lot of teenagers flooding the place to eat at the food court or kill time before they have to go back to class.
2. Whenever Possible, Go With Your Friend(s) or Partner(s)
This can actually hands down be one of your absolute best assets, should the option be available to you. Not only can your comrade covertly hand you the clothes you ACTUALLY want to try on once you’re in the changing room, but they can also distract staff members or other shoppers, pretend that the clothes you’re looking at are for them, help boost your overall confidence, and generally divert unwanted attention away from you.
Alternatively: keep a friend or somebody you trust on speed dial who may be able to pick you up should you need a rescue.
3. Know Your Measurements Before You Go Out
Okay, so, we all know that every fucking brand in every fucking store has it’s own arbitrary sizing scale and idea of what constitutes “small”, “medium”, or “large”, but measuring your body can still be a profoundly helpful tool in shopping for femme clothes without having to necessarily try them on. In particular, your shoulders, bust/chest, waist, and hips.
4. Research the Return Policies of Where You Are Going
Some stores, especially chain stores, list their return policies on their website. Honestly, that shit used to save me a lot of headaches earlier on in my transition when I was not at all comfortably trying stuff on in any change rooms.
So, what I used to do was check out the return policy of where I was going. If it was really good I’d browse clothes by quickly holding them up to myself and would take a gamble on buying it without fully trying it on until I got home.
Was it the most effective way to shop? Fuck no. But it sufficed for a while when I really needed it to.
5. Hide the Clothes You Want Between the Clothes That You Don’t Want
There are a lot of benefits to shopping at a store with both “men’s” and “women’s” departments. Mostly because it allows you the opportunity to look at, and try on, femme clothes while pretending that you’re interested in other things entirely.
For example, let’s say that I’m interested in trying on a skirt. Well, before I go and grab it, maybe I pick out a couple dress shirts and a sweater too, and maybe I slide that skirt in between those items on my way to the dressing room.
More often than not, staff will ask you how many items you have but they don’t really look at them very closely.
If you’re comfortable buying just the skirt on its own, then do it! If not, consider buying a cheap T-Shirt with it as well. If you checked the return policy, as mentioned in point 4 above, you can always bring it back afterward.
Of course, you shouldn’t have to do fucking any of this. You should be able to go out, look at clothing, try things on, and feel generally good about your shopping experience without anybody being a horrible sack to you.
But how we wish it would be is very, very different than how it often is. And sure, there are certainly some cities or locales that are better than others, but the fact is that when you don’t fit the binary, whether you are trying to or not, it’s not often a friendly world waiting for us outside.
Just remember: regardless of whether queer or trans people you know say it’s “not that bad for them”, your experiences are real and valid and there is no shame at all in doing what you need to to feel safe in your interactions.