Ladies Seat – an attempt at non-binary comedy

This experience was more than a year ago.

I was on my way to college, sitting on the left side of the bus, the ever doomed “Ladies Seat”. Funny thing is, I've come to find this side of the bus most comfortable. Especially the third seat from the door. In most buses, it's always perfectly aligned with the windows, and does not have a raised platform beneath the foot for the tire, or a locker under it or under the seat in front of it that can stop the feet from a spacious movement. And it's a field day if I get a window seat in a more or less empty bus. That means I get to enjoy the windy ride without sweating or having to worry about getting sick while blasting my favourite song of the month in my earphones.

Unfortunately for me though, back when this event happened, I didn't look like someone who would occupy the “Ladies Seat”. I looked like someone who would occupy the General Seat. My hair was short, I had a mask on, the kurta I was wearing was very masculine and did not show enough of my bosom for the prying eyes regardless of gender.

Now let it be known, since then, I have grown out my hair and do in fact, at will, pass off as what is considered to be “Female”. I don't hate how I look. But I do hate the unneeded perception of me sometimes. But, I'm now less bothered to think about what the others are thinking of me. I can present however I want, whenever I want, whether it be fit for a Ladies Seat or General Seat or no seat at all. But a year ago, I was not so confident.

And so the time came when the bus stopped and a couple got up. I'm not one to make judgements but later I felt like they were probably not the kind of people to be aware of the existence and occurence of a gender spectrum on a daily basis. The husband, I assumed, thought of me as someone who should not be sitting at the Ladies Seat and, for the lack of a better word, was taking up space for his precious wife who was very much fit to be sitting in the Ladies Seat. She was wearing a burkha head to toe for all I care, but again, I'm not one to judge.

So ofcourse, the manly man of the relationship proceeded to ask me, “Bhaiya, Ladies Seat me kyun baithe ho? Apka jagah nahi hai, uthiye!” In a semi-rude and semi-protective tone. (*Translation: “Brother, why are you sitting on the Ladies Seat? Thats not your place, get up!”)

If I wasn't so busy wondering how to answer that question, I would've appreciated the camaraderie. After all, any husband in their right mind would not want their wife to sit on the Ladies Seat beside someone who should not definitely sit on the Ladies Seat, especially in this day and age. But ofcourse, that wasn't the case for me. I was taken aback, and I spent a good few seconds in my head processing his words and trying to come up with a good way to answer.

I quickly deducted that I had three options :

Option 1: I could tell him that I was a woman and that he should, respectfully, fuck off. But that would be a lie, and I'm not sure my dysmorphia was capable of handling it properly.

Option 2: I could get up and give his wonderful wife, who definitely deserves my seat, a place to sit. My introverted self was very happy with this idea, but my lazy ass was not having it. After all, it was my very own comfort seat, the perfect one in the whole bus. Why should I give it up so easily?

Option 3: I could speak up. I was not sure what I would say, but I felt that atleast if the husband heard my shrill voice scared by his masculinity, which very much did not resemble the voice of someone who sat on the General Seat, he would put two and two together and let me go and find another seat for his wife.

Mind you, this thought process went through my head in the flash of a second. So obviously, it wasn't nearly enough time for my survival instincts to work to it's fullest potential. Therefore, I ended up putting my mask down and revealing my face and staring him dead in the eye in confusion. It might have looked like I was challenging him or something but deep down I desperately hoped that my not-so-unsuitable-for-a-ladies-seat facial features could at least give him a hint to leave me alone, for I did not find my voice to speak. Thankfully, a lady behind me came to my rescue and hinted at my non-existant femininity to the husband, who then adjusted his eyes in seeking out my docile curves beyond the black Kurta I was wearing –which I bought from the male section at a mall– and quickly apologised. He even smiled, and then left with his wife to go towards the back of the bus.

Once he was gone, I put the mask back up to hide my own smile. If I was confident about my femininity, none of that would have made me smile. If I was confident in my masculinity, none of that would have made it difficult for me to communicate. But I am neither. I'm just a gender disaster, happy to be mistaken as someon who at first sight did not appear to be fit to sit on the Ladies Seat.