I’m scared to pick my goddaughter up from school.
Today it was the guys in the car, slowing to a crawl and jeering, catcalling. I gestured at them to move the fuck along, but she still saw it. She didn’t say anything, but she saw it. My heart skipped a beat when they pulled into the parking lot across the street, but they went into the store and left us alone.
Today was better than last week. Last week, it was the guy on the motorcycle. The guy who followed me for three blocks. I told him I wasn’t interested. I told him to leave me alone. Finally, I told him to fuck off (that earned me a spiteful“fucking bitch” in response, but I was fine with that).
I was fine… until I had picked her up and were heading home. Until I heard the sound of the motorcycle behind me again. Until I saw him, driving past, pulling over casually at the approaching intersection.
Not in front of her, I thought, desperately. I held her hand and had her switch sides with me. She is telling me about the distributive property, and all I can think is, Not in front of her.
He starts saying something…I heard a comment about “looking good in those boots.” I ignore him, bend down to kiddo and ask her if she feels like running with me. Her face lights up- it’s a game!- and we take off running. Running, faster, like our feet can’t feel the concrete and the broken cracks, dodging the weeds stubbornly sticking up like tripwire, running until we round the corner of a local coffeeshop and we stop because I have a place I can duck into now, if he’s behind us.
My breathing doesn’t return to normal until we are home, have been home 5 or 10 minutes. I tell myself it’s the running. Smoker’s lungs and extra weight, an out-of-shape body pushing itself in ways it isn’t used to.
I ignore the metallic taste. Adrenaline. It’s cold, and spiced with fear.
The first thing I say when I explain this story later: “I looked just like this! I wasn’t wearing anything provocative or anything!”
In my heart, though, I still know: I asked for this. I caused this.
I make a choice. Every day, when I wake up, I make a choice to look like this.
I could pass. Cut my hair and bind my chest and pass for just another white guy in the world.
I’ve done that. I hated it.
I could shave my face. I’d still get catcalled, but there wouldn’t be the added layer of, “What is it?!” that comes when I turn my face to the sun and this beard- gloriously beautiful, scruffy beard that I’ve braved my needle phobia to grow- comes into full light.
I ask for this. I choose this. I know how I look, and I know how to fix it.
Just be normal. Just look like everyone else. Don’t expose her to this.
It doesn’t matter what I wear. It doesn’t matter what I do, or how much I ignore, or ask you to go away nicely, or try to protect her from this, from you, you there, whose eyes are falling out of your skull, whose words are exploding from your lips like you never learned the art of self-control. Seeing is possessing. Observing is owning. You see me, which makes me yours.
My body is not your possession. It does not exist for you.
I do not exist for you.
But you, you tell me this is my fault. You tell me that I should change so that you can control yourself better. Change because I shouldn’t expose her to this. You tell me that I provoke it when I look a certain way. You tell me, you tell me…
I’m telling you.
I am done playing nice.
I will not acquiesce. Thanks, and fuck you very much.
I will not only teach her to run, but to stand her ground. I will not teach her to hide in shame. She will not watch this break me. She will not watch you, Random Person Number (shit, I’ve lost count now) break me.
You don’t get that fucking power.
I will teach her to be strong. I will teach her to be proud and defiant and independent and say it like it is.
(I will not, of course, do this alone, but with an awesome community of equally awesome people parenting her.)
But most of all? I will teach her not to preface these stories with, “But I wasn’t wearing the wrong thing!”
(Crossposted to FetLife)