Dressing Rooms: Legal, Physical and Emotional

We’ve teamed up with our favorite fashion transgressors, dapperQ, to tackle your most pressing, masculine-of-center clothing quandaries! For more on dapperQ and how to submit your own questions, just scroll on down to the bottom of this post.


Q:
When I’m shopping in the men’s/boy’s department, which dressing room am I supposed to use?

A:

I preface this post by stating that my response to the above question should not be taken as legal advice and that readers should consider their safety when deciding which dressing room to use.

Many of our readers at dapperQ and allies have had negative experiences with shopping, especially when it comes to using gender specific dressing rooms. Our very own founder, Susan Herr, was prevented from using a “men’s” dressing room and asked to use a “women’s” dressing room at a Loehmanns in the heart of one of Manhattan’s most notorious gayboorhoods, Chelsea. dapperQ contributor Titus Androgynous was once redirected to a “women’s” dressing room when she asked if she could use a “men’s” dressing room that was closer to the items she needed to try on. (Titus no longer asks. Titus just walks in like she belongs and lets the store staff “question their assumptions.”) A Butch Voices article also chronicles the more overt tactics that are employed to intimidate people into complying with binary gender norms when it comes to using dressing rooms. These types of experiences are some of the primary forces that drive the need for the work we do at dapperQ.

I spoke with a representative from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and was told that the answer to this question is that there is no answer to this question. At the moment, NCTE is not aware of any federal, state, or local laws in the United States explicitly barring anyone, regardless of their gender presentation, from entering men’s dressing rooms. For the most part, the same is true for women’s dressing rooms. (There may be loopholes.) Some jurisdictions have explicit anti-discrimination laws that implicitly protect you from being denied entry into dressing rooms based on your gender.

However, the laws are constantly in flux and may change, for better or for worse. Last year, a Texas based Macy’s fired one of their employees, Natalie Johnson, for violating the store’s LGBT policy when she prevented a transgender woman from entering a “women’s dressing area.”

In response to this, Tennessee State Representative Richard Floyd (R) drafted House Bill 2279. If it had passed, the bill would have prevented gender mixing in gender-designated public bathrooms and dressing rooms and required people to use the gender assigned on their birth certificate to determine which spaces are legal to enter. Floyd recently withdrew the bill, but conservative groups have used Johnson’s firing to launch other attacks, such as calls for boycotts.

In addition to knowing your legal rights, the NCTE recommends that you consider your emotional and physical well-being when deciding which dressing room to use. This advice is not meant to discourage you from taking a stand or being true to yourself. On the contrary. It is meant to encourage you to be prepared and strong in your actions, to have a plan and think about how to respond to certain situations in advance so that you can confidently walk into whatever decision you choose. For example, you may want to bring supportive friends and family with you. (They may also be helpful in providing fashion feedback in addition to protection.)

Bklyn Boihood Co-Founders Genesis Tramaine (left) and Ryann Makenzi Holmes (right) showing some “bromance” Photo by Maro Hagopian

Further, you can shop at stores that offer gender neutral dressing rooms. Here’s a short list of such stores, as recommended by other readers. (Store policies vary by location. Corporate and local store policies, views, and opinions do not necessarily represent the views of dapperQ.)

Abercombie & Fitch
American Eagle Outfitters
American Apparel
Banana Republic
Express
Gap
H&M
Hollister Co.
Old Navy
Uniqlo

We welcome you to share additional recommendations, stories, and personal experiences. To have your fashion questions answered by dapperQ in a future post, leave them on Formspring!

 

“Dressing Rooms: Legal, Physical, & Emotional” originally published on dapperQ. Republished with permission.

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About the author
: Lez-Femme. Manhattanite. University of New Mexico (B.A., magna cum laude) and New York University (MPA) alumnus. Columbia University Adult Education Program Coordinator. Future health care provider and health advocate for the LGBTQ community. Foodie. Music addict. Dance-aholic. Gleek.

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46 Comments

  1. 0

    It’s funny that Loehmann’s was mentioned- I think they have some serious problems at that store. At my location, I went to try on a t-shirt in the dressing room, while my ex-girlfriend waited for me in the waiting room area that leads to the actual dressing stalls. When I came out, the dressing room attendant was insisting that my ex had to leave, carrying on that “boys are not allowed in here.” My ex just tugged at her shirt to show that she had boobs. Then the attendant looked at me, and was like, “She looks like a boy, look at her haircut! Of course I would think she is a boy. I was just doing my job, because boys are not allowed in here.” Like, …OK? That doesn’t give you the right to harass someone, especially when they’re just waiting for their friend to change.

    • 0

      i don’t mean to be an asshole to you, but in that case you could be that they’re afraid of people having sex in the cubicles (not that you guys wouldn’t but probably it doesn’t come to the minds of heteros) or even maybe she was getting pressure from her boss(es) and just doing how she was told.

  2. 0

    I’m glad someone asked that question! My wife is a cute lil long-haired tomboy who just prefers men’s jeans over women’s jeans. It’s not an issue of gender or passing for us but just one of logistics. Most stores are no problem (AE, Gap, etc) but department stores are tricky. The men’s departments are sometimes no where near the women’s departments so when we have an armful of jeans, it’s like, where do we go? Do we sneak into the men’s rooms so we can leave unwanted items in the right area and be near the right clothes to grab different sizes? Or do we haul it all down the escalator to the women’s section and then haul it all back? We usually just hit the men’s fitting rooms but it always just makes me uncomfortable, like we’re gonna get “caught” and yelled at. :/

  3. 0

    I may be naive but the only time I have ever been turned away from a dressing room because of my bio-gender was because they had cameras in the dressing rooms that were literally manned. The attendant suggested that I would be more comfortable in a different dressing room and I agreed.

    I’m not really attached to going to particular dressing rooms though, so that could also be why I feel so nonchalant about it all.

    i do have to say that topman is an awesome source (well, when the good stuff is on sale) of dapper clothing for the center-of-masculine queer and (the one in manhattan) has never given any fucks when i use their men’s dressing room. no fucks.

    also, thanks for this post.

  4. 0

    Hmm, I don’t think Canada has this problem, really. I know some Winners locations have separate rooms but those are the older ones, and they’re usually right next to each other.

    This article is especially interesting to me because I didn’t know the kind of clothes you wore determined what change room you’d go into. I thought it was simply about identification.

    • 0

      Ive sortaaa had this problem (straddler of S. Ont + Montrealll), but usually they just care about the convenience of me trying on menswear in mens dressing rooms since then I dont mix thangs up with womenswear and make it more difficult to put clothes back. For the most part that whole “walk-in-like-you-belong-there” thing totes works. Just walk tall, with a strut homiesexuals, and then be like what

  5. 0

    I personally always use the women’s dressing room, because despite being masculine in dress I am still very clearly a woman, and even for convenience I’m just not comfortable in the men’s area. When you have large breasts you can be butched up beyond belief and walking down the street with another butch friend and still get hit on. Thus my discomfort with a situation that could just be asking for strangeness in my highly conservative neighborhood.

  6. 0

    I’m not really all that masculine of center (just one alternative lifestyle haircut away) but I get really nervous shopping for clothes. I get this feeling that people are looking at me, which is probably all in my head but I still get hella anxious. It’s definitely a lot better when I bring a friend.

  7. 0

    Maybe I’m missing a point here, but if theres a womens changing room available and you’re not trans, why are you causing yourself the hassle of going into the mens at all? I mean maybe if you’re in topman and theres only one set of dressing rooms fine, but otherwise that doesn’t really make sense to me?

    • 0

      If you’re shopping in the men’s department and it’s 10 feet to the men’s dressing rooms and the women’s dressing rooms are halfway across the store, it’s easier to just go into the men’s dressing rooms. That way it’s easier to grab a different size if you need it, and you can leave the clothes you don’t want in the appropriate area.

      Logistics aside, I don’t see why someone who identifies as a “woman” should only allowed to use the “women’s” dressing room.

      • 0

        Put the thing down, flip it and reverse it. What if there’s a cis man trying on clothes in the women’s section of the store? Are we still OK with him using the women’s fitting room because it’s more convenient to the area of the store he’s in?

        • 0

          Is he trying on a dress?* If yes then there should be no problem. If he just wants to try on some pants again there should be no problem. Not all men are creepers.

          I <3 drag!

          • 0

            I agree completely and even extend it to bathrooms. I’m not naked outside of my own little cubicle so I’m fine with anyone coming into the dressing room/bathroom. Me going into a guy’s bathroom might be a bit different, since while I don’t personally care how many dicks I see in a bathroom, guys might take offense that a short delicate woman like me might catch a glimpse as I walk to do my business. Even though I’ve probably seen more dicks than they have in porno and NSFW gifs, and am far more complicated than just a short delicate woman.
            But for dressing rooms? It’s not like you see anyone naked. And the attendants are there to prevent situations like sex or harassment, by stopping it when it happens. Not allowing one gender to enter a dressing room is old fashioned, implies that the attendant is too lazy to do their job, and favors those of the homo-orientation by letting us peek. It’s one of those things that needs to catch up with the times and won’t change until the majority realizes that things aren’t as simple as boy or girl and straight or gay.

  8. 0

    So, does anyone here have thoughts on the reverse: advice for transwomen about women’s dressing rooms/spaces? I’d be really interested in hearing people’s input, because while I’m really uncomfortable in men’s spaces, I also want to be respectful to the larger community.

    • 0

      I’ve never had any trouble with using women’s dressing rooms (or washrooms, for that matter), but that’s probably partly due to the fact that I’ve only ever tried in large cities. I do think that it helps, though, if you walk in there confidently, like there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be in there (because, of course, there isn’t.)

    • 0

      Thanks guys. I live in a big city, so I haven’t gotten too much trouble for it. I feel like part of it is the fact that I have a very masculine physique/speaking voice. I mean, I know it shouldn’t be a factor, but it just feels ridiculous sometimes when I explain that I *am* in fact a woman (I usually just settle on saying trans, but that doesn’t always go over well either).

    • 0

      From what I’ve heard, public restrooms have laws most of the time, but they vary a ton because the laws are local. So large, liberal cities are more likely to have laws allowing trans* and genderqueer people to use the restrooms they see fit than a smaller conservative city. Sadly, harassment can still occur in any city or state.

  9. 0

    In the end they’ll sell more clothes if they don’t discriminate against their customers, as evidenced by Macy’s, who aren’t exactly radical queers but clearly figured out that it’s not profitable to be bigoted. If they won’t let you use a changing room (and you feel safe expressing yourself) just tell them that you have a right to change where you’re comfortable and they’ll lose your business if they prevent that.

  10. 0

    Wo! Yeah was in Topshop on Oxford Street a little while back and was trying on a pair of trousers from the men’s dept. Stupidly I asked the male attendant at the dressing rooms if it was ok to go in and he acted like, what? You’re a girl??? Ok so I got sent down two floors to the ladies.

    The lesson is, just blag it mate.

  11. 0

    Does anyone know the laws (or lack thereof) for Australia? I’m a bigender Sydneystraddler and, while I usually just estimate whether things will fit me, it’d be nice to try things on. (I know JayJays, while generally for teenagers, hipsters, and teenage hipsters, has unisex change rooms and also really nice shorts and nerdy t-shirts and suspenders.)

  12. 0

    I live in the Midwest, and have never once had an issue using the men’s changing rooms in either Dillards or Macy’s. Usually, there is one big dressing room and I avoid it, but my stores also have a smaller, two-room one in the middle of the men’s department. Works perfect, every time. I’ve been buying men clothes since I was in junior high, now I’m in my 30s, and never had a bad experience. I clearly look like a woman — a woman who wears mostly mens clothing.

  13. 0

    Until I read about the employee at Macy’s being fired (rightly so) it never occured to me that dressing room gender signs were anything but suggestions. For a long time, I wore only jeans from the men’s section and the men’s dressing room was the closest and, a lot of times, it wasn’t guarded by scowling women with plastic numbers waiting to count what you were bringing in. Granted, I got a few funny looks from the men in the changing room, but no one ever told me to leave.

  14. 0

    For me, I generally feel out the vibe of the store I’m shopping in. Some stores, I don’t feel safe from prejudice or personal attack. As a masculine of center presenting female, it’s usually easier for me to change in the male change rooms. For whatever reason, guys just don’t care as much as girls when someone perceived to be the “wrong” gender uses “their” change rooms. It must be really difficult for trans* women.
    I find similar rules apply with restrooms. A lot times I get less of a hassle in men’s restrooms, but in women’s restrooms I almost always get looks, or verbal attacks, or even physical contact pushing me out because I “don’t belong” despite being female.
    As I become more comfortable with myself, I’m finding that my confidence discourages comments. Walk in like you own the place, and people usually won’t bother you.

  15. 0

    My girlfriend has been told that she couldn’t use the mens’ changing room at H&M, so (at least in my part of Canada) H&M doesn’t seem to have gender-neutral changing rooms. She’s also been turned away from women’s changing rooms at two major retailers in our city, which boggles my mind. Why would a man (and my gf doesn’t look like a man, or even really like a teenage boy) purposely walk to the women’s side of the store and try to change there? The last time it happened, I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to make that sales associate feel as small as she made my gf feel. I am still (obviously) a bit angry about it.

  16. 0

    I don’t actually know if the stores I usually buy clothes at even have gender-specific dressing rooms. I don’t really pay attention to the signs. I sometimes buy from male sections, but I use whatever changing room is closest. No one seems to have noticed, or if they did, they didn’t care.

  17. 0

    I’ve never come across gender segregated dressing rooms here in the UK. You just go into the one nearest the department you’re shopping in?

    I will note however that I am a cisgendered femme presenting woman, so maybe it’s never come up for me.

  18. 0

    I often get read as a man by passersby, sales clerks, fast food and coffee cashiers, etc. Usually, they “sir” me and then apologize after a second look or after I speak. While I don’t really care about being “sirred” when I’m getting my coffee, my being read as male at first glance is enough to make public washrooms (I use the women’s room) uncomfortable.
    Similarly, it makes me generally avoid sex-segregated change rooms. I try on shirts/sweaters/jackets on the store floor over my t-shirt and try pants on at home in this cases (or avoid the store altogether).
    One day this winter, however, I was at Walmart (in Toronto, Canada) with my girlfriend and we were both going to try on some clothes. While I have a butch aesthetic in general, that day I was interested in trying on some very sparkly dresses for my genderplay dress for New Year’s Eve.
    My girlfriend walked up to the change room first and was directed into a stall. The change room attendant came back to the front and ignored me. I held up the dresses in my hand and indicated I would like to try them on. The attendant said, “Oh, you’d like to try those on?” I said yes and she said, “Ok, well you have to come over to this side then” and proceeded to bring me to a stall on the other side of the dividing wall (what I assumed to be the men’s side.)
    After a few minutes, my girlfriend wanted to show me the pants she’d tried on and called out “Honey, where are you?”
    “I’m on the other side,” I responded.
    Apparently, after she came out of her change stall, the attendant approached her and said, “Is that a man or a woman? Because of that’s your friend, she can come over to this side.”
    My girlfriend wasn’t sure to be more offended at the attendant “that”ing me or at the assumption that if I were a woman, I must be her friend rather than her partner.
    My girlfriend responded, “She’s my partner and she’s a woman” and then came over and came into the stall with me to show her my pants.
    I hadn’t heard any of this and whispered to my girlfriend, “I think that attendant is really confused by why there is a man trying on sparkly dresses.”
    When we left the stall the attendant had vanished.

    I can laugh at this experience because I did not feel unsafe by being re-directed to the men’s side of the change room (it was empty except for us) and because I didn’t feel that my identity was being challenged.

    I did find it fascinating, though, that in an empty change room, where the person I was clearly with had just been escorted to a stall on the women’s side, and I had an armful of sparkly dresses, I was re-directed from the side of the change room I was on–the side I was self-identifying with–to the men’s side.

    I kinda wish that attendant had left for the night thinking there was an awesome, brave man trying on an armful of sparkly dresses in the men’s section of Walmart.

  19. 0

    Here in my city most of the stores have that annoying lady standing there with a numbered plastic card ready to stick in your face. It really drives me crazy,but other stores like Victoria’s secret,AE and the thrift stores could care less. Quick fix here,let us change where we choose,take that stupid m/f sign off the door.Like a few have said,half the time you choose clothes and then have to walk across the store to the changing room.I have started not caring anymore and just finding one,going in(if the crazy lady is not there guarding it)and doing what i have to do.

  20. 0

    I get quite annoyed with this, I, like many women, prefer shopping in the mens section and in gender specific changing rooms, it gets tricky when the changing rooms you HAVE to go in are on another floor/across the store, with arms full of clothes and no trolley/basket option you’re forced to haul it all across the store, getting weird looks from other customers and angry glares from staff who think “I’ve got to put that shit back when she’s done” and I know it’s what they’re paid to do but it’s annoying- why can’t we try on the clothes in the closest changing rooms- it makes THEIR lives easier in the stores.. we’re almost doing their work for them AND paying their wages when we buy the clothes.. ugh it’s beurocracy gone mad I think..

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