Monday, June 20, 2016

Riding the Metal Horse: When to Cede Territory... and Why Not

This is the last full workday before Summer officially starts (at 6:34 p.m.). In New York City, every seasoned traveler and resident knows that as soon as the temperature climbs past 75 degrees consistently, all the ignorance and "lawlessness" exponentially increases. This will happen on your block, in your apartment building, on the subway platforms, and very likely in the trains and buses we all have to ride to get around. That is a lot of extra pressure and exposure to potential trauma and anxiety as an often Lone Woman Traveler.

I don't do Public Service Announcements (PSAs) often on my blog. They find themselves here incidentally, and usually for good reason. My fifth blog post ever during the Summer of 2011 could be considered a PSA, on a similar topic: public harassment. Imagine the irony of deciding to dress somewhat revealingly; getting on a bus AND train for an hour and a half to participate in a celebration of summer, weirdness, creativity, pride and magic with other like-minded people one day- with no fear or trepidation of the public- then having to experience a degrading and isolating incident using the same transportation system 24 hours later, fully dressed, with witnesses that did nothing?!

Let me be clear, this post is not aimed at the people who did not speak up or intervene or my or my fellow black female passengers' behalf. The fact that no one did anything does help to illustrate the event that took place, however. The main message (or moral) of this story is the importance of being aware, resilient, and proactive in order to have the best possible agency in how we interact with our environment. None of us can control every aspect of our days, and we certainly cannot hope to always control and police others.

As much as I want to believe that law enforcement is present and willing to serve and protect all of its citizens, they are often spread thin, and their priorities do not line up with mine. Autonomy and agency are real, however, and one of the benefits of Social Media is the agency it gives everyday citizens to be responsible, be decent, be advocates for themselves as well as fellow strangers, in real time or faster than the systems in place provide.

Word-for-word, here goes...

On Sunday, June 19, 2016 approximately 3:15 p.m.: 
I don't normally cuss on my own timeline. But shit just got really real thirty minutes ago. I am on the A train heading north from Brooklyn. There is a moderate amount of people on the train, and I am sitting in the corner next to a door in a 3-seater. 

I have my headphones in and my shades on. But I can hear enough to know that there is a man with a booming voice panhandling and making his way through the semi-crowded train to the end where I am. Nbd. But when he gets to the last set of doors where I am, he stops and mumbles loudly, the decides to stand at the pole less than three feet from me, and start fondling his junk. He has a smell that is not powerful enough to make me leave, but enough to concern me about his sobriety. Not swaying or raving, mostly quiet, except for this pronounced personal hand job. 

He leans back against the doors across from me and stares hard in my direction, where three other black women are sitting, one black man with his sleeping son, and another man. I have been fanning myself and looking just past his probing eyes for the past ten minutes of this, even though my insides are starting to shake. 

Then he decides to sit down directly across from me. Nbd. Maybe he's done showing off and is gonna be civil. He then tries to engage the woman sitting in the 3-seater two seats down from him, his manspreading so pronounced that no one would be encouraged to sit between them. She has her headphones on, and closes her eyes, but every few seconds, she opens them again and sneaks a side eye to her right, where his eyes meet her every time he's not staring one of us down. Then he starts licking his lips really slow. 

And when the train stops, he gets up and walks over to the other two women seated next to me and swings his arms right inches from their faces. I know he's trying to engage them by asking for money. I hear no response back, so I believe they just shook their heads. 

The tension was painful. I was starting to hyperventilate quietly, which is humanly impossible when you are holding your breath. 

I could have gotten up and moved to another place, and after he finally left, the other women and I commiserated about thinking the exact same thing. We would have signaled each other to move as one unit. Even calling out to our newfound "girlfriend", so as to not leave anyone behind. My hands shake as I write this because the reality of how we were all feeling the same chill on our skin, the same adrenaline rush when he got off the train, but STAYED ON THE PLATFORM as train delays stalled us... 

The doors closed. He was saying, "... I was just kidding you're so beautiful" and I can see him. SEE HIM finishing off what he started in his pants when he was on the train. 

Now he's pressed up against the glass. Staring at us, and this damn train will not leave. I started praying that the door would not reopen for an approaching train.... 

THIS is when thoughts go through ones head about that knife someone suggested I carry. 

THIS is when I reevaluate the relevance of my outfit, the time of day (3:19pm), the relative crowd (mostly non-black, except for our "happy little corner", and realize that it didn't matter. If this 6'9" 270lb man wanted to snatch that woman by her hair, it could have happened in an instant, even as we all unfroze ourselves and tried to vacate the area. 

It was not (yesterday's) Mermaid Parade, everyone had their clothes on. 

Other MEN were sitting diagonally across and laughed at his antics until he started masturbating, then they got quiet and looked away. IT DID NOT MATTER. I should not have to fear for myself nor my fellow female passengers on the train. I should not have to breathe slowly to stop what I feel is tachycardia and miss an event I'm looking forward to because I have to process what ‪#‎dafuq‬ just happened, but here I am. 

I'm replaying thoughts of violence, what he might have done next, what I, or we would have done. A sisterhood did form then. I got one of their numbers, and we are both sharing this on social media. It just reminds me again about being vigilant, alert, considerate, and willing to take someone with me to safety, or so help me, out as I'm going down. *EndRant ‪#‎subway‬ ‪#‎assault‬ ‪#‎liftup‬ ‪#‎seldom_settled‬

Street harassment is real and should not be tolerated. Public transit harassment is real and should not be tolerated. Sometimes getting up and walking away is not the solution. Wearing more clothes is not always the remedy or prevention that saves individuals or groups of women from attacks in public.

I'm not saying we should all try to be the hero and fall on swords to vanquish on behalf of ladies in distress. But we can be a Shero (as I align myself with this gender-inclusive definition), and not leave any woman to fend for herself whilst she decides to autonomously stand her ground and claim her rightful space. Stand up, or sit down. Do not cede territory.

There is strength in numbers, there is safety when more eyes are watching, but also when more hands are willing and able, when voices are raised in a common sense of decency and support. When the mindsets are aligned, quietly, but with enough will that lends a palpable resistance to the tension when riding the Metal Horse. A Lone Woman need not always feel Alone. #facts

P.S.: This is MY space, so no, you will not see the picture that I took of the offending party here. But rest assured, the police will. #hollaback will.

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