Op-ed: Lessons From a Bad Bra Fitting

By Samantha Allen

Originally published on Advocate.com July 07 2014 4:00 AM ET

Women are used to buying expensive underwear. A decent, form-fitting, and supportive bra can run you anywhere from $30 to $100. But for Kylie Jack, a bra from Austin lingerie boutique Petticoat Fair would cost upwards of $25,000. Why?

On June 28, she was refused a bra fitting at Petticoat Fair because she is a transgender woman who has not had genital reassignment surgery. To receive a fitting at this acclaimed lingerie shop, she’d have to have saved tens of thousands of dollars to undergo this complex and life-altering surgical procedure.

In response to Kylie’s justifiable outrage, Petticoat Fair at first issued a misguided statement saying that “those who might be or who outwardly appear to be men (regardless of how they are dressed) pose a delicate challenge, and in the case of imposters, can pose a safety risk to the Petticoat Fair staff.”

Petticoat Fair staff have since issued a second statement, noting that they are seeking to educate themselves about transgender issues in order to better serve their clientele. The owner of the store has also personally apologized to Kylie Jack and taken steps toward welcoming the entire Austin community into his store.

While Petticoat Fair seems to be on the road to creating a more inclusive shopping environment, it’s still worthwhile to consider the assumption behind the original statement: that men will try to invade women’s spaces if a fitting room is opened to transgender women.

Anti-transgender legislators often deploy this same specter of the predatory male cross-dresser in current debates about transgender “bathroom bills,” legislation that protects trans people’s right to use a bathroom that matches their gender.

For instance, after a Maryland bathroom bill was passed, Republican lawmaker Kathy Szeliga told Fox News that the bill would potentially endanger women and girls, adding that “the expectation of women and men is to see people of the same gender in places like bathrooms and changing rooms.”

While this tactic is effective at scaring a bigoted public, it amounts to little more than a smokescreen for hatred. In fact, as Donna Red Wing of LGBT advocacy group One Iowa told USA Today, “There is really no record of peeping Toms and predators dressing up in bathrooms to look at folks.”

Conservative lawmakers and pundits are often challenged to produce evidence of trans-on-cis violence in women’s restrooms and changing rooms. They can’t do it because it simply does not happen. Meanwhile, transgender people face continual harassment in bathrooms and other gender-segregated spaces.

Transgender women are also regularly the victims of horrific acts of violence, such as Yaz’min Shancez, a Florida woman who was burned to death and left behind a dumpster. Transgender women have a lot to be afraid of, wherever they go. Cisgender women in a fitting room have nothing to fear.

But the bathroom panic argument has already been discredited. For now, let’s focus in on the Petticoat Fair incident and talk about breasts. Women have them, transgender women included. You might have heard that 64 percent of women wear the wrong bra size. For transgender women, who are even more afraid of bra fittings than cisgender women, that figure is probably over 90 percent.

If you’re a cisgender woman who’s afraid of a transgender woman in your fitting room, imagine wearing the wrong band size for years. That’s not a pain that anyone with breasts should have to experience.

Transgender breasts, too, are not strange, mythical things. Transgender women’s breast tissue is the same as cisgender breast tissue. In fact, transgender women are able to breastfeed if they induce lactation. A boob is a boob, and boobs need bras.

Here’s another fun fact about breasts: they are not attached to your genitals. Nobody needs to take their bottoms off to receive a bra fitting unless, of course, you’re a fictional character in an erotic lesbian story. I’ve been in a lot of fitting rooms and I’ve never seen anybody else’s vagina.

Requiring a transgender woman to receive genital reassignment surgery in order to be fitted for a bra, then, is like requiring someone to get a knee replacement in order to try on a pair of sunglasses. It doesn’t make sense.

It also imposes an enormous financial and medical barrier on transgender clients. Some transgender women cannot undergo major surgery because of complicating medical conditions. Even if they can tolerate the surgery, it still costs tens of thousands of dollars because most major insurance plans will not cover it.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has been fighting diligently for transgender people’s rights to transition-related care, recently helping to overturn the Medicare transgender exclusion. But we’re still a long way away from the majority of transgender women being able to afford surgery.

More radically still, not all transgender women want surgery. Some transgender women feel perfectly comfortable with their current genital configuration. Trans writer and activist Zinnia Jones, for example, takes a deliciously sarcastic approach to people who shame transgender women with penises, noting that transgender women with penises should do “whatever the hell [they] want” with their lady (yes, lady) parts.

But no woman should be happy with an ill-fitting bra. It’s hard enough for transgender women to find emotional and financial support in this world. The least we can do is support their breasts.

Other lingerie boutiques can follow in Petticoat Fair’s footsteps by creating a trans-friendly store policy and publicizing it within the LGBT community. You have customers waiting to enter your doors just as soon as you open them.

 

SAMANTHA ALLEN is a writer who covers feminist and queer topics, and a contributor to The Daily Dot. Follow her on twitter @CousinDangereaux.