To the guy who nearly knocked me down with his bike as I crossed the street in the pouring rain, yelling, “nice legs baby”:
You ran over my foot, asshole.
You are the reason I almost didn’t wear shorts on that walk.
I love walking in the rain. Probably because vancouver is under a perpetual grey sky, and the smell of wet pavement makes me feel at home. I love the sound of the drops hitting the leaves of the trees, smacking my umbrella, diving into the earth, each a different tone, in contrasting rhythm to the beat of my heart and breath. I love the whoosh of cars sailing through puddles the depth of small ponds; the joyful arc of the water as it leaps through the air, chasing after the traffic. I love the sudden awareness of my right elbow, cold and wet, jutting out from the protection of my umbrella. I love the wet toes of my boots, the satisfying squish of mud, the mossy smell of damp leaves underfoot.
And I love the feel of gentle rain on my legs, which so rarely get to experience the kiss of wind on damp skin. For me there’s something spiritual about letting the parts of my body that are usually covered interact with the weather, sun or rain. It’s a brave, exciting, beautiful thing I can do for myself, like diving naked into the ocean, or peeing outside. Seriously, I love peeing outside. Weird? Maybe, but I always feel like a badass when I do it.
That’s why I put on shorts and my favorite boots, grabbed my umbrella and went for a walk in the rain- not so I could pee outside- so I could feel like a badass. So I could feel and see the power of my legs as I walked through the city, a privilege I have, being currently able-bodied. So I could enjoy the simplicity and complexity of that action; of the automatic heel-toe, heel-toe, the satisfying stretch of my inner thighs, the flex of my calves, the tension and release in my knees. So I could take a break from constructed thought and let my brain dance around whatever soundtrack happened to flow through my headphones.
And then you came along and ruined it.
I was in the middle of Le Tigre’s debut album. I was in the middle of a train of thought. I was in the middle of a step. I was in the middle of my day. I was in the middle of a fucking CROSSWALK.
I was in the middle of my life, and I gave you NO indication that I wanted you to interrupt it. But apparently my bare legs were the indication. Apparently my body itself is the only indication you need to ride your bike into me, to let me know what you think of it.
I know you’re not thinking about what will happen after you harass me. I know that you know that this does not qualify as flirting, because flirting would require the participation of both parties. I know that this is about you fulfilling some sad little part of you that feels disempowered- so you exercise what little power you have over someone you perceive to be weaker in order to feel bigger about yourself. I know I have very little to do with why you yelled at me at all. I know that to you, I am replaceable with any other perceived-to-be-woman’s body. You could have yelled at anyone. But you yelled at me. And I’m the kind of person who yells back.
It doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make me less angry, it doesn’t heal my toe that you crushed, or my spirit that you bruised. It’s a reaction that you laugh at as you pedal away. It didn’t do anything, and it was all that I could do.
You are the reason I hid my body as a teenager. You are the reason I pretended I didn’t even have a body for so many years. You are the reason I didn’t want to experience the skills and pleasures of my body for myself for so many years. You are the reason I didn’t want to share the skills and pleasures of my body with other people for so many years. You are the reason I have to work not to pick at myself in front of the mirror. You are the reason I have to work not to agonize about how much of my skin is visible to the world every day before I step out the door. You are the reason I still feel ashamed of my body, more often than I want to admit. You are the reason I have to make loving myself WORK.
You are the reason I don’t feel safe walking home at night. You are the reason I keep my keys in my hand, testing their sharp edges. You are the reason I wonder how quickly I can run away. You are the reason I weigh the pros and cons of fighting back. You are the reason I wonder if I would ever be able to get over it if I were raped. You are the reason my drink is always in my hand. You are the reason I will tell a friend to call me when I’m supposed to be home from a date. You are the reason I don’t smile at strangers on the street, because I worry that a simple smile will be interpreted as a come-on. You are the reason I cross my legs and arms and avoid eye contact with strangers on public transportation. You are the reason my headphones are always in my ears, even if I’m not listening to music. You are the reason I have to fake a cell phone conversation. You are the reason I have to make an actual call if I am walking alone.
I hate that when I am walking hand in hand with, or am even just physically close to, another self-identified woman, queer person or trans person who may or may not be my date, you will leer, say something, make a face. I hate that you will still hit on me, as if the person I am with could never fulfill me because they are not a cis, straight man. As if I can’t fulfill myself! I hate that when I walk down the street with someone male bodied, who may or may not be my date, who is white, I get a different quality of glance than I do when I walk down the street with a South Asian man, or another man of colour. I hate that you assume my racial identity, which is incredibly complicated, and simplify me into a colonial stereotype: submissive brown girl. I hate that you assume my father is my husband, or that I am going to have an arranged marriage. I hate that you assume I am straight.
You do not make me feel beautiful. You do not make me feel appreciated. You make me feel like shit. You make me feel powerless, angry, silenced. You make me feel invisible as a queer person. You make me feel invisible as a sexual person. You make me feel invisible as a human. You make me feel invisible in the spotlight and projection of your own insecurities.
You are the reason rape culture exists. You yelling at me on the street is a part of the same process of objectification that will lead you to ignore my saying “NO”. If you do not respect me on the street, then you will not respect me in a bar, in a cab, in my home, in the classroom, at work. You are the reason I feel afraid, the reason I don’t trust most men, the reason I don’t trust most strangers. You are the reason I know too many people who have experienced sexual violence or emotional abuse.
You are the reason I do the work I do. You are my reminder, not that I need one. You are the reason I am angry.
So even though you made me feel disempowered, I’m going to turn towards my rage, the fire that has always driven me to work and create. Rage will fuel my love. I am so grateful for the brave self-identified women in my life. I am so grateful for my loving queer community. I am so grateful for my loving communities of colour. I am so grateful for the feminist communities in my life. I am so grateful for the self-identified men of quality in my life. I am so grateful to my allies and my chosen family in struggle. And I am damn grateful for myself.
So when I yell back, “FUCK YOU”, know this. I am also shouting out a powerful, “FUCK YES!” Yes to a world without rape. Yes to a world without harassment of any kind, to a world without colonialism, imperialism, sexism, misogyny, racism, poverty, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, ageism, fatphobia… Fuck yes! Fuck yes to honest relationships, to loving activism, to deep self-reflection. Yes to working harder at being inclusive, to listening, to being anti-oppressive in all aspects of my life. Yes to the frustration, tears and laughter that work will incorporate. Yes to learning from my mistakes. Yes to confronting privilege in myself and in others. Yes to speaking up. Fuck yes to better friendships, safer and fun sex, more art, more music, more dancing, more play. Yes to safer spaces. Yes to multiple, intersecting identities. Yes to community, to no more hierarchies and more collectivity.
Fuck you? Fuck yes. You might have run into me, but I won’t let you run me over.