I’ve always, sort of, understood why disabled people get het up at attempts to be helpful. Double-edged. People come along with the best of motives, wanting to lift your wheel chair over kerbs, make sure you get your coffee, everyday helpful stuff. And they have no idea how disempowering – how patronising! – such behaviour can be.
I am not disabled. The other afternoon, though, I got the general gist.
In readiness for getting back out and about in what I might term my posher work (consultancy, as opposed to journalism) I decided it was time to buy some business clothes. And since the job was paying well, I could afford to splash out.
Several hours – and about half a dozen very posh shops – later I was the proud owner of three wonderful outfits, including a windsmoor suit and a jaeger skirt, both costing considerably more than I was used to spending on clothes in my pre-transition days. Even at sale prices!
It was a happy afternoon, marred only by the helpfulness of some of the sales assistants involved. It began in one department store with my being ushered into a changing room that was apparently closed. As I had been heading that way anyway, the thought did not cross my mind, until later, that I might just have been shunted that way to spare the blushes of the “real” ladies in the other changing room.
Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. Being charitable, I shall hope and assume I wasn’t – though if I was, this would be the first such experience since coming out. I shop for women’s clothes: I change in the women’s changing rooms. No other store has yet expressed any issues with that.
Then to pay and, foolishly, I forgot to ask for a discount. Darn!
But I did strike up a conversation with a personal shopper. She was very supportive, trying very very hard to show how little she minded the fact of my transition. And she got it SO wrong, it was painful.
She was “used to gentlemen like me”. Oh, no! I sort of tried to explain this wasn’t just cross-dressing (one might have thought the boobs would have been a bit of a giveaway) but she repeated the phrase several times. It was like being “sir”’d only about ten times worse.
“Did I wear a wig?” Aaaargh!
Then, she went into some detail about how she could do confidential consultations for me. What? No! I don’t need confidential anything: I am me; I’m out; I’m 100% living in role. What DID she think this was about? Some sort of perverse kink that I ought to be ashamed of? Perhaps she thought my partner hadn’t noticed?
I so hadn’t the foggiest what to say. This wasn’t antipathy towards me: not an ounce of detectable prejudice. Just pure lack of understanding. Only, if I’d picked her up on it, she was so far not understanding that she wouldn’t have got what I was getting at.
I still need to go back to that organisation and have polite words. In part, because with the impending Equality Act, they are just a legal accident waiting to happen: in part because, that much goodwill deserves to be channelled properly.
All suggestions as to how I can help them gratefully received.