Carolyn’s Story: The thoughts that run through one’s head
Last weekend, I went to a goth night at a gay club**. This is an environment where I feel safe and accepted. I can dress provocatively and expect respect in the appreciative glances I may get. I can flirt and dance and express myself, including my sexuality, and not be thinking the whole time about whether or not anyone will think it gives them the right to claim me as theirs, or that if someone does I’m “asking for it”. I can expect backup and support from total strangers if someone gets too aggressive on the dance floor.
But this doesn’t apply to the walk between where my friend and I parked and the club.
On the way back to the car, a group of guys gave some glances and a “hey girl” and an “I like your hair” comment to us. It shouldn’t matter. It should feel respectful and appreciative – they didn’t say anything lewd; I like my hair tonight too. But it didn’t feel that way. It put my hackles up. It made me think “we need to walk faster”. It made me think “I’m wearing vinyl pants, clearly anyone would think I’m asking for whatever happens next. Never mind the corset they can’t see under my coat”. It made me think “Priority one is protecting my friend”, who is a few years younger and who had thigh-high fishnets and garters showing under a short skirt – probably an easier target than the pants. It made me think “which is less likely to escalate this – ignoring them, making a snide remark, or saying ‘thanks’?”.
It made me think “They’re black, we’re white. God why does that matter? Why does that make me more uncomfortable?”*
It made me think of all the times similar things have happened in my life – creepy drunk guy sitting down right next to me late at night on an otherwise empty L car in Chicago and putting his hand disturbingly close to the hem of my skirt(I got up and switched cars at the next stop); crazy addicts commenting on the size of my breasts at the train station near the meth clinic in my hometown (I’d go into the coffee shop in the station and risk missing the train; I might add this happened many times and I was usually wearing baggy tee shirts and jeans, and clearly a minor); an old Buick slowing down next to me and a group of female friends walking around our hometown after dark, rolling down the window, asking how much for a good time (we laughed and kept walking; thankfully he drove off; again, tees and jeans, young girls).
It made me think all of this strategic, defensive thinking, and all of these flashbacks, in a split second.
I said “Thanks” over my shoulder as we kept walking, and we all went on our ways without any further interaction.
*Sorry, I read the anti-discrimination bit after sending in my story. I do think the race of the “harrassers” is relevant, because it speaks to a culture and society where I have been trained to have a more adverse reaction based on race (the point of my story is that the whole situation was pretty much harmless, but past experiences and societal training made it raise my hackles), which is sad and makes me angry at society and myself, but I understand the complexities of that may not be apparent in my story and am totally fine with it being edited out.
**I also think that the club I was at being a gay club is relevant because it’s a factor that contributes to my feeling safe there, but the more important factor is that it is a goth club, which is a community where I have found sexuality at a high combined with harrassment at a low, and thus I am ok with the fact that it is also a gay club being edited out.