by Dakota Clay Blevins
I stepped out of a solid white chariot, linked arms with my fair maiden friend, and walked proudly up to the devilish fortress that loomed before us. We were marching into a gruesome battle that neither of us were truly prepared for, and without knowing our fate, we stepped up to the terrifying gateway, which immediately slid open without either of us touching it. A “welcome to the mall” sign flashed in front of us. We were shopping.
“Are you sure we couldn’t just be hermits and make our own clothes?” My friend pouted, but I laughed and shook my head.
“It will be fun. I promise,” I replied and pulled her protesting body through the food court and into the actual shopping area, where fewer people stomped around. I pushed my hair out of my face and stepped into the first store I saw. My friend walked in beside me and glared.
“There’s so much pink” was the only thing she said as we stared at all the dresses lined up on racks. There were simple strapless ones, elegant full-length gowns, and everything in between. They lined the walls, only broken up by jewelry displays and racks of hats or scarves. My fingers brushed against gentle cotton and I grasped the material longingly. I stopped for a moment to feel a silky sleeve and then to admire a girlish frill. Every single dress we walked by was “the one” but didn’t seem like anything I would actually wear. I kept pushing on, searching for one that just screamed my name.
When I finally gave up, we walked toward the store exit—but then something caught my eye. On a rack hidden behind the window display, there was a little lavender dress that was high in the front and low in the back. The bust wasn’t too low, and the shoulders were covered without looking too blocky. I checked the tag that read “medium” and the other that had a little red “sale” sticker on it. Twenty dollars. It was lovely—and in my price range.
“I have to try this—” I cut myself off when I looked at the dressing rooms, which were simply stalls along the store’s back wall. There was a bright red sign placed against the wall with white letters printed across it. The little sign pleaded with customers to ask a sales clerk for a changing room key. My eyes glanced nervously at a woman wearing a lanyard that bore the store’s insignia. The gentle-looking brown-haired lady was helping a couple of other women find clothes in their sizes, and a family sat on a bench waiting for a young girl to come out to model a new outfit. “Never mind—you know, it’s not that pretty, come to look at it.” I replaced the dress and left, my heart breaking.
“Why don’t we try a department store?” my friend said hopefully. Department stores have much more private changing rooms, I thought, and I doubt I’d need to ask for a key to one. We charged to the nearest one and, after finding the women’s department, I glanced around. The dresses were actually a little more my style, although some of them seemed too young for a nineteen-year-old with their ice-cream-cone prints and bright flowery designs. I looked around and found a nice sleeveless navy-blue dress with a lacy top that my friend and I loved.
“We can both get one!” she chirped brightly, then found a few more she could wear. We grabbed our respective sizes and marched to the dressing rooms proudly. When we got there, though, we found an attendant standing guard.
“Excuse me, can we get dressing rooms?” my friend said politely.
“Um, you can—” the attendant said, then looked at me. “—but you’ll have to go to the men’s section to try on clothes.”
“But… I’d have to go to a different department, and I want to try on this dress,” I said quietly, looking at the ground, “so why can’t I just use this one?”
The lady looked at me blankly. “This is the women’s department. We sell girl clothes here,” she said, really slowly.
I nodded. “And I want to try on this dress. Is this not a girl’s dress?” I tried too hard to be passive-aggressive, but the woman clearly didn’t understand.
“It’s not the dress that’s the problem. I can’t let boys in the dressing room. The girls might think something—” She looked around with a worried expression and leaned in to whisper. “—like you want to touch them.”
I stared at her, stricken.
“I am a girl, though,” I finally said.
“No, honey—you’re a boy. She’s a girl. You can’t try the dress on. It’s for women.”
I finally understood that the woman thought I was probably what she would call “special needs.” I honestly wasn’t aware that needing a changing room for myself was that special of a need.
“I am a girl, though!” I cried, “Why don’t you think I am? My hair? Because I’m wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt?” I looked at my friend, whose hair was only a bit longer than mine and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt too.
“Just forget it. Let’s go somewhere else.” My friend pulled me away before I could get angry, “Let’s go look at shoes. You don’t have to have anyone look over you to try shoes on.” She gave the store clerk one final dirty look and we left. We found a nice selection of shoes and began to massacre the shelves looking for our sizes. I found a pair that fit and put them on—suddenly standing five inches taller.
“Those look odd on your feet,” my friend said. I pulled them off and began to hunt for another pair. Shoes are my favorite thing in the entire world, so the long search for ones that feel and look great was beyond worth it. “These. Wear these.” The box she was holding contained two of the most beautiful, five-inch nude heels I’d ever seen in my life. I needed them.
“They’re size ten.” My heart broke.
“Well, maybe they have the next size up in stock?” she said as I tried, in vain, to push my foot into them. I almost had it. I tried again, thinking about asking for the size up, and managed to squeeze my toes into the shoe. “You’re going to ruin your feet. Let me ask.” She walked up to a desk and looked around. A nice older lady came up and asked if she needed help, and my friend replied that she needed a size eleven shoe.
“Honey, you don’t wear a size eleven. Your feet are tiny!” I could just see steam come from my friend’s ears.
“They aren’t for me, okay? They’re for my friend.” She gestured at me and I smiled my most perfect, innocent smile.
“We don’t sell heels to boys,” the woman replied plainly and walked away. I was crushed. I just turned and walked out of the store. A few minutes later, my friend came out with a bag and handed it to me.
“I didn’t want you to leave empty-handed, so here you go.” The bag contained an adorable striped scarf.
“I love you.” I hugged her and we turned to leave the mall, defeated. Before we got to the food court, though, she stopped me.
“Look, there’s that dress you wanted, and no one is in the changing rooms.” I raced into the store hopefully, on my last bit of strength. With the meager bit of courage I had left in me, I picked up the dress and marched up to the sales clerk. Unfortunately, the sweet brown-haired girl from earlier had been replaced by a slightly older, blond woman who gave me a strange look when I approached.
“I’d like a dressing room, please,” I said simply, immediately regretting the decision to try the dress on. My tongue felt heavy and I started to sweat immediately.
“I’m sorry, this is a women’s store,” she said coolly.
“I have a dress. I have money,” I said defiantly.
“This is a women’s store” came the reply.
“Please! Please please! I’m transgender and I just want to try this dress on! I have money. I don’t—” She cut me off.
“We don’t sell our clothes to whatever you are. Now leave before I call security on you for sexual harassment.”
I felt every part of me shatter to pieces.
“Hey, who are you to think you can talk to someone like that? You are a terrible, terrible—” my friend yelled in the middle of the store, but I cut her off, then dragged her into the food court and out to the parking lot without saying a word. We got into her little white car and sat in silence, with my arms folded tight over my flat chest and legs crossed at the knees. Tears fell down my face.
“You know you aren’t a boy. I know you aren’t a boy,” my friend said, starting the car.
“What does it matter… if I always have to dress like I am?” She held my hand and we left the parking lot. “Have you ever cried after a shopping trip where you didn’t spend any money?”
“No, baby. I don’t have to.”