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tyranny of the Offended (revisited)

December 11, 2006

so we went down to the old post office in washingtonDC this past weekend where theCANDLELIGHTERS were holding an event in honor of kids with cancer and their families. normally they get the whole place, but someone with deeper pockets rented the main room and we were scrunched into a back corner of the mezzanine.

additionally, there were only 2 sets of bathrooms available, and the men’s room of the closest pair was flooded :: toilets backed up and a good beginners-surf going on across the floor – the works.

so rather than contribute to the problem, (having just consumed several cans of soda i actually put some thought into the matter) i went in search of another bathroom.

i found one tucked away on the plaza level . . . blocked with one of those folding yellow ‘wet floor’ signs.

it didn’t matter. at this point i was going to go somewhere, so i stepped over the sign and went in to see how bad the damage was.

to my relief, it was just a janitor cleaning up. black fellow, medium build, close cropped hair, mid-thirites, in a non-descript navy blue jumpsuit. he was cleaning the stalls in the back, but there was one urinal up front by the sinks. yes, right by the sinks. sink, sink, sink, stool. welcome to our nation’s capital, right?

so the janitor never said boo, never even turned around. and i, in true american fashion, ignored him.

until i flushed.

at that point, as i am zipping up, i heard a gravelly bass voice behind me indignantly proclaim (emphasizing each and every sylable), “I – AM – A – FE – MALE!”

i turned to the janitor (who was apparently–or not so apparently–a woman) and the first words to tumble from my lips were, “ma’am, nobody would ever know it to look at you.” i didn’t mean to let it slip out, but if she didn’t start this life as a male then she saw some really hard times that probablly involved a cheese grater and a very bad man.

the devil himself wouldn’t have used her head for a kick ball.

of course, as you may have already divined, my comment did not go over well.

“didn’t you see the sign?” she howled


“it says out of service!” she insisted angrily, repeating what was to become her mantra in this conversation, “I AM A FEMALE”

i tried a new tack. “ma’am, i am far too small for you to have seen anything at that distance.” (in point of fact, my back was to her–and since she said not a word until i flushed, i assume hers was also to me–the entire time).

“I AM A FEMALE” she insisted again, and again enquired as to whether i could read or see bright yellow signs.

rather than insisting on proof of her gender (at six paces i still couldn’t tell), i checked out the rest of her story. the sign did indeed say *out of service* (not out loud, of course, but it was clearly printed in big black letters on both sides). i hadn’t read it. it wouldn’t have stopped me going in if i had.

her tirade continued as i washed my hands and left her with a (surely annoying) “merry christmas, ma’am”

now let me say first that if i had had any idea she was a female i would have at the very least asked her pardon, asked her to step out, something. but i was definitely not leaving without peeing.

my peeve in all this is that she made such a huge deal about it.

a couple months ago on a forum i frequent, someone brought up the topic of the ‘tyranny of the Offended’ – the phenomena wherein some person or group decides that something other people are doing is not to be tollerated and they go on a crusade to abolish it and/or shame the parties involved for their crass and crude and whatever behavior.

now, personally, if i was a janitor, i would have chalked the event up to *professional hazard* and gone on with my life.

given the way the line tends to stack up at the ladies’ room in any well-attended public place, i have on more than one occasion encountered a woman who, being unable to continue holding back the flow, invaded the men’s room and used the facilities. i have never seen a man presented with that situation react in anything but a sympathetic way (sometimes, with overtones of not-so-subtle lechery, but never with indignation or outrage).

i do not understand the mindset that makes of a non-issue something so glaringly personal. and for all i undermined my cause by replying to her initial surprise in a well known dialect of ancient assholian, by the time it was over i had no doubt that the entire encounter would have gone badly no matter how i had responded.

i dunno. maybe if i was a woman i would feel differently. as things stand, however, i just can’t see it.

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