Yesterday, I posed for an art class that took place in the basement of a church. During one of the breaks I went to the bathroom. There was a woman washing her hands in there – not someone from class, someone who was there for some other event. I’m guessing a Ukrainian thing because she was in a multicoloured traditional Ukrainian outfit. Anyway when I breezed by her to get to the stalls she caught a glimpse of my reflection, mistook me for a dude and called out “Excuse me, you’ve made a mistake, this room is for ladies.”
I don’t normally mind being misgendered, but that day it really hurt my feelings and I think I’ve figured out why: normally I don’t feel especially male or female, so when people in stores call me “sir” it’s like “meh, whatever, could’ve gone either way.” But in this particular case I’d just been posing naked in a way that deliberately emphasized my hips – and told what beautiful feminine curves I have. In other words, I was actively “being female” that day (rather than feeling ambiguously gendered) and going straight from that to “You’re not a woman! You can’t be in here!” felt like a slap in the face.
So my gut reaction was to feel pissed off at this lady. Jesus christ, I’m not manly looking. I’m just tall and have short hair. Has she never seen a woman who is tall or has short hair? Are all the chicks stamped out of a fucking 5’5″ cookie cutter in her universe? I got a sudden wicked urge to respond to her by turning around, deadpan, and just opening my robe.*
But this woman couldn’t possibly have gotten a good look at me – just a flash of my reflection as I walked by. And yes, fine, most guys are tall with short hair, and that bathroom door is always propped wide open so that you can’t see the word LADIES when you approach it from the direction I did. The Ukrainian woman’s voice also didn’t sound frightened or accusatory – I think she was trying to be helpful and save me some embarrassment. And there’s no way she could know I was being female that day, just like there’s no way all the other people who’ve misgendered me could know I was being gender neutral on those days – my outsides look the same either way. It would be unfair to get angry over this particular incident.
I was still a little afraid she’d run and get an authority figure to oust me if I totally ignored her, though, so I turned and innocently said “…Are you talking to me?” (perhaps making my already high, girly voice a bit higher out of defensiveness). She quickly apologized and left.
In addition to everything I said above, I have to add, it sucks to have this (or any kind of confrontation) happen while wearing nothing but sandals and a bathrobe. It just makes me feel more vulnerable and less armoured in general.
This whole incident does reinforce my awareness of my cis privilege, though. For some women, if they got in a situation like that one, it wouldn’t have ended there – they’d say “I do belong here; I am female” but they wouldn’t be believed. I have always been aware of what total fucking bullshit that is, but it hits closer to home now that I’ve had my gender questioned while having a full bladder. GODDAMMIT JUST LET ME PEE.
*I still think that would’ve been kind of awesome. A perfect sitcom moment. And probably the only time I’ll ever be able to respond to being misgendered by flashing my breasts and vulva (without a whole lot of fumbling with zippers and stuff).