When a character, due to bad signs, gender ambiguity, being transgender, 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 transgender, intersex, and gender-ambiguous people face this problem as well.
- Parodied on one of the This is SportsCenter commercials where Western Kentucky University's "Big Red" mascot is having trouble finding a restroom (due to there being none specifically designated for mascots). The solution is suggested by anchor Rich Eisen.
Rich: [on his way to the men's room] Why don't you go outside?
- In Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru, this is what gives Mizuho the most trouble about his 'transformation' into a girl. On his/her first day in school, he/she can't work up the courage to visit the ladies' room - and since it's an all-girl school, with only female teachers, there isn't even a men's room. He/she ends up holding it in 'till he/she gets back to the dorms, where he/she... bah! Where he can make a run for the 'private' bathroom... only for Takako, his instructor in all things feminine, to swiftly lambast him for leaving the seat up... (How he managed to pee standing up while wearing an ankle-length dress is best left to imagination.)
- A running gag with Hideyoshi in Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts.
[signs read "Boy's Changing Room", "Girl's Changing Room", and "Hideyoshi's Changing Room"]
Akishisa: So is "Hideyoshi" a new gender?
- Homura from Sekirei faces this problem twice in the OVA in the second season. Both times something happens that destroys the rooms, so the problem resolves itself.
- In Kokoro Connect, when the group is going through the "random body swap" phenomenon. Taichi is shown accidentally heading into the boys' room in Yui's body, startling a couple of guys who were in there. A few days into the phenomenon, Inaba asks who else has made that particular mistake, and every single one of the group raises their hands.
- Played with a bit in a Bungou Stray Dogs Wan! Chapter. The Black Lizard follow Q wanting to confirm his gender, and become excited when Q stops in front of single-sex bathrooms for a while. Q ultimately decides to go for the unisex one.
- In Dog Days, Cinque walks into the girl's bath because he can't read the native language. Later, he learns the language, but someone cleans the hall and accidentally switches the signs, so he walks into the girl's bath again.
- In the first episode of Minami-ke Okawari Makoto, a boy forced into masquerading as a girl, runs into this problem when the group visits a hotspring with separate changing rooms. Some, but not all, of the group know his real gender, so he's unsure whether to just use the men's changing room and risk revealing the ruse to those who are in the dark, or to try to get away with changing in the girls' room and be mistaken for a pervert by the people who know the truth already. He eventually decides to use the men's changing room, only to cause this trope to hit another character: one of the other boys enters the room and mistakenly assumes he walked into the girls' changing room by mistake. Before Makoto can correct him, said boy promptly leaves and goes into the actual girls' changing room.
- Trans kids Nitori and Takatsuki have this issue early into Wandering Son when they start going out as a girl and a boy respectively. They decide to go with the girl's room since Takatsuki is young enough to pass as a tomboy.
- One of the half-breed cards in Munchkin depicts this dilemma with restrooms separated by species.
- Sean Lock has a joke about the time he went to a theme pub called The Swan where the signs on the toilets said 'Pens' and 'Cobs', and how he didn't know enough about swan biology to know which he should use.
- Michael McIntyre once performed a routine about going to an Irish pub in which the bathrooms were labelled "Mná" and "Fir". Not knowing which was which, he chose Mná since "it has all the letters of 'man' in it". Only when a group of women walk in while he's still in the cubicle does he realize he's in the wrong bathroom.
Michael: To be fair, I should have just looked for the urinals.
- The Hessian comedy duo Badesalz have a sketch in which they are in Japan and in a Potty Emergency. There are public restrooms, but they're labeled in Japanese, and the two can't read it. They come up with plans ranging from simply waiting for someone to enter to trying to listen to the urine stream and deducing the right door from the height of its fall.
- 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) includes one strip where a Cyberman walks 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 turns out to be a trap by the Doctor.
- 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.
- Insanity Streak:
- A strip has 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 is 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 has the Great Gonzo pass doors saying "Men" and "Women" before finding one that says "Whatever".
- Happens to Mater in Cars 2 when he has to go to the bathroom in Japan. He tries the door on the left and a female scream is heard and he promptly speeds to the one on the right.
Mater: Sorry, ladies!
- 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".
- The same happens in Comedy/Otto — Der Außerfriesische: Otto needs to visit a public toilet. He sees a sign on the wall that reads, "MEN". He comments (in the German original), "It's a men's world," and goes through the door. What he didn't notice that the person standing seemingly next to the sign actually covered a part of it. It actually reads, "DAMEN" ("ladies" in German). Cue screaming 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.
- 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 Carry On Matron, career criminal's son Cyril Carter goes undercover in a hospital as a female nurse, but the elastic on his underwear breaks, and while he is able to borrow a safety pin from the receptionist to make the necessary repairs, he reflexively goes into the Gents' toilet, where the lecherous Dr Prodd finds him and takes an immediate fancy to him.
- In My Favorite Year, legendary actor Lyle Swann enters the ladies room because he's too drunk to tell the difference, not to mention too blasé about it to care.
Lil the Wardrobe Manager: This is for ladies only!
Lyle Swann: [unzipping his pants] So is this this, ma'am, but every once in a while I have to run a little water through it.
Lil: [shrugging as she walks out] Huh.
- Invoked in Manta — Der Film when one of the GTI guys exchanges the signs on the doors from the main hall to the shower rooms at a sports center so that he and his buddies can go in and peep on the showering girls.
- When Mrs. Doubtfire was going into a restaurant's restroom to change out of "her" disguise into Daniel Hillard, by force of habit "she" starts to step into the mens' room, just as Miranda and Natalie are coming out of the ladies' room. Miranda points out what Mrs. Doubtfire is about to do, to which she comes up with the excuse that she may need new glasses and thanks her.
- 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.
- Morris Goes to School is about a talking moose attending school. At one point Morris wonders which restroom to use.
- The early "Arthur" book Arthur's Eyes had a subversion; Arthur knows which restroom he needs, but when he figures he doesn't need glasses after being teased about them, he can't tell the two restrooms apart and attempts to go into the right one from memory. He doesn't succeed, and causes chaos when going into the girls' room.
When Arthur walked down the hall to the boys room he had to count the doors. He opened the door. Francine was talking. What was Francine doing in the boys room? Get out of here! screamed Francine. This is the girls room!
- In Little Britain, "Emily" (Eddie) Howard, the friendly neighborhood crossdresser, 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, Timothy had reason to be loitering around the change rooms at a swimming 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 of The Rick Mercer Report's Heritage Moments, which pays tribute to the large-scale debut of the international symbols for Men's and Women's Restrooms at the 1967 Expo in Montreal. A crowd of Expo attendees in various national costumes wander into and out of the restrooms... until a Scotsman in a kilt pauses in confusion over which bathroom to use. He guesses right.
- On Corner Gas, Lacey replaces the signs for the bathrooms shared by Corner Gas and the Ruby with ♂ and ♀ symbols in an effort to add a touch of class to the place. Of course, nobody but her knows which is which, and it starts a whole plot about the women being disgusted by the filthy men's room and the men discovering the Wondrous Ladies Room and getting angry that their own bathroom doesn't measure up.
- In one episode of How I Met Your Mother, Robin meets her father for dinner at a kitschy Italian restaurant where the bathrooms are labeled "Spaghettis" and "Meatballs." She picks the wrong one.
- An episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide has Cookie suffer from this. After he succeeds in getting Lisa tell him what she wants a guy to do for her, he's unsure which restroom he should go in to change back to normal.
- Inverted in an episode of Night Court: When a group of New Wave/Punk fans of a female rock star visit the court en masse following rumors of involvement between her and Harry, their attire is so freakish that Liznote and Selmanote start taking bets on which restroom one will enter when he/she approaches.
- Limmy's Show has a sketch where Limmy is flummoxed by two toilets marked only with landscape paintings. On the left, a flowery meadow scene with a blue frame—and on the right, crashing ocean waves in a pink frame. Limmy's internal monologue notes how the color-coding of each frame is completely at odds with the relative masculinity or femininity of the scene it encloses. What tips the balance for Limmy is the presence of a bumblebee in the flower painting—since the pollen-gathering bees in a hive are always female, that must be a clue that it's the door for the female toilet! Proud of himself for solving the riddle, Limmy walks through the other door—and immediately retreats, while a woman berates him for entering the wrong toilet. "I mean, look, the frame's pink!"
- 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.
- In WarioWare: Smooth Moves, one of the challenges has you playing as a worker at a beach who must guide panicking patrons into the proper public restrooms. Apparently, they all need to go so bad, they can't focus on the restroom signs, only at you.
- 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.
- 5 Color Control pokes fun at Ashiok's Ambiguous Gender in this strip by having Ashiok puzzle over which restroom to use.
- Wondermark Has this strip in which the first bathroom (presumably) has women in it, and bears in the second one.
- A male character (now female, long story) from the Whateley Universe accidentally enters a women's locker room to flee from a bully that is targeting him because he looks 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.
- This Website/Collegehumor skit.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: When SpongeBob and Patrick get lost in the bizarre town of Rock Bottom, they can't read the signs over the bathroom doors since they're written in a strange language, so they wait for someone to walk in or out of one of them so they can tell by context. Cue gender confusion.
- A subversion: in The Simpsons, Lenny goes to a '50s theme bar and the toilets are "Cool Cats" and "Squares". He goes into one, women scream, he goes into the other, same thing. He is confused.
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Billy jumps into Mandy's body and takes over her life. In one scene, Billy goes into the men's room but is then promptly kicked out. He then went into the ladies' room but ran quickly out. He then just stood outside both bathrooms refusing to go into either one.
- In a report on SheZow´s SheSP, this is used as a example of an embarrassing situation. Guy (as SheZow) goes into the women's bathroom... only to change back to Guy right after he walks inside. We see him walk out from the opposite gender's bathroom and into the men's room immediately afterwards.
Guy: I hate it when that happens.
- In an episode of What's with Andy?, Andy is dressed up in drag at a dance to annoy Jen. He enters the boys' bathroom, but is kicked out, so he has to (reluctantly) go into the girls' bathroom.
- In Voltron: Legendary Defender in the Space Mall, Pidge come across a bathroom but as the sign is written in an alien language and the people going in and out are aliens without clearly defined genders she decides to hold it. Hunk seems to momentarily have the same dilemma when looking for a hiding spot. However Keith does not seem to have had any problems as he comes out of one side quite casually.
- In a season 2 episode of Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, while in the body of the ruler of Oceanaquaripolis again, Penn has to pick a bathroom. He enters the door on the right side and gets a male scream. Then he goes into the door on the left side and get a huge group of female screams. The next scene after this is Sashi explaining the latest mission for Penn's group.
- Arthur: Besides including the incident from Arthur's Eyes when the book was adapted into an episode for the show (see Literature), another episode, "D.W. the Copycat," had D.W. dressing like and copying everything Arthur was doing, and at one point when Arthur goes into the boys' room at the public library, D.W. decides to follow him in. Cue the boys screaming.
- 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. And not every pub or bar in Welsh-speaking areas can be counted upon to have English signage on the toilet doors as well as Welsh. There's a Welsh-language pub in Wrexham, less than ten miles from England, which does this. 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".
- Even when the signs are language independent, many symbols are unique to particular countries or groups of countries. In Poland for example the symbol for the toilets are triangles and circles for men and women respectively, rather than the representative figures ubiquitous in Western Europe. Can be very confusing if you're not expecting it, assuming you can even find the toilets in the first place.
- As mentioned above, this is a real problem for transgender people. For example, a trans woman who looks malenote , will likely experience dysphoria upon being made to go in the men's; on the other hand, if she look like a woman, but hasnt gotten gender reassignment surgery and go into the women's bathroom, things can get awkward (or dangerous) if anyone suspects that shes trans. Things get even worse if people who only know her as one gender see her going into what they consider the wrong bathroom - similar can be said for trans men, and non-binary people dont even have a specified bathroom! It's no wonder, then, that it's not uncommon for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to hold it until they get home, regardless of how long they're out the house for, suffering health problems as a result.
- In some states it's illegal for someone of the opposite biological sex to go into the other bathroom, with most of the conservative arguing points very unashamedly claiming that trans women are just perverts, despite how incorrect an assumption it is. Already there are stories of this kind of bathroom policing causing both innocent transgender and gender non-conforming cisgender (not trans) people to be thrown out of bathrooms by security.
- And then there are gendered restrooms that are single-occupancy. There is a fair bit of legal red tape behind this in many countries, but it's still a headache for many trans people since apparently, a trans person using the "incorrect" bathroom is still dangerous in this case even though it's just going to be them in the entire bathroom.
- Some establishments try to circumvent the issue by designating bathrooms where either gender can use it.
- D.C. Douglas accidentally walked into the women's bathroom at a con once (apparently the signs and layout were misleading enough that several others did the same). He made a video making fun of himself for doing this, which became a case of Less Disturbing in Context when people heard he'd been taking videos in the women's bathroom. (He now sometimes films himself talking to the camera in gender-neutral bathrooms to make fun of the whole thing.)