I went shopping at the Zara on Newbury Street in Boston yesterday. As I waited in the dressing rooms to try on some fabulous golden chinos, a suited employee came up to me and said something inaudible. “Just one,” I said, making my best guess as to what he was asking me. But then he repeated himself, clearly a little embarrassed. “You’re not allowed in here.”
I quickly realized he meant women are not allowed in the men’s dressing room, and he was reading me as female.
A little shocked and caught off-guard, I went downstairs to the long line at the women’s dressing rooms, where my female assigned counterparts were trying on 7 items each. After waiting a few minutes, I realized that my interest in the pants was quickly dwindling, and I’d much rather find out why they felt the need to force me into a space that didn’t make sense for me (I almost exclusively shop for men’s clothes.)
So being the radical queer that I am, I went back upstairs to ask a few questions. They told me that they made the policy after a guy opened the courtain on a woman in the dressing room while she was changing. I then asked them if they had any transgender anti-discrimination policies, and they promptly told me that I could use the men’s dressing room if I wanted to. So the bad news is that Zara — or at least the Zara on Newburry Street in Boston — has a discriminatory rule against gender non-conforming folks. The good news is that the minute you complain they let you break it.
Their fearful response to the curtain incident is one that I see a lot among institutions who aren’t educated in transgender and genderqueer rights. People seem to think that enforcing gendered spaces is going to increase the comfort level and safety of everyone involved. Sadly, it does just the opposite. It marginalizes gender non-conforming shoppers, it makes it harder for straight couples or mixed gendered friends to shop together, it makes one line much longer than the other, it forces employees to uncomfortably kick someone out of a space that they have every right to be in, and it encourages rape culture (men can’t be trusted or expected to behave themselves.) As my shopping buddy put it, an anti-creep policy would get the job done more effectively.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What have you done when you got kicked out of a gendered space? After hearing my story, will you avoid Zara? Will you purposely shop at Zara just to show them that we exist?