In writing my previous post "The Gender Police," I described the experience of having my gender challenged when using public bathrooms. Today, I describe a gender assumption so stark that it still feels surreal.
All I needed was a routine vaginal swab.
I was feeling less than enthusiastic when I finally found myself in the reception of the local medical center. The lady at the desk was lovely, I was referred to a doctor, who was again, charming. He said the swab wouldn't take a second, and could be performed by myself. The doctor then referred me on to pathology. So clutching my piece of paper saying "VAGINAL SWAB" in large capital letters, I make my way there.
I'm greeted by a woman from Pathology in the hallway, who takes the piece of paper from me and reads aloud:
Her reading glasses sit low on her nose as she scans the piece of paper stating my name, gender and medical information.
"There's something wrong here..."
I think exasperated thoughts.
"What's wrong? I just need a swab."
I am so close to reception that I can hear the other patients turning the pages of their magazines. She looks up -- intense eye contact. Her vocal projection, fit for the stage.
"You don't have a vagina."
I feel myself shrink. There's a terrible nanosecond in which I question the anatomy I've had since birth, then there is horror at my mind's susceptibility to authority, but then, eventually, somehow, there is clarity.
"I am a woman. I do have a vagina."
Total confusion. A very long silence (the pages in reception have stopped turning). She ushers me into a private room. Her back to me, I feel I'm handling this well. She spins on her heel, one hand already gloved, the other held high.
The second glove snaps against her skin as she flexes her fingers.
A look of anticipation creeps up her face. Time slows down. The smell of latex hovers in the air. I find myself looking for the exits. She, of course, is focusing entirely on my exits.
"But, but, but...But the doctor said I could do it myself."
Her fingers start to droop. She is crestfallen, and I'm left alone in the room. The latex gloves, despondent in the bin, appear unfulfilled.
I complete the swab. I get out of there.
And it is in the post adrenalin slump that my partner finds me on the bonnet of her hot little car, shedding hot little tears. We get home. She thinks I should complain. I just feel crippled by cringe. Less about me, please.
But the thought of a 16-year-old kid, who is neither Ken nor Barbie having the same experience convinces me. My partner made the phone call:
"It went ok; it was fun saying vagina so many times. They said you should write a letter."
I then write an overly polite letter of complaint, to which I still have no reply.
Half an hour goes past, and I pick up my phone. You have a new voicemail it says.
I still can't work out whether it's hilarious or horrendous. You decide.