Today, in the Times, editors were enlisting people to write in the comments section about their experience with street harassment. Both men and women wrote in, and I will do the same.
I try to avoid 204th Street when I can, especially the south side of the street. Between Broadway and 10th Avenue in particular the likelihood I will be harassed is very high. Normally it’s polite, sort of benign harassment; the kind of sexism that doesn’t send me scrambling for the defenses. Often it’s whispered in my ear right as I pass, one word, like “beautiful”, so that before I have a chance to react we could be ten feet away on a crowded subway platform. Many times I have been harassed and not noticed, conditioned not to pay attention to what strangers might be saying in public amongst their own friends. Other comments have more time to play out. On Broadway (near Dyckman Street), a man once looked me up and down and said “Hey, Red,” which would have been smooth if he wasn’t at least twice my age and had bothered to dress like Don Draper, instead of in sweatpants. I know a little Spanish and I can tell when ‘ella’ is in reference to me. Especially in Spanish men speak as if I am an inanimate object, like an appealing dessert; muy bonita, pero no? I want to fire back but I’m not that swift at it yet; and I forgot that one way my girlfriend taught me to say in Spanish “I can hear you and I’m not impressed.” It began ‘Yo puedo…’ but, really, lo puedo no. So I learn my Spanish by decoding their everyday sexism, which seems half a contest to some Latin guys, how many blanquitas will I scare today? Sometimes I get the feeling people are staring at me. It makes you worry more about how you look if you get the feeling strangers are looking at you all the time, and when they sometimes enforce how you look. Once in the subway, I found it necessary to pull up my pants a little, maybe three inches. A drunk black man hooted at me like it was some titillating display. I put on my steeliest New Yawker voice and told him to shut the fuck up; which is my right.
Sometimes I feel men try to say something to me on the street to be complimentary, like the McDonald’s delivery guy who compliments my eyes. I will suggest another way to do this that always works to get me in good with the women-folk. Compliment something the woman can control. ‘Sexy’ and ‘beautiful’ are ‘great’ and ‘happy’ if you get my meaning, and it’s more successful if you break the ice if you use more specific adjectives. ‘I like your bag, where did you get it’ or ‘I like your dress’ works very well for me as an icebreaker when I’m charming random ladies on the subway. Then again, maybe coming from me it’s all cis-gendered hetero stuff; because I never try to screw them.