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Yesterday, I arrived at Café Saint-Ex, a self-described “charming restaurant and lounge.” After waiting at the bar with my male companion, the host seated us and informed us that our waiter would be by shortly. The waiter approached from behind. “Hey guys,” he said, wheeling around to face us. “Oh, God, uhh, wrong choice of words,” the waiter said, nervously darting his eyes at my face. “I saw the short hair and—-I just assumed,” he continued. He apologized, asked for our drink order, and took leave of us.

It wasn’t the first time a stranger had confused me for a dude—-the short hair, etc.—-and I’m not often unsettled by a slip-up. In this case, however, the sheer awkwardness of the encounter was stunning: The waiter, after mistaking me for a man, had apologized for referring to us with an entirely gender-neutral greeting. When he returned to read off the daily specials, we both stared at him with open jaws.

“What the fuck?” we asked each other, when the waiter had left again. Was he so freaked out by mistaking my gender that he couldn’t even use a gender-neutral term to describe me? And why did it feel so fucking weird? The waiter studiously avoided us for the rest of the meal, only dropping by our table when necessary. But we couldn’t shake the encounter.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” I said, at one point.

“Which one?” my companion asked.

At the end of the meal, we split the check. The waiter took care to lay out the receipts according to our genders, returning the female credit card to me, and the male credit card to the man. But I won’t soon forget what he had said after our initial encounter. In a sweep of the room, he noticed our glasses were half-empty: “I’ll get you guys some more water,” he told us.

What the fuck?

Photo by Daquella manera