Apologies in advance if this blog post gets a bit ‘ranty’ but I am feeling the need to express myself and guess what, this is where I do that!
First off, for context, you need to know that my spouse and I are in the process of starting a business. We have been quiet about it as we are still very much in the start up phase and have a lot of work to do before we can start marketing, selling and generally operating.
The business is going to be aimed at providing services to the Gauteng transgender community (crossdressers in particular) and we hope to add significant value to the community by assisting people to express their true selves in a safe and private environment. If you are interested you can get more details from our draft website. (We would appreciate any feedback you can give us as we want to make this work.)
A vital precursor to starting operations, is finding a suitable venue from which to operate. A flat would be optimal as it would allow us to start operating quickly in a secure environment without outlaying too much money. We have no idea how many people we are likely to attract and obviously the more you spend on a property, the more clients you need to sign up in order to cover your costs. We have done some research and have an idea of who we can market to but as always getting people to hand over the cash is always harder than getting them to say whether they would or not.
A few days a go we thought we had found an ideal spot. It is a ground floor, corner unit with its own private garden in a decent sized complex in a very nice and safe area that is easily accessible from Gauteng’s motorway network. There is a lovely entertainment area. The complex is private and large enough for people to be relatively anonymous and we were told that a few of the residents run their own businesses or work from home so we would not have a problem running a business from the complex.
I was very concerned that we be upfront with the other owners. I suspected that the rules of the complex would not allow you to run a business and that people were simply turning a blind eye to people working from home or running small businesses from their flats and I did not want to be unable to use the property for the purpose we had intended because someone objected after we had bought the property. I also definitely did not want any of my clients to experience any problems in the complex and whilst the person showing us the unit was a resident I was concerned that her accepting and tolerant views may not be reflective of all the other residents’ views.
I therefore decided to send a letter to the trustees asking them to give their agreement that we could run our business from the unit. I wanted to see what levels of acceptance were present in the complex so I explicitly stated that we would be providing dressing and storage services for transgender men and women. I appreciated that this was a risk and that some people may not be accepting of us but I decided that it was better to unearth any latent transphobia at this early stage than after we had bought the place and I certainly did not want any of our clients to be victims of any abuse that may be directed at them by a potentially angry, transphobic neighbour.
Still I sincerely hoped that people would read our submission and realise that transgender people would make an excellent set of neighbours. We are generally quiet, private people who avoid conflict. Our clients especially, would not want to draw attention to themselves and would therefore be model citizens in the complex. I also hoped that the media attention we have received of late (Caitlyn Jenner etc) would mean that people were more aware of us and would thus be less shocked by our presence.
The letter was sent and duly circulated amongst the trustees. I have received some feedback and I am deeply saddened by the responses I have seen. One person was deeply concerned by ‘what would the neighbours think’. Below is a summary of their concerns:
- Groups coming and going all hours day and night, different people all the time, dressed in whatever paraphernalia, possibly intoxicated and somewhat liberated.
- Will they wear their attire to the pool socials and get strange looks from the neighbours?
- REDACTED is going to become associated with clandestine albeit ‘clean’ behaviour, but still the subtle innuendo is unfavourable – why couldn’t they want a 9-5 bridal shop or something rather?
- REDACTED (is) not a very cosmopolitan bunch, and by the very nature of this proposal, I foresee our residents creating problems.
- I’m concerned any issues we may raise they may throw the ‘prejudice’ card back at us, do we need it?
REDACTED, I’m interested in your feedback, but we’re a residence, on high demand in the market, I say let’s keep it purely residential, please! Even if it’s all ‘above board’, there’s too much stigma attached. I’m very open minded about these things, but for REDACTED, I see only problems and I say NO!
Now obviously we are all entitled to our opinions and of course people may have legitimate concerns about the place that they live but if you live in a complex you have to accept that you will have neighbours and that you will have little control over who these people are. There are certainly ‘house rules’ (that we undertook to be bound by) but you do not get to say “Oh I like having ‘x’ as a neighbour, but I won’t allow ‘y’ as a neighbour”.
I was particularly struck by the concerns about groups coming and going at all hours in paraphernalia and possibly intoxicated. We had made it clear that whilst the venue would be open at all times most people would be using it during day time hours. I also wonder what these people think of the average transgender person in relation to the cisgender person? Do cisgender people not drink? Do cisgender people not socialise? Will transgender people be noisier than cisgender people are? I also wondered what the people of this complex wear to the entertainment (pool) area that they are basing their idea of what we may wear? The mind boggles. Feather boas, g-string sequin bikinis or what? This girl needs to know!
Perhaps most galling was the innuendo that we were somehow undesirable, sub standard and best avoided. We are distinctly second class citizens in this person’s view, which is borne out by the statement that the complex residents are ‘not a very cosmopolitan bunch’ and that we would call them prejudiced. My immediate thought was that when someone says something about another it tends to reflect more on themselves. So when she said that others are not cosmopolitan, she probably means that she herself is not cosmopolitan and is certainly not accepting of cosmopolitan situations. She would prefer the world to conform to her narrow world view. My next thought was that if she fears being called prejudiced, it is probably because she is prejudiced!
The correspondent went on to say: ‘We trustees may fully understand, but the business will not mix well with the residents, I assure you.’ Again this seems to be a very obvious case of prejudice. Firstly, if she truly did understand then she would know that we would in fact be a very good addition to the complex as we would want the complex to be run optimally, well looked after and properly maintained. Our clients would be quiet model citizens and we would obviously keep our unit in a pristine condition at all times. The fact is that she has no idea whether the business would be a problem or not because she has prejudged the issue completely. I am fairly sure that if we had proposed running a bed and breakfast type establishment or renting the flat out to a variety of short term visitors (holiday or business travelers): people who are not part of a community, who we have little control over and by the nature of the short term stay are hard to regulate, it would have been more acceptable to her. But these terrible, immoral reprehensible and unclean transgender people who would besmirch her pristine complex, who behave so terribly are a serious threat to her. I wonder, if the neighbours knew the true extent of her views, what would they say?
I have been deeply saddened and indeed angered by the response to our well-intentioned letter to the trustees. It has shown just how intolerant and fearful our fellow citizens really are. They may say that they are tolerant of others but as soon as ‘the other’ arrives on their doorstep they get very worried.
Our estate agent who showed us the complex and who coincidentally lives in the complex and with whom we shared our intentions, was amazingly open-minded, accepting and tolerant. The reaction of her neighbours truly shocked her and she too has been deeply affected by the response. She happens to be a black woman and has been horribly reminded of her own attempts to overcome (racial) bigotry in South Africa. When she first became active in the property market people actively tried to prevent her from living and working in areas that had been formerly declared as legally ‘white areas’ (the concept seems so bizarre now, but this was a reality in South Africa just 25 years ago). I am sad that we have re-opened her eyes and reminded her of the intolerance and discrimination that we all face especially as these people are people she has to share her life with. We get to move on to greener pastures, she has to see these people in the passages, parking lots and indeed at the pool (feather boas and sequined g-string bikinis notwithstanding) where she lives.
We have decided to withdraw gracefully from this property. It seems that we will not be welcome and I am not prepared to endanger my clients in any way. We are however not going to be deterred. We will continue to search for the ideal property for our business and we are determined to make this work. We are driven by a belief that our transgender brothers and sisters who are unable (for whatever reason, ‘clandestine’ or not) to express their true selves, should have a safe, discreet and pleasant place to do so. We will find a property and we will make it awesome.