Fortunately I had no occasion to be using washrooms so it only came up in the constant “sir,” “man,” “pal,” and even one “dude!” that followed every interaction, no matter how brief. It was wearying mostly since, as I said, they weren’t occasions where I really had to correct the person.
One day, I helped an old lady with a walker who was trying to reach something in the store. Her gratitude and obvious surprise went with a rave about what a gentleman I was. I really hated giving them such an undeserved good name, but nor did I want to make her feel stupid as part of my favour. And I didn’t want her to suddenly turn on me, not like she had that vibe about her, but I find, after all these years of pretty consistent mistaken identity, I still can’t always tell how they will react to having made that mistake.
So I’m heading into the women’s washroom in the Vancouver airport, phone in my ear, looking just like about half the travellers, feeling so at home and glad to be here and so like I belong I don’t even look around as I enter the washroom and I hardly hear the “Hey, wait. Stop !!” or feel the kerfuffle behind me.
A woman grabs my arm and wheels me around and says, “You’re in the wrong washroom. This is the women’s,” just to be perfectly clear. She’s pretty pleasant about it really—perky and indulgent all in the same breath. Silly man, right ? I’ve noticed that women are nicer to me while they are still thinking I’m a man, disconcerted but “nice” about it.
The women in the washroom, or going into the washroom, stop or turn to hear me say, “I’m not a man. I’m a woman and I’m not in the wrong washroom.” (Being very thorough and clear myself .)
At the sound of my voice, the rest of the gang jerks to a stare. My challenger recoils and mutters, “Oh, sorry,” but she looks angry, not sorry. The stares of the others stay fixed and wary with disbelief.
I see an empty cubicle and head for it. When I exit, moments later, they are all still there, arranged in a hostile phalanx of maybe ten women and girls (girls shrinking behind their mothers…classic !) “I’m not a man,” I say again as I exit, scanning the whole row to make eye contact, but they don’t let that happen, though they keep on staring toward me.
I’m tempted to flash my breasts at them, but the presence of children makes me afraid I’ll be seen as more of a pervert and maybe it would be legal abuse or endangerment. Really I don’t want to freak these little girls, who have already been terrorized by their mothers, though I know everyone else thinks it was me who scared them.
I quickly wash and dry my hands and head out of the washroom, no longer bothering to try and make eye contact. I am shaken. I’ve experienced this orchestrated exclusion in other washrooms but not so much for years. These days, women still blame me for their mistake, but their inclination is to at least see it as THEIR mistake in the end and not a deliberate trick on my part to threaten them.
Why the change?
Maybe there are more of us “have to look twice” types. Transgender visibility and their victories of inclusion have made my life so much easier and less defensive. Mistaken Identity still happens—I correct nicely—they apologize—I am gracious and see it as a “teachable moment” and it’s no big deal. So this experience was a throw-back. And in Vancouver! not even awful old straight-laced Ottawa.