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C/W: sexual assault, violence
I'm writing this at 2am, unable to sleep, thinking about the murder of Sarah Everard - allegedly by a serving Metropolitan police officer - and the millions of other girls and women who have been hurt, violated, traumatised and killed.
I haven't known how to talk about it from within this body and life, without over-centering myself, my story, making it all about me, me, me. And then I saw a tweet reminding us that we don't have to share our experience for said experience(s) to be valid, and asking people not to exclude trans women and nonbinary folk from the conversation. I don't even know if I'll post this, but I needed to write it, so here we go.
I had the pain and privilege to pass as a guy - a 'girly' guy a lot of the time, but a guy nonetheless - for most of my adult life. The vast majority of my friends were and are women, and although the "text when home" reflex was there, it wasn't so many years ago that I was shocked to find out why a girlfriend wouldn't wear headphones on an evening run. For guys who don't know the answer to this - it's so she can always hear someone running up behind her.
I knew never to walk behind a woman alone at night, to always cross the street. Even if I was terrified too - my appearance could be enough to spark fear for her. I always tried to make my walk and face look as queer, safe and approachable as possible when I did have to walk near women alone, and did make some 'best friends for the 20 minute walk home' that way. There were a lot more women I didn't interact with, because my giving space was accepted for what it was.
I was, even when presenting as a gay man, and remain, scared of men. I never wanted to be lumped into the same category as them, and was probably guilty of a few 'not all men' statements, finding myself in a weird feminist-off with myself and the world when it came to those conversations. Not out - even to myself - as trans, as nonbinary, as trans-femme or woman (where I stick the tail on the proverbial donkey of that gender mess is still TBD and may remain undetermined forever), I found it hard to say "me too" (both with and without the #), without detracting from the fears and voices of "real women". And yep - this is from a person who said - and believes - trans women are real women, get over it. I still have a lot of unpacking and damage surviving to do in therapy!!
Looking back on my life through the filter of trans identity now, everything is clearer. The panic attacks which started when I cut my hair short for the first time in my adult life. The way some guys would look at me or talk to me. The knowing that they could see something in me that I was still desperately trying to drown out, to ride out until it was 'safe' to see it, to act on it. The comments on the streets. Catcalls and insults. The guy on a motorbike, Place de Clichy at 3am who called me over for "help", then grabbed my scarf and tried to force me to kiss him. The 'relous'. The dangerous. The ones who are attracted to us gender benders, queer kids, the ones who colour and blend in the lines, and who hate both us and themselves for that attraction, letting their violence out on *us* as an easy scapegoat, instead of dismantling the systems of norms and power which bring them only shame, blame and guilt. And anger and desire and start it all over again.
I wasn't taught how to keep myself safe as a kid. That's not a dig at my parents, it's just a fact. It wasn't something that necessarily came up. I was assigned "boy" at birth, and boys are assigned safety at birth. No need to learn something that's normally just automatically accorded to you. So I learned to put up walls and to put on armour and to go - and latterly stay - only where it's safe. The fatter I get, the less likely anyone will want to, or be able to, fuck me or hurt me. The faster I walk, the more stompy badass bitch walking down the runway I make my 'leisurely stroll', the less likely anyone will be able to stop me. The more disarming and offensive and defensive and charming I am in our communications, the less I can get hurt, physically or emotionally. And the more I stay home, the less exposure to potential danger. 'Safety' sure can have a limited, and limiting, view. And still we can get raped and beaten and kidnapped and abused and heckled and scared and murdered.
If I go outside dressed as 'boy', I get misgendered, called 'monsieur', and my heart breaks. If I go outside dressed as 'girl', I'm thinking constantly about how safe I am. If I go outside presenting neutrally, the looks and stares are ever more intense, trying to find which box I can 'safely' be put into. That dude on the scooter who passed me, turned around and is now coming back - does he want to punch me or fuck me? Or both? How do I navigate this in the light of day? And late at night?
The anxiety I have is something I'm working on - again - in therapy. But it really fucking sucks to have to pay hundreds and thousands of euros for *me* to feel safer and more 'right' in my own head, skin and clothes outside ... only to then walk out into the rules society has created for women and femmes. To keep them 'safe'. No clothing they can grab onto. Turn the music down or turn it off, but keep your earphones in. Don't make eye contact. Don't be alone. Share your location. Don't go anywhere remote. Don't engage. Don't antagonise. Don't let him see where you live. Don't be so far from home you can't run to safety. Don't be smaller. Don't be weaker. Don't ask for it.
How about: don't rape. Don't abuse, don't heckle, don't catcall, don't insist, don't push, don't pull, don't corner, don't grab, don't kill.
Men. Please do better. Please talk to your guy friends as well as your girl friends when talking about this. Please talk to your sons about it just as much as your daughters. Please be open to hearing things you don't want to hear. Please be open to learning. You don't need to go on a rampage for 'the few bad ones' - elevate ALL your conversations and actions, and make sure the men and boys in your life are doing the same.
This is not just about murder, although it is. Or kidnap. Or rape. Or sexual assault or abuse or intimidation or threatening or manipulation or touching or being handsy. It's also about the missed opportunities. The perfect apartment not chosen because it's on an unlit street. The perfect job not applied for because the firm has a history of not taking harrasment complaints seriously. The parties not attended because there's no night bus afterwards. The mountains and woods and beaches and cities and parks and whole damn lives left unexplored because it's unknown and therefore even more unsafe than when it's known. The hours, the years of life completely wasted on worrying about safety from men. Not bombs, not cancer, not mountain lions, not earthquakes ... men. On top of all the rest. Add to that fear extra bricks of fear, dismissal, discrimination to be carried by those of colour, who are trans, or living with disabilities ... that's a lot of fucking fear.
The amount of cortisol and adrenaline running through the bodies of women, femme-presenting and gender-non-conforming people, it could change the direction of the world if it was allowed to be channeled elsewhere. If we were just allowed that basic feeling of safety. If we didn't have to assume, and prepare for, the worst. Not all men, sure. But it could be any man. So it might as well be all men.
This is an issue for all humans. All. But one side has been talking about it for centuries, and the other half hasn't yet pulled their weight in the right direction. At all. Please do so.
Sarah Everard. Blessing Olusegun.
All the others. The named and the unnamed. The known and the unknown, the found and the unfound. You will not have died in vain. Rest in the power and safety that should have been yours while you were on this earth.