I recently wrote about an encounter I had with a man while I was walking down the street. He offered me a lift (on his squeaky bicycle); I politely declined, and he rode away. As a woman walking alone on the street, such encounters are a regular occurrence. The reason that particular encounter was noteworthy (besides the squeaky bicycle 😉 was his calm and non-aggressive response after I declined; other men, more often than not, continue to harass long after disinterest has been made clear. Sometimes their attention turns abusive with rejection and sometimes I have to “play mad” and/or buse them before they leave me alone. So when a man takes ‘no’ quietly- well that is something to write home about. Sad, isn’t it? But that is where we are today as a society.
A couple days after I wrote about bicycle man, I read an article written by a Jamaican sister (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140803/focus/focus1.html) in which she describes getting her breast grabbed by a man and witnessing another woman getting groped in the pubic area by another man while bystanders just looked on and laughed. I have never had such great invasions of my personal space and bodily integrity- only twice have I experienced ‘manhandling’ of that kind- once when I was about 8 and a tiefman who wanted the gold earrings I was wearing bit my ears in his attempt to get them off- and the other last year when the driver of a car that was passing me on the road (right near my apt) grabbed hold of my arm. At 8 and mostly clueless, all I remember is the sensation of teeth on my earlobes and some confusion about what was going on. But last year, when the driver grabbed me, pure fury was what immediately coursed through my body. I yanked my hand away cursing him and if he hadn’t sped off and if I had had any weapon which I could have used against him, I would have.
I was taken by surprise though. Sure- as a woman walking the streets alone for decades- harassment is expected. Women routinely make decisions about route, time we’re out, means of transportation etc based on whether or not we think we’ll be safe from encounters with people who would harm us. By now most people know about rape culture etc. Still, it gets hard to keep up a defensive front ALL the time; sometimes a person just has plenty of other things on their mind aside from remembering to be always on guard from attack. Also, I’m one of those persons who refuses to let fear rule my life; as a result I am sometimes more dismissive of things that might concern others. Like the other night when I told my friend not to worry, that I would be fine walking by myself to the bus park. It wasn’t too late (just past 10 pm) and there were still people about. Plus it’s not like I had on any flashy jewelry etc, so no need to worry, right? Wrong.
Almost immediately after the boy on the bicycle rode up behind me and grabbed my bag, I thought about cutting my hair short. And about what I was wearing. If I’d looked more ‘butch’, I reasoned, maybe I wouldn’t have been targeted.
That’s how fucked up this society that we have created is- where people are victimized based on the purely superficial. Too many also still judge and measure worth (self as well as others) solely on the basis of surface appearance. If a woman looks ‘too butch’, or a man ‘too femme’, they become targets of another sort. As a society we need to further our understanding, and allow, accept, and celebrate the differences among us; only then will we attain real progress. Far too much of our time is spent in sowing seeds of division and in driving ‘the Other’ away- too many skilled people who have much to offer have fled these shores in pursuit of a ‘better life’, instead of staying and applying their talents locally because they did not feel safe nor appreciated. That is unacceptable.
If Victimization Olympics were held, my trans friends might be the ‘winners’, I believe, beating even the biological women. For some reason, their transgression of the gender binaries that most people seem to depend on is terrifying to many. Too many still adhere unquestioningly to belief systems (often based on oppressive religions) with limited notions of gender, believing that there is one right way for men and women to act, that some work is ‘women’s work’, that ‘real’ men don’t cry, that ‘real’ women must look a certain way, that dress codes are important, etc. Children are taught to fear difference and value conformity instead of to think critically, to be creative, to love themselves, and to have empathy for others.
I don’t understand why one’s gender identity is anybody else’s business (unless it’s someone you’re in a relationship with) but people seem wedded to bullshit. Well, I *do* know why transgressing the gender norms is scary- it threatens the system of patriarchy by which men (and a few chosen, ‘lucky’ women) maintain their power and control over the world and its resources. So of course they’re loath to give that great big prize up, hence their militant maintenance of the status quo (and brainwashing of others- including women- into doing the same). As a result of this, trans people get massively victimized- they get the harassment that biological women experience plus a whole lot more.
I have seen trans people walk down the street in Georgetown, just minding their own business, and get viciously taunted and threatened- simply for being themselves. There is scant protection from the police and other powers that be and many, as a result, have adopted radical defensive mentalities which are completely warranted in my opinion and for which they cannot be condemned. At a recent discussion about safety and security, some trans people reminded their friends that even if they were dressing like women, not to forget that they were still men and to fight back if they got attacked. This conversation fascinated me for the way trans folks were switching from notions of sweet damsels to street fighters if necessary. Is so it goes when you’re trying to survive tho..
But even within the LGBT community there is discrimination and enforcement of stereotypical gender roles. At a funeral for a young trans person I just attended, the family of the deceased requested that members of the trans community “wear man clothes, not dresses” if they wanted to attend the funeral to say final goodbyes to their friend. Of course, clothes can only mask so much- as any trans person who has ever gone to a job interview can testify. Sadly imo, too many do choose to try and ‘pass’, even nominally, just because they fear and/or are too lazy to do anything to effect change. As a matter of fact, some of the most disrespectful, stereotypical and sensationalist public reporting of LGBT issues comes from news reporters who are themselves members of the LGBT community. However, to gain/maintain readership and relevance in the cultural landscape, they stifle their own proclivities- at least in the public domain, and think nothing of throwing their fellow LGBT community members under the bus of negative public opinion.
Also, instead of finding solidarity with others who also experience oppression, too many LGBT persons choose divisiveness. Some ‘antimen’ take pride in being “more woman” than ‘real women’, disparaging them for their ‘imperfect’ bodies and ‘poor’ fashion choices. This mentality does nothing to further progress either. We need to work together instead, to pool our resources and strengths, if we are succeed in dismantling patriarchy. We also need to recognize the fact that we have common enemies. Environmental issues affect everyone. Corruption and lack of accountability affects everyone. Violation of rights affects everyone. We must reach out of our private bubbles and build bridges to other people’s worlds. Change begins with the self, on the streets in our communities, and in society as a whole. Make sure you’re part of the solution and not the problem. Start today and do something every day.
I was heartened yesterday, to hear one person tell another who was commenting about “these people today; you can’t tell who is man and who is woman anymore and if you say something is busing you gon get”- to not say anything if you can’t say anything nice and that she accepts everyone because “everybody got to live.” I was heartened the night of the candlelight vigil when Gulliver and Isabelle told people to not litter and they listened. I was heartened when Peaches- still rocking her peach fuzz mustache- introduced me to her mother yesterday. Yes, there is a lot to do. But each of us has the power to effect change. And as the Ethiopian proverb goes- when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion!
Down with dress codes. Down with patriarchy. Down with homo and transphobia. Down with stigma and discrimination. Down with divisiveness and fearmongering. Down with inaction. More justice. More accountability. More equity. More love and understanding. More unity. More sex and love education for the children. More positive action.