‘I was frozen to the spot in shock… it was said to intimidate’: How a friendly chat in the ladies of a London pub turned menacing and plunged a Tory councillor, 22, into the clash between trans rights and women’s safety
These days I don’t feel safe going to the ladies’ loo alone.
That’s a statement I never thought I’d make. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I’m neither shy nor fearful, but after my experience at a Westminster pub earlier this month, that’s how I feel.
Frequented predominantly by civil servants, the Marquis of Granby is near where I work but it could just as easily have been any pub in the country.
It was a Wednesday night and I was attending an event upstairs. Before heading home after a pleasant evening, I went to the ladies’ loo, which has two cubicles. I emerged from mine at the same time as the woman next door, who, at about 6ft tall, towered over me.
She wore a skimpy top which made her shoulders seem bigger. And she spoke with a strikingly deep voice. A trans woman. The lavatory was cramped and I had to stand directly behind her while waiting to use the wash basin.
‘These days I don’t feel safe going to the ladies’ loo alone. That’s a statement I never thought I’d make. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?’ Pictured: Ruby Sampson outside the Marquis of Granby Pub, Westminster
I can’t deny I was a bit shocked. Yet there was a sense of novelty. What would she be like? Well, we had quite a nice chat, not exactly girlie, but friendly.
I thought, ‘This is going well, I’m handling the situation fine.’ I didn’t treat her any differently. Why would I? We spoke about the paucity of loo paper, the dreadful taps and temperamental hand dryer.
It was as she moved to the door to leave that it happened. I remarked that we had no choice but to awkwardly shake our hands dry, and she turned to me and replied: ‘I’m going to wipe my hands on my penis.’ With that, she disappeared.
Until this, our conversation had been quite positive and pleasant.
Now I was frozen to the spot in shock. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a threat of sorts.
Why would you assert the fact that you had a penis in a female single-sex space? I felt like I had been flashed as the penis image was put in my mind by her announcement. It was said to intimidate.
The close proximity made it much scarier still. What if she turned violent? It would be ten minutes before my friends realised I was missing.
They were waiting outside, and when I told them they were equally shocked. I just wanted to get home.
Frequented predominantly by civil servants, the Marquis of Granby is near where I work but it could just as easily have been any pub in the country
This brief but deeply troubling episode played on my mind for the rest of the week and I found myself examining all sides of the debate over whether men who self-identify as women should have access to female-only spaces.
Who, I reflected, would want to hear about this and who would care? Cabinet Minister Kemi Badenoch has been vocal on this issue, and I wrote to her about what happened. Doing so made me feel a bit better. I also wrote to the pub.
One thing I didn’t do, however, was tell the police. I didn’t want to be accused of transphobia for saying this person was in the ‘wrong bathroom’.
I feel it important to state that I support trans people’s rights to live an authentic lifestyle and agree that people with gender dysphoria should be able to change their gender after 18.
But single-sex spaces are paramount to women’s safety. Sex and gender are different. If someone wants to use a different set of pronouns, I’m completely accepting of that and always try to accommodate them.
But the issue of self-ID is different. Women are in danger because there isn’t an open dialogue about the erosion of women’s spaces.
People are too afraid to speak out for fear of being cancelled. Men’s spaces remain single-sex while the alternative is mixed gender.
Politicians need to note the multitude of examples such as mine and much worse and take action. That’s the thing about my experience. It could easily become the norm, an everyday occurrence.
Cabinet Minister Kemi Badenoch has been vocal on this issue, and I wrote to her about what happened
ARE we to live with the fear that every time we use a public toilet we might encounter a threatening trans woman with a penis?
I want to raise awareness of this issue and use my platform as a councillor to make change. In Primark recently, I had my first experience using gender-neutral changing rooms. They have a little curtain but no locking door.
I was trying on jeans and felt quite vulnerable – at risk.
This blurring of the sexes is now everywhere. I went to Boots opticians and by accident tried on a pair of men’s glasses that were too big for my face because men have biologically bigger faces. An assistant said there were new rules and all the glasses are now mixed up.
I detailed my experience on Twitter and was amazed at the responses from women sharing stories about changing rooms and toilets. Of course, the person who intimidated me was not representative of the trans community, but my experience highlights the high risk of self-ID to women’s safety.
There needs to be greater protection of women’s spaces.
Ideally there should be men’s spaces, women’s spaces and a gender-neutral space. If not then what happened to me – and worse – will happen to others. I want everyone to have equal rights but I’m worried how a few people will ruin those rights for certain groups.
As for the Marquis of Granby, I would find it very hard to go back there and use the toilets unless I was with a friend.
I would be anxious about it. And that’s really rather tragic.
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