This Short Skirt is Not for You

I can barely type these words; I am still reeling.

Tonight, as I made my way out of a queer, grunge-themed dance party, I almost felt like I was invincible. For hours I had danced alongside my friends, singing loudly to Bikini Kill and Big Freedia alike; jumping on the stage and moving like no one was watching; most of all, feeling like a hopeful riot grrrl again.

A few of my femme friends and I left the club drenched in sweat, hair pasted to our foreheads, and outfits wilted from hours of dancing. We stood outside the club giggling at our friends all heaped on the ground in a huge cuddling pile. The night was built around the theme of Seattle 1994, and it was as if we had all happily reverted to a time when we were teenagers. All of this, in the absence of the requisite teen angst, made for a magical night.

Delightfully exhausted, in that way that only a night of pure joy can cause, I said my goodbyes and made my way to my car. Lost in thought, I was startled to look up and see a man, who vaguely resembled a modern day Vince Neil, coming towards me. I kept my head down, just hoping he would ignore me and let me feel the euphoria of the night wash over me. At first he let me walk past with just a “hey.” One monosyllabic word and a nod. It almost felt too good to be true.

A second later, as I walked past, he mumbled, “Can I ask you a question?” His voice tentative in the way of people who are asking you for something free.

I knew it wasn’t safe to stand around talking to this guy, so I kept walking and shot back “I don’t smoke and I don’t have cash.”

“C’mon,” he beseeched in his gravelly voice, “I got a real problem. I wasn’t gonna ask you for nothin’.”

I am not an unfeeling person, but I know enough about self-preservation not to stop and talk to some stranger when I am all alone at 2:30 in the morning, no matter how much he implores me. I kept walking, all the while I surveilled my surroundings; I was only two blocks from the club, but the street was deserted. I could still hear the bass, but knew that I was far enough away that a scream would get swallowed by the night.

“Hey, you fucking cunt, LISTEN TO ME,” he yelled behind me. “I have a real problem, you fucking bitch.”

My heart raced, and I instantly felt small. I didn’t quicken my step or look back at him, but all the while I half-expected to hear him run up to me, and that thought alone filled me with panic. His epithets grew nastier and more acerbic with each step I took away from him. His lightning fast escalation terrified me and caused my entire body to clench inwards.

“I hope you fucking die tonight, you little fucking bitch,” he shouted at me, his voice jagged and raspy by the exertion of his unbridled rage.

Like some child who fears a boogie man is under her bed, I didn’t want to turn around and discover he was only inches from me, so I kept my head forward until I reached my car. I didn’t start shaking until I got my keys out. I could barely get the key into the lock because my hands trembled. It wasn’t until I was in my car, all the doors locked and the engine running, that I began to feel a little bigger. Uncomfortable with my powerlessness, I even briefly fantasized about driving into him if I saw him on the street. I imagined plowing into him with my ton of reinforced steel, and I felt the odds finally stacked in my favor. In those few seconds walking to my car, I had experienced an old feeling. I have to admit, it’s a feeling I can live in denial about for months at a time due to the insular nature of my chosen queer spaces. It’s hard to put a name on the feeling because it’s not just fear or panic, but also, in some odd way, I can only think of it as visibility. Most of the time, I have a sort of “I don’t see you, you don’t see me” mentality about dudes who want to take more than I want to give, but tonight I felt suddenly spotted. Almost as if I had been plucked from out of my little world and plopped down in the middle of another.

It is other-worldly to find myself cast in some spotlight I didn’t invite. It can be discomfiting when I am suddenly scrutinized and made the object of the cis-gendered male gaze. I am not the same angry riot grrrl who assumes that all men are out for blood. In fact, I am lucky to be surrounded by a wide spectrum of cis, trans, and butch masculinities that have thoroughly redeemed my previous fears and instilled in me a deep appreciation for the different types of gender our queer culture allows for. Yet, and this is the sad truth, when some guy comes lumbering at me on a deserted street, my instinct is to get away as fast as possible.

Keeping all of this in mind, when I got home, the anger hit. I am furious that I have to experience this. Mad that some guy walking down the street doesn’t understand or care that a female-identified person may not feel safe stopping to talk in the middle of the night. I don’t know what to do with these feelings, but I know it reminded me to stay aware. I know, on some rudimentary level, that I should have asked friends to walk to my car with me, but I was flying too high on the octane of the feminist and queer solidarity I experienced in the club. The scenarios run through my head and I keep thinking I could have just smiled and said, “Oh hey, I’m sorry, but I am in a rush. Good luck though.” But at the time that felt like giving in. I didn’t want to smile at him. I didn’t want to mitigate my disinterest with some cashier colloquialisms—I wanted to go home. I wanted him not to feel entitled to my time. I wanted him to ignore me, as I would gladly ignore him.

Ultimately, I will not let these few moments eclipse the whole of the night. Instead I will choose to remember the moment “Smells Like Teen Spirit” boomed across the dance floor. At one point, I turned around to look at the crowd and I saw rows and rows of queers clad in flannel, pogoing themselves into the air. At the risk of waxing idealistic, it seemed everyone had left the irony at home, for just that one instant. In that moment, I felt such immense gratitude for the queer spaces in my community. As I go to sleep tonight, I will remember this feeling. I will wrap myself in it and feel secure. But I will remember, and take this interaction as a warning, that I am not invisible. My body, as is yours, is vulnerable to the whims and intents of others. We have to keep one another safe. It is the only option.

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm  Comments (4)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Renee, this is beautifully and powerfully written. I’m sorry this happened, but not sorry that you poured that fear and anger and euphoria from a kick ass dance night in to this piece. I think I have a “street harassment sucks” sticker in my riot grrrl stash from 2000 with your name on it.

    • Thank you so much, Erin. I came home and felt like I had to alchemize the terrible energy of that moment into something good. I’ll be damned if some knock-off Vince Neil steals my thunder.

  2. I’m so sorry you had to go through this.

    “Yet, and this is the sad truth, when some guy comes lumbering at me on a deserted street, my instinct is to get away as fast as possible.”

    This is sad and it’s exactly how I feel and how so many other women feel and will continue to feel so long as we live in a rape culture, unfortunately. It makes me angry and you’re right, we have an obligation to each other. Stay safe.

  3. Riveting read, Renee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: