Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Man on the Street

This past weekend I put on a very pretty summer dress and went out to a local rad queer dance party. I was with a bunch of friends and I felt gorgeous inside, "fancy fancy" and appreciated. At one point I had to leave the party and return to my car. I then was making my way back from the car, to the event venue, one long block away. I walked onto the sidewalk and found myself almost matched in step with a man I had never seen before. He may have appeared much as I do on most days, mid twenties, white man walking alone along the street at night. I walked faster, not looking back and not losing step. I was very aware of his presence and attempted to walk faster, making my way to the safety of the crowd of smoking queers at the opposite end of the block. The man said, "excuse me...?" and I picked up my pace. I didn't know what he wanted, but as I was bearded and in a dress I could only assume that it wasn't a compliment. I increased pace once again when he said again, "excuse me, do you have the time?" I felt intimidated, potentially in danger and wasn't about to open my purse and get mugged for my phone. This has happened before, while in street "boy clothes". I forged forward and made it to the party without interacting with the man, except a simple "no."
I don't know if this fellow had any idea how intimidating it was for him to approach a lady, or trans person in a dress, on the dark street. Perhaps he hadn't thought about that. Or perhaps he was reading me as a man and didn't see it as intimidating. This is something that I feel very aware of, perhaps it's female socialization, growing up carrying keys between the knuckles and staying on well lit streets, or perhaps it's my existance within survivor communities. Perhaps he's never had to think about how scary he appears, not because of himself, but because of the violence that exists towards femmes, ladies, sex workers, trans women, genderqueers, and others for whom alone in the night can be or has been a scary scary place.
But the dark dark night is not always scary, and living in a gender queer existence is not a consistent feeling of vulnerability. In fact, when all the cards line up right, it can be damn right empowered. About half an hour after my first interaction with a man on the side walk I had a second. This time I was not alone, I was walking out of the party accompanied by a good friend, also gender queer presenting in a cute summer dress. As the two of us walked out, me: bearded and dolled up, friend: fresh faced from laser treatment and broad shouldered. A man who'd walked across from the corner store to small talk the door man- apparently a familiar of some sort, felt entitled to comment.
"Hey, that's no woman", he exclaimed.
Initially we both continued walking, sort of looked at the ground and barely at each other. But I became aware of the support I was surrounded with and so responded to his rude and out of place comment, first just asking him who he was talking to. I had hoped that his being forced to face the fact that he was talking about a person, in front of that person, and that person could hold their own, and could hear what he was saying so he'd better shut it.
"Well both of you I guess." he said.
I politely asked him if he knew where he was. He had no idea. I very clearly told him, and by this point I had 4 super tough friends flanking me from all sides, and a couple allies who appeared out of the crowds of smokers to hold the space, "you are outside of a very queer party, filled with all kinds of very queer people, lots with really queer genders, and if you feel entitled to tell any one of us who we are, how we can dress or what gender we can be... well you'll probably get your ass kicked. So you should go." I didn't really want to implicate a threat of physical violence, it's not my favourite, but sometimes just reminding people who don't live in fear of getting hurt, that it could happen to them this time- well it can feel good. Even as a most of the time pacifist, I get the bash-back philosophy. He became apologetic, and tried to call it a learning experience, stating that he was ignorant and wanted to learn something from us. I reminded/informed (maybe he's never heard it before) him that it's not our job as queers to teach him about how to treat us. It's not our job as trans people to teach him how to respect diverse genders. And if he really gave a shit he could go online or to the library, the internet and books are teaching resources, not people who you are harassing outside of a dance party. A party organizer showed up, and offered assistance while also commending what he'd seen, saying that it seemed that I was handling it all really well. I was so glad to have had the backing of my friends, I was so glad to know that the organizers prioritize and address these things as real live issues. Some of us live in fear, some of us less so, or less so at certain times. If we can create spaces where less people live in less fear, more of the time, where more people have more voice and less bullshit like this happens, we win. That's what community is. That's what safe space is. That's what solidarity is. That's what survival, resilience, and prosperity are.

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