Question: “Is there a boy in here?”: Those Terrible Bathroom Moments

Barley Brooks asks…

Almost everyday I walk into a restroom and get these horrible whispers as people assume I’ve walked into the wrong one.

I identify as androgynous and genderqueer, but being female-born, I use the women’s restroom, but I do look very much like a young boy.

Sometimes people confront me, sometimes they whisper and giggle on their way out, and sometimes they alert the faculty and then someone comes in and yells “Is there a boy in here?”

It has gotten to the point where it is a source of anxiety for me to walk into a restroom, especially in a place where the people don’t know me. What should I do? I could use some help!

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on March 16th, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 34 comments »

34 Responses to “Question: “Is there a boy in here?”: Those Terrible Bathroom Moments”

  1. Firebolt

    I totally feel you and I wish I could help. In fact, this is one of the reasons I have almost stopped using public restrooms. I avoid them as far as possible.


  2. Gabriel

    I’m male-bodied and androgyne/woman-identified. Even though the option isn’t always available, I find that it’s easiest to team up with another girl when I’m en femme. That way I can use the bathroom I feel safest in and people are less likely to ask me what’s in my panties.


  3. Marcyme

    As a genetic male that mixxes my gender presentation I too sympathize and and struggle with the restroom issue. I would surely be arrested for going in a womens restroom, but equally face the stares and threats of violence form the “men” in the mens room. I look for single restrooms!


  4. SK

    If you find an answer to that one, let me know. I’m also female-bodied or whatever, masculine-presenting/androgynous-looking, often read as a young boy, etc. The not-knowing-how-to-use-the-bathroom-without-people-calling-you-out-for-it thing is such stressful bullshit.

    Sorry I can’t help, but I totally know what you’re feeling :(


  5. Scout

    That situation is incredibly stressful, antagonizing over which door to push open knowing you’ll get stares & comments either way.

    I have noticed in a few public places that next to the mens/womens rooms there’s a sign indicating a unisex bathroom somewhere else in the vicinity so keep your eyes out.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much else to be done in the mean time :(


  6. Mym

    As you approach the restroom, flip a coin. Then use whichever one you were going to use anyway.


  7. Dig

    I find the best way to respond to questions/comments (provided there’s no physical risk) is to not respond to the question you are directly asked, but instead clearly state “We are all in the right bathroom.” They can make their assumptions from there, but they then know that you know where you are and it settles their question on if in the wrong place.

    – D


  8. Zoey

    I’m transgender MtF about six months into HRT and looking more androgynous by the day, and started using unisex bathrooms almost exclusively once I started getting questioning looks and awkward questions in the men’s room. I’ll probably continue doing that until I’m able to easily pass as female.


  9. AJ

    Hey buddy, I feel you. Like a few folks have noted above, keep a look out for a single-use/handicap/gender neutral bathroom whenever you can. Otherwise…thinking of good lines to bust out in response is always a good call. The best response to “SIR, do you realize you’re in the ladies room?” I’ve ever heard is from Andrea Gibson…androgynous slam poet extraordinaire… in her poem “Swingset”…she replied, “Yes, ma’am, I do, it’s just that I didn’t feel comfortable sticking this tampon up my penis in the men’s room.” check out a link to the poem here:


  10. Avery

    Awhile back one of the “recommendations” here was was for a website:

    It’s a database of gender neutral restrooms all around the country, I think it’s even gone international. It might help.


  11. nick

    If a little ‘drag’ to lean towards femininity doesn’t bother you, here’s a thought:
    why not carry an incredibly girly looking scarf in your bag? Just wrap is around a moment before walking into a public restroom and people will think ‘girl’ at the first look, and hopefully not look a second time.
    Yes, it’s faking. Yes, it’s conforming. But it might just make life easier.


  12. s.a.g.

    I don’t know what to tell you to avoid the awkward situation all-together, but I would say play it cool. I’m also female-bodied… but using the restroom has been interesting at times. One woman in the airport a month or so ago yelled at me from outside the bathroom “Sir! Sir! You’re in the wrong bathroom! Sir! Excuse me!!!” I was in a bad mood having just come off a long flight and just wanted to use the restroom before making my hour long drive home so I simply turned around and said “No. I’m in the right one.” My voice has a rather high pitch and she immediately apologized and tried to excuse herself a million different ways. In the end I told her it wasn’t a big deal. Normally I would just smile politely and say I’m in the right one. They’ll usually feel embarrassed for what they see as embarrassing to you. You can choose to stay calm, or freak out but people usually respond better to being treated with kindness and respect even if they’re not necessarily the kindest people themselves.

    That’s my long-winded two cents.


  13. freiya

    i also tend to avoid public restrooms whenever possible, although when i have used them, going in with a friend who is more obviously female than me helps hugely! People have never questioned, or even looked funny at me when this is the case.
    Alternatively disabled toilets are a good option, i’ve found that normally nobody seems to question why you’re using them rather than the other toilets, i guess for fear of causing offence?
    I’ve often found that restrooms at restaurants or cafes are good to use as well, as quite often they’re unisex, or quiet enough for you not to get bothered if they are gender based! Of course you may have to buy a cup of coffee and a cake to be able to use them, but thats not always a hardship as such ^_^


  14. Gold.

    It happens. I always find myself opening my jacket and like, trying to make sure everyone can see I have breasts (what little there are of them, ha).

    The worst was when I really freaked out an older deaf woman in a bathroom. I couldn’t remember the sign for ‘female’ so I settled for the sign for ‘lesbian,’ but I found out later the way I was signing it basically meant ‘bull dyke’ or like, really fierce lesbian. So… awkward. Sorry, deaf lady.


  15. Mercury Mars

    i hate to say that i kind of wish i was questioned in the ladies room a little more. i present as androgynous/male as possible but i think i would get called out in the mens, not the ladies.


  16. Tualha

    It takes a fair amount of time to grow the crust it takes to ignore crap like this, though I suppose constant exposure to it would probably accelerate the process. If you feel up to it, the next time you get grief from someone “official” (at your school, I gather), you might consider taking their information and making a formal complaint. Maybe you can embarrass the administration into building a single-user unisex bathroom.


  17. Yondergen

    Hey there, 16-year-old-boy-looking butch here, my solution? Take pride! You’re letting them get to you. If they question you, look them in the eye and respond. Look people in the eye. Smile, laugh even. Be friendly and confident.
    So you’re gender-incongruent; you’re not an outsider, you’re in on the joke! If you need to, practice brief and witty replies to common questions. You’re widening their world.
    The people in the restroom aren’t trying to be agressive, they’re mostly confused. So take control of the situation and diffuse it, rather than letting it control you and your fearful, shamed response. Be as proud and confident in your presentation in the bathroom as outside of it! After all, your response is the only thing you’ll be able to change on your own.


  18. s.a.g.

    Or one of my favorite Andrea Gibson quotes from her poem Swing-Set:
    “Sir! Sir! Do you realize this is the ladies room?!”
    “Yes, ma’am, I do. It’s just I didn’t feel comfortable sticking this tampon up my penis in the men’s room.”

    And if you haven’t heard of Andrea Gibson before… Go immediately to Youtube and watch any of her videos. Then proceed straight to Amazon or wherever and buy a copy of her book “Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns.” Who wouldn’t want to buy a book with that title?!


  19. Loan

    I’m also a female born but identify with androgyny and genderqueer. I could very well pass as a boy and I often times do. Most of the time (when feeling confident enough) I use the men’s restroom if a gender neutral restroom isn’t available. I’m really uncomfortable when entering the women’s restroom mainly because my stocky figure, broad shoulders, wide hips, flat chest doesn’t go together. But you know what, I don’t avoid public restrooms, I’m molding my own path. It’s based on your comfort level. But either way, being gender variant and non conforming is always going to get you stares… just own it. It’s who you are.


  20. AgentRusco

    This site gives locations of unisex bathrooms. It’s fairly fantastic.

    I try to avoid public restrooms, but when I have to I use the men’s. In my experience, I just have to ‘own’ it. Just act as though I know just what I’m doing and get things done quickly. I’ve never been called out.


  21. Barley Brooks

    This has been fabulous, thank you all so much, I’ve been reading these all day. Lots of great tips :)


  22. Keir

    Definitely go to – it’s a great resource for genderqueers. If it doesn’t have many restrooms listed for your town, do like I did and start adding them yourself. Being a person who’s female-bodied but presents as very masculine, I’ve had my fair share of awful women’s restroom stories and I understand what you’re dealing with. Eventually I started using the men’s restroom (I usually use the stalls) and haven’t yet had a problem there. “Men” tend to keep to themselves in the restroom, whereas “women” tend to police the restroom space. If anyone were to question me, I would turn it back on them and ask: “If I have a vagina but I look like a man, which restroom should I use”? My bottom line advice: depending on how you’re presenting (masculine/feminine), use the restroom that most fits that presentation. Nearly everyone will buy it. Good luck out there and be safe!


  23. N

    You basically just described me. I get the same thing everytime i walk into the toilets at uni. What I found though, is it’s better to use the toilet when it’s quieter, so when I’m at uni I use the toilet on the half hour, instead of on the hour. Or I just use my favourite secret toilet in the engineering dept, it’s hidden around a corner and no one knows it’s there.


  24. Anonymous

    As someone who gets read as a boy sometimes, I do feel that women’s questions are often out of sincere confusion and fear, rather than malice. A simple “I’m a girl” with a smile is usually enough for me, and I’ve never had any negative responses after that.


  25. Jessica

    Your post reminds me of a friend of mine who is mute. She signs a lot and people take her for being deaf, but she isn’t at all deaf. This means she gets to hear interesting things people say about her. She’s something of a magician and keeps a couple of dozen phrase cards on her person and can make them appear seemingly from nowhere in her hand. On says “Sorry, not deaf.” Another one says, “If my being able to hear you offends you, shut up.” Maybe what you need is some cards that say “So sorry my being a woman offends you.” or “I tried being a man, but I didn’t like it.” or “Don’t want to be Barbie or Ken.”


  26. Claudius Maximus

    I am a female-bodied genderqueer that often gets read as male.

    I understand women being afraid of a man entering their private space. I usually feel a like embarrased for invading women only spaces. I don’t feel I belong in either restroom because both make me uncomfortable, so I prefer the unisex restrooms.

    If I am questioned in the women’s restroom I usually answer ” I am girl ” and point at my breasts, with a smile on my face.


  27. Mir

    I pretty much know how you feel. There is no unisex bathrooms where I live, so when I think I can ”pass” as a boy, simply use the mens room. Unfortunately, my hips don’t lie very well, so I give my best girly walk and enter bravely womens bathroom.


  28. Dana

    Last weekend, went to the movies, used the female facilities. Inside, a person who presented male was at the sink. My reaction…was no reaction. I did not feel unsafe. I do not know the gender of the person I saw (watching them leave after I was done offered no further clue). I know I do not belong in the boys room, and that is my choice…my decision. The person I saw made the same choice, and neither of us were the worse for it.


  29. Jessica

    Dana, I wish you attitude were more prevalent. I am always afraid of being judged to be in the wrong facility. Years ago I worked for a company that had buildings that were laid out in a very confusing way. Every other set of restrooms had men on the left and women on right. If you lost your bearings and went to the restroom in a hurry, it was very, very easy to make a mistake, which wouldn’t have harmed anyone, except you if they fired you.

    There is also a double standard here. If he went in the women’s he’s practically a criminal. If she went into the men’s, she must have made a mistake.


  30. Alex

    I began passing pretty much all the time without meaning to, which meant that everytime I set foot in a female bathroom I got harrassed, no doubt about that.
    So I faced my fears and started using the men’s.
    It’s really easy, men don’t take as much notice of other people in there, and it’s normal for guys to use the cubicles to pee.
    Try it, you’ll be delighted to find it’s marginally less stressful than using the women’s! I still find it scary, but it’s definitely less worrisome than standing outside the women’s trying to listen to see if there is anyone in there, then hiding in the cubicle until everyone leaves, etc etc etc.


  31. Jessica

    It is also true that in mens rooms (USA) people avoid contact, eye contact, voice contact. It’s pretty weird actually. If you go into a mens room looking embarrassed to be there and shunning any contact with anyone, hey, you’ll fit right in.

    Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’re done, because just about the only challenge you’ll get is from some guy who fancies himself the sanitation police. Don’t look at yourself or other people in the mirror while you’re doing this. Then just slink out.


  32. Megan

    I am a 24 year old college student. I identify as female although I still have a penis and and not on hormones. I would like to get on mones and SRS once I can find someone to prescribe it and have the money for it. I am fortunate that I pass as a girl. I do not flunt my sexuality I just go in do my business and get out. I have been dressing as a girl for the last several years. I will not hesitant to talk with another girl if we make eye contact or if she says something. I am not anti social in the restroom rather I am just a girl who likes to pee and poo in private. The last being something I would rather never admit to.

    I once took a shower in the girls locker room at my college gym. They are communal showers. I just went in and did my business. As I was getting ready to leave another girl came in. After I went to the restroom she was done with her shower with a towel around her getting ready to get dressed by her locker. I asked her for a hair brush because I didn’t bring one and she shared it with me. During that time we had a nice conversation. Her and I are of the philosophy to just get in and get out. She was notating how she usually never sees anyone else in the showers.

    Edit: I should mention that I have long hair, am 5’1″, and have a soft voice.


  33. Cyk

    Part of me sort of enjoys being mistaken as a guy, I’ve been dragged out or toilets by security guards in bars and yelled at by angry women but the moment they realise they just apologise profusely. Also because I work in landscaping I wear ‘workman’ fluros and people immediately make assumtions. Sometimes ladys walk in, see me, and apologise and check the sign on the door. I just say “it’s ok, you’re in the right one” and the moment they here my voice they get it. (Which makes me dislike my voice, it’s a dead give away). I’m too scared to use the mens frequently and confidently yet though so I opt for disabled when available.


  34. Meike

    I had a confrontation a couple weeks ago with a woman in Germany who was directing traffic into the toilets in the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). I hadn’t been harrassed for using the women’s room in quite a while, so I attempted to enter and pay the €0.80 required to use the facilities, when the woman started trying to direct me to the men’s room. She eventually had another man trying to bring me to the “right bathroom”, when I eventually stopped panicking long enough to explain that I was indeed a woman (or something close, but I didn’t quite know how to say that in German) and could I please use the bathroom?

    I’ve noticed that in Europe the gender boundaries are much more distinct than they are in the US. I agree with previous sentiments of just walking into the bathroom confidently, assuming you’re in the States. You could use your physical appearance to your advantage–I’m in the same boat as you, I’m a biofem who looks like a 12-year-old boy–and use the men’s room, if you’re comfortable with that. It’s actually an advantage to appear androgynous; has anyone else noticed how much shorter the lines are for the men’s room? Just do what you’re comfortable with, and if people take issue with that then you just need to assert yourself.


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