The first step to not being transphobic is to avoid practicing transphobia—meaning, for example, to be accepting and accomodating when a trans person enters a place of business.
Petticoat Fair, an Austin lingerie store, received heavy criticism after failing to do that in late June, when trans woman Kylie Jack was asked to show proof of bottom surgery before using the fitting rooms.
But step two of not being transphobic is to recognize your own privilege, apologize, and take steps to fight back against discrimination. And as Kate Messer reported in the Austin Chronicle, the “flamewar” between pro-trans rights activists and Petticoat Fair seems to be sparking genuine dialogue and meaningful, trans-friendly changes for the store.
Messer, a queer woman herself, noted that Petticoat Fair has carried a decades-long legacy as a pro-woman, queer- and trans-inclusive lingerie store.
“My personal experience with Petticoat Fair goes back to the mid-Nineties,” she wrote. “It took me a while to muster the courage to go, but I finally decided to take the plunge. What was the worst that could happen? Passing as my own birth gender? What the hell. My first fitting was marred only by the 10 tons of personal baggage I carried, thinking I was not fit for this exclusively women’s space. A wonderful clerk named Magda forever changed my relationship to caring for my girls, and for more than 15 years, I’ve been a loyal Petticoater.”
Kirk Andrews, who began managing the store after his parents, the original owners, retired, told her that the store has fostered positive relationships with queer women since the sixties.
However, when Kylie Jack, a local tech consultant, visited the store on June 28, she was denied for a fitting for not being an “anatomical female.”
The online criticism that followed was covered by Burnt Orange Report, as well as the series of Andrews’ apologies that many activists deemed insufficient and not in good faith.
But instead of responding with radio silence and hoping that everything would blow over, Andrews requested a meeting with Jack in order to apologize personally.
“We had a very cordial initial visit. I laid out where I was coming from, what my concern was – not what was going on in social media. I don’t care about that. This was my customer: What are her needs, and how can I do this better?” he told Messer.
Afterward, Andrews agreed to a Trans 101 sensitivity training for the Petticoat Fair staff led by the Transgender Education Network of Texas.
The staff was receptive, learning “basic things: gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation,” says Scheps. The group reviewed how terms have evolved over the years. “Language trips us up more than anything else. Even within our own community, we don’t agree.” They learned, for example, that the term “transgender” has become an umbrella term to replace terms that have slipped out of favor, such as “transvestite.” They discussed how best to work with trans clients and offer solutions without treating those clients as “others.”Some painful topics were broached as well, including the fitting-room equivalent of “bathroom panic,” the card that is played when arguments ensue about trans access to public restrooms. That is, the assertion that there are men with nefarious intentions who try to access women’s spaces dressed as women. In the case of Petticoat Fair, however, according to Andrews and his staff, that is a situation they actually do confront. “It is not trans women who frighten us or put us on guard,” insists Andrews. “We’re not scared of anybody who’s authentic. And it’s up to us – on a moment’s notice, often in a store packed with customers – to determine the authenticity of who that person is,” and that takes judgment calls, contingencies, sometimes mind-reading, and now, he realizes, a lot more sensitivity.
Andrews expressed to Scheps that he felt dismissed when he tried to address the store’s reality of “creepers” to her. Scheps off-handedly, but earnestly joked, “Yeah, how many times does that really happen? When an impostor tries to come in here?” “In unison,” says Andrews, “the whole staff said, ‘All the time.’ We deal with it all the time.”
Hopefully, Kylie Jack’s experience has prompted Petticoat Fair to be more sensitive in the way that they treat trans customers.
Other businesses should learn from the store’s errors and advocate for trans inclusivity before discriminating against trans employees, customers, and clients by:
-Treating trans (or queer or disabled or female or non Anglo) employees, customers, and client as people
-Including discussions of trans and queer experiences in any training about inclusivity and sensitivity
-Encouraging all employees to become familiar with the language used to describe nonconforming gender identities and experiences.
Natalie tweets from @nsanluis.