So, back in New York City, home of our beloved schools and, not beloved at all, rampant street harassment. New York is the place most of the street harassment I have experienced has taken place, starting from the person who yelled a come-on at me when I was 12 years old, to my college years where me and my girlfriends have been harassed for merely holding hands. Most people who are read as women and people with non-normative presentations have had some such experiences. For some of us, because of transition or changes in presentation, we’re just beginning to experience street harassment.
This brings me to a very interesting article written by blogger Annika. It’s called On Display: Navigating the Male Gaze as a Lesbian Trans Woman. It is about her transition from someone read as a normative-looking white upper class heterosexual cisgender male, to a “passing” lesbian trans woman–a transition from invisibility to visibility, from someone expected to be the subject of street harassment to the object.
She describes the basic reaction of her ciswoman friends as, welcome to being a woman, deal with it. Now, I understand this perspective in a lot of ways. Most of us who were raised women have been dealing with sexual harassment, especially in the streets, from a heartbreakingly young age. Many of us have become numb to this as a coping mechanism. I must admit that at first, I had a hard time finding my sympathy for my translady friends who started experiencing street harassment after years of what seemed, to me, blissful inexperience. But, if you have been street-harassed, imagine the first time it happened to you–if you can even remember–how scary it was, how violated and unsafe you felt. That is how newly female-presenting people feel too. What’s more, the success of the feminist movement is completely implicated in freedom being won for all women, not just including, but, I would argue, especially trans women, as an intensely marginalized group on the forefront of gender politics. Most basically, these women are our sisters, friends, teammates, classmates, co-workers, leaders, girlfriends, fellow human beings, and heroines, and we need to have our compassion for them switched-on all the time.
My stance is, instead of advising your trans*feminine friends to ‘deal with it,’ tell them about women’s and feminist struggle to turn street harassment and rape culture around, if they don’t know about it already. If you’re involved, invite them to join in. If they’re involved, join them in the struggle. Because we don’t have to just deal with it, no matter who we are.