When a character, due to bad signs, gender ambiguity, a transgender status, disguising as a member of the opposite sex or some other issue, has no idea what bathroom, changing room or other gender-specific room is suitable for them. Potentially an extremely embarrassing or awkward situation.
This is, unfortunately, Truth in Television
: Many trans, intersex, and gender-ambiguous people face this problem as well.
Anime and Manga
- One of the half-breed cards in Munchkin depicts this dilemma with restrooms separated by species.
- It's Bigger On The Inside, a collection of spoof Doctor Who cartoons by Tim Quinn and Dicky Howlett (creators of "Doctor Who?" for Doctor Who Magazine) included one strip where a Cyberman walked past a door with the symbol for men and one with the symbol for women, before finding one with the same Cybermen symbol as the tombs in "Tomb of the Cybermen". It turned out to be a trap by the Doctor.
- The poster for Transamerica.
- In a scene from the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business, Harpo stands in front of a bathroom sign that apparently reads "men". A guy enters then gets thrown out. Then Harpo leaves and we see that he was obscuring the "Wo" in "Women".
- In the film Ladybugs, the main character Matthew is forced by his mom's boyfriend to join his soccer team for girls because he's good at sports. After the first game, Chester decides Matthew needs lessons in etiquette, so he drags Matthew into town in a dress and (convincing) wig. After a while, Matthew ends up desperate for the bathroom.
- Happens to Mater in Cars 2 when he has to go to the bathroom in Japan.
- In Seven Chances, Buster Keaton's character accidentally crashes the "Ladies day" at the Turkish bath because someone covered the sign at the entrance. Hilarity Ensues.
- In Barry Williams' book Growing Up Brady, he relates the following anecdote from a time he guest-starred on Mission: Impossible as a teenage king who was fleeing from assassins by dressing up as a girl.
It was uncomfortable - and only got tougher when, a couple of hours later, I desperately had to use the bathroom.
First, I had to decide which facility to use. At first I thought it might be wise to use the ladies's room, but when push came to shove I just couldn't go in. Finally, when my bladder threw up a white flag, I was forced to hike up my skirt, throw out my pride, and in my most macho posture, march into the men's room.
Naturally, Murphy's Law
was running rampant, and the men's room was packed, loaded with big, burly crew members. They looked at me first in surprise, then in disgust. Homophobic anger was rising in their eyes. I nervously muttered something at them like "How 'bout them Rams
With that, I flicked my long hair back and locked myself in a stall.
- In Andy Griffith's book Just Tricking, one of the short stories (Copy-Cat from Ballarat) is about Andy disguised as a girl at a school dance as part of some scheme to annoy his sister Jen. At one point he needs to use the restroom, and automatically goes to the men's room, but a teacher stops him and tells him to use the ladies' instead.
- A real life example is described in Barry Farber's book How to Learn Any Language, in which the author encounters two doors labelled "Nok" and "Ferfiak". Since he never studied Hungarian, it took some linguistic detective work to figure out which door to go through. Fortunately, he was able to use his knowledge of Chinese to figure it out.
- A book for little children about a talking moose attending school has the moose wondering which restroom to use.
- In Little Britain, "Emily" (Eddie) Howard, the friendly neighbourhood cross dresser, goes to a swimming pool. "She" stands outside the ladies changing room for about a direction, motioning that she is about to go in, however the clerk does not give in and eventually she reluctantly gives in and storms into the male changing rooms.
- In an episode of Rentaghost, one of the characters had reason to be loitering around the change rooms at a swiming pool. One of the attendants started looking at him stragely. He looked at the two signs and, being unsure of what to do and having been told to act like an 'innocent bystander', used his magical powers to create a third sign reading 'Innocent Bystanders' and headed off in that direction.
- Shows up in a parody PSA, with Trey Parker and Matt Stone portraying a pair of hermaphrodites, who are confused about which restroom to use, and find a sign labeled "Hermaphrodites" pointing to a nasty bucket.
- In a Pat sketch from Saturday Night Live, the man who has a crush on the gender-ambiguous Pat follows him/her/it around waiting for Pat to use a bathroom so he can find out what gender Pat is.
- This happens on The King of Queens; Doug uses the restroom in an unfamiliar restaurant, and the doors both have South-Pacific-type carvings of indeterminate sex, whose only difference is in their arm positions. Naturally his first guess is incorrect.
- One episode of The Benny Hill Show had Hill going into the wrong restroom after hitting his head and reading the sign as "Laddies".
- Another sketch had a woman wearing slacks go into the "pants" restroom, and a Man in a Kilt go into the "skirt" restroom.
- In the 2nd episode of the 1990's version of The Tomorrow People, Kevin disguises himself as Megabyte's little sister so he can use her passport to get into the United States. When he needs to go to the restroom at the airport, he first starts to go in to the men's restroom, but a man comes out just as he is about to go in. He turns and starts to go into the women's room, but the man's girlfriend/wife steps out. Once they've left, Kevin takes one last look around and quickly ducks into the women's restroom.
- Briefly shown in one The Rick Mercer Report's Heritage Moments. A man with a kilt tries to decipher the universal Men's Room and Women's Room bathroom signs. He guesses right.
- The point of the mock Christmas Carol "The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen" by The Bob Rivers Crew. A prankster switches the signs, and the hapless narrator ends up walking into the restroom to find two nuns, three old ladies, and a nurse, who mistake him for a pervert and beat him soundly for an honest mistake.
- The music video for Etienne de Crecy's "Am I Wrong" features a particularly bizarre version of this. The doors feature an unidentifiable object (a safety pin?) and a cow. The protagonist enters the cow room... and proceeds to Meet The Meat.
- One The Far Side strip had two outhouses with jellyfish symbols, and the caption saying, "Only they know the difference."
- One Private Eye cartoon, just after the Anglican Church started accepting female bishops, was a female bishop standing outside a set of toilet doors in confusion. Both of the signs were woman icons. Because bishops wear robes. And on the sign they'd look like dresses. Visual gag.
- An Insanity Streak strip had a human standing in alien bar and being completely baffled by the bizarre symbols on the restroom doors.
- Another example is a Scottish Man who was not sure whether the door sign represents gents or ladies, due to the skirt also being represented as a kilt.
- A The Muppets newspaper strip had the Great Gonzo pass doors saying "Men" and "Women" before finding one that said "Whatever".
- One VG Cats strip where the cats are (for once) cooperating, trying to figure out the gender of Slippy from Star Fox - by plying it with copious amounts of soft-drinks, and then watching the bathrooms to see which of them it enters. They are thwarted, however, when it ignores both and goes to pee in the break room.
- A running gag on And Shine Heaven Now is that the new member of Iscariot wants to know what bathroom the gender-ambiguous Heinkel uses. Finally answered in this strip.
- Invoked in Girls with Slingshots to prove that "Aaron" is actually Erin.
- Even restrooms labeled with initials can be confusing, as Wario discovers in this comic from GG-Guys. Waldo and Winnie-the-Pooh suffered the same fate.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal gives us this amusing variant.
- A male character (now female, long story) from the Whateley Universe accidentally entered a women's locker room to flee from a bully that was targeting him because he looked girly, among other reasons. While there, he strips down and the girls there are quick to point out how they wish they could look like him.
- Several Italian restaurants have their restroom signs, quite naturally, written in Italian. It's incredibly easy to misread the Italian word "uomini" as "women", but if you do that, your hovercraft will quickly be full of eels. Similarly, there are at least some places in Ireland with restroom signs labeled in Irish: "fir" and "mna". The former means men; the latter means women. Another example is Spanish-speaking countries, where restrooms may be labelled "M" and... "H". "M" stands for mujeres, meaning "women". "H" stands for hombres, or "men".
- As mentioned above, this is a real problem for transgender people. A woman who was born male, and still looks male, will want to go to the women's bathroom even though they "belong" in the men's; on the other hand, if they look like a woman, but haven't gotten gender reassignment surgery and go into the women's bathroom, things can get awkward if anyone spots them with their pants down. Things get even worse if people who only know them as one gender see them going into what they consider the wrong bathroom.
- In some states it's illegal for someone of the opposite biological sex to go into the other bathroom