I was walking and chatting with a friend of mine when I noticed a group of youngish guys walking toward us. They moved in a tight pack, but occasionally the mass would break shape. Punctuated by whoops and snickers, an odd arm or leg would jut out. The spasms occurred at the pace of waning youth: frenzied lurches peppered with the last vestiges of pubescent fits and starts. Staccato.
When we got within shouting distance of them, one stopped in front of me. He stretched his arms wide, making his oversized tee flap behind him. Throw in a powerful fan, and he’d be a poor Michael Jackson impersonator. If I didn’t feel the ripples of impending confrontation ricocheting between us, I would have laughed in his face.
But here was an almost-man posturing in front of his friends, and I couldn’t risk emasculating him without also risking my safety. He was taking up my space, blocking the sidewalk, and he wanted to talk at me.
I was in Detroit, and having spent the last five years in Uber Polite and Not Really Checking For Black Girls Anyway San Francisco, I was woefully out of practice when it came to enduring and evading aggressive skeeve-balls.
“No … no thank you,” I said, sidling by him as my heart rattled around crazily. My thoughts were in a confused panic: Be firm. But don’t be mean. Be unequivocal. But don’t be too challenging. Ignore him. Don’t ignore him.
The practice I’d gotten as a girl growing up on the East Coast was kicking in. Turns out, running away from unwanted male aggression was like riding a bike — except riding a bike had rarely made me this indignant. Some bike seats definitely seem to have it out for vaginas (hit a pothole at full speed, anyone?), but its scope of oppression is generally relegated to its immediate vicinity. No bike is going to smack you in the vag and then pay you 70¢ for every dollar a dude makes, y’know?
My rejection set off his nasty harassitude.
“Oh, you ugly anyways!” he spat out at me. “And you need to fix your weave!”
I was embarrassed. I was hurt. A noxious intermingling of shame and incredulity washed over me.
Also, I was seething.
First of all, his unoriginality was infuriating. The ‘Oh You Ugly Anyway‘ had to have been Lesson Number One in the ‘Filthy Fellow’s Field Guide.’ It’s the Kenny G of post-harassment comebacks– its bland ubiquity as offensive as the statement itself. Like, make it your own, kid. Jeez.
Second, I had braids; not a weave. Get it right, punk.
Finally, this lanky-bodied, stringy-haired white kid surrounded by his Pick A Little Talk A Little gang of Black friends had physically intimidated me. I don’t know if I have the words to express how frustrating it is to live in a body that people claim to be overwhelmed by and weary of, while living in a world where all five feet and eleven inches of me feels absolutely vulnerable.
The dichotomy invokes fanciful daydreams: Me, rage-stomping around a fearful city, wailing “I’M DAINTY AND SENSITIVE, GOD DAMMIT! PLEASE BELIEVE ME!” It’s Angsty Teenzilla: with sharp, heavy sighs instead of roars. I try to at least embrace my scarier side by breathing fire, but the smoke kicks off an asthma attack.
Real thugs don’t hack, yo 🙁
I guess the moral is that I’m still very unequipped to deal with this sort of thing. I may look like a gigantess on the outside, but I feel just as naked, ashamed and caught out there as the next girl.