Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Thursday, 9 November 2017

Topshop Makes Its Cubicles Non-Gender Neutral But Not Everyone\\\\\\\'s Happy

Topshop Makes Its Changing Rooms Gender Neutral But Not Everyone's Happy

The Debrief: The move might make trans and gender non-conforming people feel more comfortable, but the worry is that some bad-meaning people might hijack the new rules...

Topshop made all of its changing rooms gender-neutral this summer, but will not confirm if they are going to upgrade their curtained changing cubicles with lockable, doored cubicles. 

Travis Alabanza, who identifies as transfeminine, was turned away from the changing rooms at the Topshop branch in Manchester, and was advised by retail assistants to use Topman’s changing rooms instead.  Travis pointed out on social media: ‘Who made you in charge of deciding who is woman enough to use your changing room? You just lost an easy sale and money’. They later told Buzzfeed that the manager had been called to deal with their request, and: 'I said, "I’m not going to be safe down there. What do you want me to do?" and they just kind of shrugged.'

Travis has now received a response from Topshop, reading: ‘The Topshop and Topman fitting rooms are available for all customers to use,’ reports The Telegraph. It looks, though, like staff didn’t get the memo. 

Topshop now joins the ranks of retailers like Urban Outfitters and COS, where customers already make use of single-cubicle unisex changing rooms. And it’s a great move - why should retail assistants, tasked with folding piles of clothes and making sure no-one’s nicking anything, have to be given the mantle of ‘gender arbiter’ as well? Why should customers have to feel unsafe in changing rooms? 

However, there is already kickback from some customers, who are taking to social media to complain about this progression.

The thing is, apropos of the trans bathroom ban in South Carolina, which saw people required to use the bathroom correlating with the sex on their birth certificate, even if they presented differently, gender-wise, people do get easily scared by the concept of trans and gender-nonconforming people’s entry into certain spaces. Some are adamant that women should be women, and men should be men, and that people who blur gender binaries are sick, or wrong.

Others are perfectly happy with those who are gender-nonconforming, and want them to have safe spaces, but are concerned that women-only spaces, such as refuges, shared changing rooms and toilets, are places where women deserve to be safe from men. The worry from this group is: what will stop dangerous men from hijacking gender-neutral spaces in order to access women they wouldn't otherwise have access to?

But Topshop isn’t a refuge or a place where people go to somehow enrich themselves. It’s a shop where people part with money to buy clothes.

Hey @Topshop just experienced transphobia in your Manchester store. Not letting me use the changing room I decide is shit, sort it out.

Yet, with the introduction of the gender-neutral cubicle will be the inevitable loss of the informal tradition whereby half-dressed girls, shopping together for the day, meet in the communal area of the changing rooms to ask each other advice, or swap clothes to try. Perhaps people who’ve spent most of their lives guided towards exclusively ‘male’ changing rooms, where it's doubtful much 'does my bum look big in this' happens, might not realise what’s lost when that camaraderie goes. Some might say, though, that whichever straight girl first decided to plonk her boyfriend in the communal area was the first person to begin the end of this habit. And besides, if people want to share what they look like in an outfit with someone else, don't they use their phones these days?

The clincher, though, is safety. Everyone's safety. There's a reason why Travis felt the Topman changing rooms might be unsafe, and it's the same reason women in unisex changing areas might feel unsafe.

Violent men need to be stopped wherever they are - and security guards working in retail spaces must be trained to be alert and intolerant to them - but if the cubicles have lockable, ceiling to floor doors, and are escorted to the door by retail assistants, like at COS or Urban Outfitters, there shouldn't be a problem. But when The Debrief asked Topshop for comment as to whether their changing rooms will provide customers more than a curtain to separate them from strangers, regardless of their gender identity, the company responded to say: 'all TOPSHOP TOPMAN customers are free to use any of the fitting rooms located within our stores. This policy has been in place for some time. We are not able to comment any further at this stage.'

Something tells us they're going to have to say something pretty soon.

You might also be interested in:

We're Giving Three Cheers For Gender Neutral Cosmetics

Woman Raises Cat As Gender Neutral

The Gender Recognition Act: Your Need To Know

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Tags: Shopping