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4Women - Opinions

Letters and opinions from concerned South African women on current affairs and issues affecting us all

A reader's story on what happened when she got mistaken for a man

Mistaken Identity

By Carol Ann

Last weekend I was in town shopping at the local Edgars when I found a pair of jeans that I loved. Happy with my discovery, off I went to the changing room, giddy with the possibility of some retail therapy. There was a queue of a handful of people behind me. It seemed like the weather had been enough to tempt everyone into the shop. Then it happened, I arrived at the front of the queue and showed the shop assistant my item to get a token.

She gave it to me then waved me towards the MEN’s changing room.

I’m a sort of butch woman with my hair longer than it usually is and at the time I was wearing shorts and a fitted t shirt. I remember thinking “Hello, I do have lady lumps, you know!”.

Normally when someone thinks I’m a man I stay quiet, embarrassed, and try to pretend I hadn’t heard them but to be honest I was a bit sick of it.

That woman didn’t even look at me properly. She just glanced my way and made a fast judgement. Sure, she was apologetic when I said “Ah, I am a woman!” but she could have been more respectful.

She humiliated me in front of several passersby as well as the other women and men in the queue yet she could barely make eye contact with me when she was apologising.

Dressing the way I want to is worth the infrequent embarrassment but sometimes I get annoyed that we are expected to adapt to other people’s view of how I, as a female, should dress.

This woman obviously saw some stereotypical male qualities such as short hair and loose surfer style shirts which prompted her to put two and two together and come up with XY.

Have this happened to you?

The majority of people identify me as female easily and without hesitation so I think that’s why it gets to me so much when some individuals display such ignorance. Unfortunately, mistaken identity is a regular occurrence for me but it’s not enough to make me want to change.

Changing my appearance to suit others would feel like a denial of who I am. Let’s face it, we already defy the norm by coming out in the first place. I left the shop feeling frustrated yet proud that I actually spoke up for myself for once by correcting the confused woman and sharing a little embarrassment with her. My comfort and happiness is a thousand times more important than what some random stranger thinks about me.

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