My friends and I step off the bus outside my building. When we get to the door, I can’t seem to find my keys anywhere. I can be something of a disaster when it comes to misplacing my keys. I live over a pub, so I’m lucky in that I’m always able to get in when I’m locked out.
We walk around to the front of the building and enter the pub. People are often surprised to discover that I’ve never had a drink in this pub in my life. Although when they visit me, they can usually discover pretty quickly why I don’t. The pub is shall we say, quite traditional, for want of a better word. It’s frequented by mostly old men and occasionally their wives. If that kind of a pub is your thing then that’s fine, but it’s not mine.
Before we walk in to the pub, I fluff up my hair, move my sunglasses to my head and straighten my posture. When I do this, I’m usually preparing my defence mechanism for a possible bad situation. It’s always been a personal belief of mine that looking poised while facing adversity makes it a lot easier to cope.
I’ve lived here for two years now and I often have to run errands in the pub. Collecting important letters and parcels which get delivered there and of course retrieving the set of keys on the many occasions that I’ve forgotten mine. The groups of men in there have a strange habit when they see me, they wolf-whistle before breaking their hearts laughing.
Let’s consider this for a moment. I, a 19-year-old running errands has to enter a room full of men who are generally between the ages of 35 and 70. Most people of this age actually don’t realise that I’m outside of the gender binary. But the people in this pub who must analyse anyone who enters, always spot me. They begin to nudge one another and thus commences the chorus of wolf-whistles.
Let’s consider these wolf-whistles. I believe that these crusty old men (and some of the women I must add) are laughing at the irony of this situation. This means that they’re laughing at how ridiculous it would be for someone to find me attractive. Basically they think that if someone found me fuckable, that would be a hilarious occurrence.
Let me just reiterate the fact that most of these men are twice my age. Disgusting.
So on this day I went into the pub to retrieve the set of keys, the usual thing happened and both of my friends were outraged. I strutted straight to the bar, asked for the keys before sashaying and exiting again, with every single eye in the pub gazing at me either mockingly or slightly sympathetically.
I strut around the corner of my building, ahead of my friends and go to the door. When they catch up with me, they’re discussing what a horrible experience it was. I don’t really say anything. I don’t like to let those thoughts enter my head. Some people hate me, some people would prefer I didn’t exist. Incidentally, I feel the same way about them.
And if those people have to exist in the world that I live in, there’s no way I’m letting them exist in my headspace too.
When we’re in, one of my friends holds her hands out for the keys. “I’ll bring them back down,” she tells me hurriedly. I just smile at her and say “I can do it.” She shakes her head and tries to reassure me that she has no problem doing it. As much as I appreciate this gesture and as nice as it would be to hand her the keys and put my feet up with a cup of tea, I have work to do.
I strut back downstairs and tilt my head up before entering the pub once again. I hand the keys back and suffer the gaze and jeers of the people around me for the final time that day. But I still have a smile on my face when I push through the doors and walk past two smokers, one of whom shakes his head slightly (on a side note, do these people think I’m blind or are they counting on me seeing them?)
I smile because I’ve done it. I haven’t bowed down to them. I’ve maintained my dignity. I’ve resisted oppression.
Here’s the thing. I’m extremely fortunate to have an amazing support network of people around me. I rarely feel unsafe and I rarely get harassment like that. Whether that’s because of where I live, how I look or a combination of both, I can’t really tell.
So when I enter a space where I’m unwelcome, I almost feel as though I’m being tested. I could exercise my privilege and refuse to enter that space again, or I could do the little bit that I can do to make that space feel welcome.
By merely entering this space, I’m raising awareness. I’m showing these people that gender non-conforming people do exist and we have the right to be wherever we want (not that I ever want to be in that pub) without facing harassment. Maybe I’m slightly naive, but I like to think that next time these people see someone like me, they’ll be less likely to inflict their cruelty on them. I like to think that these people get used to the fact that not everyone is simply male or female through seeing me. I even like to think that maybe they feel more secure in themselves by seeing how proud and unphased I am.
At the very least I’m doing these extremely sad individuals a favour by providing them with a couple of laughs. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine that joy is something they experience very often.
Watch how I deal with street harassment here:
Read my advice about loving yourself here.