[My privileges are checked here, and you could read this blog as one more extended check]
I have long hair for a man. Right now it comes to my collar, and previously it’s been way down past my shoulders. My dress sense is unremarkable, usually smartish and a tad colourful. Occasionally red trousers brigade (!) Essentially, I do not intentionally cross-dress.
“Muuuuuuuuum! Is that a man or a woman?”
A little girl on the Victoria bus asked that, immediately behind me. I was in a three-piece suit, clean shaven. Muuuuuuum got very flustered and told her kid to shut up. She sounded apologetic but didn’t actually apologise.
I thought it was brilliant and considered turning around to deliver a brief exposition on identities, but my morning brain was befuddled and the bus isn’t really a great forum for this kind of thing so I just grinned at them.
“This is the gents, mate. Ladies is over there.”
So said a drunk man in a pub, his gigantic chest barring my way to the urinals. I pushed past and joined the aromatic piss queue, where another drunk man turned, pointed at my hair and glared. “Get out.”
There happened to be a six foot metal fan in the queue too, with a black T-shirt and flowing amber locks.
“What about him?”
The grunt frowned then answered, “He don’t look so…pretty.”
I raised my eyebrows and dropped my fly.
I’m jogging around Regent’s Park, London. It’s quiet suburbia, the weather keeps changing, so I’m wearing jogging bottoms with an elastic waist and a loose pink jumper. I run on the pavement, sweaty, slightly hungover, and to the best of my knowledge, alone.
I am conditioned, as most Western city-dwellers are, to react to a loud alarm-sound with shock and adrenaline. I can drive, I know what honking is for – to draw attention to great danger, or (in the driving vernacular) to express extreme distaste for another road-user’s perilous or amateurish conduct.
The road before me is totally clear – indeed, is idyllic, with the park’s greenery stretching away on my right and upmarket red-bricks looking smart in the sun on my left. There are no other pedestrians ahead, so the honk can’t be an expression of affrontery that some tom-fool or guttersnipe is stepping into the road without due concern for traffic flow.
So I look behind me, still running.
There’s a builder’s pickup truck, a white two-seater. Its horn is still blaring. There are two men up front, one of whom I do not remember. The other looks like Sin City’s Yellow Bastard, but a normal pallid-white colour, so let’s just call him ‘Bastard’.
Bastard was gesticulating at me, presumably his mate doing the honking. In the few seconds it took for the van to overtake I couldn’t tell exactly what Bastard was trying to mimic, but he had a huge leering grin on his face and his hands were up at in the universal sign of ‘groping boobies’. He was also shouting something, but I couldn’t hear over HONK.
Just as he drew level to me, and just as I fully processed what was happening and started to consider composing something witty to hollaback or whether to jump into the road and give the gentlemen a lecture on feminism and gender identity and not-being-a-fuck, Bastard’s face started to register hints of confusion. I have no way of knowing, as the truck pulled ahead, whether Bastard or Bastard’s Honking Accomplice ever realised they’d been harassing a 24-year-old man. I’d like to think that by the time they reached the roundabout, Bastard was silently questioning his own rigid conception of heterosexuality. But he probably just made a trans joke an forgot about it.
So, flurry of emotions. Shocked by the loud noise, scared of an impending crash. Confused that I’m being honked. Offended. Scared and disgusted by Bastard’s amateur dramatics. Strong anger, as a feminist and a recently-objectified person. Disgust. Massive frustration that they just sailed off. Questioning how my clothing and running style (seriously) made me look from behind.
Now here’s the obvious privilege check – realising that this was all new to me. I’d known it in theory already, reading ‘EverydaySexism’ and feminist essays like an aspirant ally should. But knowing it in theory and experiencing it in person are just not the same – like a fully blind person describing ‘colour’. My female friends get this day-in, day-out, at all times of day and whatever they’re wearing. There’s no earthly way this particular instance can be construed as a compliment, or a come-on, or an enhancement to my self-esteem, or a harmless joke, or anything other than an aggressive, needless, rude, lewd twattery. For me this was a thankfully isolated incident, but for them it could’ve been groping, cornering, verbal insults or more sustained honking.
I can’t treat this as some great eye-opening event, nor should it be. It should not be necessary for men to experience harassment first-hand before they empathise with women and transwomen. Women should not have to endlessly prove that the experience is negative, or argue that non-physical harassment is much worse than ‘harmless banter’. And men should not need to mistakenly categorise my sweaty body trotting down the pavement to give them a pause for thought.
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