Shoppers of all genders are welcome at Topshop, and the popular clothing retailer is making sure customers know it. The UK clothing store just announced new gender-inclusive fitting rooms at all store locations, which now allows shoppers of all genders to use any fitting room in the store. The move is definitely a positive step forward for gender inclusion, and one that trans advocates hope other stores will follow. But the move may not be as radical as it seems.
The retailer debuted the all-gender facilities after Travis Alabanza, a trans woman who uses they/them pronouns, wasn't allowed to try on dresses in the women's fitting room of a Manchester Topshop in early November. After Alabanza called out the brand on Twitter, one of their followers responded with a screenshot from a Topshop internal email from July that explained that none of the store's changing rooms are gender-specific. Yet Alabanza was still turned away from the women's room, even with this memo.
“Who made you in charge of deciding who is 'woman' enough to use your changing room?” Alabanza asked on Twitter.
A spokesperson for Topshop confirmed with Mail Online that this should have never happened. “All Topshop and Topman customers are free to use any of the fitting rooms located within our stores," the spokesperson shared.
In light of this discriminatory situation, it has now become public knowledge that all Topshop changing rooms are meant to be gender-inclusive. While that is a good thing, Alabanza told Buzzfeed the root of the issue is not the labels of facilities, but the transphobia of employees.
"It goes beyond responding that they have all-gender changing rooms," Alabanza told the site. "That’s not true. They clearly need to train the staff about what it means to serve every kind of customer, how to advocate for us and respond against people who are phobic."
Fans of the brands are welcoming the shift, but also are pointing out it comes far after other stores have quietly introduced gender inclusive fitting rooms.
Some Topshop shoppers expressed concerns about cisgender men exploiting the all gender fitting rooms to harass women. While sexual assault and harassment are very real issues women have to face, many activists have argued transgender and nonbinary people should not have to face discrimination because of the feared behavior of non-trans men.
In fact, 70 percent transgender people report experiencing harassment and assault in gendered public facilities, which is much higher rate than the general population. Many activists say these unfortunate statistics could be curbed by having non-gender facilities that welcome all people.
While many people applauded Topshop for the progressive move, the introduction of all-gender fitting rooms has also brought out hate speech and transphobia, with some customers vowing to boycott the retailer. Their comments show just how far their is to go for gender inclusion — and how simply labeling a facility "inclusive" doesn't necessarily make it a safe space for transgender and nonbinary people.
Transphobic "concerns" on allowing trans people to use public facilities that affirm their gender, like bathrooms and fitting rooms, have been debunked many times over. Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog, asked state leaders, police officers, and school officials in places where such gender-inclusive spaces exist whether they’ve seen any increase in sexual assault after passing inclusive laws. And the resounding answer is no.
A Des Moines police spokesman told Media Matters, "We have not seen that. I doubt that’s gonna encourage the behavior."
Topshop's move is commendable as a small step forward for gender inclusion, and it's one we should all celebrate. But we still have a long way to go before trans and nonbinary people are truly embraced for who they are — in fitting rooms and in society.
Additional reporting by Marlen Komar.