Connecticut woman mistaken for transgender and harassed in Walmart bathroom
Aimee Toms was washing her hands in the women’s bathroom at Walmart in Danbury Friday when a stranger approached her and said, “You’re disgusting!” and “You don’t belong here!”
After momentary confusion, she realized that the woman next to her thought - because of her pixie-style haircut and baseball cap - that she was transgender.
Toms believes the incident happened because of the national controversy sparked by a law that was passed in North Carolina attempting to force transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they were identified as at birth. Since then, religious conservatives have launched a boycott of Walmart competitor Target, which has said transgender people are welcome to use its bathrooms freely. Nationally, Walmart has been silent on the issue.
Toms, a 22-year-old from Naugatuck who works at a retail store in the Bethel-Danbury retail area around Walmart, posted a video “rant” about her experience on Facebook Friday that had been viewed more than 12,000 times by Sunday evening.
“After experiencing the discrimination they face firsthand, I cannot fathom the discrimination transgender people must face in a lifetime,” she said. “Can you imagine going out every day and having people tell you you should not be who you are or that people will not accept you as who you are?”
Toms said on Sunday that she isn’t embarrassed talking about someone mistaking her for male, just upset that the North Carolina law has emboldened people like the woman she encountered.
“I think this is all just a response. No one was telling these people to be scared of transgender people before. No one was telling them that they should be throwing people out of bathrooms,” Toms said. “As if it wasn’t scary enough for transgender people to use the bathroom before.”
Besides being a pretty normal choice of style for women, Toms’ has a short haircut because she recently donated hair - for the third time - to a program that makes wigs for child cancer patients.
“I’ve had people call me all sorts of names for having short hair. I’ve had people call me a boy, I’ve had people call me a dyke, I’ve had people call me gay.” Toms said. “I’m grateful that that woman only called me disgusting and didn’t physically attack me … I was a victim of transphobia today as a cisgender female because my hair is short.”
Toms said she was supportive of transgender rights before Friday’s Walmart experience. She is close friends with several transgender people, including someone she went to high school with who went from prom queen to identifying as a male.
She thought her video would be seen only by friends and family, and was surprised to soon be getting messages of support from people “all across the country.”
Toms’ video has gone viral in part because of her blunt retelling of the incident and articulate plea for better treatment of transgender people.
“I saw it, and it happened, and i thought to myself, ‘this is unbelievable.’ She said, ‘you are not supposed to be here. You need to leave.’ She flipped me off. She said, ‘you’re disgusting,’ and she storms out,” Toms explains in the video. “She thought I was someone who was transgender. She thought I was a dude who was hiding in the women’s bathroom.”
Toms explains that she was wearing a baseball cap at the time, and she models it on the video. (“I look adorable in a baseball cap!”)
“I get it. The short hair. The baseball cap. I was wearing a plain blue T-shirt. She saw me from the back,” Toms said. But “... at the sake of sounding blunt, I’m not a flat-chested person. I have got something going on up here.”
Jill Marie Hackett, of Bethel, a friend of Toms’, said she did “a very good job with articulating with how she feels about discrimination toward (transgender) people and how this whole madness regarding public restrooms is already turning hostile toward the very women it ‘seeks to protect.’”
Hackett said she was troubled that it happened in her hometown.
Toms said it was just an example of “how amazingly ridiculous how this is becoming as an issue.”
She cited an incident in Texas recently in which a man followed a woman into the woman’s bathroom because he thought she looked like a man and he wanted to protect the women. Like Toms, he had seen a cisgender woman with short hair wearing casual, not particularly girly clothing.
She said what happened to her just reinforces how difficult it is to make judgments about a person, and how pointless considering the “complete” lack of documented incidents of transgender people lurking in bathrooms and assaulting people. In fact, Toms said, transgender people are far more likely to be victims of an assault in a bathroom.
“You’ve probably used the bathroom with someone who’s transgender before,” she said. “These people literally affect their life in no way, shape or form.”
Toms said that she didn’t speak to the Danbury Walmart’s management about the issue, because she lost track of where the woman went after the incident and figured all they’d be able to do is to ask her to be better-mannered. There were no other witnesses to the incident.
Since passage of the North Carolina bathroom law, the Obama administration has threatened to withhold some federal funds from the state, and has issued a separate decree requiring public schools across the country to respect transgender people’s right to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. It’s been met with pushback in some parts of the country,but not Connecticut, which has had a law on the books for several years that protects transgender rights.