If you are looking for a new perspective on life, there’s nothing like walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
This can also be accomplished by walking through a mall in heels.
It’s quite incredible to visit somewhere en femme that you have been to previously in male mode. One of the first times I went out during the day was to a coffee shop in Uptown. Uptown is a neighborhood in south Minneapolis and is considered to be very LGBTQIA friendly. Over time we are seeing fewer local businesses and more chain stores but the neighborhood still has some of that independent spirit.
This was a coffee shop that I used to go to pretty regularly in male mode. I would park about two blocks away and then walk there to get my eight dollar coffee. I did this almost every day for a few years. Returning as Hannah was a different experience. For one, I trembled like a leaf in the wind the entire time. It was a summer day but I shook from my nerves. I remember thinking that it took a lot longer to walk there in a tight skirt as opposed to the long strides I was used to in male mode.
I walked into the coffee shop, a place I had visited hundreds of time and I immediately looked at it through new eyes. Did I see anyone I know? Was anyone looking at me? Is there anything here I should be cautious of? Scanning a room when I walked into it was a new experience for me. Trembling I approached the counter but I noticed how my heels sounded on the floor. This was something I had never heard before.
The baristas couldn’t been nicer. They smiled (without any hint of suppressed laughter) and called out Hannah’s name when her coffee was ready. My hands shook as I took the cup. I had passed the first trial. I walked out, braver and more relieved than ever. My heels clicking against the floor now sounded like music to me.
Emboldened, I went to two malls, Target, a couple more coffee shops, a bookstore and out for lunch. I was giddy from nerves, excitement and caffeine. The world had never looked more beautiful. People stared but no one laughed or smiled cruelly. My first real adventure was a success and I returned home safely and smiling.
I felt I had conquered the world. I did conquer the world.
Before my epic journey, I searched online for places to go. I was afraid to shop somewhere where I would be laughed at or turned away. I wanted somewhere welcoming to a girl like me. So, I googled things like “crossdresser friendly places” and…came up with virtually nothing.
Looking back it’s not surprising that I didn’t find anything. Very few businesses will go out of their way to specifically state that a particular segment of the population is welcome. It’s not much different than a business stating that all left-handed customers are welcome to their store.
I get a lot of emails asking where a girl like us can go to eat and to shop and, you know, exist. We search online but come up with nothing. It’s true that there are businesses out there that carry products specifically and almost exclusively for our community. Glamour Boutique and Janet’s Closet both have retail stores and advertise themselves specifically to girls like us but if a girl like us wants to get a cup of coffee, dine out, spend the day at the museum or the mall we want to find somewhere we are welcome.
Or at the very least not be mocked, humiliated or turned away.
So, how do we do know where to go?
There’s a few things we can do. Instead of googling using the term ‘crossdresser friendly’ we can expand it to ‘LGBTQIA friendly’. That long acronym covers us. Even by expanding our search to that, we may not find much. You can modify your search to “LGBTQIA + (city name)” and you will usually find a list not unlike a travel guide to the city you enter. When I search ‘Minneapolis LGBTQIA’ one of the first results is a website that lists various bars, restaurants, stores and events that are friendly, or at least of interest to the queer community.
We can also be be mindful of different organizations and their stance on social issues. I shop at Target in both genders and I will continue to do so. I find Target is more progressive than most retailers. In 2016 they received a lot of media attention for their bathroom and changing room policy which, according to their website:
In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.
Oh, people were mad. Boycotts were threatened but Target never backed down. It says a lot about their company culture and values and I will gladly shop there. Activism is something many corporations do and take a stand on these days. Pay attention to what they do and how they donate their money.
On the flip-side, there are organizations that I will never support in either gender. I used to shop at Victoria’s Secret and was disappointed by comments from one of their CEOS regarding the transcommunity. I was even more disappointed by how they reacted to the controversy. A weakly worded statement but no action. If they were truly regretful of these words they could have donated money to an LGBTQIA charity, they could have fired the person who said these things, they could have implemented diversity and inclusivity training across the organization. Their inaction speaks volumes. I do my shopping elsewhere these days.
A lot of people would prefer that they didn’t know about the political or charitable donations of an organization as supporting that business may be in conflict with their core beliefs. I vowed years ago to never go to Chick-fil-A after learning about what they do with their profits.
The Chick-fil-A Foundation donated more than $1.8 million to three groups with a history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in 2017, according to recently released tax filings analyzed by ThinkProgress. That year, Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm gave $1,653,416 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a religious organization that requires its employees to refrain from “homosexual acts”; $150,000 to the Salvation Army, which has been accused of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and advocacy for years and whose media relations director once claimed gay people “deserve death”; and $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian residential home that teaches young boys that same-sex marriage is a “rage against Jesus Christ and His values.”
So, not very friendly to our community. I like knowing information like this because I absolutely believe this is a reflection of their company culture. When I bring this to someone’s attention it’s not uncommon for them to shrug this off and continue to dine there. Some people have core values until it is in contrast with what they want. It reminds me of a Bob Dylan lyric:
people don’t do what they believe in,
they just do what’s most convenient,
then they repent
I think about this every time I drive past one of their restaurants and I imagine you will too. Hopefully you keep driving by as well. I sincerely believe if we want to find more “crossdresser friendly businesses” we need to stop supporting organizations that aren’t.
A guide I find helpful is if a business has an ‘All Are Welcome Here’ sign on their door or window. That’s about a good of an indicator one will get. It’s not uncommon to see this image on a company’s website these days. An all-gender bathroom is also an encouraging sign.
Another thing to keep in mind is that every single business is staffed and run by people. Company core beliefs and policy aside, not everyone you interact with is going to be happy to see you. I don’t know of a single organization that specifically tells their employees to be mean to the transcommunity, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. You can go to the queer-friendliest place on the planet, but if the cashier is having a bad day, or they hate everyone, or, let’s face it, they specifically hate transpeople, you’ll not have a pleasant experience.
The MN T-Girls have done a lot of private shopping events and I am always appreciative of the kindness of the salespeople who volunteer to stay after hours to help our group pick out everything from lingerie to foundation. I am thankful that companies are willing to pay their staff to work these events for our group. Again, this says a lot about their core beliefs. These events are also a little nerve-wracking because as supportive as a company is about our community, they also want to make a little money. I keep my fingers crossed that when the T-Girls have a private shopping event that we spend enough to make it worth it for them. Time after time these events are more financially success for them than they expected and we are invited to come back for another event any time we want.
I love hearing that. I think it sends a message to retailers that when there are salesclerks out there that understand and respect us that it can be profitable. Of course, if they are only doing that to make money and lack any sincerity in supporting our community then that’s a different story.
I know that this isn’t easy. I would love to be able to list a hundred places in every major city that would be tickled pink to see us, but it’s just not realistic. Being who we are requires us to stop waiting for the world to love and accept us. It will never be okay. We can’t wait to go shopping or dine out until the world loves us. That day will not come. Instead we need to shake it off, put on our big girl panties and hit the mall. If a cashier is rude to us or a server stifles a snicker, then leave. Never return. Send an email to their corporate headquarters. Or don’t. Take your money and business and time elsewhere. Life is too short and too beautiful for us to be treated rudely.