Recently, while attempting to try on some clothes at Urban Outfitters, I was told I couldn't use the women's dressing room. It was a moment of realization: Not everyone is as far along in breaking down the gender binary as I'd thought.
Let's clear something up right off the bat: I am trans. The reason this seems like a proclamation worth making is that, to the untrained eye, I may seem like your everyday New York City cisgender gay guy. I haven't had any hormones or facial electrolysis, and I don't have any boobs. But make no mistake: I am trans. I wear basically all women's clothing, makeup, and hairdos and I identify as a gender-fluid trans person. I feel completely free in identifying as trans, though I'm conscious of the fact that others may not see me as such right away.
At this stage in the game, most progressive people know we're living in a completely new era when it comes to gender. It's a moment of great change, and many of the constructs we've built up over the last two thousand plus years, gender and otherwise, are being dismantled. Given the velocity and speed of this change, I try to be sensitive to people who still value the gender binary and are still trying to deal. But I expect the same level of sensitivity in return.
Last month, I headed west to Los Angeles to visit my best friend Tamara. Tamara and I first became friends when we were four, but it wasn't until high school that the connection blossomed. One of our favorite pastimes was shopping on weekends. These trips were instrumental in our discovery of the world and who we could dream of becoming. When we both lived in New York, this tradition continued, but now we were pros, and shopping for the lives we were living, not just dreaming of.
So, while our priorities have changed, we continue the shopping tradition as we've done for the last twenty years. And just as we've done for twenty years, I expect to try on the "women's" clothing I've selected in a "women's" dressing room next to my buddy.
On this particular day in L.A., what started as a simple errand took a rather heavy turn. We, for some unknown reason, decided to go into Urban Outfitters. Although it wasn't at the top of our list, we were elated to find an entire store full of Tommy Hilfiger, Stussy, Calvin Klein and pretty much all the other stuff we were obsessed with during our teenage years in the, ahem, '90s.
When we got to the dressing rooms, Tamara, a cis woman, was taken in and given a room before the attendant began leading me to a completely different area to change.
She could feel the awkwardness and offered: "Well the thing is there are young girls over there so I can't really ..."
"Uh, OK," I replied, "Well, I'm trans."
"I know," she said. "It's just that it's the policy."
There was a long pause — the tension undeniable. "I mean, I guess I can put you in here," she finally said, motioning to a spot on the other side of a number of rooms now separating Tamara and I.
When I entered into that room, my heart was racing — I could hardly breathe. Despite knowing all too well that many of my friends deal with this on a daily basis, I had yet to experience it myself. All of my insecurities came rushing to the surface. All the fear of trying to live as an authentic person; all the work I've done to unblock myself from those fears, all of that energy swirled around me in that room. I couldn't think.
After tweeting about the incident (it's 2016, after all), Urban Outfitters contacted me to discuss. Following some minimal correspondence, I was sent this:
I've had plenty of time to build up an armor against these kind of experiences so I can handle it better than I was once able to. My real concern is for the teenager shopping with their best friend who is told they have to change on the other side of the store, based on some CEO's idea of their gender. What happens to the kid who sees that their identity is only worth acknowledging when a law is passed?
These experiences may seem small to someone looking at it from the other side, but they can have a profound effect on trans folk and gender-fluid people and should not be trivialized.
New York City has gotten it right: By law, anyone can now use the single occupancy bathrooms and dressing rooms that align with their gender identity. There's no question. However, in a place that hasn't yet passed such laws, companies should be adopting these regulations regardless.
As we delve into a post-gender world, corporations are going to have to align quickly with the way our culture has evolved. As we become a more tolerant and understanding society, these companies are going to have to keep up, or we'll simply stop giving them our money. When it comes down to it, besides being unethical and archaic, telling someone that as an employee they are not bound by law to treat human beings fairly is just bad business.