I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve mentioned street harassment here, either directly or in passing. The most recent specific occurrence that I’ve blogged about (link here) happened one lunchtime, not far from my workplace and really brought home to me how exposed and vulnerable I was (am).
To clarify, by street harassment, I mean – broadly speaking – being the subject of unwanted attention from passers-by on the street as I’m walking around. In my own personal experience, it’s always hate speech and its aim is to erase my identity as a transsexual woman at the same time as it provides entertainment for my tormentors. It happens to me a lot – two or three times a week, on average. I consider it to be a highly specific form of transphobic violence. But the – I don’t know what the right word is – encounter(?) I had this lunchtime makes me wonder if I need to start adding nuances and subtleties to that definition.
Ironically, this happened probably only a few metres from the site of the episode I mentioned before. A van belonging to a well-known frozen food chain store pulled up alongside me and the driver asked me for directions. I did my best for the guy and next thing I know he’s telling me I’m beautiful and asking me for my phone number. That’s never happened to me before – it’s always “Is it a man or a woman?” or something similar – and I’m still feeling confused/freaked out by it an hour later. On the one hand, yes it did make me feel good, momentarily – and a bit flustered; embarrassed, maybe – but after the way this week’s gone, such flattery was… well, almost persuasive. It suggested that I was being passed as a cis woman, with all the transmisogynistic subtexts of authenticity that brings (including my own internalised stuff), but I won’t deny it was a definite ego stroke.
So, was it street harassment? Well, it wasn’t something I was looking for, any more than I was looking for hate speech from the scaffolders that time before. But is being called beautiful really such a Bad Thing™? In a sense, no, it isn’t. In another sense, given my own low self-esteem and general vulnerability, well, hmm. I’m not so sure. I guess that, in the back of my mind, I’m very aware of just how quickly those kind of exchanges can turn nasty that any sense of feeling flattered evaporates in a very short space of time.
Overall, I have to say that I’m coming to realise just how little trust I have for cis people (especially cis men) these days. As a transsexual woman who is so rarely passed as cis, for my own self-preservation I cannot lose sight of the fact that street harassment is still street harassment – even if it wears a smile on its face and asks for my phone number.