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We shouldn’t have to live in fear of going for a simple walk or jog, but many people do. A walk can quickly turn into being sexually harassed ten times in all of twenty minutes. This harassment would not be acceptable if it was done within the walls of a classroom, or a place of business. But for some reason, many people consider it acceptable when it is done from a car or on the street. The victim, always a stranger. Always someone minding their own business. Always a person who simply wants to get their morning exercise done, or reach their destination to buy lunch for themselves. And when they try to recount their experience, they are often told to suck it up, or that it was probably just what they were wearing. Or – perhaps worst of all – that they should take it as a ‘compliment’.
The first time I experienced street harassment, I was only twelve years old. Think about that for a moment. Twelve. Years. Old. I was not yet old enough to understand that I was more developed than most of my other twelve year old friends. I seldom wear skirts now, because I identify as transgender. Back then, I tried to deny my identity and I tried as hard as I could to be normal. To ‘fit in’. I borrowed a mini skirt from my friend who was less curvy than me, and I wore it. I wore it with the matching top. I was more filled out, too, but I never noticed. I didn’t notice until adult men – read that again. Adult. Men. Slowed down long enough to call me a slut. I was twelve. I did not even know what the word meant, but I quickly found out. One would think my refusal to wear skirts has to do with my gender identity, but it actually has more to do with that day.
That was only the beginning of many years of street harassment. I wish I could say it has gotten better, but it has only gotten worse. Within the past year, I have taken up exercising. I want to be healthier. So, I walk daily. Sometimes, for an hour a day. Sometimes, more. It all depends on how busy or not busy my day is. Living where I do, it is hard to avoid walking on the main streets. I am literally harassed – on average – three to five times a day. There are some days where that number is easily ten, depending on how busy traffic is. The harassment ranges from honking (which is mostly just an annoyance – I startle very easily and do not appreciate being ‘honked’ at), to having kisses blown at me (degrading and rude), to having words shouted at me (which I can never hear regardless), to downright obvious harassment (such as being offered a ride by a creepy man at LEAST thirty years my senior [I am only 23, and I am often told I look even younger], to being asked ‘Yo, girl, how old are you?’, to being questioned about my sexuality, and on the worst days even rape threats when I ignore my harasser). I used to just keep walking, and take it in stride.
I realized that doing so just gives them permission to keep doing it. I realized that if I didn’t stand up for myself, I was teaching these men (and occasionally women, too) that it was okay to harass me. That calling me sexy, whore, or making humping gestures at me is ‘okay’. But when I was walking home from college, and a group of at least six men were following me, asking me how old I was… I realized that it is NOT okay. It was terrifying to me. It is annoying, and it makes exercising hard. So, I have started to take a stand. When a friend honked at a pretty woman, I asked him why. He explained that he thought it would make her feel good. When I explained that, often, the only thing it does is scare us or annoy us… he was honestly surprised. Education is imperative. As many of these people don’t really mean harm. Then again, there are many more that do. And when we experience harassment daily, we can never tell the difference.
The other day, I was walking home from the Kangaroo after just filling my Roo cup, and an older man in a white truck honked at me. I ignored him. But when I crossed the highway, I caught him from the corner of my eye turning around to chase me down. This happens a lot, and is downright terrifying. So, I assessed my situation. I had two paths I could take. One down the business area, where there were bound to be people around. One down a hill, with a forest on one side and houses on the other. I took the safer route, the business area. He honked again, stopping. And this time, I stood up for myself. I pulled my cell out, a way of letting him know I wasn’t afraid to call for help if I needed to and I firmly told him to leave me alone. When he drove away, and I kept walking I felt a surge of fear, but this time it was coupled with a surge of pride. We don’t have to put up with street harassment. But as long as people behave as though it is acceptable, people will believe it is.
Also, I am transgender. I wear traditionally men’s clothes most of the time (and only wear women’s clothes maybe once a month). So I dare anyone to tell me ‘It’s probably because of how you dress.’ I dare them.
I worked retail in the inner harbor most of this past year and there was a man that came into the store just about every day. He was well dressed and always accompanied by the same taller man every time. When asked if he was local or just visiting while being cashed out, he refused to say. They bought women’s lingerie very often but sometimes just came in, walked around, and didn’t buy anything.
One day I was over in women’s activewear fixing a display and he came up behind me without his bodyguard guy and started hitting on me, asking for my phone number, asking for my weekly schedule and when I got off. He asked me to call him, and when I refused, he told me he would wait outside for me if I changed my mind.
I reported it to the store’s security but they can’t do anything unless he actually does something and there is no protection for me once I leave the store. He came back to the store frequently after this first incident and would ask other employees if I was there.
I became afraid to go to work, afraid to ride my bike home after work, and concerned that he would find me. To me, it sounded like he was running some sort of sex trade or prostitution ring and that was terrifying that a man could harass me at work and make me afraid for my life.
Walking alone at night, trying to get home. Asshole loitering around with his friends whistles at me. A guy–don’t know if it was part of the group or just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time–starts following me. Managed to get into my house without him seeing me go into the building but feel shaken nevertheless.
Thank you for your work and for this opportunity to share my story.
While in New York, I experienced an inappropriate interaction while with my friend on the subway, in which a man “gave up his seat” for us. Though we had no need to sit down, nor did we event want to, we sat down and just tried to continue going about our conversation. The man spent spent the rest of the ride standing directly over and in front of my friend, whom he moved closer and closer to. All the while he was trying to engage us in conversation, as if that made what he was doing with his body somehow ok. It was a total violation of space and his physical closeness was extremely uncomfortable, offensive, and unwanted.
I was so upset by the whole experience, but wasn’t sure what I could do after the fact. I was upset with myself for not having said more during the interaction, and was at a loss for what could be done differently next time. With such frustration and confusion, I took to writing and composed a poem about the whole experience. I wanted to capture these emotions in the poem and to give myself a way to work through and do something about the interaction.
Until I can find something more, these words are my way of fighting back.
It was on the subway
He was one
And we were two
We were female
And he wasn’t
He gave up his seat
We gave up our choice
His giving felt more forced
The gift was not asked for
Did he give or did he take?
And what was it we received?
We sit, he stands
He stands, we sit
This time of power
He is too close
Evocating lewd gestures
It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t know
Exactly what he is doing
What exactly is he doing?
I listen clearly to his unclear words
Desperate for a clue of intention
He has to know
His rocking body too close, too close
Still he rocks
Still I remain
Silent, frozen, confused, paralyzed
Mind racing ahead
To the silences yet unsaid
I fear myself almost more than him
For if I am to remain silent
On the populated subway
How much more silent
Might I remain
Trying to navigate through the corners of my mind
I who call myself a feminist
Sit in silence
He should know
I shouldn’t have to tell him
He gets closer
He tells her like she doesn’t know
To look at the view
Of the Brooklyn Bridge
While his body
Blocks her view
Of the Brooklyn Bridge
And his words
It isn’t hard to tell
Doesn’t he know?
How much she knows?
Each rock brings him closer
The loudness in my head, spirit, body
Is only matched
By my outward silence
Until finally the subway
Says the words we didn’t
And we leave him
One of my friends went to the redbox outside of this mcdonalds and was physically intimidated, leered at, verbally harassed and gestured at. The dude stood right next to her as she tried to interact with the machine, and then as she left, his buddy walked towards her harassed her again about if ‘she was single or wanted company’. This is also a neighborhood where many women are harassed from vehicles of men trying to solicit sexual services.
I was 17 and was sitting alone on the Metro line coming from Grand Central station. A man sat next to me and I didn’t think much of it since it was a busy train, so I continued to look out the window and listen to my iPod. A little while into the train ride I felt that he was staring at me, I was instantly petrified and continued to stare out the window silently hoping he would stop. Then I noticed in the reflection of the window he was touching himself and smiling at me. I began to shake and panic, so a few stops later I worked up the courage to get up and tell a conductor, which was beyond embarrassing since I didn’t quite how to phrase what was happening. The conductor asked the guy to stop bothering me, and told him to move. I passed this man to get to my new seat and he gave me such a smug look, it was equally terrifying, and disgusting. I’m now 19, and still worry about it. Since this moment I have been extremely paranoid in crowds and hate traveling alone. It was so vile and disgusting, and I remember feeling guilty for some reason after I told the conductor! The rest of the ride home I played the situation over and over again, and for some reason tried to justify his actions. I know now that I did nothing wrong, I’m not guilty, and harassment has to stop.
I lived in the NY/NJ area for 7 years – and over that time, I had men expose themselves to me on the subway, call to me on the street and then masturbate, and one time I wasn’t even off of the steps to my building when a guy said “nice tits”. But the worst experience I had was when I was living in Jersey City, NJ and working in Manhattan.
I often took the bus in and out of Port Authority. One night, I was out in NY with friends, and was going home about 11 PM so the terminal was pretty empty and quiet. It was summer, and I was wearing a white sundress that fell just below my knees. As I was standing on the escalator going up to the next floor, I felt my skirt brush my leg. It was odd because the escalator wasn’t crowded, and when I turned to see what caused it, I discovered a man lying on the escalator behind me, peering up my skirt. I immediately started shouting, “Stop it! Get away from me!” and I ran to my bus platform as quickly as possible, because I knew there would be other people waiting there as well. The man followed me. As I neared the platform, I continued shouting, “That man is following me – he just looked up my skirt” By this point I was crying and very upset. The worst part of it, however, was the indifference of the people waiting. Someone actually said, “what do you expect?” and everyone literally avoided me, as if I was crazy.
When I got on the bus, I was sobbing uncontrollably, and no one wanted to sit next to me (which was fine with me). Then one man politely and respectfully asked if he could sit next to me. After he sat down, he apologized for the behavior of everyone else. He asked me if I wanted to talk about it, and I told him what happened. He again apologized for my experience. And then he started asking me random, small talk questions in an effort to divert my attention and make me feel better. He was the only person in a bus load of people that didn’t treat me like a leper. He even offered to walk me to my door, but there was no way I was going to trust him just because he was nice to me. I don’t know if he was trying to take advantage of my being in a vulnerable state, but I like to think that he was just a good guy in a sea of creeps.
I walk every night. I carry my phone with me and listen to a book as I walk. I live in a nice area made up of residential homes, but even so I still am aware of my surroundings. Along the main road sometimes some people lean out their window and stare or or say something rude to me. Some people try to see how close they can get to me without pushing me off the road. But tonight I experienced something that was really odd.
I hear a car coming and I glance back. It’s a police car, the car slows and I think the man Is going to stop and talk to me. As I look back again he slows until he’s about ten feet behind me then sits there. He crawled along at me at me walking pace for about five minuets. He then proceeded to pull up to the stop sign in front of me and stare at me through his rear view. I crossed to the opposite side of the road not wanting to be near him. I stop and look for oncoming traffics to see if it is safe to cross. No one was coming. I cross to another street the whole time aware of his gaze on me.
When I’m just about getting out of his sight he pulls up and continues to follow me. After a few mins he drives down my street and out of view. I understand the police have a duty to watch people who might he showing suspicious conduct. But all I was doing was walking. And if he had a problem he should have spoken to me. If it had been anyone else in a normal car following me I would have called the cops. But what do you do when it’s the cop who’s the problem?
He knew he was making me uncomfortable and yet he continued. I kept checking over my shoulder the whole way home he made me so nervous. I shouldn’t have to feel that way from someone who’s there to protect me. My gut was telling me it was wrong.
Just for context, I’m a trans woman, socially transitioned but very early in medical transition. Although I don’t like the term, I ‘pass’ some of the time, but have tended to get the most harassment/unpleasant comments on public transport, where I’m stuck in close proximity with a group of other people for a while. I’ve had a few incidents this year – several unpleasant comments, and one case where I got followed off the train by someone – but this is the first incident that really shook me.
I was sitting on a central line train to Bank at around 6:50pm, when a group of three men got on next to me – one sat down next to me, while the others stood around him. At first, they were just snickering among themselves, and I didn’t really notice what they were talking about – I’ve felt safest by simply ignoring people in the past, and so generally just listen to a story or music on my headphones. After a while, though, they began to talk more loudly, pointing at me, making ‘jerking off’ motions, and leering at me. I couldn’t get the gist of what they were saying – I think they were speaking in Italian? – but I got a strong impression from their body language and from little I understood that they were making mocking/sexualised remarks against me. I hope that mentioning this is in line with Hollaback’s anti-discrimination policy – I appreciate why this exists, but think this is worth mentioning because it helps explain why I didn’t want to react to what they were doing at this stage, either in terms of confronting them or trying to move down the crowded train – I was scared of confronting them in any case, and, if they hadn’t been discussing me, I’d have felt really embarrassed and self conscious, and perhaps would have caused them to actually start harassing me. I’m a fairly small person, and react quite badly to this kind of physical situation, and so continued to pretend it wasn’t happening.
After this had gone on for a few minutes, they began to talk directly to me (in English), asking me ‘what’s under your skirt’ and telling me to ‘go home with them, and they’d show me a good time’. I didn’t respond or acknowledge them, and had my headphones on to try to block them out, but rather than losing interest, they got a bit more aggressive, asking if I was a ‘perv’ and a ‘ladyguy’ – still trying to proposition me, but in a more demeaning and unpleasant manner. I felt uncomfortable and unsafe at this point, because I was stuck next to them by the rush hour crowd, two of them were standing over me, and none of the other passengers had given any impression that they had heard anything the matter. Finally, the train arrived at Bank, where I got off and they stayed on the train, but as I stood up, one of the two standing guys grabbed and squeezed my crotch area through my skirt. Especially in light of their earlier comments, this made me feel really uncomfortable – I was really worried by the way they kept alternating between sexual harassment and transphobia – but was also really bad for my dysphoria, because I feel really awful about my genitalia and don’t want strangers (or anyone for that matter) grabbing/outing me.
This happened two weeks ago (16/7/14), and I’ve been mulling over whether or not I wanted to do anything about this. On the one hand, it was really upsetting, and I want to do something about it – this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but it’s been the first time someone’s actually tried to physically rather than verbally harass me – but on the other, the strain of transitioning hasn’t really left me with many emotional resources to pursue this. Having to jump through a million hope with gatekeepers etc., going out every day in a body I hate being read by most people as a ‘confused weirdo’ (at best) has really exhausted me, and I don’t want to have to go through all the strain of pushing BTP to do much about it.
Man approached me late at night, invading my personal space and calling me “baby,”