Pee. Shower. Shave. Brush teeth. Moisturize. Do hair. Get dressed. Mentally prepare. Drink coffee. Eat breakfast (sometimes). Check notifications. Mentally prepare. Grab bag. Start car. Drive car. Mentally prepare. Park. Get out. Walk to store. See humans. Get to store.
This little montage plays itself out over and over again, like clockwork, every and any time I go shopping for clothes.
When I was growing up, I used to look forward to going to the store with my parents and picking out a cool new wardrobe to show of to my friends. (This only happened twice a year: on your birthday and on Christmas. If you didn’t get clothes on one of those days, game over; you’ll have to wear those old jeans with patches on the knees until next year. Anyway.)
As an adult, for me, shopping still carries that same excitement.
Shopping as a transgender woman, however, has been a completely different experience.
You walk into a store and make your way to the section where they have that top you like and the sales person says “Do you need assistance”? and you say “Yes, do you have this in an medium” and they say “Let me check”, and a few moments later “Here’s a medium”, and you say “Thank you”, and you head to the fitting room and the top fits and you like it and you head to the cashier and they scan your item and you pay with enthusiasm and you bag your purchase and strut out that store like a runway model on their best day. Slay.
For me, it goes a little like this…
I walk into the store (this already took two hours of mental preparation). I casually wander around, pretending I’m browsing but in fact I’ve come for something very specific but don’t know where anything is. So I end up walking up and down the shop four times. I eventually find what I’m looking for. At this point, no one has asked “Do you need assistance?”, instead they just stare at me with those judgey eyes. Because “What is HE doing here?”
I eventually find the top and look for the right size. I just take the biggest one they have. Because broad shoulders.
Now, I have a decision to make. I can either get out of the store quickly by paying without fitting on the item at the risk of having to bring it back if it doesn’t fit. Or, if I haven’t lost all self-confidence, I can attempt going to the fitting room and hopefully they’ll be nice and not make me feel self-conscious and other. I opt for the fitting room. They make me feel self-conscious and other. Great.
As I approach the cubical, the other customers freak out. I smile politely and lock the door.
Right, no eyes watching, let’s fit this thing on.
“It looks okay. It’s a little tight (because shoulders). It’s not amazing. But not shit either. It’s nice. I look nice. I like this top. I think I’ll get it.”
I get dressed, unlock the door, dash out the fitting room, and stand in the queue.
“Yes, person in front of me, I’m buying THIS top ” (obviously I don’t say this out loud).
I get to the cashier, who frowns at me. “Is this for YOU?” they ask.
“Yes”, I say.
I pay. I leave. I’m exhausted.
The stress and anxiety from shopping while trans comes from these ever-present micro-aggressions, from these actions and words that constantly remind you that you’re other, that you don’t belong here. And this is something I confront and deal with on a daily basis.
I’ve often opted to fit things on at home and return them if I need to, or avoid the store altogether because sometimes I can’t deal with their transphobia. Sometimes trans and gender nonconforming people experience extreme prejudice while shopping, and can often result in ridicule, shaming, and even violence. So avoiding toxic spaces and being safe is a legitimate way of preserving one’s mental, emotional and physical health.
To ease the anxiety around shopping, I sometimes take a cis woman friend with me, particularly when going to the change room. It sounds odd but other people are generally less aggressive and you can try on your clothes in (relative) peace. It really is a big help. Shopping outside peak times can help ease the stress of having so many people around. Also, thank god for online shopping!
I’m a lot more confident than I was before, and that comes from practice, patience, and self-acceptance. Even on the difficult days, I’m mostly able to walk out the store with whatever top I like, shoulders and all.