A customer walks into the shop and stands in front of the helpdesk asking for a bra fitting.
She’s happy and bubbly and she’s chatted to every retail assistant she passed on her way into the fitting room. I lead her into the cosy fitting rooms, beginning my speech and preparing her for the experience of a bra fit. I ask her what she’d like to find, what is most comfortable for her, and I ask to see the bra that she’s wearing to size her.
‘Oh, of course you can look at my bra – as long as you’re not a lesbian!’ she chuckles.
I wince, not just because it’s 2021 and I thought we were past this, but because I am queer, and now I must decide, in that split second, whether to create an awkward situation by coming out, or stay silent and hide my identity for the customer’s comfort.
As a white, femme, straight-passing bisexual woman, I have a lot of privilege in being able to ‘hide’ my sexuality and get on with life without being targeted for blatant homophobic abuse – until I’m with my girlfriend in public.
However, the one place everyone expects to be treated fairly is at work. Comments like these are underpinned by a homophobic view of lesbians and queer women as predators; that us seeing boobs in a bra would constitute a sexualised environment.
This of course overlooks that lesbians and queer women might also wear bras and that sexualising breasts is misogynistic and questionable anyway. Why should simply owning breasts be hypersexualised to the point where every interaction, even a bra fitting, is under a male gaze of objectification?
No one deserves to have their sexuality questioned in their job, and moreover, it’s not okay to make homophobic jokes to a stranger.
I have been a trained bra fitter for almost four years, specialising in D+ cup sizes, and I really love the puzzle-solving and educational aspects of my work. I knew from my first day that this was no ordinary job, and that I could be responsible for really helping people who wear bras to find confidence.
I thought that the respect I extended to customers would be returned. When I came across this first casually homophobic customer, it did feel a little like a punch to the gut. I felt trapped in a world of being both invisible and too visible; as if I lived my life with only one foot out of the closet.
Soon after that first incident, someone made a comment using the ‘D-slur’ in the shop, and I realised that it wasn’t a one-off. I never responded with the truth, always choosing to skirt around the issue by saying ‘anyone can fit a bra if they’re trained well’, and ‘it wouldn’t matter if I were anyway’.
To me, it’s no wonder why Stonewall says that around 35% of LGBT+ staff have hidden their identity at work due to fear of discrimination.
I felt like I was lying to the customers in front of me purely because I was too scared to call them out and draw attention. They probably weren’t incredibly homophobic, just ignorant and taken in by the assumption that all bra fitters would fit into a heteronormative box.
If you’ve ever had a bra fitting, you’ll know that it’s a surreal experience. We deal with crying customers and frustrated people all the time because of the emotions that come with the vulnerability of exposing your body, so I understand the odd snappy comment or roll of the eyes.
What is not OK is pushing insecurities and stereotypes onto fitters, who are just there to help you and get through a shift. The incidences of these comments occurring are not falling, despite companies engaging in Pride celebrations.
Until customers visibly see that companies are supporting their LGBT+ staff in public year-round, they are still likely to make a joke out of queerness in private.
That’s why this year I feel as though things are changing. More companies are loudly making public commitments to the LGBT+ community during Pride, showing how attitudes towards queerness are slowly changing.
Call this an antidote to ‘rainbow washing’, or call this naive optimism, but there is value in visibility for LGBT+ communities in workplaces.
I finally feel supported at work because my employer’s public support for Pride made me feel comfortable in finally coming out to my colleagues, sharing the happy news of my relationship with them.
Not only did they have my back as allies, but I also knew that they would ask me questions to learn about queerness. They even created a Pride display of products, knowing I would probably cry once I saw it.
It might not be a giant leap for the Pride movement, but small acts like these often shine a light on where we still need to unlearn harmful stereotypes about queerness.
The Pride movement is a protest for all, and however small, any step towards progress empowers those of us who continue fighting for equality.
I know that if I ever encounter this vile behaviour again, I’ll be more empowered to voice my protest and declare who I am. Yes, I am queer and I’m a brilliant bra fitter.
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