Today I had to refuse a gay couple from sharing a fitting room together

A couple of days ago at work I had to refuse a couple – a gay couple – from sharing a fitting room at the retail store I work at. As I tried to explain that “our company policy” doesn’t allow two people to share a room, I felt their sense of victimization as a gay couple being singled out.

“We are married” as he showed me the ring on his finger as he and his husband walked into the same room. In this moment, I should have clarified that our policy restricts anyone, even couples regardless of orientation from sharing a fitting room.

“But you let that other (straight) couple share a room.”

“The man’s arm is broken so his wife is helping him,” I replied.

The couple didn’t look convinced, and neither did I as they both closed the door as I told them, “sorry, it’s just our policy that two people can’t use the same room.”

I told a co-worker about the situation who went to them, in a more assertive manner, telling them repeatedly to “please come out” until one man left the room dissatisfied.

I tried to be cheerful and told him, “congratulations on your marriage”. To my ignorance he replied, “we’ve been married for (insert respectable amount of time/years) that I could not hear in the heap of the noise and chaos working in retail embodies. He walked away.

In this short moment, I felt mixed. I felt their sense of othering, and I felt empathy for them as I envisioned myself in their situation, as a gay man being refused our dignity and rights. I was worried I was causing a scene and that I was embarrassing them, and I wanted to tell them not to take it personally, because, I like them, felt what they were going through.

With the Pride parade in Vancouver, I am reminded that something as simple as this situation mirrors a continuing overcoming of heteronormativity in society. The Pride parade didn’t come from nowhere, it started as a political march in response to police raids against LGBTQ+ people at a gay bar in New York in 1969. The stonewall riot in New York happened for a reason.

I am very pleased that this year’s Pride parade in Vancouver included an agreement for marchers to sign stating their recognizing and commitment to trans*/transgender rights and freedoms. The initial Pride parade was political, and the fight for equality transgender and gender variant people is a very real political issue.

When I think of that gay couple that felt denied a right to share the same fitting room, I am reminded of struggles they may have faced in the past. Just maybe, could companies, politicians, and elected officials further entrench policies that guarantee and secure a person’s legal right to not be discriminated or denied essential services?

As much as gay rights have been achieved in a majority of Western states, the absence of legal protection, condemnation, and execution of homosexuals is a reality for many people globally. When 76 countries worldwide have laws against homosexuality, I know I cannot say that our rights as a community have been met if only my immediate surroundings have made progress to some extent.

And I say only to some extent because when a gay couple wants to use a change room, they shouldn’t have to feel that they are being discriminated. When discrimination has become a norm, when trans* people, racialized minorities, and women succumb to this daily reality of being treated as second-class citizens not because they are weak, but because social forces are too entrenched in our every day lives, social change is needed.

Solidarity Building with Laverne Cox: A Meta Response to Jen Sung, David Ng, and Meghan Murphy

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Just because I am part of a collective of bodies doesn’t mean I get to speak for, reason, argue – on behalf of that collective. Complexities make interesting narratives that shape our world. We are enriched by the stories of others whose differences teach us to be more open. I will always have limitations to what I know because I trust in the fundamental truth that I only know what I know, and don’t know what I don’t know. Until then, I learn to listen – and listen to learn.

-Jen Sung

I can’t help but recall a moment I saw on The Tyra Banks show. She did a show on how racial perceptions effected attraction.  There was one moment when she asked all the men on stage to stand beside the woman they fantasized about sexually. There were women of multiple races onstage. No one stood beside the black woman.  She then asked who would you want to marry and take home to your family. Only another black man chose the black woman.  Though I’ve experienced a lot of men who fantasize about me sexually there was something about this moment that felt real to me that I somehow identified with. I was kind of shocked that no one chose the black woman on one level but on another I wasn’t. Even as men have sexually objectified me they have simultaneously devalued me. We know these two things can co-exist.

-Laverne Cox

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The Beautiful thing I find about building solidarity is that I can become one without becoming the other. That is to say, I can embody the experiences that Laverne Cox faces, but I will never be Laverne Cox. I will never know what it feels like to face oppression for being trans*, for being black in midst of contemporary racism rooted in slavery, lynching, and dehumanization, and I will never know what it feels like to experience misogyny. For these reasons, I acknowledge the privilege I have in commenting about the issues of oppression Cox faces in Meghan Murphy’s article without having to face the repercussions transgender black women face.

Yet how, do we facilitate dialogue and change about patriarchy and the objectification of women that Murphy talks about in her article? (http://feministcurrent.com/11632/laverne-coxs-objectified-body-empowers-no-one/)

How do we form solidarity with fellow feminist perspectives that share similar oppression in this heap of stress? Do we completely locate oppression and critique it, or are there subtle differences? Is there perhaps a different lens of feminism that can be taken where contradictions, but ultimately, compassion and solidarity take place? Is there even a place where femininity is reclaimed and shown as self-empowering? Do we find understanding and compassion for the anger that some feminists share?

Reiterating Jen Sung’s eloquent writing, we can only observe and listen in some instances. Because when I see Laverne Cox posing naked, I see her in a liberated space, I see not just a woman, I hear a black woman who has fought her way to have autonomy of her body in a time and place that has literally killed trans women of colour. She embodies femininity, and that is what she is rejoicing, not patriarchal structures or the male gaze.

Paradoxically, I must remember that I cannot speak for others; I can only represent myself, and my inadvertent opinion regarding Laverne Cox’s nude photo-shoot.

Because being a biracial gay man and my difficulties experienced through homophobia build bridges to the same fundamental gender-based discrimination women and trans* people face, of course, in nuanced ways, and that is why I listen in solidarity.

I want to continue to disprove myself, and continue to raise questions. Questions, with good intention I believe are essential. For as we transition in our evolving social settings, I think there is potential for misunderstanding regarding feminism. I can indeed call out social injustices, but when I read Meghan Murphy’s article, “Laverne Cox’s Objectified Body ‘Empowers’ No One”, I felt this erasure of the experiences of trans women of colour. Who is to say that it empowers “no one”?

I question because of intersectionality, I question, because when a transgender woman of colour can pose naked in front of a camera and “subvert” oppression, I believe Cox is doing so.

As I respond to Jen’s article, in response to David’s articulation of Meghan Murphy’s initial critique of Laverne Cox’s nude photo-shoot, voices are shown, and voices are heard. I see a place where discussion is happening, and although disagreement can take place, I think it is beautiful how narratives can transcend our beliefs. When ultimately, we start dialogue to keep the fire fuelling the ever-evolving need for feminism, tolerance, respect, and love that Jen Sung, David Ng, and Meghan Murphy each approach in nuanced ways.

-Andy Holmes