8 Times When Strangers Misread My Gender, Ranked

Feature image by mikroman6 via Getty Images
When it comes to gender, I opt out. What am I? I don’t know, nor do I care. But other people care — a lot.

No matter which word(s) I’ve used to describe my gender in the past, one thing has remained consistent throughout my adulthood: I’m a masculine-presenting person. I’m not a towering beefcake with a gravelly voice, although that sounds like a fun body to live in. I’m more like a boyish dirtbag. Picture Peter Pan in jeans and a hoodie or a young Leo DiCaprio with a buzzcut. That’s me, whatever I am, until I enter my Silver Fox Era, and sometimes moving through the world in this way can be awkward.

In about half of my interactions with new people, I’m read as a 30-something butch dyke (accurate). The other half of the time, I’m read as a man — well, more like a “young man,” and I get it. When strangers assume I’m teenage cis boy, I’m never offended — because, buds, I can see myself! I’m 5’2″ with a hint of upper lip peach fuzz. I don’t have much going on in the “womanly curves” department. I wear men’s (or, more often, “big boys”) clothing. If I saw me on the street, I might think I’m a teen boy, too.

Sure, there are times when confusion around my gender and age has led to situations that are scary or just inconvenient. Other times, it’s funny as hell, and that’s why I tell great stories at parties. But I’m not going to parties these days, what with this unremitting global pandemic, so please allow me to regale you on the world wide web. Here are eight hilarious times when strangers misread my gender, ranked.

8. “Did you know this is the women’s locker room?”

I hear this one all the time in gender specific spaces, and at this point, it’s almost too boring to include here — but I must say, I love when people frame their gender policing as a question, because what do they expect me to say in response? My goodness, I must have missed the sign on the locker room door (you know, the one that says, “WOMEN” in big, bold letters), and I had NO IDEA that there have been WOMEN (gasp) UNDRESSING (gasp) all around me for the past several minutes!

7. “Aw! Are you getting these tampons for your sister or for your girlfriend?”

A Walgreens cashier thought it was so, so sweet that I was buying tampons for someone else. She looked pretty shocked when I said, “They’re for me.”


Sometimes the response to my assumed gender is just a straight-up scream, and honestly, I respect the efficiency. This has happened a number of times — most notably, in the women’s bathroom at two different wedding receptions. I guess most straight cis women don’t expect to see a suit-clad studmuffin in the powder room. I’ve since learned to use the men’s facilities any time I’m in formalwear.

5. “Are you brothers?”

When I was in my early twenties, strangers would often ask if my trans guy friend and I were brothers, even though we look nothing alike. Straight, cis folks seemed to recognize a similarity between us, but instead of thinking, “Ah, yes — two masculine-presenting queer people with a shared lived experience,” they’d think, “Ah, yes, of course — SIBLINGS!” Once we were riding the bus and a passenger started giving us dirty looks (maybe she was bothered by our political buttons, or maybe she just hated our hairstyles). “Are you brothers?” she asked. We both said “yes” and immediately kissed on the mouth.

4. That time Fred Phelps himself told me to “turn away from men.”

When I was an undergrad, the Westboro Baptist Church protested at my university for some unknown reason. I attended the university’s counter-protest  and when I got up close to the haters, Fred Phelps himself decided to point at me and yell about my “lifestyle”…but he didn’t quite get it right. Yep, Fred Phelps thought I was a gay man (and, yep, he used some choice slurs, too). No problem, Fred (may you rest in misery). I’ll be sure to have lots of sex with women, as your god intended.

3. “Young man, what’s strapped to your chest?”

You knew I’d have a tale involving the TSA, didn’t you? I was going through airport security while wearing a sleeveless shirt. I guess part of my sports bra was showing. That’s when a TSA agent stopped me, demanding to know what was “strapped to my chest.” “My boobs,” I replied.

2. Any time I’m assumed to be my partner’s son.

Before you think, “Your partner must look much older than you and that’s why this happens,” you would be incorrect, because strangers have assumed I am the son of at least THREE DIFFERENT PARTNERS over the course of ten years. Here are just two examples of times when this has happened:

a) My former partner and I were applying for an apartment. The property manager looked at my partner and said, “So just you and your son will be living here?” Boy, was he surprised when he learned I had a full-time job.

b) Two years ago, a man in an elevator looked at my girlfriend, gestured at me, and asked, “How old is he?” I said, “I’m 30.”


Allow me to provide some context. Last year I was biking down a busy street when an old man sitting at a bus stop rose from the bench, pointed at me, and shouted, “LIL’ BOY, I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA!” with his whole entire chest. I’m going to assume best intentions here, because he really didn’t seem angry or hateful — he was making an observation that he wanted to share with the neighborhood. At the time, I was wearing an oversized hoodie and loose-fitting athletic pants, so I doubt he was actually able to identify my genitals. I think this was his way of saying, “That person looks like a little cis boy, but they are not a little cis boy!” And, yes, my guy, that is 100% correct, so maybe he didn’t “misread” my gender after all — although he could have chosen his words more carefully.

Do you have a hilarious tale about a time when you genderfucked a little too close to the sun? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Ro White

Ro White is a Chicago-based writer and sex educator. Follow Ro on Twitter.

Ro has written 105 articles for us.


  1. my fave was going to a concert when I was like 17 in black jeans, DMs and an oversize leather jacket. The bouncer was sorting people into lines based on gender for the security pat down. So he was saying ‘left line… right line… right line… left line’, got to me and after 10 seconds of panic in his face just said ‘i don’t know what to say’. I had to sort myself into the she/her queue. better than them assuming I guess!

    • This is great 😂 and for some reason this is what I would imagine happening if the Harry Potter sorting hat had to also sort people by gender..it reminds me of that exact scene in Harry Potter when the sorting hat struggled to put Harry in either Slytherin or Gryffindor (also yes I know we’re not for JK Rowling here, but my brain couldn’t help but to make that connection)

  2. When I first started working as an EMT roughly every older patent I had called me some variation of ‘boy’ or ‘son’ with some highlights included “oh, I think we’ve met before, sir!” (We had not) as “aren’t you a little young to be doing this job, son?” (no)

    • Oh no!!! I’ve gotten that one before at a previous job. Those people must be shocked when they wrongfully assume that a teenager has come to assist with their medical emergency!

  3. One time I was walking down the sidewalk minding my own business and someone yelled at me “Are you a boy or a girl?”. I said nothing, just raised an eyebrow and kept walking.

    I have no idea why this person felt entitled to an explanation of my gender. SMH

  4. my fave is when kids asked me and i’d shrug with a conspiratorial smile :D

    now no one asks cuz i’m afab and 1) i am not gonna go undergo surgery just for what should be my right to wear the same outfit in public of swim trunks as other humans and 2) i regrew my hair out bc i like how it feels, it’s very soothing to me. so now everyone except ppl close to me always misread me and i’m just too tired to care. my nibling did say i’m a big boy tho!!!

    • Kids are so great about stuff like this! When kids ask me if I’m a boy or a girl, I usually say something like, “I’m a little bit of both,” and most of the time, kids just say, “Ok!” If only adults could be that accepting, too.

  5. Exited the half price books in Berkeley with my partner and a drunk guy yelled (not aggressively, but very enthusiastically) “hey, are you guys theys??” Bay Area Moment.

  6. One time an enraged motorist got out of his car at a red light and approached me in my car while yelling a bunch of shit at me. I was presenting pretty “dirt bag boy” as well but my voice was and is consistently really high and feminine. I yelled something back at this guy and he kind of just froze, looked really confused, and started backing away slowly. I’m not sure if this was actually a gender misreading or if he just wasn’t expecting the object of his abuse to fight back but either way it was pretty funny.

  7. This whole article and ensuing comments are great (Number 4 and 5 made me cackle) but Ro, I can’t believe you’re 5’ 2”. You look tall in your headshot which I know is a nonsensical statement but I stand by it!

  8. As I was walking up to the restroom at an airport, the cleaning person was coming out with their cart of supplies. They rolled the cart in front of me to block the doorway and said “This is the women’s restroom, you can’t go in there.” When I responded with yes I know. They got flustered and kept saying ma’am I’m sorry, while still blocking the doorway. My skinny ass squeezed around the cart and left them confused in the doorway.

  9. context: i am over 6 ft tall, have been on testosterone enough my voice is the equivalent of a 16 year-old cis boy, i work as a librarian which means i help many older people in person/over the phone, my preferred dress is often delicate little cardigans and high waist / often cropped pants

    my name is jess, which itself can get gendered in any direction, but older patrons refuse to hear “jess,” and instead only hear “jeff,” and he/him me exclusively. patrons who decide my name is jeff over the phone often subsequently come speak with me in person, and to my great amusement, refuse to see me as anything other than he/him/jeff, no matter how tiny the cardigan or how tight the pants.

    one regular patron in particular has started making confused comments when i wear particularly feminine clothing, asking (seemingly out of genuine curiosity) what type of statement i am trying to make with my clothing.

    occasionally staff from other locations will sub at the branch i work at and similarly decide i am a he/him. this means for however long the sub is at my location, various staff will use different pronouns for me, often in the same conversation. no one has seemed to notice, and i have been at this branch for nearly a year

    i must look like quite the fashion-forward cis guy? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  10. Loved this article! It’s a fact that these situations are often equal parts funny & disturbing. It is pretty sad how some people are just so uptight about other folks gender presentation. Why should it be their business to police how we choose to look? I’m not in the habit of approaching strangers to inquire about their gender, body parts, etc.
    I’ve experienced various scenarios, some funny & (almost) sweet, others just weird & unpleasant.
    I was recently discussing this issue with a fellow trans masc friend, where I mentioned “the look” that you get off some people as a gender nonconforming person, & he laughed wryly in recognition. It’s a very blatant sort of look up & down, usually followed by a dirty look. Like you are utterly disgusting to behold.
    I am in my late 40s, & presenting as masc I look like a boyish gay man. The worlds oldest twink, I like to think. My look ranges from what I’d describe as “arty smart casual” to “minimal goth formal” & “Victorian Dandy”. So, a lot of velvet jackets, suits, black jeans, chunky shoes & boots. Occasionally, shorts & short sleeved button down shirts in summer, with black Vans sneakers. I’m 5 feet 7, thin, & have an angular, masculine sort of face & a bleached blonde undercut hairstyle.
    One of the funny situations was when I was out for a walk in my local neighbourhood & an elderly man stopped & complemented me on my outfit, saying something like “nice to see a well – dressed young man”, to which I replied “thanks” in my not particularly high or low voice, which then had him saying “oh, it’s a lady!” in a slightly astonished tone.
    My reply was something like “No it’s not”.
    One of the weirdest times was when I was walking home from my local pub, down a narrow, not very well – lit pathway. A bunch of young guys were walking up the other way, towards the pub, & on seeing me, I got peppered with a bunch of remarks that I mostly, thankfully, didn’t hear …except the one about “Joe Dirt”. Now, I haven’t seen that movie, but I know what the main character looks like. Not at all like me! I don’t have a moustache or a mullet haircut…& I sure don’t dress like him either. It was a real WTF moment, that’s for certain. Maybe it was just the easiest “insult” they could think of? Still baffled by it. No, I did not reply to their taunts, just kept looking straight ahead & walking quickly away.
    Otherwise, I get my share of “sirs”, dirty looks, confused looks, & sometimes, really lovely compliments on my clothes. Just another day in the life of a queer…
    By the way, Ro, I loved your description of being a “suit clad studmuffin” – sounds adorable! And as for the comment made by the old guy at the bus stop – yes, mister, some boys DO have vaginas!

  11. I got a sleeve tattoo just to finally set my minimum on-sight age as at least 18, but before that I was getting carded:

    – in rideshares,
    – every place that serves alcohol regardless of whether I ordered alcohol,
    – at the dentist, who thought I was too young to sign my own paperwork. My paperwork had my birthday on it. Happened at two separate dentists offices, one of whom was my CHILDHOOD DENTIST and had been seeing me for over a decade! Did at least get some sick free stickers out of it,
    – theme parks, all of them,
    – by door-to-door solicitors who needed to speak to an adult in the household,
    – and once had a flight attendant ask the random middle-aged woman next me what my drink order was.

    I am very lucky I have never been reported as someone’s lost child, but even post-tattoo it’s been a near thing.

  12. My favorite is when we’re at a store and my wife, who is black, is misgendered and mistaken for an employee. Which is baffling for a few reasons, including her giant boobs. And that she is never wearing the same color shirt as the employers…

  13. • I was walking with a feminine friend and mistaken as her mother when I was 26 and she was 19
    • When seeing me with my non-binary partner, my neighbor asked me: “Is this your mother, brother or boyfriend?” (I am 37 and my partner is 29)
    • A child recently said to another: “I walked in front of the man” (which was me) – made me happy :)
    • A small bookstore staff person said to me: “Your (male) roommate was here yesterday and asked for this book, no?” and I replied: “That was me” – made me happy to be read as a guy :)
    • A child read me as a guy, saying something to the mom, and then then the mom replied: “A woman doesn’t have to have long hair and can also look like this” – she meant to challenge a stereotype, but butch is my gender, so… (Mostly I say I’m non-binary though which is easier to understand for people)

    Ro, thank you so much for this article! I always enjoy your writing and am happy about a new or new-found post by you!

  14. Late to the party, but in undergrad I coached a middle school robotics team and at one competition my assistant coach and I were mistaken for members of the team. We had brought our students into a room to present their work and sat in the chairs reserved for coaches at the back of the room while they did their thing. I guess that wearing the same school colors as the students at the front, combined with being relatively short and sporting masculine haircuts and clothes, led one of the judges to conclude that we were, in fact, 6th grade boys because she asked at the end of the presentation “do the two quiet gentlemen at the back have something to say?” I just responded with “we’re the coaches,” and I think that a parent of one of the students who was also judging explained to her who we were, but it was definitely an awkward moment.

  15. My favourite was the time i got on the bus, and there was some kinda problem w the turnstile? it’s been ages so details are vague, but iirc they had to let us through and pay later. so anyway the fare collector’s talking to the bus driver and says something about me, using he, and the driver goes haah i thought that was a girl?? and the two of them just start debating my gender, like fully within earshot of me, but can’t come to any solid conclusion
    neither of them thought to ask
    my nonbinary ass was laughing to tears the entire time

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