Monday, January 19, 2009

restroom antics

Lately I've been feeling really self-conscious about using public restrooms. I know that this is because of my hair.

Sometimes people will just all out stare at me. Normally it's little kids who have never seen a girl with a hair cut like mine, so they aren't sure what to make of it. But sometimes it's other people. Adult, grown women, just staring as they stand in the line. It makes me feel sort of oogy. I wonder if this must be how people in the Freak Show must have felt...must feel...

I know that part of it is somehow my own fault. I mean, a lot of the clothes I own belong in the men's department. I'm aware of this, but that was my style of dress for most of my life, and I had this nice long pony tail complete with natural blonde hi-lights to off set that style.

After I became a mother, I admit that my taste became more feminine, so to speak. I found myself enjoying more frills, more pinks, flowers, things like that.

Unfortunately for me, I haven't had the money to purchase an entirely new wardrobe, and I honestly still enjoy the comfort of hoodies, jeans, and sweat pants or PJ pants, so sometimes, I will still wear those things.

I didn't think twice about this in the past. I actually thought it was sort of... oh, I don't to be able to pull of men's clothing and still be so obviously female.

The thing about it was - it was only the hair. It wasn't me. It wasn't my face, my body, nothing. Just my hair. As I am now aware. Somewhat painfully.

I've been running lights for a play at a local community theatre and will be for the next two weekends and during intermission, I always need to pee. Since it's tech work, I've been in jeans and hoodies every night. I try to make it before the line gets too long, but there is always a line when I come out of the stall. Every night, people have done double takes, thinking perhaps they were in the wrong restroom. I've come to realize that one of the ways people identify women is by their hairstyle. It's funny, because I'm wearing women's pants, I have earrings in both ears that match, and only one hole in each ear. My glasses are purple with little feminine curves in them, I have high cheek bones, lashes... but they still panic for a moment, thinking - this is a boy - I am in the wrong restroom.

Now, I'm sure that most of this is really just them feeling self-conscious as well. I don't think anyone heads to the public restroom with no self-conscious feelings. After all, everyone in the room knows you are about to relieve yourself. You only have a little wall with an open bottom between you and a bunch of strangers and your pants are around your ankles. And I think that many people have an active fear of walking into the wrong restroom. At several times in my life I have wanted to double check the sign on the door, simply because I was worried that perhaps I had misread it, and was in the wrong restroom, and at any second a large burly man with a hairy face and a scent of alcohol and cigarettes would walk in while I was doing my duty.

In fact, when I was much younger, I walked into the men's restroom at a local pizza parlor and saw two men standing at the urinals, relieving themselves. I was so mortified that I was frozen for a second and just stared. Then I ran out of there, so embarassed that I began to cry. I think a I was about eleven at the time. So I get the feeling - that split second that you think - oh my goodness, I'm in the wrong restroom...

So last night, I shouldn't have taken it so personally when I came out of the stall, washed my hands, and began to exit and a little old woman grabbed my arm, laughing, and said "Well, I thought you were a BOY!" I sort of laughed nervously and nodded, and then left. It was obvious that she had figured out I wasn't, in fact, a boy, when I'd turned around from the sink to leave, but why did she have to mention it to me? It felt so judgemental - now look at yourself - you got the non-traditional haircut and it looks like a boy's hair - so you'd best start growing it out.

Granted, yesterday at the theatre I was wearing my Pittsburgh Steelers hoodie - due to the evenings festivities of the AFC Championship on the horizon, so I get that it may be a very masculine thing, but couldn't she give me the benefit of the doubt? I mean, I was in the women's restroom. I didn't freak out when I saw that enormous line of women waiting. I just washed my hands like any normal woman would.

I know I shouldn't put this on myself, but it makes me feel strange. Like I AM wrong. Like, for the benefit of everyone around me, I really should grow my hair back.

Even my son, who is only four years old, identifies women by their hair, and told me that I looked like a man. He doesn't treat me differently, and I think it's good for him to see this little paradigm shift in his family before he starts judging people in the world at large, but it's a little painful.

Our Avon Walk for Breast Cancer team is doing a fundraiser at Cheeseburger in Paradise - the restaurant based on the Jimmy Buffet song and Jimmy Buffets ideals for life as an island and whatnot, and the menu features a woman in a bathing suit, basking in the sun atop a fully loaded cheeseburger, Complete with a paper umbrella acting as her shade. Her hair is swept back, so it's tough to note it's length for someone as inexperienced in observation as my young son, and he held up the menu and said - "that man thinks the cheeseburger is the beach!" and he laughed. I looked at the menu again, noted the obviously female bathing suit and asked him if he meant "woman". He said "No, Mommy, she has really short hair." I then showed him the hair down her back and he renegged his opinion, but I was floored.

I now realize what it must be like for a woman who has had a masechtomy. What if I didn't have my anatomy to prove my gender? If all of that was removed - and people didn't look at my face, didn't analyze my walk, didn't... and so many questions swept through my mind about what it means to be female anyway. What DOES it mean? Is it really simply a state of mind? When we can't bare our privates to the world for proof - what sorts of discrimination must a non-traditional woman face to get around in this world? To survive as a woman? I'm not sure what all of this means, but it makes me feel small, and very humble as a human.


jb said...

What does it mean to be a women your right!! Is it about the hair or the cloths. I get what you mean about a women who has suffered breast cancer. Are we being defined by all this. I found your blog from jeff's post about his hair. I'm very happy i came over to read this post and discovered a great blog.

Take care

Pete said...

I have to admit, I've always been slightly turned on by women with the guts to do the short/no hair thing. There's something intrinsically sexy about that second glance (just to make sure) and the associated realization that--whoa--I just checked out a lady. Sometimes it takes a little extra "checking" to make--you know--extra sure.

So, if you're saying we generally identify people by their hair, does that mean I'm gay? :-)

Anonymous said...

It is a common mistake people make to assume that others expect us to be a certain image or behave a certain way. I don't think the average person cares what we do as long as we do the same thing all the time. What people want most is consistency.
Most don't really care if their coworker is surly, as long as he is surly everyday. Then we know how to deal with him. What really puts us off is if he is surly one day and then pleasant the next. We don't know how he's going to react so we don't know how to approach or act towards him.
This principle also holds true to the random people you mean on the street. We run through our lives on auto-pilot. The consistency in the group actions of others is needed to form the confines of most people's reality. We do this so we can put forth as little thought about another person as possible. Men have short hair; women have long hair. It is a simple construct to follow.
When a person sees someone who is not being consistent, it breaks their automatic cycle and they have to take that second glance or have that odd reaction, because they are forced to pay more attention to you then they originally intended to.
For most people this reaction is most likely neutral. I don't think anybody is actually put off by your hair or doubts your femininity, you have merely broken their consistent routine. In the end, I believe that to be a good thing. Keep your hair short for as long as you are comfortable it. People need to think more and stop running on auto-pilot.

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