This is the first story in my book Mistaken Identity.
Once, Dorothy and I were on the ferry to Salt Spring Island. It was the weekend so the boat was pretty jam-packed with travellers. We were heading for the women’s washroom, very engrossed in conversation as we went.
As we turned into the washroom, suddenly a loud male voice bellowed, “Hey!” I kept making my point to Dorothy, hearing the commotion sort of but not thinking it had anything to do with me, till the same angry, by now guttural, voice yelled, “Get out from the women’s washroom!” Then I knew he was talking to me.
We turned to see a family, sitting with two kids on one pair of seats facing a woman on the aisle and the screaming man next to the window. He was struggling to get out of his seat. His wife was pulling on his arm trying to restrain him, and the two young teen children looked terrified and like they wished they were anywhere else.
“I’m not a man.” I tried speaking over his rage. The sound of my voice made him even madder and by this time he was on his feet and trying to lunge over the wife who had by now attempted to insert herself completely between him and the aisle. The daughter, about twelve or thirteen, was leaning forward helping her mom block him off. His face was really red and I’m sure they thought he was going to have a stroke right there on the ferry.
“You’re no woman! You’re no woman!” he kept saying as he tried to get past the wife and daughter.
By this time Dorothy was explaining in a calm, but assertive and “raised above the din,” voice that her friend was not a man and furthermore (and she really said “furthermore”) he was making a fool of himself and scaring his children. By this time, he had subsided back into his seat, pushed there and held there by his wife, still muttering.
With that we marched into the washroom like we were entitled, only to be met by the frightened stares of all the women and children clustered in solidarity around the sinks. Alerted by the commotion, they were waiting for the entrance of the interloper. And they weren’t disappointed I could tell. I felt like a cat among the pigeons. They looked at me literally wide-eyed and kind of drew themselves together against the big bad dyke. I tried to lighten my voice, not like into falsetto or anything, but just up from the depth of tense I knew it was at.
“I’m not a man,” I assured the crowd. “He was mistaken.” I gestured towards the commotion they had just heard, smiling friendly-like. Nobody said a word.
We took our spot in the line-up for the cubicles. Still, nobody said a word, to us or each other. Women continued to look at me, but sneakily, and try as I did, I didn’t manage to catch even one woman’s eye.
We did our business as quick as we could and when we got outside, the family were gone. But hanging about right outside the door were three or four young guys. They nudged each other as we passed, one saying, “There’s the freak there.” We just kept going and I was puzzled about their presence, but after we had gone a ways and looked back, they were being joined by young women emerging from the washroom. Clearly they were on guard to defend the honour of their girlfriends.
As we were watching this scene, two people, a woman and a man in ferry uniforms, arrived at the washroom. They wore the fancy kind of uniforms, not the deck worker kind, and we could see them talking to the bozos and their girlfriends. They were pointing at the washroom and towards where we had just gone and were still lurking, at which point we decided to move away from the scene.
We talked about it after, of course, and we were both shaken and at moments scared by the incredible rage and violence that poured out of that man.
For me, however, having Dorothy there made all difference. She was outraged, but totally at the man, the women, the jerks, not at me. We were in it together. I have so often felt that vibe of “What do you expect?” Not so much now—trans awareness has made my lot easier—but this was back then. I’d like to think that if it happened now, we would make it a point to speak to the ferry people rather than be as loathe as I was to have to explain myself.