Archive for the 'Street harassment' Category

Street harassment is still street harassment – even if it wears a smile on its face and asks for my phone number

November 27, 2009

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.

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Reclaim The Night: policing the borders of cis feminism

November 25, 2009

Previously, on more than one occasion, I’ve made it clear that my anger at the members of the London Feminist Network who organise the annual Reclaim The Night march here in London arises from their continuing refusal to make any public clarification of their position on trans women attending the event. For a transsexual woman like me, their use of the phrase “women only” is contentious because it carries with it the baggage of nearly half a century of our exclusion from cis women’s spaces.

That such blatant and toxic cissexism is applied to trans women is, frankly, unforgivable in this day and age, but reading the latest post on the Feminist Fightback blog (link here) makes me realise just how dangerous the march organisers’ attitudes are when applied to other cis women too.

As self-identified women committed to fighting gender-based violence, members of Feminist Fightback attended last Saturday’s march in solidarity with sex workers fighting for the right to self-organise against exploitation in their industry.

From the blog post, it seems that not only were they subjected to physical harassment and verbal abuse from other marchers, but were approached and interrogated by the police, apparently at the request of one of the stewards.

[…] we were extremely surprised to find that one of the basic principles of feminism (and all social justice movements) was forgotten in this instance – namely, that we never resort to using police aggression to silence and intimidate members of our own movement, no matter how much we may disagree with them.

And that is the crux of the matter. Feminism isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about a minority of privileged cis women using strongarm tactics against other, far more vulnerable women simply to prop up their distorted and outmoded worldviews. Might is most definitely not right, and the actions of those self-appointed guardians of a fictitious ‘true feminism’ have revealed the extent of the moral bankruptcy at the core of the London Feminist Network. They should be ashamed of themselves and if they had a shred of conscience, all those concerned would have stepped down by now.

It’s no surprise that the organisers of the Reclaim The Night march have made no public statement about this incident and their silence serves only to underline their desperation to hold on to their positions of power without accountability. But listen well, my sisters: the day is coming when you will be called to justify your appalling treatment of all those women against whom you have consistently used your privilege to discriminate, when the right and proper thing to do would have been to support and assist them in their struggle against a common enemy.

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See also:

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Other, related posts on this blog:

This is not a trans woman

November 22, 2009

Street harassment

August 17, 2009

IMG00115Scene: It’s lunchtime, Monday. Helen is wandering around the area where she works. As she nears a block of flats she spots three cis men – Real Men™ – putting up some scaffolding. Passing by, she hears the following exchange:

Real Man™ #1: Fuck, that’s scary.
Real Man™ #2: It’s a geezer, innit?
Real Man™ #3: Fu-ckin-ellll
Real Men™ #1 & 2: Hur hur hur

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Street harassment happens. To me and to other trans women. Every day, everywhere.

It’s cissexist and trans-misogynistic. It’s hate speech and it’s violence.

Me, I’m fortunate: I have various privileges – such as white privilege, class privilege, TAB privilege, possibly even age privilege – which, so far, have protected me from the beatings and/or rapes and/or murders that have been carried out on other trans women in similar circumstances, where the verbal violence has escalated into something far worse than the familiar humiliation of the public ungendering that I experienced today.

Possibly the worst thing about it, in those moments when it happens and in thinking about it later, is the sense of helplessness coupled with the awareness of just how exposed, how vulnerable, how much of a minority we are. It’s depressing that cis people feel entitled to lash out with such casual violence in the first place – because, for them, there are no consequences for their hate speech. They’re not the ones who have to try to make their way through a life where they’re outnumbered by a ratio of thousands to one, a life where hostile scrutiny of their every move is the default.

I posted earlier today about this incident and took it down, rewrote/reposted it and then took it down again. I’ve been feeling alternately depressed and angry all afternoon – but I just don’t know if there’s any point in going on about it – whining/ranting on the internet changes nothing. I only wish I could think of something, anything, that could be done to practically improve matters.