Home Free

Templeton Pool VancouverI headed to Templeton Pool yesterday, New Year’s Eve, for my regular swim. It was holiday hours and holiday staff and I met up with Stanley, everybody’s favorite aqua-fit instructor from years ago, doing holiday shifts.

The place was pretty deserted and so I was alone in the change-room after my swim. I was just about dressed when the outer door opened and a young woman ventured into the change room and stopped dead at the sight of me. I smiled at her as she said, “This is the women’s change room, GET OUT OF HERE.” Maybe not a full out shout but firm and loud and nasty.

At the same time, I was agreeing, “Yes this is the women’s (still smiling I might add) and I am a woman.”

She repeated that it was the women’s. “GET OUT.”

So I tried from the other end, “I’m NOT A MAN,” speaking in my own “firm” but not shouting voice.

She wheeled angrily away and bolted from the room. I hurried to finish gathering my stuff and heard the door open again and Stanley’s hesitant voice speaking from the doorway, “Hello…hello, this is the women’s change room. Is there a gentleman there?” in his lovely clipped British accent.

I wasn’t quite assembled so I hustled to the door and there was Stanley, peeking respectfully around the open door. My accuser was just behind him, wearing a face of hateful entitlement. Stanley was dumbfounded.

I said, “Stanley, I did explain to her that I was not a man. Twice in fact.”

Then he looked horrified. He turned all flustered but firm to the young woman.

I reached back to get my stuff and as I returned, SHE was arguing with Stanley, and I heard the phrase “can’t be,” waft out. Stanley was speaking agitatedly and insistently to her saying, “Yes, I’m sure,” and glancing towards me in great consternation that I should be hearing any of what she was saying.

As I passed them he turned his attention to me and said how sorry he was and called me by name. I said, “It’s okay, Stanley, YOU did great. Happy New Year!”

She mumbled a grudging “Sorry,” as she went past me. I said nothing and I bolted as fast as I could.

I was bugged and in no mood for a teachable moment, and she still felt nasty and her clearly exuded feeling that I was a freak had stuck for just a bit. Mostly I find my recent encounters are very different: I am not afraid and mostly really “feel” that it’s their problem when it comes up. I try for a witty line that will make it a better story on my blog.

How women behave after they get it wrong has improved so much over the last ten years, at least here in Vancouver. There is an acknowledgement that THEY are the ones who got it wrong. I’m gracious, they’re apologetic. She was a real throwback in both those features. Yet she was young, educated, and entitled.

But she did manage to get to me for a moment, which in the end is what really bugged me, though my complete vindication, in her face, by Stanley, was a sweet balm to my irritation.

I will be swimming today, New Years Day now, and I want to start the year out right. I wonder if my new associate will be there. I’m hoping that Stanley might be on guard again today, though I also feel confident of that support from any staff at Templeton. And that is a deluxe home free for me.

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6 thoughts on “Home Free

  1. Sheila Gilhooly Post author

    msiever, ,Many thanks for your wonderful remarks. I am glowing.. I feel vainly gratified and vindicated at your take on how I look,and warmed by your concluding invitation.You are my kind of ally.,
    in solidarity, sheila

    Reply
  2. msiever

    Hi Sheila,

    I just read your book. It was brought to my attention by my Women and Gender Studies professor, and I was astounded by how you were treated. Then again, maybe I should have been. I am glad you have supporters and friends willing to stand up for you. For the record, I think you are beautiful, and you don’t look like a man!

    I probably have been guilty of gender identifying, but I have never treated anyone less than with respect and never would.

    I’m a heterosexual woman myself, but it doesn’t matter to me how anyone identifies his or herself. We are all individuals with a right to be treated with kindness and respect.

    But seriously, I am looking at your picture and I am not able to fathom how people mistake you for a man. Sure, your hair is short, you are wearing a man’s t-shirt (or it could be, anyway), but your features don’t look mannish. And if they did, so what? You can come into the women’s change room anytime, or the women’s washroom, anytime, where I am at and if anyone gives you grief, I will give them what for. I promise.

    Reply
  3. Evelyn Battell

    Hi Sheila – One of the things that has struck me as I read your book and your blog posts was how relentless our gender-identity is and how relentlessly I “gender” everyone around me. I’m a lesbian so “woman” is pretty important to me and is usually the first identifyier I apply to people on the street, people i talk about, etc.

    I’m sure others have other reasons for needing to know one’s gender – reasons buried in their pasts, paths and the societal conditioning around us. But I’ve become aware of how relentless the pressure is for many women who get taken for men. Given this I appreciate anything more you can tell us about how to be an ally in these situations.
    Cheers

    Reply
  4. rmiles

    Way to go, Stanley! Sometimes when there are days or situations when we can’t handle things ourselves, there seems to be someone there to tackle it for us. I think Stanley was there to help you that day. I believe having another person stand up to bigotry on my behalf is a much better way to begin the year than being an unflagging jackass. Cheers!

    Reply
  5. BK

    so sorry this happened at your favourite pool, but great that Stanley was there for a reality check.
    I hope January 1 was a better experience.

    BK

    Reply

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