This piece is a bit tongue in cheek. I’m serious about it, but also writing it with the recognition that there are much bigger challenges right now in trans rights than feet and shoes. So consider this a frustrated musing on mundanity of trans inequity and injustice.
In an impulsive fit of sunshine joy, I put on sandals yesterday before leaving for Michigan, and forgot my shoes. It might not have mattered, but Ann Arbor was going to be cold and rainy, and so when I realized my mistake while walking to the airport, my Saturday was going to turn from a quiet day of rest and reflection to a frantic search for shoes.
Frantic because I wear a women’s 12 (43 EU).
For those that don’t know, that’s a pretty large shoe size, and finding shoes with good arch support is hard. Most brands stop at 11, and most brands that have 12s are usually kind of ugly. Many are boots with large heels, which aggravates my arches. I’ve often spent months browsing online to find a 12 that I actually liked, and then held on strong to them until they’re beaten and worn because they’re so difficult to replace. I once wrote Birkenstock support, pleading for a size 12 in their cuter shoes, and they actually wrote back with a “No. There is no market for those.” So finding a pair in a relatively small city of 100,000 was bound to be challenging, especially without a car.
This isn’t my fault. My feet are my feet. It’s the failure of capitalism to meet my niche needs that creates this problem. Two hundred years of chasing profits with industrialization has guaranteed that my feet will be chronically underserved, unless I’m willing to wear drab men’s sneakers everywhere.
But they also aren’t my feet. Had I grown up in this decade of more abundant gender-affirming care, I might have prevented the puberty that caused my feet to grow, and instead kept the feet I had. But growing up in the 1980’s, I didn’t even know that was possible. I heard nothing but vitriol about queer people, and trans people in media were only ever a joke or a trigger for vomit. I couldn’t even imagine that choosing the puberty right for me was a possibility. And so here I am, downtown Ann Arbor, in sandals in the rain, desperately asking shoe stores if they have any 12s.
Alas, while some youth in this world finally have the freedom to choose their puberties, others across the United States are seeing those rights taken from them. The governor of Montana, for example, just yesterday signed into law a draconian bill that not only makes puberty blockers illegal, but also perhaps health care providers and public officials to be sued for even mentioning that such medical care exists to children, and bans medical malpractice from shielding against it. It shields people who intentionally deadname and misgender from anti-discrimination laws. It outright bans any form of social transition, creating an ambiguous and fraught binary between boys and girls clothes, hair, and accessorizing that is bound to ensnare and restrict all youth, not just trans youth, from freely expressing their gender. It is doing nothing less than requiring trans youth, and everyone in a position of supporting them, to stay in the closet, or worse, detransition.
If this is enforced — and I cannot imagine it will be, given how blatantly unconstitutional it is — it is going to have profound impacts on trans people, the health care system, schools, and parents. In my work with trans youth, I’m already hearing of families frantically planning their escape to safer states, and if they cannot afford that, a growing, deadly desperation.
But it is also going to force children to grow larger feet. There will be generations of trans youth who cannot find cute shoes to wear, with no option to reverse the damage of unwanted puberties. Many, especially those who cannot afford to spend months scouring shoe stores online for niche pairs of shoes, will settle for dysphoric masculine pairs, and might be bullied for what they wear. These tiny forms of oppression will feed into the larger web of inequities in society, the thousand paper cuts that wear people on the margins down.
I know how trivial and privileged of a problem this is. There are countless trans rights issues more important than feet and cute shoes. But as much as I accept my feet now, and my attention is broadly on those more important rights, I cannot accept being shoeless or wearing ugly shoes. And I do not accept a world in which children are forced into the same unjust bind because of some extremist Christian myth of binary, immutable gender.
After breakfast, I started hitting the shoe stores. Most turned me down, “No, sorry, we don’t carry 12s.”, “How do you feel about men’s loafers?”, “You could try online…” I eventually ended up at Fourth Ave Birkenstocks, where a friendly group of employees walked me through the store, showing me the options. As usual, all of the cute ones (for Birkenstocks) capped out at 11, and so they brought me three “unisex” sneakers, one a wide ugly tan color, another a shiny masculine boot, and a third boring black pair of generic sneakers with a contrasting cork footbed. I sighed to the woman helping me, “Nothing cute, huh.” “Nope.” I looked down at her feet, saw that they were as large as mine, and she let out the same sigh.