Missouri bathroom encounter

My recent encounter with a random individual in a Missouri bathroom will last in my memory bank forever. The person has most likely already forgotten me, but they will never be forgotten. In the 15 to 30 seconds we interacted, life lessons were taught and learned. Memories came flooding back. My own biases were as clear as my reflection staring back at me from that bathroom mirror.


After washing my hands and preparing to exit the restroom, the other person walked in. To my horror, a woman had just entered the men’s bathroom. My first reaction was panic. Was this the women’s bathroom? Admitting error was out of the question. My words were defiant, telling this young female that “This is the men’s room!” The conversation quickly deteriorated when the equally defiant teenage woman said “I’m a man.”


This had all the makings of a nightmarish transgender conversation. Whatever one feels about transgender issues, a public restaurant washroom is not going to be the place where every divisive social issue gets solved. However one feels about gender pronouns, a bathroom is a place to engage in unmentionable activities, wash your hands, and leave. Arguing about gender was not going to solve the problem. My one-word perplexed question to this individual was a simple “What?” This brought a response that left me dumbfounded at myself.


“I am a man. I have long hair.”


Color me gobsmacked. This had nothing to do with transgenderism, pronouns, or other terms that barely existed before 2015. This was an issue as old as time itself. I mistook a boy for a girl simply because the teenage boy had long hair.


After apologizing to the boy twice and even thrice, all I could meekly muster to say was that, “When I was 21, my hair was longer than yours.” Who was I kidding? My hair was longer several months ago.


Kids do sometimes turn into their parents, but I had just turned into my late grandfather. All I needed was a Yiddish accent and a rolled-up newspaper to chase hooligans away.


My grandfather was an old-school Eastern European immigrant who fled the Holocaust and spoke broken English. He never accepted that boys could have long hair. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he would introduce me to his friends with the sarcastic taunt of, “This is Eric. He’s my new granddaughter.”


When my hair went from shoulder length to mid-back, he told me that I looked like a “Calderone.” The man spoke five languages, but Italian was not one of them. Calderone sounded Italian. My father intervened and spoke to my grandfather in Yiddish. My father explained to his father that a Calderone was a person, not a thing. After impatiently inquiring who this Calderone guy was, my father replied, “Your grandfather says you look like the drug dealer on Miami Vice.” At least that drug dealer was male.


Eventually I explained to my grandfather that “The hair does not make you sell the drugs. I have long hair. I don’t do drugs.” While he never accepted my long hair, he did eventually accept that my Y chromosome existed. My gender was male, without ambiguity.


In the 1980s, guys with long hair were either in a rock band or they were transients. A young stoned teenager on the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade once remarked to me that my “third album sucked.” My anger quickly subsided when my friends reminded me that I was never in a band. At least this guy who hated my non-existent music understood that cool guys had long hair.


Misgendering has existed ever since society decided that men had to have short hair and women had to have long hair.


Beyond that, not every conflict is due to raging political issues of the day. Occam’s Razor is still valid. The simplest explanation is often the truthful one.


To anyone who has ever been misgendered, join my club. It happens to the best of us.


Now to flout society’s conventions and grow my hair long again, because I can. At age 51, I’m old enough to remember when that truly was an act of rebellion.


I hope the Missouri kid keeps his hair long for as long as he wants without further hassles.


Whether you believe there are two genders or two hundred of them, one thing is as clear as the Cowsills: I’m a guy, and “There ain’t no words for the beauty and the splendor, the wonder of my hair!”

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