How would you feel if people refused to acknowledge who you are and talked to you like your own identity didn’t matter?
In the past few years, transgender, gender-non-conforming and non-binary people have had a lot more presence in the media and popular culture. While this exposure has sometimes lead to greater understanding, often this doesn’t feed through to the everyday experiences of our transgender friends.
When I was studying to become an optical dispenser last year, a transgender friend told me a story about a recent experience of shopping for glasses. She is a transwoman and while browsing for new specs, the shop assistant made an assumption about her gender. My friend was looking at the practice's selection of women's eyewear when the assistant approached without even asking how she was and told her that the men's eyewear was on the other side of the shop. She left feeling insulted and upset.
How can you make trans and gender-non-conforming/non-binary people feel safe and welcome in your shop?
A lesson for all of us who deal with the public is to never assume anyone's gender.
Appearances, clothing and accessory choices, mannerisms and more may make us read people as men or women because most of us have spent our whole lives living with an understanding that there are only two genders. However, we are beginning to understand there are many genders, not just men and women. We need to compassionately approach every stranger we deal with as an individual.
Here’s what we’ve done in some of the shops where I've worked
● We don't separate frames by conventional gender.
● If anyone asks, I tell them that all of our frames are unisex.
● If anyone is uncomfortable with that or still confused, I tell them that there are some frames that are more conventionally femme and masculine and if they like, I can help them find the right frame to suit their style and personality.
● I try not to use non-gendered language when referring to a group of people. Instead of saying, “How are you guys doing today?” I say, “How are you all today?”
● Be considerate when entering people’s data into your practice software. Many practices collect titles and gender. If your software allows this, perhaps you could turn off the mandatory collection of this information.
I asked another friend - bespectacled transgender woman and musician, Simona - what she would recommend and she said, “The idea that glasses, or clothing - fashion - is gendered is something we need to unlearn. Anybody should be able to come into a shop and look at any piece to try on and it’s the staff’s job not to judge about the gender of both the customer or the merchandise. When we do that, we stop focusing on identity and gender altogether and the store becomes a place where people are free to look at whatever they want.”
Get talking with your colleagues
There are plenty of great resources online that you can share with your colleagues.
For a quick 101 about gender and terminology, I’d like to direct you to this link. It’s a fact sheet called Inclusive Language Guide: Respecting people of intersex, trans and gender diverse experience and is by the National LGBTI Health Alliance here in Australia.
If you would like to learn more start with this video, an Introduction to Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.
Use it to start discussions about what most of us have been brought up to believe about gender.
Want to talk about this? I’d be happy to hear from you.