I’ve been wanting to write about gender hell for a while now, and Twisty gave me the opportunity this morning. Apparently, Stingray, a dear friend of Twisty’s, got called out in the women’s bathroom. Twisty describes Stingray’s sartorial sensibility thusly:
Though Stingray is—to borrow a lunkheaded monosyllabic qualifier from Hub (you remember old Hub, the guy whose blogger wife famously opined that a post-nuptial weight gain is the moral equivalent of a vinyl siding swindle)—hot, she does not practice femininity. Her unwillingness to capitulate to the sexbot mandate is, frankly, a danger to the kidneys of certain members of certain classes.
Now, Stingray’s nemesis fled the scene, rather than saying something nasty or fetching security to throw Stingray out. I and virtually every other gendervariant person alive has encountered all three reactions, and some of us have been physically harmed; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a bathroom story. (My favorite one has to be the woman who saw me topless and pre-everything in the women’s locker room and asked, “Are you a man?”)
A side-discussion has erupted in comments over why women feel threatened by appearances like Stingray’s, what precisely it is that they’re reacting to. Here’s just one comment:
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea that women find the idea of women who look “manly” threatening. I think it’s because to them all men are threatening, and the momentary presumption of lurking male presence in one of the few male-free zones available could give them one of those nasty startled flashes that seem so much worse than the circumstances that caused them.
I must respectfully disagree. A woman who calls out someone like Stingray in the women’s bathroom is not reacting to perceived maleness. Why? Well.
As someone who passes as male, I have encountered that reaction too. There’s a stark difference between it and what Stingray received, to wit: When a woman thinks she is looking at and talking to an actual man, she immediately apologizes to him for her error. If a woman walks into a clearly-labeled women’s bathroom and sees an apparent guy washing his hands at the sink next to three women, she will still assume that she is either in the wrong bathroom or that he has made a totally honest and understandable mistake.
The perceived guy in this situation is almost never treated with suspicion, let alone hostility. He’s a man. He can’t be in the wrong. I know (knew, since I haven’t used the woman’s can in a long time) that a woman really thinks I’m a dude when she either covers herself in shame or walks back out to check the sign again. Ironically enough, some of the only women who do feel empowered to throw the bum out are butch dykes.
Now, there’s another side to this, which is the reaction you sometimes get when you don’t seem to be bucking gender trends on purpose. If you seem like a nice girl who’s just a little tall or slender or mannish or clumsy or with one of those short haircuts they have these days–but it’s not your fault!–the script will read as follows:
“Oh! Excuse me, are you a–Oh. Oh, I am so sorry. I’m so sorry. I just–it’s dark in here, and you’re so tall–but you’re pretty! You’re really–you’re just beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful girl. And ha, I’m just, bear with me, you know? I’m an old lady. But you’re–you look fine. Just fine.”
Stingray, on the other hand, is an obvious malcontent who must be punished. I don’t think the other woman was fooled for a second. She knew exactly whom she was looking at, and exactly what she was doing.