Issue 5 / Nonfiction

Nonfiction by Rae Theodore

The Invisible Woman

“Mama, there’s a man in here.”

The high-pitched voice pierces the metal door of the bathroom stall in the women’s restroom where I am holed up like Superman in his Fortress of Solitude.

If I turn my head just the right way, I can see through the long vertical slit in the door. It is my own version of X-ray vision.

“Mama, there’s a man in here.”

She is three years old, maybe four, with a head of blonde curls and perfect enunciation.

Just my luck. Eliza Fucking Doolittle.

“Mama, there’s a man in here.”

Her voice is tiny as if it has been squashed by a stack of reference books, but it grows in size like a sponge in water as it echoes off the hard tile walls and floor in the enclosed space.

I feel like a peeping Tom as I watch the other women washing their hands at the long shiny sink and staring at the mirror as they style their hair with their fingers and reapply their red lipstick.

It’s like I’m watching a movie. A movie that I snuck in past the ticket taker to see.

In a way I belong here, but in a way not.

Pah-pah. Pah-pah.

That’s the sound their freshly painted lips make when they blot them together.

Pah-pah. Pah-pah.

It makes me think of muffled gunfire.

Pah-pah. Pah-pah.

The women don’t seem to hear the little girl’s voice over the running water and the random blast from the electric hand dryer.

“Mama, there’s a man in here.”

She is lying on a changing table that flips down from the wall of the women’s restroom. She is wiggling around on the padded changing table and kicking like a cricket as her mother tries to change her diaper.

I have declared her my arch enemy.

Of course, it was never a fair fight.

She had the advantage all along.

Dressed in pink from head to toe and fed on rhymes about snips and snails and puppy dog tails and Little Boy Blue who lost his shoe.

“Mama, there’s a man in here.”

“Of course there’s not,” the mother finally replies.

In a sing-song voice, she denies the little girl’s reports of a man sighting in the women’s room.

To pass the time, I sit in the stall and think of appropriate retorts.

Aren’t you too old for diapers?

Shouldn’t you be wearing big-girl underwear?

She must have telepathically intercepted my thoughts because she amps up her attack.

“Mama, Daddy’s in here.”

The mother seems to be as shocked as I am.

“No, he’s not.”


I am not your daddy, little girl.

“Mama, Daddy’s in here.”

I sit in the stall waiting for the mother to finish diapering her daughter. The angry comments that I had braced for as I entered the restroom and fast walked into the first available stall play in my head.

Hey! This is the ladies room!


Can’t you read!

You don’t belong here!

Get out!

I use all of my superpowers to quiet the imaginary voices. I use all of my superpowers to pretend I am invisible.

I wait until the little girl is diapered and leaves the ladies’ room with her mother. I wait a little longer. And then a little longer after that.

When I finally open the door to the stall, I try to act casual. I walk to the sink and wash my hands. I shake them off and then dry them under the electric hand dryer.

The noise from the machine is loud. It sounds like a radio tuned between stations. It sounds like a revved Ferrari engine.

I can’t hear anything over the noise.

I want to stay here in this quiet place, but it is too dangerous.

When the dryer stops, I walk to the door of the restroom and slip out into the lobby like the Invisible Woman.



Rae Theodore is the author of Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender, a memoir that takes a hard, humorous, and sometimes heartbreaking look at living outside the gender margins without a rulebook. The message of the book? Be your own superhero. In addition to believing in superheroes, Rae believes in the power of story — the stories we tell ourselves and those we share with others. Through workshops and speaking engagements, she teaches participants how to use story as a tool to create positive change (change your story, change your life) and to realize that people are more alike than different despite actual and perceived differences. You can read about her adventures in gender nonconformity at She lives in Royersford, Pennsylvania, with her wife, three children, and three cats. Selected by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo.

Image © Keoni Cabral via Flickr Creative Commons.