Friday, August 12, 2016

This Space Is Mine

There is a thing that men do, probably without even thinking about it, and that women experience on varying levels from annoyance to terror. They touch us. They touch us a lot. Strangers. It's putting an arm around us, or "accidentally" grazing a breast or ass cheek. It's leaning in within an inch of our faces, it's aggressive eye contact.

For the love of fuck, guys, you have got to stop this. Tell your friends to stop. After the last few weeks, I am going to refuse to be polite. I insist on being viewed as a person with feelings and boundaries. I demand respect. My response to unwanted physical touch is going to be very clear from now on.

For the last week, I've been victimized by my Depression. It showed up, unannounced, like it always does. Finally, I felt like trying to shake it off. I went to a favorite bar where my burlesque mentors were going to perform. J and I got stools at the corner closest to the stage; it wasn't overly crowded like it is on the weekends, it felt comfortable enough. There was a group of men and women next to us, but J and I tried to keep to ourselves, both of us feeling fragile from our depression at the same time.

One of the men decided to start a conversation with us. And not by saying, "Excuse me, ladies..." No. When my head was turned away from him, he put his whole arm around me, his hand landing at my waist. I am a person with space issues. I am a person who doesn't always like to feel feelings, let alone the body warmth of another person. I certainly do not appreciate being embraced so personally by a stranger. It's rude. It's creepy. It was alarming.

There is something that I do when fighting for air during a depressive episode. If I'm in public and I have to engage with someone, I act cheerful. Because if I'm not forcing overt cheerfulness, I risk falling into a crumbling heap on the floor. I also risk letting out any internal rage I direct at my Depression onto a person and that never ends well.

So, even though I was appalled at this man's assumption that he could touch me in a place and in a way that I consider intimate, even though I wished I could shape-shift myself into a giant boa so I could simultaneously squeeze the life out him while ripping his arm off, I smiled. I answered his questions. I told him where I'm from, how long I've been here, what I was drinking. I allowed him to lean over me and talk to J. I allowed him into my space. I allowed him to continue living under the illusion that women are objects, toys, that we don't deserve the freedom from being man-handled any time we walk into a bar.

I censored myself that night. A few weeks before that, J censored me. It's what we do to each other. We remind each other not to Make A Scene. Just be quiet and it will end on its own. We were at a different bar, one we had been to recently and returned for karaoke. Because it's Nashville. It's what you do. I wasn't depressed, but I was grumpy.

The second we walked in, the dude at the end of the bar asked what we were drinking and said he'd buy our drinks. He was very drunk. I thought he was on his way out the door, so I let him. But no. No, he stayed. He stayed long enough to put his hand on my lower back and lean in. When I turned to J, like, "What the fucking fuck is he doing!??!", she told me to ignore it. See how we are conditioned to this shit? A disturbingly drunk man gropes a friend and we calm the other one down so as not to create further drama.

He tempted me with a very enticing offer. Going back to his place to drink a beer. I declined. "What? Why? I am re-fucking-diculously good-looking and I have a cute penis." I agreed that that was a VERY tempting and gracious offer, but no. "But why?? I have a couch!! Don't you want to go to my place? Why not?" No answer I gave him was satisfactory. None. Because, as a man, who was just allowed to touch me, who paid for my drink, he could not fathom that I, as an object he had just partially paid for, would refuse him. That doesn't happen in his world.

After a while, when he got quiet, I thought he might just pass out on the bar. He shuffled away, to my great relief. Short-lived relief. Because I actually heard him ask J if she wanted to go to his place to "make love." I looked right at him and said, "Are you kidding me right now? You're hitting on my friend after I just turned you down?" To keep from hurting my feelings, I can only assume, he said I could come too. We could go to his work. There's a couch there.

J tried a different tactic. "I like girls." That was okay though, because it seems his penis is so cute it would turn her to the side with the Y chromosome. Surely. His cute penis is potent enough to change the mind of someone who, presumably, had been incorrectly sexually oriented for decades.

Now, during all of this extremely attractive and romantic behavior, Drunk Dude's friend stood behind us, between us. He leaned up against our  hips, our thighs. When we called this contact to his attention, he backed up for a second and then came back even closer. We tried to distract him by encouraging him to do a karaoke song. We assured him that he would be great at it.

God, it was exhausting.

Before you suggest that we, we women, we of the fairer, weaker sex, assert ourselves like a man would, know that we have tried. We have tried so many strategies. We shrink so as not to be noticed. We are polite. We claim to have a "boyfriend." One who will "be right back." We try to ignore. We invite ourselves to blend into a group of women we don't know for protection. We know that anything more direct or assertive than this will only create anger, produce aggression, be met with hostility by the offender.

Drunk Dude is the perfect example. When he finally accepted that there was nothing he could say or do to convince one of us to go home with him, he yelled to this friend, "Fuck them, they're fucking bull dykes!!" and slammed out the door. We were rid of him, but the cost was an angry outburst and the small, insistent fear that he would be outside waiting when we left.

So, gentlemen. I'm about to piss a lot of you off. I'm not going to apologize either. I'll be a bitch or a cunt or a whore, or whatever you need me to be to fit into your limited world view, your standard, your norm. But I will not be unwillingly groped. I will not be embraced without permission. If you don't know my name, you don't know me well enough to put your hands on me. My first "no" is my final answer. I don't owe you an explanation or a reason. You're just being friendly? That's fine, I'm just standing up for myself. I am refusing to perpetuate the idea that Neanderthal behavior is desirable. I don't secretly want what you're offering in your drunken stupor. I don't buy into your cocky attitude. I don't have to believe you're a good guy or see you as you see yourself. I have my own idea, my own opinions, and my own agenda that 99.9% of the time has nothing to do with you.

This body? It's mine. It's 100% mine and you have no god-given right to it. I'm taking up my space and you're only allowed in when I invite you.
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