Gender Bender

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Just call me Sheila.

At least, that’s how my client chose to introduce me to a packed room of senior-level execs a few months back.

See, once upon a time, this client contact was my boss. It was 2001 and I had just started working at PFPC in Westborough, which I completely feel comfortable in naming NOW that it has not only gone through a name-change but has also been completely acquired by another company (name withheld to protect the innocent – aka… ME!!!)

I came to work for her through a friend, who threw a lifeline when I found myself laid off from the only job I ever knew post-college. This buddy was moving on to a new role within the company and was charged with drafting his replacement. Well, it’s a damn good thing that the women he and I had dated had once upon a time shared an apartment. That put us in each other’s orbits every other weekend; even if he had a little too much intimate knowledge of my delicates. 😉

Around the holidays, our boss decided we needed to convene for a little Festivus. Seriously, that’s what she demanded we celebrate; probably in some non-secular way of getting around the no-Christmas Party policy the company had at the time. It was completely casual – come as you are – so we picked the nearest watering hole (which in those parts was The Outback) and all convened for some beer and Blooming Onion on a random Tuesday night.

I entered The Outback a bloke.

I exited a Sheila.

At some point, deep into the night, I decided the time was right to “break the seal”. Wandering away from our big round table; I headed to find the facilities only to be presented with a dilemma. Instead of the usual MEN and WOMEN signs – or even the tell tale silhouettes of a ‘dude in a suit’ or a ‘dame in a dress’ – I was greeted with fuzzy, gender neutral Kokopelli drawings with slight, imperceptible differences.

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I could have stood my ground and asked for directions but:

1.   I’M A MAN!!!

– and –

2.   The Pee Pee Dance beckoned

So one mental flip of the coin later and I headed left.

As I walked into the restroom, something seemed off. For starters, it was cavernous – rows and rows of stalls – easily the largest restaurant bathroom I’d ever been in. Also, it was completely vacant – which was surprising as the joint was pretty busy for a midweek night. There was something else that gnawed at conscious thought but for the moment I couldn’t put me finger on it.

As I reached the very end of the room, I realized exactly what I was missing in my search.

“Where are the urinals?”

Just as that thought gained strength in my head, the stall door directly in front of me – a mere 5 feet or so – opened… and a WOMAN (or SHEILA) exited. We exchanged deer in the headlights looks – each one wondering who would dash off into the proverbial woods first. As she started to utter “Oh my, am I in the wrong…” I had my own little Usual Suspects moment and began piecing together the signs. The Kokopelli was wearing a skirt NOT a kilt, the baskets of potpourri, the complete and total lack of urinal cakes…

I WAS IN THE LADIES ROOM!!!

With that, I uttered a half-hearted apology and pivoted on my heels – sprinting out of there lickety-split and hightailing it to the Bloke’s Room, where I planned to spend the rest of the night. I’d turn it into my own personal office – all Fonzie-like.

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At least, that would have been the plan had one of my co-workers not come in a moment later. As he entered the BLOKES room, he was in mid-chuckle.

“Man – those waitresses are PISSED!!! Some JERK just went into the ladies room.”

“That’s ME!”, I responded in horror. “I’m that JERK!!!” And suddenly, The Usual Suspects again… I’ve always been that JERK. 😉

So, I told him my whole sad story and dilemma to which he respond in the only way one guy knows to comfort another. His laugh started in my face and then knocked his ass clean off the entire walk back.

The second we got back to the table, he introduced me as Sheila and told some butchered version of events – one where I entered the ladies room and somehow ended up on the set of To Catch a Predator. And now, my current boss and future client had a story to tell. It’s a Festivus miracle.

Of course, this was just the beginning.

A week later, I found myself on a business trip to Milwaukee, WI to visit clients. On the return trip home – which came at the end of a marathon series of meetings – I decided to ditch the monkey suit and throw on some casual ware for the flight home. Once I cleared security, I made a beeline for the Men’s Room. My flight was in a half-hour and boarding was due to start within the next 5-10 minutes so I aimed for the quick change so I could get over to the boarding area before my row was announced.

As I walked into the Men’s Room (which was open air with no door), I was struck ONCE AGAIN by how empty it was – this being a pretty BUSY airport. I didn’t give it much thought though, diving into the first stall I found available so I could get changed and back out onto the concourse.

The second I dropped my drawers, a familiar sound crested the air.

The sweet, delightful song of WOMEN’S VOICES!!!

“OH NO – NOT AGAIN!!!”

Yup, somehow I had made my way into the Ladies Room in the middle of a bustling metropolitan airport post 9-11 with every possible security measure in full force – in a bid to completely change my identity.

And because it was an airport, that momentary bout of silence was the only bit of respite this room would enjoy all day. As every second ticked by, the din and laughter got louder out there until we approached Sex in the City decibels of hen squawking.

There was only one thing I could do.

RUN FOR IT!!!

So, I grabbed all of my stuff, lowered my head, threw the stall open and RAN FOR IT. As I exited, I could swear I heard a lovely, lilted “WHAT A JERK”. It was so feminine and demure – really quite endearing – if it wasn’t aimed squarely at little ol’ me.

While I had precious little time to get to my Gate, I didn’t want to draw attention to myself so I ended up taking a zig-zag route through the airport, going down an escalator then up another, through the food court then into a book store, stopping to peruse a magazine while sneaking peeks to see if I had been followed. Basically, every possible suspicious movement to draw nothing BUT attention to myself.

Somehow, I got away with my dignity intact and my manhood in question.

And the story should have ended there… and for a while it did… but a few months later, I found myself at a big, festive wedding for our good friends Chris and Melissa. It was a wonderful affair made most special by Open Bar so of course, the beer did floweth.

At one point, late in the night, Andi and I exited the dance floor and headed to the restrooms. On the way, some topic was struck and we found ourselves in mid-conversation as I happened to follow her right on into the Ladies Room.

AND WHAT A LADIES ROOM THIS WAS!!!

There was a little sitting area with plush leather seats where a few girls were sitting around reading magazines. Big, beautiful mirrors gilded in gold trim stood along the wall – each one hosting a wedding guest primping herself with the vast menagerie of free product compliments of the bride and groom. Tinkling piano music filled the air. Off in the corner, I swear I spied a trio of cartoon birds helping a bridesmaid with her dress.

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As I looked – my mouth agape – my feet fortunately getting the clue that my brain missed and slowly backing myself out – suddenly it hit me:

I AM SHEILA!!!