It happens too often. I’ll walk into a restroom and hear a shout from someone behind me saying “wrong bathroom.” It nags at me for a few reasons. Wondering, self-consciously, if I look like a man but also about the state of people. Their inability to pay attention and gather all the facts before making a split-second gender judgement without thinking about the social and personal consequences. There have been only two times I’ve stood up for myself in this situation besides a simple correction of, “no – I’m a m’am.”
The first was in a bathroom in Boston. I was having a few drinks before a concert with friends and as I walked into the restroom, a very drunk girl stopped me. “Wrong bathroom buddy,” she slurred. With my liquid courage, I quickly responded: “I’m a girl, not a boy and it’s really none of your business what bathroom I decide to use.” She quickly scurried away like a rat in the subway, scared of what – I’m not sure.
The second time was also in Boston, funny enough. I was at a Chipotle in Kendall Square and as I walked in, the person behind the counter said “hello sir.” I ignored the gender pronoun as I do in most situations and began to order my food. The girl quickly noticed I was not a man and apologized. Then she asked, “does it offend you when people call you a man?”
A bold question from a person who should be taking responsibility for her actions. At that moment, I quickly decided this wasn’t my fault. “Why should I be offended?”, I said “I’m not offended as much as I’m sad for people and the state of our generation that we don’t take time to notice people. That we don’t give them more than a moment before we decide who they are or what they are. That you don’t take the time to notice other people beyond a hair cut before you decide their gender.” She was stunned and didn’t say much after that, as you’d probably assume.
Last week, I went to New York City and a guy called me sir. I didn’t say anything but as I retold the story to my friends who live in New York over coffee, each of them were completely mortified that this happened. They kept saying “this doesn’t happen in New York.”
But the thing is, bias happens everywhere. So yes, it does happen in New York. Perhaps people are a little more embarrassed when it happens in New York but they are not exempt from having completely biased conversations about gender.
The unfortunate situation at hand is in our history, even as we pursue a different future. We – the media, parents, society, etc – have spent years trying to classify what a man is and what a woman is. The media uses that to define characters behaviors, not just pick a character to play them. How many times do you see insecure men on TV? How many times do you see dominant women? Think about it…
Gender is not blind and therefore when people walk a gender line, people insist on finding a way to pick one. They want to know what you are and who you are and they can’t just let you be – even when you pee. They can’t trust that other people will make the right decision about their gender. It’s just part of what makes the conversation about trans people and their rights so complicated for people; the average person doesn’t recognize or respect gender as binary in any way, even as a transitionary state.
The hardest part for me still resonates back to the conversation I had in the Chipotle in Boston: people don’t notice each other. It’s a fact that one person can look at another person and make a decision without taking in even two seconds worth of visual queues and information.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.