A recent incident has revealed that the high street clothes store New Look badly needs to get a new policy to guide how staff treat trans women.
Michelle went to the New Look in Brixton wanting to buy some jeans and tops. Her treatment fell very short, as staff went on to refer to her as a man and seemed to only reluctantly let her use the changing room. And that’s only the beginning of the story.
What happened when she decided to try some things on was this, Michelle explains:
At first there was no staff member there and thought about just going in and trying on the stuff. But then I waited, and eventually a staff member came and asked me how many things I had. I answered, and she looked up and said “Oh, you are a man”.
I was sort of taken aback by this. I tried to answer but it sort of came out like this “Uuum, it is complicated….I am transgendered….I…umm…this is awkward”.
She then told me “this is a women’s changing room, we don’t have any changing rooms for men”.
I tried explaining “but, I am transgendered…I just want to try on some clothes like everyone else”.
Eventually, Michelle was ‘allowed’ to use the changing room, but the member of staff stood outside. As Michelle recalls, “Either making sure nobody got to me…or as I suspect…that I couldn’t disturb anyone else. This was not a pleasant experience. I was made to feel like an ‘other’. A ‘different’.”
In a blog post over at Michelle is Correct, she explains with a whole lot more patience what happens next. First contacting New Look via their Twitter feed. Then head office.
Eventually, after quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, New Look actually set out their policy towards trans women wanting to try on their clothes… which is… that shops should open early or late, to let trans customers use the changing rooms – “at the discretion of the store manager”. Here’s the full message, sent to Michelle’s friend:
Michelle goes on to aptly sum up the problem with this policy – which on the surface might look like New Look is being accomodating, but in fact – far from it:
Their official policy is that I am someone who their store managers have to make special arrangements for because, in their eyes, I am not a woman and will never, ever be a woman. And I will never be boring. I will always stand out. And I will always make other customers feel uncomfortable in using a closed changing room whilst I use a separate closed changing room several feet away.
And that just sucks. A lot.
High street shops like New Look must do better. Much better. In the meantime, some people are making their displeasure know on Twitter, and others have decided to boycott the shop.